‘But it is not as though the word of God has failed’: A Response to a Comment

Interactive, Clickable List of Contents

(1) Introduction, Disclaimer, and Why I chose to write this piece

(2) Is Christian faith rational? If so, to what extent?

(3) Why haven’t more Jews accepted Jesus as the Messiah?

(4) Why the “Religious Pluralism” stance does not necessarily and inevitably lead to some significant difference and divergence in morality and the role of morality

(5) Why a focus, however strong or clear, on ‘Goodness, Love and Truth’ is not in itself sufficient for pure, morals and moral standards and ideals, for salvation or real truth and self-knowledge, self-understanding and self-identification

(6) Bibliography and Further Reading

(1) Introduction, Disclaimer, and Why I chose to write this piece

So I write this article solely to rationally and logically respond to someone who commented on my previous blog post ‘Do all religions lead to God?’ The commenter raised a number of deep, intelligent, insightful and thoughtful questions and points which I thought it best to respond to fully, extensively, thoroughly and in detail in a blog post. I write this piece, with his/her knowledge, permission and consent, for his/her and your benefit and I shall not name the commenter in this piece. I enclose his/her words below for your benefit and so you can see which comments, thoughts and questions I am trying to respond to in the article which follows:

‘Thank you for the article, Ben. I have three questions to challenge your religious inclusiveness.

1. If accepting Jesus as the Christ is the most morally supreme path in life, then the only religion to actively reject Christ- the Jews- are by definition evil, or at best dishonest with their interpretation of the old testament, or illogical. And yet: It’s difficult to make a decisive case for either religion in the old testament predictions that Jesus is the messiah. For example- Isiah’s prediction about the Virgin. In Hebrew the word virgin and the word for a young woman are the same. Only in European languages is there such a distinction. It is impossible to truly know whether the Septuagint and the Vulgate “correctly” translated the word, and nonsensical too as well. As you might know the Talmudic Jewish to this problem is to rely on the oral Torah’s interpretation of the ambiguous word, which supposedly passed down from Moses himself etc, but this is also not truly verifiable. Similarly, the Suffering Servant which Christians say predicted the crucified Jesus, Jews interpret as a prediction for the suffering of the Jewish peoples themselves, and so on. In short – many dialogues have happened between Jews and Christians and none conclusively proved anything. So it’s impossible to know that Jesus is truly the Messiah based on scripture, only on a personal connection. But all Jews will insist that they also have a personal connection with God. So how can you defend your belief that Jesus is the right path to God?

2. Religious pluralism doesn’t necessarily extend to pluralism in all morality. Just that uniting features of all religions are appreciated. For example all elements of all faiths that encourage love, forgiveness (not a uniquely Christian idea), humility, sacrifice, and so on- “good things” – are recognised as being the predominant attraction of followers to these religions. It is after-all an idea accepted in Christianity that love and truth itself is God, and even Plato in The Republic described love & truth as parts of an abstract, ethereal “Perfection”, which seems quite similar to the idea of God. So – I suggest that it is almost intuitive that Good, Love, Truth are perfect and it is intuitive that perfection is something to strive for – and all humans in all cultures pursue them in their own ways, and the monotheistic / Christian way of pursuing perfection is by describing it as a God, while the Buddhist way of pursuing it is nirvana. 

3. Cults not based on Good, Love & Truth such as the Nazi faith you mentioned, or Napoleon’s “supreme being” religion don’t last the test of time. You want to look at theologies that survived turbulence in cultures. You’re right that Christians survived persecution remarkably well, and that the faith attracts many converts. But, so did Jews, the one contradicting faith to Jesus. A lot of the converts to Christianity in the Roman era (0 AD – 400 AD?) were not Jews well vested in the old testament but pagans with no prior experience of Monotheism. Today, most conversion to Christianity happens in pagan cultures in Africa, very little happens between the monotheistic Judaism or Islam. So – how can such radically different beliefs on Jesus survive for so long?

That’s it. I am looking forward to hearing from you

(The comment which I will be attempting to respond to in the article which follows)

I am completely aware of the fact that this particular question and topic can sometimes be quite a raw, emotional, sensitive and difficult area, given that we are discussing (whether mainly collectively or not) individuals and people and also given the very sad and appalling history of persecution, discrimination and segregation of many Jews, particularly across Europe but also globally. That discrimination is sadly still present today as the leadership and completely inadequate disciplinary processes of the UK Labour Party both show.

I do not ever even begin to claim to be any sort of expert in Judaism or the Jewish religion and am personally admittedly much more familiar with Christianity. I completely understand that we are, in a way, unavoidable and inevitably going to have to, at some point, be discussing people and individuals as the academic principles of my thought filter down to the people receiving them. I also understand that this issue is not merely or solely an academic, hypothetical debate from the removed, isolated comfort of a cosy Oxbridge armchair in a scholarly college Senior Common Room. No, it is instead about belief systems and religions which people have themselves chosen to believe in, trust and invest in, and often their religion and faith will form an intrinsic, inherent part of their identity and of who they see themselves as being.

