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Faith vs. Law

Faith vs. Law

It's the age-old dispute between Judaism and Christianity, what reigns supreme: Faith or Law? Judaism maintains that without the law, ethics and morality wither.


The question of the relative values of law and faith was not and is not simply a matter of opinions. It is a life-and-death problem for both Judaism and Christianity.

Judaism resolutely maintained that deed was paramount; that only action could express faith and attitudes. Christianity firmly held that faith was supreme; that deeds enacted as religious observances were inimical to right faith and served to divert man from his ordained goals.

The salient example and root cause of this clash was the persistent assertion by Judaism that a man could never become a Jew without circumcision, which is the mark of the covenant, the external sign of the inner transformation. The new Christians at the turn of the millennium could not expect to convert pagans if they were to insist upon circumcision as an absolute prerequisite. They then proceeded to declare it completely unnecessary, and even counterproductive to the religious life of a Christian, which demanded a man's soul, not his practice.

When the early Christians annulled circumcision, they split from Judaism.

Until this point in the life of the new religion, the Jewish Sages had regarded their views as untenable, absurd, even un-Jewish, but they explicitly considered these Jewish "Christians" as sectarians, remaining within the fold of Judaism. Now, with the Christian annulment of the requirement of circumcision, they ruled that rejecting a Torah-required practice could not be countenanced and that the endorsers of this idea could no longer be considered within the ambit of the Jewish religion. No longer were they merely backsliding Jews; they were public betrayers who perverted the faith and then abandoned it.


The repudiation of Torah and the claim to possess a successor superior to it have been the contentions of Christians from the very beginning. The "good news" of the apostles was chiefly that the chains of the "law" had been lifted and superseded by faith. Paul's attacks against the law in Judaism are fundamental to Christianity.

The law was the first impediment inherited from Judaism and it had to be jettisoned as obsolete and even harmful. Whereas Judaism holds that ethics and morality are preserved by the law, Christianity contends that they are bludgeoned by the law. The dispute continues to this very day; it is the reason for the canard, glibly repeated by multitudes of Christians, that the "Old Testament" emphasizes a God of revenge and the "New Testament" emphasizes a God of love.

That view will not withstand a moment's glance at the history of religious wars, which will quickly demonstrate whether it was law or faith that preserved the spirit of love.

Far from being enslaved by the law, Jews were enamored with it.

The law, therefore, will forever be the strongest element of contention between Judaism and Christianity, for its existence spells the negation of Christianity and its abrogation the negation of Judaism.

In fact, far from being enslaved by the law, Jews were enamored with it.

The law, so much criticized by its daughter faith as severe and unforgiving and identified with the "dead letter," is mayim chayim, refreshing, life-restoring, living waters to Jews; the sweetness of honey and milk, the joy and strength of wine, and the healing power of oil. It is an "elixir of life" that brings healing to all.



September 2, 2000

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Raja, March 14, 2007 11:02 PM

Faith Vs Law

Head without a body is useless,so both is required as to serve God we need both FAITH and LAW.God's judgements is
based on boths DEED and WORK.

(4) Ron Fink, May 24, 2002 12:00 AM

Faith vs Law

As a gentile believer in the G-d of Abram, Isaac and Jacob, I see no contradiction here. Faith enables us to believe G-d is, and to seek to know Him in a more intimate way. The Jewish understanding of Torah, learning that produces a change is most desireable.

(3) john gunter, January 28, 2002 12:00 AM

law-faith its both

As a Christian I find it appalling that many churches preach that the law is dead. I often wonder how the same churches can preach that one should be holy--how does one become holy? By obeying the law. How does one keep from having a heart attack? By obeying the dietary laws. SIMPLY PUT--without law and a LAWGIVER there is no good or evil and you leave the door open for certain calamity. The law is for us to conduct are self ordinarily and faith is for the extraordinare. Thank you for the teachings

(2) Anonymous, September 8, 2000 12:00 AM

Ok - needs examples!

The essay was good as far as it went. HOwever, it stopped short of being convincing to someone who might be wondering if Judaism is relevant. It was missing examples. A theoretical shell was presented. The meaning comes from details. For example, in the last paragraph,

"The law, so much criticized by its daughter faith as severe and unforgiving and identified with the "dead letter," is mayim chayim, refreshing, life-restoring, living waters to Jews; the sweetness of honey and milk, the joy and strength of wine, and the healing power of oil. It is an "elixir of life" that brings healing to all." there is no explanation why or how Jews consider Torah "living waters".

I hope my thoughts are taken in a constructive sense.

(1) Anonymous, September 7, 2000 12:00 AM

consice and bringing the subject to the point

Let's face it: man just DOES need a law as a set of rules defining his/her behavior, his/her way to live and die. Apart of having deep religious reasons (fence around Torah ...), this appears to me an obvious psychological fact. The point of the Christian side claiming that the law slaves man whereas "a pure faith" (it would take an extra discussion to figure out what's actually meant by that term) does free him or her has always turned out to fail working in reality. That point of view resembles very much the idea of total people equality as a source of social peace and happiness. It just doesn't work! In fact even inside of Christianity there have always been some sorts of rules even though they haven't been referred to as Halacha. So this argument of "freeing faith" seems to play with that dangerous and often destructive side of human nature which wants to act out of emotinal status quo, without thinking of consequences and comforting itself that there will be a forgiveness afterwards anyway.
I know of many Christian theologians (in Germany) who are well aware of those flaws in the old argumentation of the church. The step towards mutual (Jewish-Christian) understanding must lead through this change of Christian theology. However I wonder what would be left of Christianity after this admission. These German Christian theologians were fair enough to say that what we'd have then in Christianity is kind of a pagan-oriented version of Judaism.
After all things said above about our problems and differences let's not forget what unites both re

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