Can a Jew “believe in Jesus” and Not be “a Christian”? Most Christians would say “No,” because they commonly teach that “All you have to do to become ‘a Christian’ is ‘to believe in Jesus’.” However, these same Christians really do not know their own history. Christianity did not begin with the birth, life, and ministry of the Galilean Jewish Rebbe, Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus), nor did it begin in the Upper Room in Acts 2, as I was taught growing up. It began as a Second -Temple Israeli Jewish movement, but after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, many of the Gentile (non-Jewish) believers broke away from Israel and the Jewish people, and began to mold and shape themselves into a new religion, called “Christianity.” Unfortunately, Mainstream Judaism has also bought into this line that “believing in Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus)” makes one “a Christian,” and they, therefore, believe that any Jew who believes in Him then “is no longer a Jew.” However, as I will show, this is not true. The fact is that just because a Jewish man or woman believes in Yeshua as the long-awaited Messiah of Isra’el, that belief does not make one “a Christian” as I will show.
Yeshua – A Second-Temple Israeli Jew?
The problem comes in that history has been written “by the winners – not the losers.” The fact is that Yeshua and His eighty-two disciples [yes, there were eighty-two (82) of them – not twelve (12)!] were not “Christians” at all – but Second Temple Israeli Jews, just as the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls were also Second-Temple Israeli Jews. So how does believing in a Second-Temple Israeli Jew who lived and practiced “mainstream Judaism” of the time as the “promised Jewish Messiah” make you no longer “a Jew”? I am still trying to wrap my head around that one.
The Original Disciples and Paul – Not “Christians”?
Also, His eighty-two disciples (The Twelve and the Seventy, Luke 10:1), which does not count the women and children who also traveled around with Him were not “Christians,” since the word “Christian” did not even exist at all during His lifetime. Also, the word “Christian” did not even come into existence until almost halfway through the book of Acts (Acts 11:26). Furthermore, when it did come into existence, it was used as a derogatory slur – a sarcastic taunt or insult – by nonbelieving Syrians for those Syrians who had come to belief in this “new Jewish Messiah.” It then spread rapidly throughout the Roman empire. Also, the word “Christian” is only used in the entire New Testament only THREE TIMES (Acts 11:26; 26:28;
I Peter 4:16). And in those three times, it is used as an insult, in much the same way as the phrase “Jesus Freak” was used in the United States for those who came to faith in the same “Jewish Messiah” by Hippies and street people during the 1960s and 70s. But there is not one example in the New Testament, where this word “Christian” is ever used by the disciples for themselves, but it is always being used by others.
Paul – A Leader of the N’tzarim?
The Jewish religious leaders didn’t even refer to Sha’ul Paulus (Paul) as a “Christian,” even though the word was known by that time; instead, they called him “the leader of the N’tzarim (mistranslated into English as “Nazarene”, see Acts 24:5);” this Hebrew word means “branchites” or “branch people,” because they were always referring to those prophecies in the Tanakh concerning “the Branch,” an image for the Messiah that is used in several prophecies of the Tanakh, or what Christians have been erroneously taught to call the “Old Testament.”
The Original Movement – HaDerekh?
The believing Pharisee, Sha’ul Paulus (Paul), referred to them SIX TIMES as “The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19: 9, 9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22), which in Hebrew is HaDerekh, and I believe this was a shortened version of the phrase, HaDerekh Adonai (“The Way of the LORD”), which is seen and used in Acts 18:25, as well as several places throughout the Tanakh, going all the way back to Abraham (Genesis 18:19; Judges 2:22; 2 Samuel 2:22; 2 Kings 21:22; Proverbs 10:29; Isaiah 40:3; Jeremiah 5:4-5; Ezekiel 18: 25, 29; 33: 17, 20). And I believe they used this phrase as a name for themselves to indicate the centrality of the Tanakh to both their identity and their beliefs.
HaDerekh – Zealous Jews for the Torah?
And what were these Jewish disciples like who made up this original Second-Temple Israeli movement, and even a few of them even wrote what is now called the “New Testament”? Ya’acov (Jacob), or what is translated as “James,” who was the head of the Jerusalem congregation, describes them as “ALL zealous for the Torah” (Acts 21:20), so even though there were some who did not begin that way, once they got to know Yeshua and His family, they became very zealous.
HaDerekh & the Chassidim?
Recently, I was reading Chaim Potok’s book, Wanderings: Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews, regarding the life of Rabbi Isra’el Eliezer, better known as Ba’al Shem Tov (“Master of the Good Name”), the founder of the Chassidic movement, and I was amazed that I saw so many similarities between the lives of Rabbi Eliezer and Yeshua:
- Both of them were born and raised among the poor, suffering, and struggling of their respective Jewish communities.
