Review: A Zeal For God Not According To Knowledge: A Refutation of Judaism’s Arguments Against Christianity, by Eric V. Snow.


Book Overview

This book’s intro­duction begins by ex­plain­ing what aspects of belief in Christianity it defends, and what is beyond its scope.  Here it also lays the necessary philosophical groundwork for readers who may be skeptical about only one true religion existing, may think any critique of Judaism’s truth-claims is neces­sarily anti-Semitic, or may believe this debate is simply irrelevant in today’s multicultural, diverse society.  It also describes the four representative defenders of Judaism whose works were chosen to be quoted and examin­ed for this book.

The book next takes up an extensive defense of the New Testament using the standard arguments of conservative Christian apologetics.  The three standard tests for evaluating a historical document’s reliability are given a chapter each:  (1) the biblio­graphical test,  (2) the external evidence test, and (3) the internal evidence test.  Next, the claims that first-century Christian doctrines were derived from the pagan mystery religions and Gnosticism, are examined and refuted in separate chapters.  A full chapter is also given over to the careful exegesis of the battleground Messianic texts of the Old Testament.  The arguments of the defenders of Judaism are quoted and refuted.  Another chapter defends Christian salvation theology against the attacks mounted against it by the defenders of Judaism.  The next-to-last chapter upholds the New Testament’s portrayal of first-century Judaism, such as concerning the oral law, and how accurately the Pharisees were portrayed.  The last chapter is a careful defense of the deity of Christ based upon a detailed analysis of the relevant New and Old Testament texts.

Although using solid scholarship that attempts to avoid claiming more than can be safely supported by reason and evidence, the book still takes an aggressive, even polemical stance against the Jewish critics of Christianity.  It attempts to deal with the arguments of the defenders of Judaism in extensive detail in order to make a more convincing refutation than a general, super­ficial work would make, thus appealing to the scholarly in this regard. Although having a full set of footnotes and a bibliography in order to increase its value to scholars, it is still careful to define its terms, and to identify various persons mentioned, in order to make itself more accessible to average, but concerned, members of the general Christian public.  It is aimed at Jews who wish to con­sider seriously the arguments for Christianity, at Christian missionaries working among Jews who would need to know the arguments of their opponents in advance and how to refute them, and at perplexed lay Christians whose faith has been shaken by the arguments of their Jewish friends or spouses.

A key purpose of this book is to bring three genres of conservative Christian apolo­getics under one roof:  (1) a general defense of the Bible’s inerrancy (in particular, the New Testament), (2) the case for first-century Christian doctrines not coming from the beliefs of pagan religion, and (3) an exegesis of the Old Testament’s messianic texts as being fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.  Instead of having to hunt through three books (or more) for arguments defending Christianity against Judaism, a layman or laywoman now would need to consult only one.


Chapter-By-Chapter Synopsis


Chapter One:  Introduction


This chapter sets the parameters of the debate and lays down the necessary philo­sophical framework.  It makes clear what the book does in defending Christianity against its Jewish critics, and what it doesn’t.   It ex­plains why the debate between Christianity and Judaism still matters in a diverse, multicultural world.  It gives reasons for believing there is only one true religion, as against the common belief there are many ways to God.  It also describes why the long history of “Christian” anti-Semitism fails to prove that Jesus wasn’t the Messiah.  Why a critique of Judaism doesn’t have to be anti-Semitic is also explained.


Chapter Two:

Historicity of the New Testament  Defended: The Bibliographical Test


This is the first of three chapters that defend belief in the New Testament as the inspired and inerrant word of God.  This chapter explains how well the New Testament stacks up against pagan historical works based on the amazingly large number of New Testament manuscripts and the relatively small time gaps between the earliest New Testament manuscripts and the autograph (first copy) of the New Testament, when compared to pagan historical works which historians accept with few doubts.  It also deals with the issue of the canon and evidence that the New Testament was written in the first century A.D.  The issues form criticism raises about the reliability of oral transmission in the hands of the primitive Christians are analyzed.  Claims that only gentile Christian writers after the first century wrote the New Testament are rebutted as well.


Chapter Three:  How External Evidence Confirms the New Testament


In this chapter, ancient primary historical sources and archeological discoveries that deal with the same people, places, and/or events of the New Testament are examined for whether they confirm or undermine belief in it.  The historical reliability of Luke is defended generally, but especially in connection with the 4 B.C. census that Quirinius conducted.  The early non-Christian sources that mention Jesus outside the New Testament are described and examined.  The arguments against miracles by the Scottish philosopher David Hume are scrutinized.  Why the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ trial should be considered reliable is also delved into.


Chapter Four:  Internal Evidence Test:  Does the New Testament Contradict Itself?


