For centuries, the Bible was the number one source of division between Jews and Christians. Christians related to Jews through the lens of “replacement theology,” the idea that, as punishment for rejecting Jesus, God replaced Israel with the Church and the original Bible (Tanakh) with a new one.
One can draw a direct line from replacement theology to the blood libels (the lie that Jews kidnapped and murdered the children of Christians in order to use their blood as part of religious rituals), forced conversions, inquisitions, expulsions that shaped the Middle Ages, the pogroms, and ultimately the horrors of the Holocaust.
However, this long and complex relationship between Jews and Christians is shifting. Against all odds, we have entered the golden age of Christian-Jewish relations, and the Bible is becoming the number one source of unity.
Pockets of Christians began advocating for the restoration of the Jews to Palestine as early as the 1800s.
Then, the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 and the state’s subsequent hard-to-explain successes chipped away at replacement theology. Christians began asking, “If God rejected Israel, why are the Jews so successful at making the desert bloom and defending themselves from their enemies?”
The perception that many biblical promises were being fulfilled seemed like clear and convincing evidence that God had not broken His covenant with Israel, after all.
Some 70 years later, there are tens of millions of Christian Zionists all over the world who stand with Israel and the Jews. Collectively, these Christians infuse an estimated $500 million annually into the Israeli economy and charities.
The desire to honor Israel without strings attached and devoid of proselytizing is one of the newest and most welcome trends in Christian Zionism. The move of the U.S. Embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem is a stunning example of Christians proactively and positively effecting change in Israel without asking for anything in return.
Christians United for Israel, just one of the groups in America actively supporting Israel and the Jewish people, claims 4.3 million members, a number made all the more remarkable when you consider that the population of Israel is 8,855,000.
Equally remarkable is that Israel has reciprocated with cooperation, communication and relationships forming every day.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at this year’s Christians United for Israel conference in Washington, D.C. called evangelical Christians Israel’s best friends.
“Thank you for always standing with Israel,” he said via video broadcast. “You are truly among our greatest friends in the world. I cherish that friendship, and I cherish your solidarity.”
At the 2018 CUFI conference this week, Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his solidarity with persecuted Christians: “Sadly, some countries don’t respect Christians. In Iran, Christians are brutally persecuted.” Netanyahu continued, “Christian pastors have spent years in prison. This is an issue which I believe should concern everyone. And let me say clearly: Israel stands in complete solidarity with persecuted Christians in Iran.” Netanyahu also noted that Israel is “He claimed that Israel is “the only country for thousands of miles where Christians not only survive, they thrive,” going on to observe that “Christian holy sites are protected and Christian worship is done without fear. Christians have achieved incredible heights in Israel.”
Further, there is new Jewish interest in rebuilding the shattered relationship between Christians and Jews using the Bible, and not only philanthropic or political support for Israel.
Bible study is an age-old practice by Jews and Christians, and seems to be increasing, though it is rare to see Jews and Christians study together. But Jews are teaching the Bible to Christians and engaging together over our shared heritage.
Christians want to learn the Hebrew Bible to connect to their faith’s Jewish roots and the role that the biblical land of Israel plays in it.
Jews, likewise, are opening the Torah to Christians. There are numerous Jewish-run online yeshivas, organized trips to Israel and other events tailored to bringing Torah to non-Jews. Earlier this year, Israel365 partnered to launch a first-ever series of Christian-Jewish Bible studies in the Israeli parliament.
Further, my organization, Israel365, together with Menorah Books, just released The Israel Bible, the first new edition of the Hebrew Bible in two decades and likely the first targeted at both Jews and non-Jews.
Though we published it to teach Christians, we have no intention of converting them. And Christians who engage in and encourage the study of the Hebrew Bible with Jews say they have no intention to convert Jews.
In fact, it is a Jewish mandate to teach Torah to the nations. We read in Isaiah 2:3 that the many nations will one day recognize the Torah:
“And the many peoples shall go and say: ‘Let us go up to the Mount of the Lord that He may instruct us in His ways, and that we may walk in His paths.’ For instruction shall come forth from Zion, the word of God from Jerusalem.”
This prophecy is being fulfilled as Jews recognize the role of non-Jews in Torah and redemption. We know that in the end of days, it is likely not everybody is going to be Jewish.
A greater understanding by Christians of the Jewish community and getting to know each other better has led to increased sensitivity. Christian theology has never been as respectful toward Jews.
After 2000 years, this is a remarkable development.
Jews do not have anything to be afraid of in reaching out and building relationships with Christians. It can only strengthen our faith. In this new era, we can form relationships without fear of hidden agendas and should no longer feel threatened by each other.
Let’s pray the days of book burnings and blood libels are over and appreciate that Israel is emerging as the center for biblical studies for Jews and Christian alike. Let us put aside centuries of animosity to achieve this unity.
And let’s hope that the Bible plays the central role it should in bringing about this understanding and appreciation of the God of Israel, the people of Israel and the land of Israel.
Rabbi Tuly Weisz is the editor of The Israel Bible, the first study Bible edited by Jews for Christians and dedicated to highlighting the land and the people of Israel. His website is Israel365.com.
Read more at 2018: THE GOLDEN AGE OF CHRISTIAN-JEWISH RELATIONS.