I. The Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people are a fundamental part of
the Christian Bible
The New Testament recognizes the authority of the Sacred
Scripture of the Jewish people
recognition of authority
2. Explicit recourse to the authority of the Jewish Scriptures
B. The New Testament attests conformity to the Jewish Scriptures
1. Necessity of fulfilling the Scriptures
2. Conformity to the Scriptures
3. Conformity and Difference
C. Scripture and Oral Tradition in Judaism and Christianity
1. Scripture and Tradition in the Old Testament and Judaism
2. Scripture and Tradition in Early Christianity
3. Relationships between the two perspectives
D. Jewish Exegetical Methods employed in the New Testament
1. Jewish Methods of Exegesis
2. Exegesis at Qumran and in the New Testament
3. Rabbinic Methods in the New Testament
4. Important Allusions to the Old Testament
E. The Extension of the Canon of Scripture
1. In Judaism
2. In the Early Church
3. Formation of the Christian Canon
II. Fundamental themes in the Jewish Scriptures and their
reception into faith in Christ
A. Christian Understanding of the relationships between the Old
and New Testaments
1. Affirmation of a reciprocal relationship
Re-reading the Old Testament in the light of Christ
4. Return to the Literal Sense
5. The unity of God's Plan and the Idea of Fulfilment
6. Current Perspectives
7. Contribution of Jewish reading of the Bible
B. Shared Fundamental Themes
1. Revelation of God
2. The Human Person: Greatness and Wretchedness
3. God, Liberator and Saviour
4. The Election of Israel
5. The Covenant
6. The Law
7. Prayer and Cult, Jerusalem and Temple
8. Divine Reproaches and Condemnations
9. The Promises
III. The Jews in the New Testament
A. Different viewpoints within post-exilic Judaism
1. The last centuries before Jesus Christ
2. The first third of the first century A.D. in Palestine
3. The second third of the first century
4. The final third of the first century
B. Jews in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles
1. The Gospel according to Matthew
2. The Gospel according to Mark
3. The Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles
4. The Gospel according to John
C. The Jews in the Pauline Letters and other New Testament
1. Jews in the undisputed Pauline Letters
2. Jews in the other Letters
3. Jews in the Book of Revelation
A. General Conclusion
B. Pastoral Orientations
The internal unity of the Church's Bible, which comprises the Old and New
Testaments, was a central theme in the theology of the Church Fathers. That it
was far from being a theoretical problem only is evident from dipping, so to
speak, into the spiritual journey of one of the greatest teachers of
Christendom, Saint Augustine of Hippo. In 373, the 19 year old Augustine already
had his first decisive experience of conversion. His reading of one of the works
of Cicero — Hortensius, since lost — brought about a profound
transformation which he himself described later on as follows: “Towards you, O
Lord, it directed my prayers... I began to pick myself up to return to you...
How ardent I was, O my God, to let go of the earthly and take wing back to
you” (Conf. III, 4, 81). For the young African who, as a child, had
received the salt that made him a catechumen, it was clear that conversion to
God entailed attachment to Christ; apart from Christ, he could not truly find
God. So he went from Cicero to the Bible and experienced a terrible
disappointment: in the exacting legal prescriptions of the Old Testament, in its
complex and, at times, brutal narratives, he failed to find that Wisdom towards
which he wanted to travel. In the course of his search, he encountered certain
people who proclaimed a new spiritual Christianity, one which understood the Old
Testament as spiritually deficient and repugnant; a Christianity in which Christ
had no need of the witness of the Hebrew prophets. Those people promised him a
Christianity of pure and simple reason, a Christianity in which Christ was the
great illuminator, leading human beings to true self-knowledge. These were the
The great promise of the Manicheans proved illusory, but the problem remained
unresolved for all that. Augustine was unable to convert to the Christianity of
the Catholic Church until he had learned, through Ambrose, an interpretation of
the Old Testament that made transparent the relationship of Israel's Bible to
Christ and thus revealed that Wisdom for which he searched. What was overcome
was not only the exterior obstacle of an unsatisfactory literary form of the Old
Latin Bible, but above all the interior obstacle of a book that was no longer
just a document of the religious history of a particular people, with all its
strayings and mistakes. It revealed instead a Wisdom addressed to all and came
from God. Through the transparency of Israel's long, slow historical journey,
that reading of Israel's Bible identified Christ, the Word, eternal Wisdom. It
was, therefore, of fundamental importance not only for Augustine's decision of
faith; it was and is the basis for the faith decision of the Church as a whole.
But is all this true? Is it also demonstrable and tenable still today? From the
viewpoint of historical-critical exegesis, it seems — at first glance, in
any case — that exactly the opposite is true. It was in 1920 that the
well-known liberal theologian Adolf Harnack formulated the following thesis:
“The rejection of the Old Testament in the second century [an allusion to
Marcion] was an error which the great Church was right in resisting; holding on
to it in the 16th century was a disaster from which the Reformation has not yet
been able to extricate itself; but to maintain it since the 19th century in
Protestantism as a canonical document equal in value to the New Testament, that
is the result of religious and ecclesial paralysis”.2
Is Harnack right? At first glance several things seem to point in that
direction. The exegetical method of Ambrose did indeed open the way to the
Church for Augustine, and in its basic orientation — allowing, of course, for
a considerable measure of variance in the details — became the foundation of
Augustine's faith in the biblical word of God, consisting of two parts, and
nevertheless composing a unity. But it is still possible to make the following
objection: Ambrose had learned this exegesis from the school of Origen, who had
been the first to develop its methodology. But Origen, it may be said, only
applied to the Bible the allegorical method of interpretation which was
practised in the Greek world, to explain the religious texts of antiquity — in
particular, Homer — and not only produced a hellenization intrinsically
foreign to the biblical word, but used a method that was unreliable, because, in
the last analysis, it tried to preserve as something sacred what was, in fact,
only a witness to a moribund culture. Yet, it is not that simple. Much more than
the Greek exegesis of Homer, Origen could build on the Old Testament
interpretation which was born in a Jewish milieu, especially in Alexandria,
beginning with Philo who sought in a totally appropriate way to introduce the
Bible to Greeks who were long in search of the one biblical God beyond
polytheism. And Origen had studied at the feet of the rabbis. He eventually
developed specifically Christian principles: the internal unity of the Bible as
a rule of interpretation, Christ as the meeting point of all the Old Testament
In whatever way one judges the detailed exegesis of Origen and Ambrose, its
deepest basis was neither Hellenistic allegory, nor Philo nor rabbinic methods.
Strictly speaking, — leaving aside the details of interpretation — its basis
was the New Testament itself. Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be the true heir to
the Old Testament — “the Scriptures” — and to offer a true
interpretation, which, admittedly, was not that of the schools, but came from
the authority of the Author himself: “He taught them as one having authority,
and not as the scribes” (Mk 1:22). The Emmaus narrative also expresses this
claim: “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the
things about himself in all the Scriptures” (Lk 24:27). The New Testament
authors sought to ground this claim into details, in particular Matthew, but
Paul as well, by using rabbinic methods of interpretation to show that the
scribal interpretation led to Christ as the key to the “Scriptures”. For the
authors and founders of the New Testament, the Old Testament was simply “the
Scriptures”: it was only later that the developing Church gradually formed a
New Testament canon which was also Sacred Scripture, but in the sense that it
still presupposed Israel's Bible to be such, the Bible read by the apostles and
their disciples, and now called the Old Testament, which provided the
From this viewpoint, the Fathers of the Church created nothing new when they
gave a Christological interpretation to the Old Testament; they only developed
and systematised what they themselves had already discovered in the New
Testament. This fundamental synthesis for the Christian faith would become
problematic when historical consciousness developed rules of interpretation that
made Patristic exegesis appear non-historical and so objectively indefensible.
In the context of humanism, with its new-found historical awareness, but
especially in the context of his doctrine of justification, Luther invented a
new formula relating the two parts of the Christian Bible, one no longer based
on the internal harmony of the Old and New Testaments, but on their essential
dialectic linkage within an existential history of salvation, the antithesis
between Law and Gospel. Bultmann modernised this approach when he said that the
Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ by foundering. More radical is the
proposition of Harnack mentioned above; as far as I can see, it was not
generally accepted, but it was completely logical for an exegesis for which
texts from the past could have no meaning other than that intended by the
authors in their historical context. That the biblical authors in the centuries
before Christ, writing in the Old Testament, intended to refer in advance to
Christ and New Testament faith, looks to the modern historical consciousness as
As a result, the triumph of historical-critical exegesis seemed to sound the
death-knell for the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament initiated by
the New Testament itself. It is not a question here of historical details, as we
have seen, it is the very foundations of Christianity that are being questioned.
It is understandable then that nobody has since embraced Harnack's position and
made the definitive break with the Old Testament that Marcion prematurely wished
to accomplish. What would have remained, our New Testament, would itself be
devoid of meaning. The Document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission introduced
by this Preface declares: “Without the Old Testament, the New Testament would
be an unintelligible book, a plant deprived of its roots and destined to dry up
and wither” (no. 84).
