Dialogika

Analyses of Documents and Statements

The Pontifical Biblical Commission's 2001 Study: Selected Quotations and Commentary

Originally posted April 24, 2002; updated January 4, 2009 with new material appearing in gray.

Introduction

In December of 2001, the Pontifical Biblical Commission released a study of major significance to Christian-Jewish Relations, entitled The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible. It was first released in French and Italian. An English translation was posted on the Vatican's website in April, 2002 [click here].

The Commission consists of about twenty Catholic biblical scholars from around the world and its president is the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

The document printed in booklet form is 205 pages in length. It is organized in three sections:

  1. The Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people are a fundamental part of the Christian Bible.
  2. Fundamental themes in the Jewish Scriptures and their reception into faith in Christ.
  3. The Jews in the New Testament.

The study can be seen as an expression of two ongoing strands of development in Roman Catholic thought: (A) the biblical renaissance that commenced with Pope Pius XII's 1943 encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu; and (B) the revolution in Catholic-Jewish relations triggered by the declaration Nostra Aetate issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1965. It is thus useful to read the present PBC study in the light of its previous statements and also with an eye on the documents prepared by the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews. The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible provides a convenient snapshot of the current landscape in both processes of renewal.

In its previous document in 1993, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, the PBC discussed biblical interpretation in this way:

[T]he methods of literary and historical analysis are necessary for interpretation. Yet the meaning of a text can be fully grasped only as it is actualized in the lives of readers who appropriate it. Beginning with their situation, they are summoned to uncover new meanings, along the fundamental line of meaning indicated by the text. [...] The Bible is the word of God for all succeeding ages. Hence the absolute necessity of a hermeneutical theory which allows for the incorporation of the methods of literary and historical criticism within a broader model of interpretation. It is a question of overcoming the distance between the time of the authors and first addressees of the biblical texts, and our own contemporary age, and of doing so in a way that permits a correct actualization of the Scriptural message so that the Christian life of faith may find nourishment. [II,A,1-2]

Dialogue with Scripture in its entirety, which means dialogue with the understanding of the faith prevailing in earlier times, must be matched by a dialogue with the generation of today. Such dialogue will mean establishing a relationship of continuity. It will also involve acknowledging differences. Hence the interpretation of Scripture involves a work of sifting and setting aside; it stands in continuity with earlier exegetical traditions, many elements of which it preserves and makes its own; but in other matters it will go its own way, seeking to make further progress. [III,A,3]

This approach to biblical interpretation has been described by Sandra Schneiders [see her The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture (2nd ed.; Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1999)] as "a dialectic between explanation and understanding" [p. 17]. Explanation in her view is "the analytical and synthetic work by which we distance a text" to hear what it has to say [p. 17]. This is the process of exegesis in the limited sense of using historical and literary critical tools to discern the world of the text itself and the historical world from which it emerged.  Understanding is the process in which the text is incorporated into our present world. It is what the PBC means when it speaks of "actualizing" the biblical text.

Bearing this hermeneutical model in mind, The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible mostly consists of an exegetical survey of numerous biblical texts. Much of the study is devoted to describing the varying perspectives on the Jewish tradition and people expressed by diverse biblical authors. Occasionally there are efforts at actualizing the text in today's Church, most notably in the concluding "Pastoral Orientations" section, but this is not the primary thrust of the document.

This summary presents a selection of quotations from the PBC study, together with some analytical comments. It is not meant to be exhaustive but to provide an overview of important concepts contained in the text.  With one exception, the quotations are grouped according to the tripartite structure of the document. PBC quotations are in red to make them distinctive. In addition, as Lawrence Frizzell has observed, there are some imprecisions in the official English translation of the study from the original French. These are noted below in green.  Comments in gray have been added in 2009.

I. The Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people are a fundamental part of the Christian Bible

Selected Quotations -- Comments
Modern times have made Christians more aware of the close fraternal bonds that unite them to the Jewish people. During the second world war (1939-1945), tragic events, or more precisely, abominable crimes subjected the Jewish people to a terrible ordeal that threatened their very existence throughout most of Europe. [...] In the wake of such an enormous tragedy, Christians are faced with the need to reassess their relations with the Jewish people. Already considerable research and reflection has been done in this direction. The Pontifical Biblical Commission, insofar as it is competent, wishes to participate in this endeavor. Since this obviously does not include addressing all the historical and contemporary aspects of the problem, the Commission confines itself to the current state of research in the field of biblical exegesis.  [§1]

The PBC's opening words recall the question posed in the Vatican's 1998, We Remember: "The fact that the Shoah took place in Europe, that is, in countries of long-standing Christian civilization, raises the question of the relation between the Nazi persecution and the attitudes down the centuries of Christians towards Jews" [II]

The focus on "exegesis" is important. The PBC will seek to explain the diverse ideas of various biblical writers, but will say less about how the biblical witness is to be "actualized" or inform Catholic life in a Church that today is grappling with the implications of the Shoah. If not kept in mind, readers could misread an "explanation" of the thought of a specific biblical writer, such as Paul, as equivalent to contemporary Catholic "actualization".

The question which is asked is the following: What relations does the Christian Bible establish between Christians and the Jewish people? The general answer is clear: between Christians and Jews, the Christian Bible establishes many close relations. Firstly, because the Christian Bible is composed, for the greater part, of the “Holy Scriptures” (Rm 1:2) of the Jewish people, which Christians call the “Old Testament”; secondly, because the Christian Bible is also comprised of a collection of writings which, while expressing faith in Christ Jesus, puts them in close relationship with the Jewish Sacred Scriptures. This second collection, as we know, is called the “New Testament”, an expression correlative to “Old Testament”. [§1]

Cf. John Paul II [Mainz, 1980]: "The first dimension of this dialogue, that is, the meeting between the people of God of the Old Covenant, never revoked by God [cf. Rom. 11:29], and that of the New Covenant, is at the same time a dialogue within our Church, that is to say, between the first and the second part of her Bible." These sentiments also explain why Christians cannot teach about their faith without reference in some way to Judaism.

 

Christianity has in common with Judaism the conviction that God's revelation cannot be expressed in its entirety in written texts. [...]

Having affirmed that the apostolic preaching is found “expressed in a special way” (“speciali modo exprimitur”) in the inspired Books, the Second Vatican Council observes that it is Tradition “that renders a more profound understanding in the Church of Sacred Scripture and makes it always effective” (Dei Verbum 8). [...]

To what extent can there be in the Christian Church a tradition that is a material addition to the word of Scripture? This question has long been debated in the history of theology. The Second Vatican Council appears to have left the matter open, but at least declined to speak of “two sources of revelation”, which would be Scripture and Tradition; it affirmed instead that “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture constitute a unique sacred deposit of the Word of God which is entrusted to the Church” (Dei Verbum 10). It likewise rejected the idea of a tradition completely independent of Scripture. [I,C,2 - §10]

Here the PBC highlights the organic links between Scripture and Tradition. For Catholics since Vatican II these are not dichotomous categories, but part of a process of living the faith of the foundational biblical writers in the ever-changing circumstances and unfolding experiences of communities of faith down through the centuries.

