For Christians: A Tip to Avoid Jew-Bashing

I had a great conversation today with a Christian pastor I respect and whose heart I know is in the right place. He had written a piece which in many ways was very fair in its description of Israel and the Torah. Yet, likely out of common tropes in Christian preaching, he used a few phrases from the longstanding arsenal of anti-Judaic rhetoric. I don’t mean he said anything blatantly anti-Semitic. The problem is not that Christians hear neo-Nazi propaganda in church. It is more subtle. Christians routinely hear that the Law (Torah) was burdensome, that Israel was unrighteous, and that the way of Christ implicitly rejects all that came before.

Christians need to realize:

(1) The Law is not burdensome. If there is a frustratingly high goal in the Law, none is higher than the command to love God with all the heart and neighbor as oneself. Christians find the command to love just as impossible to realize as Jews. So the burden is not, as those who are ignorant of Torah and Temple presume, a matter of old, strict, harsh ways which have been eliminated in the new, allegedly easier way of Christianity.

(2) Israel’s sin is the sin of all humanity. Does anyone think that Baptists or Catholics or Presbyterians would have done better?

(3) That Jesus (Yeshua) lived out the entire Torah and kept the customs, according to the gospels which all Christians read. He did not reject, nor did Paul, that which came before.

So, I shared some advice with my friend. In speaking about the history of the people of God and trying to express the problem of unattainable righteousness, here are some ways to avoid feeding popular anti-Judaic sentiments in Christian tradition:

(1) use more universal terms and avoid charging only Israel (the people of that time, or say something to the effect of “just like us, they found that they could not be as righteous as they aspired to be”).

(2) use more specific terms about what people could not keep instead of blaming the law in general (they found it hard to love as God requires, they did not live up to the high principles of righteousness, love, and faithfulness God demanded, etc.).

So, what do you think? Have you heard a lot of unintentional anti-Judaism in Christian speaking? Are you a Christian who thinks I am wrong on some point? Are you Jewish or in the Messianic movement and have you discussed this problem with friends?


About Derek Leman

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

18 Responses to For Christians: A Tip to Avoid Jew-Bashing

  1. vegmom02 says:

    Yes, I have heard this in the churches, and Lifeway products actually print this type of speech in their lessons from birth through adults. When I am teaching. I explain it like this: The Law needed to be given to former slaves who had only known to do what their master commanded. They needed a set of guidelines to help them with their lives in … See Moretheir newfound freedom. The Laws are NOT burdensome, they are helpful, and “break down” the 10 Commandments, so to speak. I then suggest this analogy: At most places of work, there is a set of rules and regulations. Do all of the employees go to work each day, worrying that they are going to break one of the “rules”? No, they are a helpful guide to help keep order, along with consequences if necessary to excute so as to maintain that order. Same thing with the Law.

  2. vegmom02 says:

    One more thing….we briefly attended a church where it was quickly becoming obvious to me that due the the preacher’s style of “teaching”, Jews were regarded as the “Stupid People” who could not understand G-d, and therefore most certainly could not accept Jesus as Messiah. The final “nail in the coffin” for me was when the preacher mocked Job, using the word “stupid” for him, and saying something to the effect of “praise G-d we understand what the message is, even when Job couldn’t”, or something to that effect. I am currently teaching a Disciple I class at a different (and much more loving) church, and while we were studying the Tanakh for several weeks, a person in my class kept on saying, “Why didn’t the Jews get it? Why did they keep on sinning? Why did this cycle keep on happening over and over again?” Fortunately, a lot of the time I did not need to be the one to explain; the other folks in my class would say things like, “They were no different than we are now, they were human, like us, with imperfections, or not able to see, trust, hope, they had fears,” etc. Yes, I hear it a LOT about those “Stupid Jews” who could just not get it that G-d was guiding them, setting them apart, etc. I explain that G-d wanted them to CHOOSE to obey and follow His commands, just as He wants ALL mankind to do now! I also said that while we are studying one group of people in the Tanakh, somewhere else in another land at that same time, there were Jews who were following G-d…for example, the Jews in Persia (see Esther).

  3. captainkudzu says:

    I think that vegmom makes a lot of sense. I had always heard that the law was swept away with Jesus and Peter’s vision in Acts 10:9-16. Paul says that we are not under the law (Rom 6:14, Gal. 5:18, 1 Corith 9:20).

