The New Covenant
by Dr. Michael Brown
The New Covenant is anti-Semitic. It is filled with negative references to the Jewish people, and it blames them for the death of Yeshua.
It is not difficult to show that the New Covenant is definitely not anti-Semitic. First, consider these facts:
All of the authors of the New Covenant, save one, were Jews. Their main topic was Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah, and much of their writing was addressed to a Jewish audience (e.g., the Gospel of Matthew or the Letter to the Hebrews).
The New Covenant has many positive things to say about the Jewish people. Yeshua himself taught that “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22b), and Paul (Saul) said that the Jewish people were “loved [by God] on account of the patriarchs” (i.e., Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Rom. 11:28b). In fact, Paul claimed that, from a spiritual standpoint, there was much advantage “in every way” in being born Jewish (Rom. 3:1-2), and that the Gentiles owed the Jewish people a material blessing, since they had partaken of the Jews’ spiritual blessing (Rom. 15:27).
The heavenly city of Jerusalem, which is the final destiny of all believers in Yeshua, is said to have “a great, high wall with twelve gates” and the names written on these gates are “the names of the twelve tribes of Israel’ (Rev. 21:12). In other words, the only way into Heaven is through Israel’s gates. This hardly sounds anti-Semitic!
What about the claim that the New Covenant also has many negative things to say about the Jewish people? Again, several answers can be given. First, the Hebrew prophets called their own people rebels, stiff-necked, and sinful, and they predicted that judgment would come upon them if they did not repent. This is exactly what God told His Jewish people. Were the Hebrew prophets anti-Semitic? Or is God anti-Semitic? Of course not! But these are the very things that the Jewish writers of the New Covenant said about their own people—that because they rejected the Messiah they were being just like their forefathers, stiff-necked and sinful, and that for this they would be judged. Does this make the New Covenant anti-Semitic?
Also, it is important to note that the term “Jews” in the New Covenant often refers to “Judaeans,” or even “Judaean religious leaders.” Thus, some of the negative comments spoken in the Gospel of John against “the Jews” are not meant to apply to all Jewish people, but rather to specific Jewish leaders in Judaea. For a clear example see John 9:22, where the Jewish parents of a blind man who had been miraculously healed were afraid of “the Jews” (i.e., some Pharisees; see 9:13-15, 40-41). Similarly, the Hebrew word yehudi (pronounced ye-hoo-dee) can either mean “Jew” or “Judaean.” This explains a verse in the Hebrew Scriptures like Nehemiah 2:16, where Nehemiah, himself a Jew, refers to another group called “the Jews” (i.e., the inhabitants of Judaea), along with the priests, nobles, officials, “or any others who would be doing the work,” all of whom were Jewish as well!
Finally, while some have claimed that Paul told his Gentile readers (in this case the Thessalonians) that the Jews “displease God and are hostile to all men,” it is important to read the overall context carefully (1 Thess. 2:14-16). When this is done, it will be seen at once that Paul is speaking about those Jews “who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets,” and now persecute us “in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved.” And this, says Paul, is exactly what the Thessalonians were suffering from their own countrymen (i.e., not all Thessalonians, but rather those who opposed the faith).
When all these facts are considered with an open mind, it is quite clear that the New Covenant is not an anti-Semitic work. Thus many scholars today emphasize that if you want to understand the New Covenant fully, you must read it as a thoroughly Jewish Book!
The New Covenant is full of historical inaccuracies. It frequently misquotes and misunderstands the Hebrew Scriptures.
As far as the historical accuracy of the New Covenant is concerned, it should be noted that of every book written in the ancient world, the Greek New Covenant is far and away the best preserved. There are literally thousands of ancient manuscripts containing copies of either part or all of the New Covenant books. And, in spite of the abundance of ancient manuscript evidence, these documents contain virtually no disagreements on any major doctrinal point.
As more and more research has been done into the customs and history of first-century Palestine and Asia Minor, the New Covenant has emerged as a prime historical source of great value, either confirming or supplementing what archaeology has taught us. Furthermore, studies by modern Jewish scholars have served to underscore the Jewishness of Jesus and the New Covenant authors.
