Authentic Judaism

Can modern-day Judaism, in any of its forms, be said to be the true successor to Moses and the prophets? Does any branch of Judaism adhere to the commandments and precepts delivered at Sinai? Contrary to popular opinion, the answer is no.
By the time of Messiah, the religion of Israel had degenerated to the point where the "tradition of the elders" was accorded equal, if not more, authority than the Word of God. After the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple — the focal point of Jewish worship — a council, presided over by Rabbi Jochanan ben Zakkai, met at Jabneh to ensure the survival of Judaism. One of the most significant decisions of this council was the amendment of one of Judaism’s basic tenets of faith.

According to the Pirke Avot (The Sayings of the Fathers), some 300 years previously Simon the Just had declared that the world rests upon three things: Torah, Sacrifice and Mercy or the showing of kindness. A decision of the council changed this statement to read that the world rests on Torah and Mercy. Prayer was substituted for sacrifice. For this reason sacrifices for sin are no longer considered necessary.

So in one fundamental respect, at least, modern Judaism has departed from the Law of Moses that stressed the necessity of sacrifice. Over and above this, the observance of the festivals has changed and, most important of all, the hope of Messiah has so radically altered that some Jews do not believe even in the coming of a personal Messiah.

When the apostle Paul became a believer in Jesus he did not think in terms of having changed his religion or the Law of Moses: "I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust." (Acts 24:14-15). "Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law." (Romans 3:31)

It is well to bear in mind that the term "Christian" was not a term believers chose for themselves. It was used possibly as an insult, at Antioch (Acts 11:26), but the disciples were happy to bear the name of their Saviour in this way. The first disciples saw themselves as Orthodox Jews who believed that the promised Messiah had come in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jews today are the children of men who rejected biblical Judaism for a religion based on expediency. On the other hand, there are Jews and Gentiles who believe in Moses and the Prophets, maintain the need for sacrifice and substitutionary atonement, believe in the Messiah and seek to govern their lives by the moral law.

Who, then, is a true follower of Moses and the prophets? The man who is circumcised? That such a man is a Jew no one disputes, but there is a distinction between Jewishness and Judaism. "He is not a Jew who is one outwardly" (Romans 2:28). "For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them." (Romans 2:14-15)

Believing Gentiles have been grafted into Israel’s olive tree and with believing Jews worship God in Spirit and in truth: "For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." (Philippians 3:3)
This article first appeared in the Spring 1987 edition

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