Monday, June 1, 2009

A Christian's Response Part II: The Jewish Requirements for Maschiach

In my post last Friday, I introduced a topic that some of you may be very familiar with, and others may barely know as an issue: the Jewish requirements for Messiah (Maschiach) and, in particular, Jesus' failure to meet them to the Jew's liking. Read the full list in part one of this two-part post. As I very quickly addressed this list on Friday, there were three topics that I promised to address in a more lengthy response later. Well, it's later... and this is the lengthy response.

As you might expect, the vast majority of the Messianic requirements held out by the Jews are not disagreeable for the Christian. After all, we do reference the same prophets. Now, before I begin, I do want to state that this article is very clearly pertaining to the specific set of Jewish requirements for the Messiah, and as such, does not represent the full scope of expanded Christian messianism. For more details on the three offices of "the annointed" according to Christology, read Who Else by Christ and also reference the Week 4 lecture of the Person and Work of Christ class.

Now, back to the topic at hand. The three most pivotal points at which Jews argue Christ fails to fulfill their Messianic requirements are these:
  1. To be a king in the line of David. You see, Christ was not actually a son of Joseph, and so His paternal lineage--the lineage through which tribal bloodline is established--cannot be linked to David.
  2. That Christ was not an observant Jewish man. There are many layers to this dispute: first, the Jewish position that there cannot be a God-Man. Second, the Jewish position that Jesus violated the Jewish Law.
  3. Finally, the position most vehemently defended by Jews, is that there is no place for a Messiah who comes, does part of His job, dies and comes back later to finish it.
The son of David...

First, let's address Jesus' lineage. I want to first point out that this objection was not developed as an argument until long after the establishment of the church. It was not an objection of Jesus' Jewish contemporaries. That is not to say, however, that later inspiration cannot be valid. The point which I believe is most notable is that in the time of Jesus, genetic recombination was hardly the measure by which parental lineage was tested. There was no paternity tests administed in DNA labs.

Jesus was given as a son to Joseph and Mary, raised in their household, and given every legal claim to the firstborn sonship without question of the seminal contributor (which is in fact a crucial part of the seminal view of original sin, but I digress). The point is that the definition of "son" was not dependent on genetic criteria. Jesus was in every way a son of Joseph. In Luke 2:23, Joseph accepted fatherhood of the boy by fulfilling the Law's requirement to consecrate his firstborn to the Lord.

And, if such irregularity in the passing of inheritance and bloodline is disagreeable, I would submit that God's purposes have been shown several times over not to follow man's tradition. Take Jacob, for example, who inhereted the blessing and promise despite the fact that he was not the first born--overturning the tradition of primogeniture.

Finally, perhaps in God's infinite wisdom, He did not provide a law of lineage. There was nothing in the Law that established an irreversible statute of paternity.

The Jewish God-Man

Where do I begin? I have already written much on the humanity and deity of Christ. I do not dare to think that I could convince a Jew of this point outside of the acceptance of such a mystery that comes--even for the most educated Christian--purely by faith. Let me simply point to previous works on the topic of the Kenosis. Christ the Mediator, An Attitude the Same as Christ, and We Beheld his Glory.

So, accepting that Jesus is God in the flesh, who emptied Himself by adding such limitations as the flesh, not out of weakness but out of love, we arrive at the conclusion that Jesus was a man.

But, was He an observant Jew? If not, then He is a lawbreaker and can be neither the Jewish Messiah nor our Spotless Lamb. But Jesus did not break the Law. He broke the legalistic stipulations of the contemporary Jewish hypocrites, but not the Law of God. Reference Matthew 12:1-13 for an understanding of His so-accused Sabbath breaking.

The key to understanding this point is in realizing the difference between the Jewish Law and the Jewish Traditions that prevailed in the 1st century. In Matt. 15:1-3, for example, the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Law. But His defense, undeniably accurate, was that He had not broken any Laws, but rather, their traditions.

Jesus, in fact, taught that the Law had more to do with one's heart than with legalistic obedience. His teachings in the sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) actually expound on the Law making it even harder to obey, for many, by applying it to thought and attitude.

I would charge Jews to simply analyze their traditional view of Jesus. Read the accounts of Christ's life on earth (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Ask for yourself, where did He break the Law? Especially bear in mind that even the Jew's teach "Torah is not viewed as a literal document in Judaism. Rather, it is something that can be understood, read and interpreted on many different levels" (A Jew with a View).

