Monday, 30 May 2011

Protestants, Rabbinical Judaism, and Samaritans

The other day I was talking to an old friend, a Protestant. He had called me with a question that really had him confused," How can Jews reject the Gospel and Jesus Christ when you can show them point by point the cause and effect, the prophecies, and the parallels of Judaism and Christianity? It just seems like bold denial!" I started by pointing out that it's easy to look at it from where you are, but the other side is doing the same thing. When we read Isaiah 53 we see Christ, when Jews read Isaiah 53 they see all kinds of things.

I started talking to him about Church history, and said," As a Christian, it is important for you to not separate the history of the Jews and the Christians. It is one Church history. When you look at the Old Testament you are reading Church history." When the Law was given to Moses the people of God became two classes, the priesthood and the laity. The Levitical priesthood had a specific role to play that no one else could perform, in the way the Hebrews approached God. Of course, anyone could approach God in simply prayer, but the Law was the context of Israel's relationship with God, and it could not be realized without a priesthood.

Early in Israel's history, after they took possession of the 'Promised Land' we see the Judges, we see prophets, we see king David and many other kings, as well. Finally, Israel found itself being chastised by God and was exiled to Babylon. It was during this time without a temple that Rabbinical Judaism was created. Without a temple, the priesthood could do nothing; Israel was left naked with nothing more than its scriptures. The Jews began to look towards their scriptures as the source of life and they became a scripture culture. Private, yet institutionalized interpretation of scripture became the new center of faith. It wasn't the sacrificing in the temple, as before. They couldn't even begin to fulfill the Law, because of their limitations.

I was once at an interfaith dialogue meeting and it was supposed to be civil, but things got a little wild. There were Christians of every denomination there as well as Catholics and Jews. It was hosted by the Beth Israel synagogue in my city, and a few of their congregation were in attendance who seemed bent on quarreling; they were dyspeptic to say the least. They began blasting the speaker, who was a Catholic priest. I think they took the venue to be an apologetics forum, which was not what it was supposed to be at all. They began vehemently attacking the notion that Christ had fulfilled all the commands of the Law, which wasn't even one of the points the speaker was making. In an attempt to simply silence them so that we could get back on track, I said to them," And how do you do it? Do you really think you fulfill the Law by reading your Torah and attending the synagogue?" And the most argumentative one said," But there are in the Midrash interpretations and in the Talmud statutes. If you throw in a 32nd of the challah into the oven on Shabbat this fulfills the sacrifices which the Law demands." or something very similar to it. My quick retort was," Your oven is not the temple, you are not a priest, and that is not in the Law." It became very silent.

But this is a perfect example of the popular Jewish view of their own religion. Their Midrash and their Talmud are equal to the Torah, though they would never admit it, because the Talmud and the Midrash have interpretive powers over the Torah. These two are direct products of Rabbinical Judaism. They are the commentary on and interpretation of the Torah by rabbis going back hundreds and hundreds of years, but they are not the Law. What should come to mind is Christ rebuking the Pharisees," Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that."

Christ did not come condemning the Law or those who follow it. At every point where Christ came into conflict with the Pharisees and the Sadducees it was over the imposition of rabbinical pretexts onto the Law and onto the people of Israel," You lay heavy burdens on men's shoulders and don't lift a finger to help them." But it is important to note that Christ did not condemn all the innovations of the Pharisees, he even said that some of their traditions were beneficial to keeping the Law. It was when the rabbis replaced the Law with their own statutes that Christ came into conflict with them.

Rabbinical Judaism may be seen, I will be so bold as to say that it should be seen, as a fulfillment of God's promise to blind Israel so that it will not see. The fog of merely human interpretation, uninspired interpretation of scripture led to the conflict between Israel and its Messiah. Rabbinical Judaism is perhaps wholly responsible for the inconsistency between what they imagined the Messiah would be and the reality of what the Messiah was, for Israel's inability to recognize it's Savior. It is very hard to imagine that Christ would have suffered a similar fate had he appeared during the time of King David, or during the time of Joshua or any of the Judges. There is a theological disconnect, a philosophical disconnect and a historical disconnect between the Judaism of the Old Testament and the Judaism we see at the time of Christ in the 1st century, just as there are huge disconnects between 1st century Judaism and the Hasidic Judaism of Germany in the 18th century.

