Tips for Sharing the Gospel with Jewish People
(or... The Gospel According to Fiddler on the Roof)

I like to read an evangelism message board called Fishing Fools. This message board is made up of a great group of men and women who are passionate about sharing the love of Christ with the lost, and they have lots of experience and wisdom to share.

Whenever I have an evangelism question, that's one of the first places I go!

(If you're interested in being a part of a network of Christians committed to the Great Commission, then please do sign up for your own account over at Fishing Fools!)

Anyhow, I was excited to see a post by a member named Susan called "Evangelizing Jewish People." I posted a lengthy response to Susan's question. I thought it might be beneficial to others as well, so I am posting her question and my answer here for your edification. I hope it is a help and blessing to you!

Susan's question was as follows:

I have met several Jewish people recently, and I don't recall any of them that really understood their Jewish roots. When I try to talk with them about the Passover, or the need for animal sacrifices, they seem to think I am talking to them in Greek. I asked one woman what she was serving at her Passover meal, and she said "chicken". All of the Jewish people I have talked to seem to think they are good people, and that their goodness will get them into heaven. This happens even after I go through the 10 Commandments with them. It almost seems as if they see how well they are doing, instead of how far away from God they are. Does anyone else here have this experience? I have also noticed how the Postmodern thinking has affected them. This is really sad. I think with all of our evangelism, we need to explain to people about God's holiness from the Bible. It seems like that concept is lost. I am praying for God to help me to understand this better so that I can communicate it to those I am sharing with, and they would have a conviction of sin before a holy God.

The following is what I wrote in response:


Hi Susan,

I'm so glad you asked this question, and I truly hope that I can offer helpful insight. As a Jewish Christian myself, I always want to see my fellow Jews come to Christ, and I am always so encouraged when other Christians have a heart to reach out to unsaved Jewish people.

The first thing I'd like to say is that in a generic sense, we ought to witness to unsaved Jewish people the exact same way we'd witness to anybody, whether Gentile, black, white, Japanese, or Martian! It's law to the proud, to show their need for salvation, that they have transgressed the laws of an almighty God, and then, if they are concerned about their plight, we have the privilege to share grace with the humble, to talk about a magnificent Savior who died on the cross and rose from the dead, and there is salvation in no other name than the name of Jesus, and if we repent of our sin and put our faith in Christ alone, He will forgive us every sin we have ever or will ever commit. What a glorious gospel! (And what a run-on sentence!)

Okay, nothing you didn't already know there.

But with any group, it is helpful to know a few things to aid in your presentation of law and grace.

The first thing that needs to be understood is that Judaism is divided up into at least three sub-groups today:

  • Orthodox
  • Conservative
  • Reform

They can be divided up even further than this, but for the purpose of this post, it is sufficient to look at these three.

Orthodox Jews are the ones you see on TV with the prayer shawls (tallit), and the long curls, and little black leather boxes strapped to their heads (tefillin). These are the ones who claim to believe in the Hebrew Bible, and are, percentage-wise, the vast minority of Jews in the world.

You are by far more likely to run into "conservative" or "reform" Jews, who are secular Jews. These are the ones like Susan accurately described. They likely no more believe the Hebrew Scriptures any more than your run-of-the-mill Gentile who grew up in a mainline denomination believes literally in the Bible.

Just as the vast majority of Gentiles who grow up in a mainline denomination do not believe literally in the Bible, but rather embrace evolution, humanism, premarital sex, and hedonism, so too do most Jews today.

So talking about the need for animal sacrifice with a Jew who has little to no idea about such requirements in the Hebrew Scriptures can often be a fruitless (and frustrating) exercise.

I have often watched well-meaning Gentile Christians try to witness to unsaved Jewish people by showing them Isaiah 53, or trying to reason logically, showing the connection between the New and Old Testaments. The thing is, it makes no sense to the Jewish person because they don't believe in Isaiah, or even care.

Most Jews don't know much about what they believe. I bet a 5th grader at a good Bible church knows much more about the Jewish religion than most adult Jews in the United States today.

You see, most Jews are Jews in name only. I call them "Salad Bar Jews." You know when you go to a salad bar, you take what you like, and you leave what you don't like? Most Jewish people are like that.

But here's what Jews do know: they know that they are a Jew, and if you believe in Jesus, you're not a Jew anymore. Period.

I've found that the barrier for most Jews in coming to Christ is not Theological - it's not that they disagree with our hermeneutics. In my experience I've found that the barrier is sociological. Most Jews mistakenly think that if they believe in Jesus they won't be Jewish anymore.

Most Jews are very proud of their heritage, and rightfully so! So when you start to witness to them, in their mind, they're thinking, "Hey, this person is trying to stop me from being a Jew!" So they resist.

Ultimately I believe that it is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict a sinner of their need to repent and trust the Savior, so the only way to win a Jew to Christ is for the person to see their need for Jesus. However, just as you would tactfully witness to, say, a lifelong Roman Catholic, keeping in mind that you ought to explain things in a certain way given the particular errors they have been taught, in the same way I believe it is wise to approach an unsaved Jewish person with wisdom of their particular cultural bias.

Since we know that most Jews think that believing in Jesus is a betrayal of their family, I am always upfront that believing in Jesus is NOT a betrayal of Judaism. In fact, I often excitedly point out to them that believing in the Jewish Messiah is the most Jewish thing a person could do! I often say, "What's more Jewish than believing in the Jewish Messiah?" I often tell them that if Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David were alive, they would most certainly believe in Jesus. I point out to them that Jesus is a Jew and that the New Testament was written by Jews and is a Jewish book! I sometimes break the ice by making a joke such as, "and if the Gentiles want to join in, then they're welcome too, but Jesus is for Jews."

