A Jewish Rabbi said that the Hebrew Tanakh (Tanach) and the Christian Old Testament are quite different . It seems Tanakh is not an Old Testament. More so, he said that Catholic Church misinterpreted  several important verses (over and over) of the Old Testament to suits New Testament claims in order to make it fit Christology better. He also said that the Church changed the arrangement of the books to Torah, then the Writings, then the Prophets. He scolded Christians for doing this. Further he said that the Church didn’t allow us (Christians) to repair our relationship with the Psalms or Proverbs. Moreover, he also said that Christian made up Isaiah chapter 53 into another separate chapter where it is not a separate chapter in Tanakh.  So here is my question. Is there any problem in translation or Interpretation of any important verses or in the arrangement of the Old Testament that would undermine our belief in Christianity? Are there any errors  while translating from the Hebrew Tanakh to English Old Testaments version that would invalidate the Christian understanding of the Old Testament? He also said the gospel of Mathew changes the entire theology and understanding of Judaism. Only one in a millions will understand their Jewish Hebrew  doctrine (Tanakh). Can you please help me?  


Over half of what this Jewish Rabbi said is true.  First of all, you should realize that his comments are about what Roman Catholics have done to the Bible, not about other Christians in some cases.  For example, he says that the Christian Old Testament is quite different than the Torah.  This is true if he is talking about the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Bibles, which include what is called the Apocrypha.  These are extra books, not in the Old Testament, and not used by either Jews or most other Christians. Examples of such additions include 1 Macabbees, Tobit, Judith, Wisdom and a few more.  These books were never in Hebrew and were never part of the canonical Jewish Bible and should be excluded.  The Rabbi is correct about that,and he is right to criticize the Catholic Church for this.  The problem with this accusation is that most Christians (and I assume you as well) do not use these uncanonical books, so his criticism is somewhat misplaced.

Second, he says that the order of the books has been changed by the Christian church.  This, too is absolutely correct.  I will not go into the details here, but the Bible that Jesus used was in a much different order than the Old Testaments that we use.  For example, as you imply, in the Jewish Bible the Prophets come before the writings (Psalms for example). When Stephen said in Acts 7 that “From the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah” the Jews have always rejected those through whom God spoke (which is true!), he was using the Jewish order of Old Testament books, as the Zechariah he is mentioning is at the end of 2 Chronicles, which is at the end of the Jewish Bible.  My response to this criticism by a Jewish Rabbi is that the order of the books does not change the Jewish Bible in any important way. The message is the same, whether Psalms comes before or after Jeremiah. The Jews give precedence to the Pentateuch–the first five books–which is fairly significant to them, but these are the first five of the Christian Bible as well.  So, the second criticism he has is really about something of virtually no importance, and even Jews would agree with this.

His complaint about dividing Isaiah is a non-sequitur.  The Jewish Bible did not have chapters and verses and where we put chapters and verses is irrelevant to the meaning of the Scripture.  Anyone can divide the Bible into chapter and verses as they like.  As long as they are not changing the content (for example of what we call Isaiah 53, and they are not), then this is a smoke screen. He is raising a totally insignificant issue which you can safely ignore.

It seems to me the only significant charge he is bringing against Christianity (other than Roman Catholicism, but you are not a Roman Catholic) is that he claims we misinterpret the Old Testament to be about Jesus when he says we are taking this out of context.  Well, that is a matter of opinion.  Jesus said in John 5;24 that the Jewish teachers were completely misinterpreting the Old Testament because they failed to see that the entire Jewish Bible was about him.  So, my question is this:  Who is misinterpreting?  Jesus, who fulfilled ALL of the Old Testament messianic prophecies; Jesus who performed amazing signs and miracles; Jesus who was raised from the dead on the third day, again fulfilling Hebrew Bible prophecies or this Rabbi friend the one who is misinterpreting?  Who decides who has the correct interpretation?  It seems that your friend is using circular reasoning.  His reasoning is this:  We Jews have the correct interpretation of our Hebrew Bible, therefore you have the wrong interpretation.  To simply declare something to be true does not make it true! What about this?  We Christians, who believe in Jesus who is the Messiah God sent to the Jews, have the right interpretation and you Jewish Rabbis who do not believe in God’s Messiah have the wrong interpretation! 