Remember that Judaism up until the time of Christ must be viewed teleologically as Church history. Christianity begins the exact same way as Judaism did; there are two visible classes: the priesthood and the laity. Christianity was an apostolic entity from its first inception and remained to be so, exclusively, until 1517. In 1517 Martin Luther began the 'reformation,' so called. You'll remember that the shift from old Judaism to Rabbinical Judaism was the shift from a sacrifice centered form of worship in the temple to a scripture centered form of worship in the synagogue. Originally, they had the scripture so that they could practice the Law, that is to say that scripture was only a means to an end, but they started practicing the Law to appease and accord with the scripture as if it were the end itself. History repeats itself in Christian history at the moment of the reformation. In Martin Luther's own words," Worship used to be addressed to God as a homage. Henceforth, it will be addressed to man to console and enlighten him. The sacrifice (Jesus Christ/ the Eucharist) used to have pride of place but the sermon (biblical interpretation) will supplant it."

For the Protestants, Christianity became something it had never been before. The Church was no longer "the pillar and foundation of the truth" as we read in 1 Timothy 3:15, but the scripture became "the pillar and foundation of truth." Before, Christ,' the True Vine,' had been the source of righteousness in the form of His body and blood in the communion, but now it had changed and the bible was the source of righteousness. A great and terrible confusion occurred in the Protestant mind and the words of God (the bible) and the Word of God (Jesus Christ) became synonymous, and their adoration was misplaced. Before, one apostolic institution, founded by Jesus Christ, had through divine inspiration expounded truth and innovated holy tradition; that institution was the Catholic Church. Now, everyone would interpret for themselves and innovate by themselves. Sola Scriptura was born and with it Protestantism, a "Rabbinical Christianity" if you will.

The Churches of the Apostles are to Christianity what Judaism was during the days of king David, and Protestantism is to Christianity what Judaism was during the time of Christ, and in many ways it is worse off. At least the Jews had sacramentality during the time of Christ; most Protestants, on the other hand, have 'rid' themselves of the priesthood and have reduced the communion to a mere ordinance and a sign, it is no longer reckoned to actually be 'the Sacrifice.' They have no sacramentality, beyond baptism, by their own admittance.

This division is almost certainly a punishment to the Catholic Church as was the 'Great Schism.' But leaving this aside. There is another way to show the difference between the Catholics and Protestants with Scripture, namely with the Samaritans. The Samaritans broke away from Israel and chose to worship the true God in a way that was not permitted by the Law; they chose to worship in the North at their mountain and were cut-off from Israel for their stubbornness.

Often Catholics are confounded and put to shame by the zeal, good works, and piety of Protestants, the very people they esteem to be ignorant of and vicious towards the Churches of the Apostles. They can't figure how they can be so Christlike while so many, if not most Catholics are stagnant, self-centered, and secular. Of course the Protestant is very desirous to answer that question and would say," It's because we are right!" But that is not the case; rather, the Protestant is a sign to the Catholic, just like the 'Good Samaritan' was a sign to all of the Pharisees and Sadducees who listened to Christ tell the parable. The Samaritan put every caste of Israel to shame by his charity, but the value of the parable comes from the irony of the fact that the Samaritan who was wayward, unclean, and cut-off from Israel was a better person than they who were part of the chosen people and yet refused to love their neighbor.
Christ uses the Samaritans on more than one occasion to shame the Jews; however, it should be enlightening for us. It was never intended to make Jews want to be Samaritans, rather it was meant to remind Jews of what they were supposed to be.

Christ in his ministry tells his disciples at first to avoid the Samaritan towns. He first sends his disciples to the Jews, because salvation is of the Jews. This happens today with the Catholics and the Protestants, Catholics start doing something, then the Protestants either catch on or get it after the fact. Case in point, the Charismatic movement. The Holy Spirit first gives revelation to the Holy Catholic Church, because salvation flows from the Church and its sacraments which Christ instituted, and then the separated brethren get their graces in an extraordinary way.

The big difference between the Protestants and the Catholics can be demonstrated through the conversation of Christ with the Samaritan woman at the well. She said to him," Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.
Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem." to which Christ answered," Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews." The Church is and must be the Church of the Apostles, the same Catholic Church founded by Jesus Christ. Salvation is not found outside of the Church. Christ does not have several brides, but one Bride.