The Second Coming

If you've been following along in any of the comment strings that have prompted me to write this post, you've seen over and over that there "is no place in Judaism for a Messiah who comes, fulfills part of the requirements, dies, and comes back to finish it."

This is, perhaps, the simplest to address and yet the hardest to explain. It is simple because I can simply say this: Christians do not teach that Christ fulfilled ANY of the traditional Jewish Maschiach requirements (except for His lineage). I believe the greatest misconception--no doubt spurred on by the many Christians who themselves do not fully understand Christology--is that Jesus was the Anointed (Maschiach) King of the Jews.

The Christian belief is that we await the return of Jesus to assume His reign--a reign that so closely resembles what Jews await in their Maschiach the parallel is undeniable. In fact, as I've stated before, I even ascribe to the position that ethnic and national Israel has a particular place of blessing in this new kingdom, and that Gentiles are in fact "grafted in."

So, as I said, this is simple to state but difficult to explain. It's difficult to explain because we must then delve into the purpose of Jesus first coming 2000 years ago. His first coming and claiming the title "Annointed" throws confusion into the topic because that term carries a specific connotation to the Jew... a connotation that Jesus did not fulfull. And yet, the term is nonetheless applicable.

If a Jew is to accept the term Messiah placed on Jesus, they have to accept the doctrine of a New Covenant, established in Jesus' blood. That He was "annointed" to the office of prophet and of priest FIRST, declaring and mediating a new covenant. That He will be anointed the earthly politcial ruler, the King on David's throne (not in Heaven but on Earth) at a later time, but that this fulfillment of prophecy is dependent on those prophecies that Jews have not associated with their Maschiach. The prophecies that foretold His first coming.

Too much needs to be said about the covenants and Christ's first coming than can be stated here. I must leave you waiting for yet another future article in which I will dive deeper into the covenant purposes of Jesus first coming.

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  • Hi Nick :)

    I'm enjoying these discussions; I doubt we'll ever persuade one another but hopefully we're both learning more about these two faiths :)

    As a general point, let's recall that the concept of 'maschiach' originated in Judaism and was then changed profoundly by Christians. Now, I am in no way criticising the Christian beliefs about Jesus. It doesn't present any problem for Judaism that Christians believe in a different type of messiah, albeit one that would fulfill some of the same aims as the Jewish maschiach :)

    To briefly respond to your points, then:

    You stated: ' The point is that the definition of "son" was not dependent on genetic criteria. Jesus was in every way a son of Joseph. In Luke 2:23, Joseph accepted fatherhood of the boy by fulfilling the Law's requirement to consecrate his firstborn to the Lord.'

    The sole arbiter of whether Jesus was from the house of David is Jewish religious law. This states that it is the father from whom Jews get their tribal lineage. Now, from a Jewish point of view, we could even say that Jesus may well have been from the line of David - but this rests on the assumption that Joseph *was* indeed the biological father.

    Joseph, as biological father, presents no problem for Jews. It is only from a Christian stance that this would - presumably? - be problematic, because Christianity states that it was a 'virgin birth'.

    You cite Luke - but Luke cannot REdefine Jewish religious law. And this states that an adopted son does not acquire the tribal lineage.

    You stated: 'But Jesus did not break the Law. He broke the legalistic stipulations of the contemporary Jewish hypocrites, but not the Law of G-d. Reference Matthew 12:1-13 for an understanding of His so-accused Sabbath breaking.'

    Naturally, I'll dispute the idea of 'hypocrites'. I would say that, from what I do know - and of course I would never claim to be an expert - of the Christian bible, actually some of the information on Judaism and Jewish customs isa not accurate. But to be fair, I wasn't there, and I have no way of knowing if the religious leaders at that time were decent men or not.

    Now at this point, I will have to reference the Christian bible, as of course Jesus doesn't appear in any Jewish texts. Again, from my admittedly limited understanding, didn't Jesus claim that the 'only way' to G-d was via himself...?

    If Jesus did claim this, then this violates Judaism totally. It is a basic tenet of Judaism that every single person has a *direct* line to G-d!

    Am I also right in thinking that Jesus instructed his followers to place their loyalty to him above their loyalty to their families...?

    Again, if this is true, then that violates Judaism and a commandment that we are both familiar with :)

    I'm not familiar with Matthew but from what I understand - again please clarify if I'm getting it wrong - Jesus taught that it was permissable to break the Jewish sabbath when in fact, the *only* time a truly observant, Orthodox Jew will do so is because of a medical or other type of emergency.

