A Christian Response to Jewish Objections of Jesus
Table of Contents
In his book titled Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus, author Asher Norman outlines twenty six reasons why Jews reject both Jesus and Christianity. He attacks the person of Jesus, the reliability of the New Testament, and the need for salvation as taught in Christianity. It would take a book to respond to each and every argument proposed by Norman. However, this paper will address arguments that lie at the heart of his objections. It will respond to his objections concerning Jesus as Messiah, the New Testament as inspired, and the need for atonement as taught in the Bible. The paper will also demonstrate that Norman’s objections to Jesus and Christianity are without merit.
Asher Norman questions if Jesus actually ever existed, and even if he did exist, he would have likely been a “minor first century anti-Roman zealot.” Norman also posits that Jesus was possibly nothing more than an ancient archetype repeated. Jesus allegedly followed a formula common in mythic legends such as those of Hercules and even Gautama Buddha. According to Norman, the historians are silent with regard to Jesus, and all of the historical evidences used by Christians are less than convincing regarding the person of Jesus. Norman attacks historical sources used by Christians to prove the existence of Jesus. Regarding Flavious Josephus, Norman quotes from his work:
Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
Norman points out that this passage is suspect from his perspective. It is highly unlikely that Josephus would speak in such glowing terms of Jesus as an unbeliever. Norman also points out that the Christian fathers knew nothing of this passage and claims that the passage first appeared in the writings of Eusebuius in the early fourth century and he is probably the author of this passage that is attributed to Josephus.
In response, Christians have long acknowledged that this passage is a possible interpolation and even redaction. However, there are scholars who do hold to the original reading. Nonetheless, there is good evidence to suggest that the bulk of the statement was made my Josephus. We have an Arabic version of Josephus which is believed to predate the version quoted earlier. Professor Schlomo Pines of the Hebrew University translated the passage into English. Most of the passages remain intact with some modifications. Jesus is referred to a wise man and his disciples “reported” that he appeared to them after his death. Both Professors Pines and David Flusser of the Hebrew University believe that this translation predates Eusebuius since it is unlikely that an Arabic copy would have been censored by the Church. In any case, this passage is evidence that Jesus did live and that the idea of his resurrection was well known.
Norman glosses over the second passage written by Josephus which reads “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James.” This is an important passage. Josephus explains that James was “stoned.” This not only proves that Jesus did exist, but also that he had a brother named James just as the Gospels mention. Not only that, this must have been a significant event for Josephus to report it. Surely Josephus did not report the stoning of every “minor” historical figure. What made James noteworthy was his relationship to Jesus. Therefore, Jesus must have been a significant figure since the mention of Jesus was, in the view of Josephus, significant enough in itself. He did not have to give details since the details were well known to his audience.
Regarding Tacitus, Norman says that Tacitus never mentions Jesus, but a person named Christus. Norman goes on to mention that Tacitus probably got his information “from Local Christian hearsay.”
In response, let’s look at the passage since Norman never quotes Tacitus:
Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate
The word Christus is a Latin translation of Christ. Tacitus says that Christians are named after him. That is exactly what we call ourselves today, Christians after Christ Jesus. Norman himself uses “Jesus” and “Christ” interchangeably in his book. Tacitus also says that Christus suffered the extreme penalty which was crucifixion. He further mentions that it was conducted by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius. This is an exact match with the gospel accounts. Norman provides no evidence of who else it could be. He just rejects the obvious, regardless of how obvious.
Norman attempts to cast doubt on the writing of Pliny the Younger, who served as a Roman governor in Asia Minor. Pliny wrote concerning the early Christians whom he had contact with and interrogated personally. Norman says that Pliny says nothing of Jesus. Norman does not quote the Pliny; he just discounts his witness as being irrelevant. Norman is wrong. Pliny writes that the Christians “sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god.” In the words of Christian scholar Gary Habermas, this clearly indicates that “Christ was worshipped as a deity by early believers.” This was written around AD 112, within two generations of Christ’s death. They were not following clever tails passed down hundreds of years, but would have had direct contact with those who would have had first-hand knowledge of the events. It is also interesting that a Roman governor would mention an insignificant sect started by a man who never existed. It is more likely that Christ did live and was worshipped as God just as the New Testament records.
The fact, Habermas quotes seventeen non-Christian ancient sources that mention Jesus. Collectively, they paint a picture of Jesus that is consistent with the New Testament. If we are to doubt the existence of Jesus, we will also have to doubt the existence of most historical figures.
