For centuries, people have debated the differences between the Jewish and Christian faiths. But, there are many similarities between the two, as well. There are so many similarities that there are even intersections between the two faiths, having elements of both Judaism and Christianity. So, for the purpose of this writing, “Jewish Beliefs vs. Christian Beliefs” will be observed as an impartial comparison of the two religions, rather than trying to figure out which is right or wrong. In all actuality, neither is wrong. They’re simply different.
〈If you want to better understand the Bible and study Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, or Aramaic, the language in which Jesus spoke, you can find my review on how to learn Hebrew and Aramaic online by following this link.〉
Core Beliefs of Both Religions
Jews believe that there is one God, Yahweh. They believe that He created the universe and all life in it. They also believe that God chose the Hebrew people as his “chosen people”, and gave them his law to abide by and teach others. They call these laws the Torah. Around 613 commands are in the Torah, summarized into the 10 Commandments. In Judaism, Scripture has three categories: Law, Prophets, and Writings (like Proverbs and Psalms). These make up what is known as the Old Testament in the Christian Bible.
Christians believe that there is one God, Yahweh, who created the universe and all life within it. They believe that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, and that he brought with him a new covenant and new laws. They believe that he was crucified and died as a sacrifice so that anyone who believed in Him, was baptized and saved, and worshiped God could go to heaven. And they believe that this new covenant supersedes the Mosaic covenant and its laws.
〈If you want to learn Biblical Greek in order to read the New Testament in its original language, you can read my review on how you can do this by following this link.〉
There are many things that the two religions seem to agree on. Judaism is the oldest monotheistic religion, and both Christianity and Islam came from it. Both Christians and Jews believe that the Old Testament was inspired by God himself. They both believe that there is one God, Yahweh, who created the universe and all life in it. They both believe that Satan brought sin into the world, and that God judges sin. And they both believe that sins must be atoned for.
Both Jews and Christians have an understanding of God and his laws, and they assemble together with others of the same faith to worship him. And, both Jews and Christians believe in living a good life, doing good deeds, and living in service to God. So, since these are core beliefs in both religions, they actually have a lot in common. But there are many things that they differ on, as well.
Unity vs. Trinity
Jews and Christians have a difference in beliefs when it comes to the fundamental nature of God. Is God one being and one consistent form, or can he take on other forms in order to communicate with us? This question has baffled religious people for centuries, started many arguments, and are so complicated that people have entered theological universities the world over to answer it. So, in the interest of brevity, this section will glance over the beliefs of both religions on the subject.
Many Christians believe in what is known as the Trinity. The Trinity is the belief that God can take on different forms, having exhibited three different forms throughout the Bible: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost, depending on the translation).
God the Father is the entire embodiment of God, and usually what is thought of when one thinks of God; this is the entity that created the universe and gave the commandments to the Hebrew people and judges them. God the Son is God’s human form, Jesus. Christians believe that God took human form on earth in order to become a mediator between man and God. And God the Holy Spirit is the spiritual form that God takes, gives prophets and divine inspiration. Basically, one God, three forms.
Jewish beliefs say that God is one entity with one form. They believe in God’s absolute unity. The Holy Spirit in Judaism is used to refer to a divine force that influences the universe and all life in it, as opposed to viewing it as a separate form that God takes. They believe that it is perfectly fine for non-Jewish people to believe in the Trinity, but that this belief is absolutely forbidden in the Jewish religion. They point to Scriptures such as Deuteronomy 6:4, which says:
“Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”
Judaism and the Messiah
Many people think that Jewish people don’t believe in the Messiah, or in Jesus. This theory is only half right. The Messiah is actually an integral concept in Judaism. Their original beliefs about the Messiah were that God would send the Messiah, a powerful messenger, to free Israel from its oppressors and that this would bring about an age of peace for the Hebrew people, and they would prosper from it.
Many Jews no longer think that the Messiah is a person, but is instead an era in which they will receive justice. And, it’s generally accepted by the Jewish people that the Messiah or the messianic age is yet to come.
Because Jews don’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah, they don’t observe religious holidays that celebrate either his life or his death. They do not consider Jesus to be a divine being. Therefore, they don’t observe holidays such as: Easter, Palm Sunday, Lent, Advent, or Christmas.
Differing Beliefs About the Covenant
Most people know that one of the core beliefs of Christianity is that Jesus Christ was the Messiah. The Christianity’s other core belief is that Jesus provided us with the new covenant that supersedes that of the Mosaic covenant. Christians believe that Jesus was both a man and the embodiment of God. And they believe that his crucifixion and death were actually a religious sacrifice to return for humanity’s sins.
They believe that if a person accepts these beliefs as truths, their sins are atoned for and they are granted eternal life. This is what is considered the new covenant. And many Christians believe that his sermon on the Mount was a declaration of the new laws, in an act that was similar to Moses reading the Mosaic comfort covenant at the Mount Sinai.
