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Basic Worldview:
104 Why Christianity?


History of Judaism Study

Introduction, Purpose, Definitions and Terminology
Timelines: Jewish and Gentile Writings and Thought
Eliminating Potential Sources of Complex Monotheism
Was Jewish Complex Monotheism Borrowed from the Greeks?
The Hebrew Bible Teaches Complex Monotheism - Part 1
The Hebrew Bible Teaches Complex Monotheism - Part 2
Complex Monotheism after the Close of the Hebrew Bible
Philo Affirms Complex Monotheism in Pre-rabbinic Judaism
Criteria of Biblical Monotheism, Christianity & Pre-Rabbinic Judaism
New Testament Christianity as a Sect of Judaism
When Was Complex Monotheism First Rejected?
Simple & Complex Monotheism before the Rabbinic Period
What Separates Biblical Judaism & New Testament Christianity?
God's Sovereign Choice of Abraham & His Offspring
Summary, Conclusions, and Implications


Summary, Conclusions, and Implication

The particular purpose of this study was to perform a historical investigation into developments that lead to the partition between modern Judaism and Christianity. Likewise, we sought to determine whether the conventional explanations that are commonly offered for the categorically separating Judaism and Christianity were valid. In the course of our study we have relied upon the work of two scholars, Alan F. Segal and Benjamin J. Sommer. Both men are non-Christian, Jewish historians of religion. Neither author has the intention or motivation of finding support for or validating Christian theology. Their books Two Powers in Heaven (Segal) and The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel (Sommer) focus on doctrinal topics related to how Judaism and Christianity conceive of God.

Various terms were employed by Segal and Sommer in their books to describe the conception of the one, true God YHWH existing as more than one person. Their terms included: hypostasis, manifestation, figures, powers (such as the phrase “two powers”), fluidity of self or personhood. The Christian Trinitarian conception of God likewise teaches that the Jewish God YHWH exists as more than one person. More specifically, the Trinitarian concept understands YHWH to exist as three persons. In our study we have used the term Complex Monotheism to refer to conceptions in which YHWH was understood to exist as more than one person/hypostasis. Conversely, we have used the term Simple Monotheism to refer to conceptions of God in which YHWH was understood to be one person.

As we began, we first charted the chronology of Jewish and Christian literature including their scriptures. We added to this list some additional chronological data about other religious systems and texts which are sometimes suggested to have influenced Jewish or Christian theology. Early on we noted that the historical evidence prohibited the consideration of any other religious system besides philosophical Greek thought as a possible source of Jewish and Christian conceptions of God. Comparable aspects of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Gnosticism all post-date the emergence of Complex Monotheism in Jewish and Christian groups. Therefore, none of these religious systems can be responsible for the development of Complex Monotheism within Jewish sects.

In his book, Sommer documents clear displays of Complex Monotheism within numerous passages and books of the Hebrew Bible itself. These articulations of Complex Monotheism within the Hebrew Bible fit within their cultural and historical context of the Near Eastern Semitic and Canaanite peoples. In the early Biblical and pre-Biblical periods, Northwestern Semitic groups express a common conception that a single god could exist as more than one person in more than one place at a single time. This is true whether the Semitic or Canaanite group was polytheistic or monotheistic. As Sommer explains the question of how many gods exists (polytheism and monotheism) is categorically and conceptually distinct from the questions about the nature of the selfhood (personhood) of a single god.

Unlike their contemporaries, the Biblical Israelites were monotheists who worshipped only one God, YHWH. However, like their Semitic counterparts, the Biblical Israelites believed that God existed as more than one person. The clear and consistent display of Complex Monotheism beginning in the oldest sections of the Hebrew Bible and continuing into the prophetic and post-exilic books, eliminates the possibility that Greek religious thought is responsible for Complex Monotheism within Judaism for several reasons. First, the Hebrew Bible was completed at a time when Greek religion had no expression of the plurality of selfhood for any single god. Second, the emergence within Greek religion of what might initially be categorized as Complex Monotheistic ideas occurs only with the rise of Greek philosophical religion in the late fifth and early fourth centuries BC. This is after the final books of the Hebrew Bible had already been written. Since Complex Monotheism is present in the Hebrew Bible before it appears in any form within Greek religion, Greek religion cannot be identified as the source of Complex Monotheism in later Jewish sectarian writing. Moreover, as we have seen, there is good reason not to categorize Greek Philosophical religion as Complex Monotheism at all due to its insistence on the absolutely unity of the Supreme Being and its description of secondary divinities as occupying separate levels of being outside the Supreme Being. Consequently, for both chronological and fundamental conceptual reasons, Greek Philosophical religion cannot be the source of Complex Monotheism within Judaism. On the contrary, Jewish sectarian writing in the period between the fourth century BC and the third century AD derives its Complex Monotheism directly from the passages of the Hebrew Bible itself, even as identified by Sommer. In other words, the Hebrew Bible is the source of Complex Monotheism within Judaism.

Additionally, while theoretical similarities between Greek philosophy and Jewish or Christian Complex Monotheism ultimately turn out to be relevantly dissimilar on a fundamental conceptual level, there are fundamental parallels between Jewish Simple Monotheism and Greek philosophical religion. In fact, medieval Jewish philosophers had a high regard for Platonic thought. The Platonic conception of the One God as incorporeal being who is an indivisible and perfectly simple unity corresponds precisely with the medieval Jewish view of God. In the medieval Jewish conception of God, YHWH is an incorporeal being with an indivisible self who emanated the “shekhinah,” a created being with a particular relationship to YHWH which manifested his presence in heaven and earth. This medieval definition of God’s “shekinah” occupies the same place and function of the Divine Mind and World Soul in Greek philosophy, both of which are emanations that exist outside the absolute unity of the incorporeal, eternal Supreme Being and mediate God’s relationship to the physical world.

In contrast, the Complex Monotheism of early Judaism and Christianity rejects the absolute indivisibility of the Platonic God’s selfhood as well as his incorporeality. Therefore, while the medieval, Jewish concept of God parallels the Platonic idea very closely, the earlier Jewish and Christian conceptions of God resist and reject critical aspects of the Platonic view. These theological parallels and associations enable us to accurately identify the medieval, Jewish conception of God as fundamentally Hellenistic regarding the Godhead while at the same time earlier Jewish and Christian beliefs about God cannot be accurately characterized as Hellenistic with regard to their views of the Godhead.

