This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Dear Dr. Craig,
On Jan 5th I made a statement that I was not going to allow doubt in regards to Jesus into my life, Jesus appears to be the best choice and that’s what I’m going with and I’ll reevaluate at the end of the year. Well, a few days after I made this statement some books by Rabbi Tovia Singer (Let's Get Biblical) that I ordered earlier arrived and I couldn’t help myself to start reading them. I hate that I’m so inconsistent, but I will not apologize for yearning for truth.
I received two books and I’m currently about 2/3 of the way through the first book. I have to tell you what I’m reading is very eye opening and compelling. One of the jokes that Rabbi Singer tells is “Why are there Mormons? So the Christian would know what the Jew feels like.” I’ve debated a few Mormons in my lifetime and I basically told them that I cannot accept the teachings of Joseph Smith because the Bible does not allow it. At the time I assumed the Old Testament prophecies concerning Jesus were true, I knew what Jesus and the apostles taught and I knew that in the book of Revelation it said you must not add to or take away from the message of the gospel.
The Bible is my authority and because there is no prophecy concerning Joseph Smith and because what Jesus did was enough for my salvation there is no way I can accept the teachings of Mormonism. What I’m finding out by reading these books that I got and by listening to debates between Rabbi Singer and other Christians is that essentially the same thing is happening. The Jew holds on to the Old Testament as the Word of God and in their opinion Jesus is not the Messiah. The scriptures that Christians hold onto in the Old Testament to testify to Jesus have all been altered by early Christians. The Bible that most Christians possess does not reflect the Hebrew bible when it comes to foretelling Jesus coming, the virgin birth, the trinity and the need for a sacrificial savior.
In the debates I’ve seen so far show that the Christian relies more on their personal experience, Paul’s conversion and the fact there are billions of Christians more than they do on the Old Testament scriptures. The Christian when confronted with these discrepancies really has no answer other than I know my experience and what Jesus has done for others; therefore I know it’s true.
Dr. Craig are you familiar with these books by the Rabbi? Can you help me see what he is teaching is wrong because right now I’m definitely leaning to Judaism over Christianity. Why? Because just as emphatic as I was to stand on the word of God when I debated with the Mormon I believe the Jews seem to be right in their stance on the Hebrew bible and therefore reject Jesus. To me experience means nothing if it can’t be backed up by scripture, especially when my experience has been lackluster at best.
If you can provide me anything to combat what Rabbi Tovia Singer is teaching please let me know, I’ll definitely read it or listen to it.
Dr. William Lane Craig’s Response
I’ve invited Drew Mazenec, a member of my Defenders class with a considerable background in Judaism to address your question, Don. I’m going to resist saying more, but will simply mention that I once had a brief dialogue with Rabbi Singer on Lee Strobel’s “Faith under Fire” program a few years ago which can be found on YouTube
. I think you’ll see how different is my approach to these questions than yours.
Thank you for your question. I appreciate your candor as someone who seeks to know the truth, and refuses to apologize for it. I wish that more Christians were willing to learn from both Christian and non-Christian thinkers. I have personally taken classes from Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox rabbis, learning what each has to say about what it means to follow God.
My own study of Rabbinic Judaism has given me deeper insight into my own faith. There are many things that Christians can learn from the Orthodox rabbis. From their respect of the Sabbath, to their appreciation of the Bible in its original language, to their educational system, the rabbis provide great insight as to how Christians can live more faithfully.
I am very familiar with rabbinic objections to Christianity, particularly the arguments of Tovia Singer. I have listened to his Let's Get Biblical audio series, and I have been trying to get more Christian apologists to follow along for a couple of reasons. First, Singer shows us that we are often unreasonably skeptical about the writings and teachings of the cults. Counter-cult apologists will mock the Jehovah's Witnesses for believing that Jesus returned invisibly in 1914, and yet fail to realize that many preterists believe that such an event occurred in the year 70 A.D. In fact, Singer uses many of the techniques, illustrations, and slogans of the Christian counter-cult movement in his own material.