    It is a little hard to square with why Jesus didn’t reject the law, but Paul says that we aren’t under it. Maybe I’m missing something, or maybe it applies to the people of the first covenant, but not to gentiles.

    At any rate, I believe that the history of anti-semitism in the church is sad and tragic. As you know, I recently had a run in with people espousing an anti-Zionist view of the Bible. It seems that anti-Judaism is one thing that the far right and the far left have in common.

  4. CaptainKudzu:

    There is an understanding of Paul called the New Perspective that is widely taught in more academic circles. Unfortunately, many churches only know the Old Perspective on Paul (in which he is allegedly against Judaism). But I find that younger Christians and pastors know the New Perspective, which sees Paul as pro-Judaism and against Gentiles being forced to convert to Judaism, required to keep Jewish distinctive practices and so on. The phrase “under the law” means different things in different contexts. Many times in Paul not being under the law refers to the fact that the Law never commanded Gentiles to keep Sabbath, dietary law, and circumcision. I am far from alone in suggesting this interpretation of Paul. It is widely held to be the correct interpretation of Paul today.

    I have a book on the subject called Paul Didn’t Eat Pork and it is available on amazon.

    Derek Leman

  5. vegmom02 says:

    I completely agree with what Derek is saying. This perspective can be seen when reading the Book of Acts, and is what I most often refer to when this subject comes up.

  6. As a Christian I think that Derek makes a fair point and equally fair ways of changing our speech. While there are denominations out there which are anti-semetic in their origin and behaviour, I believe most evangelical/pentecostals look quite favourably towards Israel and Jews. You just have to look at people like Perry Stone, Chuck Missler etc. Unfortuantatly sometimes Christians who don’t mean to, do sound anti Jewish in what they say. the only way I see that this could be remedied would be through dialogue and education Just like Derek’s conversion with his Pastor friend. There is not much that can be done with people who are anti semetic but with those Christians who want to be and are friends of Israel we need to be shown when offence is caused. Thanks Derek for these points. It is hard to get out of a habit of saying certain things when that is what you have heard all your life.

  7. Rebecca says:

    Yes, these kinds of anti-jewish/judaism remarks are common. One thing I hear alot is the word “legalism.” Apparently, if you keep the law then your legalistic. But, if you keep the laws of the United States of America – then you are legalistic.

    On the subject of Paul, I usually get a little sarcastic with people and remind them that whatever they think Paul meant – he’s not the Messiah.

    Chag Sameach, and here’s to all things Jewish!

  8. captainkudzu says:

    Thanks, Derek. I’ll look for your book.

    It seems that maybe, while salvation is available to all, the status of the Jews as God’s Chosen People entails greater rewards and greater responsibilities (i.e. the law).

  9. torahgirl says:

    Sadly, it’s not only churchgoers who need to have those realizations – it’s also their seminary professors. I went to an Old Testament Survey class a few years ago, and heard the professor talk about “Deuterectomy” and how reading Leviticus is a great way to put yourself to sleep. Even the word “law” has a negative connotation. Torah is G-d’s instructions – life and health to us! I can’t understand how any part of the Scripture could be dismissed as irrelevant and only good for inducing sleep. I think that must be spiritual blindness. May HaShem open the eyes of those who love Him!

    • tnnonline says:

      I’m curious what seminary you attended, and the theological tradition it represented. I went to Asbury Seminary, which is a part of the Wesleyan tradition, and I heard nothing but positive words about the Torah in my OT classes. My main professor basically told our class, “Yeah, I keep the Law…and I probably need to pay attention a little more closer when I put BBQ pork in my belly!”

      I am sorry that your experience was this negative. But, much of the approach a Christian takes to the Torah does depend on the denominational background involved. Many Christians have always valued the OT as a source of piety and holiness.

      • torahgirl says:

        You’re right, the denomination makes a big difference. It was a Southern Baptist seminary in North Carolina. Now that you mention it, my Presbyterian relatives have a much more positive view of “G-d’s Law” (positive in that they speak highly of it, not that they consider keeping it).

  10. tnnonline says:

    As part of my NT classes, I had to read a book by Stephen Westerholm which had a section on the position of Luther, Calvin, and Wesley on the Law of Moses. Generally speaking, the Reformed and Wesleyan traditions have a positive view of the ethical and moral law of the Torah, versus Lutheranism which does not. I think today’s Messianics should focus on what they have in common with their Christian brethren, and then work from there.