From this perspective, one can appreciate the enormous task the Pontifical
Biblical Commission set for itself in deciding to tackle the theme of the
relationship between the Old and New Testaments. If the impasse presented by
Harnack is to be overcome, the very concept of an interpretation of historical
texts must be broadened and deepened enough to be tenable in today's liberal
climate, and capable of application, especially to Biblical texts received in
faith as the Word of God. Important contributions have been made in this
direction over recent decades. The Pontifical Biblical Commission made its own
contribution in the Document published in 1993 on “The Interpretation of the
Bible in the Church”. The recognition of the multidimensional nature of human
language, not staying fixed to a particular moment in history, but having a hold
on the future, is an aid that permits a greater understanding of how the Word of
God can avail of the human word to confer on a history in progress a meaning
that surpasses the present moment and yet brings out, precisely in this way, the
unity of the whole. Beginning from that Document, and mindful of methodology,
the Biblical Commission examined the relationship between the many great
thematic threads of both Testaments, and was able to conclude that the Christian
hermeneutic of the Old Testament, admittedly very different from that of
Judaism, “corresponds nevertheless to a potentiality of meaning effectively
present in the texts” (no. 64). This is a conclusion, which seems to me to be
of great importance for the pursuit of dialogue, but above all, for grounding
the Christian faith.
In its work, the Biblical Commission could not ignore the contemporary context,
where the shock of the Shoah has put the whole question under a new light. Two
main problems are posed: Can Christians, after all that has happened, still
claim in good conscience to be the legitimate heirs of Israel's Bible? Have they
the right to propose a Christian interpretation of this Bible, or should they
not instead, respectfully and humbly, renounce any claim that, in the light of
what has happened, must look like a usurpation? The second question follows from
the first: In its presentation of the Jews and the Jewish people, has not the
New Testament itself contributed to creating a hostility towards the Jewish
people that provided a support for the ideology of those who wished to destroy
Israel? The Commission set about addressing those two questions. It is clear
that a Christian rejection of the Old Testament would not only put an end to
Christianity itself as indicated above, but, in addition, would prevent the
fostering of positive relations between Christians and Jews, precisely because
they would lack common ground. In the light of what has happened, what ought to
emerge now is a new respect for the Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament.
On this subject, the Document says two things. First it declares that “the
Jewish reading of the Bible is a possible one, in continuity with the Jewish
Scriptures of the Second Temple period, a reading analogous to the Christian
reading, which developed in parallel fashion” (no. 22). It adds that
Christians can learn a great deal from a Jewish exegesis practised for more than
2000 years; in return, Christians may hope that Jews can profit from Christian
exegetical research (ibid.). I think this analysis will prove useful for
the pursuit of Judeo-Christian dialogue, as well as for the interior formation
of Christian consciousness.
The question of how Jews are presented in the New Testament is dealt with in the
second part of the Document; the “anti-Jewish” texts there are
methodically analysed for an understanding of them. Here, I want only to
underline an aspect which seems to me to be particularly important. The Document
shows that the reproofs addressed to Jews in the New Testament are neither more
frequent nor more virulent than the accusations against Israel in the Law and
the Prophets, at the heart of the Old Testament itself (no. 87). They belong to
the prophetic language of the Old Testament and are, therefore, to be
interpreted in the same way as the prophetic messages: they warn against
contemporary aberrations, but they are essentially of a temporary nature and
always open to new possibilities of salvation.
To the members of the Biblical Commission, I wish to express gratitude and
appreciation for their work. From their discussions, patiently pursued over
several years, this Document has emerged which, I am convinced, can offer a
precious aid to the study of one of the central questions of the Christian
faith, as well as to the search so important for a new understanding between
Christians and Jews.
Rome, the feast of the Ascension 2001
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
1. 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 those circumstances, some Christians failed to exhibit the spiritual
resistance to be expected from disciples of Christ, and did not take the
appropriate initiatives to counter them. Other Christians, though, did
generously aid Jews in danger, often at the risk of their own lives. 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 endeavour. 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.
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”.
That an intimate relationship exists between them is undeniable. A closer
examination, however, reveals that this is not a straightforward relationship,
but a very complex one that ranges from perfect accord on some points to one of
great tension on others. A careful study is therefore necessary. The Biblical
Commission has devoted the past few years to this study. The results, which make
no claim of being exhaustive, are presented here in three chapters. The first
chapter lays the foundations by demonstrating that the New Testament recognises
the authority of the Old Testament as divine revelation and that the New
Testament cannot be properly understood apart from the Old Testament and the
Jewish tradition which transmits it. The second chapter then examines
analytically how the writings of the New Testament appropriate the rich content
of the Old Testament by developing its basic themes in the light of Jesus
Christ. Finally, the third chapter reviews the various attitudes which the New
Testament writings express regarding the Jews, following, in this respect, the
example of the Old Testament itself.
In this way the Biblical Commission hopes to advance the dialogue between
Christians and Jews with clarity and in a spirit of mutual esteem and affection.
I. THE SACRED SCRIPTURES OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE ARE A FUNDAMENTAL
PART OF THE CHRISTIAN BIBLE
2. It is above all by virtue of its historical origin that the Christian
community discovers its links with the Jewish people. Indeed, the person in whom
it puts its faith, Jesus of Nazareth, is himself a son of this people. So too
are the Twelve whom he chose “to be with him and to be sent out to proclaim
the message” (Mk 3:14). In the beginning, the apostolic preaching was
addressed only to the Jews and proselytes, pagans associated with the Jewish
community (cf. Ac 2:11). Christianity, then, came to birth in the bosom of first
century Judaism. Although it gradually detached itself from Judaism, the Church
could never forget its Jewish roots, something clearly attested in the New
Testament; it even recognised a certain priority for Jews, for the Gospel is the
“power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and
also to the Greek” (Rm 1:16).
A perennial manifestation of this link to their beginnings is the acceptance by
Christians of the Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people as the Word of God
addressed to themselves as well. Indeed, the Church has accepted as inspired by
God all the writings contained in the Hebrew Bible as well as those in the Greek
Bible. The title “Old Testament” given to this collection of writings is an
expression coined by the apostle Paul to designate the writings attributed to
Moses (cf. 2 Co 3:14-15). Its scope has been extended, since the end of the
second century, to include other Jewish writings in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek.
The title “New Testament” takes its origin from a message in the Book of
Jeremiah which announced a “new covenant” (Jr 31:31), the expression is
translated in the Greek of the Septuagint as “new dispensation”, “new
testament” (kain diathk). The message announced that God intended to
establish a new covenant. The Christian faith sees this promise fulfilled in the
mystery of Christ Jesus with the institution of the Eucharist (cf. 1 Co 11:25;
Heb 9:15). Consequently, that collection of writings which expresses the
Church's faith in all its novelty is called the “New Testament”. The title
itself points towards a relationship with the “Old Testament”.
The New Testament recognizes the authority of the Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people
3. The New Testament writings were never presented as something entirely new. On
the contrary, they attest their rootedness in the long religious experience of
the people of Israel, an experience recorded in diverse forms in the sacred
books which comprise the Jewish Scriptures. The New Testament recognises their
divine authority. This recognition manifests itself in different ways, with
different degrees of explicitness.
1. Implicit recognition of authority
Beginning from the less explicit, which nevertheless is revealing, we notice
that the same language is used. The Greek of the New Testament is closely dependent on the Greek of the
Septuagint, in grammatical turns of phrase which were influenced by the Hebrew,
or in the vocabulary, of a religious nature in particular. Without a knowledge
of Septuagint Greek, it is impossible to ascertain the exact meaning of many
important New Testament terms.5
This linguistic relationship extends to numerous expressions borrowed by the New
Testament from the Jewish Scriptures, giving rise to frequent reminiscences
and implicit quotations, that is, entire phrases found in the New Testament
without any indication of origin. These reminiscences are numerous, but their
identification often gives rise to discussion. To take an obvious example:
although the Book of Revelation contains no explicit quotations from the Jewish
Bible, it is a whole tissue of reminiscences and allusions. The text is so
steeped in the Old Testament that it is difficult to distinguish what is an
allusion to it and what is not.
What is true of the Book of Revelation is true also — although to a lesser
degree — of the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters.6
The difference is that in these writings we find, in addition, many explicit
quotations, that is, introduced as such.7 In this way they
clearly indicate the more important borrowings, recognising thereby the
authority of the Jewish Bible as divine revelation.
Explicit recourse to the authority of the Jewish Scriptures
4. This recognition of authority takes different forms depending on the case.
Frequently, in a revelatory context the simple verb legei, “it says”,
is found, without any expressed subject,8 as in later rabbinic
writings, but the context shows that a subject conferring great authority on the
text is to be understood: Scripture, the Lord or Christ.9 At other
times the subject is expressed: it is “Scripture”, “the Law”, or
“Moses” or “David”, with the added note that he was inspired, “the
Holy Spirit” or “the prophet”, frequently “Isaiah”, sometimes
“Jeremiah”, but it is also “the Holy Spirit” or “the Lord” as the
prophets used to say.10 Twice, Matthew has a complex formula
indicating both the divine speaker and the human spokesperson: “what had been
spoken by the Lord through the prophet...” (Mt 1:22; 2:15). At other times the
mention of the Lord remains implicit, suggested only by the preposition dia “through”,
referring to the human spokesperson. In these texts of Matthew, the verb “to
say” in the present tense results in presenting the quotations from the Jewish
Bible as living words possessing perennial authority.
Instead of the verb “to say”, the term frequently used to introduce
quotations is the verb “to write” in the Greek perfect tense, expressing the
permanent effect of a past action: gegraptai, “it has been written”
or simply “it is written”. This gegraptai carries considerable
weight. Jesus successfully counters the tempter in the first temptation by
simply saying: “It is written: Man does not live by bread alone...” (Mt 4:4;
Lk 4:4), adding palin “on the contrary”, the second time (Mt 4:7) and
gar, “for”, the third time (Mt 4:10). This “for” makes explicit
the weight of argument attributed to the Old Testament text, something already
implicit in the first two. It can also happen that a biblical text is not
definitive and must give way to a new dispensation; in that case, the New
Testament uses the Greek aorist tense, placing it in the past. Such is the case
with the Law of Moses regarding divorce: “Because of your hardness of heart
[Moses] wrote (egrapsen) this commandment for you” (Mk 10:5; cf. also
5. Frequently, the New Testament uses texts of the Jewish Bible for the sake
of argument, both with the verb “to say” and the verb “to write”.
