Jews as chosen people
February 22, 2005 9:53 AM   Subscribe

God is pretty clear that the Jews are his chosen people, how do Christians reconcile this with the basic tenet of the faith, namely the acceptance of Christ?
posted by Keith Talent to Religion & Philosophy (42 answers total)
I'm not a religious scholar, but didn't Christ also teach that everyone should be loved, and that the way to God is through acceptance of him, and through living as Christ does?

Or, are you saying that because God chose one type of people, supposedly, that means all others are ineligible?
posted by odinsdream at 9:58 AM on February 22, 2005

No, I mean that according to Christianity, you cannot be "saved" without the acceptance of Christ, yet God says the Jews are "chosen", yet they do not accept Christ. I guess it depends what you assume "chosen" means. I'd find any definition of "chosen" that doesn't include the final reward of eternal life dubious though.

I'm looking for someone to explain how these two thing that are at odds can be explained within the context of Christian beliefs.
posted by Keith Talent at 10:08 AM on February 22, 2005

I'm guessing you earn your Jew credentials upon accepting both the Old and New Testaments at the same time.
posted by basicchannel at 10:10 AM on February 22, 2005

I think you're talking about the exact rift between Judaism and Christianity. The original Christians were jews who believed J.C. was the messiah. The rest of jewry wasn't convinced, so the Christians broke off and became a new sect, which eventually developed into a full-fledged religion.

A similar process happened more recently between Islam and Baha'i.
posted by me3dia at 10:17 AM on February 22, 2005

Christians believe that Jews were God's chosen people, but that changed in the early days of the Church. Peter had a vision in which he was offered unclean animals (i.e. animals that Jews were not permitted by law to eat, Leviticus 11) and told "arise, kill and eat." When he protested, he was told not to call anything impure that God has made clean. Shortly thereafter, servants from a Gentile named Cornelius arrived to bring Peter back to preach to their master. The implication was clear: the Gospel, and salvation, was to go to all the world, not just Gentiles. See Acts 10.

Jews don't believe Jesus was the Messiah and thus they are still the chosen people.
posted by kindall at 10:17 AM on February 22, 2005

"The chosen people" refers to the people that were chosen to receive the law (the Torah). For Jews, a right standing with God is created by keeping the law. Jesus created a new way to establish a right standing with God, belief and acceptance of Jesus as lord and savior.

In Galatians, Paul argues strongly against members of the church being circumcised (which is central to the Jewish law) because it represents a misunderstanding of what Jesus's sacrifice. It should seem obvious that if Paul was arguing against it, that this was not the only view in early christianity, and early groups like the Ebonites almost certainly viewed Paul and his ilk as heretics who were abandoning the law. Of course they lost out (as well as groups like the marionettes, who thought the Jewish god and the Christian god were altogether separate), and the Christian faith is built around a Pauline theology in which by dying on the cross, Jesus has fulfilled the law.

Oh, and I'm a non-practicing, Jewish, Atheist, but it is an area of interest for me.
posted by cosmonaught at 10:18 AM on February 22, 2005

Damn spellcheck, that was supposed to be Marcionites, not marionettes.
posted by cosmonaught at 10:20 AM on February 22, 2005

Different sects of Christianity deal with this. Current (and rather recent) Roman Catholic doctrine, for example, seems to be that God's covenent with the Jews is still valid - and that the Christian covenent is simply parallel to that.
posted by kickingtheground at 10:39 AM on February 22, 2005

Yes, the prevailing christian dogma is that J.C. renegotiated the contract between God and people, such that many clauses in the old contract are no longer valid.
posted by Capn at 10:40 AM on February 22, 2005

They don't. There are deep, irreconcilable tensions between the Old and New Testaments that Christianity cannot convincingly resolve.
posted by ori at 10:42 AM on February 22, 2005

This is one of those things that go back and forth. I think, for a long while, the general opinion was that Judaism "finished" with the arrival of the Messiah/Christ and the original convenant was ended. Many people still argue this. Others believe the old convenant is still valid but is irrelevant (to non-Jews), for everybody else it's the new convenant with Christ that's where it's at.
posted by nixerman at 10:47 AM on February 22, 2005

Jews don't believe Jesus was the Messiah

yes, and rightly so, from their perspective. the moshiach issue is pretty tricky if one is not careful -- to believe in the future coming of the moshiach is on one hand an integral part of traditional Jewish faith (even if no explicit mention whatsoever of a moshiach appears in the Torah -- the first 5 books of the Bible for those of you who missed school that day -- hence some scholars argue that the whole messianic concept appeared later in the history of Judaism).

