Why Did Christianity Hijack Judaism?
Growing up in a Christian family, I always wondered why Christianity adopted the god of another religion without adopting the religion itself. Exactly how did that happen, and why? Let’s break it down.
Christianity has a holy book, The Bible, which is in two main parts, namely the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is actually the Jewish Bible, so here’s where things get a little fuzzy. You see, Christianity says that the Old Testament doesn’t mean what Judaism says it means. Maybe, I should repeat that. The Jews wrote the Old Testament, but Christianity says that they (the Jews) don’t really understand what they wrote! So perhaps a little background is in order.
The Old Testament is a history book, of sorts, which starts with the Creation after which it mostly covers the history of the Hebrews/Israelites. The Old Testament texts were written by Jews, for Jews and about Jews. Yet, Christianity claims to have a more perfect understanding of the texts than the people who wrote them. How bizarre is that?
Of course, historians and theologians of all stripes pretty much agree that Christianity was an offshoot of Judaism. That’s made very clear as a result of the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Jesus and his disciples were Jewish and they followed the Torah. The only messiah that the disciples were expecting was a Jewish messiah, the messiah mentioned in the Jewish Bible (Old Testament). Why is the concept of a Jewish messiah important? Why, because the coming of the messiah was prophecized by the prophets who were Jewish holy men. It was their messiah that they were expecting, not a divine Christian messiah. So, the Christian concept of a messiah was hijacked from the messiah that the Jewish holy men were expecting. Yes, hijacked. It’s the very same messiah, albeit totally changed.
So the mystery is why would anyone do such a thing?
Let’s back up just a bit. The word messiah in Hebrew means “anointed one,” as all kings were anointed when crowned king. In the same vein, the title Christ, from the Greek word “christos”, also means anointed. The prophets actually believed that the messiah would deliver them from their Roman oppressors and restore the Kingdom of Israel. So, for example, when the disciples asked Jesus, “…Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6), they understood that this was potentially the fulfillment of one of the Old Testament prophecies. Of course, it never happened.
In the book of Matthew, there are repeated references to Jesus, as the Son of David or in Matthew 2:1-2 he was called the King of the Jews by the Three Wise Men. Note: They did not refer to him as God or even as the Son of God. People referred to Jesus the way that they did because prophecy stated that the Jewish messiah had to be descended from King David and that such a messiah would be a man (not a divine being). The person that they were expecting would be the King of Israel, not unlike King David who was both a messiah and a king. Likewise, people were expecting the Jewish messiah to be both a messiah and a king and thus Jesus was addressed as such by the people who believed that he might be the long-awaited Jewish messiah. At that time, there was no such thing as a Christian messiah as the idea of a Christian messiah would only come later. So, the only context that people (and the disciples) had was that of a Jewish messiah.
Aside: If Jesus was divine and born of a virgin mother (Mary), he could not have fulfilled prophecy anyway as he would not have been descended from King David, as the Davidic line ran through Joseph, and not Mary.
So why, then, did Christianity adopt the Jewish messiah concept (and then redefine it)? Well, what choice did they really have? The disciples were Jewish and they followed the Torah and they worshipped the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (see Acts 3:13)…and they were expecting a Jewish messiah. World-renown humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, in his book “The Mystery of the Kingdom of God,” wrote that Jesus and his followers expected the imminent end of the world. As Schweitzer noted, the discussion of the tribulation and the second coming of Jesus is spelled out in chapter 13 of the gospel of Mark, especially the timing which was specified by Jesus to his disciples, “Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.” (Mark 13:30) So, this was something that the disciples expected in their lifetime, and not some 2,000 years later. The gospel of Matthew (chapter 24) confirms that the ”end of days” will be in the disciples’ lifetime and Paul also believed in the imminent end of the world as can be seen in 1 Thessalonians 4.
Christianity’s roots were in Judaism, but the church doctrine was developed for gentiles (read: the Roman Empire). For example, the concept of Original Sin is nowhere to be found in Judaism and the Church’s teachings on this doctrine are antithetical to the core principles of the Torah. Also, Judaism does not include the concept of a trinity. Heck, the word “trinity” can’t even be found in the Bible (not even in the New Testament). However, because of antisemitism, a Jewish religion and its concept of a messiah, would never have been acceptable to the rest of the world (gentile world, that is). So, Paul cast off the Torah, effectively castigating Judaism, and in the process created Christianity. The umbilical cord was cut and Christianity became the new pagan religion of the gentiles. To gain new converts to the religion, Christianity offered a new and totally radical idea – the concept of a universal messiah who came to save the entire world. In stark contrast, the prophets wrote about the coming of a Jewish messiah who would come specifically to reestablish the Kingdom of Israel.
Much of the history of these events has long since been obscured. As a result, most Christians today have little idea what a circuitous route Christianity took before it was formalized and where Christian doctrine really came from. As Christian theologian Brian McLaren said, “One of the problems is that the average Christian in the average church who listens to the average Christian broadcasting has such an oversimplified understanding of both the Bible and of church history – it would be deeply disturbing for them to really learn church history.”
In 325 A.D. at the Council of Nicaea, a group of Christian bishops were convened at the behest of Emperor Constantine to determine Church doctrine. Of the 1,800 church bishops, approximately 300 attended, less by some accounts. The process of determining Church doctrine had begun. It would take almost another 100 years before it was finally determined which of the various scriptures were to be included in, or excluded from, the Bible. So, approximately four hundred years after Jesus, the Church became the final arbiter as to what scriptures were, or were not, divinely inspired.