    When I became Messianic, I never had to be convinced on the general validity of the Torah–having both Methodist and Presbyterian roots in my family–just a few finer areas.

  11. themysteryof says:

    I wish I had time right now to carefully read all the comments here. I’ll try later. I will also revisit some of what I’ve written to see if I can word things more carefully. I certainly don’t want to say anything in an offensive manner if there’s any way around it. I’ve worshiped in messianic congregations, and if I’ve said anything perceived as anti-Semitic, then it is either carelessness, or ignorance.

  12. imascotsgal says:

    It is true, sadly I have noticed this for years and it is deeply distressing, I refer to it as Wandering Jew Syndrome based on the myth of the wandering Jew, it sums it up. It is not Anti-Semitism per se but to one degree or another it can deeply effect beleivers which can cause problems in the world and Chruch for many generations. Thankfully books are coming out trying to correct the syndrome, Coach Mcartney’s book two minute warning and Don Finto’s book Your people will be my people plus many more are helpful.

  13. kendman1 says:

    Great post as usual, Derek. I am an ethnic Jew who became a believer late in life. I still like to observe certain festivities and holidays that I did growing up in (I must admit) quite a non-religious Jewish household. These Jewish festivities were basically a one night Passover Seder (one of three annual family get-togethers), and a Yom Kippur fast. I actually have been in Churches quite a bit more than in Synagogues (then as now), but I find that since I became a believer I have rediscovered and been reinvigorated by my ancestral faith of Judaism, and found it even more fascinating the second time around. I know that it is belief in Jesus and trying to live be his moral teachings (summed up well in the 10 Commandments of the Old Scriptures) that keeps me on the right course, not a steady adherence to the ritualism of the Old Scripture law (which I of course couldn’t totally adhere to even if I tried). But the Old Scripture law is also the foundation of the moral message of the Gospel, and should never be looked upon as something that is totally irrelevant now, by Jew or Gentile. The New Testament offers the message of hope and salvation. But never forget that the Old Scriptures were the foundation that pointed the way to that salvation! Besides, I enjoy the rituals and festivities (not to mention the food!) of a holiday like Passover immensely, and I would suggest to any Gentile Christian that has never engaged in a Seder to try one, if the opportunity presents itself. It’s spiritual, uplifting, …and has a great relevance to Christianity!

  14. kendman1:

    Thanks for the kind words and it sounds like you are in a good place, but I will challenge you a little. While I’m heartened that you are seeing some beauty in the older ways of your life experience, such as the Passover Seder, I’m also saddened that I detect Christian anti-Torah attitudes still in your language. I think you may be on a journey integrating these parts of your life and maybe, or this could be just me, you still do not have a full appreciation of the fact that “Jewish ritual law” as you describe it is perfectly integrated with Messiah faith.

    If you were to say to Jesus, “As a Jew, I find your moral teachings keep me on track more so than the ritual laws of the Old Testament,” I believe he would respond, “You have not understood. I did not come to abolish the Jewish ritual laws, but to show them to you in their fullest sense. Nothing is more moral than worshipping my Father in all areas of life, which is what Torah laws were about from the beginning.”

    I may just blog on this topic today. I think you inspired me.


  15. kendman1 says:

    Sorry for the misunderstanding, Derek. I do in fact share your views on the Torah. (BTW, I’m glad I inspired you!) “imascotsgal”: Thank you for mentioning that book (“Two Minute Warning” by Bill McCartney & Aaron Fruh). I’ve heard about it and look forward to reading it.

  16. There’s rather a hodgepodge of issues implied, but not differentiated, or unified here. But taking this as the centerpiece,

    “Christians need to realize:
    (1) The Law is not burdensome. If there is a frustratingly high goal in the Law, none is higher than the command to love God with all the heart and neighbor as oneself. Christians find the command to love just as impossible to realize as Jews. So the burden is not, as those who are ignorant of Torah and Temple presume, a matter of old, strict, harsh ways which have been eliminated in the new, allegedly easier way of Christianity.”

    How do this and all you both have unpacked and could unpack from it, fare when run by, Acts 15:7-11, “Peter stood up and said to them, “Brethren, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us; and He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.”

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