"Jews don't need a Saviour"

Over the years, in my witness to Jewish people, I’ve encountered many, if not all, of the familiar objections to belief in Jesus. In this article I propose to consider the Orthodox Jewish view of the nature of man, which is moulded into an objection against believing the Good News. It may be put like this:
The Christian view, that salvation is a free gift because we are unable to save ourselves and therefore only the blood of Jesus can cleanse us from sin and save us, is false. The Hebrew Bible provides ample testimony that although we may have an inclination towards evil, the means of salvation is always at hand. Genesis 4:7 tells us, “Sin is crouching at the door, and it desires you, but you may rule over it.”

What follows is largely based on actual encounters with the experts within the Jewish community. We want to limit our remarks here to the difference between the Orthodox view about the moral nature of man and that of the Bible. The Orthodox firmly reject the view that when Adam disobeyed God, all mankind (except Jesus) sinned and fell with him, so that man is now morally and spiritually corrupt.

I remember talking to a rabbi about Genesis 3:24 which reveals God’s response to the sinful disobedience of our first parents: “So the Lord God drove out man; and he placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.” We went on to consider Genesis 6:5-6: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was evil continually, and the LORD was sorry that He had made man of the earth…” I suggested to the rabbi that these passages teach us something about the fallenness and corruption of the whole nature of Adam, Eve and their descendants.

The rabbi asserted that God would be unjust and of questionable integrity if He expected obedience to His law when, as some Christians teach, fallen man has neither the capacity nor the will to obey that law. However, he had no answer to the actual force of the words of Genesis 6:5 – “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was evil continually” – except to say, somewhat feebly, “Maybe things were different after the Flood.”

We then turned our attention to Psalm 51:5 (verse 7 in the Hebrew text): “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin my mother conceived me.” We agreed there was no suggestion in the verse that David’s conception occurred outside the marriage bond or that the marital act was in some way sinful. Nevertheless, we had a serious difference over whether David regarded himself as a sinner from the womb and that therefore his whole nature was corrupt. The rabbi knew about the Christian doctrine of Original Sin but argued that David was saying in effect, “Behold I was begotten with the capacity to sin, and with a predisposition to iniquity did my mother nurse me.” But, according to the rabbi, this did not mean David had no capacity to do good and to please God. He said he could not live with the view that we cannot earn acceptance with God by mitzvot (good deeds).

Even after we looked at what David had to say about God’s way of forgiveness and the Christian teaching about Jesus the Saviour of sinners, the rabbi clung to the Jewish view of the essential goodness of man’s nature but – as I found out on a subsequent occasion – with less conviction.

The foregoing serves at least to show us how much unbelieving Jewish people need the Holy Spirit to convince them of sin, of righteousness and of judgement, so that they will come to know and declare for themselves, “It is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

This article first appeared in the March 2004 edition of the Herald

© Christian Witness to Israel      +44 (0) 1865 887830   •   charity registered nos: 271323/SCO41720  •   site map