The dispiriting news that President George W. Bush plans to speak at a fundraiser to a group of ‘Messianic Jews’ led me to reframe and slightly revise an article I wrote several years ago.
It not only explains in a short compass why Jews do not accept Jesus as a Messiah or son of God, but why the term ‘Jew for Jesus’ or ‘Messianic Jew’ is a terrible misnomer that owes more to marketing savvy than any theological truth.
Growing up in Philadelphia, I attended Akiba Hebrew Academy, a private Jewish school now known as Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy. In 11th grade, a Southern Baptist preacher came to speak to our class. He looked around the room, and with a kindly smile said, “You seem like nice boys and girls. But I must tell you that unless you change your ways, you are all going to hell.”
I admired his honesty, but not his theology. I spent the next hour trying to think of a question that would stump him. As the class was ending, I raised my hand.
“Is Jesus perfect?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered.
“Is the Father perfect?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said again.
“And is the Holy Ghost perfect?” Once again, he answered affirmatively.
“Well then,” I said, “two of the three are superfluous. Perfection does not need anything. That is why it’s perfect. Since by definition, you can’t add anything to perfection, the idea makes no sense.”
He paused for a minute, and said, “That is the mystery of the Trinity.”
Since that time, I have been intrigued by the deep division between Jews and Christians over the question of Jesus. It has always seemed as crystal clear to me that Jesus was nothing more than a human being, as it has seemed crystal clear to many of my Christian friends that he was the Son of God.
There is a long tradition of back and forth about this question. It is not my intention to try to “prove” to Christians that Jesus is not God. I am neither so imperialistic nor so arrogant as to take upon myself such a task. Rather, in the spirit of pluralism, I want Christian readers to understand why Jews have traditionally rejected the Christian understanding of Jesus’ life and mission. Along the way, perhaps I can offer some clarity to Jewish readers who may wonder about many of the same questions. Additionally it is vital to renew the respect for the division that has always existed between those who accept Jesus and are therefore Christians, and Judaism which rejects any man as God.
This article addresses a few broad philosophical arguments. One of the most common — and least enlightening — exercises in religious history is the batting back and forth of biblical verses. I think it is fair to say there is no conclusive argument from the Bible, and that Jews and Christians read similar passages very differently.