Singer also challenges interpretations of the Bible that Christians often assume to be self-evidently true. These other insights into biblical interpretation force us to read the Bible much more carefully. For example, the ending of Psalm 2 can be translated as "kiss the son" or "yearn for purity" depending on how much Aramaic influence one thinks that the author had. Unlike Greek, Ancient Hebrew is a language where a small vocabulary had to express a wide range of meaning. This means that Hebrew words and phrases can be interpreted numerous ways. The rabbis tried to find all the ways that one can interpret a passage, which is why Rabbinics is such a fun discipline.
When I studied the Bible under Orthodox rabbis, I would often ask “what about such and such an interpretation?” Inevitably, there was some rabbi somewhere that shared the same view that I had regarding how the passage was to be interpreted. This is why I was puzzled when Singer keeps claiming that the rabbis have unanimously rejected Christian interpretations of certain passages. It is not true, and no less than J. Immanuel Schochet admitted as much. He said “[Christians] keep republishing books which cite numerous passages from Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, Jewish Bible-commentaries and other works, to validate their arguments. Are we now to erase these quotations from our heritage?” Rabbi Simcha Pearlmutter gave a lecture where he argued that even some of the rabbinic liturgy clearly points to Jesus.
The rabbis also believed that many passages had numerous meanings. Consider Genesis 37:18, where Joseph's brothers conspire against Joseph to kill him. According to the rabbis, this verse means that Joseph's brothers tried to cause Joseph's death from a distance by shooting arrows at him, then incited dogs against him. When that failed, they decided to kill him directly. Again according to the rabbis, this verse also means that Joseph’s brothers regarded Joseph as conspiring to kill them. This way, the brothers were acting in self-defense. The rabbis will then mock the New Testament writers for applying Hosea 11:1 to Jesus.
There are quite a few inconsistencies as Michael Brown has pointed out in his lectures. I have summarized his case in a video that I have made. Singer forgets that the Old Testament has many of the same "problems" that he finds in the New Testament. For example, the rabbis reconcile the Exodus 20 passage of “remember the Sabbath” with the Deuteronomy 5 passage of “guard the Sabbath” by saying “God said both at the same time.” If you give the New Testament that kind of leeway, it is quite easy to harmonize as well.
Singer also believes that the Masoretic text of the Old Testament is the original, and that the Septuagint and Samaritan Pentateuch are corruptions of the text. In scholarly circles, such a position is marginal at best. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls showed that during the late second temple period, there was not one variant of the text, but different texts whose small differences reflected the biases of the different sects that possessed them. Emanuel Tov (who is not a Christian) writes about this in Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible, where he points out that of the copies of the Bible found at Qumran (all written in Hebrew), about 35% were considered Proto-Masoretic, 5% followed the Septuagint, 5% followed the Samaritan text, and the rest were not aligned with any of these three.
Consider this handy chart for the textual history of the Hebrew Bible. The Masoretic Text (MT) is a couple of generations later than the Septuagint (LXX). This is not to say that the Septuagint is closer to the original than the Masoretic Text, but that both stem from a source now lost to us.
I also wouldn't recommend Judaism if one wants to be faithful to the Bible. The key passage in the Talmud which defines the rabbis' view of the Bible is the Akhnai Oven story in Bava Metzia 59b. In it, Rabbi Eliezer brings many proofs from the Bible for his position, but the sages were not persuaded. He invoked miracles, but the sages did not listen to miracles. Finally he said "If the Law is with me, let a voice come from heaven and say it." God spoke from heaven that Rabbi Eliezer was right, and the sages said "We do not listen to a voice from heaven, since long ago we learned that the Torah is not in heaven. After the majority one must incline." The kicker here is that the prooftext comes from Exodus 23:2, which according to the Artscroll translation states: “Do not be a follower of the majority for evil; and do not respond to a grievance by yielding to the majority to pervert the law.” The passage plainly states not to go with the majority, and the rabbis interpret it to say “go with the majority.”
