Differences Between Christianity and Judaism
A Hard Letter to Write
Explaining Christianity to Jews
Although no one ever could prove this conclusively, it's reasonable to believe that in the privacy of the mind, just about every Christian has wondered whether his or her faith is based on fact or fiction; and Jews in turn must have questioned whether their religion or that of the Christians was valid. It is doubtful whether anyone can establish an answer acceptable to all people.
Possibly in the future, some of the greater intellects will conclude that it's not one or the other side that is right, but rather it's both sides who are right, as impossible as that sounds. For example, people can examine the thinking of Saint Paul, a Christian Jew, or a Jewish Christian, whichever the case may be, to find a middle road to resolve the issues.
Saint Paul, in writing a letter to his fellow Hebrews must have been uneasy because he was defying his own heritage and a thousand-year-old religion in order to argue in favor of something new that was based on facts that made conservative Jews look evil for having instigated the crucifixion of Jesus.
The tension continues today in the Twenty-First Century as the primary world powers are Christian in their religious backgrounds, with the followers of the Jewish faith being minorities who have suffered great tragedies within the last century especially, but also continually within the past two thousand years of history as records of persecutions are undeniable.
This prejudice is based on the Jews being perceived by the Christian majority as defiant unbelievers in the One Jew on which the Christian faith is based. Nothing applies to everyone, however. The struggles of Saint Paul are a microcosm of global religious struggles of today.
Paul himself was raised a strict Jew, in the higher class known as Pharisees, who were the best educated followers of the Jewish faith. While writing to his fellow Hebrews, Saint Paul filled his letter with familiar Hebrew concepts and traditional ceremonies in chapter after chapter of analogies between Christianity and the Jewish faith, especially comparing the sacrifices and offerings of food and animals begun in the time of Moses to the human sacrifice of Jesus.
Paul encouraged the Hebrews to have hope in the salvation promised by Jesus, whom he believed to be greater than the traditional Jewish high priests, even the ones dating back to the time of Abraham.Those high priests, he reasoned, were men, but Jesus is the Son of God, appointed by God the Father and not by men.
The earlier covenant, made with the children of Israel through God’s law handed down to Moses, had become obsolete, said Paul, and replaced by a “better” covenant of mercy and the promise of eternal life through faith in Jesus, who offered Himself as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of the sins of mankind.Paul felt that this sacrifice was much more significant than the daily offerings of the high priests of the family of Levy under the old Mosaic law.
This would not have set well with most of the Hebrews two thousand years ago or even today. It took courage for Paul to write these things. Many Hebrews reading his letter would have considered him a traitor to his own heritage.
But he was more of an evangelist than a peacemaker looking for an agreeable middle ground between the two religions. Saint Paul compared the sacrificing of animals on the altar by priests in the tabernacle during Moses’ time to the singular sacrifice made by Jesus in giving his own life as an atonement for the sins of humanity.
Paul was arguing in terms the Hebrews understood, enlisting their support through a common bond of Jewish tradition and using the same words as in the books of the Old Testament, such as (in English translation) atonement, offering, and sacrifice. As a Pharisee, Paul knew the Bible very well. He brought up biblical examples to make his point, and was recruiting energetically for Christianity.
Jesus can take away sins, Paul emphasized, but the high priests and their burnt offerings to atone for sins could not do so.
Displaying his knowledge of what we now call the Old Testament, Paul gave the Hebrews a brief historical summary of their forefathers, focusing on examples of times when faith in God saved Hebrews throughout the ages from the time of Abel, the son of Adam and Eve, up to the time of Jesus.
It's faith that religions have in common. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” wrote Saint Paul. The Jews gave the western world faith in an invisible God, which is a concept that endures to this present day as the foundation of the great religions of the world, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.
We must endure chastening criticism and harsh learning experiences that occur in life in order to learn respect for God the Father, just as children are taught respect by their worldly fathers, stated Paul. He was building on the common ground between Jews and Christians--the belief in one invisible God.
Jesus endured shame and hostility, being crucified. This was necessary before he could sit at the right hand of God his Father, noted Paul, continuing the analogy of people as children who must endure difficulties in life. Jesus was human also, and was no exception.