As Sommer explains, a study of the historical evidence overturns a great deal of the conventional perspectives about Judaism and Christianity. In the conventional view, Christianity stands alone in support of Complex Monotheism, a corporeal God, and incarnational theology. On the other side stands all of Judaism from the biblical period through to the modern day proclaiming in unison the incorporeal, indivisible conception of YHWH. However, these conventional views are not biblically or historically sustainable. They are not merely an oversimplification of the evidence. They are flatly in error. The historical evidence provided in biblical literature as well as post-biblical, sectarian literature demonstrates that modern Rabbinic Judaism stands alone in the rejection of Complex Monotheism and in the embrace of Platonic Simple Monotheism. On the other side, along with New Testament Christianity stands the host of available Jewish sectarian literature prior to the third century AD including: Jewish apocalyptists, Jewish-Christians, Philo, Jewish mystics, and even some Pharisee and rabbis like Akiba. There is little or no concrete evidence of the rejection of Complex Monotheism and the adherence to Simple Monotheism in available Jewish literature prior to the third century AD.

The rejection of Complex Monotheism by Judaism did not begin to occur before 70-80 AD when the Temple was destroyed and rabbinic leaders began to wield greater influence over the surviving Jewish community. The passing of their rivals, the Sadducees, no doubt contributed to this rise in authority. As their authority grew, the Pharisaic rabbis began to reformulate the Jewish orthodox position regarding the proper conception of God. To do so required working out an exegetical basis for the rejection of Complex Monotheism and the exclusion of its adherents from the synagogues. Even so, these efforts were not well-developed or established until the close of the second century AD. Prior to that time, even rabbinic leaders like Akiba still continued to articulate interpretations of biblical passages correspondent with Complex Monotheism. Likewise, Jewish and Christian literature from the second century shows that the Jewish-Christian community continued to remain conceptually close to the rabbinic synagogue community of that time. Third-century Talmudic accounts intended to display the skill of the rabbinic argument against Complex Monotheism still do not exhibit an effective or substantive exegetical framework justifying the rejection of Complex Monotheism. On the contrary, they only effectively display the rabbinic conclusion on the matter rather than the explanation necessitating that conclusion. Likewise, the accounts provided in the rabbinic literature from the third century and earlier do not contain a clear chronology or explanation of the developments that lead to the partition of the rabbinic and Christian teachings and communities. The earliest material from the rabbis does not specifically identify the Christians among the heretics. The concern of the rabbis only related to groups which posited independent heavenly powers with contrary will. Jewish groups (including Christians) which did not believe in independent, separate powers with contrary will were not actually named among the heretics.

While their exact scriptural interpretations may have differed in some respects or passages from their fellow Jewish sectarians, the beliefs of the New Testament Christians were not conceptually unique among the Jewish sects and literature before the third century AD. The applications and specifics of New Testament teaching may, and in some cases, do differ in finer points and particulars from their contemporaries among other Jewish sects. But their general conceptions about God were of the same kind (Complex Monotheism.) Prior to the third century AD, Jewish literature commonly displays a belief in YHWH existing as more than one, simultaneously-present person. One of these persons of YHWH was commonly identified in Jewish literature as the Logos/Memra/Word/angel of YWHH. This figure was associated with the Messiah and a “man-like” hypostasis as depicted in passages like Daniel 7. Jewish writings even taught that various human figures were exalted to become the “second power” or hypostasis of YHWH. One tradition taught that the particular angelic manifestation which the Hebrew bible identifies by the name YHWH (otherwise deemed to be a theophany) actually descended into flesh and became the historic human figure Jacob. Prior to the third century AD, Jewish literature from biblical and post-biblical sources contained a strong tendency towards incarnational theology. Major themes in the Hebrew Bible itself deal with YHWH’s desire and intention to become immanent in the world and among his people by creating a body or receptacle for Himself on earth. These themes as well as the Hebrew Bible’s depiction of YHWH as both immanent and transcendent are best explained by Complex Monotheism. Within Complex Monotheism YHWH exists as more than one person in distinct bodies at the same time. This allows YHWH to be present in the world without being limited, entirely vulnerable, or consubstantial with the world. He can experience suffering and joy with his people and yet not be limited or vulnerable due to the fact that YHWH is more than just one embodied, person and also exists beyond and independent of the world.

Difficulty in finding a substantive basis for categorically separating biblical Judaism and New Testament Christianity is not limited to Complex Monotheism or the incarnation. Attempts to dissociate Judaism from Christianity on the basis of identifying Jesus as Messiah, the abrogration of the Law of Moses, the unique covenantal relationship between God and Israel, and a dying and rising Messiah who is the incarnation of YHWH are also not sustainable. It is clear that many of the Jewish people and rabbinic leadership did reject Jesus as a false Messiah. However, some Jews and even rabbinically-trained Pharisees did accept Jesus as Messiah. Jewish attestation of a rejection of Jesus as Messiah does not emerge until a century or two after Jesus’ life. Therefore, it is not possible to discern an official position of Judaism regarding Jesus until after the close of the second century at the earliest. Likewise, Rabbi Akiba himself died while believing in a man who was a false messiah (Simeon bar Kokhba.) Therefore, a belief in someone regarded as a false Messiah does not constitute grounds for being labeled a heretic.