- Both of them reached out to everyone in the Jewish community, the mainstream and those that were not accepted by the mainstream.
- Both of them were looked down upon by the religious leaders as being “uneducated” and “unlearned.”
- Although the Rabbi Eliezer, i.e., Ba’al Shem Tov, did not write anything down, and all we know about him is from “an oral tradition set down in writing more than fifty years after his death,” according to the early Church historian, Eusebius, in his Ecclesiatical History, the Yeshua (Jesus) wrote a short letter to a Gentile (non-Jewish) prince, named Agabus, who offered him safety and shelter from those who had been threatening His life. (Book 1, Chapter 13)
- Both of them were known as “faith healers,”
- Both of them wandered as they taught and trained disciples.
- Both of them loved to tell stories.
- Both were charismatic leaders but neither one was ordained as “a rabbi,” but they were each called “Rabbi” by their disciples.
- Both taught about the compassionate God who loved His people; and
- Both of their communities grew rapidly and expanded after their death.
Not only did they have these things in common, but their movement were both persecuted by the
mainstream Jews, and one Jew in particular, for example, HaDerekh, Yeshua’s movement, was persecuted by the Pharisee Sha’ul (Saul) of Tarsus, and the Chassidim, Rabbi Eliezer’s group, was persecuted by Rabbi Elijah of Vilna. Just as Sha’ul saw the HaDerekh movement within the Judaism in his day as dangerous, so Rabbi Elijah saw the Chassidic movement as dangerous in his time. For example, according to Chaim Potok, Rabbi Elijah regarded –
- Hasidic ecstasy and enthusiasm, the reports of miracles and visions of its leaders, as menacing delusions and not unlike pagan worship of mortal beings (467);
- Hasidic emphasis on prayer a serious threat to the importance of Torah study (467).
- Hasidic adoption of certain Sephardic prayers and their insistence upon the use of specifically sharpened knives for ritual slaughter – since Hasidim would not eat the meat from animals slaughtered by rabbinically approved slaughterers; therefore, Rabbi Elijah of Vilna regarded all these actions as a flouting of rabbinic authority. (467)
Interestingly, mainstream Judaism asserts a “pagan connection” in the teachings of the HaDerekh movement, just like Rabbi Elijah of Vilna accused the Chassidic movement. In both cases, they were wrong. But in being willing to reach out to everyone – great and small – within the Jewish communities outside of Isra’el, Yeshua and the Ba’al Shem Tov were also very much like the more recent Chassidic Lubavitch leader, Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson (April 5, 1902 – June 12, 1994).
So What Happened?
On his way to Jerusalem for, hopefully, the day of Shavuot/Pentecost, he stopped off at Miletus, to say his farewell to the congregational leaders in and around Ephesus, he included in his farewell, the following prophetic warning:
I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of THREE YEARS I did not cease to admonish each one with TEARS. (Acts 20:29-31)
Sha’il Paulus (Paul) knew the heart of these Gentile (non-Jewish) believers, and he knew that once he was no longer “in the picture” (after his death) that change would come to the movement. He saw it coming from two directions: one from outside of the communities and one from the leadership itself. He says that these men would speak “perverse” things, which would “draw away the disciples after them.” The word translated as “perverse” is the Greek word diastrepho [G1294], which means, “misinterpret, or (mor.) corrupt: turn away.”
The Destruction of Jerusalem & the Temple
And, in fact, Sha’ul Paulus’ (Paul’s) prophecy came to pass just two years after he was martyred in Rome. In May 70 C.E., according to Potok’s book, Wanderings, four Roman legions and their auxiliaries, surrounded and attacked the city of Jerusalem. By the end of May, they had breached the northern section of the city, and in the first days of July, they had built a siege wall around the city to starve out the remaining defenders. He writes, “The city became a horror of famine and death. The dead were thrown over the wall into the valleys below and lay unburied” (293).
By August 6, the daily sacrifice had ceased and by the middle of August, the porticoes of the Temple were burned, and by the end of August, the Temple was penetrated by the Roman legionaries. By the end of September, Jerusalem and the Temple were completely destroyed, and those people who were not killed or had starved to death were led away in procession to Rome where many of them were either sold as slaves or used to augment “the coliseum games.”
