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From  –   True to the Faith   –  Charting the Course through the Acts of the Apostles  by  David Gooding

Some will feel that stressing the differences between Christianity and Judaism as we have done throughout this book is sadly out of tune with a great deal of modern thinking on the relationship between the two great faiths. Centuries of harping on of the crucifixion of the Son of God by the Jews, they argue, is what has fomented the infamous anti-Semitism which has so disgraced the annals of Christendom, and which has culminated in our own day in Hitler’s gas – chambers. After the Holocaust, they suggest, it would be obscene for Christians to try to convert Jews. Rather it should be permitted that Judaism is as equally valid an approach to God as is Christianity. Nothing at least should be said by Christians about Judaism that could not be said with decency standing in Auschwitz and Dachau.

Since then I am responsible for this book, perhaps I may be allowed to speak in the first person and explain the spirit in which it is written.

First it would seem to me unjust to accuse the whole nation of ancient Israel of being responsible for the death of Jesus. We cannot. of course, undo the deeds of history. The leaders of the nation were involved in engineering His crucifixion by the Romans; and the crowds in Jerusalem who up until the last moment were favorable to Jesus, allowed themselves, as fickle crowds will, to be swayed to shout for his death. But thousands and thousands of Jews, living in the Dispersion at that time, only heard about the crucifixion months or even years after it had happened. They cannot be said to be responsible for the deed. Moreover, God had it announced through His apostles that in His estimation even the priestly leaders and the Jerusalem crowd did what they did in ignorance (Acts 3:17); and on that score mercy was offered to them upon repentance.

Secondly, I believe, as all true Christians believe, that when Jesus died, He died for, and because of, my sins. The Jewish leaders and the crowd were in their hostility were unwitting agents in carrying out God’s purpose that His Son should die for the sin of the world (Acts 2:23; 3:17-18). I am humbly grateful to be able to say in consequence: “Jesus bore my sins in His body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24); “I have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins” (Eph 1:7); and then to know that forgiveness and salvation on these terms are offered to all, Jew and Gentile, without discrimination (Rom. 3:22-24). I would not think of charging any Jew with the death of Jesus Christ except that in the sense that my sins too, as well as his, were the cause of Messiah’s death. But at the same time I believe that there is no other ground for forgiveness and acceptance with God for any man or woman on the face of the earth than the death of Jesus. I must, therefore, and I do, hold that for a Jew to reject Christ’s sacrifice and salvation carries the same solemn and eternal consequence as for a Gentile.

Thirdly, I hold with all my heart to God’s emphatic assertion that He “has not rejected His people whom He foreknew” (i.e. the physical nation of Israel; Rom. 11:1-2). One day “all Israel” (i.e. the literal nation of Israel as a whole) will be saved (Rom. 11:26). God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). The nation whom He once called to a special role in the world will yet again be given an honored role to play for God. They will not have it by right; nor do they enjoy it at the moment. It await’s the nations repentance and reconciliation with God’s Son, their Messiah; but it shall happen. Along with Professor C.E.B. Cranfield, and multitudes of other Christians, I deplore “the ugly and unscriptural notion that God has cast off His people Israel and simply replaced it with the Christian Church’;1 and I regret the fact that large sections of Christendom over many centuries and right up to the present have fallen into the very arrogance against which Paul warns us Gentile Christians, of imagining that there is no future for Israel as such (Rom. 11:18, 20, 25). But it seems to me if we would truly repent of Christendom’s disgraceful treatment of Judaism in the past, we must ask serious questions about what led to it.

My former colleague, Professor E. Mary Smallwood, in an inaugural lecture entitled very aptly but very sadly, “From Pagan Protection to Christian Oppression,” explains it as follows. After pointing out that all Rome’s pagan rulers from Julius Caesar onwards had passed, or maintained, special legislation for the protection of Jews, she goes on to say:

Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in 1312 inevitably meant a change in the official Roman attitude towards Judaism sm. Church and state changed from bitter enemies to allies almost overnight. Unlike pagan Rome, the Church had a Theological quarrel with Judaism, and it was now in a position of political power. The daughter of Judaism had been at odds with her parent all her life, but hitherto her only weapon had been the verbal sword of the sermon and the treatise. Now she had in her hands, if she chose to use it, the weapon of legeslation.2

And later:

What had begun under Constantine as an attempt to protect Christianity from Judaism while at the same time safeguarding the Jews’ own religious rights had developed by the time of Justinian into the start of serious oppression of Judaism by the government in the name of Christianity.3

The trouble started, then, when the church joined up with the state. Of course in Old Testament times Israel was a theocracy and her kings were “the anointed of the Lord,” Israel’s religious authorities were commanded by God to use the civil power to chastise, and if need be to eliminate, idolaters and apostates (Duet. 13:12-18; 17:2-7).  And even as late as New Testament times, when the Jews of Jerusalem had lost control of the civil power, they were delighted, Luke tells us (Acts 12:1-3), when one of the Herod’s used his civil power to persecute the infant church.

But Christianity was supposed to be different from Judaism. Christians followed a King whose kingdom was not of this world, and who forbade His disciples the use of the sword either in the propagation or the defense of the gospel (Jn. 18:36-37; Mt. 26:52; 2 Cor. 10:4). No one was ever to be forced into becoming a Christian under the threat of civil punishment, or to be discriminated against or persecuted by the civil power for not being a Christian.

It was an utter disaster, therefore, when Christendom lapsed into becoming a sacral state like ancient Israel had been, imagined it was the intended continuator of earthly Israel, and got into it’s head that it had a right, and even a God-given duty, as Israel had, to use the civil power to oppress and eliminate heretics, apostates, and unbelievers. From this lapse into Judaism came political discrimination in the name of Christianity, crusades against infidels, inquisitions and massacres of heretics, rivers of blood and tears in the name of Jesus.

If our study of Luke’s emphasis in Acts on the intended difference between Christianity and Judaism helps us from ever lapsing into that mistake again, our study will not have been in vain.4

1 C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on The Epistle to the Romans, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1979), p. 448.

2 E. Mary Smallwood, From Pagan Protection to Christian Oppression. (The Queens University of Belfast, 1979), p.7.

3 ibid., p. 24.

4 For further reading: Menachem Benhayim, Jews, Gentiles and the New Testament Scriptures: A study of the charges of the alleged anti–Semitism in the New Testament (Jerusalem: Yanetz, 1985).