The majority of the books included in the New Testament were written or ascribed to have been written by the apostle Paul. Paul claims to have the status and authority of a prophet and experienced visions and learned teachings directly from a heavenly Jesus. He never knew Jesus as a person. He says:
“For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12)
The Gospels make the claim that John the Baptist too was a prophet. (Matthew 11:7-15)
It is fairly obvious that Jews do not accept these claims. What is not clear to the devout Christian missionary is why. It is crucial to understand why this is in order to make progress to finding clarity on the Jewish approach to the Torah and then by extension why it rejects the claims made by Christianity and the New Testament.
Before we can say who is and who is not a prophet, we need to agree on a criteria for how we know who is and is not a prophet. We cannot simply just assert that someone is a prophet because they claim to be. Both Jews and Christians agree that the prophetic writings included in the Tanakh in the Hebrew scriptures are credible and reliable. No one denies that Jeremiah or Isaiah were prophets. But the reasons that each religion accepts their testimony is not the same. A Christian missionary will often claim that the reason they accept that Isaiah was a prophet is because it is in the Bible, and the Bible is scripture and Jesus accepted that the Bible was divine and from God. They will often rely on quoting from the prophets in asserting that they foretold the prophecies that Jesus would fulfil. This shows that they must therefore believe that the prophets words were credible and authoritative to them. But how would they know that their words were prophetic at the times that they lived, hundreds of years before Jesus.
Not that Jews believe their words were talking about Jesus at all, but lets for now say that they were, their words did not become prophecies simply when they were fulfilled by Jesus some 500 plus years later. They were considered to be prophecies by Jews in the times that they lived. Even today there are words in the prophets that have not yet been fulfilled but yet they are accepted as authoritative and the word of God by Jews.
The Authority of Moses Prophecy
Moses is considered to be the greatest prophet that ever lived. No prophet will achieve the level of prophecy that he achieved, even the Messiah will not be as great as Moses. The first question is what is unique about Moses prophecy and how can Jews know that they can trust that Moses was a true prophet?
I refer the reader to my other writings Why Do Jews Accept The Torah? Understanding The Foundations of Judaism Part 1. In summary the Jews accept the Torah and the prophecy of Moses because the entire nation heard God speak to them directly at Mount Sinai and did not hear from God solely through Moses. Often people think that Moses just went up the mountain and then came down with some tablets. If this were the case he could easily have made these tablets himself and then claim he spoke to God and He gave them to him. But this is not what the Torah says. It says:
“HaShem said to Moses, “Behold! I come to you in the thickness of the cloud, so that the people will hear as I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever.” (Exodus 19:8-9)
The people not only heard God speak to them directly (Exodus 20:1-14, Deuteronomy, 4:33-35) they heard Him speaking to Moses indirectly. This is what makes Moses and the first five books of the Torah written by him, the yardstick for all future revelations. What is written in the Torah is the ultimate authority.
The Later Prophets
It is clear however that in the case of the later prophets that their words were not revealed with a national revelation like that of Moses. So how do we know that they are true prophets and not false prophets?
God revealed in the Torah He gave to Moses a credible vetting system that we are to follow in order to test those who will come in the future claiming that they are a prophet. If one is a true prophet then the Jewish people are obligated to listen to what he says. But at the same time we were warned at Sinai that God will send false prophets as well. The Torah says in Deuteronomy:
“The entire word that I command you, that shall you observe to do; you shall not add to it and you shall not subtract from it. If there stand up in your midst a prophet or a dreamer of a dream, and he will produce to you a sign or wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes about, of which he spoke to you, saying, “Let us follow gods of others that you did not know and we shall worship them!” – do not hearken to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of a dream, for Hashem , your G-d is testing you to know whether you love Hashem your G-d with all your heart and all your soul. ” (Deuteronomy 13:1-4)
We can infer from this what signs might lead one to think that one might be a prophet, such as the ability to produce a sign or a wonder. A miracle or predicting future events correctly for example. This indeed is important in so far as getting our attention, but is not enough to determine whether or not he is indeed to be listened to. We learn that if he teaches the people to follow gods that the people did not know then they are not to be listened to.
