The "Jews for Jesus" are in Denver right now, and there
are advertisements posted all around saying: "Jews for Jesus:
Thank you very much for asking.
I respect "Jews for Jesus" -- I have met some messianic
Jews and believe they are sincere and should have the right to practice
their beliefs. However, I do not agree with their perspective, and
don't think it will help Christianity.
I'll let the Jews deal with the question of whether "Jews
for Jesus" distorts Judaism, and tell us whether Judaism has
anything to do with a sect which believes in fundamentalist Christianity,
Jesus as God incarnate, the literal interpretation of the New Testament,
virgin birth, and so on, overlaid with a pastiche of Jewish culture.
This is basically just another attempt to convert Jews to fundamentalist
But my complaint is different — Jews for Jesus also misrepresents
early Jewish Christianity.
The early Jewish Christians were totally different from Jews for
Jesus. They believed that Jesus was a prophet, not the incarnation
of God; the Christ, but not the only Christ. They thought that Jesus'
preaching was about simple living, pacifism, and vegetarianism,
and that he never intended to create a religion separate from Judaism.
Based on such sources as the Recognitions and the Homilies, early
church writers such as Epiphanius, and -- at an even earlier period
-- the letters of Paul, what do we find are the characteristic Jewish
1. They believe in simple living and nonviolence: they are vegetarians,
pacifists, reject wealth, and reject animal sacrifice. The main
Jewish Christian group was called the "Ebionites," a name
which comes from the Hebrew ebionim which means the poor.
In the Jewish Christian Ebionite gospel, Jesus says, "I have
come to destroy the sacrifices, and if you don't stop sacrificing
animals, my wrath will not cease from you." (Epiphanius, Panarion
"I will not suffer men to take up arms and fight against one
another." Recognitions 3.42
"Love your enemies." Matthew 5:44
2. They rejected the literal interpretation of the Bible. Specifically,
they rejected the commands to make animal sacrifices in the temple.
These were false texts inserted into the scripture by scribes who
came after Moses.
"For the Scriptures have had joined to them many falsehoods
against God on this account." -- Homilies 2.38
3. They reject the virgin birth. They thought, naturally enough,
that Jesus was the son of two human parents, Mary and Joseph, but
that Jesus became God's son at his baptism. The Ebionite gospel
says that God said to Jesus at his baptism, "This day I have
begotten you," a reference to Psalm 2:7.
4. They did not believe that Jesus was God, and did not believe
that Jesus was unique in being the Christ — all believers
"Our Lord neither asserted that there were gods except the
Creator of all, nor did He proclaim Himself to be God." --
". . . God anointed [Jesus] with oil which was taken from
the wood of the tree of life: from that anointing therefore He is
called Christ. . . . He . . . anoints with similar oil every one
of the pious when they come to His kingdom." Recognitions 1.45
The Jews for Jesus do not misrepresent Judaism so much as they
misrepresent early Jewish Christianity and Jesus himself. We live
in a world in which violence is accepted very casually. We have
just gone to war and killed thousands of people over a non-event.
We live in a world in which the brutal exploitation of nature, and
the torture and killing of animals by the millions and billions,
is accepted as a matter of course. This is the richest country in
the world, yet there seems to be more interest in maintaining a
steady supply of oil to support our consumptive lifestyle —
using violence if necessary — than in reducing the vast and
growing inequality in the world today.
What happened to simple living and nonviolence? What happened to
the message of Jesus? We do not need a group to convince the Jews
to follow Jesus. We need a group to convince Christians to follow
-- Keith Akers
Reprinted with permission from www.compassionatespirit.com
Keith Akers is the author of The Lost Religion of Jesus:
Simple Living and Nonviolence in Early Christianity,
Foreword by Walter Wink, 2000, Lantern Books
Posted to Circle of the Free Spirit on May Day 2007