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Jewish Evangelism

“Go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. ” (Matthew28:19) Evangelism lies at the heart of Christianity. It is central to the New Testament. There is, therefore, great responsibility laid upon the church to share Christ with the whole world. “Why go to the Jews? ” (Lausanne occasional papers7). The scripture gives us the rationale for Jewish evangelism (LOPs7). Jesus tells that He is only the way to the Father. The scriptures also speak of its priority.

In Matthew 10:5-6 we see Jesus sending the twelve chosen apostles on their first mission with the following order: “Do not go to the non-Jewish people or to any town where Samaritans live. But go to the people of Israel, who are like lost sheep”. St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans says that the Gospel “is the power God uses to save everyone who believes-the Jews first, and also to save those who are not Jews. ” (Romans1:16) These words of scripture should not be used to infer that Jewish evangelization is more important in the eyes of God.

These words of the scripture, rather, show us that Jewish evangelization cannot be left out from the ambit of Evangelization. (LOPs7). It is, therefore, a great responsibility of the church to reach out to the Jewish people with the Gospel of Christ. When we talk of Jewish evangelization, an important question strikes us. For two thousand years, the Jews have not accepted Christ. Why? We have here, the chosen people of YAHWEH. God chose the sons of Abraham with a plan of redemption; He nurtures this race through out the history of salvation with revelations.

He gives them his Commandments. He sends his prophets to guide them whenever they go astray. The Jews, therefore, are a race of people who had and have a profound relationship with God. However, these chosen people of Yahweh have rejected the Messiah for whom they were waiting for ages. A Christian who aspires to take the Gospel to the Jews must first ponder over this question. An answer to the question can be found in going through the History of Jewish- Christian relation and the theological issues that act as blocks in our endeavor.

A Jewish evangelization needs an analysis of the following topics. 1. The historical background of Jewish Christian relations 2. The theological issues 3. The practical aspects of Jewish evangelization. 1. The History of Jewish- Christian relations. God of our Fathers You chose Abraham and his descendants To bring your Name to the Nations: we are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.

It is this prayer, with his signature upon it that Pope John Paul II on March 26 2000 placed in the Western Wall of the Temple. (qtd. in Cassidy1) This prayer gives us an idea of the history of Jewish-Christian relations. Before we go forward, we should first distinguish two terminologies, anti-Semitism, and anti –Judaism. (Rousmaniere 6) These two “isms” are two types of prejudices against Jews just because they are Jews. Anti-Semitism is a racial prejudice; it is founded on the presumption that the Semites-a term for Jews-are genetically inferior therefore, must be eradicated.

Anti-Semitism thrived in the twentieth century notably under Adolph Hitler (Rousmaniere 6). Anti-Judaism, the other type of prejudice is founded on theological rather than racial presumptions. People who are prejudiced with anti-Judaism deny rights and recognition to the Jews. They believe that Jews are to be punished because of their role in the crucifixion of Christ. (Rousmaniere 7) In the history of Jewish –Christian relation, we see this theological prejudice against Jews. The history of Jewish-Christian relations is not a pretty one.

It is marred with violence, misunderstanding, and bigotry. The history can be divided into two stages. In the first stage, we see that the Jews reject Christians. In the second stage, the Christians reject the Jews. The First Stage. The early Church was part of the body politic of Judaism and it is becoming common to add Jewish Christians to Josephus’ list of four first-Century sects, which were the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and Zealots. The first century was pluralistic but jewishly pluralistic (Amos). The initial followers of Christ were all Jews.

They went to the synagogues, practiced Pharisaic traditions and they never lost the traces of religious laws (Amos). The Temple was their place of worship as for other Jews. The teachings of early Christians added to the ambiguity of their status. St. Paul,in particular, contradicted many traditions of the Jews, though his teaching was already found in certain sects of Judaism. Let us take two examples of St. Paul’s teaching to prove this point. St. Paul says, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. ” (1 Cor. 11:19).