BUT on the other hand the moshiach, ie anointed one (messiah or kristòs -- ancient kings were anointed with oil) means one thing for the Jews, for Christians means entirely another.

The moshiach in Jewish theology is no savior who's got to die as agnus dei -- God's lamb -- to cleanse sin from the world -- for the Jews he is a political leader, a king, the king who'll lead Israel to her final triumph. The whole idea of a divine being (let's not even start on the Nicene creed) free of sin who sacrifices himself is entirely a Christian concept -- a concept, funnily enough, that began after Jesus himself had been murdered. that's the Christian messiah, and most Jews are actually wary of the word "messiah" itself because it became something else in Christian hands. so they prefer the -- more elegant, I think -- moshiach.

anyway let's hear it from somebody who knows what he's talking about:

The Meaning of Being Chosen by Rabbi David Wolpe

for a fundy Protestant Xian perspective see this:

The Chosen People Puzzle
When it comes to relating to the Jewish people, should we dialogue, cooperate, or evangelize?
posted by matteo at 10:52 AM on February 22, 2005

How's this for an explanation:

The "chosen people" were called "Jews." Jesus came along and the "chosen people" started following Jesus and became called "Christians." Thus, the modern "Jews" are different from the historic "Jews" in the sense that the modern "Jews" are not actually the "chosen people." In a sense, at the most basic level, modern "Christians" are the real "Jews" if you call the "Jews" the "chosen people."

This same thing could happen tomorrow if a man called himself "John Smith" was thought to be the second coming. The followers of "John Smith," formerly called "Christians," would now be called "Smithians" and would be different than other "Christians" who did not accept "John Smith." The "Christians" and the "Jews" would each, individually, continue saying that they are the "chosen people" per the logic in the above paragraph, BUT the "Smithians" would also have theological grounds to call themselves the "chosen people."
posted by crazy finger at 10:58 AM on February 22, 2005

oh, and being among Americans it's always prudent to point out that the whole "accept Jesus as personal savior to be a Christian" is a Fundamentalist Protestant catchphrase, and a relatively newer one at that. you can belong to most mainstream branches of Christianity (Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, many Protestant denominations, etc) without even bothering with the "personal savior" thing.
but if you're prone to imbibe alcohol and inhale drugs, it will help you in politics. if you're American. that I concede
posted by matteo at 10:59 AM on February 22, 2005

You may not need to accept Jesus as personal savior but you still need to accept him as savior. In my opinion that is the major seperation between Judiasm and Cristianity, the transition from right action to right belief (Apostles' Creed, for example).
posted by cosmonaught at 11:07 AM on February 22, 2005

For every point of doctrine on which multiple opinions are possible, there is a sect of Protestants that split off from some mother church over a difference of interpretation, as this thread demonstrates. The Christians I grew up with believed that following Jesus was the right way to salvation, and that Jews would be better off if they converted, but considered them to still be the Chosen People; kind of grandfathered in via the original contract with Abraham.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:08 AM on February 22, 2005

Entire reply deleted, kudos emailed to kindall, matteo et al.
posted by dash_slot- at 11:08 AM on February 22, 2005

Two common, usually complementary takes on this, which I will attempt to uneloquently summarize:

(1) The Jews were a people chosen specifically because it was from them that the Messiah would come. The whole line of Adam to Abraham to Judah to David, and so on, was specifically to bring forth Jesus as the son of a kingly heritage.

(2) "Israel" is a sign for the church, ("sign" in the typological sense) so that a lot of prophecy in both testaments concerning "Israel" could be liberally interpreted by modern theologians to refer to the Christian Church. (Myself, I sometimes wonder if the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah are not paralleled by the schism between Romanism and Protestantism. Just idle speculation.)
posted by brownpau at 11:20 AM on February 22, 2005

Two main views on this topic:

Supersessionism (in my experience, the more widely held view)
-- and --
Dispensationalism (the bit about their beliefs on Jews/Israel is maybe a third of the way down)
posted by AmaAyeRrsOonN at 11:32 AM on February 22, 2005