Who Jews are to direct their worship
The people who determine whether or not the subject of worship differs from what was experienced at Sinai is the Jewish people and the testimony that has been passed down to them by their parents and grandparents. This is particularly apparent when missionaries try to convince the Jews through their evangelism that God is part of a trinity or a triune deity. No Jew ever understood God in such terms. In fact the early Jewish followers of Jesus too never believed in such a thing. This is clearly different to what the witnesses of the Sinai revelation passed down in their testimony of what the concept of God is and how to worship Him.
“Has there ever been anything like this great thing or has anything like it been heard? Has a people ever heard the voice of God from amidst the fire and survived? Or has any god ever miraculously come to take for himself a nation from amidst a nation, with challenges, with signs, and with wonders, and with war, and with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm, and with greatly awesome deeds, such as everything that HaShem, your God, did for you in Egypt before your eyes? You have been shown in order to know that HaShem, He is the God! There is none beside Him!” (Deuteronomy, 4:33-35)
The Jews at Sinai did not see any image, they only heard a voice. God has no form and is not physical and certainly by their account not a human. The book of Numbers clearly says “God is not a man that He should be deceitful, nor a son of man that He should relent.” (Numbers 23:19)
The Torah is a testimony and the Jewish people are the witnesses. The doctrine of the trinity developed slowly among non-Jews through the Roman Catholic Church. The Church fathers were not Jews and therefore not credible recipients of the chain of transmission of the testimony of what the Israelites claim God is and how He is to be worshipped. The Exodus and the revelation at Sinai was an event in history that the Jews witnessed, accepted as having taken place by both Jews and Christians. Therefore it is the Jews claim that is credible, not the contradictory reinterpretation of non-Jews thousands of years later. One cannot accept a witnesses testimony and at the same time deny it and claim that they saw something that they claim they didn’t, or were taught something they claim they weren’t.
The Rambam (Maimonides) in his Introduction to his Commentary on the Mishnah describes some subcategories of false prophets:
“Those who claim to be prophets can be subdivided into two groups: those who prophesy in the name of false deities, and those who prophesy in the name of God.
[In particular,] prophecy in the name of false deities can itself be subdivided into two categories:
a) A prophet who arises and says that the spirit of a star has rested upon him and told him that it should be worshipped in a particular manner. This also includes a person who claims to prophesy through inspiration of an image… like the prophets Ba’al and the prophets of the Asherah.
b) A person who arises and says that he has received a vision from God telling him to serve a particular deity.”1
Jesus, Prophet, Rabbi, Sage or Messiah?
Given what we discussed earlier, God as taught to the Jews by their parents and ancestors is what defines God. Some Christian groups may argue that Jesus in the gospel accounts did not believe he was God, He clearly believes himself to be inferior to the Father and not His equal. Other Christians will disagree and assert that Jesus himself believed he was God the son, or at least a co-equal to God or God made flesh. This by all accounts in Judaism is unacceptable. Many missionary sects now days seeking to persuade Jews to accept Jesus and subsequently the Christian Bible will agree with this position and they can find compelling verses in the gospels (e.g. Matthew 5:17-19, 19:16-17, Luke 16:17) to demonstrate that Jesus would have agreed with the Jewish position. This does not make Jesus a credible prophet for other reasons, but if he were it would mean that based on the gospels he falls under the category of a false prophet that claims to prophesy in the name of God.
What the Christian missionary does not mention is that there are other verses in the gospels that are ascribed to Jesus where he does contradict the Torah. Christian apologists will defend this assertion by claiming that he was not disagreeing with the Torah, he was just disagreeing with the Rabbis of his time, or he was just “reinterpreting” the Torah, or something to that affect. These explanations do not fit with the Jewish criteria. On the first argument that he never spoke against the Torah, the following verse from the gospel of John undermines the Torah explicitly:
“Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”” (John 14:5-8)
The Jews were not taught that they cannot come to God but through the Messiah. They can connect to God through the commandments as they were taught. But lets not forget that the claim of Christianity is not that Jesus is just a prophet, but that he is the Messiah. This involves a different discussion as to the role of the Messiah which on numerous accounts Jesus does not fit the biblical criteria. Those who wish to suggest that he was a Rabbi and that they follow him as a Rabbi are being dishonest for if they see him simply as a Rabbi then the first point is that there is no evidence that he was a respected Sage of the generation, for we know who the sages were in that time period and we have their teachings and writings recorded in within the Talmud.
