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Shield Was Jesus a Christian?  

The answer to the question presented may at first seem obvious. However, upon closer scrutiny, a problem becomes apparent. There is a difference between how Jesus worshipped God and how the modern Christian church worships God. These differences in practice should cause the contemporary church to examine its methods and beliefs. If Christianity centers it faith and practice upon the teachings of Jesus Christ, should it not resemble its leader? Moreover, a consideration of the religion of the Jewish carpenter from Nazareth confronts us with a most unsettling question: Is Jesus Christ the founder of Christianity? If He isn’t, then who is? In an effort to direct the inquirer, this paper addresses five differences between the religious practices of Jesus of Nazareth and the modern church. The reader should be prepared to examine his “Christianity” in light of the principles and practices of the Jewish rabbi called Jesus.

The first difference is that while the contemporary church worships God on Sunday, Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Luke 4:16 says:  And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the Sabbath day. And he stood up to read…. (Emphasis supplied) (RSV) In fact, many if not most of the miracles performed by Jesus were done on the Sabbath. In comparison, the modern day church believes that the day of worship was changed from the Sabbath to Sunday. One online Christian resource explains:

Still others Christians would say that we no longer observe the Jewish sabbath, but worship instead on Sunday, a distinctively Christian holy day. They argue that the early church very soon began meeting on Sunday in honor of the resurrection of Jesus, which took place on the first day of the week.

It is not the purpose of this work to explore the reason for the change or the timing of the change as there are many resources available for those who seek to know the historical truth. It is sufficient to state that according to Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, the day of worship began to change around A.D. 115. The point is that Jesus did not worship on the first day of the week; He worshipped God on the Sabbath.

The second difference is that Jesus honored and celebrated the Biblical feasts, while the Christian church celebrates Christmas and Easter. Leviticus 23 sets forth the following as the Lord’s Sabbath and appointed feasts which are to be proclaimed :

  1. The Sabbath;
  2. The Passover and Unleavened Bread;
  3. First fruits;
  4. Feast of Weeks;
  5. Feast of Trumpets;
  6. Day of Atonement;
  7. Feast of Tabernacles;

Since Jesus did not come to destroy the law but to fulfill it, it would seem difficult to contend that Jesus disobeyed a direct commandment from His Father. Indeed, it would seem odd that Jesus who proclaimed that He did what He saw the Father doing, would suddenly cease being obedient regarding the feasts. John instructs us that to transgress the law is sin. Therefore, if Jesus remained sinless, He must have obeyed the law of God regarding the feasts.

Generally, the names of the feasts listed above are rarely mentioned in the Christian church much less proclaimed. In their place, the modern church has embraced Christmas and Easter, both with acknowledged pagan connections. Jesus had ample opportunity to instruct His disciples to celebrate His birth, but He did not. Further, in the forty days before His ascension, He had the opportunity to teach that His resurrection was to be celebrated in place of Passover but there is no record of such instruction. The point is that Jesus and the church do not celebrate the same holidays or feasts.

A third difference is found in the diet of Jesus when He walked the earth. The law prescribed a kosher diet that forbade the eating of certain types of animals, fish, and fowl. The argument referenced above concerning the obedience to the feasts is applicable to Jesus’ obeying the food laws. Certainly, Jesus would not have disobeyed a command from His Father. It is of interest that in approximately A.D.41, Peter told the Lord in the vision concerning clean and unclean animals: But Peter said, "No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." (RSV) Christ had been crucified approximately ten years earlier and Peter was still following the dietary laws from Leviticus. Since Peter had never eaten unclean food, this would be a compelling argument that while he was with Jesus, no unclean foods were consumed.

In the modern church, to mention the dietary laws would invoke allegations of legalism. Many churches have specific gatherings around food that Jesus would never touch. How many “pig roasts” or “clam bakes” take place in the church today? Jesus might attend, but would He eat the pork or the shell fish?  From the Bible, we can ascertain some portions of Jesus diet: He had broiled fish and honeycomb after the resurrection, bread and wine at the Last Supper, wine at the wedding at Cana, and bread and fish at the feeding of the multitudes. The point is not to debate the continuance of the dietary laws, but to acknowledge that the practices of Jesus and the modern church are dissimilar.