According to Norman, the early Christians did not believe that Jesus was God. As alleged evidence, he explains how the early church had a large number of gentile believers called the Arians who rejected the divinity of Jesus. The Arians believed that Jesus was a prophet and created being, who was not equal with God in a Trinitarian sense. According to Norman, It wasn’t until Emperor Constantine convened a church council in Nicea Turkey in 325 C.E., that Jesus was formally elected God by the council. So, according to Norman, Jesus was not God until hundreds of years later. The divinity of Jesus was therefore a creation of the Church.
There are a number of responses to this argument. First, just because there are those who do not hold to the main tenants of any religion, does not in and of itself mean that the religion is not true. There are always dissenters. This is true in Judaism as well as any other belief system. Judaism has had its share of groups with dissenting beliefs such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Boethusians who “denied the existence of the spirit world and the possibility of resurrection.” According to renowned Jewish Hebrew scholar Michael Brown, “The Dead Sea Scrolls reflect legal and religious arguments between different Jewish groups.”
Second, the early church believed Jesus was God and we know this from early non-Christian sources. As mentioned earlier, in 112 C.E .Pliny the Younger wrote that the Christians “sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god.” Further, we have Lucian, a second century Greek satirist, who was not at all fond of Christians, who wrote “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day.” These are just two non-Christian sources that are evidence that the early Christians worshiped Jesus as God long before the Council at Nicea.
Third, Scripture teaches that Jesus is God. The ultimate authority for Christians is the New Testament. It is here that we find the best and strongest support for Jesus being God. Jesus himself claimed to be God both directly and indirectly. Jesus said “Before Abraham was, I am” (Jn. 8:58). The implications of this statement was clear to the audience to which Jesus was speaking. When Jesus said “I am” he was claiming the name God used for Himself in Ex. 3:14. Upon hearing this, the Jews picked up stones to stone him. Stoning was the penalty for blasphemy. The blasphemy was claiming to be God. In fact, Jesus was crucified for blasphemy.
We also see in the New Testament that Jesus indirectly claimed to be God by accepting worship on numerous occasions (Mt. 20:20, Mt. 28:8, Jn. 20:28, Mk. 5:6) and never rebuked anyone for worshiping him. Jesus forgave sins (Mk. 2:5). Jesus requested prayer in his name (Jn. 14:13, Acts 7:59). Jesus claimed to have the power over life and death (Jn. 10:17-18). Even his disciple doubting Thomas understood exactly who Jesus was in light of his resurrection when he said to Jesus “My Lord and my God” (Jn. 20:28 ).
Finally, it is not true that Jesus was “elected” God at the council of Nicea. The whole point of the Nicean council was to codify the beliefs that already existed in the face of growing heresies. All groups eventually face challenges from within. Paganism, Gnosticism and unorthodoxy challenged long held Christian beliefs. In the words of Norman Geisler “it was exactly because of the dangers of paganism that the Council of Nicea formulated the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.” The challenge of paganism was defeated based on the clear teachings of Scripture.
Norman attempts to prove that the New Testament was not written by eyewitnesses. His arguments are based on the epistles not mentioning Jesus and the alleged corrupted nature of the Bible.
First, according to Norman, the epistles never mention a Gospel. That implies that the Gospels did not exist until after the epistles were written. Norman also says that the epistles use a divine Jesus as the starting point and never identify “christ” as a historical person. It is the position of Norman, that the epistles were written first, and the gospels were written later to prop up the epistles.
In response, the epistles make no sense without the Gospels. Norman is wrong in his statement that the epistles knew nothing of the historical Jesus. Paul mentions the resurrection of Jesus as a historical person in 1 Cor. 15:3-8.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also
Paul is clearly referencing the crucifixion of Jesus. Otherwise this passage makes no sense. Paul uses Jesus and Christ interchangeable in his letters. He even refers to “our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 16:24). The fact that Paul did not have to rehash all of the details of the crucifixion is an indication that the audience of the epistles knew the facts surrounding the crucifixion. Other epistles indicate the authors were personally aware of a historical Jesus and the events concerning his life and ministry. Peter writes “For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty” (2 Peter 1:16) . The writer of Hebrews wrote regarding those falling away from the faith, “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame” (Heb. 6:6). He was clearly aware of the crucifixion of the historical Jesus.