Although not developed by the PBC, this organic understanding allows and requires Catholics to actualize their biblical and post-biblical heritage differently in the aftermath of the Shoah. Previously, Christians read the Bible with the supersessionist premise that the Church had replaced Jews as God's People. In this study, the PBC sets forth an understanding of the Christian Bible that recognizes the People of Israel's eternal covenant with God.

 

For all the currents within Judaism during the period corresponding to the formation of the canon, the Law was at the center. Indeed, in it were to be found the essential institutions revealed by God himself governing the religious, moral, juridical and political life of the Jewish nation after the Exile. The prophetic corpus contains divinely inspired words, transmitted by the prophets and accepted as authentic, but it contained no laws capable of providing an institutional base. From this point of view, the prophetic writings are of second rank. The “Writings” contain neither laws nor prophetic words and consequently occupy third place.

This hermeneutical perspective was not taken over by the Christian communities, with the exception, perhaps, of those in Judeo-Christian milieu linked to Pharisaic Judaism by their veneration of the Law. In the New Testament, the general tendency is to give more importance to the prophetic texts, understood as foretelling the mystery of Christ. The apostle Paul and the Letter to the Hebrews do not hesitate to enter into polemics against the Law. Besides, early Christianity shared apocalyptic currents with the Zealots and with the Essenes apocalyptic messianic expectation; from Hellenistic Judaism it adopted a more extended, sapientially oriented body of Scripture capable of fostering intercultural relations. [I,C,3 - §11]

This passage describes the different interpretative approaches used in the Jewish and Christian traditions, one Torah- centered, the other Christ- centered. These differing "lenses" account for the relative weights of importance given by the two communities to the Torah, Prophets, and Writings. Thus, even though Jews and Christians have canonized many of the same biblical texts, the two traditions construct their meanings very differently.

The PBC also notes that the Christ- focused perspective of the NT writers relativized the centrality of the Torah for them. This dynamic was likely intensified by the early Church's eschatological enthusiasm [i.e., the first Christian generations expected that the Present Age was in their lifetimes giving way to the New Age of God's Kingdom] and by the fairly rapid emergence of the Church into the Greco-Roman world.

It should be remarked that although the PBC elsewhere states that Torah "more precisely means 'instruction'" [§43], it often uses the term "Law" throughout the document. One might argue that this reflects the NT's use of nomos [= law] for Torah, but it could be asked if this usage truly respects Jewish self- understanding (cf. the 1974 Vatican Guidelines: Christians "must strive to learn by what essential traits Jews define themselves in the light of their own religious experience" [Preamble]).

 

II. Fundamental themes in the Jewish Scriptures and their reception into faith in Christ.

Selected Quotations -- Comments

To the Jewish Scriptures which it received as the authentic Word of God, the Christian Church added other Scriptures expressing its faith in Jesus, the Christ. It follows then that the Christian Bible is not composed of one "Testament," but two "Testaments", the Old and the New, which have complex, dialectical relationships between them. A study of these relationships is indispensable for anyone who wishes to have a proper appreciation of the links between the Christian Church and the Jewish people.

By "Old Testament" the Christian Church has no wish to suggest that the Jewish Scriptures are outdated or surpassed. [II,A,1 - §19]

This paragraph counters the sentiment among some Christians that only the New Testament is really important for the Christian faith.  The PBC rejects this and other forms of Marcionism - a denial of the inspired value of the Jewish Scriptures - throughout the document.

 

The PBC's wish to avoid suggesting that "the Jewish Scriptures are ... surpassed" is not entirely consistent with the claim later in the document that, "The new covenant foretold by Jeremiah and established in the blood of Jesus has come through the covenant between God and Israel, surpassing the Sinai covenant by a new gift of the Lord that completes and carries forward the original gift," even though here the subject is "the Jewish Scriptures" and later it is "the Sinai covenant." (On a related matter, see the comments below on §42.) Nor is it entirely harmonious with the insistence in II,A,6 -§21 that Christian rereadings of the Jewish Scriptures are retrospective in the light of Christ.

One might question the PBC's disavowal of any  obsolescence connotation in the phrase "Old Testament." Since such texts as Heb. 8:13 and the use of OT for almost all of Christian history indeed conveyed a sense of obsolescence, it may be that the term does not adequately express Catholic theology in a post-supersessionist Church. To unlearn inherited habits of thought it may be necessary to use language that better expresses current Catholic teaching. This commentator occasionally refers to the "Shared Testament" as a way to convey the present Catholic understanding that the scriptures from ancient Israel are canonical for two living communities of faith.

In Judaism, re-readings were commonplace. … What is specific to the Christian re-reading is that it is done, as we have said, in the light of Christ. This new interpretation does not negate the original meaning. [II,A,2 - §19.]

The last sentence recalls the 1974 Guidelines: "An effort will be made to acquire a better understanding of whatever in the Old Testament retains its own perpetual value (cf. Dei Verbum, 14-15), since that has not been canceled by the later interpretation of the New Testament" [II]. This assertion of more than one valid meaning to biblical texts is an important 20th-century change in Catholic thinking.

The Fathers of the Church and the medieval authors, in contrast, make systematic use of it for the entire Bible, even to the least detail — both for the New Testament as well as for the Old — to give a contemporary interpretation capable of application to the Christian life. For example, Origen sees the wood used by Moses to sweeten the bitter waters (Ex 15:22-25) as an allusion to the wood of the cross; he sees the scarlet thread used by Rahab as a means of recognizing her house (Jos 2:18), as an allusion to the blood of the Savior. Any detail capable of establishing contact between an Old Testament episode and Christian realities was exploited. In every page of the Old Testament, in addition, many direct and specific allusions to Christ and the Christian life were found, but there was a danger of detaching each detail from its context and severing the relationship between the biblical text and the concrete reality of salvation history. Interpretation then became arbitrary.

Certainly, the proposed teaching had a certain value because it was animated by faith and guided by a comprehensive understanding of Scripture read in the Tradition. But such teaching was not based on the commentated text. It was superimposed on it. It was inevitable, therefore, that at the moment of its greatest success, it went into irreversible decline. [II,A,3 - §20]

 

This section comments on patristic and medieval allegorical and symbolic methods of interpreting the "Old" Testament. It recalls the PBC's previous document, The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (1993), which remarked: "The allegorical interpretation of Scripture so characteristic of patristic exegesis runs the risk of being something of an embarrassment to people today. But the experience of the church expressed in this exegesis makes a contribution that is always useful."[III,B,2]

 

Although the PBC does not go into this, such interpretative methods also aided the patristic development of anti-Jewish theologies. Augustine, e.g., taught that the Jews "received the law written by the finger of God on tablets which were, it is true, of stone, to typify the hardness of their hearts because they were not to fulfill the law" [De Catechizandis Rudibus, ch. 20, par. 35]. The PBC's skepticism toward such "superimposings" mitigates against similar interpretations today. It also suggests that the lingering effects of such ancient reading habits need constant examination.