Sometimes we find the expression: “For it says...”,11 more often:
“For it is written...12 The formulae “for it is written”,
“because it is written”, “according to what is written” are very
frequent in the New Testament; in the Letter to the Romans alone there are 17
In his doctrinal arguments, the apostle Paul constantly relies on his people's
Scriptures. He makes a clear distinction between scriptural argumentation and
“human” reasoning. To the arguments from Scripture he attributes an
incontestable value.13 For him the Jewish Scriptures have an equally
enduring value for guiding the spiritual lives of Christians: “For whatever
was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by
steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope”.14
The New Testament recognises the definitive value of arguments based on the
Jewish Scriptures. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus declares that “Scripture cannot
be annulled” (Jn 10:35). Its value derives from the fact that it is the
“word of God” (ibid.). This conviction is frequently evident. Two
texts are particularly significant for this subject, since they speak of divine
inspiration. In the Second Letter to Timothy, after mentioning the “Sacred
Scriptures” (2 Tm 3:15), we find this affirmation: “All Scripture is
inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for
training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be proficient, equipped
for every good work” (2 Tm 3:16-17). Specifically referring to the prophetic
oracles contained in the Old Testament, the Second Letter of Peter declares:
“First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is a
matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will,
but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pt 1:20-21). These two
texts not only affirm the authority of the Jewish Scriptures; they reveal the
basis for this authority as divine inspiration.
The New Testament attests conformity to the Jewish Scriptures
6. A twofold conviction is apparent in other texts: on the one hand, what is
written in the Jewish Scriptures must of necessity be fulfilled because it
reveals the plan of God which cannot fail to be accomplished; on the other hand,
the life, death and resurrection of Christ are fully in accord with the
1. Necessity of fulfilling the Scriptures
The clearest expression of this is found in the words addressed by the risen
Christ to his disciples, in the Gospel of Luke: “These are my words that I
spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about me in
the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must (dei) be fulfilled” (Lk 24:44). This assertion shows the basis of the necessity (dei,
“must”) for the paschal mystery of Jesus, affirmed in numerous passages
in the Gospels: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering...and
after three days rise again”;15 “But how then would the
Scriptures be fulfilled which say it must happen this way?” (Mt 26:54);
“This Scripture must be fulfilled in me” (Lk 22:37).
Because what is written in the Old Testament “must” be fulfilled, the events
take place “so that” it is fulfilled. This is what Matthew often
expresses in the infancy narrative, later on in Jesus' public life16
and for the whole passion (Mt 26:56). Mark has a parallel to the last mentioned
passage in a powerfully elliptic phrase: “But let the Scriptures be
fulfilled” (Mk 14:49). Luke does not use this expression but John has recourse
to it almost as often as Matthew does.17 The Gospels' insistence on
the purpose of these events “so that the Scriptures be fulfilled”18
attributes the utmost importance to the Jewish Scriptures. It is clearly
understood that these events would be meaningless if they did not correspond to
what the Scriptures say. It would not be a question there of the realisation of
2. Conformity to the Scriptures
7. Other texts affirm that the whole mystery of Christ is in conformity with the
Jewish Scriptures. The early Christian preaching is summarised in the kerygmatic
formula recounted by Paul: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what
I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the
Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in
accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared...” (1 Co 15:3-5).
He adds: “Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach and this is
what you believed” (1 Co 15:11). The Christian faith, then, is not based
solely on events, but on the conformity of these events to the revelation
contained in the Jewish Scriptures. On his journey towards the passion, Jesus
says: “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him” (Mt 26:24; Mk 14:21).
After his resurrection, Jesus himself “interpreted to them the things about
himself in all the Scriptures”.19 In his discourse to the Jews of
Antioch in Pisidia, Paul recalls these events by saying that “the residents of
Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognise him [Jesus] or understand the
words of the prophets that are read every sabbath, they fulfilled these words by
condemning him” (Ac 13:27). The New Testament shows by these declarations that
it is indissolubly linked to the Jewish Scriptures.
Some disputed points that need to be kept in mind may be mentioned here. In the
Gospel of Matthew, a saying of Jesus claims perfect continuity between the faith
of Christians and the Tôr~h: “Do not think that I have come to abolish
the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil” (Mt 5:17).
This theological affirmation is characteristic of Matthew and his community. It
is in tension with other sayings of the Lord which relativises the Sabbath
obvervance (Mt 12:8,12) and ritual purity (Mt 15:11).
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus appropriates a saying of Isaiah (Lk 4:17-21; Is
61:1-2) to define his mission as he begins his ministry. The ending of the
Gospel expands this perspective when it speaks of fulfilling “all that is
written” about Jesus (Lk 24:44).
On that point, it is essential, according to Jesus, to “hear Moses and the
prophets”, the ending of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Lk
16:29-31) drives home the point: without a docile listening, even the greatest
prodigies are of no avail.
The Fourth Gospel expresses a similar perspective: Jesus attributes to the
writings of Moses an authority comparable to his own words, when he says to
opponents: “If you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I
say?” (Jn 5:47). In a Gospel where Jesus affirms that his words “are spirit
and life” (Jn 6:63), such an assertion gives primary importance to the Tôr~h.
In the Acts of the Apostles, the kerygmatic discourses of the Church leaders —
Peter, Paul and Barnabas, James — place the events of the Passion,
Resurrection, Pentecost and the missionary outreach of the Church in perfect
continuity with the Jewish Scriptures.20
3. Conformity and Difference
8. Although it never explicitly affirms the authority of the Jewish Scriptures,
the Letter to the Hebrews clearly shows that it recognises this authority by
repeatedly quoting texts to ground its teaching and exhortations. It contains
numerous affirmations of conformity to prophetic revelation, but also
affirmations of conformity that include aspects of non-conformity as well.
This was already the case in the Pauline Letters. In the Letters to Galatians
and Romans, the apostle argues from the Law to prove that faith in Christ has
put an end to the Law's regime. He shows that the Law as revelation predicted
its own end as an institution necessary for salvation.21 The most
important text on this subject is Rm 3:21 where the apostle affirms that the
manifestation of the justice of God in the justification offered by faith in
Christ is brought about “apart from the Law”, but is nevertheless
“attested by the Law and the Prophets”. In a similar way, the Letter to the
Hebrews shows that the mystery of Christ fulfils the prophecies and what was
prefigured in the Jewish Scriptures, but, at the same time, affirms
non-conformity to the ancient institutions: the glorified Christ is at one and
the same time in conformity with the words of Ps 109 (110):1,4, and in
non-conformity with the levitical priesthood (cf. Heb 7:11,28).
The basic affirmation remains the same. The writings of the New Testament
acknowledge that the Jewish Scriptures have a permanent value as divine
revelation. They have a positive outlook towards them and regard them as the
foundation on which they themselves rest. Consequently, the Church has always
held that the Jewish Scriptures form an integral part of the Christian Bible.
C. Scripture and Oral Tradition in Judaism and Christianity
9. In many religions there exists a tension between Scripture and Tradition.
This is true of Oriental Religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) and Islam. The
written texts can never express the Tradition in an exhaustive manner. They have
to be completed by additions and interpretations which are eventually written
down but are subject to certain limitations. This phenomenon can be seen in
Christianity as well as in Judaism, with developments that are partly similar
and partly different. A common trait is that both share a significant part of
the same canon of Scripture.
Scripture and Tradition in the Old Testament and Judaism
Tradition gives birth to Scripture. The origin of Old Testament texts and the history of the formation of the canon
have been the subject of important works in the last few years. A certain
consensus has been reached according to which by the end of the first century of
our era, the long process of the formation of the Hebrew Bible was practically
completed. This canon comprised the Tôr~h, the Prophets and the greater
part of the “Writings”. To determine the origin of the individual books is
often a difficult task. In many cases, one must settle for hypotheses. These
are, for the most part, based on results furnished by Form, Tradition and
Redaction Criticism. It can be deduced from them that ancient precepts were
assembled in collections which were gradually inserted in the books of the
Pentateuch. The older narratives were likewise committed to writing and arranged
together. Collections of narrative texts and rules of conduct were combined.
Prophetic messages were collected and compiled in books bearing the prophets'
names. The sapiential texts, Psalms and didactic narratives were likewise
collected much later.
Over time Tradition produced a “second Scripture” (Mishna).
No written text can adequately express all the riches of a tradition.22
The biblical sacred texts left open many questions concerning the proper
understanding of Israelite faith and conduct. That gave rise, in Pharisaic and
Rabbinic Judaism, to a long process of written texts, from the “Mishna”
(“Second Text”), edited at the beginning of the third century by Jehuda
ha-Nasi, to the “Tosepta” (“Supplement”) and Talmud in its twofold
form (Babylonian and Jerusalem). Notwithstanding its authority, this
interpretation by itself was not deemed adequate in later times, with the result
that later rabbinic explanations were added. These additions were never granted
the same authority as the Talmud, they served only as an aid to interpretation.
Unresolved questions were submitted to the decisions of the Grand Rabbinate.
In this manner, written texts gave rise to further developments. Between written
texts and oral tradition a certain sustained tension is evident.
