Recently, more and more atheists are offering the objection that Christianity stole from ancient religions like Mithraism. They paint Christianity as plagiarized from other faiths, but as I've pointed out here and here; their similarities are more imagination than reality.
However, I recently received a question from a person that took a different tact on Christianity as a borrowed belief. She explains:
I am having a hard time explaining the difference between Judaism and Christianity. I have an ongoing argument with an atheist that goes like this:Does the atheist have a point? If Judaism preceded Christianity by thousands of years, does it make sense that someone can be OK if they become Jewish instead of Christian? Did Christians "change the whole story" and is therefore a less reliable belief system than Judaism? The answer to all of these questions is no, and for a very simple reason: today's Judaism is not the same as the Judaism outlined in the Bible.
He thinks Judaism precedes Christianity and therefore is the correct religion and way of thinking (he doesn't believe in either). He is claiming that Christianity came along later and changed the whole story and that makes Christianity false. "Since Judaism was one of the first religions why am I not following that way of thinking?" he asks.
I have been a Christian my whole life but I still have a lot to learn myself and also how to explain my faith to an atheist. I feel I am always defending my faith and it's very frustrating at times. I am very thankful for finding this ministry and all that you do! I am very blessed to be able to reach out. Thank you for everything! Any advice on how to tackle this argument?
Destruction of the Temple Destroyed Biblical JudaismBefore Judaism was an established religion, they were an ethnic group. When Moses delivered the Jewish people from their slavery in Egypt, he also delivered to them a system of worshiping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in a specific way. Even today, observant Jews recognize Moses' instructions given in the first five books of the Bible, known as the Torah, as the key texts defining what the Jewish faith is. Even the highly influential 12th century Rabbi Maimonides when listing his thirteen principle of faith underlined the central nature of these texts, declaring the prophecies of Moses are true, the Torah that exists today is the same Torah that Moses delivered, and the Torah cannot be changed.1
Yet the Torah poses a problem, even for Maimonides, because it outlines a sacrificial system of worship that places the Jewish priests and their service at the Altar of God right at the heart of the faith. The Israelites in the desert received this law and quickly built the Tabernacle to execute the commands of God. Later, David and Solomon erected the Temple in Jerusalem as a more permanent structure for Jewish worship. After the Jewish captivity by the Babylonians, another Temple was erected then expanded, but the Jewish faithful always had a temple where they could observe the laws Moses wrote down. That ceased in 70 A.D. when the Romans destroyed the Temple, just as Jesus had prophesied (Luke 21:6).
Rabbinic Judaism Cannot Offer SacrificesGiven the destruction of the Jewish Temple, the priestly class was lost in the second dispersion of Jews around the world. In order to maintain their identity and hold on to some semblance of their faith, the local synagogue, which was a local house of worship and study, became the new spiritual center for faithful Jews, and the office of Rabbi (teacher) replaced the priest as the primary authority on how to live a devout life. As Dr. Rich Robinson writes, "It is best, however, to use the term 'Judaism' to refer to the religion of the rabbis that developed from about 200 B.C. onwards and crystallized following the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. In this way, Christianity is not described as a daughter religion to Judaism, but more correctly as a sister: both branched out from Old Testament Faith."2
This is a fair assessment, as the central commands of Moses concerning both the sacrifice and the Temple worship are not being practiced by any Jewish person today. Even the most orthodox follower cannot be orthodox in the key elements of their faith. Given this understanding of Judaism as it is practiced today, it is not older that Christianity. It formed at the same time as Christianity with both faiths anchoring their beliefs in the Old Testament.
Christianity as the Fulfillment of JudaismHowever, there is a big difference between the two faiths. Another principle of Faith that Maimonides wrote was "I believe with perfect faith that all the words of the prophets are true," referencing not simply the Torah, but the entire Old Testament of the Bible. Those prophets clearly and repeatedly, promised a Jewish Messiah that would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), he would be "cut off" during the Temple period (Daniel 9:26), he would be rejected by his own people, (Psalm 22:6), and ultimately be the final sacrifice that takes away the sins of the people (Isaiah 53:5,8). In other words, Christianity is the logical outworking of the Jewish worship taught by Moses. While Rabbinic Judaism reduces the need for sacrifice to a symbolic act of self-denial, Christianity took the Jewish sacrificial system so seriously, the sacrifice of Jesus becomes the center of the Christian faith. As the Book of Hebrews, explains, Jesus fulfills the need for sacrifices and only this fulfillment explains why God would no longer require a temple whereby atonement for sin may be made.
Where to Go from Here?For the atheist, he may or may not find any reason to rethink his objection to Christianity. However, the way the objection is phrased is problematic in itself. One doesn't discern the truth value of a belief by its age. To prove this, all you have to do is point out that a lot of what we believe about the world has been known only relatively recently. Science is learning new things all the time. Even atheism as we see it today is a very new point of view, only coming about in the past couple of centuries. It isn't the age of a proposition that makes it true, it's whether it fits the facts we do know. Christianity fits the prophecies and the need for sacrifice that are clear in the Old Testament. It fits the facts of why there is something rather than nothing, it fits the facts that good and evil are real things, and it fits the historical evidence we have for what happened after Jesus's death. "What fits the facts" is a better question to answer than "how old is it." Perhaps you can begin there.
2. Robinson, Rich. "Judaism and the Jewish People: A Religion Profile from International Students, Inc." Jews for Jesus. International Students, Inc. 1995. Web. 9 Aug. 2015. 1.