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How Similar Are Judaism and Christianity?

Written by Subject: Religion: Believers

Judaism-ChristianityThis should really be a book-length discourse, and I may write such a book one of these days. First, however, I want to give you some of the highlights and begin to get my thinking in order.

At their cores, Judaism and Christianity are more similar than you might expect. Their appearances of course are different. After all, it is very much in the interests of leaders on both sides to proclaim how very right they are, which means that all others must appear to be wrong… and different.

Whom Do We Hear and See?

When dealing with this subject, there is a first obstacle that must be dealt with carefully… or else we'll get a skewed picture of both religions. And the choice we must make is this:

To whom shall we pay more attention; to the leaders of the movements, who are few but loud, or to the simple believers, who are many but generally unheard?

It's far easier to hear from the leaders. We have their writings and their endless disputes, after all. And in fact this is what has nearly always been done, a situation that has begun changing only in recent times.

However, as I see it, the average believers matter considerably more than the leaders. Granted, their voices are harder to hear, but they were always where the weight and mass of these religions lay. And their willingness to follow any particular leader or movement affected the ultimate shapes of these religions.

And fortunately for us, we do sometimes hear and see the average believers. If nothing else, we are told about them from the leaders of their religions as they complain (which they often do) that their followers aren't following very well. We also find the average believers in the descriptions of outsiders and now in the archaeological record. A picture of these people is emerging.

Now, with that in mind, let's proceed to the two religions.

Judaism Was Becoming Christianity Anyway

Most of us think of Judaism as being almost entirely law-based. But while this is true for a goodly number of modern, Orthodox Jews, it's really something of a throw-back. Judaism had long been changing into what Christianity was to become. Here's what I mean:

A passage from the prophet Micah:

With what shall I come before the LORD and bow myself before God on high? … with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

One from Amos:

Though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them… But let justice run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream…

And there are many others. What we're seeing is Judaism moving away from laws and rituals and into purity of heart. In other words, it was moving directly toward Christianity.

Christians and Jews Intermixed

Here's a fact that may shock you: Through at least the 4th century, Christians attended synagogues. We know this because it greatly irritated a famous Christian leader of the day, one John Chrysostom. This man complained at length about the fact that Christians were worshiping in synagogues and partaking of the Jewish festivals.

Furthermore, the first people who carried knowledge of Jesus to the Roman world (before St. Paul) were Jews and worshipped in synagogues along with other Jews. On top of that, it was standard procedure for Christians to identify as Jews, since it allowed them to stay within the exemptions that Rome accorded Jews. It insulated them from the wrath of Rome.

Again there is more to say but we'll move on.

Through the Years and Now

Through the many centuries between 400 AD and today (and that's a lot of condensing) Judaism's concern was far less on doctrinal progress and far more on physical survival. And the founding of the state of Israel, less than 100 years ago, has further complicated things. But since Jews gained the status of "citizen" – first in the US, then France, and now in most places – we've seen movements, such as Reform Judaism, that focused on "what you are inside" rather than on keeping 613 laws. Even Orthodox Judaism moves that way frequently. After all, it's in their book just the same as in the book of the Christians, and it's the obvious line of human development… of human evolution.

How silly is it to pretend that you're close to a loving and all-knowing God while harboring hate in your heart?

The Modern Differences

Many Jews remain convinced that Christians are their enemies… and not, we should admit, without cause. From the perspective of a modern Christian, this might seem misguided.

"The people who killed your ancestors," they would say, "were blind sectarians and embarrassments to Christ."

And while they too would be right, the children of the violated may not forget so easily.

On top of that, the voices of the various leaders can still be counted upon to accentuate the differences between the two religions. As can those who are devoted to doctrines rather than goodness of the heart.

And so, while the foundations of their beliefs (another big thing I flew past) are almost entirely the same… including most of the same stories… the window dressings of the two groups are purposely, and sometimes flamboyantly, made different.

But aside from a few excessive people on either side, Judaism and Christianity are far closer than might be comfortable for many people.

We might even imagine a happy future in which they begin coming back together, however slowly and hesitantly.

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