Thursday, January 20, 2011

Week Two: How should Christians think about Jewish scriptures and traditions? Are they equivalent to the New Testament?

As a Christian who is fascinated by Judaism, I think about this question often. While I am not comfortable making any definitive statements about how all Christians should think about Jewish scriptures and traditions, I am excited to think more about the way I have come to understand them. Personally, I have found great meaning in the Hebrew Bible as well as learning more about Jewish traditions. Having the opportunity last semester to study the Hebrew Bible in two classes allowed me to explore the meaning of the Jewish scriptures in the Christian context. Looking back on that experience, I agree wholeheartedly with Van Voorst that “the birth of Christianity cannot be understood without an understanding of Judaism, nor can the New Testament be understood without a basic knowledge of the Hebrew Bible” (51). Because the New Testament is a continuation of God’s work in the Hebrew Bible (Van Voorst 4), as a Christian, I consider the Hebrew Bible to be equivalent to the New Testament. However, I must clarify that while I view the Hebrew Bible as equally authoritative to the New Testament, as a Christian I read the Hebrew Bible through the lens of the New Testament. Specifically, I read the entire Bible through the lens of Christ’s life and teachings. I view the Hebrew Bible primarily as a narrative history of God’s covenant relationship with God’s people, continued in Christ in the New Testament. I consider myself part of that ongoing community and ongoing covenant. Thus, the Jewish scriptures for me are equivalent to the New Testament in the same way as history is equivalent to current events— both are equally important, but read and applied differently and in light of one another.
Things get a bit more confusing for me when I begin to think about Jewish traditions. In the Christian tradition we do not celebrate the Jewish feasts and festivals such as Yom Kippur (Van Voorst 77), even though God commands God’s people to celebrate these festivals in the Hebrew Bible (Lev. 16.1-34). I have never understood why we as Christians do not celebrate these Jewish holidays, since Jesus himself celebrated them. However, in other ways, Jewish traditions have profoundly shaped Christian practice. One such example is the “basic structure of the [worship] services,” which has “varied little through the centuries to the present time” (Van Voorst 79). As I read Van Voorst’s outline of a typical Jewish service, I was struck by the similarities to the Christian services with which I am familiar. So, although some Jewish traditions are no longer practiced by Christians, many others impact the Christian church to this day.
In many ways, the relationship between Christianity and Judaism is a complicated one. Sharing the same history, reading the same scriptures, and worshiping the same God are three reasons (of many!) why Jewish scriptures and traditions are important to me in my Christian faith.

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