I would like to make it very clear right at the start of this piece that my aim is solely to respond to the commenter on my previous post and to explain further and justify and defend more deeply my own support for the mediate, moderate, middle way position of “Christian religious inclusivism”, as opposed to the polar opposite, mirror image and diametrically opposed (and arguably also “extreme”) views of “religious exclusivism” and “religious pluralism/Universalism”. The only tools which I shall be using and employing within this particular article are philosophy, ethics, theology, reason, thought, logic and rationality. This specific article will not use emotion or feeling so please take all of this into account.

I am not trying to preach to others in this piece but am simply explaining further and defending and justifying more deeply my own personal opinion on this subject, as requested by the commenter. To more fully understand my view of the “Old Testament”/”Hebrew Bible”/”Tanakh”/”Scriptures of Israel”, please read my previous articles entitled ‘Why I don’t call it the “Old Testament”‘, and ‘Do All Religions Lead to God?’ Just a heads up that, unless I am quoting someone else, I shall hereafter in this piece refer to what many others call the “Old Testament” as the “Scriptures of Israel”.

I think it is very important to point out and always remember here that one can be a Jew and accept Jesus as their Messiah and that terms such as “Jewish Christian”, “Christian Jew” and “Messianic Jew” are all entirely logical consistent and reasonable terms which do not in any way contradict themselves and are not at all oxymorons. In fact, I myself prefer to be called a “Jewish Christian” not because I strive to obey all of the Mosaic laws set out in the Torah/Pentateuch, but instead because I greatly value the firm, strong and clear Jewish roots of Christianity and see both halves of today’s modern Christian Bible as equally important, significant, mutually interdependent in a symbiotic way and relevant for today. I would just ask, now that you the reader have chosen to embark on this quest, that you please try to read the full article from start to finish in one sitting uninterrupted and that you are patient with my arguments and reasoning, and that you do not misquote, misrepresent or take isolated phrases or sentences of out of their context in their article.

I’d also like to finally say that a great deal of deep thought has gone into the precise wording, terminology, tone, language and phraseology in this particular piece. However, if some individual and specific remarks of mine are not absolutely spot on in this particular respect, please allow me some grace as that is, let’s not forget, what Christianity is all about! With all of that said, let’s dive in!

(Back to List of Contents)

(2) Is Christian faith rational? If so, to what extent?

I agree that Christianity makes the most sense of the human condition, of life and of creation, and this is probably the main reason which then led me to make (as Kierkegaard puts it) the irrational “leap of faith” to accept Christ. Faith, whether it be in your wife’s loyalty or your religion, is never 100% rational. There are always mysteries, paradoxes, apparent antinomies and puzzles. This is not unique to faith or religion, as science also contains mysteries, paradoxes, apparent antinomies and things we just don’t know yet or haven’t understood yet. For example, how can light simultaneously be both a particle and a wave? This makes no logical or rational sense, but our evidence proves that it is both, even though our logic says that it cannot be both simultaneously. “Great is the Mystery of Faith” as it says in Scripture and as Roman Catholics and Anglicans declare when preparing to take the Sacrament. I point this out as both faith and reason are involved in a person’s decision to accept Christ, not just one or the other. The precise balance or proportion of each and how much each individual factor weighs on the individual depends on the person themselves, their passions, focuses, personality, background, genetics, upbringing, culture, society, education, character, etc… So, for example, for me, most of the decision was logically and rationally teased out over time (it was a gradual, incremental process, a marathon and a journey of constant development, rather than a split-second decision). Additionally, just because something is rational, doesn’t necessarily mean that all will necessarily carry it out. Not everyone is inherently or entirely rational and not all act in a fully rational or logically-consistent way. There are other motives, desires and intentions.

However, there have also been empirical experiences such as miracles I have experienced, healings and religious experiences which have contributed to my long-term decision and endurance. Additionally, I’d just add the fact that when one commits to believing in and trusting Christ, they are making an eternal decision (a decision about an atemporal, timeless eternal being) from inside time, as Kierkegaard notes. This, added to the fact that we humans are fallen, broken, imperfect, spatial and temporal, means that our perspective on theism is partial and that the decision must, at the end of the day, be subjective at least to an extent, even though there are objective truths which exist “out there” (outside of space and time). Kant also speaks of this in his philosophical theory of transcendental idealism. I’d thoroughly recommend Chapter 3 “Truth as Subjectivity” in T.W. Hadley’s excellent book The Christian Faith of Søren Kierkegaard on this area.