    Now, legalistic it may be - but that doesn't detract from the fact that this is Jewish religious law and as such, if Jesus violated it, he wasn't observant.

    - running out of space, will post again briefly in a minute

    By Anonymous Jew With A View/Tabatha, At June 1, 2009 at 6:41 PM  

  • You suggested that Jews rethink their 'traditional view' of Jesus. Ah, but this is inherently problematic - because we don't have one!

    (This is something I'm going to address on my blog as soon as time allows.)

    It would be the same as my suggesting that Christians 'rethink their traditional view of Mohammed'!

    Jesus doesn't get mentioned - period. I say this not to cause offence but merely as a statement of fact. If you asked ten Jews what they think about Jesus, you would be met with several blank faces, and maybe one or two comments from those Jews whom, like myself, are interested in theology and other religions. And even among this latter group, views vary. Some Jews believe that Jesus was a charismatic young preacher who sought to reform aspects of Judaism - personally I tend to support this view.

    Other Jews will point to the striking parallels between Jesus and other 'messiahs' and figures such as Mithras and Horus, and then suggest that Jesus was one of many such mythic figures.

    But there is genuinely no 'traditional view' - how can you have a view on a person that is totally absent from your religion?

    Remember also that Judaism was a complete and fulfilling faith for thousands of years before Jesus was born. He didn't add anything to Judaism and in fact, there were other men who matched the Jewish criteria for 'maschiach' more than Jesus, yet they too died before fulfilling all the prophecies.

    Now, as for the 'new covenant' - this is a topic in and of itself. I will return to this at some point but time won't allow me to do so at present.

    I don't think the Jewish and Christian differences on the 'second coming' can be reconciled. I can see what you're suggesting but it contradicts core Jewish belief.

    The Tanakh does not refer to any 'first coming' because when it speaks of the maschiach, it's implicit that this is just a 'normal' mortal man. He cannot 'return'. Perhaps this sentiment is best illustrated by one Jewish belief which states that in every generation, there is a potential messiah born :)

    The Jewish messianic prophecies are specific in terms of what the maschiach must *do* in order to qualify AS the maschiach. Jesus, like all the other Jewish men claiming to be the maschiach, simply didn't fulfill those 23 prophecies during his lifetime. And as we don't accept any notion of a 'second coming', there's no way round this: Jesus didn't qualify.

    Tomorrow I'm going to answer your post on my blog about the Torah etc :)

    By Anonymous Jew With A View/Tabatha, At June 1, 2009 at 6:56 PM  

  • Tabatha,

    Some responses below:

    You state: "The sole arbiter of whether Jesus was from the house of David is Jewish religious law. This states that it is the father from whom Jews get their tribal lineage."

    I'm sorry, but the Law does not state that. If there is any stipulation as to the establishment of a bloodline, it is not in the Law (Torah), but I would venture a guess to say if it is to be found, it is to be found in a Talmud. If you wish to disagree, please cite your source.

    Secondly, I do not cite Luke as a source of redefining Jewish Law. I cite Luke as a historian's account of Joseph fulfilling the Jewish requirements for a father and his firstborn son. Nothing more.


    About the Sabbath and other Law-breaking, you're misinformed on all counts.

    First, as for the Sabbath, Jesus' actions taken on the sabbath and recorded in the text that I cited for you are totally defendable according to your own description of Orthodox Jew's view. You have stated elsewhere: "if doing so will save a life or help someone who is physically unwell, or if there is some form of emergency that is jeopardising a personís well being."

    Second, Jesus did not teach in opposition to the commandment to honor one's father and mother. He did, however, teach that you must love Him more than them. Now, consider that Jesus was God incarnate. There is nothing law-breaking about demanding that one love God over one's own family. This, then, puts us at the real theological debate that is at the heart of all differences b/w Jews and Christians. But, for the sake of argument, you must understand that Christians don't teach that you must love any man over your father/mother, but God.

    Finally, Jesus' claim that He is the only way to God. I could, first of all, default to the aforementioned defense that Jesus was God incarnate and nullify the whole argument. However, I'll also go one step further.

    You stated: "this violates Judaism totally. It is a basic tenet of Judaism that every single person has a *direct* line to G-d"

    But that once again defies your own Law (Torah). "The LORD said to Moses, 'I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you... Put limits for the people around the mountain... Warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord..." (Exodus 19:9,12,21).

    Jesus' parallels to Moses as the mediator of a New Covenant are striking, and significant in Christian theology.


