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Being raised on Long Island as a Reform Jew I was always told that Jesus was a Jew who betrayed his Jewish roots and created Christianity, a totally separate religion which has historically hated and persecuted the Jewish people. Consequently, no real Jew believes in Jesus; in fact, if you believe in Jesus you can’t be a Jew anymore!
I spent 2/3 of my life believing this; fortunately, I have learned the truth about Christianity, who Jesus really was and what he really taught. And through that study and the guiding of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) I have come to accept that Yeshua (Jesus’s real name) was a Jew, still is a Jew, and taught from the Torah. He did not create a new and separate religion at all.
As I studied the New Covenant writings, especially the Epistles of Shaul (Paul) I began to understand that he did not convert to Christianity or write against the Torah and Judaism (as most Christian teachings profess), but remained a Jew and always confirmed the importance of following the Torah. The problem with reading Shaul’s writings is that one has to get into the right “mindset” to understand what Shaul was saying, as well as be trained in biblical exegesis. Shaul wrote to Gentiles that were first learning how to be Jews; there wasn’t anything else to be at that time. You were either a Jew or a Pagan. The early churches he set up weren’t churches at all; at least, not as we understand what a church is today. The first time they were called a “church” was in the early 1600’s, when King James decided to call them that, despite the fact that his bible experts disagreed. In my opinion, the organizations that Shaul created as he preached the Gospels would be more accurately called “Kehillot“, the plural of the Hebrew word Kehillah which means “community organizations.” So although Shaul’s preaching has been confused and misinterpreted probably ever since he wrote the first letter, he did not create Christianity as a separate religion.
I finally came to understand that the Christian Canon of today was developed mainly by Constantine at the Council of Nicene in the 3rd Century. The rules and separation of Christian worship from it’s beginnings in Judaic worship was confirmed and finalized, so to speak, by what Constantine did. Therefore, I (and many others I know) have been accusing Constantine of being the real creator of Christianity as a separate religion from Judaism.
I have been wrong.
Constantine definitely is the creator of Christian Canon that all of the modern Christian religions are based on, but he was not the first one to identify Christianity as a religion separate and unique from Judaism. It wasn’t Ignatius of Antioch, either, although he certainly did what he could to separate it (he changed the Sabbath to Sunday and also stated that one cannot have Judaism and Christianity together.) And it wasn’t first declared separate and unique by any of the other early “church” fathers.
“Sherman, warm up the WABAC Machine and let’s go back before Yeshua and just after the Maccabees revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes, which is the story of Hanukkah.”
After that last Seleucid king was defeated, there was still political upheaval in Judea and the Judeans invited the Hasmoneans to mediate, eventually leading to Roman rule over Judea. However, because the Romans were “invited” in they allowed the Jews to continue to worship in accordance to their religion. This was very unique, since almost every Roman-conquered city or province was forced to worship as Rome did. Under normal conditions, it was illegal for any Roman ruled people to have their own religion (this is important to remember.)
Now we come to the point where the power elite Judeans, who rejected Yeshua as Messiah, needed to get Pontius Pilate to convict Yeshua. So what did they say? They first accused him of blasphemy, but Pilate said that was an internal religious issue and not a legal one. They next accused him of stirring up the people and telling them not to pay taxes, making him an enemy of the Emperor. Pilate didn’t fall for that one, either. Their final accusation was that Yeshua was a King, which he admitted to being but said his kingdom was not of this world, so Pilate had no legal reason to find him guilty of treason. In truth, they couldn’t get Pilate to find Yeshua guilty of anything. They had the same problem with Shaul when they brought him before the Roman rulers of whatever province he was preaching in. But then later, the Jews in the provinces around Judea who wanted to stop the Apostles from preaching about Yeshua found the one argument they could use that got the Romans to take action: they accused the Apostles of creating a new religion! This was against Roman law. The Jewish religion was tolerated by Rome but this new “Way” was denounced as a separate religion from Judaism so Rome had to take action. By the 2nd Century, both Jews and Christians were being persecuted, but for different reasons: Jewish persecution was for political reasons (they were rebelling against Roman rule) and Christian persecution was for religious reasons (practicing a religion that wasn’t approved by Rome.)
So, who really created Christianity as a separate religion? It was the Jewish power elite of the First Century! We created our own “Frankenstein’s Monster” which turned against us and since then caused us harm and suffering. This was a real surprise to me: imagine…it was us! Jews are the reason that Christianity has become a separate religion from its Jewish roots. Who wuddah tought it?
If the Jewish elite had only ignored the Jews and Gentiles that accepted Yeshua as Messiah, then who knows what might have happened? But, of course, that didn’t happen and maybe it was, in the long run, for the best. After all, didn’t Shaul write to the Kihillot in Rome (Romans 11:11):
“Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.”
This shows that God’s plan of salvation for the Gentiles could only come through the Jews and eventually we will all be one in Messiah.
Now, for those of you out there who love to take a word or sentence out of context and go off in all sorts of tangential arguments that have nothing to do with the point of the message, let me address the fact that when I say “the Jews” I am not using it as a universally descriptive term but a reference to the power elite of the Judean political system at that time. And let me also say the Jews aren’t the only ones responsible: Ignatius, Constantine and nearly every Pope and Christian leader since the 2nd Century has contributed to making Christianity a separate and different religion. Christianity has become a separate and unique religion from Judaism as the result of the work of many people over many years.
My message today is that Christianity as a separate religion wasn’t proposed or initiated by Yeshua or any of his early followers- it came about as a result of the accusation from the non-Believing Jewish power elite in order to give Rome legal justification to persecute those people who accepted Yeshua as the Messiah.
So Yeshua didn’t create a new religion. Neither did the Apostles or Shaul or Constantine- the ones who first identified Christianity as a new religion were the Jews of the First Century!