Who is a Christian?
A Christian is anyone who believes Jesus is God’s Son whether they be Jewish by birth or a Gentile. The Jewish people have a binary view of the world: ‘us’, the Jewish people (God’s chosen people), and ‘others’, the Gentiles.
We have the same Bible
What Christians call the Old Testament, Judaism calls the Tanak. They are identical, even if one is in Hebrew and the other in English. The Tanak even has most of the same chapters and verses as our Bibles. Still, there are some peculiar differences. The Old Testament has 39 books but the Tanak has 24. They are the same text but the way the books are counted is different, that’s all. For example, the 12 minor prophets are counted as just one book in the Tanak. A good principle to remember when reaching Orthodox Jewish people is that things may look similar but often there are deeper differences beneath the surface.
A different perspective on the Tanak
A Christian understands the words of the Tanak very differently to a Jewish person who doesn’t know Jesus. This can be mystifying at first. If it is the same book, and the Tanak is all about Jesus, why can’t our religious Jewish friend not see that it is all about Jesus? They come to the Tanak with a different lens, and so they see something other than Jesus.
The whole story
The Christian has come to know Jesus and understands that the New Testament is the conclusion to the story told in the Tanak. It is the story of God’s interaction in human history finding restoration with God in the revelation of the Son of God, Yeshua, also known as Jesus.
Judaism, however, sees the Tanak differently. For Jewish people it is about the nation of Israel and their story that began with the Exodus and the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. They are his people, they will always be his people, and even when tragedy befalls them because of their sin, they remain God’s people. So, it should come as no surprise to see that Judaism interprets the exalted servant of Isaiah 53 as Israel. That is why when you talk with your Jewish friend your view and their view may well be completely misaligned.
I have shared about the Tanak but the word you will hear more often is the word Torah. Jewish people don’t think of themselves as religious, they see themselves as Torah observant. The Torah is not the whole Tanak, it is only the first five books, from Genesis to Deuteronomy, and your practising Jewish friend will believe it came directly from God, and the other 19 books came from man, inspired by God. Hence there is a hierarchy to the Tanak.
Judaism holds to the belief that God gave not just the Ten Commandments to Moses but in fact the Torah was given to Moses letter by letter. More than that, God also gave an oral tradition to Moses, telling him how to interpret the written law, and it is this oral law that is the lens of Judaism. This oral law is called the Talmud. After the second temple was destroyed the rabbis committed the oral law to paper and established a new way of life that would not be centred on the temple and its sacrifices.
Some practical principles
When you speak to Torah observant friends, remember that it is easy to use Christian knowledge to make assumptions. You may know the Bible very well, but it isn’t necessarily going to be well received if you tell your well-learned Jewish friend they have it all wrong! I have had many conversations with Torah observant Jewish people, and I have come to see that it takes time, and a relationship of trust, before progress can be made.
When you engage in a spiritual conversation with a Jewish person, remind yourself that you are not entering into a contest. And, of course, when they tell you that you have it all wrong, don’t be defensive. Rather, see this as an opportunity to listen and learn, and ultimately learn their language, and perceive the Tanak from their point of view. Showing an interest in what they believe and asking clarification questions will be crucial in reaching them. You may disagree with them on the suffering servant of Isaiah, but you mustn’t get upset with them, nor feel offended. And don’t be surprised that they desire to prove you wrong. A Christian shouldn’t seek to prove anything but only confess what is true.
Reaching those who are Torah observant is a great privilege. The gospel first came to the Jews – how wonderful when each Jewish soul comes to their King! With a realistic expectation of the journey ahead and the road to traverse, you will not only learn about rabbinic interpretation, but you may also witness the work of the Holy Spirit and new life in Messiah Yeshua.
 Tanak takes its name from its three divisions: Torah, the prophets and the writings, in Hebrew: Torah, Nevi’im, Ketuvim.