Judaism’s way to salvationChristoph Schönborn
- 29 March 2008
Christian-Jewish relations have grown warmer over the years. But should Christians proclaim the Gospel to the Jews? Here a senior cardinal explains that Christ's mandate to evangelise all heathen nations did not refer to the Jews, for whom a second kind of proclamation is in order
Christian-Jewish relations, particularly relations between the Catholic Church and Judaism, have improved greatly over the last 40 years. The Second Vatican Council declaration, Nostra Aetate, was certainly a watershed in this respect. Pope John Paul II's visit to the Grand Synagogue in Rome, his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the Holy Year 2000 with those unforgettable moments at Yad Vashem and at the Western Wall - all this and many other gestures, theological efforts and spiritual encounters have served to strengthen the positive moments in our relations.
Tensions have, however, kept cropping up. The discussions concerning Pope Pius XII, the beatification of Pope Pius IX, or the revised wording of the Good Friday Prayer for the 1962 Rite (see Church in the World, 9 February) are a few such examples. After centuries of often violent anti-Judaism on the part of Christians, together with memories of centuries of persecution, exile and recurring pogroms, it is only too understandable why such tensions occur so easily. But the Shoah remains unparalleled as the darkest hour in this long history of suffering.
Again and again, most recently concerning the revised Good Friday Prayer for the "Old Rite", this question of the "Mission to the Jews" keeps arising. Some theologians today are of the opinion that Christians should give up all attempts to missionise the Jews. Some go even further and think that there is no need to offer the Jews entry into the new covenant in Jesus Christ as God's covenant with the people of Israel was never revoked. The "Old Covenant" is the way to salvation for the Jews and the "New Covenant" the way to salvation for Gentiles, they say. This theory of "Two Ways to Salvation" is, however, rightly seen as incompatible with the Catholic belief in one salvation in Jesus Christ, as Cardinal Avery Dulles pointed out in the Jesuit journal America in October 2002.
The following short article tries - very simply - to consult the New Testament in an attempt to give an answer to the theory of the "Two Ways to Salvation". The article tries to show that according to the New Testament and from the Christian point of view there is only one salvation in Jesus Christ, but two clearly distinguishable ways of proclaiming and accepting this salvation. In this respect it must be made clear that the overture/offer to the Jews to recognise Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah cannot simply be equated with Christ's mandate to evangelise all (heathen) nations and make them his disciples (cf. Matthew 28: 18-20). That is what I have tried to explain below.
"Proclaim the good news to the whole
creation" (Mark 16:15)
Jews and Christians alike need to be redeemed from sin by Jesus Christ. St Paul affirms this more skilfully when he says:
"There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek" (Romans 2:9). And says a little further on, "For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:22-23). Christ's mandate to his Apostles and through them to his Church was in effect "that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47). (Italics in all Bible quotes in this article are the author's.) From Pentecost onwards, moreover, St Peter prevailed upon the Jews of Jerusalem to convert to Christ the Saviour - "Repent therefore, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out" (Acts 3:19; cf 2:38).
The Apostles received this mandate from Christ as St Paul made clear to the Jews of Antioch at Pisidia - "Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the Law of Moses." (Acts 13:39) Jesus Christ is, in fact, the definitive Kippur, the conclusive expiation of sin. This is achieved through the Divine Name present in Jesus Christ in the midst of our humanity and through the final power of his blood. Was he not "put forward [by God] as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood" (Romans 3:25), "for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
"To the Jew first" (Romans 1:16)
Following the Apostles, the Church is bound to proclaim Jesus Christ to the children of Israel because " the gospel ... is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16). Jesus had already called on his Apostles to proclaim his Gospel "to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47). Therefore, it is the Jews to whom "the word of God should be spoken first" because it is for them that Jesus Christ is "appointed" (Acts 3:20). And, as St Peter explained to the Jews of Jerusalem, "God ... sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways" (Acts 3:26).