 

The Old Testament in itself has great value as the Word of God. To read the Old Testament as Christians then does not mean wishing to find everywhere direct reference to Jesus and to Christian realities. True, for Christians, all the Old Testament economy is in movement towards Christ; if then the Old Testament is read in the light of Christ, one can, retrospectively, perceive something of this movement. But since it is a movement, a slow and difficult progression throughout the course of history, each event and each text is situated at a particular point along the way, at a greater or lesser distance from the end. Retrospective re-readings through Christian eyes mean perceiving both the movement towards Christ and the distance from Christ, prefiguration and dissimilarity. Conversely, the New Testament cannot be fully understood except in the light of the Old Testament. [...]

Although the Christian reader is aware that the internal dynamism of the Old Testament finds its goal in Jesus, this is a retrospective perception whose point of departure is not in the text as such, but in the events of the New Testament proclaimed by the apostolic preaching. It cannot be said, therefore, that Jews do not see what has been proclaimed in the text, but that the Christian, in the light of Christ and in the Spirit, discovers in the texts a surplus of meaning that was hidden there. [II,A,6 -§21]

This is a very important passage. It makes clear that Christological readings of the scriptures from ancient Israel are "retrospective." In other words, prefigurings or other ways of applying texts to Christ are only possible if one has Christ in mind while reading the Shared Testament. Without such Christ-sensitive "lenses," no one reading biblical passages would draw conclusions specific to Jesus Christ. Thus, as the passage concludes, one cannot fault Jews for not arriving at Christian construals of the Bible since they do not share the Church's experience of the Crucified and Raised One.

The phrase, "discovers in the text an additional meaning that was hidden there," could perhaps be better expressed in the categories of dialectical hermeneutics [i.e., approaches to interpreting texts that see the act of finding meaning as an interaction between the text and reader(s)]. Thus, Christians, in the light of Christ and in the Spirit, are able to discover further meanings in the text because they bring their faith in Christ crucified- and- raised to the encounter.

The horror in the wake of the extermination of the Jews (the Shoah) during the Second World War has led all the Churches to rethink their relationship with Judaism and, as a result, to reconsider their interpretation of the Jewish Bible, the Old Testament. It may be asked whether Christians should be blamed for having monopolized the Jewish Bible and reading there what no Jew has found. …. Christians can and ought to admit that the Jewish reading of the Bible is a possible one, in continuity with the Jewish Sacred Scriptures from the Second Temple period, a reading analogous to the Christian reading which developed in parallel fashion. Each of these two readings is part of the vision of each respective faith of which it is a product and an expression. Consequently, they cannot be reduced one into the other.

On the practical level of exegesis, Christians can, nonetheless, learn much from Jewish exegesis practiced for more than two thousand years, and, in fact, they have learned much in the course of history. For their part, it is to be hoped that Jews themselves can derive profit from Christian exegetical research. [II,A,7 - §22]

Following from the previous comment, the rabbis likewise discovered further meanings in the ancient texts because they brought their developing traditions about the Torah to the encounter. The PBC calls this process "analogous" and "parallel" to the Christological readings of the Church.

 

This recognition of the spiritual legitimacy of the rabbinic enterprise is of great importance. It contradicts centuries of Christian polemic that decried Rabbinic Judaism as an illegitimate deformation of biblical Judaism. The PBC acknowledges, therefore, that Jews and Christians can learn much from one another, although it somewhat narrowly refers only to exegetical research and not to a sharing of faith experiences and traditions.

Note: Section §21 is perhaps the single most important portion of the document. It will thus be treated separately and in its entirety in the following table.

The Unity of God's Plan and the Idea of Fulfillment [II,A,5 - §21]

Selected Quotations
--
Comments
The basic theological presupposition is that God's salvific plan which culminates in Christ (cf. Ep 1:3-14) is a unity, but that it is realized progressively over the course of time. Both the unity and the gradual realization are important; likewise, continuity in certain points and discontinuity in others. From the outset, the action of God regarding human beings has tended towards final fulfillment and, consequently, certain aspects that remain constant began to appear: God reveals himself, calls, confers a mission, promises, liberates, makes a covenant. The first realizations, though provisional and imperfect, already give a glimpse of the final plenitude. This is particularly evident in certain important themes which are developed throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation: the way, the banquet, God's dwelling among men. Beginning from a continuous re-reading of events and texts, the Old Testament itself progressively opens up a perspective of fulfillment that is final and definitive. The Exodus, the primordial experience of Israel's faith (cf. Dt 6:20-25; 26:5-9) becomes the symbol of final salvation. Liberation from the Babylonian Exile and the prospect of an eschatological salvation are described as a new Exodus. Christian interpretation is situated along these lines with this difference, that the fulfillment is already substantially realized in the mystery of Christ.
The reference to various moments of gradual realization of God's salvific plan over the course of history recalls the 1985 Vatican Notes: "Typology further signifies reaching towards the accomplishment of the divine plan, when "God will be all in all" (1 Cor. 15:28). This holds true also for the Church which, realized already in Christ, yet awaits its definitive perfecting as the Body of Christ. The fact that the Body of Christ is still tending towards its full stature (Eph. 4:12-19) takes nothing from the value of being a Christian. So also the calling of the patriarchs and Exodus from Egypt do not lose their importance and value in God's design from being at the same time intermediate stages.  The Exodus, for example, represents an experience of salvation and liberation that is not complete in itself, but has in it, over and above its own meaning, the capacity to be developed further. Salvation and liberation are already accomplished in Christ and gradually realized by the sacraments in the Church. This makes way for the fulfillment of God's design, which awaits its final consummation with the return of Jesus as Messiah, for which we pray each day. The Kingdom, for the coming of which we also pray each day, will be finally established. With salvation and liberation the elect and the whole of Creation will be transformed in Christ (Rm. 8:19-23)." [II,8-9]

The above passage speaks about salvation already accomplished "in Christ" and the destiny of the elect and all Creation ultimately to be transformed "in Christ." This bridges realized and futurist eschatologies in a way implied by the PBC's "culminates in Christ" and "substantially realized in the mystery of Christ." In both cases, the definitions of "salvation" and "Christ" should be carefully defined. The latter might be helpfully understood as the Church's experience of the Word of God incarnated, crucified, and raised in Jesus of Nazareth (see further * below).

 

The notion of fulfillment is an extremely complex one, one that could easily be distorted if there is a unilateral insistence either on continuity or discontinuity. Christian faith recognizes the fulfillment, in Christ, of the Scriptures and the hopes of Israel, but it does not understand this fulfillment as a literal one. Such a conception would be reductionist. In reality, in the mystery of Christ crucified and risen, fulfillment is brought about in a manner unforeseen. It includes transcendence. Jesus is not confined to playing an already fixed role — that of Messiah — but he confers, on the notions of Messiah and salvation, a fullness which could not have been imagined in advance; he fills them with a new reality; one can even speak in this connection of a "new creation". It would be wrong to consider the prophecies of the Old Testament as some kind of photographic anticipations of future events. All the texts, including those which later were read as messianic prophecies, already had an immediate import and meaning for their contemporaries before attaining a fuller meaning for future hearers. The messiahship of Jesus has a meaning that is new and original.

