Pentecost vs Shavuot – by Jim

You write that Christianity and Judaism both rely upon faith, and, if I understand you correctly, this seems to mean to you that the Jew has no room to critique the Christian faith. This reflects a poor understanding of Torah, an understanding that has been built up from the mistakes of the Church. In this comment, I intend to show the difference between the two “faiths” and why they are essentially different.

You write that Christianity and Judaism both rely upon faith, and, if I understand you correctly, this seems to mean to you that the Jew has no room to critique the Christian faith. This reflects a poor understanding of Torah, an understanding that has been built up from the mistakes of the Church. In this comment, I intend to show the difference between the two “faiths” and why they are essentially different. I will do this by comparing the Sinai experience to the corresponding Christian event, Pentecost.

But first allow me to say that the Torah observant Jew is uniquely qualified to speak to the truth or falsity of Christianity. This is because the Christian scriptures affirm the truth of the Jewish scriptures. This means that Christianity’s teachings must align with Tanach. Any deviation therefrom is a point where Christianity proves itself false. These are not two entirely separate and competing religions, each drawing upon their own prophets. The Church appends its works to Tanach, and therefore one may critique the teachings of the Church by the Jewish scriptures.

By way of analogy, I invite you to consider the claims of Joseph Smith. According to him, he was a prophet who received certain scriptures that can be said to complete the Christian canon. Because his teachings do not wholly align themselves with any of the traditional branches of Christianity, the Christian is well-equipped to declare the Book of Mormon and The Pearl of Great Price to be false. Their teachings do not match the NT when they claim to do so, making the NT a good standard whereby to test Mormon scripture and doctrine. The Mormon might say to you that just as God can raise a man in secret, so can he reveal a body of scripture to his prophet in private, that you and he must both rely upon faith. But you would be able to respond that anything revealed to a prophet must agree with previous revelation, with the NT that the Mormon also affirms to be true, and therefore you have good grounds for critiquing the teachings of Joseph Smith and subsequent prophets of the Church of Latter Day Saints.

Please forgive me for the following statement, which I fear will be offensive; it is meant in a purely descriptive sense, and is not meant to be inflammatory or insulting. Your comment reveals insufficient reflection regarding the grounds upon which Torah and the claims of the Church are to be accepted. The claims are of a rather different nature. Torah is not accepted upon the kind of faith that is taught in the NT. Torah appeals to the collective experience of the Jewish people at Sinai. This is quite different from the claim of the NT, which praises the faith of those that had no direct experience of the resurrection. Jesus praises those that have blind faith, when he says to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those that have not seen and yet have come to believe” (Jn. 20:29).

In this, the claims of Jesus and Joseph Smith and virtually any other founding prophets of various religions are similar—they are untestable. These men and women have private experiences of a divine nature. Because the experiences are private, it is exceedingly difficult to determine if they happened or not. Anybody is able to say that last night they heard from God or an angel or what-have-you. It is impossible that anyone can be obligated to put their faith in such a prophet, because to give credence to one, he must give credence to all despite their conflicting messages.

Imagine please, the following scenario. A man has two neighbors, Peter and Joe. Peter comes to the man one morning and says, “I heard from God last night, and he says that you are to follow the commandments he has given to me to give to you. You are to acknowledge me as His prophet, and you are to sell your house and give me the proceeds.” Surely the man must have some doubts that Peter heard from God. He most likely asks why God did not deliver this message to him. But perhaps he believes Peter. Perhaps Peter performs a compelling magic trick, and Peter believes this could only have been done by the hand of God. Then Joe comes to him, claiming to be God’s true prophet, that the man is to follow Joe and not Peter, and that the man should sell his house and deliver the proceeds up to Joe. And he too performs a convincing magic trick. At this point, the man is in a bit of a dilemma. He has no means to differentiate the one prophet from the other. Both make claims to his obedience and his property. This is the scenario that you have imagined when you said that both Judaism and Christianity relied upon faith. But Judaism’s claim in unlike Christianity’s claim.

It is true that the resurrection is like the unverifiable prophecy of Peter or Joe. Jesus claimed that he would be resurrected after three days. And, of course, the Church claims that this is exactly what happened. But this event was a private event, seen by few individuals. It was not publicized. Jesus did not make himself known. He did not walk the streets of Jerusalem. After forty days, Jesus floated into the sky. In all that time, his resurrection was not made known publicly, nor did Jesus reveal himself publicly.

Ten days after Jesus disappeared, his disciples announced that in fact Jesus had returned from the dead precisely as he said he would. But, of course, the disciples were unable to produce a live body. That would have been remarkable. One might then have thought that Jesus was a prophet. But no Jesus appeared. The new converts had to “just have faith.” They had to take Peter’s word for it. This happened on Pentecost, fifty days after Jesus died, and it corresponded to Shavuot.

But Shavuot and Pentecost could not be more different. On Shavuot, at Sinai, nobody had to “just have faith.” They did not have to “take Moses’ word” that he heard from God. Please read Exodus 19 and 20. The entire nation heard God speak. For a moment, they were all prophets. This is how they knew that God spoke to Moses, through their own prophetic experience, a shared prophetic experience. On top of that, the nation agreed that Moses should be a prophet: “When all the people witnessed the thunder and the lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die” (Ex. 20:19).

So, we have two events, Pentecost and Shavuot. On the one, Jesus fails to prove his prophecy. One is asked to believe the resurrection happened anyway. So desperate has the Church been to convince people of the resurrection, that it has tried to shift the burden of proof onto the shoulders of those that do not believe. They ask why the Jewish leadership never produced a body. Do not let the Church distract you with this empty rhetoric. The responsibility to produce a body was those that claimed it was up and walking around. It was up to Jesus to produce himself as a living, breathing, resurrected person. This did not happen, but the Church teaches one must believe or burn in hell. On the other event, the entire nation verified the prophecy of Moses first hand. Nor did the Jewish people seek to convince those that never heard God speak at Sinai. Those that believed at Pentecost had insufficient reason to do so, while those that believed at Sinai had sure knowledge.

Please consider that you have badly misunderstood the Sinai event and have not properly differentiated it from the founding events of other religions. Moses is not like Peter and Joe above. His verified claim to prophecy is unlike the unverified resurrection. Torah observance is based upon a public event, the knowledge of which has been preserved by the community for thousands of years. Christianity preaches faith precisely because it has no such public event. The word faith means something entirely different within Christianity than it does in Judaism. It is a gamble, an affirmation of the unknown and unknowable. Judaism, the Torah, does not teach one to gamble for his soul.


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Pentecost vs Shavuot – by Jim

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