18

With its need to gain religious legitimacy among Romans, St. Paul's Gentile Christianity's conflict with Jewish Christian "Judaizers" on Jewish practices gave way to a much broader conflict with Jews on possession of the Jewish Scriptures.  Reinterpreting the Jewish Bible to prophecy the coming of Jesus thus became an abiding Christian pursuit that endures even in modern times (see, for example, Childs 2004).  Again, the aim was to lend authority and antiquity to Christianity yet capriciously insist Christians were absolved from explicit Scriptural laws such as circumcision, dietary observances, and so forth.  Celsus (ca. 180), the Pagan critic of Christianity, has a Jew question Christians: "Why take your start in the religion of the Jews?  How can you despise the origins in which you yourselves claim to be rootedOr can you name some other origin for your doctrine than our law?" (Hoffmann 1987, pp. 60–61, also Denzey, p. 504).

St. Paul contended that Biblical "Law" was given by Moses to Jews because of their predilection for sin.  "The power of sin is the [Jewish] law" (1 Corinthians 15. 56).  "They [Jews] have been continually filling up the measure of their sins" (1 Thessalonians 2.16).  Following the "Law" was therefore not to venerate righteousness, but to counteract Jewish depravity.  Concurrently, St. Paul remarkably argues that "sin" is not caused by intention or malice but by its prohibition.  "For 'no human being will be justified in his sight' by deeds prescribed by law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3.20).  "If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.  I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said 'You shall not covet.' … Apart from the law sin lies dead" (Romans 7.7–8).  What is prohibited in Jewish law thus produces the sin that is prohibited: the strange logic of claiming that "sin" is condemned by God, yet its condemnation is its "cause." 

When St. Paul appears to acknowledge Mosaic Law (e.g., Romans 3.31), it is "only to support his point about the termination of the Mosaic Law for the New Covenant [Gentile Christian] participants" (Adeyemi, p. 51).  The Epistle of Barnabas oddly accuses the Jews of sinning against Mosaic Law, yet misunderstanding the "Law" they sinned against was not to be taken literally, since only "We [Christians] "rightly understand his commandments, explain them as the Lord intended.  For this purpose He circumcised our ears and hearts, that we might understand these things" (Chapter 10, ANF vol. 1, p. 144).

Following a sort of similar logic, Christian theologians claimed the Jews broke the "Law" when it was given to them, but perversely insisted on obeying the "Law" when Gentile Christianity abrogated it.  For the theologians, "righteous non-Jews" such as Father Abraham were absolved from following the "Law" because of their "faith," understood as "faith in Jesus Christ."  Ignored is that Father Abraham followed the "Law" and was circumcised, as were all his male progeny.  Thus, although St. John's Gospel has Jesus say (8.58): "Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am," there are no known uncircumcised Christian "faithful" present in history either before or after Father Abraham, or Old Testament Scriptural or non-Scriptural records of anyone named Jesus Christ before the first century C.E.  

Despite the absence of any supporting evidence, Christian leaders never ceased their claims for an ancient origin.  St. Clement of Alexandria (ca. 195): "[B]efore the foundation of the world were we [Christians], who became destined to be in Him [Jesus Christ] … we date from the beginning; for in the beginning was the Word [Jesus Christ]" (Exhortation to the Heathen, ANF vol. 2, p.173).  According to Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History (1.4, ca. 330), "righteous" ancients who lived before and after Noah's Biblical flood were all therefore Christian: "All these whose righteousness won them commendation going back from Abraham himself to the first man [Adam], might be described as Christians in fact if not in name, without departing far from the truth. … It is obvious that they knew God's Christ Himself, since He appeared to Abraham, instructed Isaac, spoke to Israel [Jacob], and conversed freely with Moses and the prophets who came later … Obviously we must regard the [Gentile Christian] religion proclaimed in recent years to all nations through Christ's teaching as none other than the first, most ancient, and most primitive of all religions, discovered by Abraham and his followers.