Paul gave practical, friendly advice in his letter to the Hebrews, advising them always to be kind to strangers, respect the rulers of their communities, and live honorably.
In many of Saint Paul’s other letters he contrasted the old Mosaic laws together with their sacrificial offerings to a vengeful God who punished transgressions, with the new covenant of Jesus, characterized by mercy, forgiveness, and the hope for eternal life.
The Jewish people today are among the kindest and most charitable people on earth. In fact the melding of Judaism and Christianity in the western world is so complete that we often use the expression “Judeo-Christian ethic” to define the notions of majorities in modern nations toward morality, human relations, cultural ideals, and religious beliefs.
The Pope, for example, is strongly encouraging tolerance and respect for all different religions. Yet we are mindful of aggressive bigotry that can lead to horrible events. Violence is robbing many innocent people of their lives daily in conflicts that appear to be perversions of religions, but usually are battles between societies with completely different socio-economic standing, such as Muslims and Hindus in India, Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq, and Catholics and Protestants in Ireland.
In the city of Jerusalem today are found Christians, Muslims, and Jews all living together without violence. In America, there is freedom of religion allowing millions to attend completely different churches every week, plus tolerance for atheism as well.
Saint Paul did not preach violence. His words were loving and kind. But he was trying hard to persuade the Hebrews to adopt Christianity.
At the time of Saint Paul, the Roman leaders did not tolerate preachers who set one prevailing faction against another innovation. This caused unrest and made the Romans’ job a lot harder trying to maintain control in their occupied territories. This situation accounted for the fact that Paul and other early Christians were imprisoned for agitating the people with their preachings.
Paul’s letter to the Hebrews is an attempt to persuade them that the events and teachings of the Old Testament were precursors leading up to the more modern method of understanding God, as brought to the Hebrews by Jesus. History shows that some Jews were persuaded, but others were not; some gentiles became Christians but others did not.
All this could occur without anger being aroused in Saint Paul. This is one reason why his letters are enjoyable to read. They are more filled with love than hatred. Long live the Christians. Long live the Jews. Long live everyone else in between.
Religious Choices and Arguments
The Futility of Religious Argumentation
Some religious people argue not only against atheism but also against each other's interpretation of religion, even when they are members of the same religious organization. Saint Paul could be an example to a degree of this effort made by certain people to persuade others that one religion is superior to another.
Because religious people tend to go to church only at one place, there's a misconception of what goes on in other churches. People take bits of news and gossip and distort it into thinking that other religions are evil.
In the end, it's just a misunderstanding between people of different religious beliefs. But another factor is that most people tend not to realize that inside each organized religion there are those who take the religion very seriously and strictly, and others who take it with a grain of salt so to speak. There are hard-line conservatives and very flexible liberals within each church.
No one likes anyone who takes a religion to an extreme and interferes with the lives and freedoms of others. To criticize another's religion is neither intelligent nor tactful.
There are even religions, such as Buddhism, which do not require a belief in God. Someone with a to-each-his-own attitude will let this be, but another person who demands a belief in God might become agitated at the fact that peaceful people in another part of the world believe in a religion that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with God. Even communism could be described as a religion, or perhaps environmentalism when taken to an extreme, or atheism itself could be viewed as a commitment tantamount to religious faith.
Because most people stick with the religion in which they were raised by their parents and families, it's almost impossible to discourage someone from practicing this religion without offending the family pride of an individual.
The argument that many atrocities have been committed in the name of religion is an air-tight argument backed up by historical proof. Does this mean that religion, which seeks to bring out the best in people on a personal basis, is evil because it's been misused by corrupt, powerful people to wage war and persecution? If religion were only an evil thing to be used as a tool for the powerful to get their way, it would not have endured through the centuries of history.
Are religious people insane because they believe in unsubstantiated things that may never have take place? Many of the things described in the Bible are miracles that remain unproven. But if the end effect is to give people faith in being tolerant and forgiving, is religion a bad thing?
There is widespread bigotry and hatred concerning different religions and atheism throughout the world. It's the negative side of religion waiting to surface in terrorism or oppression. Still, religions attempt to make life peaceful for individuals, most of whom do not entertain thoughts of violence toward anyone. It seems that religion is great as a personal thing, but when people try to force it onto others, trouble begins.