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The Christian and the Pharisee

by Dr R T Kendall and Rabbi David Rosen

This book is a series of letters between two friends, one a well-known evangelical minister, the other a distinguished rabbi. At first sight the title comes as something of a shock but this is because we as Christians have often misguidedly used the word “Pharisee” as a synonym for hypocrisy. But for Rabbi Rosen, Pharisee is a title of honour. This is because, as he explains, Orthodox Judaism views the Pharisees as representing mainstream Judaism in New Testament times, and claims direct descent from them. Understandably, therefore, Rabbi Rosen objects to our largely negative Christian use of the word.
The debate in these letters is carried out at the level of deepest mutual respect and friendship. As such, it is a model of courteous and gracious interaction between two strong-minded people of differing faiths. Nevertheless, the exclusive claims of the Christian gospel are uncompromisingly explained.

Rabbi Rosen explains and defends his Orthodox principles very cogently, not least in his defence of the Oral Torah as the authoritative explanation and re-application of the written Torah to each succeeding generation. Whilst modern scholarship would rightly question his assumption that today’s Orthodox Judaism represents a straight-line continuity with Pharisaic Judaism – and also his assumption that the Pharisees represented the mainstream Judaism of Jesus’ time – Rabbi Rosen nevertheless presents a strong and coherent case for the Oral Torah. And for those who assume that religious Zionists must inevitably ignore the just rights and concerns of Palestinians, Rabbi Rosen shows how biblical and Orthodox principles have led him, as a religious Zionist, to cherish a deep concern for the Palestinians.

Space does not allow for discussion of Rabbi Rosen’s thoroughly pluralistic view of other religions, nor of his somewhat post modern view of the interpretation of Scripture, which seems to allow opposing interpretations to be equally valid. However, he answers Dr Kendall’s arguments from the Old Testament in a spirited and carefully reasoned manner.

Dr Kendall’s letters constitute a clear case for taking the Christian gospel to the Jewish people. He is deeply aware of Jewish sensitivities due, in part, to the long history of persecution by professedly Christian people; but he rightly insists that concern for truth must ultimately override such considerations. We may not always agree with the details of Dr Kendall’s arguments. Indeed, Rabbi Rosen corrects his interpretation of Habbakuk 2:4 from “the righteous shall live by his (God’s) faithfulness”, to “the righteous shall live by his [own] Faith” (pp. 39 and 66) – at this point Rabbi Rosen is closer to Paul’s understanding of the verse than is Dr Kendall (cf. Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11). Nevertheless, Dr Kendall presents the gospel with clarity and a rightful plea for careful attention to the real meaning of Scripture.

More could be said but hopefully the above comments are sufficient to encourage any with a genuine concern for the Jewish people, not least, those who want to share the gospel sensitively with them, to read this uniquely fascinating book.

The Christian and the Pharisee
Dr R T Kendall and Rabbi David Rosen
190 pp. ISBN: 9780340908747
Available from Shalom Ministries

Article written in 2006

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