Faydra L. Shapiro
In Our Time: Jews & Christians

In Our Time: Jews, Christians and the New Testament

Both Jews and Christians need to understand in a profound way that there is no Christianity in the New Testament.

Many years ago I was studying for my PhD with a minor area of specialization in Bible. As I began preparation for those arduous second year comprehensive examinations, I was more than a little surprised to learn that I would also be examined on New Testament scholarship. “But…I’m Jewish!” I sputtered. “Why would I ever need to know this stuff?” I thought I could hear my Bubbie rolling over in her grave at the idea. But my religious Jewish supervisor and well-respected scholar of the Gospel of John wasn’t impressed.

It wasn’t my first time opening a New Testament, but certainly my first time reading it all through, slowly, together with a large stack of secondary literature. And so began the real shock – I absolutely loved it.

Jews don’t read the New Testament. It’s not just that it’s not part of the Jewish Bible (it isn’t). And it’s not just that Jews don’t accept it as authoritative (we don’t). It’s that we don’t think that it has anything to do with us. We tend to believe that the New Testament belongs to Christians, and that’s that. So unless you’re a scholar, Israeli tour guide or someone particularly interested in world religions, Jews just don’t read the New Testament. Ever. It kind of scares us, frankly. As if somehow reading it is traitorous, or it might magically turn us into Christians.

I wish that Jews could understand that the New Testament is thoroughly Jewish – replete with Jewish categories and Jewish practices, full of Jewish controversies and Jewish scripture, brimming with Jews – I think we could both reclaim some of our own history. Because let’s face it, if you want to understand something about the Judaism of our ancestors in this specific period, the New Testament has some real value. And if Jews could feel more comfortable with the New Testament as comprising an important piece of Jewish cultural literature, we might be able to engage more deeply together as Jews and Christians.

Recently, after a talk I gave to a large group of Christian visitors to Israel, a young woman came up and asked me a question about Paul’s “conversion to Christianity.” Both Jews and Christians need to understand in a profound way that there is no Christianity in the New Testament. We can only learn to un-think these deep-seated kinds of anachronisms which erase the Jewish foundations of Christianity with sensitivity, knowledge, and extensive practice.

Both Jews and Christians too often forget that the Christian Bible is not the New Testament. The Church’s decision to canonize the books of the Old Testament and the New Testament was in direct and conscious rejection of those early Christian heresies that did not value the Hebrew Bible. Finding a way to read the New Testament that actively values the Hebrew Bible, that does not assume theologies like supersessionism (where the Jewish people have been rejected by God and replaced by the Church), and that understands the land, culture and practices of Israel are essential for a grounded reading of the text. Real live Jewish conversation partners can offer a great deal here, as well as showing how some of the questions and controversies that play out in the New Testament are still active in contemporary Jewish life.

There are a number of world-class Jewish scholars of the New Testament. But that isn’t enough. We need more Jews willing to be part of Jewish-Christian Bible studies at a grassroots level, who are able to help Christian readers to reach behind the gentile history of the Church, and help Christianity address a certain amnesia it has developed about its own Jewish roots. Undoubtedly Christians would need to make “safe spaces” for Jews to take part in this kind of shared study. These would have to be places free from any proselytizing and less focused on readings of faith which Jews do not share.

Jews being open to reading the New Testament alongside and in engagement with Christians is a rich opportunity for both parties: for Jews to dive into a first-century Jewish conversation that would ultimately come to profoundly impact world history, and for Christians to be able to understand the New Testament and the world of Jesus’ earliest followers against the background of the sacred Jewish literature and practice that oriented their lives and their hopes.

About the Author
Faydra Shapiro is the founding director of the Israel Center for Jewish-Christian Relations and holds a Ph.D. in Religious Studies. She is also a senior fellow at The Philos Project and a member of the Center for the Study of Religion at Tel Hai College in Israel. Dr. Shapiro teaches visiting Christian groups as well as local Israelis and also writes regular academic and popular articles on Jewish-Christian relations. She is passionate about her mission of creating greater understanding between Jews and Christians both in Israel and in the diaspora. Her latest book is "Catholic Approaches to the People, Land and State of Israel", published in 2022.
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