So remember that most Jewish people don't know much about their religion, but they're adamant that they do know they aren't supposed to believe in Jesus. The cross is the stumbling block!

So I would not suggest you talk about blood sacrifice or the Day of Atonement, but rather witness the way you normally would with any unsaved person. Just pay particular care to note that believing in Jesus is actually very Jewish. Tell them that Jesus was a Jew, that King David wrote about Jesus, and that the New Testament is a Jewish book. Tell them how wonderful it is to be from the physical line of Abraham, but don't be ashamed to tell them that unless they add to their physical lineage faith in the promised Messiah, it will do them no good.

Before I finish this post, I want to help you understand the mindset of many Jewish people, as this might be instructive. One of the best movies on understanding the Jewish mindset is the musical "Fiddler on the Roof."

Have you seen it? Great movie! It tells the story of Tevye, a dirt-poor, but hardworking Russian Jew at the time right before the Russian revolution. How does a poor man manage the hardships of life, including trying to find good matches for his five daughters when they have no dowry? How does he handle the stress of his horse going lame, and caring for his animals? Tradition!

Tevye says at the beginning of the movie,

"A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn't easy. You may ask, why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous? Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition!... Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as... as... as the fiddler on the roof!"

It's tradition that is the glue that holds his small Jewish town together. They do things because that's the way it's always been done, even if they have no idea why it has always been done that way. (Makes for a great musical number!)

But seriously, this is instructive for us, because even today so many Jews follow traditions, and like Tevye, have absolutely no idea why they do what they do.

Be prepared for Jewish people to say to you things like, "Jews do NOT believe in Jesus." And if you ask them why, they'll say, "I don't know, but we don't!"

The belief that Jewish people are not to believe in Jesus is as ingrained as Tevye's traditions, and like Tevye, most Jews have no idea why they believe what they believe. So be patient.

Another thing to learn about Jews is that Jewish people culturally are very comfortable living with logical contradictions.

Those with a more Greek-thinking mindset or worldview are not comfortable with contradictions. We know that two contradictory truths can not be right at the same time, but many Jews are not bothered by such things.

You see this with Tevye.

There's a funny scene where two men are arguing about something, and after listening to the first man, Tevye says, "You are right." Then he hears the second person's argument and Tevye proclaims, "You are right." Overhearing this is a third man who protests, "Tevye, you said he is right. Then you said he is right. They can not both be right."

Tevye pauses, and says, "You also are right!"

Now this is funny, but it is also instructive to show that many Jewish people are not uncomfortable with contradiction.

I see this with my own unsaved mother. I've witnessed to her many times over the years, and she will admit that Isaiah 53 has to be about Jesus and couldn't be about anybody else. She will even say that since it was written so many years before Jesus was born, it has to be supernatural, but then she'll conclude, "But I can't believe that."

Very frustrating that she is so willing to live with such contradiction!

And there's at least one more lesson about the Jewish mindset that is found in "Fiddler on the Roof" and that is that many Jews don't know much about the Bible, but they like to think they do!

Tevye is constantly quoting scripture, but he's constantly getting it wrong. He attributes to David what Moses said, and says things that aren't in the Bible at all!

"Tevye: As the good book says, when a poor man eats a chicken, one of them is sick.
Mendel: Where does the book say that?
Tevye: Well, it doesn't say that exactly, but somewhere there is something about a chicken."

Here's another...

At one point Tevye says, "As the good book says, if you spit in the air, it lands in your face."

Anybody with a concordance know where THAT is???

My dad does this. I wish I had a dime for every time he's told me that the Bible says that "Heaven helps those who help themselves."

So go see "Fiddler on the Roof" and learn that Jewish people are comfortable with contradiction, that they like to be spiritual, but most don't know much about their religion, and that they will cling tightly to their tradition, and one of those traditions is that Jews are not supposed to believe in Jesus.

But don't let that discourage you. Just explain to them that Jesus is Jewish, that the New Testament was written by Jews, and for Jews, and open the Law to show them their dire need for a Savior. Then tell them that a Jewish Savior came and they can be made right with God if they repent and put their faith in the Jewish Messiah! What could be more Jewish than believing in the Jewish Messiah!?!

I wrote out my testimony as a tract, and you're welcome to read it to get ideas. In it I share about how I was raised to not believe in Jesus, but how I found out that Jesus was actually VERY Jewish. Then I use the Law to show the need for salvation, and present the cross as the only answer to that need.

You can read this at: http://mystory.sohmer.net.

Also, I recently was invited to give my testimony before a group of people, and it was recorded. You can download an mp3 of that at: http://www.sohmer.net/media/A_Jew_and_His_God.mp3.

And if the person's stumbling block really is that they don't think that Christian doctrines are compatible with Judaism, then you are welcome to give them an essay I wrote that shows that Christian doctrines (including the Trinity, the New Covenant, Baptism, etc.) all are taught in the Old Testament. You can download this essay at: http://www.sohmer.net/media/Are_Christian_Doctrines_Anti_Jewish.pdf.

I also have other resources to help Christians (both Jewish and Gentiles) to reach unsaved Jewish people at http://resources.sohmer.net under "Other Religions." Please feel free to download and use anything that you think would be helpful!

And don't lose heart! Though the Jewish people can be very closed to the gospel, and a frustrating witnessing field, it still pleases God today to save some of them. I offer myself as an example of that. And believe me, if God could save somebody as stubborn as I was, He can save anybody!!!

May God richly bless you as you share Messiah with His people.

And let me know if I can be a help in any way!

in Christ and for His glory,

Mark

© 2017, the Sohmer family