Furthermore, Christianity and Judaism have similar views and approaches to the Law of Moses. The historical reality is that significant portions of the Law of Moses have not been applicable or practicable since 70 AD. The New Testament is not antithetical to the Law of Moses. On the contrary, in the New Testament period, Jewish followers of Jesus continued to keep the Law of Moses. They rejoiced that they could. They did not simply reject or deny the Law of Moses. They recognized that it was God-given. The New Testament does teach that a new covenant superseded the Law of Moses and the Sinai Covenant. However, the new covenant incorporated aspects of the Law of Moses. And ultimately, the New Testament’s position regarding the relationship between the the Sinai Covenant (Law of Moses) and the new covenant is not substantively different from the relationship between the Abrahamic Covenant and the Sinai Covenant. Once the subsequent covenant was put into effect by God, the parameters of that covenant were obligatory for the Jewish people. Rabbinic Judaism’s approach to the serious limitations imposed on practicing the Law of Moses are, in principal and large-scale practice, not substantially different from the approach of the New Testament. Accommodations are made and Mosaic Law is abrogated on the basis of divinely-mandated authority to create a new and different law code. Neither Rabbinic Judaism or Christianity applies Mosaic requirements regarding Temple service, priestly duty, annual festivals, Sabbath day offerings, tithing, how to live in the land, and how to enforce punishments for criminal actions. Only dietary restrictions, circumcision, and some Sabbath practices separate Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity when it comes to keeping the Law of Moses. Such differences are not only minor issues of practice, but most importantly they have nothing to do with theological issues. It is true that neither Christianity nor Rabbinic Judaism recognizes the other’s authority to alter the Law of Moses. But the inherent similarities prohibit either side from objecting to the other in principal. The critical disagreement is in the legitimacy of the respective authorities identified by either party to make changes to the Law.

New Testament teaching on God’s relationship to Abraham’s descendents, the people of Israel, does not differ substantively from the perspective offered in the Hebrew Bible. The new covenant that Jesus institutes is given to Jewish men. The New Testament reiterates that the new covenant is to Jews first and secondarily also to Gentiles on the grounds that they convert, adopt the teachings of the Jewish covenant, and participate with Israel in Israel’s covenant and promises with God. The Law of Moses had the same outlook regarding the adoption of Gentiles into the nation of Israel. And far from abandoning the Jews as God’s Covenant people, the New Testiment also emphasizes that God is going to to save all of Israel. Also like the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament acknowledges that not all of Abraham’s or Israel’s descendents were faithful or accepted by God. On the contrary, the portrayal of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is that, in general, a larger portion of Israel is typically unfaithful to YHWH than the portion of Israel who remains faithful. While it is true that various Christian groups after the New Testament period have rejected God’s unique and ongoing covenant relationship with Israel, Jesus, his apostles, and the New Testament affirm this special relationship.

The final theological issue that Sommer lists as justification for categorically separating biblical Judaism and New Testament Christianity is the New Testament teaching that Jesus is God incarnate and that he died and rose again. Sommer articulates that this particular belief is a form of pagan myths about dying and rising gods. While Sommer points out that scholarly circles have at times exaggerated the prevalence of such pagan myths, Sommer also asserts that Judaism entirely rejects such beliefs. As with other claimed justifications, objections concerning a belief in a dying and rising God are untenable. We have seen the body of Jewish traditions which identified the Messiah as a hypostasis or incarnation of YHWH. And we have even seen a tradition in which the angelic hypostasis identified by the name YHWH in the Hebrew bible was believed to have descended to become Jacob, a historical human figure of significant importance and connections to central Jewish lineage. The divine nature of the Messiah is an authentically Jewish concept originating from biblical texts and expressed in non-Christian post-biblical Jewish literature. Likewise, Judaism contains a general belief in the resurrection of the dead. More specifically, pre-rabbinic and even Rabbinic Judaism contains traditions of a dying and rising Messiah. In no way then can the Christian teaching that Jesus is YHWH incarnate who died and rose from the dead be categorized as non-Jewish, pagan, or a concept that Judaism has always rejected.

Furthermore, an awareness of common Jewish views from the period surrounding and preceding the New Testament not only impacts the relationship between Judaism and Christianity but it also has a significant impact upon related disputes among Christian groups. Two related examples of this deal with the origin of the Trinitarian concept and the nature of the Word of YHWH.

Over the centuries after the New Testament, some Christian groups developed the belief that the Word of God was a created being who was made by God the Father prior to the creation of the world. For these Christians, God the Father is the Supreme Being, the only uncreated being, and the only being worthy of worship. He is identified as the God, as YHWH, or as God Almighty. While the Word is designated as a god, he is not understood to be co-eternal or co-equal with the Father. He is not identified as YHWH, or as Almighty, and he is not to be worshipped as YHWH God. On the other side of the debate are Christians (including ourselves) who identify the Word as co-eternal and uncreated along with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Events surrounding the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD highlight the early developments of this dispute.

When we read John 1 in light of the existing Jewish traditions about the Logos/Memra/Word of YHWH, its particular claims about the Godhead become even clearer. John is a Jewish man writing at a time when Jews identified the Word of YHWH as the person who appeared to all of the patriarchs and prophets in the Hebrew Bible. This includes Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses to name a few early and significant figures. The Targums (the translations of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic that were read in the Jewish synagogues each week) identify the figure meeting with these men as the Word of YHWH. In the first chapter of his gospel John is discussing this important figure that Jews of his time identified as the Word is God. He states that the Word is God and is with God. This is an acknowledgement of the existing Jewish understanding that YHWH existed as more than one hypostasis or person and that the Word was one of those persons of YHWH. John begins his gospel with an account of the history of the Word leading up to his incarnation as Jesus. At the beginning of this account, the Word simply exists. He exists with God and he exists as God. He does not describe any creation event wherein the Word was made by God. In verse 18, John explains that while no man has seen God at any time, the person of the Word had made God known to mankind. This is a reflection of the existing Jewish understanding that even though God was transcendent and beyond the physical world of men, men had seen YHWH God just as the Hebrew bible says because the Word visited the patriarchs and prophets and God was manifest to them in the person of the Word.

The implications of John’s gospel contextualized in the existing Jewish understanding at the time are important. The significant relevance that this historically responsible perspective has regarding the dispute over the nature of the Word can be seen as we note the language applied in the Hebrew Bible to the person who appeared to the patriarchs. For instance, the person who appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is called the Almighty in Genesis 17:1, Genesis 35:9-11, Genesis 48:3, and Exodus 6:3. Likewise, the person who appeared to Balaam is also the Almighty (Numbers 24:4 and 16.) And yet in these same passages the person who appeared to these men is identified either in the Hebrew Bible itself, in the Targums, or both as the figure commonly identified by first-century Jews like John as the angel of YHWH or Word of YHWH.

According to the Targum it is the Word of YHWH that Jacob proclaims to be his God.