Even if we were to suppose hypothetically that Jesus were a Jewish sage and his words and teachings were included in the Talmud among many others, one cannot claim today that they are simply a disciple of Jesus and follow all of his teachings at the expense of rejecting the others. This is a subject that is a bit beyond the scope of this essay and requires some deeper knowledge about Jewish law, but Judaism is not a pick and mix of following the rulings of whoever one finds to ones taste. We have great Sages in the Talmud who are very respected, but the law is not always ruled according to them, but according to another. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they were wrong, there just has to be one ruling on the given case. So to argue that Jesus simply held a minority view that interpreted something differently to the majority does not help in making a credible Jewish argument. One could suggest the same with other authorities that are accepted among the Tanaim (earliest rabbinic Sages), this too would be unacceptable.
What I have stated above is however giving the missionary more credit than is due and still the argument does not hold. We are not certain what Jesus believed historically. On the one hand the words ascribed to him in the gospels as we have seen above could be argued either way. We do not know with certainly who the historical Jesus was and what he believed. We do not trust the reliability of the Christian Scriptures, and whether Jesus was a loyal pharisee Jew who didn’t preach against the Torah is interesting but irrelevant. What is more important is the messianic claims ascribed to him, which is separate to our current discussion.
Was Paul a Prophet?
What of Paul though? In Paul’s writings he more often than not claims to speak in the name of Jesus or Christ, not God. His vision and testimony that he preaches in his missions to the non-Jews is that he experienced a revelation from Christ. This is inconsistent with the Jewish notion of God that they or their ancestors knew. This is therefore a foreign god or object of worship (Avoda Zara) and forbidden.
A Christian will often attempt to explain why this is acceptable by claiming that they are still worshipping God but they are doing this either through Jesus or they worship God the Father but also Jesus and perhaps the Holy Spirit too. In Judaism anything that is a creation is forbidden to be worshipped. This is defined as Shituf (association), meaning acknowledging and worshipping God along with something in addition or through an intermediary.
The Rambam (Maimonides) lived in Muslim lands and had very little tolerance for Christianity. He ruled that it was no different to Paganism, it was not acceptable for Jews or non-Jews to believe in Christianity because of their belief in the Trinity. He believed that an imperfect Monotheism was not good enough even for non-Jews to believe in.2 Rabbeinu Tam (Rabbi Jacob ben Meir), the grandson of Rashi, leader of the Tosafot of his time in Ashkenazi countries lived under Christian rule, had a different opinion. He ruled that Shituf was acceptable for non-Jews but unacceptable for Jews to believe in.3 He believed that it was not necessary for non-Jews to have to believe in a perfect Monotheism as long as they prayed to and acknowledged the existence of God, it was not considered to have the status as pure Paganism. Both he and the Rambam were in agreement though that Shituf is unacceptable and considered idolatry for Jews.
A Prophets teachings that goes against the Torah
The Torah teaches that one can neither add nor subtract from God’s law. The Torah consistently teaches us that the commandments are eternal (Exodus 31:16-17, Deuteronomy 4:40, 4:5-7, 6:24-25, 7:9-12, 11:1, 12:1, 29:29). The Christian Bible has some very clear teachings ascribed to the words of Paul that clearly preach that the law is no longer applicable once one comes to faith in Jesus. Below are but a few examples:
“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone that believes.” (Romans 10:4)
“But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For you are all children of G-d by faith in Jesus Christ. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:23-28)
In the above verses Paul compares the law in the Torah as necessary only for the purpose of leading the Jews to Jesus, now that Jesus has arrived the law is no longer necessary and both Jews and non-Jews become united in believing in Jesus instead. Paul not only sees the commandments and the Torah not as given by God for their benefit and a connection to Him, but as a dividing wall and a burden which he is happy to be free from:
“For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,” (Ephesians 2:14-15)
“For the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2)
It is a standard belief in Judaism that the emphasis in the Torah lies in ones actions in keeping the commandments. One is not righteous just because of his thoughts. Putting on Tefillin, keeping Shabbat, Kosher, saying the Shema and following the laws is what is of utmost importance. Whilst intention and belief is important, and the teaching is that one should have both, unanimously Jews would agree that keeping the commandments and learning Torah is of primary importance and belief is secondary. Paul says otherwise:
“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of god without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of god which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe; for there is no difference: Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:20-22;28)
Paul, by his own admission claims that he is seeking to win Jews and non-Jews to believe in Jesus by portraying himself as a Jew who is obligated to keep the Torah for the purposes of persuading them to join him. And when he speaks to non-Jews he presents himself as a non-Jew who is not obligated to keep the Torah:
“And unto the Jews I became a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to god, but under the law to Christ), that I might gain those that are without law.” (Corinthians 9:20-21)
A prophet cannot make such claims about the Torah, this is one of the things that would disqualify someone and make them a false prophet. None of the earlier prophets spoke against the Torah in such a way. Their primary purpose as being sent as a prophet was to do the opposite, to scorn the people for not keeping the Torah and to tell them to do so. What is written in the five books of Moses and was taught to the Jews at Sinai is how one measures if the message of a prophet is consistent or not. Above are just but a few examples among many more that were not quoted of Paul claiming that the commandments are abolished and “fulfilled” now through Jesus.