It is indeed true to say that it is a leap of faith to accept Christ (even though our reason concludes that it is the most rational leap to make as we have to make one), but we need to remember that atheism is also a theory and not a proven fact. Therefore, it also requires a “leap of faith”, just one in the opposite direction (even Richard Dawkins has admitted that he is not 100% sure that God does not exist).

(3) Why haven’t more Jews accepted Jesus as their Messiah since Christ’s Resurrection?

I’d firmly disagree with you when you assert that ‘It’s difficult to make a decisive case for either religion [either Judaism or Christianity] in the Old Testament predictions that Jesus is the Messiah’. There are 44 specific and particular prophecies regarding the coming of the Messiah, all of which Jesus unanimously fulfils and the Gospel writers, particularly Matthew, repeatedly make this point right throughout their Gospels, especially the three Synoptic Gospels. There are also specific prophesies in the Scriptures of Israel which are made about Jesus’ life and works on Earth which are also fulfilled. It is not just the fact that Jesus fulfils all of these prophesies, but it is also further the fact that no one else has. Therefore, we know both by a process of elimination and also by history and a personal encounter with Christ that He is our only Lord and Saviour, that He is the Christ, the anointed one and the Messiah. Only Jesus was born of a Virgin, only He lived a perfect, innocent and blameless life, only He was unjustly condemned to death by crucifixion and only He rose again for the redemption of all (past, present and future) who would choose to receive Him, accept Him and believe in Him. I would challenge you to go through and thoroughly assess and examine all of the prophecies contained within the Scriptures of Israel which only Jesus uniquely fulfils individually. The webpage on the following hyperlink helpfully contains a list of these prophesies, where they were prophesied, and where their fulfilment is cited: http://www.about-jesus.org/complete-chart-prophecies-jesus.htm

While it may perhaps be true that there may be some linguistic/translation uncertainty surrounding the two particular examples you cite (I’d have to look into this further), they are just 2 out of at least 68, and I’m sure the same sort of criticism does not apply to many of the other fulfilled prophecies. Additionally, most modern translations of the Bible (certainly the ones I use!), such as the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) and the New Revised Standard Version Anglicised (NRSVUK), translate directly from the earliest known manuscripts of the texts straight into English (removing the distance and restricting possibility of distortion and, in the case of the Scriptures of Israel, they translate straight from the initial Ancient Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT), rather than the Ancient Greek Septuagint (LXX) or Latin Vulgate translations of the Scriptures of Israel. I agree to an extent that the text is, in a way, “not truly verifiable” as we ourselves weren’t there to witness the events it testifies to and relates. However, once one has a personal encounter with Jesus (who Himself often cites and refers back to the Scriptures of Israel) through faith, one must see the Bible as the word of God (whether infallible or not) and trust it and the events which it relays in a literal and historical manner. For example, it is very clear in Luke 1 that the author of the Gospel is specifically intending and setting out to relay a literal, historical and factual account of the virgin birth, work, miracles, life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. I take a “hermeneutic [interpretation] of trust” here and accept that is what he did, just as I would if I were a newspaper editor and one of my reporters phoned in with a story and told me the details in a similar manner (as Tim Keller has pointed out). I would give the reporter the benefit of the doubt and trust him/her and so I do the same with Luke. Furthermore, the Bible aligns very closely and accurately with history and historical facts when its writing style is factual, literal and historical. This is demonstrated in the two excellent videos with Revd Vaughan Roberts embedded below:

Additionally, in a sense and to a degree, I find the Bible and its truth and meaning to be self-verifiable and self-authenticating in that, when I read it, it speaks to me and gives me spiritual life and a deep connection with God, and that when I try to act according to its commands, I feel I am doing the right thing and often see positive results both for me and for those around me.

Additionally, there are a huge number of extraordinary anagogical typologies of Jesus throughout the Scriptures of Israel in which Christ and his birth, work, life, death and resurrection are foreshadowed. One list of these can be found here.

The American Pastor Mike Winger also recorded a great series of 22 preaching videos on this topic too which can be found here.

The list of at least 68 specific and particular prophesies which are all uniquely fulfilled by Jesus alone, as well as the whole array and host of anagogical typologies for Christ contained within the Scriptures of Israel which together all provide an overwhelming case for Jesus being the only Messiah.

You make an interesting point about why the one religion whose Scriptures had been fulfilled has not, en masse or globally (so far as we can tell), “converted” to Christianity. There are a number of points to make here. Firstly, there are (as far as I can see) no official, accurate, reliable or formal figures or percentages on how many Jews have, since the Resurrection of Jesus, accepted Him as the Messiah or on how many today accept Jesus as Messiah. It would be an overwhelming, all-encompassing, mammoth task (every on a country-by-country rather than worldwide scale) to assess how many people have converted from other religions to Christianity and what percentage of these converters were initially Jews.