12. As if these examples aren’t enough (and there are many more), just consider Genesis 28:20-21, Jacob’s vow. In Hebrew, it reads, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then  the Lord will be my God.The Targum says, “If the Word of the Lord will be with me…then the Word of the Lord will be my God. The Word of the Lord will be Jacob’s God! And this was read in the synagogues for decades, if not centuries. Week in and week out, the people heard about this walking, talking, creating, saving, delivering Word, this Word who was Jacob’s God. – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 21

(For a review of information contained in the Targum and pre-rabbinic traditions about the Word of YHWH please revisit the portion of this study entitled “The Continuation of Complex Monotheism within Judaism after the Close of the Hebrew Bible” and especially the Memra Chart contained in that section.)

As we read these passages, keep in mind that Jews of the first century AD understood the angel/Word of YHWH to be the same person who appeared and interacted with the patriarchs in each of these biblical passages.

Thus, at the very least, the entire angelic theophany in Exodus (and maybe those in Genesis as well) was seen as a close unit as early as LXX translations in the second century B.C.E….Whatever is implied about the status of the tradition at the time of the LXX translation, this angelic manifestation of God is so consistent a character in the biblical drama for Philo that he blithely applies the description of the angel Moses saw to the angel that appears to Abraham. Again the link is made on the basis of place. (Gen. 28:11): For as long as he falls short of perfection, he has the Divine Word as his leader, since there is an oracle which says, “Lo I send my messenger before thy face to guard thee in thy way, that he may bring you into the land which I have prepared for thee; give heed to him and hearken to him, disobey him not; for he will by no means withdraw from you. For My name is in him.” (Ex. 23:30 f.) – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 169-170

Genesis 15:1 similarly states that the Word of YHWH appeared in a vision to Abraham and Genesis 3:8 describes the “voice” of YHWH walking in the garden. The same passage is translated in the Targum as “the Word/Memra of YHWH walking the garden.”

11. To use Genesis 3:8 as an example, most of the people who were listening to the public reading of the Scriptures would not have understood the Hebrew, which said, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden.” Rather, they would have understood the Targum, which said, “And they heard the sound of the Word of the LORD God walking in the midst of the garden.” 30 – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 19

This means that according to John’s Gospel, the Targums, and the Hebrew Bible, the Word of YHWH identifies himself and is identified by others as God Almighty. Similarly, in the Hebrew Bible and the Targums the Word identifies himself and is identified by others simply as YHWH. Furthermore, it is the Word who commands that Israel must worship YHWH alone for he is a jealous god (Exodus 20:5, 23:24, Leviticus 26:1, Deuteronomy 5:9.) For example, here is Exodus 20:2. Keep in mind that according to numerous passages in Exodus and Numbers the person who brought the Israelites out of Egypt was the “angel of YHWH” which is another title for the Word of YHWH. 

Exodus 20:2 I am the LORD (YHWH) thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. 3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me. 4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: 5 Thou shalt not bow down (07812) thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;

These commands are given by the Word speaking in the first person. This means that the Word is identifying himself as YHWH and commanding the Israelites not to worship anyone besides himself. And as we would expect then, it is the angel/Word of YHWH that Moses, Jacob, and Balaam bow down to in worship and call their God (Genesis 28:20-21, Exodus 24:1, 33:10, 34:8, Numbers 22:31.) This is all the more significant for those who accept the New Testament given the declaration in John 1 that no man has seen the Father. Who then are these men bowing down before in worship? For example, here is Exodus 24:1 where Moses and the elders go up the mountain to worship YHWH. Note the word for “worship” is the same Hebrew word used in Exodus 20:5 where YHWH commands the Israelites not to worship any other god but him. In both cases it is “shachah” (Strong’s number 07812.)

Exodus 24:1 And he said unto Moses, Come up unto the LORD (YHWH), thou, and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel; and worship (07812) ye afar off.

We must keep in mind that Jews of the pre-rabbinic and even the rabbinic period (Rabbi Idi) identified the person that Moses and the elders went up to as Metatron, another name for the angel or Word of YHWH. And yet it is this Word of YHWH that Moses and the elders worship.

“According to a story in the Talmud (b. Sanhedrin 38b), a man identified as a schismatic – here a clear reference to a Jewish follower of Jesus – was talking to a rabbi about Exodus 24:1, the beginning of the passage we are looking at, in which God said to Moses, “come up to the LORD [Hebrew, YHWH].” …The Jewish believer was trying to argue that it seemed odd that God said to Moses, “Come up to YHWH,” rather than, “come up to me.” Didn’t this seem to indicate more than one divine Person? …Now, the rabbi could have simply replied, “Such usage is not that unusual in the Hebrew Bible.” Instead, because he too sensed that there were some theological issues to be addressed, the rabbi answered that God was not speaking here of himself but rather of Metatron, the most powerful angel in Rabbinic literature, “whose name is as his Master.” In other words, when God said, “Come upon to YHWH,” he did not mean, “Come up to me” but “come up to Metatron whose name is YHWH.” So according to this Talmudic interpretation, Metatron was called YHWH!” – Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, Volume 2, Theological Objections, p. 26

Here is the Talmudic account. Again, Rabbi Idi’s remarks are in blue. (The remarks of the “Min” or sectarian are in red.)

Sanhedrin 38b: R. Nahman said: “He who is as skilled in refuting the Minim as is R. Idith [MS. M: R Idi] let him do so; but not otherwise. Once a Min said to R. Idi: ‘ It is written, And unto Moses He said: Come up to the Lord (Ex. 24:1). But surely it should have stated, Come up to me!’‘It was Metatron,’ he replied, whose name is similar to that of his Master, for it is written, For My name is in Him. (Ex. 23:21). ‘But if so, we should worship him!’ ‘The same passages, however,’ replied R. Idi, ‘says: Be not rebellious against Him [i.e., exchange Me not for him.’] ‘But if so, why is it stated: He will not pardon your transgression?’ (Ex. 23:21). He answered: ‘By our truth [lit: we hold the belief] we would not accept him even as a messenger, for it is written. And he said unto him, If Thy presence go not etc.’ (Ex. 33:15).” – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 68-69

The established Jewish tradition read in the synagogues each week at the time of the New Testament was to identify the figure that Moses and the people worshipped in Exodus 33:10 and 34:5-8 as the angel/Word of YHWH.

