Are you a Christian, but actually a Jew?

> Dear Cecil,

> There seems to be a general consensus that people - Jews and
> Christians alike, that Jesus Christ, regardless of his manner of
> conception, was born and raised a Jew. He purportedly remained so
> until his demise, then subsequent return to join the living for a
> short while. (Sounds like a Zombie to me.) Somewhere in his
> admonishments, he directed his followers to have some wine, a wafer or
> two, and be baptized, which would have these water-logged believers be
> “born again”. If these wayward souls did as “Jesus the Jew” said and
> became “born again”, would they not now be Jews; or at least Jews-in-Law? If so, there will be some changing of the world view.
> Oh font of all knowledge, please settle the suffering in my mind.
> GeorgeLTirebiter
> A happy Buddhist
>> “In the present circumstances, no one can afford to assume that
> someone else will solve their problems. Every individual has a
> responsibility to help guide our global family in the right direction.
> Good wishes are not sufficient; we must become actively engaged.”
> His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

This is a massively complicated question. Jesus when he was alive urged people to follow Jewish law, very strictly. After his death, Paul encountered Jesus and got a whole new set of instructions. The earliest Christians tried to appeal to the Jews, but were rejected, and so (following Paul) set out to convert non-Jews to a totally new religion. Unfortunately, the new religion included hatred of the Jews (for not accepting Jesus.)

If you’d like more, I’d like to suggest that you go to our web-site at , and post your question on our Message Boards.
Some of our posters are very knowledgeable in early Christian history, and it should stir up an interesting discussion.

You’ll need to register on our site to post, but it’s easy. Really.
And we hope you’ll find our Message Boards interesting and amusing; a wide variety of people participate in some fascinating (and weird) discussions.
We hope that will help,
Thanks for writing,
CK Dexter Haven
Straight Dope Staff

Dear CK,

Thank you for your well thought out and reasoned reply. I can only assume that Paul who was born a Jew, - “Saul of Tarsus” - became what we now call a “Jew for Jesus”. Although it’s not clear when he went from Jew to Gentile, most believe it was between Acts 10 and Acts 13.9. Good thing Mormons weren’t around then, he’d be stuck forever or need some real divine intervention.
BTW, I’m already registered so this will be up later today.

Thanks again,

Victor M.
Aka GeorgeLTirebiter

The supreme paradox of all thought is the attempt to discover something that thought cannot think.
—Søren Kierkegaard

Odd formatting, but welcome to the boards! If I understand your question, you’re asking whether folks who follow the teachings of a Jew are necessarily Jews themselves.

This is kind of a deeper question, viz., how do you identify cultural and religious groups, and who gets to decide whether a person is a member of a group?

It sounds to me as though you want to say:

Hey, Christians! You don’t consider yourselves Jews!
Hey, Jews! You don’t consider Jesus’s followers to be Jews!
Hey, everybody else! You don’t consider Jesus’s followers to be Jews!
WELL, EVERYBODY IS WRONG AND I’M RIGHT! Based on my idiosyncratic understand of what a Jew is, I declare all y’all Christians and Jews to be wrong, because Christians, you should call yourselves Jews, and Jews, you should welcome Christians as fellow Jews!

Put that way, I’m not sure why you’d want to make this declaration.

Is this strictly true? I don’t recall any instances of Jesus, when he was alive, urging non-Jewish people to follow Jewish law, but maybe I’m missing something.

Anyway, one of the big controversies of the early Church was over whether Christians should be obliged to follow Jewish law. We’ve had threads here before discussing this; see, for example: Why don’t Christians follow Jewish beliefs?

These issues were greatly debated in early Christian history. There were schools of thought ranging from the Ebionites (who basically argued that Christianity was a form of Judaism and Christians had to follow all Jewish practices and laws) to the Marcionites (who separated Judaism and Christianity to the point that they argued the Old Testament God and the New Testament God were two separate opposing dieties).

The view that eventually became standard Christianity is that Judaism is essentially the larval form of Christianity. This belief is that the Old Testament is not intended to stand alone; it’s just a prophecy to let people know that Jesus is on his way. So when Jesus arrived he both fulfilled the Old Testament and superseded it. According to Christian belief, Christianity was the true development of Judaism and Jews weren’t really converting to Christianity; Judaism itself became Christianity and the Jews became Christians with it. So in this view, the Jews who refused to be Christians weren’t just rejecting Christianity, they were also rejected true Judaism.

A more historical view is that Paul took his understanding of Jesus and essentially invented a new message from it. Jesus himself probably wouldn’t have agreed with a lot of what Paul was saying.

As a Christian, it is my belief that Christians are merely completed Jews. I wear a star of David more or less in support of those I consider God’s people. I don’t expect Jews to accept me as anything.

