Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

"Moses Received the Torah at Sinai and Handed It On" (Mishnah Avot 1:1): The Relevance of the Written and Oral Torah for Christians

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

"Moses Received the Torah at Sinai and Handed It On" (Mishnah Avot 1:1): The Relevance of the Written and Oral Torah for Christians

Article excerpt

Rabbinic Judaism leaches that God gave the Torah to Moses at Sinai as both the oral law and written law. In contrast, Christianity historically has taught that Jesus Christ not only nullified the law but was hiniself the Lawgiver at Sinai. From passages in Mishnah Avot, one can develop a sympathetic reading of the giving of the Torah at Sinai as a transformative gift of God to Israel. Reflecting on Mishnah Avot and its commentaries provides an opportunity to begin formulating a Christian theology of the Torah. Such a theology must begin with premises about the degree of Torah observance by Jesus of Nazareth and the earliest followers of Jesus.

The Need for a Positive Christian Theology of the Torah

Since the end of World War Two and the full realization of the horrors of the Holocaust, many Christian ecclesiastical bodies and scholars have sought to disentangle Christian thought and life from anti-Jewish rhetoric and behavior. As Christians reflected on the facts of the Holocaust, many came to realize that anti-Jewish theology embedded in Western Christianity greatly enabled the actions of the Third Reich. Although it is true that the National Socialist regime was in some ways anti-Christian in rhetoric, it successfully co-opted the vast majority of German Christians. Indeed, virtually eveiy member of the Nazi apparatus was a baptized Christian.1 Although the shock of the Holocaust happening in a supposedly "Christian" nation was profound, scholarship in the latter half of the twentieth century established that Christian anti-Judaism was not merely a modem phenomenon but a strand running throughout the history of 'Christianity.2 As part of a corrective to a heritage of Christian an ti -Judaism, the purpose of this paper is to offer the beginnings of a theological reassessment of Christian understandings of the law given at Sinai.

What lies at the core of Christian anti-Jewish theology is not so much a negative view7 of Jews but rather a theological stance that intentionally marginalizes Judaism as a lived expression of belief and culture rooted in an eternal covenant between the people of Israel and God. Anti-Jewish Christian theology is at its core Supersessionist. Supersessionism is commonly defined as the belief that the church has replaced Israel as God's chosen people.3 There are three key components in classical views of supersessionism. First is the understanding that Jews are no longer in covenant with God. Second, the church has fulfilled the spiritual longings of Israel by entering into full relation with God through the person of Jesus Christ. As a corollary, the historical people of the Israel of the Old Testament are no longer necessary for the implementation of Gods plan of salvation. Third, since the Jews rejected Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah and actively participated in his crucifixion, God has ended the covenant with the historical people of Israel. According to this supersessionist line of thought, the abrogation of the covenant by God is evidenced by the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE by the Romans and the subsequent loss of the land of Israel.

This triad of supersessionist views led to specific teachings about both the nature of Judaism and the Scriptures. Four key ideas emerged about Judaism in supersessionist thought. First, it was argued that Judaism was only preparatory for Christianity and became obsolete with the rise of the church. Second, a dualistic dynamic defined the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, Whereas Judaism was defined as temporary in nature, legalistic in its teachings, and camal in its understanding of God s revelation, Christianity was described as eternally established by God, merciful in its teachings, and possessing a spiritual understanding of divine revelation. A third element of supersessionist understandings of Judaism was the elevation of the Pharisees as portrayed in the gospels to represent the epitome of the ills of Judaism. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.