 

The PBC takes pains to discourage a simplistic understanding of "fulfillment" as the literal achievement of something predicted. Hence, it stresses both continuity and unexpected newness. Moreover, as §21 stated, such fulfillment can only be discerned through hindsight. It is crucial that readers keep this sophisticated understanding of "fulfillment" in mind when they encounter the term throughout the PBC study. It might also be observed that a thoroughgoing adoption of the PBC's nuanced understanding of "fulfillment" would require major revisions in 1994's Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The original task of the prophet was to help his contemporaries understand the events and the times they lived in from God's viewpoint. Accordingly, excessive insistence, characteristic of a certain apologetic, on the probative value attributable to the fulfillment of prophecy must be discarded. This insistence has contributed to harsh judgments by Christians of Jews and their reading of the Old Testament: the more reference to Christ is found in Old Testament texts, the more the incredulity of the Jews is considered inexcusable and obstinate.

Likewise, the PBC discounts simplistic understandings of biblical prophecy as predicting the future. It seeks to discard the Christian practice of using the prophetic books as "proof texts" for Jesus as failing to grasp the moral and ethical significance of prophecy. In addition, such approaches lead to the distorted and damaging idea that Jews are blind to the supposedly obvious Christological meaning of their scriptures. Instead, Christological meanings are apprehended only if one "re-reads" these texts through the eyes of Christian faith.

 

Insistence on discontinuity between both Testaments and going beyond former perspectives should not, however, lead to a one-sided spiritualization. What has already been accomplished in Christ must yet be accomplished in us and in the world. The definitive fulfillment will be at the end with the resurrection of the dead, a new heaven and a new earth. Jewish messianic expectation is not in vain. It can become for us Christians a powerful stimulant to keep alive the eschatological dimension of our faith. Like them, we too live in expectation. The difference is that for us the One who is to come will have the traits of the Jesus who has already come and is already present and active among us.

 

 

The PBC here stresses a futurist eschatology. Its reference to the future "definitive fulfillment" suggests that "what has already been accomplished in Christ" can be seen as one of the progressive realizations over time mentioned above, albeit one that points to the ultimate "new creation" with supreme intensity. This relates to the 1984 PBC document that spoke of the resurrection as introducing Jesus into "the world to come" [1.2.6].

 

* The phrase "the traits of the Jesus who has already come" is significant. Clearly, these "traits" are not merely physical or the PBC could have stated more directly, "the One who is to come will be the Jesus who has already come." This raises interesting possibilities for future theological research and dialogue. For instance, for Christians "traits" must refer to the crucified- and- raised Word who brings the Church into covenant with God. Israel, also in covenant with God, has in the gift of the Torah "a manifestation of the all-wise divine will" [§43]. Would it not follow that "traits" of that divine Will shall also be in evidence at the eschaton?

 

II. Fundamental themes in the Jewish Scriptures and their reception into faith in Christ (continued)

Selected Quotations
--
Comments

In the letter to the Romans, Paul makes clear that for Christians who have come from paganism, what is involved is a participation in Israel’s election, God’s special people.

The New Testament never says that Israel has been rejected [by God]. From the earliest times, the Church considered the Jews to be important witnesses to the divine economy of salvation. She understands her own existence as a participation in the election of Israel and in a vocation that belong, in the first place, to Israel, despite the fact that only a small number of Israelites accepted it.

Paul is convinced that at the end, God, in his inscrutable wisdom, will graft all Israel back onto their own olive tree (11:24); "all Israel will be saved" (11:26).

It is because of our common roots and from this eschatological perspective that the Church acknowledges a special status of "elder brother" for the Jewish people, thereby giving them a unique place among all other religions. [II,B,4,b - §36]

 

This discussion of the election of Israel in the Pauline writings perhaps shows a weakness in a document that stresses the exegetical explanation of biblical texts and inconsistently actualizes those texts for today's Church. It is probably an accurate exposition of Paul's thought to state that the Church participates in Israel's election. But Paul, expecting the eschaton in his own lifetime, also understood Jews not in the Church to have been lopped off from their own olive tree. Jews-in-Christ like Paul were the domesticated olive tree onto which the wild Gentile branches had been grafted. While Paul was convinced that those severed branches would be reattached to the tree at the eschaton, such a concept is plainly inadequate in our Church of two thousand years later. Nostra Aetate, e.g., did not use the olive tree metaphor in the same way that Paul did. The Council Fathers depicted the olive tree as Israel distinct from the Church, not as Jews-in-Christ as Paul had done. This actualization of Rom. 11  enables Christian esteem for Rabbinic Judaism, as is visible in several post-Nostra Aetate documents but is absent in this passage of the PBC text.

The whole idea of covenant depends on this divine initiative. The redemption accomplished by the Lord at the time of the Exodus from Egypt constitutes forever the foundation for fidelity and docility towards him. The one acceptable response to this act of redemption is one of continual gratitude, which expresses itself in sincere submission. "Now, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant..." (19:5a): these stipulations should not be regarded as a basis for the covenant, but rather as a condition to be fulfilled in order to continue to enjoy the blessings promised by the Lord to his people. The acceptance of the proffered covenant includes, on the one hand, obligations and guarantees, on the other, a special status: "You shall be my treasured possession (segullah)". In other words: "You shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation" (19:5b, 6)."

The covenant of course is only a human way of conceiving the relationship of God with his people. As with all human concepts of this kind, it is an imperfect expression of the relationship between the divine and the human. The objective of the covenant is defined simply: "I will be your God and you will be my people" (Lv 26:12; cf. Ex 6:7). The covenant must not be understood simply as a bilateral contract, for God cannot be obligated in the same way as human beings. Nevertheless, the covenant allows the Israelites to appeal to God's fidelity. Israel has not been the only one to make a commitment. The Lord commits himself to the gift of the land as well as his own beneficent presence in the midst of his people. [II,B,5,a - §38]

 

This description of covenant is consistent with research on Paul undertaken by E. P. Sanders. In his Paul and Palestinian Judaism, Sanders argued on the basis of Late Second Temple and Rabbinic Jewish literature that Judaism understands the fulfilling of God's commands not as required to earn God's favor, but as the only proper response to the God who had already redeemed Israel.

 

 

 

Here the PBC helpfully stresses the limits of the metaphor "covenant." Although the concept has its origins in ancient legal agreements, it has come to mean much more as a theological description of the relationship between God and God's People. It is a sharing in life together.