Exodus 33:10 And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped (07812), every man in his tent door. 11 And the LORD (YHWH) spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua

Exodus 34:5 And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. 6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. 8 And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped (07812.)

Note that Exodus 33:10 specifically identifies the figure in the cloudy pillar as the one worshipped by the nation of Israel. And yet Exodus 14 identifies this person both as the angel of YHWH (v. 19) and simply as YHWH (v. 24.)

Exodus 14:17 And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: and I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen. 18 And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I have gotten me honour upon Pharaoh, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen. 19 And the angel of God, which went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of the cloud went from before their face, and stood behind them: 20 And it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel; and it was a cloud and darkness to them, but it gave light by night to these: so that the one came not near the other all the night. 21 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the LORD caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided…24 And it came to pass, that in the morning watch the LORD looked unto the host of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and of the cloud, and troubled the host of the Egyptians.

In 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 and 9, Paul speaks of the Rock that followed Israel in the pillar of the cloud mentioned in such passages from Exodus and Deuteronomy. He plainly identifies the Rock, the person in the pillar of cloud, as Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:1 Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; 2 And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; 3 And did all eat the same spiritual meat; 4 And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ…9 Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.

The phrase “the Rock,” which Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 10, is a specific reference back to Moses’ identification of YHWH as “the Rock” in Deuteronomy 32. Again, we see that the incarnate Word of YHWH (Jesus) is identified by a Jewish New Testament author as YHWH himself.

Deuteronomy 32:3 Because I will publish the name of the LORD: ascribe ye greatness unto our God. 4 He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he…15 But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation…18 Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee…31 For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges.

Just as in the Exodus accounts where Moses and the people of Israel worship the angel of YHWH, Numbers 22 identifies the figure that Balaam interacts with as both YHWH and the angel of YHWH (and possibly the Word of YHWH, v. 18.) And again, it is to the angel of YHWH that Balaam bows down in worship using the same Hebrew word not only from Exodus 24:1 but also from Exodus 20:5, which forbid worshipping anyone other than YHWH God.

Numbers 22:4 And Moab said unto the elders of Midian, Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field. And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time. 5 He sent messengers therefore unto Balaam the son of Beor to Pethor…8 And he said unto them, Lodge here this night, and I will bring you word again, as the LORD (YHWH) shall speak unto me: and the princes of Moab abode with Balaam. 9 And God came unto Balaam, and said, What men are these with thee? 10 And Balaam said unto God, Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab, hath sent unto me, saying, 11 Behold, there is a people come out of Egypt, which covereth the face of the earth: come now, curse me them; peradventure I shall be able to overcome them, and drive them out. 12 And God said unto Balaam, Thou shalt not go with them; thou shalt not curse the people: for they are blessed. 13 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and said unto the princes of Balak, Get you into your land: for the LORD (YHWH) refuseth to give me leave to go with you…18 And Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the LORD (YHWH) my God, to do less or more. 19 Now therefore, I pray you, tarry ye also here this night, that I may know what the LORD (YHWH) will say unto me more. 20 And God came unto Balaam at night, and said unto him, If the men come to call thee, rise up, and go with them; but yet the word which I shall say unto thee, that shalt thou do. 21 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab. 22 And God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD (YHWH) stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him. 23 And the ass saw the angel of the LORD (YHWH) standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way. 24 But the angel of the LORD (YHWH)  stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side. 25 And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD (YHWH), she thrust herself unto the wall, and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall: and he smote her again. 26 And the angel of the LORD (YHWH) went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left. 27 And when the ass saw the angel of the LORD (YHWH), she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff…31 Then the LORD opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the LORD (YHWH) standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and he bowed down his head, and fell flat (07812) on his face.

Note that each of these passages in the Hebrew Bible (Exodus 20:5, Exodus 24:1, Exodus 33:10, Exodus 34:5, and Numbers 22:31) uses the same word for worship (“shachah,” 07812). Likewise, the Septuagint translates “shachah” in each of these passages with the Greek verb “proskuneo” (Strong’s number, 4352.) This is the same Greek word used repeatedly in the New Testament to translate the first commandment and to iterate the obligation to worship YHWH alone.

 

Matthew 4:10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship (4352) the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

 

Luke 4:8 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship (4352) the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.

 

John 4:24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship (4352) him must worship (4352) him in spirit and in truth.

 

And yet the New Testament repeatedly indicates that the incarnate Word (Jesus) is worshipped by his disciples and by angelic heavenly beings using this word (“proskuneo”) that is employed when the first commandment prohibits worshipping anyone besides YHWH.

 

Matthew 14:33 Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped (4352) him, saying, Of a truth thou art the Son of God.

 

Matthew 15:25 Then came she and worshipped (4352) him, saying, Lord, help me.

 

Matthew 20:20 Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping (4352) him, and desiring a certain thing of him.

 

Matthew 28:9 And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped (4352) him.

 

Matthew 28:17 And when they saw him, they worshipped (4352) him: but some doubted.

 

Luke 24:52 And they worshipped (4352) him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy:

 

Likewise, Revelation 4 uses this same Greek word “proskuneo” to describe the angelic beings worshipping God in heaven as they proclaim his worthiness to receive glory, honor, and power to him.

 

Revelation 4:10 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship (4352) him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.

 

Note that Revelation 4:10 specifies that the worship is given to God, in part, because he has created all things. And yet this same achievement is credited to the Word in John 1:1. If the person sitting on the throne is worthy of worship because he created all things then the same would be true for the Word since he also created all things. And as we might expect from these observations, the same proclamations are, in fact, made to the Word (the Lamb) as they fall down before him in Revelation 5.

 

Revelation 5:8 And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints…11 And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; 12 Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. 13 And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. 14 And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped (4352) him that liveth for ever and ever.