The Book of Acts cites a number of Jews converting, but I accept that many did not at the time (although the exact figure is hotly debated, please see David C. Sim’s paper on this here: “How many Jews became Christians in the first century?” by David C Sim). If you could provide some figures on this, I would be most grateful and interested. It is very difficult to assess and quantify this as when some Jews choose to accept Jesus as Messiah, they say that they have “converted from the religion of Judaism to Christianity”, while others say that they have become “Messianic Jews”, “Jewish Christians” or “Christian Jews”. You may also be interested here in the “Christian Hebrew Roots Movement”. Indeed, there is a big scholarly debate on whether or not one should refer to “the conversion of St Paul” or “the calling of St Paul”. According to a 2013 Pew Research, only 34% of Jews believe that one can accept Jesus as the Messiah and still remain Jewish. This questions and the above categories can distort the figures on global religious adherence as a significant proportion of those counted as Jews will be Jews who accept Jesus as Messiah.

I’d also point out that a sizeable group of Jews from 167BC – 73AD (the Sadducees) did not believe in the Resurrection of the Messiah, and so it was therefore always inevitable that they would not accept Jesus as the Messiah as they did not believe in the Resurrection.

Furthermore, in 2013 Pew Research discovered that 62% of all Jews living in the USA consider their being Jewish as being mainly a matter of ancestry and culture, rather than one of religion, and only 15% saw their Jewish as being largely a matter of religion (here). This picture is often true globally too, with most Jews worldwide seeing their Judaism as being either primarily or solely a matter of ethnicity, ancestry, tradition, upbringing and culture, rather than one of faith and/or religion. Also, in Judaism there is generally seen to be a greater emphasis on deeds, actions, works, obedience to the Law through works and practice over, beyond and above faith and belief, in contrast to modern-day Christianity. This is a major distorting factor when it comes to all statistics regarding religion.

Often Jews in a number of cultures do not know of Messianic Judaism, Jewish Christianity, or the “Christian Hebrew Roots Movement” and so are not aware that it is perfectly possible to both accept Jesus as the Messiah and also retain your Jewish roots, foundation, upbringing, ancestry, background, ethnicity and culture. For many centuries, Gentile Christians very wrongly persecuted and segregated Jews and did not act toward them in a compassionate manner of Christian love and so drove many Jews off Christianity and enabled many Jews to see Christianity and Judaism as polar opposite religions which are entirely separate and in constant conflict and opposition. The Reformer Martin Luther was, for example, very anti-Semitic and recommended the burning of both the synagogues and houses of Jews because they did not convert en masse to Christianity after the completion of the European Reformation, and sadly this current flowed right across Europe at the time and some of this can be seen in the Shakespeare play “The Merchant of Venice”. Furthermore, over 600 Jews were massacred in Mainz at the start of the First Crusade on 27th May 1096, and King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella signed the order to banish the Jews of Spain in 1492 unless they converted. The roots and background of this prejudice and dangerous falsehood sadly extend as far back as the distorted theologies of a number of early Church fathers and Doctors, even including St Augustine himself. This history is concisely and expertly cited in “The Rebirth and Restoration of Israel” by Murray Dixon. In some cases, Jews who convert face being subsequently shunned and ostracised and facing stigma as they can be seen to have turned their backs on their heritage, ancestry or culture, and at certain points in history were even treated as apostates. Even today, those who accept Jesus as Messiah can sometimes be banned from joining their local Synagogue and all of this is demonstrated in the following sections, passages and verses from John’s Gospel:

You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light. But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from people. But I know that you do not have the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him. How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”’

(John 5:33-47)

‘After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He would not go about in Judea, becausethe Jews were seeking to kill him.Nowthe Jews’ Feast of Booths was at hand. So his brothers said to him, “Leave here and go to Judea, that your disciples also may see the works you are doing. For no one works in secret if he seeks to be known openly. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.” For not even his brothers believed in him. Jesus said to them,“My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.The world cannot hate you, butit hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.You go up to the feast. I am not going up to this feast, for my time has not yet fully come.” After saying this, he remained in Galilee.

But after his brothers had gone up to the feast, then he also went up, not publicly but in private.The Jews were looking for him at the feast, and saying, “Where is he?” And there was muchmuttering about him among the people.While some said, “He is a good man”, others said, “No,he is leading the people astray.” Yet for fear of the Jews no one spoke openly of him.

About the middle of the feast Jesus went upinto the temple and began teaching. The Jews therefore marvelled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” So Jesus answered them,“My teaching is not mine, but hiswho sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether Iam speaking on my own authority.The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. Has not Moses given you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law.Why do you seek to kill me?” The crowd answered, “You have a demon! Who is seeking to kill you?” Jesus answered them,“I didone work, and you all marvel at it. Moses gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, butfrom the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath.If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken,are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgement.”

