To continue with our subject concerning the basis of true dialogue: Before I continue with Justin and Trypho’s dialogue, I wish to say something about those things that aid and also hinder dialogue taking place between Jewish people and Christians.
Many Jewish and Christian philosophers, theologians and thinkers have said much about how Jewish – Christian relations may be improved by “a dialogue between equals.” For this to take place, mutual respect, appreciation, and love one towards the other needs to be encouraged and it is something to strive towards.
Speaking of being “equals” may sound that it is a given, but reality tells a very different story. The dialogue between Justin and Trypho while it attempts to give the impression that it takes place on a level playing field, it quickly becomes apparent that the dialogue is not between “equals” at all.
While Justin is not unkind, he has a clear intention of convincing Trypho of the superiority of the Christian Gospel and from Justin’s point of view, Judaism has been superseded with Christianity, replacing the Jewish faith.
One must appreciate that this dialogue is set in the second century of the common era and that it is polemical and apologetical in style and Justin without apology seeks to win Trypho to faith in Christ.
The question as to whether this is legitimate is quite another issue, however, in terms of a “true dialogue” is something that is under consideration?
There are certainly elements of a true dialogue present, such as Trypho is not just portrayed as a passive listener, he does challenge Christian assertions and he puts forward Jewish objections to the Christian message.
However, there are false notions on both sides of the arguments and at times unsound theological interpretations presented by Justin based upon his theology concerning Judaism and whether it has an abiding covenant and relationship with God in the light of the advent of Jesus as the Messiah/ Christ.
Triumphalistic and erroneous view that Christianity has a superior view of God and that Judaism is a religion based upon law keeping, while Christianity is based only on faith. These types of stereotypes do little or anything to build trust between Jews and Christians and only serves to undermine any hope of genuine dialogue. There is no place for holding a superior or arrogant attitude if you are hoping to have any meaningful interchange of ideas.
Judaism is a religion that is equally about having a living, trusting faith in the living God. He is viewed as righteous, just and shows loving kindness to all who put their trust in him. The observance of the Torah is an integral part of the practice of Judaism, but to simply a false image of Judaism as a religion that “hopes to balance the books,” as it were, by making sure that “the credits outweigh the debts,” is to grossly misrepresent it.
The single “big issue” that divides the Jewish faith from the Christian faith, is the “person and work of Jesus!”
What place does Jesus hold in the Jewish and Christian faith?
As has rightly said, Judaism without “Jesus” stands alone, while Christianity without him would not exist at all.
He defines everything that Christians hold sacred and dear. He is designated and declared as “Messiah/ Christ; Redeemer; Lord, God, and Saviour.” He answered,
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel ” (the Jewish people — Matthew 15:24 NRSV).
He then said,
“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (the Gentiles — John 10:16 NRSV).
The Bone of Contention
Jewish philosophers, theologians, thinkers, spiritual leaders and apologists with “one voice,” say, “No to Jesus!” He can be the Saviour of the pagan, Gentile world, but please do not say that we Jews need to have anything to do with him.
The Gentile Christians have blamed us for his death [deicide = “killers of God”], persecuted us, maligned us, marginalised us, sought to not only exclude us from God but have also plundered our sacred book, the Hebrew Scriptures, renamed it the “Old Testament,” taken all the blessings contained in our Bible too. You claim our fathers (patriarchs), prophets and kings as your own. In addition, you have also displaced us and call us the “people of the Old Covenant,” while you claim to be the “people of the New Covenant.” You even call yourselves “New Israel” and we are referred to as “Old Israel,” and you tell us that our observance of the Torah is useless and that we are lost and damned if we think that God will accept us by its observance!
What are we to say?
We need to bow our heads in shame if we claim to “love the Jewish Messiah/ Christ,” and have treated his “kith and kin” so badly, for Jesus according to his human nature is Jewish. What are we indeed to say to the Jewish people in the light of this dreadful treatment that has been meted out by the church upon them?
We need to have deep sorrow for what we have done. How can we celebrate our faith, knowing that many of our leaders have been responsible for saying such reprehensible things as a Luther or a John Chrysostom about the Jewish people? The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 in its Canons on the Jews is extremely harsh and condemnatory towards them, restricting their social intercourse and their religious freedom marking them out by making them wear special clothes as a sign to ridicule them and separate them from Christians.
The way forward
The way forward is not with arrogance and pride, but in deep humility that we dare say anything to our Jewish brothers and sisters about Jesus of Nazareth.