The Misinterpretation Begins
It was sometime after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple that the Gentile (non-Jewish) believers saw its destruction as a sign from God that He had turned His back on Isra’el and the Jewish people, including the Jewish disciples. They began to see themselves as “the New Israel,” the “New People of God,” and so they said that from now on, they would get all of the blessings and the Jews would only get the curses. To re-affirm this belief, they also began to teach that the “New Testament” (representing Christianity) has replaced the “Old Testament” (which they believed represented Isra’el). This belief is known as “Supersessionism” or “Replacement Theology,” and it has caused more death and destruction than any belief in human history, including the Inquisition, the various Pogroms, and even the Holocaust.
Christianity’s Historic Origin
These Gentile believers, who were called “Christians” by others had begun to accept the title for themselves, and they broke away from Second Temple Israel and the Jewish people, and they began to mold and shape themselves into their own religion, called “Christianity.” In addition, they began to strip themselves of anything that would connect them to Israel, including the Sabbath, the biblical feasts, the dietary laws, and circumcision. We know this from the “Letter to the Magnesians,” written by Ignatius, who was bishop of Antioch, who was bishop from 98 – 117 C.E. For example, Ignatius wrote,
For if we CONTINUE to live in accordance with Judaism, we admit that we have not received grace. (Lightfoot & Harmer, trans., The Apostolic Fathers, 2nd ed., 95)
And again, in the same letter, he writes,
If, then, those who had lived in antiquated practices came to newness of hope, NO LONGER KEEPING THE SABBATH but living in accordance with the Lord’s day, on which our life also rose through him and his death (which some deny)….(95)
These statements prove that the early movement which Yeshua actually helped begin was an Orthodox Second Temple Israeli Jewish movement. These “Christians” broke away from the early movement, and they molded and shaped themselves into their own religion, which they named “Christianity.”
The Messianic Movement – “A Restoration” & “A Bridge”?
Thus, the Messianic Jewish Movement is a RESTORATION of the Original Second Temple Israeli Movement, and it is also, what I often compare to A BRIDGE that expands and connects two distinct islands of thought: Judaism and Christianity. Therefore, I would argue that one’s belief in Yeshua as the long-awaited promised Messiah, and His death and resurrection does not automatically make one “a Christian,” but it places one on the “Messianic Bridge,” and it does not denote which end of the “Bridge” one is actually standing on that “Bridge.”
On the “Bridge,” there are “Messianics” – who are both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) – who identify their primary faith as “Christianity,” and there are “Messianics,” who are both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) who identify their primary faith as being Judaism, whether they call themselves “Messianic Jews” or “Messianic Judaists” (like me). There is a whole spectrum of people from “Christians” who have an interest in their Jewish roots to Ultra-Orthodox Jews who have an interest in who Yeshua (“Jesus”) is. Again, your faith in Yeshua only places you on the “Bridge,” but it does not indicate what side of the “Bridge” you wish identify with personally.
The Biggest Threat
The biggest threat to both sides – Judaism and Christianity – is that one will cross the “Bridge” from one side to the other. However, there are people who try out the different positions on the “Bridge” to see what position feels most comfortable to them, which is also my own personal story, but even though I started on one side, Christianity, I have discovered that God has called me to take a position as close as possible to the other side, Orthodox Judaism, without leaving the “Bridge.”
What Makes One a Christian?
So if “believing in Yeshua (Jesus)” does not, in itself, make one “a Christian,” then the question is “What does?” If we look at the beliefs and practices of all those who call themselves “Christians,” and are accepted by “mainstream Christianity,” we find the following to be true:
- Christians believe in a “divided Bible” comprised of two different revelations from God, which
they call the “Old Testament” and the “New Testament,” even though there is no verse or passage
given anywhere in the Bible, which defines the “Old Testament” as the first 39 books of the Bible,
nor is there a verse or passage that defines the “New Testament” as the last 27 books of the Bible.
- Christians believe that the “New Testament” supersedes or replaces the “Old Testament,” even
though they really do not know the biblical difference between the “older, ancient covenant” – the
10 commandments that were written on stone tablets, and thus was an external motivator of our
actions; whereas, the “Renewed Covenant,” is the same 10 commandments, now written on our
hearts and minds; therefore, an internal motivator. This change in place and how it motivates a
believer is one was changed.
- Christians believe that the “Old Testament” should be seen and interpreted from the perspective
of the “New Testament.” Christians even go around proclaiming that they are “New Testament
believers,” and Christian pastors will have new believers begin by reading the “Gospel of John,”
rather than having them begin with the book of Genesis. Although clearly, they do not even
really understand what the Bible means by “New Testament” or “New Covenant” as shown above.
- Christians believe that no one can perfectly keep “the Law of Moses.” Therefore, one cannot help
but sin every day, even though there is no verse in the first part of the Bible where God demands
“perfect obedience” of anyone. They quote James 1:10 as justification for this belief, even though
they have completely misconstrued it.
