What Is the Relationship between Judaism and Christianity?

Since I teach courses in comparative religions at Biola University and through Reasons Institute, people sometimes ask me what I think about the relationship between the biblical religions of Judaism and Christianity. And in that specific context, I’m also asked about Messianic Judaism.

In fact, some time back I was contacted on social media by a Messianic Jew who is very supportive of the science apologetics ministry of Reasons to Believe but is critical of historic Christianity overall. In fact, the person expressed a sentiment that surprised me, so I reflected on the comment for some time before responding. I thought readers of my Reflections blog might appreciate hearing my reply.

Respondent (paraphrased): Historic Christianity without Judaism is astray and volatile and internally harmful.

My response:
Greetings, friend.

Historic Christianity has deep connections with traditional Judaism. For example, Christians view the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) as the inspired Word of God and share many of the values of ancient Judaism, such as human beings having inherent dignity and moral worth as bearers of the image of God. Further, historic Christianity views the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who Christians worship and serve as being the Jewish Messiah. Moreover, many historic Christian theologians I have read also affirm that Jews and Christians worship the same God. Finally, many Christians today— particularly in America—are very much pro-Israel.

In my opinion as someone who has studied all the major world religions, I think Messianic Jews can be described as being culturally Jewish but theologically Christian. For example, Jews for Jesus affirms the doctrine of the Trinity (one God in three persons), which traditional Judaism rejects (Yahweh is viewed in unitarian terms as one God, one person). Worldwide, many contemporary Jews are secular and most religious Jews don’t accept Jesus (or Yeshua) as the Messiah. Since you are a Messianic Jew you have more in common doctrinally with orthodox Christians than you may recognize. 

Christendom’s long history has a dark side, unfortunately, which includes periodic antisemitism. But I think theologically conservative Christendom today is deeply respectful of its Jewish heritage and remorseful of the way it has at times persecuted Jews and Judaism.

But I would also say that Christendom’s influence overall has been deeply positive for the world and for all people. The Christian worldview, which is strongly influenced by the Hebrew Scriptures, has been the catalyst behind many, if not most, of the great advancements in Western civilization. Christianity motivated advancements in education, science, political liberty, economics, the sanctity of human life, and justice.1

All individual Christians are broken sinners and Christendom is far from perfect, but I don’t agree with your assessment that historic Christianity without Judaism is astray and volatile and internally harmful. In fact, I don’t think Christendom—when it is true to its theological roots—can ever stray far from the Hebrew Scriptures, which are foundational to the Christian faith.

I hope that by showing my genuine respect for you that you may come to better understand and even to possibly respect historic Christianity the way I respect traditional Judaism and your Messianic Jewish convictions.

Shalom.

Reflections: Your Turn
How can Christians today go about showing their respect for Jewish people and the historic religion of Judaism?

Resources

Endnotes

  1. Kenneth Richard Samples, Christianity Cross-Examined (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2021). In this book I answer twelve questions about historic Christianity’s truth, relevance, and goodness.

  One thought on “What Is the Relationship between Judaism and Christianity?

  1. Lin Boudreaux
    May 4, 2022 at 6:51 pm

    As a Gentile Christian, I agree with all your answer to the Messianic Jew who commented about historic Christianity except with one caveat. It is not proper for a Gentile Christian to imply a Messianic Jew should give equal respect to Christians apart from their connection to Judaism, as you wrote in your last paragraph. We are the grafted on branches, not the original tree. The more we Gentile Christians learn about Judaism, the better we understand Christianity. It is not true the other way around.

    • May 4, 2022 at 7:42 pm

      Lin:

      Greetings.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I appreciate them.

      I’ve spent my entire adult life studying and teaching the world’s religions including Judaism and Christianity.

      I respectfully disagree with you. Gentiles are grafted in and should show respect and gratitude to the Hebrew Scriptures and to traditional Judaism. But I think Messianic Jews can learn much from historic Christians such as the historic creedal doctrines as the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection, and Second Coming.

      Also a person is not saved by Old Testament law keeping but rather by grace through faith in Christ. So there are things one must set aside or at least modify in the Old Testament to affirm faith in Christ.

      Moreover, while we view the Old Testament as God’s Word and revere it and honor it, hermeneutically we interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Testament.

      Lastly Christianity has taken cherished Jewish truths and values to the world showing its honor of the Hebrew tradition.

      I think the religions can learn from one another and in fact do.

      Sincerely in Christ.

      Ken Samples

  2. Robert
    May 5, 2022 at 6:10 pm

    I feel that my faith grew exponentially when I started to better understand the historical Jewish context of the Bible. I think it is common and dangerous for Christians to interpret scripture only on the basis of our culture and the modern languages the Bible has been translated into. I appreciate the efforts that RTB scholars make to unpack the original meanings that scripture may have had at the time they were written.

    • May 5, 2022 at 7:01 pm

      Thanks, Robert.

      Ken Samples

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