Can This Be the Christ?

Some of the people of Jerusalem therefore said, “Is not this the man whomthey seek to kill? And here he is,speaking openly, and they say nothing to him! Can it be thatthe authorities really know that this is the Christ? But we knowwhere this man comes from, and when the Christ appears,no one will know where he comes from.” So Jesus proclaimed,as he taught in the temple, “You know me, and you know where I come from? But I have not come of my own accord. He who sent me is true, and him you do not know. I know him, for I come from him, and he sent me.” So they were seeking to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. Yet many of the people believed in him. They said,“When the Christ appears, will he do more signs than this man has done?”

Officers Sent to Arrest Jesus

The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about him, and the chief priests and Pharisees sent officers to arrest him. Jesus then said,“I will be with you a little longer, and then I am going to him who sent me. You will seek me and you will not find me. Where I am you cannot come.” The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we will not find him? Does he intend to go to the Dispersion amongthe Greeks and teach the Greeks? What does he mean by saying,‘You will seek me and you will not find me’, and, ‘Where I am you cannot come’?

(John 7:1-36)

When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This really is the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the offspring of David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So there was a division among the people over him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

The officers then came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why did you not bring him?” The officers answered, “No one ever spoke like this man!” The Pharisees answered them, “Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?” They replied, “Are you from Galilee too? Search and see that no prophet arises from Galilee.”’

(John 7:40-52)

They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are doing the works your father did.” They said to him, “We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

Before Abraham Was, I Am

The Jews answered him, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon, but I honour my Father, and you dishonour me. Yet I do not seek my own glory; there is One who seeks it, and he is the judge. Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word. Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

(John 8:39-59)

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming’, because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands.

He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing at first, and there he remained. And many came to him. And they said, “John did no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many believed in him there’

(John 10:22-42)

While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

The Unbelief of the People

When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,

“He has blinded their eyes
    and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
    and understand with their heart, and turn,
    and I would heal them.”

Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God

(John 12:36-43)

Here, in a number of these passages and verses, we again see a mixed picture if you look as verses such as John 10:42. Now I’d say that both here and in the Books of Acts and the Synoptic Gospels, the vast majority of the Jewish rejections of Christ and His Gospel message are by the Jewish leaders, the Scribes, High Priests, Sanhedrin members, Pharisees and Sadducees, and that the Jewish rejections by Jews who weren’t religious leaders were influenced to a great degree with fear of exclusion from their local synagogue and Jewish community, stigma from their family, friends and local Jewish community, segregation, separation from those they loved, they also feared discrimination. We non-persecuted Christians today just cannot underestimate how painful and difficult the situation was for them and has sadly so often been for them during the intervening centuries.

The Book of the Acts of the Apostles also records individual, location-specific Jewish rejections of Jesus as their Messiah and of the Gospel message as communicated by the Apostles in Acts 2-7 and Acts 13-28. Here are two brief overview and summary videos of this:

Chapters 1-12:

Chapters 13-28:

Additionally, I think that both over the intervening centuries and still today, nowhere near enough Christians do anywhere near enough interfaith dialogue, conversation, discussion, outreach or mission to Jews. I think this has partly been due to a sense of deep guilt for past wrongs, prejudices, discrimination, persecution, exclusive and segregation, and out of a difficulty in finding the courage as well as the best approach, way, means, method, tone, language, terminology and phraseology. Finally, I don’t think most Christians have bothered, to be honest, to become particularly familiar with the Jewish religion and its values, traditions, customs, culture and morals and so cannot relate as well to them when attempting outreach and mission. There is also a lot of disagreement over the question of whether or not Christians today ought to specifically reach out to and, in the words of some and their campaigns, “target” Jews in particular, and this again gets onto that bigger question of what the official best approach, way, method and means of Christian evangelism to Jews. I think it has also not been made clear enough or often enough that one does not necessarily have to desert or abandon one’s Jewishness, culture, practices, customs or traditions in order to accept Christ as the Messiah. It is not a matter of “converting” from one religion to another, different religion, but is instead a matter of feeling called to accept Christ as Messiah from within Judaism and then subsequently choosing to accept and follow that calling.

You can read more about the multiple and various reasons why more Jews have not accepted Jesus as the Messiah since the Resurrection of Christ here.