Prophecy ended long before Jesus
There is a concept in Judaism called the decent of the generations. When the Jewish people lived in the wilderness lead by Moses, this was one of the highest levels of prophecy that they experienced. They lived with divine protection from God, they ate manna from heaven, they heard God speak to them at Mount Sinai. They witnessed revealed miracles and their prophet Moses spoke with God whenever he needed to. It is under such circumstances that the written Torah was written. But after Moses dies and the people come under the leadership of Joshua the level of prophecy declined. Whilst Joshua was also a prophet, his level of prophecy was at a different level. The Rambam (Maimonides) in his Guide for the Perplexed explains each of these varying levels of prophecy:
“(1) The first degree of prophecy consists in the divine assistance which is given to a person, and induces and encourages him to do something good and grand, e.g., to deliver a congregation of good men from the hands of evil-doers; to save one noble person, or to bring happiness to a large number of people; he finds himself the cause that moves and urges him to this deed. This degree of divine influence is called “the spirit of the Lord”; and of the person who is under that influence we say that the spirit of the Lord came upon him, clothed him, rested upon him, or that the Lord was with him and the like. All the judges of Israel possessed this degree, for the following general statement concerning them:-“The Lord raised up judges for them; and the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them” (Judges ii, 18) Also the noble chiefs of Israel belonged to this class. The same is distinctly stated concerning some of the judges and kings:- “The spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah”…
(2) The second degree is this: A person feels as if something came upon him, and as if he had received a new power that encourages him to speak. He treats science, or composes hymns, exhorts his fellow-men, discusses political and theological problems; all this he does while awake, and in full possession of his senses. Such a person is said to speak by the holy spirit. David composed the Psalms, and Solomon the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon by this spirit; also Daniel, Job, Chronicles and the rest of the Hagiographa were written in this spirit; therefore they are called ketubim (Writings, or Written), i.e., written by men inspired by the holy spirit. Our Sages mention this expressly concerning the Book of Esther. In reference to such holy spirit, David says: “The spirit of the Lord spoke to me, and his word is on my tongue” (2 Sam. xxiii.2); i.e., the spirit of the Lord caused him to utter these words. This class also includes the seventy elders of whom it is said, “And it came to pass when the spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied, and did not cease” (Num. xi.25)….”
3) The third class is the lowest [class of actual prophets, i.e.] of those who introduce their speech by the phrase, “And the word of the Lord came unto me,” or a similar phrase. The prophet sees an allegory in a dream – under those conditions which we have mentioned when speaking of real prophecy – and in the prophetic dream itself the allegory is interpreted. Such are most of the allegories of Zechariah.
4) The prophet hears in a prophetic dream something clearly and distinctly, but does not see the speaker. This was the case with Samuel in the beginning of his prophetic mission, as has been explained (chap. xliv.).
5) A person addresses the prophet in a dream, as was the case in some of the prophecies of Ezekiel. Comp. “And the man spake unto me, Son man,” etc. (Ezek. xl.4)
 At the sixth level, an angel speaks to him in a dream; this applies to most prophets…
[7} At the seventh level, in a prophetic dream it appears to the prophet as if G-d spoke to him…
 At the eighth level, something presents itself to the prophet in a prophetic vision; he sees allegorical figures, such as were seen by Avraham in the vision “between pieces” (Bereishis 15:9); for it was in a vision by daytime, as clearly stated.
 At the ninth level the prophet hears words in a vision; as with Avraham: “The word of G-d came to him, saying, ‘The will not be your heir’” (ibid. 15:4).