The Limits of Tradition. When it was put into writing to be joined to Scripture, a normative Tradition,
for all that, never enjoyed the same authority as Scripture. It did not become
part of the “Writings which soil the hands”, that is, “which are sacred”
and was not accepted as such in the liturgy. The Mishna, the Tosepta and the
Talmud have their place in the synagogue as texts to be studied, but they are
not read in the liturgy. Generally, a tradition is evaluated by its conformity
to the Tôr~h. The reading of the Tôr~h occupies a privileged
place in the liturgy of the Synagogue. To it are added pericopes chosen from the
Prophets. According to ancient Jewish belief, the Tôr~h was conceived
before the creation of the world. The Samaritans accept only the Tôr~h as
Sacred Scripture, while the Sadduccees reject every normative Tradition outside
the Law and the Prophets. Conversely, Pharisaic and Rabbinic Judaism accept,
alongside the written Law, an oral Law given simultaneously to Moses and
enjoying the same authority. A tract in the Mishna states: “At Sinai, Moses
received the oral Law and handed it on to Joshua, and Joshua to the ancestors,
and the ancestors to the prophets, and the prophets handed it on to members of
the Great Synagogue” (Aboth 1:1). Clearly, a striking diversity is
apparent from the manner of conceiving the role of Tradition.
Scripture and Tradition in Early Christianity
10. Tradition gives birth to Scripture. In early Christianity, an
evolution similar to that of Judaism can be observed with, however, an initial
difference: early Christians had the Scriptures from the very beginning, since
as Jews, they accepted Israel's Bible as Scripture. But for them an oral
tradition was added on, “the teaching of the Apostles” (Ac 2:42), which
handed on the words of Jesus and the narrative of events concerning him. The
Gospel catechesis took shape only gradually. To better ensure their faithful
transmission, the words of Jesus and the narratives were put in writing. Thus,
the way was prepared for the redaction of the Gospels which took place some
decades after the death and resurrection of Jesus. In addition, professions of
faith were also composed, together with the liturgical hymns which are found in
the New Testament Letters. The Letters of Paul and the other apostles or leaders
were first read in the church for which they were written (cf. 1 Th 5:27), were
passed on to other churches (cf. Col 4:16), preserved to be read on other
occasions and eventually accepted as Scripture (cf. 2 P 3:15-16) and attached
to the Gospels. In this way, the canon of the New Testament was gradually formed
within the apostolic Tradition.
Tradition completes Scripture. Christianity has in common with Judaism the conviction that God's revelation
cannot be expressed in its entirety in written texts. This is clear from the
ending of the Fourth Gospel where it is stated that the whole world would be
unable to contain the books that could be written recounting the actions of
Jesus (Jn 21:25). On the other hand, a vibrant tradition is indispensable to
make Scripture come alive and maintain its relevance.
It is worth recalling here the teaching of the Farewell Discourse on the role of
“the Spirit of truth” after Jesus' departure. He will remind the disciples
of all that Jesus said (Jn 14:26), bear witness on Jesus' behalf (15:26), and
lead the disciples “into all the truth” (16:13), giving them a deeper
understanding of the person of Christ, his message and work. As a result of the
Spirit's action, the tradition remains alive and dynamic.
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). Scripture is defined as the “Word of God committed to
writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit”; but it is Tradition that
“transmits to the successors of the apostles the Word of God entrusted by
Christ the Lord and by the Holy Spirit to the apostles, so that, illumined by
the Spirit of truth, they will protect it faithfully, explain it and make it
known by their preaching” (DV 9). The Council concludes:
“Consequently, it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws its
certainty about everything which has been revealed” and adds: “That is why
both — Scripture and Tradition — must be accepted and venerated with the
same sense of devotion and reverence” (DV 9).
The Limits of the additional contribution of Tradition. 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. On one
point at least, the Council mentions an additional contribution made by
Tradition, one of great importance: Tradition “enabled the Church to recognise
the full canon of the Sacred Books” (DV 8). Here, the extent to which
Scripture and Tradition are inseparable can be seen.
3. Relationship between the two perspectives
11. As we have shown, there is a corresponding relationship between Scripture
and Tradition in Judaism and Christianity. On one point, there is a greater
correspondence, since both religions share a common heritage in the “Sacred
Scripture of Israel”.23
From a hermeneutical viewpoint, however, perspectives differ. For all the
currents within Judaism during the period corresponding to the formation of the
canon, the Law was at the centre. 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
This hermeneutical perspective was not taken over by the Christian communities,
with the exception, perhaps, of those in Judeo-Christian milieux 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
What distinguishes early Christianity from all these other currents is the
conviction that the eschatological prophetic promises are no longer considered
simply as an object of future hope, since their fulfilment had already begun in
Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. It is about him that the Jewish Scriptures speak,
in their whole extension, and it is in light of him that they are to be fully
Jewish Exegetical Methods employed in the New Testament
1. Jewish Methods of Exegesis
12. Judaism derived from the Scriptures its understanding of God and of the
world, as well as of God's plans. The clearest expression of how Jesus'
contemporaries interpreted the Scriptures are given in the Dead Sea Scrolls,
manuscripts copied between the second century B.C. and 60 A.D., and so are
therefore close to Jesus' ministry and the formation of the Gospels. However,
these documents express only one aspect of the Jewish tradition; they come from
within a particular current and do not represent the whole tradition.
The earliest rabbinic attestation of exegetical method based on Old Testament
texts, is a series of seven “rules” traditionally attributed to Rabbi Hillel
(d. 10 A.D.). Irrespective of whether this attribution is well founded or not,
these seven middoth certainly represent a codification of contemporary
methods of argument from Scripture, in particular for deducing rules of conduct.
Another method of using Scripture can be seen in first century historical
writings, particularly Josephus, but it had already been employed in the Old
Testament itself. It consists of using biblical terms to describe events in
order to illuminate their meaning. Thus, the return from the Babylonian Exile is
described in terms that evoke the liberation from Egyptian oppression at the
time of the Exodus (Is 43:16-21). The final restoration of Zion is represented
as a new Eden.24 At Qumran, a similar technique was widely used.
Exegesis at Qumran and in the New Testament
13. With regard to form and method, the New Testament, especially the Gospels,
presents striking resemblances to Qumran in its use of Scripture. The formulae
for introducing quotations are often the same, for example: “thus it is
written”, “as it is written”, “in conformity with what was said”. The
similarity in scriptural usage derives from an outlook common to both the Qumran
community and that of the New Testament. Both were eschatological communities
that saw biblical prophecies being fulfilled in their own time, in a manner
surpassing the expectation and understanding of the Prophets who had originally
spoken them. Both were convinced that the full understanding of the prophecies
had been revealed to their founder and transmitted by him, “the Teacher of
Righteousness” at Qumran, Jesus for Christians.
Exactly as in the Dead Sea Scrolls, certain biblical texts are used in the New
Testament in their literal and historical sense, while others are applied in a
more or less forced manner, to the contemporary situation. Scripture was
understood as containing the very words of God. Some interpretations, in both
texts, take a word and separate it from its context and original meaning to give
it a significance that does not correspond to the principles of modern exegesis.
An important difference, however, should be noted. In the Qumran texts, the
point of departure is Scripture. Certain texts — for example the pesher of
Habakkuk — are an extended commentary on a biblical text, which is then
applied, verse by verse, to a contemporary situation; others are collections of
texts dealing with the same theme, for example, 11 Q Melchisedeq on the
messianic era. In the New Testament, in contrast, the point of departure is the
Christ event. It does not apply Scripture to the present, but explains and
comments on the Christ event in the light of Scripture. The only points in
common are the techniques employed, often with a striking similarity, as in Rm
10:5-13 and in the Letter to the Hebrews.25
3. Rabbinic Methods in the New Testament
14. Traditional Jewish methods of scriptural argumentation for the purpose of
establishing rules of conduct — methods later codified by the rabbis — are
frequently used in the words of Jesus transmitted in the Gospels and in the
Epistles. Those occurring most often are the first two middoth (“rules”)
of Hillel, qal wa-homer and gezerah shawah.26 These
correspond more or less to arguments a fortiori and by analogy respectively.
A particular trait is that the argument often revolves around the meaning of a
single word. This meaning is established by its occurence in a certain context
and is then applied, often in a very artificial manner, to another context. This
technique has a strong resemblance to rabbinic midrash, with one characteristic
difference: in the rabbinic midrash, there is a citation of differing opinions
from various authorities in such a way that it becomes a technique of
argumentation, while in the New Testament the authority of Jesus is decisive.
Paul in particular frequently uses these techniques especially in discussions
with well-informed Jewish adversaries, whether Christian or not. Oftentimes he
uses them to counter traditional positions in Judaism or to support important
points in his own teaching.27
Rabbinic argumentation is also found in the Letters to the Ephesians and
Hebrews.28 The Epistle of Jude, for its part, is almost entirely made
up of exegetical explications resembling the pesharim (“interpretations”)
found in the Qumran Scrolls and in some apocalyptic writings. It uses figures
and examples in a verbal chain structure in conformity with Jewish scriptural
An particular form of Jewish exegesis found in the New Testament is the homily
delivered in the synagogue. According to Jn 6:59, the Bread of Life discourse
was delivered by Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum. Its form closely
corresponds to synagogal homilies of the first century: an explanation of a
Pentateuchal text supported by a prophetic text; each part of the text is
explained; slight adjustments to the form of words are made to give a new
interpretation. Traces of this model can perhaps also be found in the missionary
discourses in the Acts of the Apostles, especially in Paul's homily in the
synagogue of Pisidian Antioch (Ac 13:17-41).
