By Chosen People Ministries
Is it possible to be Jewish and believe in the deity of Yeshua (Jesus)? Traditional Judaism rejects Yeshua's deity. Some rabbis have even argued that faith in Yeshua as God is more objectionable than idolatry. However, the deity of Messiah is not simply an inconsequential belief; it is an indispensable component of the New Testament message.
Although many rabbis think belief in Yeshua's deity is abhorrent, the concept of a divine Messiah is in fact consistent with Jewish thought. Leading Messianic scholar Dr. Michael Brown, in The Real Kosher Jesus, demonstrates how the deity of Yeshua as described in the New Testament Scriptures does not conflict with traditional Jewish thinking.
Brown shows that according to Judaism, it is not idolatrous to envision that God, "who is complex in His unity," can "sit enthroned in heaven, filling the universe with His presence, infinite and uncontainable in His majesty, and yet at one and the same time manifest His glory among us in the tent of a human body.(1)
In building his case, Brown cites the Midrash (an expanded interpretation of the Bible) on Psalm 91, which explains how it is possible for the walls of the Tabernacle to contain the presence of the Almighty, while God's presence simultaneously inhabits the heavens.(2)
The Midrash reads, "The Master of the Universe Himself explained, 'the entire world cannot contain My glory, yet when I wish, I can concentrate My entire essence into one small spot. Indeed, I am Most High, yet I sit in limited refuge - in the shadow of the Temple.'"(3)
Brown argues that throughout Jewish history, God reveals Himself to His people and allows His invisible presence to become visible in such a way. Therefore, it is reasonable, from within Jewish thought, to hold that if God allows His presence to occupy a specific location within the Temple, it is also possible for God to allow His presence to inhabit human flesh.
Throughout the Hebrew Bible, God's people continually encounter the presence of God in invisible form. In Genesis 18, the Lord appeared to Abraham near the entrance of his tent. When Abraham looked up, he saw three men standing in front of him. The Talmud states that during this encounter, Abraham saw the "Holy One" at the door of his tent (Baba Mesia 86b). Brown explains how this passage "explicitly tells us that Abraham and Sarah talked with the Lord, that He appeared in human form to them, dusty feet and all (Gen. 18:4), and that He even sat down and ate their food. Yet all the while, He remained God in heaven."(4)
Dr. Brown cites concepts within Judaism that illustrate why a divine Messiah is consistent with Jewish thought. The first concept focuses upon Memra. Rabbinical writings explain the revelation of God's presence in the Hebrew Bible as the Memra, an Aramaic expression for the divine Word of God. The Hebrew Bible frequently depicts God's Word as an extension of Himself.(5)
For instance, "The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there He revealed Himself to Samuel through His Word"(1 Sam.3:21). This is why the Targums, which are amplified Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible, speak of God's interaction with His people through the Memra (Word). Isaiah 45:17 presents just one example of how the Targum substitutes the term Memra for the Name of God. The Hebrew reads "Israel will be saved by the Lord," while the Targum translates the Hebrew to say, "Israel will be saved by the Word of the Lord."(6)
When reading the introduction to John's Gospel, one of the four biographical accounts of Yeshua's life, in light of the Jewish concept of Memra, it is evident that John's depiction of Yeshua is traditionally Jewish. Since Memra is the Divine Word, John's introduction actually proclaims, "In the beginning was the Memra, and the Memra was with God, and the Memra was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men" (John 1:1-4). John is not inventing a concept foreign to Judaism, but rather demonstrating how Jesus is the anticipated Word of the Lord spoken about throughout the Jewish Targums.
The idea of Shekinah is another concept addressed by Brown. John states, "The Memra became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). This introduction to John's Gospel refers to the Jewish concept of the indwelling of God's presence within Israel, known as the Shekinah. Judaism teaches that God came down from the heavens to dwell amongst His people, Israel. This occurred when the Lord's glory filled the Tabernacle (Ex. 40:34). The Targum explains God's presence in the midst of Israel as Shekinah (Targum Ong Ex. 25:8).
Brown cites noted Jewish scholar and professor at Jewish Theological Seminary, Benjamin Sommer, to say, "God is the same as the Shekinah, but the Shekinah does not exhaust God, so one can refer easily to 'God' and subsequently to 'God and the Shekinah.'"(7) Sommer argues that Christianity's belief in a God who took on human form is a perfectly Jewish concept and consistent with the Jewish idea of Shekinah.
Although the manner in which God is able to inhabit the entire heavens while simultaneously dwelling in a specific location on earth remains a mystery, it is clear this concept is consistent with Jewish thought. Therefore, it is possible to remain faithful to Jewish traditions and believe in a Messiah who is the Incarnation of the Deity.
While some within the Jewish community might want to minimize the importance of the topic of the deity of Messiah, those who have understood the Bible in this way have found their lives filled with profound meaning and purpose. Yeshua is now no longer merely an itinerant Galilean Jewish prophet who came to revolutionize first-century Judaism, but God Himself, taking on flesh and fulfilling the ancient prophecies of a Messiah whom Isaiah said would be called a wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father and prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6).
Can you be Jewish and believe that Yeshua was God in the flesh? Dr. Brown and many thousands of Messianic Jews who have had their lives dramatically changed by his power would say YES! Why let others make up your mind for you? We have made the case that the issue is far less clear-cut in traditional Judaism than you may have thought. Now study the evidence... and reach your own conclusion.
Articles related to the Divinity of Messiah that are of interest Include:
Chosen People Ministries - Special Edition - Volume XV111, Issue 8 - Reposted with permission.
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1) The Real Kosher Jesus, p.125
2) Ibid, p.126
4) Ibid, p.129
5) Ibid, p.129
6) See The Real Kosher Jesus for many other examples.
7) Ibid, p. 135