Theologically, practically and pragmatically, it made a great deal of sense (from a self-interest and self-preservation point of view) for the Pharisees, Scribes and Jewish High Priests to all firmly, strongly and consistently reject the power, authority and position of Jesus of Nazareth as the only Messiah as this would mean that they would immediately lose a lot of their power, status, voice, influence, control, etc… That is why they were so keen to see Him not just publicly flogged, mocked and beaten but crucified, so the threat to their power, status, influence, control, voice and authority would be crushed, quashed and destroyed completely and immediately. This is furthermore why they then conspired with the guard watching Jesus’ tomb, after it was found empty due to Christ’s Resurrection, to say that the guard in question fell asleep which allowed the disciples to steal his body. This deceitful myth then filtered and flowed down into ordinary Jews and had a significant and lasting impact and legacy. Matthew’s Gospel records this, although it is a mystery as to why it is only mentioned in this Gospel and not in any of the other Synoptic Gospels. However, it is worth remembering that Matthew may have included it because he had previously been a Pharisee and as his specific, main target audience was Jews, and also his Gospel is, by far, the most complete and fullest of all three of the Synoptic Gospels.

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The Guard at the Tomb

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead’, and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.

(Matthew 27:57-66)

Now after the Sabbath, towards the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

[…]

While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

(Matthew 28:1-6,11-15)

(Hardening of hearts Romans 9 Mike Winger)

(Hardening of Hearts Romans 9 Dr Michael Brown)

Matt Bohlman has written an excellent article here on precisely why and how God hardens hearts (as cited in the Book of Exodus and also in Romans 9-11) and this brilliant piece sheds a great deal of theological, interpretive, hermeneutical and philosophical light on the question of why, since Christ’s Resurrection in around 30-33 AD, more Jews haven’t accepted Him as their Messiah. St Paul the Apostle expands upon the point he makes about the hardening of hearts in Romans 9 in another of his letters 2 Corinthians 3:

‘Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit’

(2 Corinthians 3:7-18)

However, I do agree that an air, atmosphere and certain degree of mystery does and will always (in this short, limited, temporal and finite life and world) hang over this particular and specific question of why God occasionally chooses to consequentially and subsequently harden the hearts of certain, select groups of people who have generally rejected Him and His saving Gospel message. Ultimately this question really boils down to the huge “Calvinism vs Arminianism/Divine Predestination vs Human Free Will” debate and I have therefore cited my favourite books on this topic below in the “Bibliography and Further Reading” section at the bottom of this article. Although we must remember that God only ever hardens hearts selectively and on a small scale and only when that people group have already made a decisive, deliberate, purposeful and fully-informed, conscious free choice to firmly reject both Him and His Gospel message. It is, therefore, a subsequent, later, consequential and resultant hardening of hearts and all of the Biblical texts on this make this very clear in their precise wording and sequencing of events and actions. It is further worth remembering that this concept of hardening is not just limited to and does not solely apply to the Jews who freely choose to reject Christ as their Messiah, but it also clearly applies to the Gentiles who also equally freely choose to reject Christ as their Messiah, as is clearly shown in Paul’s words in Romans 1:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonouring of their bodies among themselves’

(Romans 1:18-24)

This thus shows God’s treatment of everyone is equal, just, balanced, non-discriminatory and fair.

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(4) Why the “Religious Pluralism” stance does indeed always, necessarily and inevitably lead to some significant difference and divergence in morality and the role of morality

“Religious Pluralists” accept that all religions are essentially (not just some), in all the ways which they subjectively and personally see as mattering, the same. The view is often one which is driven by a huge emphasis on the supposedly overriding and overwhelming forces of cultural, moral and social anthropology, the influence of culture, background, education and upbringing and social, moral and cultural relativism, as well as postmodernism. Tim Keller very astutely made this point in the below embedded YouTube video:

He essentially argues that the opinion that only one religion and only one faith lead to God and ultimately to salvation is somehow or in some way “intolerant” or even bigoted is actually a very new, anthropocentric, human-centred view. It would have been unthinkable even in the West only a number of decades ago. To say that religious inclusivism (the idea that most religions contain some common, shared truths and that there is sometimes some overlap, but that only one leads to God and ultimately to salvation) is an “intolerant” view is like saying (as Keller again points out) that it is “intolerant” to argue that only food and water are water give us energy and nutrients and are what ultimately sustains us and keeps us alive. Additionally, we need to remember Michael Ramsden’s great point that any truth claim must necessarily and intrinsically (by its very own nature) exclude all other rival claims, paths, ways, means and mechanisms. To deny this is like denying that bicycles have handlebars. It’s an inherent, intrinsic, internal, in-built, necessary and inevitable part of what they themselves actually are.

Now the commenter in his assertions here seems to be claiming that as, in his opinion, all religions share exactly the same morals and rules (which I would very much firmly dispute), then we can essentially, ultimately and eventually just boil down all of these world religions to one overarching, universal moral database, handbook or system which would then tell us exactly how to live and how not to live.