Notice that Christ is not telling the woman that she is damned, or that she does not obtain salvation, he is only telling her as a matter of fact that she is ignorant of the whole truth, because she is separated from Israel. He does not accuse her of idolatry, neither does he withhold his miraculous ministry from her or her village, but stays on with them teaching and doing miracles for several days. He does not give the Samaritans the same hard time that he gave to the Syro-Phoenician woman who plead and plead for her child, but recognizes them as separated brethren of Israel. Martin Luther said," We are compelled to concede to the Papists that we have no knowledge of the scriptures apart from them." and because they have no revelation of salvation apart from the scriptures, salvation is from the Church. This puts Protestants squarely in the same position of the Samaritans in relation to the Catholic Church who would be analogous to the Jews.

When I talk about how great the Catholic Church is with Protestants and how happy I am to be a Catholic, I never do so cloaked, I speak freely and candidly. I'm never sly, and I am completely open, congenial and free with them. Because of this they feel more free to object, and for that I'm glad, so that I can talk with them freely and with confidence just as Christ did at the well with the Samaritan woman. When all is said and done, the one question in the end is often," Well, why be a Catholic? What is the benefit? I don't see it. If we are both one in the same Christ, if we both have salvation, and if we both believe in the bible why do I need to be a Catholic?" The answer to that question is simple: they need to be Catholic for the same reason that it would have been better for the Samaritan woman to be a Jew. To be a Catholic Christian is as superior to being a Protestant Christian as being a Jew is to being a Samaritan. Surely, no one would argue that it was better to be a Samaritan than a Jew! Were there any Samaritan apostles? Did Christ reveal himself through the Samaritans? No. Salvation is of the Jews. Salvation is found in Christ's Church.

Truly, Protestants, if their faith is true, are saved. Truly, they are incorporated into the body of Christ in the resurrection. Truly, the Holy Spirit works powerfully through them, even now and in such ways that put many Catholics to shame. And certainly, that Samaritan woman who had faith was superior to the Pharisees who hated and doubted Christ, but does anyone think that she was the equal of any Jewish woman of similar faith? You know that isn't the case. We work for the same wages, but when put to it who would you rather be? A son or a hireling? Who would you rather be? The Prodigal son, or the son who was always loyal to his father? Don't think that the Prodigal son was a better man than his older brother; his older brother only had a bad attitude! To be the loyal son is far superior, than to be prodigal out of ignorance and only then return.

The Protestants are the one sheep, and we are the ninety and nine. That is why we must strive to bring them in again, where they are safe, where they have the life giving sacraments, and the perfect doctrine of truth, because we already know how happy it makes the Father to get back that one sheep. Because we know they need the Eucharist. There is no use and no point in hating or being at useless enmity with the Protestants. Pray for conversions amongst our separated brethren. And if you are a Protestant reading this, and if today you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your heart. God be with you.   

"Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." ~Aristotle~


  1. The substitution theory (old with the new) has never sat well with me. Perhaps it's my cultural pride that always blinds and gnaws at me. A continuation of the old always made more sense to me and selfishly fulfilled my cultural pride. I was never able to express to my fellow calvary chapel protestant brethren that their over the top pro-Israel stance was different then my pride. The pride is there but I'll drop it like a hot potato if it intervenes with what is officially taught. There is a healthy dimension to this, but unfortunately theology after Auschwitz led to a epoch-making relationship with Israel and as a result led to Christian-Jewish passages to be overblown or under appreciated. Covenant theology is at the source of our differing perspectives (at least between us Christians). God's covenant with his people is the expression of God's free election and therefore of his un-owed love for his people. The covenant is therefore not legally actionable; its guarantee consists solely in God's faithfulness to his covenant. That last part is often missed by protestant and Jews alike.

  2. To be sure,God is sovereign. But to be sure, God must love himself. We are the image of God, he cannot detest us entirely, because he desires the very thing which we are the image of. Christ came to live and die not primarily because God loved man; He came and died out of primal love of the Father, whom man resembled, and that is also the reason that the Father sent Him, and why the Holy Spirit dwells in us.God is bound by his nature to love us, his love is certainly owed, but to himself primarily, and to his image secondarily. If God did not love us, then God would not exist; but he cannot fail to exist because he is a necessary being. His love of humanity is owed to his being.
    But I must agree, the epoch-style of interpreting history is a new thing for Christianity, but any Christian being honest with themselves is forced to keep the history of Judaism and Christianity together in a total sense. Mainstream Protestantism and even in many Eastern Orthodox minds, there is a single golden thread that runs through history, the salvation story, but it has to be so much more than that.