Dialogika

Ecumenical Christian Documents & Statements

The Schwalbach Theses: Proposals for Christian Religious Teaching

[Published in the Freiburger Rundbrief, nos. 8-9 (1950), 9-11. Translated by Victoria Barnett.]

 

Regarding the errors that continue to circulate about God’s People of the Old Covenant.

(The 1950 revised version of the 1947 Seelisberg Theses, revised together by Protestant and Catholic theologians)

In 1933, in the midst of peacetime and without the slightest legal ground, the slow strangulation of the Jewish part of the German population began; it would develop into the systematic mass murder of the European Jewish population during the Second World War in which millions of innocent men, women, children and elderly became victims. While there were individuals among the Christians who bravely helped the victims, the vast majority failed shamefully in the face of this unheard-of challenge from the merciful God through the persecutors. Even God’s judgment of the German people in the past year has often not been understood. Only gradually have smaller circles, inspired through different statements coming from the two large Christian church communities, begun to reflect on the true foundation, and what is required, of our behavior as Christians toward the Jews. Nonetheless there is a risk that the newly resurgent anti-Semitism that is everywhere will become deeply and ineradicably rooted, and that fighting it openly in the name of the truth of Christ will soon become dangerous again. For this reason we must show all Christian preachers and teachers, in church and school, how inextricably we as the people of the new covenant are connected to the ancient people of God. Every theologian and religious teacher must be made aware of the responsibility that they bear for how our relationship to the Jews is treated. In order to awaken a sense of this responsibility and to offer a helping hand for reflection in keeping with God’s word, Protestant and Catholic theologians have listed the following theses as guidelines for preaching and religious instruction.

In this, the presupposition is self-evident that our Lord Jesus Christ obligates us to an approach toward all human beings such as he himself took. In the treatment of Christ’s death on the cross and the martyrdom of his followers, it is just as fundamental and self-evident that ultimately he was brought to the cross by the sins of all human beings, and that the sins of Christendom are to be judged especially strictly since they were offered especially abundant grace. (Cf. Luke 12:48b!) The sensitivity that enables us to examine anew what God’s Word truly says about his ancient covenantal people comes precisely out of the finally awakened conscience about the manifold Christian sins, old and new, toward the Jewish people; in what follows we attempt to express this, without hedging around any genuine problem and without minimizing that which for the moment divides us.

  1. One and the same God speaks through the Old and the New Testament to all human beings. This one God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and the prophets. Wherever we Christians do not believe in this one God we are confessing instead a false God, even if we call him the father of Jesus Christ, just as the false teacher Marcion did in the 2nd century.

  2. Jesus was born of the people of Israel, of a Jewish mother, from the line of David. Through him, the son of David, the anointed by God, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we are heirs to the salvation that for Israel is bound with the coming of the Messiah. As certain for our faith it is that this fulfilled redemption of all promise has come in the person of this Jesus of Nazareth, it is just as certain that we Christians still await the day where we see the revealed fulfillment.

  3. The church that is founded through the Holy Spirit consists of Jews and Gentiles, reconciled with one another in Christ and brought together as the new people of God. We may never forget that Jews constitute an essential portion of our church, just as the apostles and first witnesses of Jesus were Jews.

  4. The highest commandment for every Christian, love of God and one’s neighbor, was already proclaimed in the Old Testament and strengthened by Jesus, therefore it is binding upon Jews and Christians, and indeed without any exception, in all human relationships

  5. Because the Jew stands under the same unrestricted commandment to love as the Christian (Mark 12:33f, Romans 13:8 and 10), it is a sin when one self-righteously belittles “the Jews” of biblical and post-biblical times over against “the Christians,” rather than simply confessing the Gospel as the fulfillment of the Law.

  6. It is also unbiblical when “the Jews” are equated with the enemies of Jesus; for it is precisely the evangelist John, where he appears to draw this equation upon whom this language is based, who unambiguously means not the entirety of the Jewish people, nor even only “the Jews” in the city of Jerusalem (7:12f), but rather exclusively the dominant majority of the councils there at the time who were religiously and politically decisive (7:48ff). Accordingly, accounts of the Passion story must never remain silent about the “great crowd of the people” who mourned Jesus (Luke 23:27) and after his crucifixion “returned home, beating their breasts.” (Luke 23:48)

  7. Above all it is unbiblical and un-Christian to see and portray the Passion of Christ, to whom we thank our salvation, one-sidedly in terms of blaming historically determined individuals or one specific people. As far as humansmay judge, based on statements in the New Testament, three kinds of behavior by the contemporaries of Jesus can be identified as “culpable” in very different degrees:

    1. The deeds and omissions of the relatively few who were involved somehow in the events around his crucifixion, beginning with those who instigated the murder of the Lord because they were driven by political ambition or religious fanaticism, up to the officials or disciples who failed out of cowardice.

    2. The behavior of the countless persons who would not commit themselves to be more convinced of Jesus’s disciples’ message of resurrection in connection to the Old Testament scriptural testimony that he was the Messiah, over against the arguments that seemed to counter this because of someone who had been executed for blasphemy and insurrection. (Cf. Acts 17:11 as well as Luke 5:39!)

    3. The hatred with which many of Jesus’s followers were persecuted and denounced (Acts 13:50; 14:19; 17:5ff; 18:12ff;—whereby, however, it should not be forgotten that in contrast to this stand in ancient times, since Maimonides during the Middle Ages there were more Jewish authorities who advocated seeing the baptized Gentiles as worshippers of the true God.

    In all this we may never disregard the fact that we Christians have burdened ourselves with far more guilt, despite our having been blessed:
    1. We surrender to political or social messianism and thereby necessarily ultimately are once again crucifying the Savior, in his members;

    2. We let ourselves be satisfied with confessing God's revelation in words, rather than taking on the scandal of the cross, as our dead and resurrected Lord demands of our entire life. We should indeed listen much more to the warnings and promises, such as those he gave us for example through the fact that between 1933 and 1945 for the first time in history Jews and Christians were persecuted together;

    3. We refuse to respect those who think differently in good faith.

  8. The significance of Christ's crucifixion for God's covenantal relationship to Israel is hidden within the unbreakable loyalty of God to his people, which even the middle section of the Letter to the Romans (ch. 9-11) reveals to us only by hinting at the outline. Just as everywhere in the history of this unique people, we cannot speak here of a curse where we do not bear witness much more to the blessing that God ultimately grants his people and with them all peoples, and from whom the only ones excluded are those—according to Gen. 12:3—who casually or even with ill will offend this covenantal relationship full of promise. For Christians, moreover, Christ's word on the cross applies: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!"—The cry of the enraged mob: "His blood be upon us and our children!" must be applied by us as an intercession in the sense that this blood ultimately is to redeem those for whom it was first shed, but may never again be misused to portray the shedding of Jewish blood as some kind of just punishment, especially since ancient Christianity honored the Jewish martyrs particularly zealously.

  9. The only place in the New Testament where the word "rejection"1 is used for the fate of the Jews—where, however, it is juxtaposed immediately with the future "abundance" of the old people of the covenant to the new and eternal—is authoritative for the correct exegesis of all New Testament statements about rejection. It runs counter to revelation to proclaim from the entire Bible only the (temporarily valid) half of the twofold judgment without simultaneously mentioning that it is cancelled and superseded through the other and final (judgment). Because the Jewish "yes" to Jesus is promised as the final word of its history before God and because this promise vouches for God's "yes" to the Jews, this must always be the last word of Christian proclamation about the Jews.

 



1. [Translator’s note: The German is Verwerfung; the translation in the KJV is “cast away."]