    The New Covenant teaching is vital to any understanding about the 2nd coming. I may add, it's even problematic to some Christians who sit and wonder why we're still waiting. I look forward to hearing your perspectives on the New Covenant doctrines put forth by Christianity.

    By Blogger Unknown, At June 2, 2009 at 7:28 AM  

  • I think you're right, in that it is these points that are right at the heart of our theological differences. You've explained the Christian belief very well and I appreciate it. Yes - I can now understand why for Christians, it's not a conflict to love Jesus more than their parents, because the belief is that Jesus 'is god'. That makes sense to me in terms of Christian belief.

    Re Moses: Moses was the greatest prophet in Judaism and yes, G-d did indeed at times act through him in order to enable Moses to gain the trust of the people. But this doesn't negate the principle that in Judaism, we don't have to go via any intermediary in order to speak with G-d.

    Our Rabbis, for example, do not fulfill the role of intermediary. Even our Synagogue services don't actually have to be led by a Rabbi, though in reality they usually are.

    Re Jesus being the adopted son of Joseph, you stated:
    'I'm sorry, but the Law does not state that. If there is any stipulation as to the establishment of a bloodline, it is not in the Law (Torah), but I would venture a guess to say if it is to be found, it is to be found in a Talmud. If you wish to disagree, please cite your source.'

    Jewish law does say that, though. Adoption does not alter the status of the child. If a Jewish boy, for instance, is adopted by a Cohen, (a descendant of Aaron), the child does not become a Cohen. Equally, if a descendant of David, adopts someone who is not, he does not become of the tribe of Judah and thus from the house of David.

    There is also another problem. I did as you suggested, and looked at Matthew. He states: 'And Josias begat Jechonias.'

    But the Tanakh says any man who sits on the throne must be both a descendant of King David and, crucially, a descendant of David's son, Solomon.

    This requirement was even more rigid prior to the Babylonian exile. Jeconiah, King of Judah, was an amoral man and king, and his actions induced G-d's wrath. Thus G-d punished Jeconiah:

    Jeremiah 22:24 [As] I live, saith the LORD, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck thee thence; [25] And I will give thee into the hand of them that seek thy life, and into the hand [of them] whose face thou fearest, even into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of the Chaldeans. [26] And I will cast thee out, and thy mother that bare thee, into another country, where ye were not born; and there shall ye die. [27] But to the land whereunto they desire to return, thither shall they not return. [28] [Is] this man Coniah a despised broken idol? [is he] a vessel wherein [is] no pleasure? Wherefore are they cast out, he and his seed, and are cast into a land which they know not? [29] O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD. [30] Thus saith the LORD, Write ye this man childless, a man [that] shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah. (KJV)

    This curse, then, means that no descendant of Jeconiah can be part of the royal line.

    Thus after Jeconiah was was finally deposed, the throne did not pass automatically to his son, but instead to Zedekiah, his uncle.

    No descendant of Jeconiah ever held the throne, or ever can hold the throne.

    Yet in Matthew, he includes Jeconiah.

    - am running out of space, will complete this post in a minute.

    By Anonymous Jew With A View/Tabatha, At June 2, 2009 at 4:39 PM  

  • Tabatha,

    Jeconiah... a very interesting point, and, admitedly not simple to address. Let me share with you this resource that I have found to be very helpful. The Curse of Jehoiakim & the Lineage of Jesus Christ.

    With regard to Joseph as father... I'm not stating that he was the adopted father. I am stating that he was the father of Jesus. Period. My point was this: fatherhood was not something that was defined in those days as a genetic recombination. It was familial, not seminal (as science hadn't advanced that far yet). The citation from Luke simply was an illustration of Joseph acting as father in the Jewish custom.

    By Blogger Unknown, At June 2, 2009 at 5:11 PM  

  • Cheers for that link, I will indeed read what is said there about Jeconiah.

    Re Joseph: I take your point. As Christianity does state, though, that Jesus was not the biological father, I'll just briefly respond to your earlier comments that Jewish religious law does not preclude an adopted son from inheriting the paternal, tribal lineage; a you asked me to cite where in Torah/Tanakh this is specified so I feel I should respond:

    I'd probably point to Numbers 1:18:

    "And they assembled all the congregation together on the first day of the second month, and they declared their pedigrees after their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, by their polls".

    Also, Exodus 28:4, 29:9-30, 30:30, and 40:15 [Priesthood Lineage]; Numbers 36 [Tribal Lineage]; Genesis 49:10, I Kings 11:4, and I Chronicles 17:11-19 [Kingship Lineage].