These gross distortions of Jewish Scriptures —their histories, and their meanings — parallel the "exegetical" allegorizing process begun by St. Paul (Galatians 4.21–5.1).  According to Levenson (p. 229), St. Paul equates "the Church with Isaac, and the Jews…with Ishmael, the son of the slave woman whom Paul associates with Sinai.  This makes the [Jewish] community of the Torah into usurpers and [Gentile Christian] community of the Pauline Gospel into the rightful claimants to the Abrahamic legacy."  Like Isaac, ancient Jewish Biblical figures are thus brazenly flipped into non-Jewish "Righteous Christians of Faith," supplanting Jews in God's favor as the "True Israel" (Note #19), sanctioning Gentile Christian termination of Jewish Biblical "Law."

St. Augustine (ca. 400), named by the Church as "The Supreme Authority of Christian Tradition," maintains an unbridled claim: "The whole [Biblical] narrative … in the minutest details, is a prophecy of Christ and the Church" (Reply to Faustus XII.8, NPNF Series 1, vol. 4 p. 186).  To St. Augustine, Jews served only as carriers of Jewish Scriptures meant to be read and interpreted for Christian purposes: "A document the Jew carrieth, wherefrom a Christian may believe.  Our librarians they have become, just as slaves are wont behind their masters to carry documents, so these [Jews] faint in carrying those [Christians] profit by reading" (On the Psalms LVII.7, Ibid. vol. 8, p. 227).  "Like milestones along the route, the Jews inform the traveler, while they themselves remain senseless and immobile" (Nirenberg, pp. 130–131).

Some Christian Fathers claimed Jewish-observed Biblical Law was made to satisfy angels rather than God.  St. Aristides (ca. 130, Apology XIV): "[I]n their imaginations they [Jews] conceive it is God they serve; whereas by their mode of observance it is the angels and not to God that their service is rendered: — as when they celebrate sabbaths and the beginning of the months, and feasts of unleavened bread [Passover], and a great fast [Day of Atonement]; and fasting and circumcision and the purification of meats" (ANF vol. 9, p. 276).  Others argued that ritualistic practices were imposed on Jews because of God's disapproval, punishing them for crimes against Jesus yet to come!  "For we too would observe the fleshly circumcision, and the Sabbaths, and in short all the feasts, if we did not know for what reason they were enjoined on you, on account of your transgressions and the hardness of your hearts" (St. Justin Martyr (ca. 150) Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew XVIII, ANF vol. 1, p. 203). Tertullian (ca. 198, Adversus Judaeos) claimed circumcision was given to Jews for their later misdeeds so they would be recognized as Jews and prevented by Romans from entering Jerusalem after the Jewish-Roman war.

For "Jewish Law" Christians substituted St. Paul's new "Law of Christ" (Galatians 6.2), allowing many new practices and directives to be accepted and sanctified through illusory Jewish Scriptural reinterpretations.  St. Ignatius (ca. 100, Letter to the Magnesians 8): "For if we still live according to Jewish law, and the circumcision of the flesh, we deny that we have received grace.  For the divinest prophets lived according to Jesus Christ" (ANF vol. 1, p. 62).  St. Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew, XXIX): "[The Jewish Scriptures are] your scriptures, or rather not yours, but ours.  For we believe them; but you, though you read them, do not catch the spirit that is in them" (ANF vol. 1, p. 209).

St. Melito of Sardis (ca. 170): "When the Church arose and the Gospel took precedence, the model [Jewish Law] was made void, conceding its power to the [Gentile Christian] reality, and the law was fulfilled, conceding its power to the Gospel" (Williamson and Allen, p. 11).  Tertullian (Latin Christianity XIV): "Going about to establish their own righteousness, they [Jews] have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God; for Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believeth" (ANF vol. 3. p. 460).  St. Cyprian (ca. 250, Three Books of Testimonies Against the Jews; Heads 9, 10, 11, 15): "That the former law which was given to Moses was to cease; that a new law was to be given; that another dispensation and a new covenant was to be given; that Christ should be the house and temple of God" (ANF vol. 5, pp. 510–511).  St. Augustine (Against the Jews 1.2): "They [Jews] do not listen to what we [Christians] say, because they do not understand what they read" (The Fathers of the Church, Patristic Series, vol. 27, p. 392).

