‘The one big exception to this generalisation about shared moral assumptions between Christianity and Judaism was that early Christians argued with Jews about the extent to which they were bound by the specifically religious or ritual aspects of the Jewish Law. Early Christians on the whole believed that Jesus had taught that it was not necessary for his followers to continue to obey the Law. They would cite examples from the gospels where Jesus had said, for example, that Jewish food laws or laws about ritual purity were unimportant, or where Jesus was shown to have broken the laws about keeping the Sabbath.
Modern New Testament scholars have been able to show that on the whole Jesus was not as hostile to the Old Testament Law as early Christians tended to believe. He may have wished to interpret the Law in a particular way, to intensify some of its provisions (see the examples in the box), perhaps to accept occasions when it should be broken or when people should be exempted from obedience to it, but he did not wish to see it abandoned.
These modern insights would have been very unfamiliar to the early Christians. They took at face value what they read in the Gospels about Jesus’ apparent hostility to the Law, and this was one point in the debate with Judaism where Christians argued a good deal about what Jesus had actually taught (or at least what they thought Jesus had taught), and showed themselves very hostile to the Jewish way of life. Ignatius of Antioch put it very simply: ‘if we live according to Judaism, we confess that we have not received grace’ (Magnesians, 8: New Eusebius, pp. 13-14); and he went on to contrast ‘keeping the Sabbath’ – ie Judaism with ‘a life ruled by the Lord’s say’ – ie the resurrection, therefore the life of Christians.’
Richard A. Burridge, Jesus Now and Then, page 119-120. Emphasis added.
The Revd Canon Professor Richard Burridge is a Church of England priest, biblical scholar and the former Dean of King’s College London.