After explaining some general ways to deal with the alleged discrepancies of the New Testament, a long list of commonly cited, purported “contradictions” is dealt with, one by one.  The characters of Paul and Jesus are defended against various attacks.  Belief in the resurrection is defended on historical and logical grounds.


Chapter Five:  Did Paganism Influence Early Christianity?


This key chapter systematically refutes all claims that first-century Christianity derived its teachings and sacraments from the pagan mystery religions of the Roman Empire.  It digs deeply into the detail needed for convincingly refuting such claims, especially those made by the Jewish Talmudic scholar, Hyam Maccoby.  Certain standard errors routinely committed by those making such derivations are described before going into greater specifics.  Claims that the Eucharist and baptism were derived from paganism are closely examined.  Supposed precedents for Jesus’ birth, atoning sacrifice, and resur­rection, as found in various specific pagan cults are scrutinized and found wanting.  The case for the parallels between paganism and Christianity not necessarily being so problem­atic, is also considered.  The comparisons made by Michoel Drazin between Buddhism or Hinduism and Christianity are also shown to prove little.


Chapter Six:  Was Gnosticism the Source of Christian Teaching?


This chapter examines in detail Maccoby’s claims that Paul’s beliefs were derived from the ancient Roman religious/ philosophical movement called Gnosticism.  After the crucial definitional issue is examined, the chapter makes a comparison between Plato’s philosophy and Gnosticism in order to show that many Gnostic beliefs could have been derived from Platonism.  The chronological problems that undermine Gnosticism as being a leading source for first-century Christian doctrine are examined in detail.  The real differences that appear be­tween the beliefs of Gnosticism and Christ­ianity when they are carefully examined, are brought to light.


Chapter Seven:  The Messianic Texts Revisited


Chapter seven carefully examines all of the most important Old Testament texts that prophesied of a Messiah to come, such as Isaiah 52:13-53:12 and Daniel 9:24-27.  Certain distinctions, such as the difference between types and direct predictions, and some common ways of misinterpreting these texts are analyzed.   Standard Jewish inter­pretations of these texts are quoted and refuted.


Chapter Eight:  How Is a Man or Woman Saved?:  Judaism Versus Christianity


This chapter analyzes the arguments that the defenders of Judaism have launched against Christian soteriology.  The theory of atonement (i.e., “Why did Jesus have to die?”) is carefully developed and compared to the Jewish theory of atonement as presented by its defenders.  Paul’s salvation theology is defended against claims that it is lawless and makes grace into a license for sin.  Problems with Jewish soteriology, such as the would-be requirement to continue offering animal sacrifices, are also delved into.


Chapter Nine:  Is the New Testament’s Portrayal of First-Century Judaism Accurate?


In chapter nine the claims that the New Testament mischaracterized the Pharisees as self-righteous legalists are examined.  Maccoby’s defense of the Pharisees is especially scrutinized, such as their purported deep patriotism.  The claim that the oral law didn’t require the separation of Jew and Gentile is refuted.  The age of the oral law is also examined.


Chapter Ten:  Was Jesus God?


Using both the Old and New Testaments, this chapter is a systematic, in-depth defense of the deity of Christ and of the plurality of the Godhead.  It engages in careful, close exe­gesis of the relevant texts in order to refute misinterpretations of them.  Because the defenders of Judaism cite the New Testament in order to bolster their case, even as they deny its authority, their arguments are dealt with nearly as if they were Christian Arians or Unitarians.


Appendix, Bibliography, and Index


This book has a brief appendix that compares the translations of the messianic texts as found in two standard Jewish translations (the Tanakh, JPS), compared with two conservative, literal Christian translations (NKJV, NASB).  Here it’s shown that the bias of the Jewish translations of the messianic scriptures in some cases approaches that of the notorious New World Translation of Jehovah’s Witnesses vis-à-vis the deity of Christ.  An extensive bibliography consisting of sources cited in the notes is included.  Although no index has been prepared to date, one should be included for this book once the final pagination has been determined in order to increase its reference value to scholars and others.

                                                                                                                  — by Eric V. Snow W

Bio of Eric V. Snow


Eric V. Snow, 37 and unmarried, has an M.A. in history, and B.A.'s in history, philosophy, and marketing from Michigan State University. He works in the metro Detroit area as an office facilities coordinator for the Shared Service Center of Lafarge North America Inc. and part-time as an instructor for Davenport University.


How to Order A Zeal for God Not According to Knowledge


Send $40 for the soft cover, or $50 for the hard cover (both, postpaid), to: Eric V. Snow, 20 Oak Hollow #260, Southfield, MI 48034.  OR, request a free 30-day loan of the hard cover edition from: Sharing Library, PO Box 581, Granville, OH 43023.

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