Although opposition to Mosaic Law and Law-observant Jews was repeated endlessly, neither St. Paul, or his successors ever offered satisfactory explanations why following Biblical rules generates "sin" (Galatians 3.22), why the Law is a "curse" (Galatians 3.10–13), and why the Law is "the ministry of death" (2 Corinthians 3.7).  That is: how do Jews and Gentiles who follow Biblical Law impede their salvation?  Considering the firm Biblical commandments in Genesis to Deuteronomy to obey the Law, St. Paul's "justification" for stating "No one will be justified by the works of the [Jewish] Law" (Galatians 2.16) appears quite "unjustified."  Nowhere in the Jewish Scriptures can one find statements that the advent of a crucified Jesus Christ ended the "Law," nor that opposition to Jewish Law gained through "faith" in Jesus Christ, makes such faithful into "children of God" (Galatians 3.26).

For Christian theologians, the inconsistency of claiming possession of the Jewish Scriptures and ignoring its "Law" would probably have had little effect in diminishing recruitment, since gaining antique religious prestige and distance from Jewish identity may have been more important to Gentiles than Biblical inconsistency.  There was certainly an advantage in enabling Gentiles to believe that the end of Jewish Law must have come from God (Romans 10.4, Galatians 3.13) rather than from St. Paul's more mundane need to evangelize Gentiles averse to Jewish customs and religious rituals.

For Jews, however, their Biblical Covenant and its derived teachings had more than a millennium of moral, cultural, and emotional significance, and were not so easily disdained.  Psalms (19.7–8):

"The law of Yahweh is perfect, reviving the soul;

the decrees of Yahweh are sure, making wise the simple;

the precepts of Yahweh are right rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of Yahweh is clear, enlightening the eyes."

Although Christian theologians often disparaged Judaism for its legalistic Talmudic intricacies, Christian "Law" involved itself in as many, or even more, complex liturgies and sacramental dicta, replacing the Old Covenant/Jewish-Torah with pieties from a New Covenant/Christian-Torah.  For example, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, "Doctor of the Church" (ca. 350 C.E.), demands minute exacting conduct in celebrating the Eucharist: "So when you come forward, do not come with arm extended or fingers parted.  Make your left hand a throne for your right, since your right hand is about to welcome a king.  Cup your palm and receive in it Christ's body, saying in response 'Amen.'  Then carefully bless your eyes with a touch of the holy body, and consume it … After partaking of Christ's body, go to the chalice of his blood. … Bow your head … and sanctify yourself by partaking also of Christ's blood.  While your lips are still moist with his blood, touch it with your hands and bless your eyes, forehead and other organs of sense" (Bradshaw, p. 216). 

Similarly, Tertullian (On the Soldiers' Crown) gives precise instructions to converts: "At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign of the cross" (Stevenson, p. 171).  Christian prayer must also follow exact procedure: towards the East, three times per day, in the kneeling position (except on Sunday), with raised arms forming or pointing to the Cross, with eyes toward Heaven (Hvalvik 2014).

Note that searching the Jewish Bible for appropriate quotes that could be rendered in favor of Christian religious beliefs was also, then as now, to convince Gentile Christians of their religious legitimacy, and had little to do with converting Jews from whom Church leaders most willingly distanced themselves, and for whom such contortions made little sense (Kraabel 1992a).  "The remarkable thing about this Christian view of the world is that its complex system of thought was created to support a single claim.  The claim was that Christians were the legitimate heirs of the epic of Israel, that the Jews had never understood the intentions of their God, and that the story of Israel, if one reads it rightly, was 'really' about the coming of Christ" (Mack 1995, p. 252).