The New Covenant’s use of the Old Covenant has also been found to be thoroughly Jewish. Because the New Covenant was written in Greek while the Old Covenant was written in Hebrew, the writers often quoted from the Greek version of their day, the Septuagint. But this version was made by Jews some two hundred years before Yeshua was born. And, although on certain occasions the wording of an Old Covenant verse may seem to change when it is quoted in the New Covenant, this is often due to the fact that the Jewish Septuagint was being quoted! These “differences,” then, do not reflect later, “Christian” changes; and, more importantly, the actual meaning of the verses never changes.
Another major factor to be considered is that the New Covenant writers, who, with the exception of one medical doctor, Luke, were all Jews, often followed the Jewish interpretative rules of the day. It was as Jews that they read their Scriptures, and it was as Jews that they interpreted their Scriptures! Thus, some of their quotations of the Hebrew Scriptures are in keeping with the common Jewish understanding of the passage that they were citing. At other times, the main difference in interpretation was due to the fact that they understood that the Messiah had already come, and, rather than waiting for a future fulfillment of the Scriptures, they saw them as already being fulfilled. And there are some New Covenant quotations that reflect the interpretation found in the Aramaic paraphrases (called Targums—”translations”) which were then being read in the synagogues. Again, this means that the New Covenant writers were being thoroughly Jewish in their handling of the Hebrew text.
It is also important to remember that the Jews in the first century of this era were primarily concerned with determining what the Scriptures were saying to them, in their day and age. Their primary concern was not in rediscovering what Amos or Isaiah had said to his contemporaries. They wanted to know what God required of them in the present tense, and they wanted to know what He had promised them. Thus, the Jews who authored what we now call the Dead Sea Scrolls moved into an isolated life of study and discipline based on their interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. The Pharisees began to develop a detailed system of laws and regulations based on their interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. And the writers of the New Covenant received and followed Yeshua as Messiah based on their interpretation of the Hebrew Bible.
Of these three different systems of Jewish interpretation, that of the New Covenant most accurately adheres to the proper understanding of the Hebrew text. In fact, in comparison to the Jewish interpretation of Scripture as found in the Talmud and Midrash, the New Covenant writers were amazingly careful and sober.
Any time the New Covenant interpretation does seem hard to follow, one need only remember these three facts:
the writers may have been quoting the Septuagint, the Jewish Greek version of the day (the wording may be slightly different, but the meaning is the same); (2) they may have been following an unusual Rabbinic method of interpretation (while our 21st-century Western minds may have a hard time following their line of reason, a first-century rabbi would have had no problem grasping their point); and (3) they were able to find hints and indicators of Messiah’s life and ministry on virtually every page of the Hebrew Bible, since, along with many other first-century Jews, they rightly believed that all the Hebrew prophets and the entire history of ancient Israel pointed to the coming of the Messiah. Therefore, although they did not disregard the original contextual meaning of the passages which they quoted, their primary purpose was to show how wonderfully all Old Covenant history and revelation were brought to their fullness (i.e., were fulfilled) in Yeshua the Messiah.
Although many Jews of today claim that the New Covenant authors contradict themselves, not a single Jew in ancient times ever raised such an argument! If there were so many gross errors and mistakes, why didn’t those who opposed the faith point these things out back then? The answer, of course, is that according to all standards of ancient history writing, the New Covenant documents were a first-rate piece of work. And if, as some claim, the Jews who wrote the New Covenant were cunning men who were willing to lie and deceive, then why didn’t they make up a story that no one could argue with, not even their opponents? Obviously, they were just reporting the facts as they saw them, and none of their contemporaries could disagree!
One early follower of Yeshua pointed out that there is an amazing overall harmony that exists in the Gospel accounts of our Messiah. He stated that any apparent discrepancies which might be noticed could be explained only if we understood that each of the eyewitnesses was accurately reporting what he saw and heard. Thus, if we ourselves were there at the time the event occurred, we would see how perfectly all the pieces of the puzzle fit together to form one clear picture of the life and teaching of the Son of God. Therefore, rather than being evidence of poor memory and lies, the different perspectives of the various New Covenant authors help us realize just how accurate their accounts really were.