In the first century there was an attitude in Judaism that if Gentiles strive to keep the law, giving their mind and soul to God is more important than trying to observe what according to them is a formality (Amos). St. Paul says that the Temple can be set aside and that people of God are the spiritual temple. This thought was found in the Dead Sea scrolls. Infact the Rabbis teach that the people are a holy people dedicated to God. After the destruction of the Temple, this thought prevailed in the mainstream Judaism. Nevertheless, these teachings added to the ambiguity of Christians and brought about the split.

For the Rabbis, Christian were heretics (Amos1), therefore were excommunicated. The Acts of the apostle tells us that the church of Jerusalem was persecuted. All believers except the apostles were scattered (Acts 8:1). The Second Stage. In 70 CE. the second temple was destroyed. This was a major turning point in the history. The Temple was not only a place of worship but also a complex of government (Amos). It was the centre of Judaism. With its destruction, the whole of state machinery had to be reconstituted. This responsibility fell on the Rabbis.

Rabbi Johanan Ben Zakkai and other rabbis formed a community at Yavneh and developed Judaism without the temple (Rousmaniere 24). At a time when Jews were trying recover from the loss of the temple, Christians increased the already existing rift by looking at the destruction as a punishment from God on account of their sin. During this time, we see the origin of rhetoric of contempt. The language of contempt used by the early Christians against the Jews long survived their originators (Rousmaniere 43) and sometimes found a place in the scriptures.

An example from the words of Justin martyr shows the contempt that prevailed. “The Jews,” Justin said “are a people hard hearted and without understanding, both blind and lame, children in whom there is no faith” (qtd. in Rousmaniere 43). St. John Chrysostom delivered eight homilies against the Jews. In one of the homilies he says, “The Jews are overwhelmed by the benefits of God and rejected them all. They are sons of G-d, by adoption, and they have become dogs. Their Day of Atonement is misused as an opportunity for indecent festivities. They are guilty of the murder of Christ” (qtd. in Amos).

This attitude of contempt was based on the presumption that Jews are collectively responsible for the crucifixion of Christ. In 325 CE, Emperor Constantine summoned the Council of Nicaea. Jesus Christ was declared co-equal and co-eternal to the Father. One of the first official acts of Constantine was to ban Jewish proselytism. The rights of Jews were slowly compromised and finally Emperor Theodosius founded an orthodox Christian state and banned practice of any other religion. In 388 CE, the Christians set fire to a synagogue at Callinicum a small town in Mesopotamia.

Emperor Theodosius instructed the bishop to rebuild the synagogue at his own expense and punish the arsonist. St. Ambrose intervened and asked the Emperor to behave like a Christian Emperor who should not show any goodwill toward the Jews. The emperor capitulated and the church had the final word. The incident at callinicum was the symbol of triumph of hate campaign against Jews. The Church could influence the imperial legislation in way detrimental to the Jews (Amos 8). 2. The Theological Issues. Before discussing theological issues, it will be of immense help if we, for a moment, have a glimpse of Locke’s essay on Epistemology.

John Locke was a British philosopher who was an empiricist. His essays on human knowledge are widely accepted by contemporary thinkers. One of the most basic themes of Locke’s epistemology is that since we cannot know everything, According to Locke,“We would be well advised to observe and respect the extent and limitations of human knowledge. Awareness of our limitations should forestall haste, laziness, and despair in our natural search for the truth about the most vital issues into which human knower can fruitfully inquire”(Kemerling,Garth).

“We cannot achieve knowledge of thing such as infinity or substantial real essences for which we lack clear, positive ideas” (Kemerling,Garth). Acceptance of our limitations will help us in dealing with certain theological issues like Christology and the Trinity. Our faith in our doctrines is not based only on pure reason but on the revelations of God through the scriptures. The theology of Judaism and Christianity is based on the one universal truth that the Lord our God is one and there is no other God except Yahweh. Similarities aside, there are some theological issues, which are the major obstacles in the evangelization of the Jews.a

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