Dialogika

European

On the Relations between Judaism and Christianity

[The Belgian Protestant Council for the Relations between Judaism and Christianity is a commission of the Federation of Protestant Churches in Belgium.]

When we study the mystery of the church, it becomes evident that the church as community of the disciples of Jesus Christ is intimately linked to the Jewish people who are of Abraham's stock.1 The church confesses that all those who have faith in Christ are Abraham's sons by faith. In fact, the apostle Paul teaches that those previously separated from Israel by the Torah have obtained full citizenship through Christ (Eph 2:12-13). They have been incorporated with the people of God and have become co-citizens with the saints and members of the family of God (Eph 2:19-20).2 Therefore, both are now heirs to the promise, the sons who received the Torah3 and those who received the faith of Abraham, who for that reason may be called the father of both.4 That is how the church, linked to Israel, has become a part of the single people of God.

God namely has chosen the people Israel from among all the nations of the earth, that it may be to Him a precious people (Deut 7:6; 10:15; 14:2; 1 Kgs 3:8; Isa 41:8; 44:1; [49:7]; Ps 32:12; 134:4).
Several times in the course of their history, however, the Hebrews abandoned the Eternal One and followed other gods. But God has always manifested his fidelity toward his people by keeping a remnant of them for life (Isa 37:4; 2 Kgs 19:4; etc.) He preserved a remnant that did not bend a knee before idols (1 Kgs 19:18; etc.) and that remained true to God or that returned (Isa 10:21-22; etc.). This remnant had, and still has, to fulfill a special task in God's plan of salvation and must proclaim the glory of God among the nations (Isa 66:18-19; Mic 5:6), so that these will come to adore the God of Israel together with Israel (1 Kgs 8:41-43; Isa 2:2-4; Mic 4:1-5; Zech 2:10-12; 8:20-23; 14:16).

The church confesses that in Jesus Christ the Promise is fulfilled and that it must be realized in the world.5 The apostle Paul designates as remnant those Jews who came to believe in Jesus Christ and through whose mediation salvation is actually given to the nations, without however denying Israel the right to call itself Israel or, just as acceptably, to remain the unique people of God (Rom 9:27; 11:5), without transferring the name of Israel to the nations. In fact, God has not rejected his people; Israel remains the people of God, the Beloved (or those beloved) on account of the fathers (Rom 11:1, 28-29; 9:4-5).

There is only one people of God, the holy people of Israel. The "remnant" represents Israel; and so Israel in its totality continues to be the people of God, precisely because a remnant has converted.6 It is the part for the whole. We must not lose sight of the fact that in the word of God the meaning of the term "remnant" is more nuanced than Christian theology often teaches. It may also mean those who escaped catastrophes and wars as well as those who kept the faith; and in different periods it may be applied to still other groups.

Thus the apostle Paul applies the term to the Jewish disciples of Jesus of Nazareth.7 We ourselves can apply it to those who escaped the Nazi terror and to those who remained true to the faith of the fathers, as well as, with Paul, to those Jews who accepted faith in Jesus as the Messiah. In their own way, all of these represent Israel and manifest the inviolable fidelity of God toward all of Israel.
The church's claim to be the sole, new Israel of God can in no way be based on the Bible.8 In this respect, too, we must express ourselves in carefully nuanced terms. It is Christ who has made the two, Jew and non-Jew, one single person by breaking down the wall of separation and destroying the enmity that had arisen between them because Israel was separated from the nations as by a girdle through the Torah and the precepts (Eph 2:14-16).

Christians from among the gentiles may now consider themselves co-heirs in Christ, forming one single body with Israel and taking part in the promise through the Gospel (Eph 3:6), to constitute one single body with Israel, one people of God, just as there is only one God who is the father of all of us (Mal 2:10; 1 Cor 8:4-6). That means the church must give up all pretentiousness and recognize humbly and gratefully that, in conformity with hope in the promise according to which the gentiles will participate in salvation and in the glorification of God, she represents all those who in Christ and with Israel (the "remnant" in all its nuances) are the revelation of the one people of God.

The words "The kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit" (Matt 21:43) must never be interpreted in a heavy-handed and simplistic manner as if they expressed an historical law or an inevitable fate of the Jewish people. Rather, these words must be left in their parenetic and warning context, as a call to this unique people as a whole, that is, addressed also to the church as a part of the single people, and not exclusively to Jews.