A fourth difference can be observed in the Jewish dress as worn by Jesus. Jesus was a Torah observant Jewish rabbi and dressed as one. One of the most important aspects of His dress was His tallit with its tzitzit. How do we know that Jesus dressed as a Jew? He was recognized by the woman at the well of Samaria by His outward appearance. The outer garment was called himation in Greek, pallium in Latin, and in Hebrew it was first termed adderet or me’il. At some later time, it came to be called tallit. While the tallit was not unique to Israel, the fringes on the borders, known as tzitzit, were. These were worn in obedience to Numbers 15:38: "Speak to the people of Israel, and bid them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put upon the tassel of each corner a cord of blue….” (RSV) In addition, in order to fulfill the law, Jesus would have worn tefillin. Tefillin were two leather pouches which contained the Word of God and were bound to the arm and forehead in obedience to Exodus 13:9, 16 and Deuteronomy 6:6-8 and 11:18. Another indication of Jesus’ Hebraic dress is that it was a requirement of the Torah. Jews were commanded to wear tzitzit and tefillin. Torah observance required a certain dress to set Israel apart from the nations so that God might use them to reach the world.

It is of interest to note that some Bible translations arguably seek to conceal the Jewish dress of Jesus. In Matthew 9, the story is told of the woman with the issue of blood that sought to touch the hem of his garment. The Greek word for “hem” is kraspedon and the Greek word for “garment” is himation. When referring to Jesus, the translators of the NIV used the phrase, “touch his cloak.” However, in Matthew 23:5 when Jesus is pronouncing seven woes on the Pharisees, the same Greek words are translated: “the tassels on their garments.” Is there a valid reason for the translators to interpret the phrases differently? It would seem that the translators did not have any difficulty identifying the Jewish dress when it applied to the Pharisees but sought to conceal the true dress of Jesus.

The point to be remembered is that the modern Christian church does not adhere to the dress commandments contained in the Torah as referenced above. What would be the reaction in the church today, if it was suggested that members honor the Exodus and Deuteronomy passages? The response would most likely be that we are not required to do so because those commands were for the Jews and we are not Jewish. Essentially that would be my point; Jesus was Jewish and the church has departed from its Jewish roots and represents an institution that does not follow its purported leader.

The fifth and final difference reviewed would be that Jesus kept the Torah and the modern Christian church does not. Jesus said: "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (RSV) As explained by David Bivin and Roy Blizzard, Jr. in the work, Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus:

“Destroy” and “fulfil” are technical terms used in rabbinic argumentation. When a sage felt that a colleague had misinterpreted a passage of Scripture, he would say, ‘You are destroying the Law!’ Needless to say, in most cases his colleagues strongly disagreed. What was ‘destroying the Law’ for one sage, was ‘fulfilling the Law’ (correctly interpreting Scripture) for another.”
When one understands the Hebrew idioms, Jesus’ words are seen in a light contrary to the doctrinal position of many in the Christian church. Today, law and grace are seen as two separate and distinct dispensations. It is argued that the Jews have law and the Christians have grace. While a debate on the merits of this perspective is outside the scope of this work, it is sufficient to acknowledge that the religion of Jesus upheld the Law of God. The religion of Jesus was based on the Torah. He came not to misinterpret the commands of God, but to correctly tell His people how they should live. The question must be asked, if the church rejects the Torah, are they “His people”?

This paper has demonstrated that the religion of Jesus Christ is far removed from the practices of modern day Christianity. If a person presented themselves for membership in your church and he worshipped on the Sabbath, celebrated the Biblical feasts, was wearing a tallit with tzitzit on it with tefillin on his arm and forehead, ate a kosher diet, and believed that the Torah was still a requirement, what would be the result? I submit that the church committee would probably decline the application for membership. Does that concern you? I believe it should. Perhaps it is time for us to follow the words of the Apostle Paul: Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? --unless indeed you are disqualified. Whose faith are you in if you are a member of a modern “Christian” church??
On further reflection, maybe the answer to the question is obvious.

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