Like every other man, the Jew needs the Gospel. Christ was first proclaimed to the Jews. Peter began with the Jews. And although Paul was appointed to serve the Gentiles, wherever he went he opened his ministry by preaching to the Jews.
After the apostolic days, when Gentiles took over the task of proclaiming the Gospel “to every creature,” the Jew was usually neglected. The Gospel, if presented to him at all, was thrust down his throat. But in the last two hundred years the need of preaching the Gospel to the Jews has been rediscovered, with marvelous consequences. Hundreds of thousands of Jews have been converted to Christianity. Yet the results would have been far greater, if Christians had known better ways of approaching the Jew.
The Jew is not like the heathen, for whom Christianity is something new, something strange that arouses his curiosity. The Jew knows all about it. He was born and grew up among Christians, and what he has learned about Christians and Christianity has unfortunately led him to keep his distance. Furthermore, he has often been taught that the missionary who tries to convert him is a most despicable creature who has not only sold his own soul for material gain but is also trying to steal other people’s souls. And next to the missionary in Jewish odium stands the convert to Christianity, the so-called Meshumad, an epithet signifying an evil, corrupt, dangerous person.
Now whatever the Jew is, he is peculiar, a person different and set apart. Therefore there must be a particular way to approach him. The classic example of this approach is described in Acts 2, where, in dealing with the Jews, Peter is conciliatory, placating, compassionate, and persuasive. Paul’s approach was similar (see Acts 13). This approach in true Christian love can be very effective, for the power of love is great.
Through the centuries the relation between the Jewish people and Christianity has undergone serious changes. Both Judaism and Christianity have deviated from their fundamentals. Biblical Judaism has been transformed into Rabbinic (Talmudic) Judaism. If Moses were to come to the world now, he would not be able to recognize the Judaism of our times. On the other hand, Christianity since Constantine has to a large extent been secularized and paganized. An ever-widening chasm between the two faiths has been opened—a chasm that has become almost unbridgeable. Christianity inflicted upon the Jews deep wounds and indignities; and Judaism could only retaliate with contempt. In this atmosphere of mutual hate and distrust, a Christian way of approach to the Jew was almost impossible.
But whatever the approach was or should have been a few decades ago, there has to be a new one now, because today there is a “new” Jew. Two momentous events of recent years have radically changed the Jew in behavior, outlook, and aspiration. First there were the Nazi persecutions, which destroyed six million Jews, one-third of the Jewish population of the world. Second there was the establishment of the State of Israel. The Nazi onslaught nearly crushed the Jew. But the emergence of the State of Israel raised him up from the dust, straightened his back, lifted his head so that he could look any man straight in the eye and say, “I am as good as any other man.”
The Jew in exile was plagued by a false sense of superiority that often gave way to an inferiority complex. These conflicting emotions apparently were main causes in alienating him from his Gentile neighbors. But now he is no longer haughty and arrogant, nor is he servile and obsequious. For now the wall of partition between Jew and Gentile has begun to crumble.
The creatures there in Bethlehem’s stall
Who looked upon the Christ-Child small—
I wonder if they knew at all
That someday his skilled hands would form
An easy yoke; a stable warm
To shelter them from wind and storm;
That o’er his head a dove’s white wing
Would make the heavenly choirs to sing
That God was pleased his Son to bring;
That he would choose an ass’s foal
To ride upon, in kingly role
To claim the Kingdom of the Soul.
The little Lamb of God was he
Who lay there sleeping silently,
The Shepherd of us all to be.
The creatures there within the stall
Looked down upon that Baby small—
I wonder if they knew at all!
While the old Jew emphasized Judaism as a mark of Jewishness, the new Jew places the emphasis on nationalism. Most Jews in diaspora still insist that the Jews in the various countries are Jews only by religion; in national allegiance they are, they insist, nationals of the countries where they live. Yet it is plain that religion is not the decisive factor in keeping world Jewry together. Many Jews no longer observe the laws and rites of Judaism. Others are outspoken atheists or agnostics. Yet all are reckoned as Jews. Only the Jew who believes in Christ is excluded from the national entity.
Even in the United States, where the Jews evince much religious activity and where the three main groups (Reform, Orthodox, Conservative) vie with one another in building imposing synagogues and centers, very many Jews are indifferent to their religion. Yet nearly all of them are enthusiastic supporters of the State of Israel first and of other Jewries next.
There is another characteristic of the new Jew that the concerned Christian should know. In Paul’s time, while the Greeks were seeking after wisdom as proof of the veracity of the Gospel, the Jews required a sign (1 Cor. 1:22). For them a “sign” was some supernatural act or evidence that Jesus was the one of whom Moses and the prophets wrote. But the new Jew does not expect miracles. Nor does he have much faith in his Bible. Like the Greek of old, he wants “wisdom”—that is, scientific, logical, incontestable proof that Christ is the one he claimed to be.
This Jewish desire for “wisdom” means that the new Jew has begun to discard many old superstitions held for centuries as truth. Among these has been a fictitious representation of Jesus, with ridiculous, puerile, impossible stories intended to malign and revile the one whom they have called “that man,” “the Gentile God,” and the like. No modern, educated Jew believes that kind of blasphemy any longer. Nor is the new Jew afraid of reading the New Testament, the book that for generations has been taboo to the Jews. This makes the Christian approach easier.
Consider now the two main objections the Christian may encounter when he approaches the Jew. One is religious, the other nationalistic.
