The story of a New Testament


Dr. Jacob Gartenhaus (1896-1984)


Jacob Gartenhaus was reared in an Orthodox Jewish home in Austria, but moved to America in search of riches. Then his own brother, having found far greater riches, was instrumental in ‘reorienting’ Jacob’s search. This is his fascinating story – a story in which the New Testament played such a crucial role.

I was reared and educated in the strictest of orthodox Jewish homes, and at the early age of three years I began to attend the Jewish schools of learning. My parents had already dedicated me to become a rabbi. Every time I went out of the house, I always turned left – never right – for there was a church there, and my mother would tell me never to go near a church. My father warned me not even to look at a church. Every time the name of Jesus was mentioned, I placed my fingers in my ears to make sure that I would not hear it a second time. Never did I hear a Jewish person utter that name, for it was considered a grave sin to do so. One day, I noticed a beautifully bound little book lying in the street. When I picked it up and opened it and saw a picture of a cross in it, I immediately threw it to the ground, brushing off my hands. But that was not enough; I went and got some water and washed my hands, not once but six times!

Years ago, if anyone had come to me saying: “You either become a Christian or we will take your life; make up your mind,” I would have replied: “My mind is already made up; take my life, for I would rather die than believe in Christ.” Today I would rather die than deny Him. Life to me would be meaningless, worthless and without hope – Jesus Christ is either Lord of all people, or Lord of none, and that includes the Jew.

Just before leaving Austria for America, I decided to spend a day with my older brother, who was then living in Vienna. He had been away from home for several years studying and had already graduated from two of the famous rabbinical schools. As soon as I arrived in the city, my brother told me of an experience that he had had, which changed his life. One day, he said, as he was strolling along one of the busiest streets, a strange man, standing on the corner greeted him and then handed him a little book. He thanked the man for it, and when he opened it, he noticed that it was the forbidden book written in Hebrew, the New Covenant, or as we know it, the New Testament.

At first my brother wanted to return it immediately to the man, or even tear it up. But curiosity got the better of him, and so he took it home, safely hidden in his coat pocket and, behind locked doors, began to read it. He was surprised, as are most Jews, to find on the very first page such familiar names as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, besides others. He read on, he told me, until he came to the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew which contains the Sermon on the Mount. That made a profound impression upon him. How can that be a book of sin when it contains such marvelous sayings? How can Jesus be an impostor when He taught such wonderful things? He called people to repentance and faith in God!

My brother told me that he was so captivated by the New Testament that he read it all night. He then made a careful study of the Old Testament prophecies and compared them with this New Testament. He was finally convinced, beyond a shadow of any doubt, that the promised Messiah of the Old Testament was none other than the Christ of the New Testament.

It took him some nine hours to tell me his experience. When he first began, I felt as though I was dreaming and later as though I was having a dreadful nightmare. We had quite a discussion. I remember my last words before leaving: “You may believe in that man, but, as for myself, I would rather die than believe in him!” I left him heartbroken.

Soon after I arrived in the United States, I received a letter from my brother. I had hoped that, in it, he would confess that he had made a mistake about his new-found belief, but instead his entire letter was a sermon, pleading with me to search the Scriptures. I tore up the letter. Then came a second letter; he no longer urged me to search the Scriptures. Unwittingly I found myself reading the Word of God as the letter began with some of the Old Testament prophecies and under each was the New Testament fulfillment. It was several pages long. I tore up the letter! Then came a third and finally a fourth, in which he informed me that he had decided to come to America. I suspected the reason! Meeting him at the boat I soon told him, in no uncertain terms, that, if we were to live together in peace, we were not to discuss any religious matters. I had no interest whatever, I told him. I further told him that I was a free man; I was in a free country and I could do as I pleased. I repeated that he could do anything he wished, but to leave me to follow my own way of life.

Days passed and my brother never said a word to me about his new religion, but I could not help but notice that he had something, which I did not have, a peace that the world cannot give or take away. And though I longed for it, I would not accept the one, who alone, he said, could give peace. In time, I began to show a little interest and to read some of the tracts that my brother had, and even to attend some services. Then I decided to go to the only reliable source, the Bible. I spent hours and hours, when I could find time during the day and at night, comparing Old Testament prophecy and New Testament fulfillment. I remember spending a whole night searching the Scriptures, and likewise the next day. I was wrapped up in it, not even taking time to eat. I was already feasting on the “manna” from heaven.

One day I went with my brother to a prayer service, which resulted in a sleepless night and, several days later amidst painful heart searching, in a visit to a church. While the worshipers were engaged in silent prayer, the compelling voice within, which had drawn me to the church, whispered: “You too pray. Your time of grace has come. Don’t delay …” Right there a change took place in me, and I shouted: “I have found him! I have found the Messiah!” While there was a great peace and joy flooding my soul – so much so that I rushed out from the church into the street, loudly announcing my discovery in Yiddish – I learned that the world did not share my enthusiasm, rather beatings and imprisonments awaited me.

I soon felt the call for Christian service, and through the heartaches and headaches and poor response that I experienced, I believed in a brighter day to come. And oh, what a change, indeed, did come about! Shut doors opened, and hearts of steel softened. The forbidden book, the New Testament, is now widely read and studied. It has been years since I have heard a Jew refer to Jesus as an impostor. He is now referred to as a great Jew, a great Teacher, a great Prophet, and thank God for the thousands who have accepted Him as their promised Messiah.

What is taking place among the Jews today is best portrayed in the familiar story of Joseph and his brothers. You will recall that Joseph was despised, vilified and betrayed, and considered dead by his father. Later, circumstances caused his brothers to come face to face with the one whom they rejected and by then thought dead: a world-wide famine had occurred, and it was Joseph who saved not only his brothers but also all Egypt from starvation. Likewise Israel is conscious of universal spiritual hunger with the result that many of them are now turning to the One, whom they once rejected with the cry: “Away with Him!” They are being reconciled to Him. And the Book, formerly despised, the New Testament, is now being widely read and studied.

Let me repeat that it was a New Testament which was the means of winning my own brother who, in turn, was the instrument that God used, humanly speaking, in my own conversion. During the past half-century the Lord has used me, his humble servant, to win scores and hundreds of his own people, and they, in their turn, have been winning others besides!

Reprinted with permission from the International Board of Jewish Missions,