The conclusion which flows from all these [NT] texts is that the early Christians were conscious of being in profound continuity with the covenant plan manifested and realized by the God of Israel in the Old Testament. Israel continues to be in a covenant relationship with God, because the covenant-promise is definitive and cannot be abolished. But the early Christians were also conscious of living in a new phase of that plan, announced by the prophets and inaugurated by the blood of Jesus, "blood of the covenant", because it was shed out of love (cf. Rv 1:5(b)-6). [II,B,5,b - §42]

 

The pattern of continuity and newness that the PBC stressed in discussing fulfillment reoccurs here. Given the fact that it was not until the 20th century that Christians repudiated the claim that God had ended covenant with Israel, it is important to stress repeatedly that Israel's covenant with God "cannot be abolished." The "newness" of the Church's covenant through Christ must be understood as organically flowing from Israel's eternal election.

In an address to a Synod of Bishops held in October 2008, Cardinal Albert Vanhoye , former secretary of the PBC, interpreted §42 as follows:

The polemical text of the Letter to the Hebrews is, generally speaking, consciously or unconsciously, ignored in the soothing declarations on the permanent validity of the first Covenant. The Document [the PBC study] does not quote this text, but takes it into account, because it refrains from asserting the permanent validity of the Sinai Covenant. It mentions the permanent validity of the "covenant-promise of God," which is not a bilateral pact such as the Sinai Covenant, often broken by the Israelites. It is "all merciful" and "cannot be annulled" (no. 41). It "is definitive and cannot be abolished." In this sense, according to the New Testament, ' Israel continues to be in a covenant relationship with God'. (no. 42).

This reading of the PBC study, that the bilateral Sinai covenant does not have a permanent validity even though (somehow) Israel "continues to be in a covenant relationship with God" is highly questionable. First, in §42 the PBC is simply describing various ways in which the theme of "covenant" is treated in different NT books. It does not indicate any preference among these diverse approaches, nor does it universally absolutize one approach as the immutable or defining perspective preferable above all others.

Second, while discussing Pauline understandings in §85, the PBC observes that, "Israel's election is made concrete and specific in the Sinai covenant and by the institutions based on it, especially the Law and the Temple. The New Testament is in continuity with this covenant and its institutions. [...] In this point, as in many others, it is obvious that the continuity is based on the prophetic movement of the Old Testament. In the past, the break between the Jewish people and the Church of Christ Jesus could sometimes, in certain times and places, give the impression of being complete. In the light of the Scriptures, this should never have occurred. For a complete break between Church and Synagogue contradicts Sacred Scripture." If Sinai was terminated by the coming of Christ as Vanhoye suggests, then Israel's election would have no concrete specificity and the Jewish people's self-understanding of post-Temple rabbinic Judaism as continuous with the Sinai covenant would be denied. The latter would contradict the PBC's statement in §22 that rabbinic readings of the Jewish Scriptures are possible and valuable for Christians.

Third, the PBC study makes no such assertions about the nature of the Jewish people's ongoing covenantal life. In fact, it takes pains to portray Judaism as a vital and dynamic covenantal community. Vanhoye's interpretation of the PBC study would produce a portrait of an illegitmate and groundless Judaism, futilely attempting to live out a concrete expression of a covenant that no longer exists. This is hardly the tone of the PBC study!

The People. The New Testament takes for granted that the election of Israel, the people of the covenant, is irrevocable: it preserves intact its prerogatives (Rm 9:4) and its priority status in history, in the offer of salvation (Ac 13:23) and in the Word of God (13:46). But God has also offered to Israel a "new covenant" (Jr 31:31); this is now established through the blood of Jesus. The Church is composed of Israelites who have accepted the new covenant, and of other believers who have joined them. As a people of the new covenant, the Church is conscious of existing only in virtue of belonging to Christ Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, and because of its link with the apostles, who were all Israelites. Far from being a substitution for Israel, the Church is in solidarity with it. To the Christians who have come from the nations, the apostle Paul declares that they are grafted to the good olive tree which is Israel (Rm 11:16,17). That is to say, the Church is conscious of being given a universal horizon by Christ, in conformity with Abraham's vocation, whose descendants from now on are multiplied in a filiation founded on faith in Christ (Rm 4:11-12). The reign of God is no longer confined to Israel alone, but is open to all, including the pagans, with a place of honor for the poor and oppressed. The hope placed in the royal house of David, although defunct for six centuries, becomes the essential key for the reading of history: it is concentrated from now on in Jesus Christ, a humble and distant descendant. Finally, as regards the land of Israel (including the Temple and the holy city), the New Testament extends the process of symbolization already begun in the Old Testament and in intertestamental Judaism.

Accordingly, for Christians, the God of revelation has pronounced his final word with the advent of Jesus Christ and the Church. "Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son" (Heb 1:1-2). [II,C, 3,c - §65]

 

It should be realized that this summary statement applies to the NT period. To say that the "Church is composed of Israelites who have accepted the new covenant, and of other believers who have joined them" can only refer to the NT era and the earliest centuries thereafter. It was not long after the NT period that Christian leaders began instructing that the Church was indeed a substitution for Israel, a teaching that prevailed until the 20th century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again, this conclusion should be understood within the NT's imminent eschatological horizon of "these last days." One wonders how this NT claim about the finality of God's revelation is to be actualized today.

 

III. The Jews in the New Testament

Selected Quotations
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Comments

More than the other Synoptic Gospels, Matthew is the Gospel of fulfillment — Jesus has not come to abolish, but to fulfill — for it insists more on the continuity with the Old Testament, basic for the idea of fulfillment. It is this aspect that makes possible the establishment of fraternal bonds between Christians and Jews. But on the other hand, the Gospel of Matthew reflects a situation of tension and even opposition between the two communities. In it Jesus foresees that his disciples will be flogged in the synagogues and pursued from town to town (23:34). Matthew therefore is concerned to provide for the Christians' defense. Since that situation has radically changed, Matthew's polemic need no longer interfere with relations between Christians and Jews, and the aspect of continuity can and ought to prevail. It is equally necessary to say this in relation to the destruction of the city and the Temple. This downfall is an event of the past which henceforth ought to evoke only deep compassion. Christians must be absolutely on their guard against extending responsibility for it to subsequent generations of Jews, and they must remind themselves that after a divine sanction, God never fails to open up positive new perspectives. [III, B, 1 - §71]

 

This part of the document addresses the problem of polemical "anti-Jewish" texts in the NT.  Following the axiom it expressed in 1993 that "particular attention is necessary ... to avoid absolutely any actualization of certain texts of the New Testament which could provoke or reinforce unfavorable attitudes to the Jewish people" [IV,A,3], the PBC here explains the historical settings of NT polemical passages in order to curtail their negative potential.

 

In the case of the Gospel of Matthew, the PBC highlights the rivalry among various Jewish movements after the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies in the year 70. The document may be misleading in referring to distinct Christian and Jewish communities. The Matthean church may understand itself to be within Judaism, living a Jewish life according to the Torah taught by Jesus. This way of being Jewish, argues Matthew, is the way God wants Jews to live in the aftermath of the Temple's destruction.

 

The final decision of Pilate, powerless to calm the crowd, is to "satisfy" them, which, for Jesus, means crucifixion (Mk 15:15). This merely incidental crowd certainly cannot be confused with the Jewish people of that time, and even less with the Jews of every age. It should be said that they represent rather the sinful world (Mk 14:41) of which we are all a part.