I firmly disagree with this firstly as, as I mentioned earlier there are numerous and significant divergences in specifics morals between just the six major world religions, never mind the huge number of supposedly non-major religions across the world. Secondly, I would strongly disagree because the presumption of the commenter is that all religions, including Christianity, are just solely about morality, ethical rules and what to try to and which actions we should strive to avoid. However, Christianity is completely unique is this area as it states that we humans are all fallen, broken, imperfect and sinful and so cannot attain anything like moral or ethical perfection. This, in turn, means that we cannot please God without freely choosing to accept His grace through faith in the Incarnation, Virgin Birth, works, teachings, miracles, life, crucifixion and Resurrection of His only innocent and perfect Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. This acceptance then subsequently imputes his perfect and blameless righteousness into all believers in the eyes of God the Father and makes us worthy, not because of our own works, which are themselves nothing more than filthy rags, but instead solely because of our faith and trust in the sufficiency of Jesus’ works, including most notably and significantly His crucifixion and glorious and triumphal Resurrection. Only His sacrifice on the Cross won the victory in the battle against sin, death, evil and the Devil, He has already won the victory for us and on our behalf, but we will only fully realise this and truly see it in perfect light, in actuality and all of its marvellous glory once we die and our immortal souls live on and when we (in our Resurrected bodies and with our immortal souls) see, witness and experience everything in the Kingdom of Heaven in the Afterlife.

Christianity is also, again uniquely, focused and centred on not just morals but, more than that, self-denial and self-sacrificial love and unconditional forgiveness. It is true to state that forgiveness was invented by Christ during his late, short and limited temporal period on Earth. However, it did initially derive from the Triune Godhead and He is its ultimate source. Additionally, it is only Christianity which has such a key, strong and firm focus on unconditional forgiveness and repentance at its very core, heart and epicentre. Finally, only Christianity believes in Monism (the deep unity of the human body and its immortal soul) and the ultimate redemption and Resurrection of the body. Most other religions and philosophies see the body and soul as diametrically-opposed rivals, warring entities and as polar opposites which should be kept separate and ultimately have very different, mutually exclusive desires, yearnings and longings.

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(5) Why a focus, however strong or clear, on ‘Goodness, Love and Truth’ is not in itself sufficient for pure, morals and moral standards and ideals, for salvation or real truth and self-knowledge, self-understanding and self-identification

The commenter seems to suggest that, so long as a religion has a focus on ‘Goodness, Love and Truth’, then that is all that is required for it to be of equal status, value, worth, meaning, truth and importance as Christianity and the other major world religion. However, there is a great deal of ethical, religious, philosophical, moral and theological argument about which values are most important, which ones should ultimately go with when they conflict (e.g. what happens when there is a potential tension between love and righteous anger, or justice and unconditional forgiveness? – there is no consensus among religions on this), what the concepts of goodness, love and truth actually mean and are in practice and from where they each derive.

It seems to me that the commenter appears to merely reduce God and/or religion to solely being a mere remote, removed, isolated, impersonal, moral and philosophical concept, and/or a caustic, scientific and cosmological necessity. This seems to me to be more of a God found negatively by a gradual and long process of elimination, rather than a positive, beneficial, all-loving, caring, benevolent, involved, immanent, personal, Incarnate, social, relational God. Christians believe that everything was created by God out of nothing at all in the first place and that each and every human is special and unique as they were created in the image of God as being the uniquely rational, reasonable, moral, ethical and intelligent social animal. This image derives from God and so it makes sense to say, by analogy (as Aquinas, for example, has done) that God Himself is also intelligent, moral, just, ethical, social, relational and personal but just to an infinitely, indescribably and unimaginably greater extent.

By Ben Somervell

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If you found this article interesting or helpful, you may also like to read the following two blog posts which I have written on very similar topics:

(1) Why I don’t call it the “Old Testament”

(2) Do all religions lead to God?

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(6) Bibliography and Further Reading

(*Disclaimer: I personally myself do not necessarily agree with any of the views expressed in the below-recommended resources and materials, I have merely listed and cited them as I think they provide food for thought for those interested in the areas discussed above*)

Books

(1) The Theology of the Old Testament: Reading the Hebrew Bible as Christian Scripture by Revd Professor Walter “R.W.L.” Moberly

(2) The Rebirth and Restoration of Israel by Murray Dixon

(3) ‘The Jewish People in Luke-Acts’, in Luke-Acts and the Jewish People by Jack Sanders

(4) Images of Judaism in Luke-Acts by Joseph Tyson

(5) Rejected Prophets: Jesus and His Witnesses in Luke-Acts by Jocelyn McWhirter

(6) The Re-Justification of God: An Exegetical & Theological Study of Romans 9:10-24 by J.D. Myers

(7) Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: An Inductive Mediate Theology of Salvation by C. Gordon Olson

(8) Chosen but Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election by Norman L. Geisler

(9) Determined to Believe? The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith, and Human Responsibility by John Lennox

