Types of Authority in Formative Christianity and Judaism

By Bruce Chilton; Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

For Judaism, Moses, and, for Christianity, Jesus, uniquely embodied authority, and their teachings conveyed God’s will. The Torah revealed by God to Moses at Sinai set forth that will; Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, embodied and taught it. So the community of sages and their disciples asked all Israel to accept God’s will and thus form that sacred society that God designed Israel to be. And the bishops and priests, holy men, theologians, and councils of Christianity spoke, too, in God’s name to the Church, God’s people. In maintaining such conceptions, both Rabbinic Judaism and Orthodox, Catholic Christianity aspired to establish the Israel which Scripture had portrayed, a holy community governed by God, be it through the prophet-king, Moses, or through kings designated and recognized by God, or through the establishment of Temple priests in God’s service.

The actuality of a voluntary community scarcely able to administer more than its own trivial affairs made slight impact upon how the sages of Judaism and the theologians of Christianity imagined matters to be. Both undertook to frame in concrete and immediate terms the theory of the holy community, embodying God’s will, that possessed the authority to define its own character and, within the framework of God’s will, to shape its own destiny. So God in the Torah or God in Christ embodied the authority that defined the holy Israel of Rabbinic Judaism and the Body of Christ of Christianity, respectively. And that is why the issue of authority contains within itself the dynamics, the inner workings of the imaginative life of Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism. The way people thought about authority conveys the practical theology that shaped the everyday life of the community: imitate God as God is made manifest in the Torah and sanctified in Israel, imitate Christ as God is made manifest on the cross and made real in the life of the Church.

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