Modern Jewish Christians & Jesus
- Who are Jewish Christians or Messianic Hebrews?
- The Fundamental Misunderstandings of Jewish Christianity
Jewish Christianity has various names (Hebrew Christians, Messianic Jews, the Hebrew Roots Movement, etc.) but they are all very similar, at least on the surface. They first and foremost acknowledge that Jesus was a Jew & that many scholars, for lack of better terminology, often call the first followers of Jesus “Jewish Christians”. This is the main fact with which they use to frame their belief systems. However, the Jewish Christian/Hebrew Roots movements have nothing in common with the original Jerusalem Jesus Movement nor the Nazoreans or Ebionites, as they claim. They are simply modern Judaized Christian movements.
These groups, then take various aspect of Judaism and piecemeal these things together with the tenets, belief systems & religious aspects of Christianity. They maintain their christian beliefs but also adopt some Judaism. There are innumerable “Jewish Christian” groups and they all have slightly different applications of Judaism & christianity within their groups. However, these groups and movements are neither jewish nor christian nor "Jewish Christian", they are simply christian judeophiles.
There was interest in such a movement since the mid-19th century with various forms of it gaining steam through the 20th century & a resurgence in the movements starting most recently in the 1980’s.
These groups generally maintain most if not all christian belief systems & dogma. They will maintain that Jesus was God or part of the Trinity, they maintain the hellenized & christian views of messianism, they maintain that the crucifixion was Jesus’ crowning achievement, they maintain that Jesus' only purpose was to be an atoning sacrifice, they maintain that the virgin birth and atoning death are more important than the life of Jesus, they maintain that the New Testament is a New Covenant par excellence, they maintain beliefs in Heaven and Hell, they maintain the divine appointment of Paul and his epistles, they maintain hellenized & christian views of sin & judgment, they maintain the Pauline teachings of a cosmic Christ philosophy, and most importantly many of these groups attempt to proselytize Jews while maintaining these christian beliefs.
However, these groups do also incorporate & attempt to adopt various forms of Judaism as well as maintaining the christian beliefs & dogma. They drop christian holidays and instead pick up Jewish holidays. They assign Hebrew names to Greek christian terminology and nomenclature. Some incorporate modern Jewish traditions. They also often adopt many Jewish clothing traditions during their religious services.
While “Jewish Christianity” (Hebrew Christians, Messianic Jews, the Hebrew Roots Movement, etc.) is portrayed as "the original religion of Jesus" it is in fact, simply a mishmashed conglomeration of both religions. These movements are in fact an unfortunate melting pot of willful and unintentional ignorance for the sake of trying to find the Jesus that walked the roads of Galilee preaching. However, these movements are neither based in historical fact nor authentic provenance. They do not utilize historical context nor apply the factual nuances of either historical judaism or historical christianity within their movements. This mishmash of two very different religions thereby creates something that isn’t quite Judaism and isn’t quite Christianity and wouldn’t be at all recognizable to the historical Jesus of Galilee nor the disciples, nor is recognizable to modern Jews or Christians.
What is the fundamental misunderstanding of the Jewish Christian (Hebrew Roots movements? This is a very loaded question, not always easily answered. The topical misunderstandings and errors are easy to point out but there are tougher underlying issues.
You probably have to start with the question “What is the drive for some people to seek out these movements?” For some it may be unanswered questions that their congregation could never provide. For some it could be a deeper spiritual crisis, maybe a religious fatigue. And yet for others, it could simply be a drive to be part of a different group, part of the outsiders….. the idea that you’re privy to knowledge that others aren’t.
Whatever the drive is for people to seek out these groups and join them, this idea that the movement has obtained a truth over other groups, is completely misguided. Most if not all Jewish Christian/Hebrew Roots adherents are woefully ignorant when it comes to the understanding of factual religious provenance & historical context when it comes to ancient Judaism and early christianity & where Jesus fits into that world.
It’s probably carry-over of religious fatigue, where there are so many incongruities, so many things to question that because the individual is looking for peace and stability, & an easy path to righteousness, they simply become mentally fatigued and give in to tradition & rely on the religious leadership to do the thinking. In fact, that is the modus operandi of christianity.
Sometimes people’s internal questioning and curiosity gets woken up and they start seeking out the answers on their own. It’s in man’s nature to seek out new things and to learn. Some will become agnostic or atheists, some going wholly to other religions, others encounter the Jewish Christian/Hebrew Roots movements. So these groups end up filled with people who believe their questions have been answered. That the solution is really quite simple & has been in front of them the whole time. However, these answers are merely topical and people that join these movements easily slip back into the mindset they had when they were previously religiously fatigued.
Jesus famously stated: “…the gateway to salvation is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” It’s obvious what this metaphor means: “the truth will never be easy to come by”. There is no allowance for religious fatigue in a person’s search for peace and tranquility and righteousness with God. One cannot let the habits from “the wide gate that many come through” influence them on their journey for the truth. This is the first fundamental misunderstanding of the Jewish Christian/Hebrew Roots movements.