Yet there must be a way to share his loving grace? If Jesus own intention was to share the Good News with Israel, then can we remain silent?
Further to what has been said, recognising our own failure and that of members of the body of Messiah/ Christ, for true dialogue to work, beginning from this place of weakness, on the basis of complete honesty, with the greatest respect for the Jewish people and Judaism, we must be able to share what is sacred and true to us. This includes the fact that we believe that he is Messiah and Lord not only of the Gentiles but also the Jewish people.
Saying, “No more to forced conversions, the use of deceptive methods or anything else that would dishonour the very Jesus that we love and wish to share, we must be able to say, “this is what we believe and this is also to include you!”
Having said all this, the expression “walking or treading on eggshells,” may be apt:
Part 2 True Dialogue
More then simply to relate what Justin says, I will give a critique of his ideas that he has expressed and show that while he may have had noble intentions, what he argues is at times not only theologically erroneous, but also deeply offensive to Jewish people.
Justin: “And God himself proclaimed by Moses, speaking thus: ‘And circumcise the hardness of your hearts, and no longer stiffen the neck. For the Lord, your God is both Lord of lords, and a great, mighty, and terrible God, who regardeth not persons, and taketh not rewards.’…”
“Accordingly, these things have happened to you in fairness and justice, for you have slain the Just One, and His prophets before Him; and now you reject those who hope in Him, and in Him who sent Him—God the Almighty and Maker of all things—cursing in your synagogues those that believe in Christ.”
This raises the question as to whether the Jewish people can collectively be blamed for the death of Christ alone?
The Judean temple leadership certainly had a part in the death of Jesus, but this cannot be used as a pretext to blame the whole Jewish nation for his death.
The Romans were equally complicit and willingly participated in the punishment and crucifixion of Christ and do anyone blame Italians, Latin or Greek-speaking people for his death? Why not bicycle riders or dog walker, but that is absurd. Well is it not equally absurd to blame Jewish people today for something that happened two millennia ago!
Also, to simply blame the Jews for his death misses the whole point of “why Jesus died?”
He died as the supreme sacrifice for sin and this was part of God’s plan for the redemption of humankind from the power of sin and death. Did Jesus not say,
“For this reason, the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father’ ” (John 10:17-18 NRSV).
This being the case, how can anyone blame the Jewish people for the death of Jesus?
Justin: “For you have not the power to lay hands upon us, on account of those who now have the mastery. But as often as you could, you did so. Wherefore God, by Isaiah, calls to you, saying, ‘Behold how the righteous man perished, and no one regards it. For the righteous man is taken away from before iniquity. His grave shall be in peace, he is taken away from the midst. Draw near hither, ye lawless children, the seed of the adulterers, and children of the whore. Against whom have you sported yourselves, and against whom have you opened the mouth, and against whom have you loosened the tongue?'”
Comment: Why choose these verses from Isaiah, to castigate the Jewish people? Is Justin not using these scriptures out of context to fulfil a vindictive intention to seek to further humiliate the Jewish nation?
There certainly was an issue with some of the Jewish leadership as I have already said, but such generalizations are not helpful, for instead of building bridges of understanding they have the opposite effect of building higher barriers for Jewish people to consider the claims of the Messiah.
CHAP. XXIV.—THE CHRISTIANS’ CIRCUMCISION FAR MORE EXCELLENT.
“Now, sirs,” I said, “it is possible for us to show how the eighth day possessed a certain mysterious import, which the seventh day did not possess, and which was promulgated by God through these rites. But lest I appear now to diverge to other subjects, understand what I say: the blood of that circumcision is obsolete, and we trust in the blood of salvation; there is now another covenant, and another law has gone forth from Zion.”
Comment: on what basis does Justin question the Abrahamic Covenant? Is he not confusing a covenant of that was established between God and his Chosen people, with a covenant that established universal salvation for all of humanity? Being part of that covenant of circumcision was never intended to include “automatic ” salvation, but it only guaranteed membership of the Jewish people?
Justin: “Jesus Christ circumcises all who will—as was declared above—with knives of stone;(4) that they may be a righteous nation, a people keeping the faith, holding to the truth, and maintaining peace. Come then with me, all who fear God, who wish to see the good of Jerusalem. Come, let us go to the light of the Lord; for He has liberated His people, the house of Jacob. Come, all nations; let us gather ourselves together at Jerusalem, no longer plagued by war for the sins of her people. ‘For I was manifest to them that sought Me not; I was found of them that asked not for Me;'(5) He exclaims by Isaiah: ‘I said, Behold Me, unto nations which were not called by My name. I have spread out My hands all the day unto a disobedient and gainsaying people, which walked in a way that was not good but after their own sins. It is a people that provoketh Me to my face.’