4. Important Allusions to the Old Testament
15. The New Testament frequently uses allusions to biblical events as a means of
bringing out the meaning of the events of Jesus' life. The narratives of Jesus'
infancy in the Gospel of Matthew do not disclose their full meaning unless read
against the background of biblical and post-biblical narratives concerning
Moses. The infancy gospel of Luke is more in the style of biblical allusions
found in the first century Psalms of Solomon or in the Qumran Hymns; the
Canticles of Mary, Zechariah and Simeon can be compared to Qumran hymns.29
Events in the life of Jesus, like the theophany on the occasion of his baptism,
the transfiguration, the multiplication of the loaves and the walking on the
water, are similarly narrated with deliberate allusions to Old Testaments events
and narratives. The reaction of listeners to Jesus' parables (for example, the
parable of the murderous tenants, Mt 21:33-43 and par.) shows that they were
accustomed to using biblical imagery as a technique to express a message or give
Among the Gospels, Matthew shows greatest familiarity with the Jewish techniques
in utilising Scripture. After the manner of the Qumran pesharim, he often
quotes Scripture; he makes wide use of juridical and symbolic argumentation
similar to those which were common in later rabbinic writings. More than the
other Gospels, he uses midrashic stories in his narratives (the infancy gospel,
the episode of Judas' death, the intervention of Pilate's wife). The rabbinic
style of argumentation frequently used, especially in the Pauline Letters and in
the Letter to the Hebrews, undoubtedly attests that the New Testament emerged
from the matrix of Judaism and that it is infused with the mentality of Jewish
The Extension of the Canon of Scripture
16. The title “canon” (Greek kan(o-)n, “rule”) means the list
of books which are accepted as inspired by God and having a regulatory function
for faith and morals. We are only concerned here with the formation of the canon
of the Old Testament.
1. In Judaism
There are differences between the Jewish canon of Scripture29 and the
Christian canon of the Old Testament.31 To explain these differences,
it was generally thought that at the beginning of the Christian era, there
existed two canons within Judaism: a Hebrew or Palestinian canon, and an
extended Alexandrian canon in Greek — called the Septuagint — which was
adopted by Christians.
Recent research and discoveries, however, have cast doubt on this opinion. It
now seems more probable that at the time of Christianity's birth, closed
collections of the Law and the Prophets existed in a textual form substantially
identical with the Old Testament. The collection of “Writings”, on the other
hand, was not as well defined either in Palestine or in the Jewish diaspora,
with regard to the number of books and their textual form. Towards the end of
the first century A.D., it seems that 24/22 books were generally accepted by Jews
as sacred,32 but it is only much later that the list became
exclusive.33 When the limits of the Hebrew canon were fixed, the
deuterocanonical books were not included.
Many of the books belonging to the third group of religious texts, not yet
fixed, were regularly read in Jewish communities during the first century A.D.
They were translated into Greek and circulated among Hellenistic Jews, both in
Palestine and in the diaspora.
2. In the Early Church
17. Since the first Christians were for the most part Palestinian Jews, either
“Hebrew” or “Hellenistic” (cf. Ac 6:1), their views on Scripture would
have reflected those of their environment, but we are poorly informed on the
subject. Nevertheless, the writings of the New Testament suggest that a sacred
literature wider than the Hebrew canon circulated in Christian communities.
Generally, the authors of the New Testament manifest a knowledge of the
deuterocanonical books and other non-canonical ones since the number of books
cited in the New Testament exceeds not only the Hebrew canon, but also the
so-called Alexandrian canon.34 When Christianity spread into the
Greek world, it continued to use sacred books received from Hellenistic Judaism.35
Although Hellenistic Christians received their Scriptures from the Jews in the
form of the Septuagint, we do not know the precise form, because the Septuagint
has come down to us only in Christian writings. What the Church seems to have
received was a body of Sacred Scripture which, within Judaism, was in the
process of becoming canonical. When Judaism came to close its own canon, the
Christian Church was sufficiently independent from Judaism not to be immediately
affected. It was only at a later period that a closed Hebrew canon began to
exert influence on how Christians viewed it.
3. Formation of the Christian Canon
18. The Old Testament of the early Church took different shapes in different
regions as the diverse lists from Patristic times show. The majority of
Christian writings from the second century, as well as manuscripts of the Bible
from the fourth century onwards, made use of or contain a great number of Jewish
sacred books, including those which were not admitted into the Hebrew canon. It
was only after the Jews had defined their canon that the Church thought of
closing its own Old Testament canon. But we are lacking information on the
procedure adopted and the reasons given for the inclusion of this or that book
in the canon. It is possible, nevertheless, to trace in a general way the
evolution of the canon in the Church, both in the East and in the West.
In the East from Origen's time (c. 185-253) there was an attempt to conform Christian
usage to the Hebrew canon of 24/22 books using various combinations and
stratagems. Origen himself knew of the existence of numerous textual
differences, which were often considerable, between the Hebrew and the Greek
Bible. To this was added the problem of different listings of books. The attempt
to conform to the Hebrew text of the Hebrew canon did not prevent Christian
authors in the East from utilising in their writings books that were never
admitted into the Hebrew canon, or from following the Septuagint text. The
notion that the Hebrew canon should be preferred by Christians does not seem to
have produced in the Eastern Church either a profound or long-lasting
In the West, the use of a larger collection of sacred books was common and was defended by
Augustine. When it came to selecting books to be included in the canon,
Augustine (354-430) based his judgement on the constant practice of the
Church. At the beginning of the fifth century, councils adopted his position in
drawing up the Old Testament canon. Although these councils were regional, the
unanimity expressed in their lists represents Church usage in the West.
As regards the textual differences between the Greek and the Hebrew Bible,
Jerome based his translation on the Hebrew text. For the deuterocanonical books,
he was generally content to correct the Old Latin (translation). From this time
on, the Church in the West recognised a twofold biblical tradition: that of the
Hebrew text for books of the Hebrew canon, and that of the Greek Bible for the
other books, all in a Latin translation.
Based on a time-honoured tradition, the Councils of Florence in 1442 and Trent
in 1564 resolved for Catholics any doubts and uncertainties. Their list
comprises 73 books, which were accepted as sacred and canonical because they
were inspired by the Holy Spirit, 46 for the Old Testament, 27 for the New.36
In this way the Catholic Church received its definitive canon. To determine this
canon, it based itself on the Church's constant usage. In adopting this canon,
which is larger than the Hebrew, it has preserved an authentic memory of
Christian origins, since, as we have seen, the more restricted Hebrew canon is
later than the formation of the New Testament.
II. FUNDAMENTAL THEMES IN THE JEWISH SCRIPTURES
AND THEIR RECEPTION INTO FAITH IN CHRIST
19. 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. The understanding of
these relationships has changed over time. The present chapter offers firstly an
overview of these changes, followed by a more detailed study of the basic themes
common to both Testaments.
A. Christian Understanding of the relationships between the Old and New Testaments
1. Affirmation of a reciprocal relationship
By “Old Testament” the Christian Church has no wish to suggest that the
Jewish Scriptures are outdated or surpassed.37 On the contrary, it
has always affirmed that the Old Testament and the New Testament are
inseparable. Their first relationship is precisely that. At the beginning of the
second century, when Marcion wished to discard the Old Testament, he met with
vehement resistance from the post-apostolic Church. Moreover, his rejection of
the Old Testament led him to disregard a major portion of the New — he
retained only the Gospel of Luke and some Pauline Letters — which clearly
showed that his position was indefensible. It is in the light of the Old
Testament that the New understands the life, death and glorification of Jesus
(cf. 1 Co 15:3-4).
This relationship is also reciprocal: on the one hand, the New Testament demands
to be read in the light of the Old, but it also invites a “re-reading” of
the Old in the light of Jesus Christ (cf. Lk 24:45). How is this
“re-reading” to be done? It extends to “all the Scriptures” (Lk 24:27)
to “everything written in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms”
(24:44), but the New Testament only offers a limited number of examples, not a
2. Re-reading the Old Testament in the light of Christ
The examples given show that different methods were used, taken from their
cultural surroundings, as we have seen above.38 The texts speak of
typology39 and of reading in the light of the Spirit (2 Co
3:14-17). These suggest a twofold manner of reading, in its original meaning
at the time of writing, and a subsequent interpretation in the light of Christ.
In Judaism, re-readings were commonplace. The Old Testament itself points the
way. For example, in the episode of the manna, while not denying the original
gift, the meaning is deepened to become a symbol of the Word through which God
continually nourishes his people (cf. Dt 8:2-3). The Books of Chronicles are a
re-reading of the Book of Genesis and the Books of Samuel and Kings. 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. Paul clearly
states that “the very words of God were entrusted” to the Israelites (Rm
3:2) and he takes it for granted that these words of God could be read and
understood before the coming of Christ. Although he speaks of a blindness of the
Jews with regard to “the reading of the Old Testament” (2 Co 3:14), he does
not mean a total incapacity to read, only an inability to read it in the light
3. Allegorical Re-reading
20. The Hellenistic world had different methods of which Christian exegesis made
use as well. The Greeks often interpreted their classical texts by allegorising
them. Commenting on ancient poetry like the works of Homer, where the gods seem
to act like capricious and vindictive humans, scholars explained this in a more
religious and morally acceptable way by emphasising that the poet was expressing
himself in an allegorical manner when he wished to describe only human
psychological conflicts, the passions of the soul, using the fiction of war
between the gods. In this case, a new and more spiritual meaning replaced the
Jews in the diaspora sometimes utilised this method, in particular to justify
certain prescriptions of the Law which, taken literally, would appear
nonsensical to the Hellenistic world. Philo of Alexandria, who had been nurtured
in Hellenistic culture, tended in this direction. He developed, often with a
touch of genius, the original meaning, but at other times he adopted an
allegorical reading that completely overshadowed it. As a result, his exegesis
was not accepted in Judaism.