Coming from a Catholic background, I think it is also important to note that Jesus was the fulfillment of the scriptures. The whole idea behind his Last Supper was to finish the Cedar Meal using His own blood for the fourth cup and final cup. Thus, He was fulfilling the covenant that had begun between God and Moses and is now fulfilled in Jesus. Think about it this way: as Jew, a central idea if the covenant between as God and His people as carried out through Moses in the OT. Now, the covenant has simply been transferred from Moses to Jesus. In the former case, it makes no sense not believe what happened between God and Moses didn't because that would defeat a large portion of Judaism. Same with with Christianity where I see the fulfillment of the scriptures which Jesus completes. It is important to note that without Judaism, Christianity would be far from complete.
posted by jmd82 at 1:46 PM on February 22, 2005

capn wrote: the prevailing christian dogma is that J.C. renegotiated the contract between God and people, such that many clauses in the old contract are no longer valid.

what was renegotiated? which clauses in the old contract are no longer valid?

ori wrote: There are deep, irreconcilable tensions between the Old and New Testaments that Christianity cannot convincingly resolve.

like what?
posted by RockyChrysler at 2:12 PM on February 22, 2005

Hope this isn't too off-topic/unhelpful, but this discussion reminds me of an old SatireWire piece:
"Oh Shit," Say Jews

Jerusalem ( Update — Jews, whose troubled, 10,000-year term as God's "chosen people" finally expired last night, woke up this morning to find that they had once again been hand-picked by the Almighty. Synagogues across the globe declared a day of mourning.

Asked if the descendants of Abraham shouldn't be pleased about being tapped for an unprecedented second term, Jerusalem Rabbi Ben Meyerson shrugged. "Of course, you are right, we should be thrilled," he said. "We should also enjoy a good swift kick in the head, but for some reason, we don't..."
posted by Asparagirl at 2:22 PM on February 22, 2005

A venerable Jewish anecdote describes a man hired by his shtetl to sit at the outskirts of town and alert his brethren should he see the messiah coming. When asked why he had accepted such a monotonous form of employment, the watchman would invariably reply: "The pay's not so good, but it's a lifetime job." This expectation of a tarrying messiah has always been uniquely Jewish. Redemption and the Power of Man, by Meir Soloveichik
posted by semmi at 2:33 PM on February 22, 2005

Some pertinent verses from Paul's letter to the Romans:

Romans 3:1-2: What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, they have been entrusted with the very words of God.

Romans 4:2-3,13-16: If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” ... It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring–not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.

So far as my evangelical Christian upbringing and 2 years in Bible college have led me to understand it, the Jews were chosen to receive the law and bear the Messiah. However, salvation has never come through the law but through faith, and the whole salvation-through-faith-in-Jesus thing is the new and improved version of that.

I've always gotten the sense that the Jews were always getting in trouble with God in the Old Testament, being called a stiff-necked people and nearly getting disowned (or actually temporarily disowned), being compared to whores (in a spiritual sense, of course!), and that God got fed up and decided to make a new plan. Of course the implications of God's plan not being very good in the first place (given Paul's interpretation that the law directly results in sin, not salvation) was enough to get me started down a path of questions that resulted in ... atheism! Ta da!

Anyways, let us not forget the Christians who look forward to the mass conversion of the Jews that will usher in the return of Christ (and Armageddon, w00t!).
posted by heatherann at 2:43 PM on February 22, 2005

Great thread! I just want to point out that Jewish expectation of the moshiach is in many respects paralleled by Shi'ite expectation of the mahdi. As me3dia says, the Baha'i are an offshoot of this tradition; so is the Ahmadiyya sect. Eschatology is fun, and divisive too!
posted by languagehat at 3:32 PM on February 22, 2005

God made the Hebrews the chosen people, not the Jews, who as such would not exist for many years to come.

The chosen were designated that way because as the descendants and followers of Abraham, they were the ones who (according to the Torah) believed in the one true god. One of the key ways that the Hebrews showed their 'correct' belief was by their insistence that there was only one god and that he could not be represented by any material thing.