- Christians believe that “Jesus” obeyed “the Law of Moses” perfectly for them, so they do not need
to obey it. They say, “He fulfilled it for us.” In truth, He lived it as an example of what they are to
do – not as their substitute.
- Christians, therefore, believe that obedience to the commandments given in the “Law of Moses”
is “legalism,” “bondage,” and one trying to “earn their way to heaven,” even though the
commandments given to Isra’el through Moses during the Exodus was given to show how people
redeemed from slavery were to live in thanks to God, and to show their love and loyalty to Him,
after He had redeemed them.
- The New Testament says that when “Jesus” died, the Temple Veil was “rent in two, ” so Christians
believe that this demonstrates that God brought the Torah (the law of Moses), including the
whole Temple system to an end. Even though, there is not one single verse in the entire Bible
where the ripping of cloth is ever used to cause any commandment to come to an end. However,
we do see it repeatedly used as a sign of mourning. Bot to mention that according to the ancient
prophets in the Tanakh, God is going to bring all of it back into use when the Messiah Yeshua
- Christians believe that salvation is a one-time event, rather than as a life-long process; and that
one is “saved” the moment when one prays “the sinner’s prayer,” asking God to forgive them and
accepting “Jesus” into their hearts as their Lord and Savior. They believe from that point on,
they are “saved,” regardless of what they do. They believe that this is evidence of God’s “grace,”
even though they have taken that word totally out of context and misinterpreted it. Although
there are some denominations who believe that one can actually lose their salvation by sinning.
- In addition, Christians believe that “Jesus” replaced the Sabbath by rising on the first day of the
week (Sunday), which is why they worship on Sundays. Instead, His resurrection was fulfilling the
Feast of First Fruits given in the Torah, which Christians do not even honor.
- Christians have also replaced all of the biblical feasts/mo’edim with their own man-made
holidays, such as Christmas, Easter, Lent, and more recently, in the United States,
Halloween, even though, according to God’s commandments, this is forbidden.
- Christians also interpret and believe Peter’s vision in Acts 10 to mean that God has done away
with His commandments regarding the Dietary Laws (or Kashrut); therefore, allowing them to
eat whatever they want to eat, as long as they pray over it, even though Peter interprets his own
vision that it was about Gentile people – not food at all!
- Christians also believe that either “the Church” has replaced Israel as “the people of God” or that
Israel and the Church are two distinctly different groups, and during the alleged “Church Age,”
Israel has been placed on God’s “back burner” until “the Rapture,” a secret coming of “Jesus”
back for His Bride, “the Church,” where He will come and snatch them all up into heaven for
eternity, which they believe can happen at any time. Neither Yeshua (Jesus), nor His disciples
ever taught about a “secret return” for His Bride. Again, they have misinterpreted verses to make
them say something they do not say. Yeshua is coming back again – but only ONCE, not twice!
And He is coming back for His Bride, Isra’el, called in Greek, Ekklesa, a political term that was well-
known by the Greco-Roman world since it predates the life and ministry of Yeshua by about 620
It is these twelve (12) beliefs that I would define as making one a “Christian” accepted by other “mainstream Christians,” as defined and practiced by mainstream Christianity. But as I have shown, there are major problems with each and every one of them. Christians have been taught to divide their Bibles into two parts, and then the use the “New Testament” in how they perceive the “Older Scriptures,” rather than following the teachings of Scriptures in using the Torah (mistrans. “law”) and the prophets to understand the “New Testament,” and as a result, they end up misinterpreting, misunderstanding, and bringing in errors to their own Bibles, because they take the “New Testament” out of its original three contexts: Second Temple Judaism, the history of Isra’el, and the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures). Obviously, then, as we can see, there is much more involved in being “a Christian” than simply “believing in Jesus.”
Dear Brother, I read your thesis. It is dangerous ground to cast doubt on Bible scripture, which all are spiritually authored by God (2 Timothy 3:16), and to question God’s word by “Did God really say that?”; so, to give opportunity to add personal opinion, which changes God’s truth.
The danger with mental gymnastics in the attempt to unravel Bible concepts is elevating intellectual-reasoning above scriptural truth to effectively call God a liar (Romans 3:4). How will that conversation play with Jesus at (Hebrews 9:27) reconciling God’s plainly stated scripture words versus one’s reinterpretation of God’s truth by “I was smarter than you, God.” ?
The other danger is beguiling innocents with half truth-half opinions, baited in doubt, as the devil did to Eve, which has a consequence (Luke 17:1,2). Your thesis is flawed. However, I refrain from commenting further on this public forum, as such a discussion should be in private, according to Bible scripture. You have my email, if you want to reach out to me.