 At the tenth level the prophet sees a man that speaks to him in a prophetic vision, such as with Avraham in the plain of Mamre (ibid. 18:1) and with Yehoshua in Jericho (Josh. 5:13-19).
 At the eleventh level he sees an angel that speaks to him in a vision, as was the case when Avraham was addressed by an angel at the sacrifice of Yitzchak (ibid 22:15). This I hold to be – If we exclude Moshe – the highest degree a prophet can attain (II, 45).” 4
We see here that from Moses time onwards the level of prophecy and revelation of God declined. We see from the above that the level of prophecy of the Prophets was lower than that of Moses, but the books of the Prophets (Neviim) were written on a higher level of prophecy than were the Writings (Ketuvim). The sealing of the Jewish Bible the Tanakh was not closed when it was arbitrarily, it was closed then because the era of prophecy had come to an end.
Why Prophecy ended
There are a few reasons in Jewish thought for why prophecy ended. The end of prophecy is considered a punishment for the peoples sins. The prophet Amos predicted its end:
“A time is coming—declares my Lord God—when I will send a famine upon the land: not a hunger for bread or a thirst for water, but for hearing the words of the Lord. Men shall wander from sea to sea and from north to east to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it.” (Amos 8:11–12)
The Midrash (Pesikta Rabbati 35) says that when the Jews were permitted to return to the Land of Israel by Cyrus because many of them did not and remained in Babylon prophecy ceased.
Prophecy is also ascribed to Gods presence departing from the first Temple because of the peoples turning to idolatry. As a consequence this contributed towards prophecy being lost as well. (Radak, Ezekiel 9:3)
There were still small flickers of miracles that took place in the Second Temple but there were slowly disappearing. The Gemara says:
“In five things the first Sanctuary differed from the second: in the ark, the ark-cover, the Cherubim, the fire, the Shekhinah, the Holy Spirit [of Prophecy], and the Urim ve-Thummim [the Oracle Plate]” 5
Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi prophesied after the Temple was destroyed but their level of prophecy was limited:
“R. Lazar says: they had limited prophecy. R. Samuel b. Nahman says: [Jeremiah’s] prophecy already was given to Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.”6
Another reason for the end of prophecy is that it was needed in the first Temple period in order to counteract the pull towards idolatry, but in the Greek period this desire was no longer as strong as it was during the first Temple period. 7
Since prophecy ended, so too was the canon of Scripture sealed. Christianity obviously decided to reopen scripture and claim that prophecy did not end when it did. As it claims that there were prophets in the first century. One of the tasks that Ezra and the Men of the Great Assembly had was to end prophecy and to canonise the Jewish scriptures, what we call the written Torah, so that it be made clear that there would be no more entries into the canon later.
Prophets in the First Century
Whilst it should be puzzling as to why the Tanakh was sealed when it was to Christians and give pause for thought as to why they did so when they did. But of course a Christian will quite possibly simply reject that prophecy had ended and insist that Paul for example was a prophet. Even if so, prophets were still only accepted through going through the usual channels of checking their credibility, by testing them according to how the Torah prescribes. The Sanhedrin is who carries this out and it was still operational at that time. We have no record of Paul being vetted for credibility and approved by the Sanhedrin, not in Jewish sources or even in the Christian sources. He was not vetted properly or at all as was done with all the Hebrew prophets that are included in the Tanakh, he made his claims after the prophetic era had ended and incidentally his message contradicts what was taught in the Torah given to the Jews by Moses.
1) Rambam, Introduction to his Commentary on the Mishnah
2) See uncensored version of Hilchot Avodah Zara 9:4. “The Canaanites are Idol worshippers, and Sunday is their festival.” Canaanites is the censors alteration, in the uncensored version Canaanites is Romans or Christians.
3) See Meiri Avoda Zara 6, Maharitz Chiyot, Kuntres Tifferet Yisrael
4) Maimonides (1956) Guide For the Perplexed, Dover Publications:USA pp. 241-4
5) Yoma 21b
6) Pesikta D’Rav Kahana 13
7) Yoma 69b, see also Sefer Hasidim, Wistenetzky ed., p. 544; cf. R. Elijah of Vilna, commentary on Seder Olam Rabbah 30; R. Zadok, Divrei Soferim, 21b