The second fundamental misunderstanding of the Jewish Christian/Hebrew Roots movements goes deeper. This religious fatigue and need for an easy path to righteousness leads to many tougher underlying issues. The most glaring error that the Jewish Christian/Hebrew Roots movements continually maintain is their willingness to overlook and continue to be ignorant about the authentic histories, the historical contexts, & the factual nuances of both historical judaism & christianity.
You cannot understand anything unless you know where it came from, why it came from there, how it came to be, who or what exactly it is, and where it is intended to go. You cannot begin in the middle and expect to know the answer to anything. That is Jewish Christian/Hebrew Roots: these movements start at the middle, thinking that the middle is the beginning, without ever actually looking at the true beginning.
- Who was the authentic & historical Jesus?
- If Jesus was a Second Temple Jew then what is Second Temple Judaism?
- What exactly is the religious identity of the historical Jesus?
- What exactly was Jesus’ understanding of “messiah”?
- What were the aims & mission of the historical Jesus?
- How did Jesus look at & understand Torah?
- What exactly was the “Kingdom of God” to Jesus?
- What exactly was the Jesus’ nature?
- Who was the authentic & historical John the Baptist?
- Who were the authentic & historical disciples?
- Did Jesus authorize the disciples to create new apostles or alter his teachings in his absence?
- Who exactly was the authentic & historical Paul?
- What exactly was Paul’s teachings in comparison to the teachings of Jesus?
- What exactly is Paul’s “Christ” in relation to the historical Jesus?
- Why does Paul contradict his own teachings in his different epistles?
- Why does Paul misquote the Old Testament?
- What is the “New Testament” in relation to the teachings of the historical Jesus?
- Why is there such a difference in Judaism & christianity of the understanding of man’s nature?
- Why is there such a difference in Judaism & christianity of the understanding of the afterlife?
- Why is there such a difference in Judaism & christianity of the understanding of Satan?
- Why is there such a difference in Judaism & christianity of the understanding of sin & judgement?
The failure of the Jewish Christian/Hebrew Roots movements is they don’t answer these fundamental questions & start from the beginning. They start with a christian Jesus and a christian understanding of Jesus and force Judaism back onto him & his teachings.
Christian scholarship, whether in a college by professors or seminary by clergy, utilize the term “exegetical” quite a bit & perform “exegesis” when it comes to studying their religion & preachings. This noun is completely misused and wholly inappropriate for how christian clergy and scholars apply it to their studies & then utilize it in their preaching.
Christian scholars and clergy actually practice “eisegesis”. Eisegesis is best understood when contrasted with exegesis. While exegesis is the process of drawing out the meaning from a text in accordance with the historical context and discoverable meaning of its author, eisegesis occurs when a reader imposes his or her interpretation into and onto the text. This is the risk and failure of any religion. It seems particularly evident in christianity and modern judaism to apply eisegetical study and label it as exegetical.
A perfect example of christian eisegesis being applied in the Jewish Christian/Hebrew Roots movements is their forced conversion of biblical text. They convert the Greek New Testament into Hebrew and posit that to be the true interpretation. They do this while ignoring that the New Testament was written 50-200 years after the death of Jesus, and written fourth or fifth or sixth hand by Greeks with very little knowledge of Hebrew. They do this while ignoring the fact that the christian New Testament wasn't a book or oral tradition toted around by Jesus or his disciples, in fact it wasn't in existance until some 300 to 400 years after Jesus was dead. They ignore that the historical record has multiple various examples within & without Jewish & Greek writings that the teachings of the authentic Jesus & his movement were handed down orally and never originally written down.
Another example of the Jewish Christian/Hebrew Roots movements imposing their views through eisegesis is the maintaining of christian interpretations of Old Testament scripture and imposing modern christian views over ancient Jewish context. Their willful choice of superseding the beliefs and understandings of Jews and Judaism when Jesus was walking the earth, is an especially egregious example of maintaining christian supercessionism.
In the most glaring example of willful ignorance and deliberate eisegesis the Jewish Christian/Hebrew Roots movements convert the Pauline epistles into Hebrew, in an attempt to Judaize Paul and force a connection between the Pauline epistles and the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. This is a complete travesty of historical authenticity as none of Paul’s epistles were ever written in Hebrew, nor were they ever intended to be put into Hebrew. Paul wrote the epistles for a hellenized audience only, this is fact, it is history. Redactionally translating the epistles into Hebrew does not in some way align them with the teachings of Jesus.
Were the Jewish Christian/Hebrew Roots movements to take a step back and seek out the answer to those questions above, to utilize historical context & factual nuances to draw out the facts, and not continue to impose their deliberate & biased christian interpretations then these movements would arrive at the beginning with the answers and not in the middle, mishmashing square pegs into circular holes. Until they do this they are simply Judaized Christians. The Jewish Christian/Hebrew Roots movements have nothing in common with the original Jerusalem Jesus Movement nor the Nazoreans or Ebionites.