Within this single people of God parenesis must function with a feeling of unity that is truly ecumenical; it must manifest itself in reciprocal responsibility: not only the church vis à vis Israel, and Israel vis à vis the church, but also the responsibility of the Christian who lives in the certainty of Jesus' messiahship9 vis à vis the Christian who, by his life or his theology, dishonors this messiahship. In its totality as this single people of God, the Jewish people and the church march together toward fulfillment, when God will be all in all (Rom 11:25; 1 Cor 15:28), and they must put into practice their joint responsibility to manifest the kingdom of God in the world.10

Neither in the scriptures nor in the apostolic writings11 is there a break between "old" and "new." "New" means the "accomplishment," "fulfillment," "flourishing," "actualization" of that which already is in existence. What is new is this: a single people of God, Israel and the church, begins to walk toward realization of the promises of the word of God (Torah, Prophets, Writings, Apostolic Writings) in regard to Israel and the nations.12

In sorrow, Christians must therefore repent of any hostility on their part, of any enmity between Christians and Jews, between the church and Israel. By his death on the cross, Christ wanted to bring to an end the hostility between Israel and the nations, between Jews and non-Jews (Eph 2:14-16). That is why the church must imitate her Lord, must begin her battle against such enmity, and do all she can to reveal the authentic links between the church and Israel. Only in this way can Jews really understand the meaning of the words, "Christ is our peace and has made the two into one" (Eph 2:14). That indicates the church's full solidarity with Israel. The church confesses with all her heart that the deliverance of the people of God from slavery in Egypt is fulfilled in the redemption by the Messiah on the cross.13 The church must therefore put into practice this confession of faith by condemning and actually fighting any kind of persecution, oppression and violence. This will be not only in respect to Israel but also in regard to any other group, community or nation – all antisemitism inside or outside the church – by defending the peace with and for Israel, and for the world. In this way the link between the church and Israel will have ecumenical character and will manifest itself in the joint study of God's revelations and in true communion between Jews and Christians, with charity and understanding.

Notes

  1. In rabbinic literature, Gen 2:24 is quoted in regard to the incorporation of proselytes. In Eph 2:14-16 passim, Paul probably alludes to this when speaking of the unity between Jews and non-Jews in the messianic era.

  2. Before the messianic time, pagans had a right to citizenship in Israel only when they accepted the prescriptions for proselytes in the Torah.

  3. Torah = teaching. The translation "law" often leads to wrong interpretations. The term "Torah" has the meaning of covenant in rabbinic literature, that is, the covenant of Abraham and of Moses.

  4. "Of both": that means the two complementary parts of the single people of God. "For union between identicals is impossible... similarity is the cause of separation" (A. Néher, Le Puits de I'Exile. La théologie dialectique du Maharal de Prague, series "Présence du Judaïsme," ed. Albin Michel, Paris, 1966), p. 175, where he speaks of the ties between Israel and the nations.

  5. The accomplished promise obliges the church to identify herself with that which she already is in Jesus Christ. That is the paradox in the life of the church, the tension between the "already" and the "not yet"; in Christ, the promise is accomplished, but the single people of God (Israel and the church) must make it manifest.

  6. Premise: Rom 11:16.

  7. Paul does not intend to determine once and for all the theological meaning of the term "remnant" and its function in salvation history. He employs it only in one aspect of a much larger idea. One does not find, then, all of the Old Testament in the New. The Old Testament contains many values that have their place in the theology and life of the church, which are not found again in the New Testament, and which are the word of God just as much as the New Testament.

  8. There is a great difference between appropriating the name "Israel" and participating in the claim to the title "Israel." Through Christ, the church is incorporated in Israel. The name "Israel" is part of the Covenant; in that sense it refers to the mission and vocation to be a light to the nations (Isa 49:1-7). That mission was never taken from Judaism; in Christ, we now participate in the mission of the Jewish people.

  9. That is, in whom Christ (= Messiah) is formed (Gal 4:19).

  10. In the apostolic writings as well as in rabbinic literature, "kingdom of heaven" always means "kingdom of God."

  11. It is not correct to designate the Torah, Prophets and Writings (in abbreviated form the three together are called Scriptures) as "Old Testament," and the Apostolic Writings as "New Testament." This terminology suggests an opposition or contrast that does not exist. In Jewish-Christian dialogue exactitude should be taken into account.

  12. Cf. note 1 above.

  13. Luke 9:31 speaks literally of his "exodus" which he will accomplish in Jerusalem, according to the old Jewish tradition that in Messianic times one will no longer read primarily the exodus from Egypt at Easter because the great Messianic deliverance has been accomplished (TB Ber 12B-l3A). That probably is the reason why the Apostolic Writings are so full of reminiscences of the Exodus and of Easter.