Non-Jewish Christians are so accustomed to reading Hebrews 7-10 as something close to anti-Jewish. “At least since the time of John Chrysostom, Hebrews has been read as a stern warning to Jewish converts to the Christian faith not to fall back into Jewish practices” (R. Hays).
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that if the specific situation faced by this community had not emerged, the letter “to the Hebrews” would not have been necessary. The writer would not have made these sorts of arguments in chapters 7-10.
We only have this letter because a crisis has driven the hearers to a point where they must choose between their identity as Christians and their identity as Jews. Apart from that situation, however, there would be no inherent tension between being faithfully Jewish and thoroughly Christian.
That may be a ridiculous understatement to Christian Jews (it certainly would be to the early church), but for many non-Jewish Christians, shaped as we are by a longstanding divide between Judaism and Christianity, it’s difficult to wrap our minds around.
2 thoughts on “Jewish & Christian Identities are Not Incompatible”
Having accepted and even adopted many First century Jewish understandings, I am still often shocked to see how many people would willing adopt the “lesser” things of Judaism or Christianity. I know people who say that if you don’t say the name Jesus as Yeshua, you are not saved. Or, if you don’t keep the Sabbath in a strict (orthodox Jewish) way, God will not be pleased with you. The interesting thing, is that all of these are lesser things.
(There is a great freedom in the Sabbath, and I still continue to keep Saturday as a day of rest, and refuse to engage in busyness, and usually business on “Shabbat”. Not because I believe I must do so in order to please God, but because I have found that freedom, that resting place, and I’m trying to defend that freedom from our increasingly frantic society.)
I think Hebrews requires a careful reading and interpreting. It is a call to Covenant and Community faithfulness. (And the community must itself be faithful to the covenant in order to ask for faithfulness to itself.)
What is being forbidden in ch. 7-10 is allowing anything to be placed above Jesus, excepting the Father. Nothing, no priestly system, sacrifice, covenant, temple, etc. is superior to Him. Any system, whether Judaism, Baptist(ism), Anglican(ism), Wesleyan(ism), Assemblies of God(ism), Catholicism, etc. that is placed at the center of your/or my identity is not able to bear the weight of being the center. It will become idolatrous and even demonic. There is only one Center, in whom all things hold together, and that center is Jesus. (And if you want, you can call him Yeshua. 😉
Each year I write a new Seder for us to use in our family, because I want it to reflect where we are and where we have been, and what we are being delivered from. This year, I’m trying to weave the Letter to the Hebrews into our Seder. I find that the way many commentators handle the book is interesting. It’s often interpreted as if the original community was in danger of apostasizing to Judaism, but thankfully became good “Christians”. But the issue is not whether one can be a Jew and follow Jesus, but what is going to be the center, the Gate, the Way, the Life that you must to and for. Only Jesus can be both the Law and Lawgiver for a disciple. He is the Way. You must walk Him out. You don’t follow his teachings, you live Him, or He lives you. However you want to put it. Any other center is wrong. When you adopt that understanding, you will know how to live as a faithful Jewish follower of Jesus, a faithful Gentile follower of Jesus, a faithful barbarian, slave or free follower of Jesus. It’s true that some of the Jewish communities in the 1st century had to struggle with the issue of Jesus in different ways, but the call to put Jesus at the center, and remove everything else has not been answered by the majority of organized “Christian” denominations very well either. That is why we still need prophets to call us back into proper covenant relationship, with God, with each other and with the world.
I hope God will use some of your writings and ideas here in that prophetic way, to call us back into covenant faithfulness.
Grace and Peace,
Nailed it, Jaime — exactly! Jesus is the center — so simple! But so many ways for us to get it wrong. So many idolatries that call our hearts away.