To accept the idea that god has partly manifested himself in human form is itself a big step away from those early Hebraic ideas. So, if you believe that Jesus was the son of god, then you also believe that the whole idea of the chosen people is pretty much obsolete anyway. In theory, at least.
posted by bingo at 4:19 PM on February 22, 2005

what about the mass murderer who accepts christ as his savior? as opposed to the innocent agnostic child he kills?

which one goes to heaven? both? neither?
posted by specialk420 at 5:27 PM on February 22, 2005

I don't think that God has ponied up the $5 to post here yet, spK.
posted by spock at 7:18 PM on February 22, 2005

specialk420, the mass murderer. Faith, not works. All have sinned and deserve to go to hell, heaven is only for those who accept Jesus' sacrifice. Oh, and due to the hereditary sin nature, there aren't any innocent kids. Nice, eh?
posted by heatherann at 8:02 PM on February 22, 2005

Off-topic (my apologies) but waiting 8 comments to award a best answer on a subject that people are still replying to seems pretty fucking stupid.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:16 PM on February 22, 2005

I think people are putting to much emphasis on the phrase 'chosen people'. The term 'chosen people' is that Jews were chosen and are now obligated to follow out g-d's commandments in the Old Testament (ie the 613 mitzvot), not that Jews (and only Jews) will be allowed to enter 'the world to come'. In fact non-Jews are merely obligated to follow the 7 Noahide Laws to be a 'righteous gentile' in order to be just as qualified to enter the afterlife as any ultra-religous, totally observant Jew.
posted by PenDevil at 12:38 AM on February 23, 2005

It was really Paul's decision, nothing to do with Jesus. There's no suggestion of in the pre-Pauline writings.

Paul's followers emerged early on as one of the dominant Christian sects (which is believed to have been responsible for violently wiping out some of the others), and his ideas became the ones that got fed into modern Christianity.
posted by monkey closet at 1:13 AM on February 23, 2005

"God"? Oh, you mean that god Jehovah. My gods never chose any particular tribe of earthlings.

Seriously—am I the only one offended by this question? Is it not common courtesy, when discussing matters of religion in a public forum, to preface a remark like "God is pretty clear that the Jews are his chosen people" with something like "My religion teaches that..."?
posted by bricoleur at 4:19 AM on February 23, 2005

God is pretty clear that the Jews are his chosen people

Sez you. No book, no matter how old, and no matter how many people believe it can convince me that the invisible pink unicorn on the moon doesn't love us all equally. Besides, if the Jews were chosen for anything, it was to be amazingly gifted comics artists.
posted by Scoo at 7:40 AM on February 23, 2005

"God is pretty clear . . ."

This seems to be a new use of the word "clear." Do you, by any chance, work for USANext?
posted by yesster at 7:52 AM on February 23, 2005

For the benefit of the last few commenters/snarkers:

note: Ask MetaFilter is as useful as you make it. Please limit comments to answers or help in finding an answer. Wisecracks don't help people find answers. Thanks.

posted by languagehat at 8:06 AM on February 23, 2005

Very well LH,

My answer is that the Jews are not the "chosen people", and that the acceptance of Christ, or any supreme being is not necessary to lead a useful, spiritually fulfilled life. Had Keith phrased his question more carefully (he presumes to know God's will) I would not have made my by case cracking wise. If he throws underhand, can you blame me for swinging for the fences?

Besides, my claim of IPU on the moon just as valid as any other theory pertaining to the existence of super-beings and their motives, not to mention vastly more inclusive and fair than either Judaism or Christianity.
posted by Scoo at 9:18 AM on February 23, 2005

I wasn't snarking. The original post was offensive, and I was just calling it. I'm surprised (and disappointed) that no one had already done so.
posted by bricoleur at 11:08 AM on February 23, 2005

I think everyone pretty much assumed that "According to the Old Testament" was prefixed to the beginning of the question...
posted by PenDevil at 6:56 AM on February 24, 2005

I think everyone pretty much assumed...

Well, not everyone, obviously. The majority, possibly—since the majority probably consists of Christians, Jews, and apathetic agnostics. But suppose, for a moment, that you were religious yet did not believe in the Judeo-Christian god. You don't think you'd be justifiably offended by the arrogance of the opening claim? You don't think you'd feel an obligation to point it out?

I do apologize to everyone if, in fact, I am being overly sensitive about this, but I don't think I am.
posted by bricoleur at 2:29 PM on February 24, 2005

I agree with PenDevil. While we are not told that the God being spoken of is directly out of the OT, the later half of the questions certainly puts questionable former part into perspective.
posted by jmd82 at 11:05 PM on February 24, 2005

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