Theology

The biggest theological differences between Judaism and Christianity

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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:

  1. Rebuild the Third Temple (Ezekiel 37:26-28).
  2. Gather all Jews back to Israel (Isaiah 43:5-6).
  3. 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 toward Israel.

Satan isn’t who you think he is

The name “Lucifer” is Latin for “star” or “light bringer.” No Latin word would have appeared in any of the original texts. When the Catholic Church translated the Bible into Latin, it was believed that the text was referring to Satan, so the Hebrew equivalent of “star” or “light” was added — and thus translated as Lucifer, the name of the devil.

Take a look at the difference in translation of this text from the book of Isaiah 14:12-15. The first is from the New King James Version:

The Fall of Lucifer

12 “How you are fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!
13 For you have said in your heart:
‘I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High.’
15 Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol,
To the lowest depths of the Pit.

And now read this, from the New American Standard Bible:

12 “How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!
13 “But you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.
14 ‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
15 “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol,
To the recesses of the pit.”

In Judaism, the word “satan,” rather than being a name of a person or being, means “accuser” or “adversary.” There is no literal devil.

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.

The Afterlife

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.

The Trinity

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.

The “Virgin” vs “Young Woman” Debate

I covered this topic more in depth in this post, but basically it boils down to this: In Isaiah 53, widely regarded as a messianic prophecy, Jews traditionally use the Hebrew word “Almah,” or “young woman,” which can refer to someone married or single. Christians have rendered this verse to use “betulah,” which means “virgin.” In that context, a virgin is assumed to be unmarried, which makes it a fitting verse to predict the unwed, pregnant Mary — the mother of Jesus.

This is often a “go-to” verse for apologists and missionaries, because it seems to clearly predict Jesus’ virgin birth and 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, but in actuality, MJ’s have more in common with evangelicals in terms of doctrine than they do with Jews.

Despite what they have in common, Judaism and Christianity are too incompatible to be meshed into one faith. This is why, when I call myself Jewish, I am speaking in terms of my ethnicity and culture, not spirituality.

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