Comment: Justin’s use of this argument against the continued trust in the covenant of circumcision for salvation is wholly consistent with Pauline theology, however, he fails to mention that Paul did say to those Jews who had come to faith, that they were at perfect liberty to continue to circumcise their male offspring.
There appears to be an attitude of contempt towards anybody who is from a Jewish background and once again Justin is more concerned in winning an argument than gaining a sympathetic listener.
CHAP. XXV.—THE JEWS BOAST IN VAIN THAT THEY ARE SONS OF ABRAHAM.
“Those who justify themselves, and say they are sons of Abraham, shall be desirous even in a small degree to receive the inheritance along with you;(6) as the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of Isaiah, cries, speaking thus while he personates them: ‘Return from heaven, and behold from the habitation of Thy holiness and glory. Where is Thy zeal and strength? Where is the multitude of Thy mercy? for Thou hast sustained us, O Lord. For Thou art our Father, because Abraham is ignorant of us, and Israel has not recognized us…The city of Thy holiness has become desolate. Zion has become as a wilderness, Jerusalem a curse; the house, our holiness, and the glory which our fathers blessed have been burned with fire; and all the glorious nations(2) have fallen along with it. And in addition to these [misfortunes], O Lord, Thou hast refrained Thyself, and art silent and hast humbled us very much.'”
And Trypho remarked, “What is this you say? that none of us shall inherit anything on the holy mountain of God?”
Comment: Trypho has done well in hitting the nail on the head, by begging the question as on what basis may one hope for entrance into God’s kingdom?
CHAP. XXVI.—NO SALVATION TO THE JEWS EXCEPT THROUGH CHRIST.
And I replied, “I do not say so; but those who have persecuted and do persecute Christ, if they do not repent, shall not inherit anything on the holy mountain…”
Comment: Why does Justin continue to blame the Jewish people for persecuting Christ? Was this really happening when he wrote his dialogue or has he developed a negative narrative about Jews and Judaism that he parrots out without considering the negative effect that this has on his Jewish reader? I as a Messianic Jew find it offensive, particularly as I am concerned to establish the basis for true dialogue.
You may question why in his very next sentence he compares and praised the Gentiles who “have repented of the sins they have committed?” I get the distinct impression that a strong culture of anti-Judaism had already developed in a Gentile dominated church that was at “war” with either a real or imagined Jewish enemy.
As we consider this next section I invite you to think through the issue that I have just highlighted.
“But the Gentiles, who have believed on Him, and have repented of the sins which they have committed, they shall receive the inheritance along with the patriarchs and the prophets, and the just men who are descended from Jacob, even although they neither keep the Sabbath, nor are circumcised, nor observe the feasts. Assuredly they shall receive the holy inheritance of God. For God speaks by Isaiah thus: ‘I, the Lord God, have called Thee in righteousness, and will hold Thine hand, and will strengthen Thee; and I have given Thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out them that are bound from the chains, and those who sit in darkness from the prison-house.'(4) And again: ‘Lift up a standard s for the people; for, lo, the Lord has made it heard unto the end of the earth. Say ye to the daughters of Zion, Behold, thy Saviour has come; having His reward, and His work before His face: and He shall call it a holy nation, redeemed by the Lord. And thou shalt be called a city sought out, and not forsaken…”
Comment: Again Justin continues to “dispossess” the Jews of their biblical heritage by both spiritualising and appropriating it to the church.
CHAP. XXVII.—WHY GOD TAUGHT THE SAME THINGS BY THE PROPHETS AS BY MOSES.
And Trypho said, “Why do you select and quote whatever you wish from the prophetic writings, but do not refer to those which expressly command the Sabbath to be observed? For Isaiah thus speaks: ‘If thou shalt turn away thy foot from the Sabbaths, so as not to do thy pleasure on the holy day, and shalt call the Sabbaths the holy delights of thy God; if thou shalt not lift thy foot to work, and shalt not speak a word from thine own mouth; then thou shalt trust in the Lord, and He shall cause thee to go up to the good things of the land; and He shall feed thee with the inheritance of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.'”