Unlike the old Jew, the new Jew lays less stress on religion than on nationalism. Although he does not feel well enough grounded in Judaism to discuss its precepts and dogmas, the average Jew “knows”—that is, has been taught—that Christianity is a “foreign worship” with doctrines diametrically opposed to Jewish doctrines. He has also been taught that the essence of Judaism is the belief in the unity of God—monotheism as opposed to polytheism. He knows that the unity of God is the first Commandment, and the average Jew has learned to recite in the original Hebrew: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4). This is the formula (confession of faith) recited by the practicing Jew several times a day and with his last breath of life.
And the new Jew also “knows” that Christians worship “three gods.” The average Jew is not well informed about other Christian doctrines, such as the divinity of the Messiah, the Virgin Birth, and original sin. But he “knows” enough to argue about them. He “knows” that these beliefs are quite contrary to the Jewish faith.
Finally, even if he knows very little of Judaism and cares less about its usages, he deeply resents any Christian attempt to “destroy” it. He may not practice his religion, but deep in his heart there is a tender, nostalgic feeling for the faith of his fathers, thousands of whom sacrificed their lives in defense of that faith.
The main argument to be used in the Christian approach to the Jew is that Christ came not to destroy the Jewish faith but to fulfill it. The Jew must be shown that Christianity is not a “foreign religion”; it is organically related to Judaism. The doctrines that nowadays seem so foreign to Judaism are really an integral part of it, and in ancient times they were commonly believed by the Jews. The Jew today must be shown that the Trinity is not three gods but the one true God who has made himself known to Jews and Gentiles in three Persons. From the very first verse of the Hebrew Bible, and throughout it, the Hebrew word for God, Elohim, denotes a unity in a plurality. The other “Christian” doctrines, too, are not Christian inventions; they come from the Jews and from the Jewish Scriptures.
Christianity does not require the Jew to give up his Jewish heritage; it requires him only to give up his sins. All he has to do is to believe in the Jewish Messiah, as he is depicted in the Jewish Bible and revealed in the New Testament, which is also a Jewish book.
Although the new Jew may be indifferent to matters of religion, he is very sensitive and aggressive in matters of his race and his nation. He would not lay down his life for “his” religion, as his ancestors did, but would do so in defense of his people if necessary.
After centuries of mistreatment in Christendom and of indoctrination by his leaders, the Jew became convinced that Christianity is the prime enemy of his people and that the New Testament is the source of all anti-Semitic persecution and libel. Many Jews have done all in their power to perpetuate these accusations by quoting New Testament passages culled out of context and by citing cases of “Christian” persecution of Jews. Some writers even blame the Nazi atrocities on the teaching of the New Testament.
At this point the Christian approach should be as cautious as that of a surgeon performing a delicate operation. Above all, it must be made in the spirit of love. There must be genuine sympathy with the suffering of the Jewish people and honest regret and contrition that much of this suffering was caused by people calling themselves Christian.
And in addition these points should be made: that hatred and all other evil passions are the consequences of the fall of man—the original sin of all men, Jew as well as Gentile; that hatred, persecution, and murder are as old as Cain and Abel; that individual feuds and domestic quarrels as well as large-scale wars make up most of the history of human beings, and Jews have been no exception; that Jews were persecuted long before the advent of Christianity (and since then they have been persecuted by non-Christians and by anti-Christian people as well as by professing Christians: many anti-Semites have hated the Jews not for “killing Christ” but rather for giving birth to him); that Christ can no more be held responsible for the sins and crimes committed in his name than God can be blamed for the sins men, including Jews, have committed in his name; that although most of the wrongs perpetrated against Jews by so-called Christians were done in the name of God and although some anti-Semites have claimed that God wanted the Jews to be punished for killing Christ, Jesus never asked anybody to punish or persecute the Jew; that Jews have on the whole preferred to live in “Christian” countries, or in countries dominated by Christians; that God must have had a good reason for placing most of his chosen people in Christendom despite the reprehensible hate and persecution; and that, significantly, it was mainly the “Christian” nations that voted for the establishment of the State of Israel, that now support it, and that are likely to come to its defense in time of need.
Whether the Jew today wants a sign or wisdom, his very existence can serve both as a sign (miracle) and as wisdom (incontestable proof that the Bible is true). The survival of the Jewish people is an inexplicable fact, even a miracle. According to human logic, the Jew should have disappeared long ago. Mighty forces have worked for his destruction. But they have failed. There is only one explanation for this—a mightier force, the Almighty himself, determined to preserve the Jews for a certain purpose.
The Bible tells of the Jews’ election and the purpose of this election. It predicts the main course of their history, their stumblings, their frequent falls, their tribulations, and their ultimate rise, which for them will be like life from death (Rom. 11:15).
World War II left the Jewish people downcast, downtrodden, seemingly beyond repair; and yet within a few years they have converted a wasteland into a flourishing commonwealth. They had little manpower to begin with, few skilled workers to do the jobs needed in modern civilization, few mechanics, technicians, agriculturalists, miners, sailors. Their natural resources were meager. They had no trained army, no adequate implements for defense. Yet within a few years the Israelis have become proficient in the arts and crafts and masters in the various branches of science, despite relentless antagonism and obstruction.
Such progress can be explained only by the Word of God, which predicted this rebirth of Israel so that it might be a “light unto the nations.” This prediction, closely connected with that of Israel’s looking upon “him whom they have pierced,” points to their ultimate reconciliation with God.
The Christian approach to the Jew should always be based on the Scriptures. Although the Jew may sometimes be skeptical of their infallibility, yet as a rule he is proud of his biblical heritage and subconsciously reveres it. He should constantly be challenged to “search the Scriptures,” for in them he will find the truth about Christ, his Messiah.
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