(10) Is God Calvinist or Arminian? The Closing Argument by Bob Raymond

(11) Chosen But Free: How divine sovereignty relates to the human will by Immanuel Haller

(12) Calvinism vs. Arminianism by Steve Urick

(13) Grace, Faith, Free Will, Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism & Arminianism by Robert E. Picirilli

(14) God’s Offer of Eternal Salvation and why Arminianism or Calvinism do not conform to God’s Word by Donald L. Perry

(15) Arminianism and Calvinism compared in their Principles, Tendencies and Results by Hardpress

(16) Where Two Creeds Meet: A Biblical Evaluation of Calvinism and Arminianism by O. Glenn McKinley

(17) Burning Straw Dummies: Learning the Real Issues in the Calvinism-Arminianism Debate by Randy Seiver

(18) Calvinism vs. Arminianism: “Once Saved, Always Saved” – How Certain? by Edward D. Andrew

Journal Articles and Theses

(1) Wills, Lawrence M., ‘The Depiction of the Jews in Acts’, Journal of Biblical Literature, 110 (1991), 631–54

(2) Saldarini, Anthony J., Interpretation of Luke-Acts and Implications for Jewish-Christian Dialogue at Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts: https://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/content/pdfs/12-1_Luke-Acts/12-1_Saldarini.pdf

(3) Cohen, Shaye JD. 2013. The ways that parted: Jews, Christians, and
Jewish-Christians ca. 100-150 CE. Near Eastern Languages and
Civilizations, Harvard University, preprint: https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/10861143/Cohen_PartingWays.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y

(4) Sanders, Jack T., Who is a Jew and Who is a Gentile in the Book of Acts? in New Testament Studies, vol. 37, 1991, pp. 434-455: https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/new-testament-studies/article/who-is-a-jew-and-who-is-a-gentile-in-the-book-of-acts/09186DFC5C7DC89848114F5547BC150E

(5) Gager, John G., Jews, Gentiles, and Synagogues in the Book of Acts at Princeton University in The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 79 No.1-3 (1986) 91-99: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1509403?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

(6) Holmås, Geir Otto, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’: Regarding the Temple as a Place of Prayer in Acts within the Context of Luke’s Apologetical Objective* at The Norwegian Lutheran School of Theology

(7) The Purpose of Election in Romans 9:11: Rethinking the Doctrine of Predestination Through the Theology of the Cross by Paul Chua Wang: https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/75530/5/Wang_Paul_C_201611_PhD_thesis.pdf

Webpages

(1) Acts of Apostles, part 6: The gentile mission by Jane Williams in ‘The Guardian’: https://amp.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/jan/19/christianity-religion-acts-gentiles

(2) The Myth of Jewish Rejection of Jesus by Paul Sumner: http://www.hebrew-streams.org/works/judaism/reject.html

(3) Why the Jews did or did not reject Jesus by Richard John Neuhaus on ‘First Things’: https://www.firstthings.com/article/2005/02/why-the-jews-did-or-did-not-reject-jesus

(4) Jewish Resistance to the Gospel by David Brickner on ‘Jews for Jesus’: https://jewsforjesus.org/answers/jewish-resistance-to-the-gospel/

(5) The Jewish Religion in the 1st century on ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jesus/The-context-of-Jesus-career

(6) Jesus Kept Kosher: The Jewish Christ of the Gospel of Mark by Daniel Boyarin on ‘Tikkun’: https://www.tikkun.org/jesus-kept-kosher-the-jewish-christ-of-the-gospel-of-mark

(7) Major Jewish Groups in the New Testament by Victor L. Ludlow: https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/1975/01/major-jewish-groups-in-the-new-testament?lang=eng

(8) Jewish Christians on ‘New World Encyclopedia’: https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Jewish_Christians

(9) Episode 6: So, What Happened to the Jewish Christians? b

(10) CHAPTER VII: The Purpose of Acts: Schneckenburger Reconsidered by A. J. Mattill, Jr.: https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_purposeofacts_mattill.html

(11) Paul and Jewish Theology: A New View of the Christian Apostle IN THE whole history of the Christian Church there is probably no more fascinating and controversial figure than that of… by Jakob J. Petuchowski: https://www.commentarymagazine.com/articles/paul-and-jewish-theologya-new-view-of-the-christian-apostle/

Videos

(1) Why God Hardens Hearts: Romans 9:17-24 by Mike Winger: https://youtu.be/mMuiT_R0zFQ

(2) Non-Calvinist Interpretation of Romans 9 by Mike Winger: https://youtu.be/7y4yjSwEkfY

(3) Calvinism, Arminianism, Election & Predestination: Romans 8:29-30, 33 by Mike Winger: https://youtu.be/UO92L11L9jc

(4) The Jewish Gospel: Romans 9:25-10:9 by Mike Winger: https://youtu.be/9C9UkR6uNoA

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