Second, according to Norman, the gospels were written around the second century and do not present a credible history of Jesus. Norman mentions that Matthew could not have been the author of the gospel since he spoke in the third person. Norman also rejects that John wrote his gospel since “John has none of the infancy, childhood or other ‘historical’ material found only in Matthew and Luke.” According to Norman, the first Christian reference to a written Gospel was the Gospel of Mark around 125 C.E. and it was not until 175 C.E. that all four gospels were written by name. Based on this alleged evidence, Norman maintains that neither the apostles, nor eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels.
In response, it was a common literary style to write in the third person. If this is evidence against Matthew as the author, we will also need to conclude that Moses did not write Exodus (Ex. 3:14), Leviticus (Lev. 8:4), Numbers (Num. 5:1), or Deuteronomy (Dt. 1:5) since they all refer to Moses in the third person.
Furthermore, in response to John not being the author because he did not mention the childhood stories of Jesus, this objection makes little sense. Why should John mention those if they were already well known from the other gospels? Also, they simply did not fit into the purpose of John’s book. John explicitly state his purpose as “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name” (Jn. 20:31). He was not writing a historical record such as Luke, so there was no need for such details.
There is good evidence that the Gospel of John was written by John since the author refers to himself as the “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” (Jn. 21:7) who was seated next to Jesus at the Last Supper (Jn. 13:23-24), and to whom Peter motioned. So it was someone who was part of the inner circle and obviously not Peter. The author could not be James since James died in A.D. 44 and most scholars agree this book was written after the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 70. Furthermore, the Gospel of John contains numerous people, places, and events which have been verified as first century. Scholar Craig Blomberg in The Historical Reliability of John’s Gospel, list 59 facts that have been confirmed by archeology and/or non-Christian writings.
Finally, in response to Norman’s claim that the Gospels were never quoted until C.E. 125, he is wrong. Clement writing from Rome in A.D. 95 quotes from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We see that John was quoted by Ignatius in A.D. 107 along with the vast majority of the rest of the New Testament. Whether or not the names of the gospels were used is irrelevant since the names were never considered inspired.
Norman says that the New Testament has been repeatedly altered and changed. In response, the alleged evidences that Norman makes against the New Testament can also be made against the Old Testament. For instance, Norman uses source criticism in which liberal theologians teach the Bible was corrected and modified over its history. That knife cuts both ways. Most institutions of higher learning subscribe to the “documentary theory” which “is a hypothesis which seeks to separate out the various ‘sources’ behind the present text of the Pentateuch.” It is the view of liberal scholarship that Moses could not be the author of the Pentateuch. In fact, liberal scholarship holds that maybe only a couple of the Old Testament books where written by one author, but were redacted over time.
Liberal scholarship and the documentary theory are based on an anti-supernatural bias. The point is simply that much of the same criticisms Norman uses against the New Testament can also being used against the Old Testament.
Neither Norman nor any liberal theologian has demonstrated that the Bible has been changed. There are variations but that is to be expected with a manual copying process. But the variations in the New Testament are minor and do not affect any doctrine. We know exactly what the variations are and they are listed is most Bibles as footnotes. There are thousands of New Testament manuscripts with more being discovered all the time. The thousands of manuscripts ensure that we are able to recreate the original manuscript. Each copyist will make mistakes; however, all of the copyist won’t make the same mistake. This is how manuscript scholars are able to recreate the original from the copies.
Norman makes several statements to explain away the atoning nature of Jesus’ blood. First, Norman asserts that in Jewish theology each person is responsible for their own sin. He quotes Ez. 18:21 “the soul that sins, it shall die!” So, according to Norman “The Christian idea of vicarious atonement through belief in the blood sacrifice of Jesus is a moral reversion…Ezekiel rejected the Christian concept of atonement by vicarious atonement.” Norman points out that in Ex. 32:32, Moses offered himself as atonement, and God rejected his offer stating that each person was responsible for their own sin. So, according to Norman, God clearly rejects the idea that one person can atone for the sins of another person. He alleges that this is proof that the blood of Jesus could not atone for the sins of others.