The relevant question is this: Where does the evidence point?  Well, Jesus was raised from the dead.  I say it points toward Jesus, not toward this Rabbi who rejects the Messiah God sent to the Jews.  Again, it is a matter of evidence, not rhetoric.

What I am saying is this:  Other than a few unimportant points, this Rabbi’s main criticism is to say that the Christian interpretation is wrong.  I say that it is right.  The only way to settle this is to look at the scriptures. Let me give some examples to support the conclusion that the Christian view that Jesus is the Messiah is correct (in which case, this Rabbi would be wrong).

Psalm 2216-17 says that the Messiah will be crucified and his garments gambled over.  Jesus fulfilled this prophecy.

Micah 5:2 says that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem.  Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

Zechariah 9:9 says that the Messiah will ride into Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  Jesus did this.

Zechariah 11:12-13 says that the Messiah will be “sold” for thirty pieces of silver and that the money would go to the potter.  Jesus was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver, and when Judas returned the money, it was used to purchase a potter’s field.

Isaiah 53 says that the Messiah would be silent while accused, pierced for the transgression of the people, and buried in a rich man’s tomb.  Jesus did all of these things.

Daniel 9:25-25 says that the Messiah will come to Jerusalem to make atonement for sin is about the year we call 30 AD.  Jesus did this as  well.

In fact, Jesus fulfilled every single messianic prophecy, including the ones that Jews claim he did not fulfill (such as the ones about reigning as king, as they do not acknowledge that his kingdom is a spiritual one).

So, this Rabbi can say what he wants, but he is wrong–just plain wrong–when he says that Christians misapply and misinterpret the Jewish Bible when we say that it applies to Jesus.  If you read my book From Shadow to Reality ( you will see literally hundreds more examples of this fact–of the fact that, as Jesus said in John 5:39 “These are the very scriptures that testify about me.”

Two more points:  First, I am not sure I understand what this Rabbi is talking about when he says that Christians do not allow us to repair our relationship with Psalms and Proverbs.  I cannot respond to that, because I have no idea what he is talking about.  Sorry. Perhaps you can help me there.

Second, on mistranslation.  If you like, you can read a Jewish translation into English of the Old Testament.  You will find that the differences in translation of Christians and Jews are miniscule and unimportant to the central question of whether Jesus did in fact fulfill the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah.  No, I know of no mistranslations in this case.  Christians translate from the same Hebrew manuscripts that Jews read from.  One example that Jews sometimes use is Isaiah 7:14 which has in most Bibles, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel” (which means God with us).  Jews say that the word virgin is a mistranslation. This is a false charge.   The fact is that the original Hebrew has a word here which means young woman–not necessarily virgin.  By the way, this is true!  But the Jews are wrong in charging a Christian mistranslation here for two reasons.  First of all, how would it be a “sign” if a married woman who was having sexual relations with her husband were to conceive?  Second, the Jews themselves translated this passage into Greek more than two hundred years before Christ.  Naturally, they used a Greek word which unambiguously means virgin for the reason I mentioned above.  This is NOT a Christian mistranslation.  In fact, Jews who insist the original did not mean virgin are the ones who are applying their own bias AGAINST the Christian interpretation. It is the correct translation according to Jews before the time of Christ.  So, unless this gentleman can give a specific example which will hold up to scrutiny, there is no rule that says Jews who are not Christians always have the correct translation and interpretation of the Jewish Bible.  Who says this is so?  We need to have a reasoned scholarly discussion, not mere words for this Rabbi making such claims.

This gentleman says that Matthew changes the entire meaning of Old Testament scripture.  I say that these Jewish Rabbis change the entire meaning of Old Testament scripture and miss the main point of the Hebrew Bible, which is that it is about Jesus coming as Messiah. So, who is right?  Well, simply saying this means nothing.  We must look at the evidence.  I listed some evidence above and will be happy to list more if needed.  So, I reject what this man says, and am open to discussing why. I say that Matthew is the one correctly understanding Tanakh, not the Rabbi whose material you read.

I hope this helps.

John Oakes

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