In the New Testament, there is a single mention of “things spoken
allegorically” (allgoroumena: Ga 4:24), but here it is a question of
typology, that is, the persons mentioned in the ancient text, are presented as
evoking things to come, without the slightest doubt being cast on their
historicity. Another Pauline text uses allegory to interpret a detail of the Law
(1 Co 9:9), but he never adopted this method as a general rule.
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
recognising her house (Jos 2:18), as an allusion to the blood of the Saviour.
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.
4. Return to the Literal Sense
Thomas Aquinas saw clearly what underpinned allegorical exegesis: the
commentator can only discover in a text what he already knows, and in order to
know it, he had to find it in the literal sense of another text. From this
Thomas Aquinas drew the conclusion: a valid argument cannot be constructed from
the allegorical sense, it can only be done from the literal sense.40
Starting from the Middle Ages, the literal sense has been restored to a place of
honour and has not ceased to prove its value. The critical study of the Old
Testament has progressed steadily in that direction culminating in the supremacy
of the historical-critical method.
And so an inverse process was set in motion: the relation between the Old
Testament and Christian realities was now restricted to a limited number of Old
Testament texts. Today, there is the danger of going to the opposite extreme of
denying outright, together with the excesses of the allegorical method, all
Patristic exegesis and the very idea of a Christian and Christological reading
of Old Testament texts. This gave rise in contemporary theology, without as yet
any consensus, to different ways of re-establishing a Christian interpretation
of the Old Testament that would avoid arbitrariness and respect the original
5. The Unity of God's Plan and the Idea of Fulfilment
21. 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 realised
progressively over the course of time. Both the unity and the gradual
realisation 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 fulfilment and, consequently, certain aspects
that remain constant began to appear: God reveals himself, calls, confers a
mission, promises, liberates, makes a covenant. The first realisations, 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
fulfilment 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.41 Christian
interpretation is situated along these lines with this difference, that the
fulfilment is already substantially realised in the mystery of Christ.
The notion of fulfilment is an extremely complex one,42 one that
could easily be distorted if there is a unilateral insistence either on
continuity or discontinuity. Christian faith recognises the fulfilment, in
Christ, of the Scriptures and the hopes of Israel, but it does not understand
this fulfilment as a literal one. Such a conception would be reductionist. In
reality, in the mystery of Christ crucified and risen, fulfilment is brought
about in a manner unforeseen. It includes transcendence.43 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”.44 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 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 fulfilment of prophecy must be discarded. This insistence
has contributed to harsh judgements 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.
Insistence on discontinuity between both Testaments and going beyond former
perspectives should not, however, lead to a one-sided spiritualisation. What
has already been accomplished in Christ must yet be accomplished in us and in
the world. The definitive fulfilment 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.
6. Current Perspectives
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.
The Christian interpretation of the Old Testament is then a differentiated one,
depending on the different genres of texts. It does not blur the difference
between Law and Gospel, but distinguishes carefully the successive phases of
revelation and salvation history. It is a theological interpretation, but at the
same time historically grounded. Far from excluding historical-critical
exegesis, it demands it.
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 text an
additional meaning that was hidden there.
7. Contribution of Jewish reading of the Bible
22. 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 monopolised the Jewish Bible and reading there what no Jew has found.
Should not Christians henceforth read the Bible as Jews do, in order to show
proper respect for its Jewish origins?
In answer to the last question, a negative response must be given for
hermeneutical reasons. For to read the Bible as Judaism does necessarily
involves an implicit acceptance of all its presuppositions, that is, the full
acceptance of what Judaism is, in particular, the authority of its writings and
rabbinic traditions, which exclude faith in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God.
As regards the first question, the situation is different, for 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.
Both readings are bound up with the vision of their respective faiths, of which
the readings are the result and expression. Consequently, both are irreducible.
On the practical level of exegesis, Christians can, nonetheless, learn much from
Jewish exegesis practised for more than two thousand years, and, in fact, they
have learned much in the course of history.45 For their part, it is
to be hoped that Jews themselves can derive profit from Christian exegetical
B. Shared Fundamental Themes
1. Revelation of God
23. A God who speaks to humans. The God of the Bible is one who enters
into communication with human beings and speaks to them. In different ways, the
Bible describes the initiative taken by God to communicate with humanity in
choosing the people of Israel. God makes his word heard either directly or
through a spokesperson.
In the Old Testament, God manifests himself to Israel as the One who speaks. The
divine word takes the form of a promise made to Moses to bring the people of
Israel out of Egypt (Ex 3:7-17), following the promises made to the
patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for their descendants.46 There
is also the promise David receives in 2 S 7:1-17 concerning an offspring who
will succeed him on the throne.
After the departure from Egypt, God commits himself to his people by a covenant
in which he twice takes the initiative (Ex 19-24; 32-34). In this setting,
Moses receives the Law from God, often called “words of God”47
which he must transmit to the people.
As bearer of the word of God, Moses is considered a prophet,48 and
even more than a prophet (Nb 12:6-8). Throughout the course of the people's
history, prophets were conscious of transmitting the word of God. The narratives
of the prophetic call show how the word of God comes, forcefully imposes itself,
and invites a response. Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezechiel perceive
God's word as an event which changed their lives.49 Their message is
God's; to accept it is to accept the word of God. Even though it meets with
resistance because of human freedom, the word of God is efficacious:50
it is a force working at the heart of history. In the narrative of the creation
of the world by God (Gn 1), we discover that, for God, to say is to do.
The New Testament prolongs this perspective and deepens it. For Jesus becomes
the preacher of the word of God (Lk 5:1) and appeals to Scripture: he is
recognised as a prophet,51 but he is more than a prophet. In the
Fourth Gospel, the role of Jesus is distinguished from that of John the Baptist
by opposing the earthly origin of the latter to the heavenly origin of the
former: “The one who comes from above...testifies to what he has seen and
heard... he whom God has sent speaks the words of God” (Jn 3:31,32,34). Jesus
is not simply a messenger; he makes plain his intimacy with God. To understand
Jesus' mission, is to know his divine status: “I have not spoken on my own”,
Jesus says; “what I speak, I speak just as the Father has told me” (Jn
12:49,50). Beginning from this bond which unites Jesus to the Father, the Fourth
Gospel confesses Jesus as the Logos “the Word” which “became
flesh” (Jn 1:14).
The opening of the Letter to the Hebrews perfectly summarises the way that has
been traversed: God who “spoke long ago to our ancestors by the prophets”,
“has spoken to us by a Son” (Hb 1:1-2), this Jesus of whom the Gospels and
the apostolic preaching speak.
24. God is One. The strongest affirmation of the Jewish faith is that of
Dt 6:4: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord”,which may not be
separated from its consequences for the faithful: “you shall love the Lord
God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your might” (Dt 6:5).52
The one God of Israel, the Lord will be acknowledged as the one God of all
humanity at the end of time (Zc 14:9). God is ONE: this proclamation points to
the language of love (cf. Sg 6:9). The God who loves Israel is confessed as
unique and calls each one to respond to that love by a love ever total.
Israel is called to acknowledge that the God who brought it out of Egypt is the
only one who liberated it from slavery. This God alone has rescued Israel and
Israel must express its faith in him by keeping the Law and through the cult.
The affirmation “The Lord is one” was not originally an expression of radical
monotheism, for the existence of other gods was not denied as, for example, the
Decalogue shows (Ex 20:3). From the time of the Exile, the faith affirmation
tended to become one of radical monotheism formulated through expressions like
“the gods are nothing” (Is 45:14) or “there is no other”.53
In later Judaism the profession of Dt 6:4 becomes one of monotheistic faith; it
is at the heart of Jewish prayer.
In the New Testament the profession of Jewish faith is repeated by Jesus himself
in Mk 12:29, quoting Dt 6:4-5, and by his Jewish questioner who quotes Dt
4:35. The Christian faith also affirms the oneness of God for “there is no God
but one”.54 This oneness of God is firmly held, even when Jesus is
recognised as Son (Rm 1:3-4), united with the Father (Jn 10:30; 17:11). For
the glory that comes from the one God is received by Jesus from the Father as
the “only Son full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). To express the Christian
faith, Paul does not hesitate to divide into two the profession of Dt 6:4 to
say: “For us there is one God, the Father...and one Lord, Jesus Christ” (1
25. God the Creator and providence. The Bible opens with the words: “In
the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gn 1:1); this heading
dominates the text of Gn 1:1-2:4(a) as well as the whole of Scripture which
recounts the divine acts of power. In this opening text, the affirmation of the
goodness of creation is repeated seven times, becoming one of the refrains (Gn
In different formulations, in different contexts, the affirmation of God as
Creator is constantly repeated. Thus in the narrative of the Exodus from Egypt,
God exercises power over the wind and the sea (Ex 14:21). In Israel's prayer,
God is confessed as the one “who made heaven and earth”.55 The
creative action of God is the foundation and assurance of the salvation to come,
likewise in prayer (Ps 121:2), as well as in the pronouncements of the prophets,
for example in Jr 5:22 and 14:22. In Is 40-55, this creative action is the
basis of hope for a salvation to come.56 The sapiential books give
the creative work of God a central place.57
The God who creates the world by his Word (Gn 1) and gives human beings the
breath of life (Gn 2:7), is also the one who shows solicitude towards every
human being from the moment of conception.58
Outside the Hebrew Bible, the text of 2 M 7:28 should be mentioned where the
mother of the seven martyred brothers exhorts the last one in the following way:
“I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth, and see everything
that is in them and recognise that God did not make them out of things that
existed”. The Latin translation has creation ex nihilo “from
nothing”. An interesting aspect of this text is that the creative action of
God serves here to ground faith in the resurrection of the just. The same is
true of Rm 4:17.