 

The worshippers here in chapter 5 are the same angelic beings who fall down before and worship Him who sits on the throne in chapter 4. Note that this passage from chapter 5 concludes with the angelic beings making these proclamations to Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb together followed by verse 14’s statement that they fell down and worshipped him (“proskuneo.”) The verse does not designate that only one receives the worship of the angelic beings but not the other. Rather, after mentioning the Lamb and Him who sits on the throne separately, the verse designates both as the object of worship by simply using a singular pronoun. This is reminiscent of Genesis 1, which also uses singular pronouns in reference to God depicted as a plurality of interacting persons. The Context and comparisons of the treatment of the Word (Lamb) and Him who sits on the throne in these two chapters shows that no distinction is needed or, indeed, can be made with regard to worship. The angelic beings worship both the Word and Him who sits on the throne in a perfect fulfillment of Daniel 7’s vision. As we have seen, up until the third century AD Daniel 7 was understood by Jews to refer to two distinct hypostases (or persons) of God on heavenly separate thrones, one of which was associated with the Word of YHWH and the Davidic Messiah.

 

The use of these Hebrew and Greek words for worship make it exceedingly difficult to deny that the Word is receiving the very worship given to YHWH alone and forbidden to anyone else especially when the immediate context depicts another person of YHWH receiving that same kind of worship simultaneously. The language and historical context of these biblical passages shows that the Word is worshipped by the patriarchs, the apostles, and angelic beings as YHWH in the manner which was forbidden to anyone but YHWH. These observations make it exceedingly difficult to argue that the Word is not understood by first century Jews including the New Testament writers to be YHWH God and worthy of our worship.

 

This is why the early Christians including the apostles and New Testament authors feel free to identify the Word/Logos (Jesus) with all of the first-century epithets that were used of YHWH God alone, at times, exactly as they are used of YHWH GOD in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible). The most important of these titles are the Greek terms “kyrious” and “theos” which are the words used to translate YHWH (“kyrious”) and God (“theos”) from the Hebrew Bible.

As further evidence that these traditions had a background in Hellenistic Judaism before they were put to Christian use, Goodenough shows that most of the titles applied to the logos by Justin are the same as those used by Philo and other Hellenstic Jewish writers: theos, kyrios, angelos, dynamis, anatole, litha, petra, arche, hemera (phos), sophia, aner, anthropos, Israel, Jacob, etc.: 17 [Footnote 17: E. R. Goodenough, The Theology of Justin Martyr, p. 168-172.] – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 223-224

These are equivalent to the logos which as a second God can also be given the title “Lord.” (kyrios – YHWH). This doctrine, which allows that “place” is a divine creature called Lord, cannot strike us as innocent, especially when we know that “Lord” is synonymous with the tetragrammaton… – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 162-163

But Jos. 22:22 has exactly the same string of divine names, as Ps. 50:1 – El, Elohim, YHWH – so it is equally likely to have been used as proof of plurality. Notice that Irenaeus uses the passage merely to prove that the Son is one with the Father. He could do this because the Greek translation of the psalm used a genitive plural to translate one name of God (Theos Theon Kyrios) making a total of two figures. – Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven, p. 228-229

Likewise, we have already seen that John 1:14 identifes the Word as the glory of God paralleling the Jewish concept of the “kabod” (“glory”) of God (and its cognate the Name of God) expressed in both rabbinic writing and the Hebrew bible itself.

But in most biblical texts the divine kabod refers to a divine attribute, whether a concrete one that embodies God’s presence but does not exhaust it (i.e., a hypostasis) or an abstract characteristic, such as the honor due to the deity or the moral qualities the deity expresses…The consistent tendency of many of these ambiguous texts to associate God’s kabod with light, fire, and brightness (e.g., Deuteronomy 5.20; Isaiah 6.3, 24.23, 60.2, 62.2; Zechariah 2.9) suggests that, even when the term is used metaphorically, a more substantial usage stands in the background. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 61-62

Endnote 22: Even…Justice and Fairness…may have been hypostatized in Northwest Semitic literature, where they are actual gods…(For a similar use in rabbinic liturgy, see the Sabbath morning hymn, “El Adon,” where…Right and Fairness…are in God’s presence, along with other creatures…who comprise the heavenly court.) Consequently, the parallel between kabod and terms such as these leaves open at least the possibility that kabod here is not an abstract quality but a hypostatized quality that has become a substantial entity. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 215

The terms shem and kabod outside priestly and deuteronomic literature, in short, function in similar ways. Thus it is not surprising that the terms often appear together or parallel to each other (see, e.g., Isaiah 59.19; Jeremiah 14.21; Psalms 72.19, 79.9, 102.16-17, 106.2; and Nehemiah 9.5 [cf. Isaiah 30.27]). In Psalm 29.2 and 66.2, the worshippers laud the kabod of God’s shem, whereas in Psalm 27.19 and Nehemiah 9.5, the shem of God’s kabod receives Israel’s praise. Psalm 63.3 is an especially interesting case of their appearance together: The worshipper at the sanctuary sees God’s kabod and raises his hand to God’s shem. In many passages, it is hard to say whether these two closely related terms refer to parts of God’s self, to concrete manifestations that embody or surround the divine presence, to abstract characteristics of God, or to epiphenomena that relate to a theophany. This difficulty is not surprising in a world where divine selfhood can be fragmented or overlapping. In such a world, there is little reason to decide whether shem was the very essence of God, a local manifestation of God, or a hypostasis that overlapped with God while maintaining some distinct nature. All three could be the case at once. Similarly, kabod might be a body of God without being the body of God; it might be an emanation from but not the entirety of the divine self. It is because of the scope of fluidity traditions that we find a plethora of verses that point in all these directions. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 62