Some of the greatest minds this world has ever seen have devoted their entire lives to the careful study of the New Testament text, and some of history’s greatest skeptics have attacked it. There is nothing new that today’s critics will discover. The New Covenant has endured the test of time. It continues to be worthy of our faith.
Yeshua didn’t fulfill any of the Messianic prophecies. We know that the New Covenant writers actually reconstructed the life of Yeshua so as to harmonize it with certain predictions made by the prophets.
These two statements are mutually contradictory. Why would the New Covenant writers intentionally rewrite the events of Yeshua’s life so as to make Him fulfill predictions that were not really Messianic? If the prophecies that they quoted were really non-Messianic, then why did they “make” Yeshua’s life conform to them?
We can be confident that the Gospel writers accurately depict the events of Yeshua’s life, since it is recorded that even they were baffled by His suffering and death. They had different ideas of what the Messiah would do when He came, and so they could not understand much of what occurred as the fulfillment of Old Covenant prophecy. It was only after Yeshua’s resurrection that these men were able to see how all the events of His life and death were spoken of by the prophets of old.
Now, the point of all this is simple: If the disciples were going to rewrite Yeshua’s life story as a witness to their own people, why didn’t they make it line up with some of the more “orthodox” Jewish expectations? Why did they make it run contrary to much of the popular feeling of the day? And why did they write a story that would surely go against the grain? Simple! It was just as Peter told the Jewish authorities who challenged him: “For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). They were true eye-witnesses; they saw it all. They could only give it to us the way it happened to them.
As to the statement that, according to the New Covenant account of the life of Yeshua, He did not really fulfill any truly Messianic prophecies, one might well ask, “Messianic prophecies according to whom?” According to one statement in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 99a), all the prophets prophesied of the days of the Messiah, a statement echoed by Peter in Acts 3:22-24. Who says that Isaiah 2:1-4, speaking of the days of universal peace, is Messianic, while Isaiah 53, speaking of one man dying for the sins of the nation, is not Messianic? Who says that Numbers 24:17, speaking of the destruction of Israel’s enemies, is Messianic, while Daniel 9:24-27, speaking of the death of the Anointed One (Hebrew mashiach), is not Messianic?
The only reason why certain prophecies of a suffering Savior have been considered non-Messianic by certain strands of Judaism is due to the fact that, if they were acknowledged as being Messianic, then Yeshua would have to be the Messiah! Since He was, in fact, rejected by many rabbis, the next step was to reject as Messianic the prophecies that foretold His suffering and death.
If the death of Yeshua really inaugurated the New Covenant spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet, then why hasn’t it been fulfilled?
Any covenant God makes with man has conditions and goals. First, there must be people who are willing to accept the stipulations of the covenant. Exodus 24:3 records that “when Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, ‘Everything the Lord has said we will do.’” If some Israelites refused to accept God’s covenant, then they would be cut off, but the covenant would still be binding and valid for those who did hear and obey.
For those people who did have a heart to follow God, the goals of the covenant would then be set forth. Exodus 19:5-6 records the ideal goals of the Mosaic Covenant: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Yet, even though this promise has never been fulfilled in the history of our nation, no one would dare question the validity and the authority of the Torah; it s we who have failed to keep our part of the bargain.
Those who have accepted the New Covenant’s stipulations, ratified with Yeshua’s own blood (Matt. 26:28), can bear witness that the promises and goals of the New Covenant are being fulfilled in them. God’s law is now written in their minds and in their hearts, and the Lord has forgiven their iniquity, and remembers their sins no more (see Jeremiah 31:33-34, verses 32-33 in some versions). One day, when all Israel turns to Messiah Yeshua, the New Covenant will reach its fulfillment in the people as a whole. Until then, the goals of the New Covenant are being fulfilled in those who willingly accept its conditions.