Perhaps, I thought, it really wasn’t important that Jesus hadn’t fulfilled the main prophecies of the Messiah if he had at least fulfilled some of the others. I started to go through the prophecies outlined in Matthew, who, as a Jewish writer keenly interested in establishing Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, relied heavily on these prophecies. But I didn’t get far into the book before I realized that it was hopeless. In Matthew 2:23 (Revised Standard Version—all other references also from this translation) it says that Jesus “went and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He shall be called a Nazarene.‘” This would certainly seem to point
toward Jesus. Unfortunately, there is no prophecy in the Tanach about him being a Nazarene—this quotation is completely made up! Even if I could forgive the gospel writer this indiscretion, his misuse of the scriptures in other places is even more disturbing. He writes that the reason Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt was “to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt have I called my son‘” (Matthew 2:15). However, when you read this quotation in its original context in Hosea 11:1, you see that the verse doesn’t refer to the Messiah; rather, it refers to Israel. Matthew is using it as if it predicts something about the Messiah, but it was never seen that way before—hardly a fulfilled prophecy.
Not only did these two uses of the scriptures cause me to seriously question the veracity of the New Testament, they led to explore all of the other supposedly fulfilled prophecies, and to see that they were equally dissatisfying.
I was grasping at straws and I knew it, for none of them mattered anyway, if even the basic criteria of the Messiah had not been fulfilled. For instance, there was a prophecy that Elijah would appear in advance of the Messiah and reconcile families (Malachi 4:6). Elijah does not appear in the New Testament, but Christian apologists claim
that John the Baptist came “in the spirit” of Elijah, even though John the Baptist explicitly denied this (John 1:19-21). Besides, John the Baptist certainly didn’t reconcile families, and the prophecy seems to be pretty plain that Elijah himself will appear—not someone similar or in the same spirit as he.
A broader look at the New Testament wasn’t any more helpful. It spoke about how the Law was a burden, but the Tanach spoke about how it was a life-giving delight. (See Psalm 119.) The New Testament claimed that there was Original Sin for which we were all condemned, but I could find no evidence of that in the Tanach. The gospel writers stated that there was no forgiveness of sins without a blood sacrifice, but there clearly was in the Tanach—through prayer and repentance with no intermediary required. Christianity asserted there was eternal hell for those who rejected the Messiah; the Tanach made no such claim, either about the existence of hell or of the necessity of belief in “a personal Lord and Saviour” in order to avoid it. The Tanach, again and again, drove home the point that the Law was forever and that G-d was one, not mysteriously three, or ever incarnated as a man. The New Testament wrote about a god-man whose followers said the Law was no longer binding, and was only for a time. The New Testament put great stock in the miracles and wonders that Jesus performed, as evidence of who he was, but the Tanach clearly
warned that miracles were not to be trusted—-only G-d’s Law. It was very apparent that the New Testament was not consistent with what G-d seemed to be teaching so repetitively in the Tanach. In the absence of proof that Jesus was the Messiah, there could be no reason to accept any of it as being the inspired Word of G-d any more than I should
accept what Mohammed, Mary Baker Eddy, or Joseph Smith wrote.
So, I let Jesus go. Not without a fight, not without investigating all of the prophecies, not without reading McDowell’s arguments, and not without one final look at the evidence in the persons of modern day witnesses of Christ. I know many Christians who make the claim that they have Jesus in their hearts, or who say they are filled with the Holy Spirit, and that their life testifies along with their spirit to the reality of a risen Christ. Unfortunately, I do not know a lot of them who demonstrate this when faced with situations that truly challenge them. When I compare their track record of demonstrating the so-called love of Christ to those who are non-Christian, or even
atheist, I can see no marked difference. About an equal number are loving and self-less in both categories. About an equal number are not. Therefore, the final mystical-personal-experience test failed as well, even though, it is important to remember, this would be no clear reason to believe Jesus was the Messiah or actually G-d, since those
four initial criteria were not met, and since there is no prophecy that the Messiah will be G-d himself.
So, why Judaism? Why not gnostism? Why not atheism?