In response, Ezekiel is talking about the saving of temporal life. He is not talking about the saving of the soul or eternal salvation. Furthermore, just because God rejected Moses as a sacrifice for His people, does not mean that God rejects the idea that blood has the power of atonement. As Michael Brown point out, the idea of vicarious atonement is taught within the rabbinic traditions. Brown quotes the world-renowned specialist in early Jewish traditions Geza Vermes that Isaac actually shed blood on the altar at the hands of Abraham and that blood has atoning power. The Midrash interprets the blood spread over the doorpost during the first Passover (Ex. 12:13) to refer to the blood of Isaac. According to the Midrash, God says “‘And when I see the blood, I will pass over you’— I see the blood of the Binding of Isaac.” According to Vermes and other respected Jewish religious experts, God was not looking at the blood of lambs, He was looking at the blood of Isaac.” Brown points out that even today when a leading Rabbi dies, it is common for mourners to say “May his death serve as atonement for us!” So clearly, there is the idea in Judaism that death can atone for the sins of others.
We also see in Scripture that God accepted death as a means of atonement. In Num. 25:7-8, when one of the Israelite men took a Moabite woman into his tent in full view of the assembly, Phinehas stuck a spear through both of them. God rewarded Phinehas and stopped the plague of judgment because Phinehas “was zealous for the honor of God and made atonement for the Israelites” (Num. 25:13). So the idea of the atonement through death is both Scriptural and traditional for Jews.
Second, according to Norman, blood was not the only way to atone for sin. He points out that according the Jewish Bible, flour (Lev. 5:12-13), incense (Num. 16:46-48), and prayer (2 Chron. 6:36-39) could all be used to atone for sin in place of animal sacrifices. Consequently, the blood of Jesus is not necessary to atone for sins.
Norman mentions that in Lev. 5:12-13, God allowed flour to replace blood offerings for those too poor to provide an animal sacrifice. However, as Michael Brown points out, this is not true, Scripture says that “the priest, who shall take a handful of it as a memorial portion and burn it on the altar on top of the offerings made to the LORD by fire.” The flour will be mixed with the blood that is already on the altar to make atonement for his sins. The flour itself makes no atonement.
Regarding atonement through incense, Num. 16:46 in the Hebrew Bible reads “Take your censer and put incense in it, along with fire from the altar, and hurry to the assembly to make atonement for them.” If we look at this in context, we see that this actually refers to stopping the plague, not making atonement for sins. Brown points out that the verb kipper in this context means to “make appeasement,” not to make atonement.
Regarding atonement through payer, Norman uses the prayer offered by Solomon in his dedication to the Temple to demonstrate that prayer alone is sufficient. Norman writes King Solomon clearly stated that when the Jewish People did not have access to their Temple, prayer alone would cause God to forgive their sins.”
In response, Solomon gave his prayer during the dedication of the Temple. God heard their prayers based upon the sacrifices offered at the Temple. God responds to Solomon in 2 Chron. 7:15, “Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer offered in this place.” The destruction of the Temple was a sign of divine judgment. It meant that God had temporarily rejected His people and “no Temple meant no national atonement.” This explains why Ezra was so determined to rebuild the Temple. Ezra states “they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening sacrifices” (Ez. 3:1). The purpose of burn offerings is atonement. Clearly Ezra thought that blood sacrifice was necessary for atonement.
As Michael Brown further points out, blood is the focus of the entire biblical atonement system “Take away the blood, and the entire biblical system of atonement collapses.” Animal sacrifices were offered in the Book of Genesis by Abel, Noah, Abraham, and Jacob and it was the blood of the lamb that stood between life and death during the first Passover. The blood is the only method of atonement provided for by God.
According to Norman, there is no Trinity in Judaism. Norman gives three reasons that allegedly prove his position. First, Norman states “According to Judaism, the trinity represents the ‘gods of others.’ The concept of the trinity is not Jewish. It is entirely pagan and Christian in origin.”
In response, the question should not be what Judaism teaches, but what Scripture teaches. Scripture makes it clear that God is one. Christians are in agreement on this issue. We totally accept the Dt. 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” But the question now becomes what is meant by “One?” Hebrew scholar Michael Brown points out that the Hebrew word for One is ‘echad and an analysis of this word “actually means a compound unity.” Brown points out that this same word is used in Gen. 2:24 in which man and woman united became “one (‘echad) flesh, clearly a compound unity.” Brown also points out that the word ‘echad can also mean “one” in the sense of “that one alone.” He even points out that the “the NJPSV translates Deuteronomy 6: 4 as, ‘Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.’” What Moses was communicating was that the Lord alone was Israel’s God, not absolute monotheism. In fact, Brown says “there is not a single verse anywhere in the Bible that clearly or directly states that God is an absolute unity.”