Jews believe that there is only one covenant, the Mosaic one. They believe that the way to fulfill the covenant is to maintain a constant relationship between the individual and God. And they do this through prayer three times a day and study.
They also believe that so long as they do this and fulfill their part of the covenant, God will fulfill his part and bring about an era of peace for their people. They believe that living a faithful life full of good deeds and works is an end in itself, not a means to something else, such as eternal life.
Christians refer to the Hebrew books as “the Old Testament”, while Jews refer to the New Testament as “the Christian Bible” or “the Christian Testament”. Christians don’t believe the Jewish law or texts have any authority over them, and Jews don’t believe that Christian beliefs or texts have any authority over their own. Also, Jews completely reject the idea that the New Testament or covenant supersedes the Mosaic covenant or that it fulfills their covenant.
Differences in Religious Practices and Texts
While both religions believe in a need to atone for sins, they each go about it differently. Jews atone for sin by praying, making sacrifices, performing religious acts, and seeking mercy from God. Christians atone for sins by repenting and being baptized.
There is also a fundamental difference and why people from both religions do good deeds and live the good life. Christians do these things with the hope that they will be rewarded for the deeds and get to go to heaven. Jews on the other hand, focus on living a rich, full spiritual life and don’t focus on a spiritual afterlife.
Many Jews abide by kosher food restrictions, religious dress codes, and perform strict religious ceremonies as each of these laws are laid out in the Torah. Christians really do none of these things, as they are all laws that were under the Old Testament.
In both religions, the Old Testament or Torah is regarded as the word of God. But there are some core distinctions between these two religious texts, other than just the New Testament. Christians regard only the written text as their Bible, while Jews regard both written and oral traditions. These include the Torah and the Talmud.
Aside from that, the text of the Old Testament and the Torah are pretty much the same. The difference comes and how the different books are separated. In the Christian Old Testament, there are 39 books, while the Torah contains around 24. This is because the books are split differently.
Nehemiah and Ezra are combined as one book in the Torah. And while Christians have one book for each of the 12 minor prophets, the Jews have one book that contains them all. The Christian Bible splits the books of Chronicles, Kings, and Samuel into two, and the Torah they are one book each but, though the information is presented differently, it is still the same information that is being presented.
Who Killed Jesus?
People have debated who was responsible for Jesus’s death for centuries. For a long time, many Christians blamed the Jews for his death. This is based on the wording of biblical scriptures. For instance, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, washed his hands of the decision to either execute Jesus or not. But the Christian Bible says that all of the people told him, “His blood be on us and on our children.”
So in many Christians eyes, the Jewish people egged on Pontius Pilate, which resulted in the death of their Savior. As one could imagine, this led to a lot of discrimination against the Jewish people on the Christian’s behalf. Nevermind the fact that the decision was ultimately in the hands of Pontius Pilate, or the fact that crucifixion was a Roman style of execution and not a Jewish one.
This cost so much hostility between the two groups that the Vatican made a decree in 1965 called the “Nostra Aetate“, which is Latin for “in our time”. The document basically stated that the Jews were not the ones responsible for Jesus’s death, and was an attempt to bring peace between the Christians and the Jews regarding the subject.
Intersections Between Judaism and Christianity
With so many similarities between the two religions, it’s easy to see how some people could believe some things from both. This actually happens more often than people realize. Some Jews hold Christian beliefs, while some Christians hold Jewish beliefs. These intersecting beliefs are generally frowned upon by both religions, but have gained more popularity in recent years.
There are a branch of Jews with some Christian beliefs which people refer to as “Jews for Jesus.” The technical term for this branch is “Messianic Jews.” Some of these people were born Jewish, and they adhere to other Jewish laws, rituals, and beliefs, with one exception. Messianic Jews believe that Jesus Christ is the Messiah. These Jews are not seen as Jews by the Jewish community. To be clear, if a Jewish person rejects a Jewish belief or practice, that doesn’t make them any less Jewish. But the Messianic Jews’ beliefs conflict with the core beliefs of Judaism.
Just as there are “Jews for Jesus”, there are “Christians for the Torah”. This is a view in the minority and of Christian faith called Christian Torah-submission. These Christians believe that the Mosaic law still stands and that those who follow the new covenant must follow the Mosaic law too. They believe that anyone following the new covenant must adhere to the old laws, regardless of if they are Jew or Gentile, because all of God’s laws and commandments are not only good, but everlasting.
It is generally accepted that Christianity evolved from Second Temple Judaism, and that Judaism is the oldest monotheistic religion. So when you consider that, it’s not surprising that there are a lot of similarities between the two religions. There are a lot of parallels between their core beliefs, which is what leads to the intersecting branches of both, such as Messianic Jews and Christian Torah-submission.
But, as anyone of either beliefs can tell you, there are a lot of differences as well. These differences have led to a lot of hostility between the two over the years. But, when reading writings such as this, it is important to observe each religion from an objective standpoint. It’s not that either religion is wrong, or that either is right. They simply just differ.