Incarnation: Is it Jewish?

Today I will share a thought from Orthodox Jewish theologian Michael Wyschogrod. His recommended books include Abraham’s Promise and The Body of Faith. He is very biblical and prioritizes the Bible over tradition. His thought sometimes approaches Messianic Judaism, but he does not believe that Yeshua is Messiah and does not accept the New Testament as scripture.

Coming soon, a multi-part series on a book I am now reading by Amy-Jill Levine, an Orthodox Jewish New Testament professor (yes, you read that correctly). She has just written a book called The Misunderstood Jew. It promises to be an exciting series. I have just started the book, so look for the series to start next week.

Meanwhile, back to a thought from Michael Wyschogrod. This is from a book called Religion and Intellectual Life 3, written in 1986. Wyschogrod is saying that, while he does not accept the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus, the idea is not incompatible with Judaism:

[God’s covenant with Israel] depicts a drawing together of God and Israel. In some sense . . . it can be said to involve a certain indwelling of God in the people of Israel whose status as a holy people may be said to derive from this indwelling. Understood in this sense, the divinity of Jesus is not radically different–though perhaps more concentrated–than the holiness of the Jewish people.

The incarnation is the New Testament doctrine of God becoming a man so that Messiah is literally the God-man, both divine and human. Wyschogrod likens the incarnation doctrine to the theme in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) of God being in the midst of Israel. It is not that men and women in Israel are divine, but that God dwells in the midst of his people. This is a repeated theme in the Bible, with the glory of God dwelling in the sanctuary in the midst of the people. It is also evident in the prophets who said that God would still be with Israel in the nations to which they are scattered.

For Wyschogrod, and I would argue this is biblical, God indwells Israel as a nation in a manner similar to the way God indwells New Testament believers. He is not talking about the New Testament doctrine of the Holy Spirit per se, but the fact that God is in the midst of his people.

I believe this too. It is true of New Testament believers in some different and more specific ways, but it is also true of Israel and the Jewish people today. In the Holocaust, it was Yeshua suffering with the millions of murdered Jews. In the Crusades and Inquisitions the church was persecuting Yeshua along with the Jewish people. God has not abandoned his covenants with Israel after Yeshua any more than he would have before Yeshua (Rom. 11:28-29). God is present in Israel even in Israel’s rejection of Yeshua.

I think it is noteworthy that a Jewish theologian says the doctrine of the incarnation is not a stumbling block to Jewish faith in Yeshua. He has given us Messianic Jews a way to speak to Jewish hearers about the divinity of Messiah. We can compare the idea to God’s dwelling in the midst of Israel. Yeshua, we can affirm, is the ideal Israelite, the one of Israel who was perfectly faithful to God and who lived his life as a summation (but not cessation) of Israel. He too went into Egypt during a slaughter of babies. He too came out of Egypt, came through the waters, was tempted in the wilderness, taught the law (Sermon on the Mount), and suffered the curse of the Torah to free Israel and the nations from death.

The fact that God became a man in the person of Yeshua is not antithetical to Jewish ideas, to ideas from the Hebrew Bible. Everything God did in the New Testament came out of the Hebrew Bible in perfect harmony.

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Note: It is worth noting that the deity of Messiah is NOT foretold in the Hebrew Bible. Many use Isaiah 9:6 as a prooftext that Messiah would be divine. This is based on faulty translation and wishful thinking. Many times traditional interpretations of Messianic prophecy were more wishful thinking than fact. Isaiah 9:6 should NOT read, “His name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’.” It SHOULD read, “His name will be called, ‘A wonderful counselor is Almighty God; the everlasting Father is a prince of peace.'”

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About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian, Messianic Jewish, Theology, Wyschogrod. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Incarnation: Is it Jewish?

  1. Carl K. says:

    I concur with your thoughts on the parallel indwelling of God in the Jewish people and in the people of the New Covenant. But you may have misconstrued the parallel Wyschogrod draws between God’s indwelling in Israel and in Yeshua. He indicates that God’s indwelling in Yeshua may be seen as “perhaps more concentrated” but yet having distinct limits.

    In the articles you quote, Wyschogrod also writes that to “speak of God becoming human… abolishes all distance between God and mankind,” a notion he clearly rejects.

    Perhaps Wyschogrod has given us a way to speak about the incarnation of God in new and clearly Jewish ways, but I am not so sure that he done the same concerning the divinity of Yeshua.

    Still, this is a significant development, not only in interfaith dialogue and witness, but in the self-understanding of Messianic Judaism.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Bryan Riley says:

    I just found your blog as a result of your excellent comment over at Marty Duren’s post about the taking of the Lord’s Supper. I hope to take time to read more. I also would be interested in receiving book recommendations for a non-Jewish Christian who longs to understand more of our Jewish roots in Christ.

  3. Bryan:

    There are several books I would recommend. Let’s start with light reading, but useful:

    1. God’s Appointed Times by Barney Kasdan on the Biblical/Jewish holidays. Available at messianicjewish.net.
    2. Jesus Didn’t Have Blue Eyes and A New Look at the Old Testament by me. Available at hopeofdavid.com.

    If you’re interested in heavier reading, I am a fan of N.T. Wright on the subject of the historical Jesus (but I disagree with a lot of his views on Paul and his view that in Jesus the importance of Israel came to an end). Get his three-part monumental series (long and dense reading, but worth it): The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and The Resurrection of the Son of God.

    Derek

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