God’s name and God’s Glory in the Hebrew Bible – Priestly and deuteronomic traditions make distinctive use of two terms that refer to divine presence in various parts of the Hebrew Bible: (kabod, usually translated as “Glory”) appears often in the former, and (shem, or “name”) in the latter. To understand how these traditions take up these terms, it is necessary to review how other biblical texts use them. Outside the priestly and deuteronomic traditions these terms can refer to some type of divine manifestation or some attribute closely aligned with God’s self, but the exact nature of the connection between God and these manifestations or attributes is difficult to characterize. The term “name” in ancient Near Eastern cultures can refer to the essence of any thing and hence can be a cipher for the thing itself. Examples of the identity of God and God’s name in biblical literature abound. The synonymous parallelism of God and God’s name in many poetic texts attest to this identity…(Micah 5.3…Psalm 7.18…Psalm 145.21) Similarly, in Jeremiah 14.9 the presence of God in the people’s midst is equated with God’s shem…Yet shem or Name can also refer to a hypostasis, a quality or attribute of a particular being that becomes distinct from that being but never entirely independent of it. 6 In many texts, God’s shem embodies but does not exhaust God’s self, and it also maintains some degree of separate identity. Texts that use the term this way give witness to the fluidity of the divine selfhood so common in the ancient Near East. We noted in the previous chapter that Exodus 23.20-2 portrays God as sending an angel (mal’akh) to accompany the Israelites to their land. God tells Moses to obey the mal’akh, because “My shem is in it.” This mal’akh is the sort I discussed in the previous chapter – not quite a separate being but a small-scale manifestation of God. At times, the divine shem is sufficiently material to be the subject of its own verbs of motion. In Isaiah 30.27 it moves on its own: “The shem of Yhwh comes from afar, burning in anger, with a weighty load.” It is difficult to say whether “the Name of Yhwh” here means “the LORD Himself” or whether the poem distances God slightly from this angry theophany, implying that only part of God’s self will become manifest. 8 Significantly, God’s shem can manifest itself at more than one location. According to Exodus 20.24, the Israelites are to construct altars “in all the locations where I cause My shem to be mentioned.” Thus the notion of shem reflects the possibility of a fragmented divine self and its physical manifestation in multiple bodies. In short, shem functions outside deuteronomic and priestly texts both as a synonym for God and as a hypostasis or emanation of God that is not quite a separate deity. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 58-59

To first-century Jews including the New Testament authors and apostles, the Word (Jesus) was YHWH. Therefore, the apostle Thomas could speak to Jesus and proclaim him to be both the God (“theos”) and the Lord (“kyrios.”) By recording Thomas’ words with these two Greek terms, the apostle John applies the existing Jewish terminology for YHWH and God (“kyrios” and “theos”) to the Word (Jesus.) (The Greek words used in verse 28 are literally “the Lord of me and the God of me” using the Greek definite articles.)

John 20:27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. 28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. 29 Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

An awareness of the first-century Jewish context that the New Testament was written within is an essential component of sound biblical interpretation. Proper hermeneutic principals dictate that we try to understand scripture in the historical context that its authors wrote within so that we avoid misreading them through more modern experiences and views, which may have nothing to do with what these ancient texts had in mind. As we can see, an awareness of the existing Jewish context in which John and the other Jewish New Testament authors wrote negates the position of those who conclude that the Word is not YHWH, or the Almighty, or worthy of true religious worship. Likewise, identifying the Word as a being who is a god but who is not the same being as YHWH God constitutes a Platonic reinterpretation of the Jewish teaching articulated in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Under such Platonic schemes, the Logos is seen as the first being (or level of being) created by the One God. As we approach interpreting the New Testament we must choose either to interpret it in light of first-century Jewish traditions or Platonic traditions that became influential in Christian circles in the fourth century AD through the actions of figures like Constantine, Arius, Ambrose, and Augustine as well as in later rabbinic writings exemplified by Moses Maimonides. (For more information on the theological alterations and Platonic influences of these fourth century figures please see our articles on Roman Catholicism and the History of the Church.)

These facts and considerations are relevant to common assertions that the Trinity was not taught before the fourth century AD and that it was first introduced by figures such as Constantine. But, as we have seen the Trinity is simply a shorthand term used to denote the basic belief that God exists as more than one person. An awareness of Jewish views from the first century AD and earlier shows that this was a common belief among Jews and other Semitic peoples going back to the earliest biblical times and continuing into the second century AD. The only unique aspect of the Trinitarian concept is its specification of the number of persons that are YHWH as three. However, the concept of God existing as more than one person is not a novel idea that emerges in the fourth century church. Instead, it is a well-established, longstanding idea held by Jews and Semitic peoples for millennia and, more specifically, from the earliest portions of the Hebrew bible.

The affirmation of the belief that God exists as more than one person is clearly presented in the New Testament. The New Testament affirmation of these beliefs is even clearer when we read it in its historical, first-century, Jewish context. Even the specification of three persons of YHWH (Father, Word/Son, and Holy Spirit) is clearly presented in the New Testament. It is true that the term Trinity was not used in the New Testament. Although perhaps the earliest recorded use of this term dates to Tertullian in the early decades of the third century (circa 200-220 AD), nevertheless the beliefs referred to by the term Trinity were taught in the New Testament and within earlier Judaism long before Constantine and the Council of Nicaea. The idea that Constantine and the Council of Nicaea invented Trinitarian teaching is historically untenable as is its more general correlary that the Trinity is an adaptation from pagan polytheism.  

Just as untenable is the common assertion that Judaism has always taught Simple Monotheism. This assertion is little more than an assumption. It is not merely an oversimplification. Rather it is historically inaccurate. The idea that Judaism has always taught Simple Monotheism does not have the support of historical documentation in Jewish literature prior to the third century AD. In contrast to this assertion, the counterclaim, that Judaism has always taught Complex Monotheism, is not simply an assertion or wishful thinking on the part of Christians. To the contrary, the Hebrew Bible and Jewish sects from across the board articulate forms of Complex Monotheism in the centuries prior to 200 AD. These sects include: Jewish apocalyptic groups, Christians, Jewish mystics, Philo, and even some Pharisees and rabbis like Paul and Akiba. In light of the historical evidence presented by modern, non-Christian, Jewish scholars (such as Segal and Sommer) we must recognize that it is not responsible or accurate to claim that Biblical Judaism, pre-rabbinic Judaism, or even early rabbinic Judaism have always held the same point of view as modern, Rabbinic Judaism on these issues.

As we conclude we must keep in mind that the historical data and assessments that counter conventional perspectives are not offered by Christians seeking to vindicate New Testament teaching against Jewish objections. These are the conclusions and historical assessments of qualified, credentialed, historians of religion who are non-Christian Jews chronicling ancient Jewish beliefs and developments in the theology of Judaism and Christianity. Any responsible assessment of the biblical or Jewish nature of New Testament or rabbinic beliefs should address the evidence presented by these scholars. We have simply attempted to represent their work in a single document and connect the related observations made by these authors.

