A Rabbi Argues with Jesus—and Loses!

By Wayne Jackson

Jacob Neusner is a Jewish “Rabbi” who has picked a “friendly” fight with Jesus Christ. Neusner, who has just been named research professor of religion and theology at Bard College, has an article in the March 27 issue of Newsweek entitled “A Rabbi Argues with Jesus.”

Neusner, who seems to be a courteous and gentle man, is nonetheless bold enough to argue, with some degree of arrogance, with the greatest religious teacher and leader the world has ever known. The “Rabbi” imagines meeting Jesus face-to-face on a dusty road in Galilee nearly two thousand years ago. He suggests that he would have stopped the Lord and engaged him in friendly dispute. Hear him:

I can see myself meeting this man, and, with courtesy, arguing with him . . . . I can also imagine myself saying, "Friend, you go your way, I’ll go mine, I wish you well—without me. Yours is not the Torah [Law] of Moses, and all I have from God, and all I ever need from God, is that one Torah of Moses . . . . I think Christianity, beginning with Jesus took a wrong turn in abandoning the Torah. By the truth of the Torah, much that Jesus said is wrong.

Several comments are appropriate regarding Professor Neusner’s comments:

First, they are highly inconsistent—in terms of the Torah itself. Jesus Christ affirmed that he was much more than a mere ordinary man. He claimed a “oneness” with God that was unique (John 10:30). He asserted that he actually had come down from heaven (John 6:32-35), that he predated the time of Abraham’s sojourn on this earth, and that, in fact, he was eternal in his being (John 8:58). Jesus confessed, under oath before the Jewish authorities, that he was the promised Messiah of the Old Testament, the Son of the Blessed One (Mark 14:62).

There is no question about the claims of Jesus. They will not be ignored or swept under the theological carpet. Nuesner and his spiritual kin must deal with them.

If Jesus Christ was not whom he asserted himself to be, he was a liar and an impostor. Indeed, the very charge that resulted in the Lord’s death was that he was guilty of blasphemy, i.e., wrongfully claiming divine prerogatives for himself (cf. Matthew 9:3; 26:64-65; Mark 2:7; 14:64; John 10:33, 36; 19:7).

If Jesus was a blasphemer, how in the name of reason can Professor Neusner say of Christ, “Friend, you go your way, I’ll go mine, I wish you well”? That makes no sense. One doesn’t offer well-wishes to a person he considers to be a criminal impostor.

Second, our professor friend shows contempt for the very Torah he professes to honor. Moses, the divinely appointed author of the Torah, declared that the Lord had informed him of an illustrious “prophet” who was to come:

I will raise them [the Hebrews] up a prophet from among their brothers, like unto you; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not listen to my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).

Fifteen centuries later, another Hebrew (Peter), much more familiar with the facts regarding Jesus than is Professor Neusner, declared that Moses’ declaration was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 3:18).

The fact is, by the time of Stephen’s murder, it is estimated that some twenty thousand Jews in the vicinity of Jerusalem had embraced the teaching of Jesus. They revered him as deity—though they had been taught all their lives to honor no mere man as “God.” Why did they do it? The answer is too obvious to miss: they had the evidence to persuade them.

Professor Neusner has picked a “friendly fight” with the wrong man. And it should be a source of embarrassment to him.

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.