 

[...] Any interpretation of Mark's Gospel that attempts to pin responsibility for Jesus' death on the Jewish people, is erroneous. Such an interpretation, which has had disastrous consequences throughout history, does not correspond at all to the evangelist's perspective, which, as we have said, repeatedly opposes the attitude of the people or the crowd to that of the authorities hostile to Jesus. Furthermore, it is forgotten that the disciples were also part of the Jewish people. It is a question then of an improper transfer of responsibility, of the sort that is often encountered in human history. [III,B,2 ­ §72]

 

In discussing the Gospel of Mark's passion narrative, the PBC combats the notion that the Jewish people collectively "rejected" Jesus and so caused his death. It does this by distinguishing between authorities and the people and by characterizing the "crowd" in Mark 15:15 as "incidental." It adds that holding Jews somehow collectively guilty of Jesus' death is "an improper transfer of responsibility" from a limited number of (Roman and Jewish) authorities .

 

In Luke's oeuvre, there is no doubt that there is a profound respect for the Jewish reality insofar as it has a primary role in the divine plan of salvation. Nevertheless, in the course of the narrative, tensions become obvious. Luke tones down the polemics encountered in the other Synoptics. But he is unable, it seems, — and does not wish — to hide the fact that Jesus suffered fierce opposition from the leaders of his people and that, as a result, the apostolic preaching finds itself in an analogous situation. If a sober recounting of this undeniable Jewish opposition amounts to anti-Judaism, then Luke could be accused of it. But it is obvious that this way of looking at it is to be rejected. Anti-Judaism consists rather of cursing and hating the persecutors, and their people as a whole. The Gospel message, on the contrary, invites Christians to bless those who curse them, to do good to those who hate them, and to pray for those who persecute them (Lk 6:27-28), following the example of Jesus (23:34) and of the first Christian martyr (Ac 7:60). This is one of the basic lessons of Luke's work. It is regrettable that in the course of the centuries following it has not been more faithfully followed. [III, B, 3 ­ §75]

 

The polemics of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostle are complex because Luke reveres Judaism but also holds that Jews who do not believe in the resurrection "will be utterly rooted out of the people" [Acts 3:23]. The PBC addresses this by focusing on "the leaders of [Jesus'] people." Some greater precision would be helpful here. "Leaders" could suggest both the Temple priests and scholars such as the Pharisees, whereas the latter are noticeably absent from almost all the passion narratives.

 

In the Johannine communities, there was an insistence on the close relationship between Son and Father and on the divinity of Jesus, who is “the Christ, the Son of God” (20:31) in a transcendent sense. This teaching provoked opposition from the synagogue leaders, followed by the whole Jewish community. Christians were expelled from the synagogues (16:2) and were exposed, at the same time, to harassment by the Roman authorities, since they no longer enjoyed the franchise granted to Jews.

The polemic escalated on both sides. The Jews accused Jesus of being a sinner (9:24), a blasphemer (10:33) and of having a devil. 331 Those who believed in him were considered ignorant or accursed (7:49). On the Christian side, Jews were accused of disobedience to God's word (5:38), resisting his love (5:42) and pursuing vainglory (5:44). [III, B, 4 ­ §78]

In commenting on the Gospel of John, the PBC explains the origins of heated Johannine polemic in Christological debates among Jews toward the end of the 1st century that resulted in Jewish members of the Johannine church being expelled from the local synagogue.  Such argumentative rhetoric produced in specific conflict situations cannot be understood as expressions of timeless divine truths.

 

IV. Conclusions

Selected Quotations
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Comments

 

At the end of this exposition, necessarily all too brief, the main conclusion to be drawn is that the Jewish people and their Sacred Scriptures occupy a very important place in the Christian Bible. Indeed, the Jewish Sacred Scriptures constitute an essential part of the Christian Bible and are present, in a variety of ways, in the other part of the Christian Bible as well. Without the Old Testament, the New Testament would be an incomprehensible book, a plant deprived of its roots and destined to dry up and wither.  [...]

To properly interpret the New Testament, knowledge of the Judaism of this period is often necessary. [IV,A - §84]

Christians from the nations profit from salvation only by being introduced, by their faith in Israel's Messiah, into the posterity of Abraham (Ga 3:7,29). Many Christians from the "nations" are not aware that they are by nature "wild olives" and that their faith in Christ has grafted them onto the olive tree chosen by God (Rm 11:17-18).

Israel's election is made concrete and specific in the Sinai covenant and by the institutions based on it, especially the Law and the Temple. The New Testament is in continuity with this covenant and its institutions. The new covenant foretold by Jeremiah and established in the blood of Jesus has come through the covenant between God and Israel, surpassing the Sinai covenant by a new gift of the Lord that completes and carries forward the original gift. Likewise, "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rm 8:2), which gives an interior dynamism, remedies the weakness (8:3) of the Sinai Law and renders believers capable of living a disinterested love that is the "fulfillment of the Law" (Rm 13:10). As regards the earthly Temple, the New Testament, borrowing terms prepared by the Old Testament, relativizes the adequacy of a material edifice as a dwelling place of God (Ac 7:48), and points to a relationship with God where the emphasis is on interiority. In this point, as in many others, it is obvious that the continuity is based on the prophetic movement of the Old Testament.

In the past, the break between the Jewish people and the Church of Christ Jesus could sometimes, in certain times and places, give the impression of being complete. In the light of the Scriptures, this should never have occurred. For a complete break between Church and Synagogue contradicts Sacred Scripture. [IV,A - §85]

The document concludes with some general and pastoral comments. The general comments summarize many of the points made earlier in the study.

 

 

 

The PBC here sums up its presentation of Pauline theology. Again, its focus on exegesis leaves open certain theological questions that arise when attempting to actualize NT texts today. Thus, the Pauline notion that the Spirit of Christ "remedies the weakness of the Sinai Law" by enabling believers to live the Law's commands may not be adequate in a Church living two millennia after Paul believed human history was ending.  The PBC made the same point in §45: "Paul adds that the Law is not contrary to this (5:23), because believers will fulfill all that the Law demands, and will also avoid what the Law prohibits. According to Rm 8:1-4, 'the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” has freed believers from the powerlessness of the Mosaic Law in such a way that 'the just precepts of the Law may be fulfilled.'”

The Mass of Pardon celebrated by Catholic leaders in March of 2000 prayed for God's forgiveness for Christian sins of the previous millennium, including those against the Jewish people. It would thus seem that despite their life in the Spirit of Christ Christians also can become "captive to the law of sin" (Rom 7:23). Paul's eschatologically enthusiastic argument about the weakness or powerlessness of the Law seems less credible in the cold light of two millennia of Christian history.

