Principles of Judeochristianity
The basic text of Judeochristianity is the Bible as preserved in Jewish and Christian tradition. It consists of two parts: the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.
The Bible is the divinely inspired word transmitted through human understanding over many times and places. The Bible must be understood as a whole, without picking and choosing only those parts that serve one’s interests. Nevertheless, the human process of transcription and transmission is fallible. Therefore the Bible cannot always be taken literally, and must be understood within the context of its original time and place.
Biblical criticism must be considered and can provide valuable insights concerning the Bible’s historical context and the meaning of the text itself. However, it cannot be an exclusive guide since many of its insights rely upon educated speculation. One must struggle with scripture, sifting its eternal truths from their time-bound expressions, and understanding these truths through faith and with the heart.
The Hebrew Bible must be understood in its own right and in its original order. It is the story of the discovery of God’s intimate relationship with human beings through the history and experience of the Hebrew People. The biblical term for this relationship is “covenant.”
The New Testament represents the continuation and culmination of Hebrew prophecy. Through Jesus’ life and teachings we learn that God’s intimate relationship with human beings extends to every individual member of every nation on earth. It was Jesus’ prophetic vocation to bring this message to the world. The New Testament extends the Hebrew covenant to all of humanity.
Judeochristianity is not a substitute for either Judaism or Christianity. It is a way of seeing both that emphasizes the continuity of these two traditions. As such Judeochristianity makes no commitment to either Jewish or Christian religious doctrine. It is equally applicable whether one believes Jesus to be the Son of God, the Messiah, or the last of the Hebrew prophets. Christians need not suspend their belief in Jesus’ divinity, nor need Jews accept this belief, in order to appreciate and benefit from this approach. Judeochristianity is a unifying approach that accepts both Jews and Christians (and others as well) exactly where they are.
The central idea in Judeochristianity is non-self-interested love. Non-self-interested love is defined as the awareness of others’ individuality. Jesus’ central message was to teach this love, which is the natural culmination of Hebrew prophecy. By his complete willingness to embrace his suffering and by his faith in redemption in spite of it, Jesus became a representative of all human suffering and his suffering became a prophetic demonstration of his message of God’s redemptive love.
God can neither be defined nor grasped with the intellect, but may be described as Absolute Goodness. Created in God’s image, we are endowed with a sense of goodness, which enables us to distinguish good from evil. This sense is limited, is not infallible, and may encounter difficulty evaluating competing goods. We must therefore use it with caution and self-awareness; nevertheless, it is our most reliable means to knowledge and guide to action. We may try to ignore or suppress this sense of goodness, or dismiss it from fear of facing ambiguity; nevertheless, we are responsible for cultivating it to the best of our ability. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:26): if we are genuinely devoted to understanding goodness, we will receive aid from beyond ourselves.
We cannot comprehend the whole of goodness, but we can discern its many specific expressions, such as love, beauty, honesty, integrity, generosity, patience, compassion, truth, and justice. The highest good of all is non-self-interested love, and is the standard by which other goods are judged. We can develop our sense of goodness. Self-examination is important, lest we substitute our own prejudices or desires for what is truly good. We have the capacity to tell the difference between desire and true goodness, and when we are honest with ourselves, we know. A well-developed sense of goodness is the soundest basis for faith, especially for those who have not learned faith when very young. Internalizing a sense of what goodness really is, we acquire hope in a saving Presence beyond ourselves, which is the source of the good that we perceive.
Keeping all this in mind, it is possible to speak of the reason for which we were created. We were created to reveal the goodness of God. We do this by expressing goodness directly in all its different forms, and by choosing goodness over its alternatives. Our highest purpose and the greatest good we can manifest is to learn to love without self-interest. Therefore this principle can serve as a guide to action in difficult situations. We can ask ourselves: of all the choices available, which most enables God’s nature to be known?
We can even speak of a specific reason for the creation of each one of us. This individualized reason is called our destiny. It is the unique way in which we are each called to express goodness in our own lives. It may have to do with the talents we were given, the jobs we must perform, or with entirely different things, including our network of relationships and the ways we express love through them. We may think of the spiritual journey that orders our lives as the search to find and fulfill our destiny. We cannot know it in advance. We discover it by devoting ourselves to God’s will, which is the expression of goodness. To practice this we listen for and follow the cues that point us toward the ways of expressing goodness that best fit our individual constitution and life circumstances.
Finally, these principles lead to the followng article of faith:
The purpose of our lives is to realize non-self-interested love. If we cherish it and are working toward it, God helps us. If we ignore it, then we are left to our own devices.
The Test of True Religion
The foregoing principles lead us to a criterion through which religions may be judged. Too much religion, especially theistic religion, is characterized by intolerance based upon belief. The message is: Believe what I believe, or God will reject you and throw you out of the kingdom. Such religion is contrary to love, and therefore denies the goodness that is Godís essence.
There is only one simple criterion by which any religion may be judged: does it lead its adherents in the direction of non-self-interested love? If it does, then it should be respected. If it does not, then there is a better way. Doctrinal distinctions are secondary, and of no importance when the time comes for us to account for how we have stewarded the resources with which God has entrusted and blessed us.
Any religion that encourages intolerance, that sets itself up as the only way to salvation, that preaches God’s rejection of those who believe differently regardless of their hearts and deeds, does not have the true spirit of love and cannot be a true path.
A Note on Language
Men and women are created equally in the image of God. The writing on this web site therefore uses language that is strictly gender neutral. However, some of the biblical quotations may seem not to reflect this. No translation of the Bible is perfect. I have looked at many. In my opinion, the New Revised Standard Version exhibits the best balance between comprehensibility and faithfulness to the original Hebrew and Greek languages. It is also much more gender neutral than its predecessor, the Revised Standard Version. Even so, some references to God are phrased in masculine terms. This is difficult to avoid, considering the time and place from which the texts originate. It will still be clear that the understanding of God presented here is genderless, and these biblical quotations should so be understood.
Unless otherwise indicated, quotations from the Bible are taken from the New Revised Standard Version. For the Gospel of Thomas, I use the translation by Stevan Davies, The Gospel of Thomas Annotated and Explained (Woodstock, Vermont: SkyLight Paths, 2002).
A Note of Caution
To prevent any possible misunderstanding, this web site has no relation to nor anything in common with Jews for Jesus or “Messianic Judaism.” Those are actually forms of Christianity pretending to be Judaism: they demand belief in the basic tenets of Christianity and are intolerant of those who do not so believe.
Judeochristianity is neither Judaism nor Christianity but a bridge between the two. Its mission is to explore the implications of Jewish and Christian teaching when Jesus is seen as continuing the line of Hebrew prophecy and moving it forward. It does not ask people to believe anything but only to consider what Judaism and Christianity have to teach each other and to teach us as well. Specific beliefs are the domain of each individual’s relationship with God. Both Jewish and Christian beliefs are respected here.