Christianity has powerful evidence in its favor, wholly apart from messianic prooftexting. The evidence from history is quite powerful as Dr. Craig explains in his debate with Jamal Badawi. Gary Habermas also gives a powerful case in his lectures. Singer will respond that the New Testament is unhistorical because most skeptical scholars believe it contains contradictions. First, Michael Brown mentioned that the Bible difficulties in the Old Testament are at least as difficult as in the New Testament. From my experience in the Society of Biblical Literature, mainstream scholarship is significantly more critical of the Old Testament for containing errors and anachronisms than the New Testament. Regardless, Shabir Ally tried that “contradictions” tactic in a debate with Dr. Craig, and it did not go well for him.
Even the majority of atheist scholars recognize the basic facts about Jesus' radical self-image and resurrection from the dead. Regarding the Old Testament, atheist scholars believe that it has a little bit of history surrounded by legend and myth. Two Orthodox Jewish historians of the New Testament, Geza Vermes and Pinchas Lapide, said that on the basis of the evidence, they were convinced that Jesus was raised from the dead. The exodus of the Israelites from Egypt, on the other hand, is rejected almost universally by liberal and atheist scholarship as a legend invented around the time of the Babylonian exile. So I would challenge any rabbi with the claim that the evidence for Jesus' radical self-image so vastly outstrips the evidence even for the existence of a historical Moses. On what basis do they believe the latter and reject the former?
On to resources:
I agree that most Christians have done terribly when debating Tovia Singer, just as most pastors have performed horrendously when they have debated skeptics like Christopher Hitchens. They act like all they have to do is tell a few stories and proclaim the name of Jesus and the Holy Spirit will do the rest, which is bad theology. Dr. Craig, on the other hand, takes debates very seriously, which is why he is so good at them. Michael Brown is also skilled at debating rabbis, and he has done a 90 minute radio debate with Tovia Singer.
Another good source is an audio series that Michael Brown made in response to Singer called Countering the Counter-Missionaries. He also has a companion 5-volume series called Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus. Regarding rabbinic tradition, Shawn Lichaa (also not a Christian) wrote a small book on how the rabbis violate the meaning of the Old Testament named As It Is Written. You can't go wrong with Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ and The Case for the Real Jesus. The Isaiah 53 Controversy is a video response to the rabbis regarding Isaiah 53 and why their interpretation clashes horribly with the surrounding context.
Finally, I suspect that your lackluster experience is the real heart of the matter. Are you a member of a church? Are you part of a small group? If so, what do your fellow group members think is going on? We need to support one another as part of a community of believers. Studying under Orthodox rabbis helped me discover something bizarre about our psychology. The very same arguments against Jesus which seemed so powerful when I heard them in the Jewish kollel seemed quite weak when I repeated them to my Christian friends. The arguments did not change, but their impact and plausibility changed depending on the environment I was in when I thought about them.
I suspect that this is why nearly all instances where an apologist goes apostate occur when the apologist tries going at it alone. Lone wolf apologists are fools, and quite often crumble under the pressure. Again, we all need to be part of a community of believers, drawing spiritual strength from one another and reinforcing each other through encouragement and accountability.
בשם ישוע המשיח צדקנו
( In Christ ),
P.S. Mormonism has much bigger problems than adherence to Scripture. Archaeology, linguistics, and DNA testing have strongly contradicted claims in Mormon teachings. Haven’t you wondered why there are never any maps in the back of the Book of Mormon?
 Artscroll Chumash, Page 203.
 Gary Habermas mentions this in his debate with Ken Humphreys. Lapide admits his belief in the resurrection of Jesus near the end of The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective. I think that the admission by Geza Vermes is in The Resurrection: History and Myth.
 For example, Mordecai Kaplan believed that the Exodus was unhistorical and that the Pentateuch was edited rather late. The American Judaism of Mordecai M. Kaplan, page 309.
This post and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website: www.reasonablefaith.org