    As far as adoption: there is nothing in Torah that suggests adoption transfers the family lineage. If anything, the reverse is true.

    For instance: a priest (Kohen) is someone who is born to another priest. If your father is a priest, then you are a priest. If a priest (Kohain) adopts a boy who is the son of someone who was not a priest, that child does *not* become a priest through adoption.

    I have a question for you :)

    A friend of mine defines herself as a Christian - but she does not believe in the 'trinity'.

    This has confused me somewhat; I was under the impression that belief in the Trinity was a fundamental Christian tenet...?

    Just interested to know your thoughts :)

    By Anonymous Jew With A View/Tabatha, At June 2, 2009 at 6:10 PM  

  • Even if we were to agree that Jesus was from the line of David, there's still the big difference in opinion regarding the divinity of Jesus. As you have rightly noted, this is key.

    As soon as I've posted my answer to your query on my blog re Torah, I'm going to finish a piece I've been working on about Jewish-Christian relations and specifically, the issue of Jesus - I think I'll add some material about Christian belief in the new covenant. If you have time I'd greatly welcome your comments. Now I'm going to finish my response to your query re Torah :)

    By Anonymous Jew With A View/Tabatha, At June 2, 2009 at 6:14 PM  

  • I looked at the references you gave me to support the claim about Jewish Law and paternal bloodline. Thanks.

    First, these are very anecdotal at best. In other words, it's a conclusion drawn from an account given, not a command or law. Be that as it may, we could call it case law. Even so, I would remind you that the accounts of Luke and Matthew show Joseph fulfilling religious requirements exclusive to the father, acting as father, being called Jesus' father. So, how can we not also conclude by the same hermeneutical fashion that Joseph was Jesus' earthly father and that the right to Davids throne was passed?

    I will admit, I should have never used the analogy of adoption. It's innaccurate in describing Joseph and Jesus. Jesus had an earthly father and a heavenly father. The term "son of God" is, in my opinion, the best terms we could use to describe a mysterious union and subordinance within the triune God-head.


    With regards to the trinity... find 6,000,000 Christians and you'll have 6,000,000 Christianities.

    The Trinity is the most orthodox, most Biblically accurate, and most widely accepted description given to how God exists in three natures yet be only one person. It's not found in the Christian Bible. So, it's not required that a Christian subscribe to the term. However, I've yet to find anyone who rejects it without devising some utterly blasphemous alternative in its stead.

    Perhaps this description, an excerpt from the Westminster Confession of Faith (penned in England no less) would help clear up a concept that is, even to most Christians, as clear as mud:

    "The Son of God, the second Person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man's nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof; yet without sin: being conceived by he power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man."

    By Blogger Unknown, At June 3, 2009 at 6:48 AM  

  • Many thanks for that information about the Trinity and the exerpt from the Westminster Confession of Faith.

    Our discussions have reinforced my impression of how complex Christianity is theologically.

    One of my Christian friends explained the 'trinity' to me in a way that I thought was really good: she said to compare it to the way a human being has a mind, a soul and a body - three, yet one!

    That helped me greatly in my bid to understand Christian beliefs.

    I will respond tomorrow to your most recent post here - meanwhile, just to let you know that I've responded to your post on my blog. So far my response is quite long; I have a bit more to add before it's finished though :)

    By Anonymous Jew With A View/Tabatha, At June 3, 2009 at 5:39 PM  

  • Nick - just to mention that I've responded to your most recent post on my blog :)

    Am working on my post about covenants etc and hope to have it finished in a day or two. So much to write - so little time :)

    By Anonymous Jew With A View/Tabatha, At June 5, 2009 at 1:05 PM  

  • Hi Nick :)

    - just to mention that I've now responded to your latest post on my blog :)

    'Covenants And Messiahs', the post I'm working on that covers some issues we've touched upon, is almost finished, finally. Thought you might also like to know that I've had a few emails from people saying they've been finding our discussion very interesting :)

    By Anonymous Jew With A View/ Tabatha, At June 8, 2009 at 4:48 AM  

  • I thought you might be interested in learning about OUR Jewish traditions which embrace the real Christ. We are the Frankist Association of America. One of our members has a new book out:

    These are our teachings passed on through generations. If you canít afford the book you can see the website of one of our teachers -

    Beth El Jacob Frank

    By Blogger timlittle, At June 25, 2009 at 2:09 PM  

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