Even though most things in Christianity can be traced, in one form or another, to their original Jewish roots, modern Christians rightly have lots of questions about Jewish ideas and practices. The idea of thanking God by a male Jewish worshiper for not being a woman raises our modern eyebrows to high heaven! Please, allow me to explain.
Part of the traditional daily prayer for male, observant Jews runs: “Blessed are you, LORD our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has not made me a woman.” Prior to that, a traditional Jewish man also blesses God for not making him “a Gentile” and “a slave.” To many people, these statements conclusively prove Judaism’s anti-gentile and anti-female posture. But is this conclusion correct?
While the entire Torah was given to Israel, many of its important laws were meant for the nations. But even within Israel, the laws applied differently to different groups (men, women, priests, Levites, kings, and slaves among others). The basic conclusion here is that Torah was and still is for everyone in general, but not every law in Torah is for everyone in particular.
Even though there are Torah commandments that the nations must obey, they are not responsible to observe the same number of commandments as are Jews. Therefore, thanking God for “not making one a Gentile” is not a statement of Jewish superiority of any kind; but an indication of readiness and willingness to obey more commandments! (the same principle applies in the case of women and slaves).
The Apostle Paul taught that the Torah’s laws were never designed as a mechanism for placing anyone in a position of right standing before Israel’s God. He argued that, with the coming of Jesus, inclusion of Gentiles into the membership of God’s people must follow the original Israelite method that was at work in Abraham’s justification by grace through faith. Abraham believed God; then he was declared righteous, and only then was he circumcised (cf. Gen 15:1-6; 17:1-14; Rom 4:1-3). Paul even argued that the idea that Gentiles are being accepted by Israel’s God without circumcision is testimony to the Torah’s veracity! He was absolutely right (see Rom 3:31).
It is in this Torah context that Paul explained how Gentiles become full members of God’s family, through belonging to the Jewish Christ, without conversion to Judaism. For Paul, in the community of Christ there is no place for preferential treatment between various groups; all are equally beloved and accepted by Israel’s God in Yeshua.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. (Gal 3:27-28)
As a side note, an intriguing point should not be missed. It is remarkable that not only are the three groups (Jews/Gentile, slaves/freemen, men/women) mentioned in Galatians and the traditional Jewish prayer practically the same, but they’re also mentioned in the same order!
Did you get that? Not only three categories, but also in the same order?!
Among other things, this proves that the Apostle Paul wrote his letters to the nations “from within” and not “from outside” of the Ancient Judaism.
This means that if we are to understand the New Testament’s original meaning, we must learn its Jewish context and culture.