When the historical and biblical evidence is taken into account attempts to categorically separate the theology of Judaism and New Testament Christianity prior to the third century AD evaporate, particularly with regard to issues such as the nature of the Godhead, the Messiah, and incarnation. In light of the available historical data, Christianity becomes an authentically Jewish sect whose novelty is derived from its application of existing Jewish traditions to the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Since the beliefs associated with Jesus are authentically Jewish, originate from the Hebrew Bible itself, and are shared by other Jewish sects prior to the third century AD, it is not possible to categorically separate Christianity and biblical Judaism on the grounds that Jesus’ teaching and the Christian belief in Jesus violate Judaism. While Jesus and his teaching may contradict rabbinic theological positions that developed centuries later, Jesus and his teachings (as contained the New Testament) were perfectly acceptable and fairly common when compared to Judaism from the earliest biblical periods until the close of the second century AD. No substantive, historically viable grounds exist for excising New Testament Christianity from authentic, biblical Judaism. On the contrary, the exclusion of New Testament Christianity can only be maintained if one subscribes to a system of beliefs that were contrived by men centuries after the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. More specifically, one can only justify excluding New Testament teaching from authentic Judaism if one adheres to a non-biblical, post-biblical religious system that in many ways requires impositions borrowed from pagan (Platonic) thought and itself admits to overturning and replacing enormous portions of the specific commandments laid out by Moses as part of the Sinai Covenant.

What is even more interesting is the realization that the New Testament Christian sect constitutes an earlier form of Judaism than the Rabbinic sect particularly with regard to the antiquity of its particular beliefs. There are two factors supporting this conclusion. First, the texts of the New Testament were written between 100-150 years before the earliest rabbinic material. Likewise as a general rule the chief New Testament figures were active before the earliest figures featured in the Talmud. Jesus’ life and ministry took place over 40 years before early Talmudic figures. Second, the beliefs and teachings contained in the New Testament represent an earlier form of Judaism than that offered by Rabbinic Judaism. The new standards of orthodoxy, new conceptions of God, and new interpretations of the Hebrew Bible found in Rabbinic Judaism developed in the second and third century AD, many centuries after the Biblical period. It constitutes a departure from many of the teachings and practices of Judaism dating from the time of the Biblical period to the second century AD. This would be equivalent to a new Jewish sect emerging out of Rabbinc Judaism and declaring many of the essential, widely-held, and longstanding beliefs and practices of Rabbinic Judaism to be suddently no longer authentically Jewish. Indeed, Christian teaching is often excised from Judaism on the allegation that it is a novelty departing from its Jewish antecedent. And yet there is compelling historical evidence that Rabbinic Judaism itself originates from this same kind of innovation and alteration of earlier Judaism.

On the other hand, the beliefs articulated in the New Testament existed in Judaism for hundreds of years prior to the onset of rabbinic views. It is true that the Pharisees are the predecessors of the rabbis although this is largely documentable in terms of practice, not theology. However, the theological features that distinguish Rabbinic Judaism from Christianity are not readily identifiable or documentable prior to the second century AD. Therefore, Rabbinic Judaism is a distinct form of Judaism that is younger than New Testament Christianity. Rabbinic Judaism developed many centuries after the Biblical Period. (While there is a gap between the writing of the last book of the Hebrew bible and the onset of Christianity, it must be noted that this gap is much shorter time by hundreds of years.) On the other hand, as we have seen, the core theological concepts of pre-rabbinic Judaism are preserved in New Testament Christianity, which subsequently remains as the main surviving transmitter of the authentic beliefs and traditions of an earlier and more ancient Judaism.

In closing, I would like to add one final thought based on the preceding study. There is compelling reason to believe that Judaism, its patriarchs, its prophets, its ancient sects, and its scriptures are intending to share with us this story. YHWH God in the person of the Word came to the patriarchs and prophets of Israel in order to cultivate for himself a nation from the descendents of Abraham so that he could one day become incarnate as a man and as a Jew, share their sufferings, forgive their sins, live among them as their God, their King, their Lawgiver, and their Savior, and to bring light and peace to the world as a whole. As we have seen, Sommer has offered evidence for this exact conclusion.

Yet it has become clear in this exposition that the P document is in fact the most Christian section of Hebrew scripture. As one reads through P beginning with Genesis 1, one can see that for all its attention to specifics, this narrative has a larger, overarching concern: the decision of a transcendent God to become immanent in the world this God created….P subsequently narrates, at much greater length, God’s attempt to overcome this distance. Doing so requires the designation of the servants who will build the receptacle for God’s body on earth and hence their liberation from Egyptian bondage….it nonetheless describes an act of divine grace, for those rules provide the means for God to enter the world and thus for humanity to approach God. In broad terms, P’s basic story and the New Testament’s are of the same type. – Benjamin D. Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel, p. 136-137

In light of these things, the final verse of the section of the Hebrew Bible called the Nevi'im (the Prophets) may provide a relevant thought. In the verse below, the Hebrew word translated as “hearts” is “leb” (concordance number 03820.) It conveys the idea of the “inner man, mind, will, heart, understanding.” Similarly, the Hebrew word translated as “turn” is “shuwb” (concordance number 07725). It can mean “return, turn back, restore.” Therefore, Malachi 4:5-6 may indicate that in the period before the coming of the day of the Lord, the understanding of the children or descendents of the people of Israel will return to the understanding and faith that was held by their forefathers. Perhaps, the information and research done by Jewish biblical and historical scholars like Segal and Sommer will provide the opportunity to return to the understanding and faith of the biblical patriarchs just as Malachi 4:6 implies.

Malachi 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: 6 And he shall turn (07725) the heart (03820) of the fathers to the children, and the heart (03820) of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

For a more detailed look at biblical and other historical arguments that New Testament teachings are the legitimate form of Judaism and that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah expected in the Hebrew Bible, please see the Christianity and Judaism section of our Why Christianity study.

For additional information on correspondences between rabbinic traditions and New Testament teaching regarding important theological and messianic issues, please see our Rabbinical Studies series featuring the work of Jewish-Christian scholar and author Dr. Michael Brown.

For an in-depth examination and exegesis of key passages throughout the Hebrew Bible, which depict the Jewish God YHWH as one God who has revealed himself as more than one simultaneously-existing, divine Person, please see our Trinity Study.