However, one could consider that Abraham was the first Jew but became that way precisely the way that the NT says a Christian becomes a Christian. It was his faith in God’s Word that made him the father of a nation.

That is my 2 whole cents.

I think there has been quite a good deal of push back on this point of view, which was really popular with Jesus Seminar folk, but now the folks in the Seminary and Theological Ivory Tower go more with the New Perspective on Paul folk; which (in part) basically says Paul wasn’t really saying anything too much different than what Jesus’s followers at the time were saying (with the possible difference as to whether followers of Jesus should be circumcised). After all, Jesus himself deliberately violated the sabbath and the washing of hands before eating - preferring the spirit of the Law than the letter.

In addition, Paul’s letters are the earliest Christian documents to which we have access to and it is quite likely that the Gospel writers (who wrote after Paul was martyred most likely) knew about Paul’s letters and teachings and that influenced them as well.

But this is a major factor. We don’t really know what Jesus said - he never wrote anything down. What we know is what people said Jesus said decades after he was gone. And we know that we don’t have everything that was said - early Christian writers refer to texts that they say are wrong but most of these texts have not been preserved. So our knowledge of what Jesus himself said is generally filtered through the viewpoint of people who had one interpretation of that message and preserved the texts that supported that interpretation.

As scholars would say, however, that if those people were saying the wrong stuff other respected people would confront them with just as authoritative folks writing letters (ie the original disciples - those who are said to be wrong in their teachings aren’t the original disciples). If Paul was preaching wrongly, you would assume the original disciples would have countered that).

And while people like to say that James and Paul were at odds, the New Perspective folk (convincingly IMO, and in the opinion of most academia, if not to evangelicals like John Piper) indicate that Paul wasn’t likely the sort who would say works are meaningless - the early Reformers went a bit too far on that interpretation, and the Catholic (and Orthodox) interpretation of Paul’s letters may be a bit more accurate on that score. And the Gnostics (who focused more on individual spirituality and secret info than community) are likely the furthest thing from the Jesus Seminar (ironically they are actually closer to some conservative Protestants).

Basically, the early Christian community tended to coalesce around a certain group of writings for the New Testament - Ireanus and Origen basically had the NT canon - the only disputes were over non-Pauline texts (Philemon, Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation). One would imagine more of a hubbub if these folks were teaching the wrong sort of thing.
All this to say is that I don’t really see much evidence at all that Paul took the message of Jesus and invented a new message that Jesus wouldn’t have agreed with. Modern scholarship instead reads Paul in the context of Jesus and seems to indicate that Paul was likely right in line with Jesus’s teaching (“Paul Among the People” by Sarah Rudin is fantastic on this score, as is any of N.T. Wright’s work).

Greetings GeorgeLTirebiter and welcome to the Straight Dope Message Board!

FWIW, I understand that some consider Buddhists to be Hindus. Those who believe that tend to be Hindu, as I understand it.
My take is that Christianity is a variant of Judaism adapted for pagans. So while all Christians are Jews (sort of) not all Jews are Christians to the extent that they do not accept the divinity or at least awesomeness of Jesus of Nazareth. I’ll add that such a taxonomy isn’t especially helpful since these labels touch more on tribal identity than anything else. We also have a perfectly fine term for Jews, Christians, Muslims and a few more: that term is monotheist.

I would disagree. We’re actually reading Jesus in the context of Paul. Now it may be that Paul was correct and he interpreted Jesus’ message the way Jesus meant. But let’s face reality - the odds are pretty slim. Paul never actually met Jesus - everything he knew about Jesus (barring the odd miracle) he heard second hand.

And on the other end of the chain of communications, we’re not really sure what Paul said. Paul’s followers had as many different interpretations of what Paul’s message was as Paul and others had interpretations of what Jesus’ message was.

Finally, the religious leaders of the era had no interest in modern academic discourse. They had no desire to let all the opposing viewpoints be discussed in the marketplace of ideas. As far as they were concerned, only one viewpoint was True and all the others were False. And they felt it was their duty to support the Truth by actively opposing False ideas. They proudly admitted they suppressed texts that were “wrong”.

Paul may not have never physically met Jesus, but, even if you don’t take heed in the vision he had (which I do believe), Paul had ample opportunity to hear about Jesus’s message - obviously something major happened to change his mind. One doesn’t make such a huge and massive change on a whim - Osama bin Laden doesn’t become a Rah-Rah USA Patriot just because. So, even if you don’t believe in the vision story, obviously he had a conversion experience and folks who knew about the message of Jesus guided him - he was impressive enough that the church in Jerusalem sent him out to preach to the Gentiles. So suffice to say, I think the odds are far more than slim.