Pastoral Orientations

The Second Vatican Council, in its recommendation that there be "understanding and mutual esteem" between Christians and Jews, declared that these will be "born especially from biblical and theological study, as well as from fraternal dialogue". The present Document has been composed in this spirit; it hopes to make a positive contribution to it, and encourages in the Church of Christ the love towards Jews that Pope Paul VI emphasized on the day of the promulgation of the conciliar document Nostra Aetate.

With this text, Vatican II laid the foundations for a new understanding of our relations with Jews when it said that "according to the apostle (Paul), the Jews, because of their ancestors, still remain very dear to God, whose gifts and calling are irrevocable (Rm 11:29)".

Through his teaching, John Paul II has, on many occasions, taken the initiative in developing this Declaration. During a visit to the synagogue of Mainz (1980) he said: "The encounter between the people of God of the Old Covenant, which has never been abrogated by God (cf. Rm 11:29), and that of the New Covenant is also an internal dialogue in our Church, similar to that between the first and second part of its Bible". Later, addressing the Jewish communities of Italy during a visit to the synagogue of Rome (1986), he declared: "The Church of Christ discovers its ‘links' with Judaism ‘by pondering its own mystery' (cf. Nostra Aetate). The Jewish religion is not ‘extrinsic' to us, but in a certain manner, it is ‘intrinsic' to our religion. We have therefore a relationship with it which we do not have with any other religion. You are our favored brothers and, in a certain sense, one can say our elder brothers". Finally, in the course of a meeting on the roots of anti-Jewish feeling among Christians (1997) he said: "This people has been called and led by God, Creator of heaven and earth. Their existence then is not a mere natural or cultural happening,... It is a supernatural one. This people continues in spite of everything to be the people of the covenant and, despite human infidelity, the Lord is faithful to his covenant".  This teaching was given the stamp of approval by John Paul II's visit to Israel, in the course of which he addressed Israel's Chief Rabbis in these terms: "We (Jews and Christians) must work together to build a future in which there will be no more anti-Jewish feeling among Christians, or any anti-Christian feeling among Jews. We have many things in common. We can do much for the sake of peace, for a more human and more fraternal world". 353

On the part of Christians, the main condition for progress along these lines lies in avoiding a one-sided reading of biblical texts, both from the Old Testament and the New Testament, and making instead a better effort to appreciate the whole dynamism that animates them, which is precisely a dynamism of love. In the Old Testament, the plan of God is a union of love with his people, a paternal love, a spousal love and, notwithstanding Israel's infidelities, God will never renounce it, but affirms it in perpetuity (Is 54:8; Jr 31:3). In the New Testament, God's love overcomes the worst obstacles; even if they do not believe in his Son whom he sent as their Messiah Savior, Israelites are still "loved" (Rm 11:29). Whoever wishes to be united to God, must also love them. [IV,B - §86]

The partial reading of texts frequently gives rise to difficulties affecting relations with the Jews. The Old Testament, as we have seen, is not sparing in its reproaches against Israelites, or even in its condemnations. It is very demanding towards them. Rather than casting stones at the Jews, it is better to see them as illustrating the saying of the Lord Jesus: "To whom much is given, from him much is expected" (Lk 12:48), and this saying applies to us Christians as well. Certain biblical narratives present aspects of disloyalty or cruelty which today would be morally inadmissible, but they must be understood in their historical and literary contexts. The slow historical progress of revelation must be recognized: the divine pedagogy has taken a group of people where it found them and led them patiently in the direction of an ideal union with God and towards a moral integrity which our modern society is still far from attaining. This education must avoid two opposite dangers, on the one hand, of attributing to ancient prescriptions an ongoing validity for Christians (for example, refusing blood transfusions on biblical grounds) and, on the other hand, of rejecting the whole Bible on the pretext of its cruelties. As regards ritual precepts, such as the rules for pure and impure, one has to be conscious of their symbolic and anthropological import, and be aware of their sociological and religious functions.

In the New Testament, the reproaches addressed to Jews are not as frequent or as virulent as the accusations against Jews in the Law and the Prophets. Therefore, they no longer serve as a basis for anti-Jewish sentiment. To use them for this purpose is contrary to the whole tenor of the New Testament. Real anti-Jewish feeling, that is, an attitude of contempt, hostility and persecution of the Jews as Jews, is not found in any New Testament text and is incompatible with its teaching. What is found are reproaches addressed to certain categories of Jews for religious reasons, as well as polemical texts to defend the Christian apostolate against Jews who oppose it.

But it must be admitted that many of these passages are capable of providing a pretext for anti-Jewish sentiment and have in fact been used in this way. To avoid mistakes of this kind, it must be kept in mind that the New Testament polemical texts, even those expressed in general terms, have to do with concrete historical contexts and are never meant to be applied to Jews of all times and places merely because they are Jews. The tendency to speak in general terms, to accentuate the adversaries' negative side, and to pass over the positive in silence, failure to consider their motivations and their ultimate good faith, these are characteristics of all polemical language throughout antiquity, and are no less evident in Judaism and primitive Christianity against all kinds of dissidents. [...]

The example of Paul in Rm 9-11 shows that, on the contrary, an attitude of respect, esteem and love for the Jewish people is the only truly Christian attitude in a situation which is mysteriously part of the beneficent and positive plan of God. Dialogue is possible, since Jews and Christians share a rich common patrimony that unites them. It is greatly to be desired that prejudice and misunderstanding be gradually eliminated on both sides, in favor of a better understanding of the patrimony they share and to strengthen the links that bind them. [IV,B - §87]

The document concludes with several important pastoral considerations that deserve to be presented in full.

 

Postscript

The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible offers a descriptive biblical survey that is well done and reasonable. Several important ideas have not previously appeared in a Vatican- sponsored document. However, there are two methodological concerns that ought to be mentioned.

1. Exegesis/Actualization

As noted above, if a reader does not bear in the mind the distinction between "exegesis" and "actualization," s/he may erroneously construe a statement of a particular biblical author's viewpoint as precisely what Christians should believe today. This peril is compounded by the presence of diverse biblical opinions on various subjects. The PBC's discussion of the Jerusalem Temple offers a convenient example:

The Letter to the Hebrews recognized a certain ritual validity for the ancient sacrificial cult (Heb 9:13), as a prefiguration of Christ's offering (9:18-23). But taking up the criticism expressed in the Prophets and Psalms, it denies all efficacy to animal sacrifices for the purification of conscience and for the establishment of a deep relationship with God. The only fully efficacious sacrifice is the personal and existential offering of Christ making him the perfect High Priest, “mediator of the new covenant”. In virtue of this offering, Christians can approach God (Heb 10:19-22) through grace and by living a life of self-giving (13:15-16). [§50]

The reader is not provided any guidance as to whether they ought today to hold a similar low opinion about the ancient Temple's efficacy. Did the ancient sacrificial rituals actually make divine forgiveness present to God's covenanted people or not? A negative response runs the risk of also delegitimizing Rabbinic Judaism which understands that the study of Torah and the observance of the mitzvoth replace the Temple as a means of having access to God. Nor are readers assisted in relating the opinion of the author of Hebrews to the PBC's fine description of the significance of the Temple for biblical Judaism:

The Temple is both functional and symbolic space. It serves as the place of the cult, especially sacrifice, prayer, teaching, healing and royal enthronement. As in all religions, the material edifice here below evokes the mystery of the divine dwelling in heaven above (1 K 8:30). Because of the special presence of the living God, the Temple becomes the origin par excellence of life (communal birth, rebirth after sin), and of knowledge (word of God, revelation, wisdom). It plays the role of axis and center of the world. [§48]

One wonders if the author of Hebrews would agree that the Temple was ever deservedly understood as the "center of the world." But the point here is that without a conscious awareness of the exegetical nature of much of the PBC document, the unwary reader might inadequately "actualize" only parts of the biblical witness or fail to grapple sufficiently with the chorus of biblical voices.  Thus, The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible is both an invitation and challenge to Catholics to develop theological actualizations that are nuanced and balanced.