Faith in God the Creator, vanquisher of the cosmic forces and of evil, becomes
inseparable from trust in him as Saviour of the Israelite people as well as of
26. In the New Testament, the conviction that all existing things are the work
of God comes straight from the Old Testament. It seems so obvious that no proof
is needed and creation vocabulary is not prominent in the Gospels. Nevertheless,
there is in Mt 19:4 a reference to Gn 1:27 which speaks of the creation of man
and woman. More generally, Mk 13:19 recalls “the beginning of the creation
that God created”. Lastly, Mt 13:35(b) referring to parables speaks of “what
has been hidden from the foundation of the world”.
In his preaching, Jesus frequently insists on the trust human beings should have
in God on whom everything depends: “Do not worry about your life what you will
eat or about your body with what you will wear... Look at the birds of the air;
they neither sow nor reap... and yet your heavenly Father feeds them”.60
The care of God the Creator extends to both good and bad, on whom “he makes
his sun to rise” and to whom he sends rain to fructify the earth (Mt 5:45).
The providence of God embraces all; for Jesus' disciples, this conviction ought
to lead them to seek “first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Mt
6:33). In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus speaks of “the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world” (Mt 25:34). The world created by God is
where the salvation of human beings takes place; it awaits a complete
“regeneration” (Mt 19:28).
Beginning from the Jewish Bible which affirms that God created all things by his
word,61 the prologue of the Fourth Gospel proclaims that “in the
beginning was the Word”, that “the Word was God” and that “all things
came into being through him” and “without him not one thing came into
being” (Jn 1:1-3). The Word came into the world, yet the world did not know
him (Jn 1:10). In spite of human obstacles, God's plan is clearly defined in Jn
3:16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who
believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life”. Jesus witnesses to
this love of God to the very end (Jn 13:1). After the resurrection Jesus
“breathes” on the disciples, repeating God's action in the creation of human
beings (Gn 2:7), and suggesting that a new creation will be the work of the Holy
Spirit (Jn 20:22).
Using a different vocabulary, the Book of Revelation offers a similar
perspective. The creator God (Rv 4:11) is the originator of a plan of salvation
that could not be realised except by the Lamb, “as if sacrificed” (Rv 5:6),
accomplished in the paschal mystery by him who is “the origin of God's
creation” (Rv 3:14). In history, the victory over the forces of evil will go
hand in hand with a new creation that will have God himself as light,62
and a temple will no longer be needed, for the Almighty God and the Lamb will be
the Temple of the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem (Rv 21:2,22).
In the Pauline Letters, creation has an equally important place. The argument of
Paul in Rm 1:20-21 concerning the pagans is well known. The apostle affirms
that “since the creation of the world, his eternal power and divine nature,
invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he
has made”, and so the pagans are “without excuse” in not giving glory to
God and having “served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rm 1:25; cf.
Ws 13:1-9). Creation will be freed “from its bondage to decay” (Rm
8:20-21). So creation then may not be rejected as evil. In 1 Tm 4:4, it is
affirmed that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be
rejected provided it is received with thanksgiving”.
In the act of creation, the role attributed to Wisdom in the Old Testament is
attributed in the New Testament to the person of Christ, the Son of God. Like
the “Word” in John's prologue (1:3), it is a universal mediation, expressed
in Greek by the preposition dia, which is also found in Heb 1:2.
Associated with “the Father from whom are all things”, it is Jesus
Christ “through whom are all things” (1 Co 8:6). Developing this
theme, the hymn of Col 1:15-20 affirms that “in him all things were
created” and that “all things have been created through him and for him; he
is before all things, in him all things hold together” (Col 1:16-17).
On the other hand, the resurrection of Christ is understood as the inauguration
of a new creation, of a kind that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a ‘new
creation'”.63 Faced with the proliferation of human sin, the plan
of God in Christ was to bring about a new creation. We will take up this theme
later after treating of the human condition.
The Human Person: Greatness and Wretchedness
a) In the Old Testament
27. It is common place to speak in one phrase of the “greatness and
wretchedness” of the human person. These terms are not found in the Old
Testament to characterise the human condition, but equivalent expressions are
encountered: in the first three chapters of Genesis, man and woman are, on the
one hand, “created in the image of God” (Gn 1:27), but are also “sent
forth from the garden of Eden” (Gn 3:24) because they disobeyed the command of
God. These chapters set the tone for reading the entire Bible. Everyone is
invited to recognise therein the essential traits of the human situation and the
basis for the whole of salvation history.
Created in the image of God: affirmed before the call of Abraham and the election of Israel, this
characteristic applies to all men and women of all times and places (Gn
1:26-27)64 and confers on them their highest dignity. The
expression may have originated in the royal ideology of the nations surrounding
Israel, especially in Egypt, where the Pharaoh was regarded as the living image
of god, entrusted with the maintenance and renewal of the cosmos. But the Bible
has made this metaphor into a fundamental category for defining every human
person. God's words: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness,
and let them have dominion over...” (Gn 1:26) show that human beings are
creatures of God whose task it is to govern the earth that was created and
populated by God. Insofar as they are images of God and the Creator's stewards,
human beings become recipients of his word and are called to be obedient to him
Human beings exist as man and woman whose task is at the service of life. In the
affirmation: “God created man in his image, in the image of God he created
him, male and female he created them” (Gn 1:27), the differentiation of the
sexes is paralleled with the relationship to God.
Furthermore, human procreation is closely associated with the task of governing
the earth, as the divine blessing of the first human couple shows: “Be
fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion
over...” (1:28). In this way, the likeness to God, the relationship of man and
woman, and ruling over the world are intimately connected.
The close relationship between being created in God's image and having authority
over the earth has many consequences. First of all, the universality of these
characteristics excludes all superiority of one group or individual over
another. All human beings are in the image of God and all are charged with
furthering the Creator's work of ordering. Secondly, arrangements are made with
a view to the harmonious co-existence of all living things in their search for
the necessary means of subsistence: God provides for both humans and beasts (Gn
1:29-30).65 Thirdly, human existence is endowed with a certain
rhythm. As well as the rhythm of day and night, lunar months and solar years (Gn
1:14-18), God establishes a weekly rhythm with rest on the seventh day, the
basis of the sabbath (Gn 2:1-3). When they keep the sabbath observance (Ex
20:8-11), the masters of the earth render homage to their Creator.
28. Human wretchedness finds its exemplary biblical expression in the
story of the first sin and punishment in the garden of Eden. The narrative of Gn
2:4(b)-3:24 complements that of Gn 1:1-2:4(a) by explaining how, in a
creation that was “good”66 and with the creation of humans even
“very good” (Gn 1:31), wretchedness is nevertheless introduced.
The narrative defines the task given to the man, “to till and keep” the
garden of Eden (Gn 2:15), adding the prohibition not “to eat of the tree of
the knowledge of good and evil” (2:16-17). This prohibition implies that
serving God and keeping his commandments are correlatives of the power to subdue
the earth (Gn 1:26,28).
The man fulfils God's intentions first of all by naming the animals (2:18-20)
and then in accepting the woman as God's gift (2:23). In the temptation scene,
in contrast, the human couple ceases to act in accordance with God's demands. By
eating the fruit of the tree, the woman and the man succumb to the temptation to
be like God and to acquiring a “knowledge” that belongs to God alone
(3:5-6). The result is that they try to avoid a confrontation with God. But
their attempt to hide themselves shows the folly of sin, because it leaves them
in the very place where the voice of God can be heard (3:8). God's question
which indicts the man: “Where are you?” suggests that he is not where he
ought to be: at the service of God and working at his task (3:9). The man and
the woman perceive that they are naked (3:7-10), which means that they have
forfeited trust in each other and in the harmony of creation.
By his sentence, God redefines the conditions of human living but not the
relationship between him and the couple (3:17-19). On the other hand, the man
is relieved of his particular task in the garden, but not of work
(3:17-19,23). He is now oriented towards the “soil” (3:23; cf. 2:5). In
other words, God continues to give human beings a task. In order to “subdue
the earth and have dominion over it” (1:28), man must now work (3:23).
Henceforth, “pain” is the constant companion of the woman (3:16) and the man
(3:17); death is their destiny (3:19). The relationship between man and wife
deteriorates. The word “pain” is associated with pregnancy and birth (3:16),
and with physical and mental fatigue resulting from work as well (3:17).67
Paradoxically, into what should be in themselves a source of profound joy,
childbirth and productivity, pain is introduced. The verdict assigns “pain”
to their existence on the “soil”, which has been cursed because of their sin
(3:17-18). Likewise for death: the end of human life is called a return “to
the soil” from which the man was taken to fulfil his task.68 In Gn
2-3, immortality seems to be dependent on existence in the garden of Eden and
conditioned by respect for the prohibition of eating from the tree of
“knowledge”. When this prohibition is violated, access to the tree of life
(2:9) is henceforth blocked (3:22). In Wi 2:23-24, immortality is associated
with likeness to God: “death entered the world through the devil's envy”,
and so a connection is established between Gn 1 and Gn 2-3.
Created in God's image and charged with cultivating the soil, the human couple
have the great honour of being called to complete the creative action of God in
taking care of his creatures (Wi 9:2-3). By refusing to heed the voice of God
and preferring that of creatures human freedom is brought into play; to suffer
pain and death is the consequence of a choice made by the persons themselves.
“Wretchedness” becomes a universal aspect of the human condition, but this
aspect is secondary and does not abolish the “greatness” willed in God's
plan for his creatures.