And I replied, “I have passed them by, my friends, not because such prophecies were contrary to me, but because you have understood, and do understand, that although God commands you by all the prophets to do the same things which He also commanded by Moses, it was on account of the hardness of your hearts, and your ingratitude towards Him, that He continually proclaims them, in order that, even in this way, if you repented, you might please Him,…But you are a people hard-hearted and without understanding, both blind and lame, children, in whom is no faith, as He Himself says, honouring Him only with your lips, far from Him in your hearts, teaching doctrines that are your own and not His…”
Comment: Paul does speak of the problem of spiritual blindness that covers human hearts that affects both Jews and Gentiles — for Jewish people, Christ is considered a stumbling block and to Gentiles, the gospel message is considered foolishness but to those who are being saved it is the power and wisdom of God.
CHAP. XXVIII.—TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS IS OBTAINED BY CHRIST.
And Trypho replied, “We heard you adducing this consideration a little ago, and we have given it attention: for, to tell the truth, it is worthy of attention; and that answer which pleases most—namely, that so it seemed good to Him—does not satisfy me. For this is ever the shift to which those have recourse who are unable to answer the question.”
Then I said, “Since I bring from the Scriptures and the facts themselves both the proofs and the inculcation of them, do not delay or hesitate to put faith in me, although I am an uncircumcised man; so short a time is left you in which to become proselytes. If Christ’s coming shall have anticipated you, in vain you will repent, in vain you will weep; for He will not hear you. ‘Break up your fallow ground,’ Jeremiah has cried to the people, ‘and sow not among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and circumcise the foreskin of your heart.’…And by David, He said, ‘A people whom I have not known, served Me; at the hearing of the of the ear they obey Me.”
A Comment: “So short a time is left you in which to become proselytes.” The concept of gaining proselytes was common in the early centuries of the common era, and both Jews and Christians were both engaged in gaining converts to their respective faiths. It was only in the fourth and fifth century that with an ascendent church that Jews were prohibited from seeking to gain converts from among the Gentiles. This has made the concept of gaining proselytes for Judaism something that is discouraged, though there are Reformed and Liberal rabbis who are willing to do so.
CHAP. CXXXVII–HE EXHORTS THE JEWS TO EMBRACE THE MESSIAH
“Say no evil thing, my brothers, against Him that was crucified, and treat not scornfully the stripes wherewith all may be healed, even as we are healed. For it will be well if, persuaded by the Scriptures, you are circumcised from hard-heartedness: not that circumcision which you have from the tenets that are put into you; for that was given for a sign, and not for a work of righteousness, as the Scriptures compel you [to admit]. Assent, therefore, and pour no ridicule on the Son of God; obey not the Pharisaic teachers, and scoff not at the King of Israel, as the rulers of your synagogues teach you to do after your prayers: for if he that touches those who are not pleasing(2) to God, is as one that touches the apple of God’s eye, how much more so is he that touches His beloved! And that this is He, has been sufficiently demonstrated.”
And as they kept silence, I continued: “My friends, I now refer to the Scriptures as the Seventy [LXX] have interpreted them; for when I quoted them formerly as you possess them, I made proof of you [to ascertain] how you were disposed of.(3) For, mentioning the Scripture which says, ‘Woe unto them! for they have devised evil counsel against themselves, saying(4) (as the Seventy have translated, I continued):
‘Let us take away the righteous, for he is distasteful to us;… But you had been busy about some other matter, and seem to have listened to the words without attending to them. But now, since the day is drawing to a close, for the sun is about to set, I shall add one remark to what I have said, and conclude. I have indeed made the very same remark already, but I think it would be right to bestow some consideration on it again.
CHAP. CXLII.—THE JEWS RETURN THANKS AND LEAVE JUSTIN.
Then Trypho, after a little delay, said, “You see that it was not intended that we came to discuss these points. And I confess that I have been particularly pleased with the conference, and I think that these are of quite the same opinion as myself. For we have found more than we expected and more than it was possible to have expected. And if we could do this more frequently, we should be much helped in the searching of the Scriptures themselves. But since,” he said, “you are on the eve of departure and expect daily to set sail, do not hesitate to remember us as friends when you are gone.”
“For my part,” I replied, “if I had remained, I would have wished to do the same thing daily. But now, since I expect, with God’s will and aid, to set sail, I exhort you to give all diligence in this very great struggle for your own salvation, and to be earnest in setting a higher value on the Christ of the Almighty God than on your own teachers.”
After this they left me, wishing me safety in my voyage, and from every misfortune. And I, praying for them, said, “I can wish no better thing for you, sirs, than this, that, recognising in this way that intelligence is given to every man, you may be of the same opinion as ourselves, and believe that Jesus is the Christ of God.”
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