And how are we not sure what Paul said considering that we actually have Paul’s letter? Some are determined not to be Pauline, but a good deal of them are. Those are from Paul’s own hand (or dictating voice).

Also, it doesn’t particularly matter what the religious leaders of the era thought about non-orthodox opinion. They obviously coalesced on an orthodox interpretation about Jesus and His message very quickly - people who were actually there with Jesus would have raised quite a stink, and likely separate churches, if they were trying to state things that those eyewitnesses would have realized was false. How would those religious leaders have ignored disciples disagreeing with what they were teaching - when Paul and Peter disagreed on whether gentiles needed to follow the Law, it was brought before a Council at Jerusalem. After all, Peter was one of the original disciples and if there was a dispute, it couldn’t have been merely suppressed (at the Council, Peter was convinced to change his position).
Regardless of all of this, one cannot assert that Paul perverted Jesus’s teachings, if one then states that Jesus is being read in the context of Paul and the Gospels are the story of Jesus through Pauline thinking - the reason being that one cannot really assert Jesus’s teachings as any different, as the primary source of Jesus’s teachings come from the four Gospel narratives - what other work would indicate a separate teaching that has been perverted.

All due respect to CK Dexter Haven, I don’t know how one could say “Jesus when he was alive urged people to follow Jewish law, very strictly” with a straight face. One of the reasons that he was condemned and crucified is that he and his followers were accused of encouraging others to go against the Law of Moses. The whole Sermon on the Mount is an upending of the Law (“You have heard it said ___ but I say to you ___”). He also associated with unclean people and non-Jews, broke the Sabbath, and violated dietary and cleanliness laws.

…or the current interpretations of those laws by the Pharisees, that is.

My take on it is yes Christians are Jews. Christianity was started by Paul, not Jesus (Jesus professed ‘The Way’ though Jesus did acknowledge Jewish and christian beliefs along with other beliefs) Acknowledgment does not equal acceptance nor entrance to the Kingdom of God . Paul was a Jewish Pharisee, and his legacy has persisted with written hard coded laws that Paul has admitted Jesus has ‘nailed to a tree’ (totally negated), Paul has admitted to the war within him (between his Jewishness and his new self) doing things he does not want to and not doing things he wants to. So if you are a Christian you attend temple (you may call it a church)and trust your priest/minister/pastor for your connecting with God (You have put someone in charge of your relationship between you and God in the hands of another person), you tithe (though Jesus paid the penalty for everything, so there is no penalty for not tithing) and Pauls words infer that obeying any part of the law means you are obligated to keep the whole thing (which you can not, so dammed by default).

Jews are the one’s under the Law, Chirstians that follow ‘law’ are also so bound , those who are accepted as God’s child (the message of Christ), are not subject to law, just Love of a parent to its child. Nothing but Love here, but that does not define Christianity - and why should it as God has stated He will not share His glory with another.


Well put and I agree with you. It appears to me that Jesus came to God’s chosen people, but when they rejected Him, the veil was rent and God turned to the Gentiles. It has always seemed to me almost as if there were rules that God chose to obey. For example, it wasn’t until the Jews rejected the Messiah that God could then change the deal. I almost wonder if like Job, there was an agreement between God and the evil one. Pure speculation, just an interesting thought.

Education time: The both of you should read this before commenting on the rejection of Jesus by Jews.

Well, I don’t see it (God’s blessing) being exclusively for the Jews in the Old Testament. After all, Elijah went and blessed a woman from Sidon. Namaan the Syrian was healed by Elisha. Joseph’s gifts blessed the Egyptians (prior to Egypt enslaving the Jews - way to reward them guys). And many of the Psalms speak of God’s rulership and blessing of the entire world. There has always been a push and pull between making it an exclusive Jewish thing or that the Jews are supposed to out and bless the entire world (ie, chosen for a purpose).


I have actually seen that before. Obviously, as a Christian, one can presume that someone who is Jewish would disagree with my thoughts and I would disagree with some of their beliefs. In the end, I can decide what I believe and that amounts to the truth to me, but I cannot tell a Jew that they are wrong in their beliefs. I certainly agree that the Jewish position has plenty of ammunition to support their beliefs. Clearly, the Jews would reject the entire NT and given that, we are in separate worlds of religious thought.


Obviously, throughout the Bible, God dealt with non-Jews in many different ways. I don’t see the Jews as God’s exclusive people to the detriment of all others, but rather, God has a soft spot for the good and righteous in every peoples.

Jews need to question to find the right, whereas Christians need to obey. Simplistic, sure, but I think it describes the belief of a lot of Christians.

Jews have a promise that some specific things would happen, and Jesus doesn’t fulfill that promise in any way, shape or form.