Both denigration of Jews and elevation of Gentile Christians "to God's favor" thus became justified by the habitual Christian exegetical process of reinterpreting the Jewish Scriptures to suit Christian needs (Note #7).  "The portrait of the Jew was built up by pasting together verses of the Bible.  The complaints the inspired [Jewish] writers had made were torn from their contexts of time and place and, combined into a single portrait, provided all the evidence that could be wished for of the utter depravity of the people of God.  Thus was created the picture of the eternal Jew, a conventional figure, a literary fiction" (Simon, p. 215).

[O]ur traditional (orthodox) christology is often interpreted and preached in such a way that (explicitly or implicitly) fidelity in the Jewish tradition appears as a special evil or problem or at best an incomprehensible anachronism. [N]o reputable contemporary theologian will deny that Christian usage changes the focus of the title ["Christ"] and gives it a meaning it did not previously have.  All the Hebrew Scriptures and traditions are reinterpreted by Christians in the light of this [new] specific meaning content" (Hellwig, pp. 121122).

As noted often elsewhere in this monograph (e.g., Notes #7.1, #14.1, #19.1), if we accept the presumed ever-present ever-ancient "Christian Faith" as belief in Jesus Christ as divine Savior, belief in Father Abraham as faithful Christian ancestor, and other illusory Gentile Christian phenomena and concepts, a discomforting issue presents itself.  Why, until a generation or so after Jesus' death, neither the Jewish Scriptures, nor the histories of any other group before the Common Era, Egyptian, Greek, Persian, Roman, etc., recorded the appearance of (1) Jesus Christ; (2) Gentile Christian Jesus-worshippers; (3) Gentile Christian practices and doctrines; or (4) Gentile Christian assemblies or Churches?  That is, where can we find evidence of Pauline Christianity in the 1,500-year interval between Abraham and St. Paul's "Ecclesia"?  It seems that the assumption that Gentile Christians existed anywhere on earth prior to the time and preaching of St. Paul is no more than the attempt to employ Scriptural sophistry to disguise unrealistic historical incongruities.

Jewish opposition to worshipping Gentile Christianity's "Jesus Christ" as the Biblically-prophesied Messiah has thus been a perennial problem for Christian theologians since such opposition comes from a Jewish ethnicity that created and maintained those Biblical Scriptures long before "Jesus Christ" appeared on Earth.  From St. Paul onward, Christian theologians therefore repeatedly claimed their allegorical interpretations were more reliable than Jewish readings of Jewish Scriptures, because the true "hidden" meanings of Jewish Scriptural precepts and history remain understandable only to Christians.  For example, St. Justin Martyr (ca. 150) Dialogue with Trypho, a Jew LV: "God has withheld from you [Jews] the ability to discern the wisdom of His Scriptures" (ANF vol. 1, p. 222).  St. Cyril of Alexandria (ca. 430): "The Jews are the most deranged of all men.  They have carried impiety to its limit, and their mania exceeds even that of the Greeks.  They read the Scriptures and do not understand what they read.  Although they had heavenly light from above, they preferred to walk in darkness" (Wilken, p. 1).

In the words of a modern Christian theologian (Childs 1970, p. 105), "[Jewish] Scripture served not as 'interesting sources' of historical information … but as testimony that the salvation and faith of the old covenant was one with that revealed in Jesus Christ."  Or as stated by Seitz (p. 103), there is a theological "need to account for the Old Testament as Christian Scripture."  To Pelican (p. 101), proper interpretation shows that the Jewish "Old" Testament's purpose can only be fulfilled when combined with the Christian "New" Testament: "[T]he Christian Bible is unlike the Jewish Tanakh in being permanently and unavoidably plural, consisting as it does of two quite separate though interlocking Testaments: The New is in the Old concealed, The Old is in the New revealed."

The attitude of Christian critics thus remains simple: were Jews to overcome their "blindness" and reinterpret their Scriptures according to Christian "faith," they would have no recourse but to relinquish Judaism and become Christians.  Perversely, such critics seem "blind" to the many rational reasons why Jews consider Jesus-worship as idolatry and oppose adopting Christian beliefs and practices (Note #11).