Much of my work consists of pointing out the ways that Jews and Christians can learn from each other, based on their shared history in Scripture. Today, however, I want to point out some of the ways that the two faiths differ in their theologies. These differences go a lot deeper than simply “Jesus” and “No Jesus.”
But let’s start with Jesus.
Who – or what – is the Messiah?
Perhaps the biggest reason missionaries have a hard time convincing Jews that Jesus is the Messiah is because they don’t realize that the very word “Messiah” means two different things to Jews and Christians. In the Christian view, the Messiah is God Himself. But this is a heresy in Judaism, as no man can be human and divine at once.
The Messiah, in Jewish teaching, must fulfill the following expectations laid out in the Torah:
- Rebuild the Third Temple (Ezekiel 37:26-28).
- Gather all Jews back to Israel (Isaiah 43:5-6).
- Establish world peace: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall man learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4). “God will be King over all the world – on that day, God will be One and His Name will be One” (Zechariah 14:9).
That Jesus didn’t create lasting peace is arguably the biggest indication that he isn’t the Messiah, and every Old Testament verse that suggests otherwise will be disregarded as a mistranslation. For Jews, the messiah’s main purpose is to establish peace and return the Jews to Israel. Anything to do with restoration of personal sins doesn’t really enter the picture.
For Christians, everything in the Bible points to Jesus. For Jews, everything points to Israel and the messiah to come.
The Issue of Sin
Jews and Christians both believe in the concept of sin: missing the mark, falling short of God’s standards for holiness. In Christianity, sin is considered a state of being as well as an action; something you are born into, and cannot rectify on your own. For Jews, sin is wrong action; there is no concept of “original sin.” Furthermore, Jews believe in confessing sin (collectively as a group on Yom Kippur, the day of atonement) directly, without need of a “middle man” (Jesus). All a person has to do is repent, and make amends with those he has wronged.
Christianity teaches that you must believe in Jesus in order to go to heaven. Judaism, by contrast, doesn’t require anyone to be Jewish in order to go to heaven. In fact, Judaism as a whole really isn’t concerned about a specific heaven or hell, so if you ask any rabbi or scholar what the Jewish teaching is about the afterlife, you’re likely to get several different answers, and none of them conclusive.
To end up in “Jewish heaven,” whatever that may be, one only needs to be concerned with living a righteous life.
Judaism only acknowledges one aspect of the Trinity: God the Father, also known as Adonai or Hashem. As Judaism is strictly a monotheistic religion, the trinity is considered polytheistic.
Isaiah 53 is regarded as a messianic prophecy in Christianity. But in Judaism, it’s about the suffering of the Jews as a collective unit, and a prophecy of Israel as a nation.
This is often a “go-to” verse for apologists and missionaries because it seems to clearly predict the crucifixion. But what seems obvious to one group is completely different to another.
These are just a few of the doctrinal differences between Judaism and Christianity. Messianic Judaism is commonly seen as a balance between the two. In actuality, MJ’s have more in common with evangelicals in terms of doctrine than they do with Jews.
Judaism today has evolved beyond Torah. It has more to do with the teachings of the Talmud than scripture (at least, the more liberal branches do- conservative and orthodox branches will incorporate more religious elements). For this reason, Christians can’t learn about modern Judaism by simply studying the Hebrew scriptures. If this is the only way that Christians learn about Judaism, then it’s no surprise that many assume Jews still make animal sacrifices in the temple (I’ve actually had people ask if I grew up doing this).
Modern Judaism (better known as “rabbinic Judaism”) is the spiritual descendant of Pharisaic Judaism. That’s right: the “bad guys” of the New Testament, the ones most commonly known as religious hypocrites, are the ones who laid the groundwork for today’s Jewish practice.
This is why, when I call myself Jewish, I am speaking in terms of my ethnicity and culture, not spirituality.