Commentary Magazine


Knowing God

To the Editor:

Having been quite busy, I did not read the December (1953) issue of COMMENTARY until recently. I found it an exceptionally fine issue and the essay by Jacob Taubes on “The Issue Between Judaism and Christianity” singularly discerning. . . .

However, there are two points that ought to be raised from the viewpoint of the Christian, the second of which has been touched upon in the letters of Rabbi Bernard J. Bamberger and J. B. Jerome in subsequent issues.

The first point: For a Christian it is inconceivable to express the doctrine of the Incarnation in the language Mr. Taubes uses. For he has written, “The last step in the covenant between God and man, according to Christian theology, is the incarnation of God in the Son of Man.” . . . The Christian does not believe that the Godhead became incarnate; the saying that God became incarnate is as repugnant to the Christian as it must be to the Jew. . . . When the New Testament writers speak of the God of Jesus Christ, they speak after the same manner as those Old Testament writers who spoke of the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and or Jacob, “the God of our fathers.” But in the end, the Incarnation must be understood within the context of the Presence of God tabernacling on earth. . . .

The second point: Despite his very keen understanding of the doctrines of Christianity . . . Mr. Taubes does not, apparently, take cognizance of the fact that for Paul the “Old Covenant,” through which indeed there was salvation, was not the “Covenant of Sinai” but the Abrahamic Covenant. I trust that I am not misrepresenting the author’s views here, but such I judge to be his implication when he writes: “The term ‘Old Testament, ’ however, implies the basic Christian claim that the ‘old’ covenant has been superseded by the ‘new. ’ But it is a Jewish article of faith that the Law never becomes antiquated, that the Covenant of Sinai is as valid today as it has always been.” Paul’s point, you see, was that to equate the Covenant of Sinai with the essence of Judaism, as the author here does when he posits Halachah to be central to Judaism, is to misunderstand the Revelation from God to Israel, i.e., Judaism. There are no truer words than Rabbi Bamberger’s: “The theological question which Mr. Taubes would drive from the door flies in at the window.”

It is thus very interesting to me to find in the article the protest against “the modern Jewish stress on redemption through belief, rather than through a way of life conforming to divinely ordained law.” Is it possible that there are not only Christians but also Jews who must answer this question of Mr. Taubes—“If Halachah is no longer valid as the divine and human way of life . . . where shall the Jewish argument get the strength to stand up against the Pauline rejection of the Law?”—with an answer quite the opposite to that which he implies? If so, then the issue between Judaism and Christianity is not that which Mr. Taubes sees it to be. . . .

Perhaps the issue is not between Judaism and Christianity. Perhaps it is a common issue, one we truly share, as the influence of Martin Buber’s little book I and Thou upon the thought of contemporary Protestant theology would indicate. I should suggest that our common task is to rid ourselves of these Hellenistic conceptions which blind our understanding of the Revelation of the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, and of Jesus, which we have in the Bible. . . . Pushing tradition aside, we find [God saying in the Bible]: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exod. 33:19). . . . And so in actuality we come to know God as such a God because He has first willed to know us. To know God—to bless, glorify, and enjoy Him forever—is that not the end of man? Is not that life? Indeed, better than life!

Let me repeat in closing that I found the essay under consideration one of unusual discernment. But we Christians do hold that it was the Logos who became incarnate . . . not the Godhead as such; secondly, that the Abrahamic Covenant was extended to all mankind and renewed with Israel through Jesus Christ, and that through the Holy Spirit, “Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,” the new covenant promised through Jeremiah (“This is the covenant. . . . : I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” [Jer. 31:33]) is effected, even in the hearts of us who were strangers to God.

(Rev.) J. R. Durway
First Presbyterian Church
Eagle Lake, Texas

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