Salvation was first of all promised to the Jews. The Gentiles, who were "strangers to the covenants of promise" (Ephesians 2:12), did not receive this promise until they had rejoined the Jews. "For the promise is for you," St Peter told the Jews of Jerusalem, "for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:39). In effect, "that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles" (Galatians 3:14) and those who are "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel" (Ephesians 2:12) may become "citizens with the saints" (Ephesians 2:19). And did not Jesus say to the Samaritan woman, "Salvation is from the Jews" (John 4:22)? That implies that they are the first beneficiaries and that this must be communicated to them first.
Two ways of receiving salvation
According to the justification given by Jesus Christ, "There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call upon him" (Romans 10:12). That is why St Paul is able to say, "For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek" (Galatians 3: 27-28). And for the same reason St Paul was able to tell the Christians at Corinth, among whom there were many Gentiles who had become joint heirs of Christ's promise to Israel, "our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea ... " (1 Corinthians 10:1).
However, it does not follow that from then on the difference between Jews and Greeks was abolished in the Church. Even within the Church, St Paul retains a certain diversity of appeal and differentiates between those who "come from circumcision" and those "who come from the Gentiles". This comes out in St Paul's letters in which he distinguishes between - and gives significant priority to - "we [who come from circumcision]" and "you [who come from the Gentiles]". Addressing Gentiles who have come to Christ, he says, "Now I am speaking to you Gentiles". This distinction is based on two different ways of receiving salvation: "In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we [the Jews], who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you [the Gentiles] also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit" (Ephesians 1:11-13).
It is in this way that St Paul distinguishes between the two vocations, between those who believed in Jesus as the Messiah who came "from circumcision" and those who converted to Christ and came "from the Gentiles". The difference lies in the way in which they communicate with each other in the Church and impart the same blessing to the world which God conferred on human beings through Jesus Christ, "For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God, in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy" (Romans 15,8-9).
By welcoming the Gospel, the Jews are witnesses of God's fidelity to his promise, while the Gentiles are witnesses of the universality of his mercy. These two appeals in the Church reflect the twofold way of the same salvation in Christ, one for Jews and one for Gentiles. Thus the same Jesus Christ is simultaneously "a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2:32).
Consequently, this twofold way of receiving salvation calls for a twofold way of bearing witness to the Gospel message for Christians and a twofold catechumenal way to prepare for the same baptism in the one Jesus.
"Having the goodwill of all the people" (Acts 2:47)
God's choice of the Jews in his plan for the world - "the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29) - calls for particular attention on the part of the Church regarding the way in which the Gospel message is proclaimed to the Jews by her children. The individual conscience must always be respected. Religious liberty requires this of everyone. But the vocation of the Jews requires Christians to recognise the mystery of the specific choice of those to whom belong "the adoption [as children], the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah" (Romans 9:4-5). The fact that the Church has apologised for the diverse forms of compulsion which they have had to suffer throughout the Christian era implies that Christians have now irrevocably renounced all forms of proselytism. This does not mean that Christians for their part have abandoned the mandate to proclaim the Gospel "to the Jews first" which the Apostles received from Christ and which they passed on to the Church. On the other hand, it means that this mandate must be carried out in the most sensitive way, cleansed of all un-Christian motives. Prayer, the offering of life, tokens of unselfish love and above all recognition of Jewish identity should win "the goodwill of all the people" (Acts 2:47) for the disciples of Jesus so that bearing witness to their faith in Christ, proposed with due respect and humility, may be recognised by them (the Jews) as the fulfilment - and not as a denial - of the promise of which they are the bearers.
The Gentiles who appealed to Jesus in the gospels and whom the Lord gave as an example of faith (cf. Matthew 8:10; 15:28) are characterised by their love and their humility. The centurion is recommended by the Jews who say of him to Jesus, "he loves our people and it is he who built our synagogue for us" (Luke 7:5). The pagan woman from Cana recognised the prerogative of Israel as the people of God when she said humbly, "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table" (Matthew 15:27). After Pentecost, Cornelius, a God-fearing Roman centurion, who "gave generously to the people [Jewish causes] and prayed constantly to God" (Acts 10:2) was granted salvation (cf. Acts 10:4) through St Peter. These are precious examples of the particular way in which Christians must bear witness regarding the Gospel message to the Jews.