What can Jews believe about Jesus?

by Mark S. Railey

Feb. 10, 2021

First, a bit of history: The Roman Empire (progenitor of the Catholic Church), nearly destroyed Judaism after the third Jewish-Roman War from 132-136 C.E. Within a decade, Marcion of Sinope in Rome presented an anti-Semitic bible and promoted the view of a non-Jewish Jesus. A century later, Arius, the Bishop of Alexandria, taught that Jesus was not God (Arius’ view was similar to today's Unitarianism). The question that arose in the 3rd century was "What did it mean to be the Son of God?” At the Council of Nicaea in 325, the bishops officially denounced Arianism and decided the type of “Son of God'' that Jesus would be. (The Christian doctrine of the messiah is called “Christology”). At Nicaea, the bishops began to develop the doctrine of the Trinity which would not be finalized until the Council of Constantinople in 381. The approved Christology presented an image of the Messiah that later Judaism would refute as incompatible with monotheism, the fulfillment of prophecy concerning the Messiah (Ben David), and as idolatrous (worshipping a man). These arguments against the divinity of Christ remain until today. For a Christian to agree with the Rabbis may make the Christian an Arian heretic siding against the official doctrine of the Trinity. Most churches, although not all, require belief in the Trinity.

Having laid this foundation, we are not concerned with what Christians can believe but rather with what Jews can believe about Jesus. First, I should say, there is no official Jewish theology concerning Jesus. He is simply not God, not the Messiah (ben David), and religious Jews may not commit idolatry by worshipping a man.

So is there a bridge between the two extremes? Note: Both sides consider their position as non-negotiable or mainstream tradition. Yes there is a bridge. We can agree that Jesus was a Jew, indeed a first century rabbi of the Pharisee sect, that taught his students, who were also Jews, about love and forgiveness. We can agree that Jesus called God his “Father” and taught his disciples to pray to God as “Father.” We can agree that Jesus was crucified by the Romans and that his disciples spread the teaching of his resurrection from the dead, ascension into heaven, and imminent return. We can agree that the New Testament became the central text containing the teachings of Jesus. Finally, we can agree that Jesus’ teachings spread around the world and were ultimately instrumental in converting untold millions of “pagans” to monotheism.

Can Jews believe Jesus is the imminently returning messiah (ben David)? Yes. Several Hasidic sects including Lubavitch and Breslov, believe their messiah died and will return soon. Can Jews believe Jesus is the Son of God? Sort of... Jews can believe Jesus is the primary (in the sense of a Tzadik) of the children of God (b’nai Elohim/b'nai Israel). Can Jews believe that Jesus is God? No. He can be at the “right hand of God” and thus not sit on the “throne of God.” When the Messiah comes, he will teach us more.

With this level of agreement, can Jews and Christians work together? Yes! Absolutely! We can work together on building Israel, conversations on trust, business and trade, international agreements, cultural highlights, hospitals and schools, various academic research projects, resources for the world to study Torah, etc.

Should Jews freak out when Christians pray in the name of Jesus? No. Should Christians freak out when Jews pray for redemption during Yom Kippur so their names are written in the Book of Life for another year? No. The Kingdom of God is near. We can join our hearts and hands together for the coming of the Messiah.

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