Well, there were a couple of things about the Jews that held my attention and caused me to still see the Tanach—the “Old Testament“—as something divinely revealed. One was the fact that they even existed. Jews as a people had survived terrible persecution in countries throughout the world for almost two thousand years, without their own homeland. Nowhere in history has this been replicated. It was as if G-d Himself were protecting them as a testament to Himself. Another was the fact that out of all the religions in the world, only Judaism was founded on the basis of a national revelation. All the Jews were present at Sinai when G-d revealed the Law and the Jews agreed to be His chosen people. It wasn’t a group of disciples or some prophet somewhere who transmitted a revelation from G-d. It was everyone bearing witness to the event—-something that, if it didn’t happen, would be hard to lie about. Everyone accepted it because they heard G-d as well; it wasn’t Moses convincing the people. If this religion had been made up, then one would hardly expect the creator of it to claim that everyone had been there as witnesses—-there would be too many people to deny it.
Finally, the Jews attribute their survival to G-d and the Torah that He gave them (the first five books of the Tanach is called the Torah)—to me, this makes the Jewish scriptures very important sources for how I live my life. It says in Zechariah 8:23: “Thus says the LORD of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that G-d is with you.’” It seemed to me that G-d was with the Jews and I wanted to go with them.
The final step I took was to actually start attending synagogue services. What I discovered surprised me. Despite the fact that most of the proceedings were in Hebrew, a language I did not understand, and despite the fact that I was unfamiliar with the customs and rituals, I felt a sense of belonging, a connection to G-d, and a deep spirituality that was every bit as nourishing as my previous Christian experiences. The more I read about Judaism, and the more I began to incorporate Jewish practices in my life, the more I felt at home, at peace, like I had found something I had been looking for my entire life. It was so refreshing to have some puzzling things makes sense, to not have to
engage in mental gymnastics to reconcile notions of, for example, a loving merciful G-d and good people going to hell. I did not have to turn off my intellect or my emotions.
I realize many of you reading this are Christians who are wondering what exactly I believe now, as a Jew-in-progress. If you are like I was, you are accustomed to looking for creeds—for statements of belief. Judaism is
not a creedal religion, so you won’t find much of that sort of thing, as there are a lot of things that Jews disagree on that you would think would have to be fundamental. (Maimonides’s Thirteen Principles comes closest, perhaps, to being a Jewish creed. See http://www.mesora.org/13principles.html) However, I think most of us have our personal creeds, even if we don’t usually articulate them. Here’s what mine might look like right now:
- I believe in the G-d of Israel, of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
- I believe G-d is One.
- I believe He entered into a covenant with the Jewish people whereby He would be our G-d and we would agree to keep His commandments.
- I believe there was a national revelation at Sinai.
- I believe the Tanach to be divinely inspired.
- I believe the mitzvot apply to our lives today, and that we should be informed by the rabbis and by our own consciences in applying them.
- I believe that all righteous people of all faiths will be in the world to come with G-d.
- I believe G-d forgives our sins against Him when we pray for forgiveness and repent.
- I believe sins against others can only be forgiven by them.
- I believe that G-d will reward people fairly in heaven, or whatever is the world to come—that those most righteous will have a greater reward than those less righteous.
- I believe that we will have to atone in some way for unforgiven sins before we enjoy our reward in heaven.
- I believe that Gentiles do not have to become Jews and that they are only bound to follow the Noahide laws. (Don’t deny G-d, don’t blaspheme Him, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery or incest, don’t steal, don’t
be cruel to animals, and do set up courts to deal with the application of the laws.)
- I believe the Messiah is to come.
- I believe that we are created with the capacity to choose either good or evil, but we are born without the condemnation of Original Sin.
- I believe I can pray directly to G-d and that He hears and answers prayer.
- I believe community worship is a required and vital part of spirituality.
- Ibelieve it is possible that G-d may judge some to be truly too evil for reward in Heaven and that these people may be destroyed—but will not suffer torment for eternity.
- I believe G-d is a G-d of love, justice, mercy, wisdom, omnipotence, omniscience, and creativity who has always existed and always will, who created all things and continually sustains creation.
- I believe in loving G-d, loving others, and loving life.