Historicity

Another caution about how the PBC study is "received" concerns its New Testament sections.  The document does not always clearly distinguish between what the 1964 PBC text called Stage One: the historical ministry of Jesus and Stage Three: the time of the writing of the Gospels by the evangelists. For instance:

It is the Sanhedrin that Mark holds guilty of having "condemned" Jesus (10:33; 14:64). About Pilate, Mark declines to say he condemned Jesus, but that, having no reason to accuse him (15:14), he handed him over to be put to death (15:15), something that makes Pilate even more culpable. The reason for the Sanhedrin's condemnation is that Jesus had uttered a "blasphemy" in his affirmative and circumstantial response to the High Priest's question whether he was "the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One" (14:61-64). In this way Mark reveals the most dramatic point of rupture between the Jewish authorities and the person of Christ, a matter that continues to be the most serious point of division between Judaism and Christianity. For Christians, Jesus' response is not blasphemy, but the very truth manifested as such by his resurrection. To the Jewish community, Christians are wrong to affirm the divine sonship of Christ in a way that gives grave offence to God. However painful it be, this fundamental disagreement must not degenerate into mutual hostility, or allow the existence of a rich common patrimony to be forgotten, a heritage which includes faith in the one God. [III,B,2 ­ §72]

This treatment does not question the historicity of this Sanhedrin meeting. More importantly, it also fails to consider whether there is a difference in the ways "blasphemy" or "God's Son" are understood by Mark in Stage 3 and how these expressions might have been understood at the time of Jesus' death in Stage 1. It is certainly the case that in Stage 3 the Church's proclamation of Jesus' divine sonship was deemed blasphemous by some Jews outside the Church. But the PBC text is ambiguous about whether the issue of divine sonship was really "the dramatic point of rupture between the Jewish authorities and the person of Christ" in Stage 1. If "God's Son" is understood as being intrinsically divine then the Stage 1 Marcan characters are remarkably possessed of post- resurrectional insights into the meaning of Jesus as Christ. This is all the more remarkable in the Gospel of Mark, which takes pains throughout to assert that no human character can understand that Jesus is God's Son before his crucifixion; hence, the importance of the centurion's exclamation in Mark 15:39.  If, on the other hand, "God's son" was understood at the time of Jesus' death as a Jew who is especially beloved by God and divinely authorized to speak in God's name, then the meaning of the charge of "blasphemy" in Stage 1 must be explained.

The work of Raymond E. Brown is important here. In his magnum opus, The Death of the Messiah [New York: Doubleday, 1994], he emphasized that the Gospel blasphemy charge "is a picture some thirty to seventy years after the events, in a period when the issues separating those who believed in Jesus from those (Jews) who did not had become more clearly and hostilely articulated. If we are interested in the issue of whether in his lifetime Jesus was considered a blasphemer, we cannot let the trial scene that was written so much later dictate all the issues to be discussed." He concludes that Jesus "could well have appeared religiously arrogant or presumptuous (and thus blasphemous)." [I:545]

It may be that the PBC alluded to the distinction between Stages 1 and 3 by speaking of "the person of Christ," a phrase with post-resurrectional cadences, but this is not self-evident. The lack of clarity on this point could lead some readers to conclude that historically Jesus was found worthy of execution by Jewish leaders for claiming to be personally divine as "the Son of the Blessed One." This  debatable construal sets aside Roman (and Roman-fearing Temple leaders) "political" concerns about a popular preacher claiming that a Kingdom of God was coming and spotlights Jewish "religious" objections to what are really post-resurrectional Christian claims.

Similarly, in an otherwise fine treatment of the Johannine passion narrative, the PBC offers no exploration of the historicity of the Barabbas episode, but seems to assume it occurred as narrated:

Historically, it can be said that only a minority of Jews contemporaneous with Jesus were hostile to him, that a smaller number were responsible for handing him over to the Roman authorities; and that fewer still wanted him killed, undoubtedly for religious reasons that seemed important to them. But these succeeded in provoking a general demonstration in favor of Barabbas and against Jesus ... [§77]

Again, the work of Raymond Brown is pertinent. He concludes that:

A man with name of Barabbas was arrested in a roundup after a riot that had caused some deaths in Jerusalem. Eventually he was released by Pilate when a feast brought the governor to Jerusalem to supervise public order. Presumably this took place at the same time that Jesus was crucified, or not far from it, or at another Passover. In any case, this release struck Christians as ironic: [...] Although they knew Jesus was innocent, he was found guilty by Pilate, while Barabbas was let go. [..] The storytelling tendency to contrast the released Barabbas and the crucified Jesus by bringing them together at the same moment before Pilate's "justice" would have been enhanced if both had the same personal  name, Jesus. [I, 819-820]

The point here is not that PBC should have adopted Brown's conclusions, as solidly reasoned as they are. Rather, there should have been some acknowledgment of the many historical uncertainties about aspects of the passion narratives. Readers of only this PBC study would be unaware that there are major questions about the historicity of incidents of great importance to Christian-Jewish relations. The document simply uncritically relates them.

As a final example of a lack of clarity regarding Stage 1 and Stage 3 distinctions, there is a most unfortunate lapse regarding the Pharisees:

However, it must be admitted, that in all probability, the presentation of the Pharisees in the Gospels was influenced in part by subsequent polemics between Christians and Jews. At the time of Jesus, there were no doubt Pharisees who taught an ethic worthy of approval. But the first-hand direct testimony of Paul, a Pharisee "zealous for the traditions of the ancestors", shows the excess to which this zeal of the Pharisees could lead: "I persecuted the Church of God". [§67]

It is not clear why opposition to the Church by those who did not share in the revelation of Jesus crucified- and- raised should be seen as evidence of a peculiarly Pharisaic flaw. While recognizing the influence of Stage 3 arguments, the PBC seems reluctant to abandon polemical characterizations of the Pharisees. This perhaps shows how difficult it is to overcome old habits.

The 1984 PBC instruction observed that "certain critical questions [...] cannot be avoided in the exegetical area. For instance, it can happen that historicity of all the details in certain Gospel episodes is too easily admitted" [1.2.1.2]. Greater care in this regard in The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible would have enhanced an already impressive document.