Knowing Judaism in order to present Jesus

Alfredo Delgado Gómez continues his exploration of the Jewishness – and the Jewish world – of Jesus.

My previous article drew attention to current research on Jesus of Nazareth which highlights his Jewishness.1 Only a deep understanding of the pluralistic nature of the Judaism of Jesus’ time makes it possible to understand fully his announcement of the Kingdom of God. The New Testament scholar E. P. Sanders labelled as ‘common Judaism’ that which the different Jewish groups agreed upon, but Sanders’ novel portrayal of Judaism as a religion of covenant, election and grace has unfortunately failed to filter down to many ordinary Christians.2 This second article explores the different attitudes of Jesus and Paul towards the Law, the stages through which Judaism has evolved and offers some clues on how to present Judaism in this new framework.

The attitude of Jesus and Paul to the Law

The different Jewish groups that existed in Israel in Jesus’ times (Pharisees, Sadducees, etc.) all desired to fulfill God’s will, but there was no agreement on many of the concrete aspects of how this should be done. These groups were in dialogue but also in conflict with each other over the correct interpretation of the Torah. The Sadducees, for example, followed only the Torah, whilst the Pharisees accepted other laws known as ‘the tradition of the elders’ (Mk 7.3 and Gal. 1.14). Jesus being Jewish knew and fulfilled the Torah, interpreting it from the standpoint of the Kingdom through his actions. As a good Jew, Jesus went to the synagogue and the temple (Lk 21.38), as did his disciples even after his ascension (Lk 24.53). Moreover, Jesus knew the Torah very well and argued with others about it and used it to support his teaching. He interpreted in a new way some of the teachings of the Torah, for example healing on the Sabbath, which led to him facing fierce conflict with some of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

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