As to Norman’s charge that the Trinity is pagan in source, it is difficult to respond to this charge since he does not provide any evidence or explain his conclusion. He just states it as if it is fact.
Second, Norman says that since Jesus was finite, he could not have possibly been an infinite God, and if Jesus appears as God “in another mode of being, then Jesus was not really a distinct person, but God in another form.” Furthermore, “The idea that Christ was both fully ‘god’ and fully man, however, is self-contradictory. God is by His very nature, an infinite being.”.
In response, Jesus is not a mode of God like an actor playing different roles. What Norman is referring to is called modalism which is considered a heresy by the church. There is one God composed of three separate personalities. The Father is not the Son is not the Holy Spirit. A good analogy to describe the Trinity is three candle lights in a room. They are all distinct, yet they combine to give off one light. There is no distinction of where the light from one begins and the other ends.
Moreover, the idea that Christ is fully God and fully man is not self-contradictory. The Son, who is the second person of the Trinity, put on humanity, but they are two separate natures dwelling in one person. Although Norman states that this is contradictory, he never explains why. And although God in infinite, He can put on humanity.
There are multiple examples of God appearing in the form of a man in the Old Testament. God appearing to Abraham is one example (Gen. 18). Jacob wrestling with God is another example (Gen. 32:24-30). Still another example would be God speaking with the elders on Mt. Sinai (Ex. 24:9-11). Scripture is clear that God appeared in the form of a man on a temporary basis on multiple occasions. Why could God not appear as man for longer? If not, then would this not imply a limitation in God? This is what Christians call the incarnation. It is the idea of an infinite God dwelling in the body of a finite man.
Third, Norman also says that the idea of the Trinity is not a mystery, but irrational “there is a difference between ‘mystery’ and the irrationality of thought that occurs when words become unintelligible.”
In response, there is nothing unintelligible or irrational about the Trinity. Three persons in one person would be a contradiction, but this is not the Trinity. The Trinity is three separate persons that make up one being. This goes beyond our understanding, but it is not a contradiction. The idea of mystery exists in both the Old Testament and New Testament. For instance, it seems the whole idea of God creating the universe out of nothing seems contradictory. How could this be possible? We also do not know how God could be having a conversation with Abraham, yet still run the universe at the same time. We do not know how God could dwell in the Ark of the Covenant, yet be enthroned in the seat of heaven. So, whatever the nature of God, it is just as much a mystery to both Jews and Christians.
The objections of Asher Norman fail. Jesus not only exists but he is the promised Messiah. He is God in the flesh. The New Testament is an accurate account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. The objections of Asher Norman are without merit.
However, there is something more important than the alleged objections of Norman. His book implies that Jews cannot believe in Jesus. He is wrong. According to Michael Brown, himself a Jew, there are more Jews believing in Jesus today than ever. They recognize that Jesus is the fulfillment of the sacrificial system. They realize that Jesus provided the last and ultimate sacrifice, and by being sinless, he was the perfect sacrifice to atone for the sins of not just Jewish believers, but whosoever believes. I encourage every Jew to examine the evidence for themselves. God has surely not forgotten you. He has provided for your eternal reconciliation through one of your own. That someone is Jesus, the Christ.
 Asher Norman, Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Black White & Read, 2007), 183.
 Flavious Josephus, quoted in Norman, 185.
 Gary Habermas, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company, 1996), 192-196.
 Ibid, 194.
 Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, trans. William Whiston (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 538.
 Asher Norman, Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus (Wheaton, IL: Black White & Read, 2007), 2008.
 Tacitus, quoted in Habermas, 187.
 Habermas, 199.
 Ibid, 187-218.
 Norman, 79
 Martin H. Manser, Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies (London: Martin Manser, 2009).
 Michael Brown, Answering Objections to Jesus: General and Historical Objections (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000), 1:3239, Kindle.
 Pliny the Younger, quoted in Habermas, 199.
 Lucian, quoted in Habermas, 206.
 See Gary Habermas for early Christian examples
 Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 492.
 Norman, 141.
 Ibid, 144.
 Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004), 263-268.
 Ibid, 236.
 William Lasor Sanford, David Allan Hubbard and Frederic William Bush, Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 10.
 Geisler and Turek, 225.
 Norman, 106.
 Brown, 2:160.
 Brown, 1:116.
 Norman, 113.
 Brown, 2:140.
 Ibid, 103.
 Norman, 81.
 Brown, 2:4.
 Ibid, 2:4
 Norman, 82.
 Ibid, 83.