The chapters following in Genesis show to what level the human race can sink in
sin and wretchedness: “The earth was corrupt in God's sight and was filled
with violence... All flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth” (Gn
6:11-12), to the extent that God decided on the deluge. But at least one man,
Noah, together with his family “walked with God” (6:9), and God chose him to
be the beginning of a new departure for humanity. From his posterity, God chose
Abraham, commanding him to leave his country and promising “to make [his] name
great” (Gn 12:2). The plan of God is now revealed as a universal one, for in
Abraham “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:3). The Old
Testament reveals how this plan was realised through the ages, with alternating
moments of wretchedness and greatness. Yet God was never resigned to leaving his
people in wretchedness. He always reinstates them in the path of true greatness,
for the benefit of the whole of humanity.
To these fundamental traits, it may be added that the Old Testament is not
unaware of either the deceptive aspects of human existence (cf. Qo), the problem
of innocent suffering (cf. especially Job), or the scandal of the persecution
suffered by the innocent (cf. the stories of Elijah, Jeremiah, and the Jews
persecuted by Antiochus). But in every case, especially the last, far from being
an obstacle to human greatness, the experience of wretchedness, paradoxically,
served to enhance greatness.
b) In the New Testament
29. The anthropology of the New Testament is based on that of the Old. It bears
witness to the grandeur of the human person created in God's image (Gn
1:26-27) and to his wretchedness, brought on by the undeniable reality of sin,
which makes him into a caricature of his true self.
Greatness of the human person. In the Gospels the greatness of the human being stands out in the solicitude
shown to him by God, more than that of the birds of heaven or the flowers of the
fields (Mt 6:30); it is also highlighted by the ideal proposed to him: to become
merciful as God is merciful (Lk 6:36), perfect as God is perfect (Mt 5:45,48).
For the human being is a spiritual being who “does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4; Lk 4:4). It is
hunger for the word of God that draws the crowds first to John the Baptist (Mt
3:5-6 and par.) and then to Jesus.69 A glimpse of the divine draws
them. As the image of God, the human person is attracted towards God. Even the
pagans are capable of great faith.70
It was the apostle Paul who deepened anthropological reflection. As “apostle
of the nations” (Rm 11:13), he understood that all people are called by God to
a very great glory (1 Th 2:12), that of becoming children of God,71
loved by him (Rm 5:8), members of the body of Christ (1 Co 12:27), filled with
the Holy Spirit (1 Co 6:19). One can scarcely imagine a greater dignity.
The theme of the creation of the human person in God's image is treated by Paul
in a multifaceted way. In 1 Co 11:7, the apostle applies it to man “who is the
image and glory of God”. Elsewhere, he applies it to Christ “who is the
image of God”72 The vocation of the human person called by God is
to become “conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he may be a
firstborn among many brothers” (Rm 8:29). It is by contemplating the glory of
the Lord that this resemblance is bestowed (2 Co 3:18; 4:6). Begun in this life,
transformation is achieved in the next when “we will bear the image of the
heavenly man” (1 Co 15:49). The greatness of the human person will then reach
30. The wretchedness of the human being. The wretched state of humanity
appears in various ways in the New Testament. It is clear that earth is no
paradise! The Gospels repeatedly give a long list of maladies and infirmities
that beset people.73 In the Gospels demonic possession shows the
abject slavery into which the whole person can fall (Mt 8:28-34 and par.).
Death strikes and gives rise to sorrow.74
But it is especially moral misery that is the focus of attention. Humanity finds
itself in a situation of sin that puts it in extreme danger.75
Because of this, the invitation to conversion makes its presence felt. The
preaching of John the Baptist reverberates with force in the desert.76
Then Jesus takes up the cry; “he proclaimed the good news of God and said...
repent and believe in the good news” (Mk 1:14-15); “he went about all the
cities and villages” (Mt 9:35). He denounced the evil “that comes out of a
person” and “defiles” him (Mk 7:20). “For it is from within, from the
human heart that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery,
avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All
these evil things come from within and they defile a person”.77 In
the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus described the miserable state to which
the human person is reduced when he is far from his Father's house (Lk
Jesus also spoke of persecutions suffered by people who dedicate themselves to
the cause of “righteousness” (Mt 5:10) and predicted that his disciples
would be persecuted.78 He himself was (Jn 5:16); people sought to
have him killed.79 This murderous intention ended by bringing it
about. The passion of Jesus was then an extreme manifestation of the moral
wretchedness of humanity. Nothing was missing: betrayal, denial, abandonment,
unjust trial and condemnation, insults and ill-treatment, cruel sufferings
accompanied by mockery. Human wickedness was released against “the Holy and
Just One” (Ac 3:14) and put him in a state of terrible wretchedness.
It is in Paul's Letter to the Romans that we find the most sombre description of
the moral decay of humanity (Rm 1:18-3:20), and the most penetrating analysis
of the condition of the sinner (Rm 7:14-25). The picture which the apostle
paints of “all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness
suppress the truth” is truly overwhelming. Their refusal to give glory to God
and to thank him leads to complete blindness and to the worst perversions
(1:21-32). Paul wants to show that moral decay is universal and that the Jew
is not exempt, in spite of the privilege of knowing the Law (2:17-24). He
supports his thesis by a long series of texts from the Old Testament which
declares that all people are sinners (3:10-18): “There is no one who is
righteous, not even one”.80 This all-embracing negation is
assuredly not the fruit of experience. It is more in the nature of a theological
intuition of what humans become without the grace of God: evil is in the heart
of each one (cf. Ps 51:7). This intuition of Paul is reinforced by the
conviction that Christ “died for all”.81 Therefore, all have need
of redemption. If sin were not universal, there would be some who would have had
no need of redemption.
The Law did not bring with it a remedy for sin, for even if he recognises that
the Law is good and wishes to keep it, the sinner is forced to declare: “For I
do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rm 7:19).
The power of sin avails of the Law itself to manifest its destructiveness all
the more, by inciting transgression (7:13). And sin produces death82
that provokes the sinner's cry of distress: “Wretched man that I am! Who will
rescue me from this body of death?” (Rm 7:24). Thus is manifested the urgent
need of redemption.
On a different note, but still quite forcefully, the Book of Revelation itself
witnesses to the ravages of evil produced in the human world. It describes
“Babylon”, “the great prostitute”, who has captivated “the kings of
the earth” and “the inhabitants of the earth” in their abominations and
who is “drunk with the blood of the saints and of the witnesses to Jesus”
(Rv 17:1-6). “Their sins are heaped high as heaven” (18:5). Evil releases
terrible calamities. But it will not have the last word. Babylon falls (18:2).
From heaven descends “the holy city, the new Jerusalem”, “the abode of God
among men” (21:2-3). The salvation that comes from God is opposed to the
proliferation of evil.
3. God, Liberator and Saviour
a) In the Old Testament
31. From the beginning of its history, with the Exodus from Egypt, Israel
had experienced the lordas Liberator and Saviour: to this the Bible witnesses,
describing how Israel was rescued from Egyptian power at the time of the
crossing of the sea (Ex 14:21-31). The miraculous crossing of the sea becomes
one of the principal themes for praising God.83 Together with
Israel's entrance to the Promised Land (Ex 15:17), the Exodus from Egypt becomes
the principal affirmation of their profession of faith.84
One must be aware of the theological significance contained in the Old Testament
formulations that express the Lord's intervention in this salvific event which
was foundational for Israel: the lord“led out” Israel from Egypt, “the
house of slavery” (Ex 20:2; Dt 5:6), he “brought them up” to “a good and
broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8,17), he “rescued”
them from their oppressors (Ex 6:6; 12:27), he “ransomed” them as slaves are
ransomed (p~d~h: Dt 7:8), or by exercising a right of kin (g~'al:
Ex 6:6; 15:13).
In the land of Canaan, continuing the experience of liberation from Egypt, Israel was once again the
recipient of the liberating and salvific intervention of God. Oppressed by enemy
peoples because of its infidelity towards God, Israel called to him for help.
The Lord raised up a “judge” as “saviour”.85
In the anguished situation of the Exile – after the loss of the Land
– Second Isaiah, a prophet whose name is unknown, announced to the
exiles an unheard-of message: the Lord was about to repeat his original
liberating intervention — that of the Exodus from Egypt — and even to
surpass it. To the descendants of his chosen ones, Abraham and Jacob (Is 41:8),
he would manifest himself as “Redeemer” (g(o-)'l) in rescuing them
from their foreign masters, the Babylonians.86 “I, I am the Lord,
and besides me there is no Saviour; I declared and saved” (Is 43:11-12). As
“Saviour” and “Redeemer” of Israel, the lordwill be known to all men (Is
After the return of the exiles, seen as imminent by Second Isaiah and soon to
become a reality — but not in a very spectacular manner — the hope of eschatological
liberation began to dawn: the spiritual successors of the exilic prophet
announced the fulfilment, yet to come, of the redemption of Israel as a divine
intervention at the end of time.87 It is as Saviour of Israel that
the messianic prince is presented at the end of time (Mi 4:14-5:5).
In many of the Psalms, salvation takes on an individual aspect.
Caught in the grip of sickness or hostile intrigues, an Israelite can invoke the
Lord to be preserved from death or oppression.88 He can also implore
help from God for the king (Ps 20:10). He has confidence in the saving
intervention of God (Ps 55:17-19). In return, the faithful and especially the
king (Ps 18 = 2 S 22), give thanks to the Lord for the help obtained and for the
end of oppression.89
Furthermore, Israel hopes that the Lord will “redeem it from all its faults”
In some texts, salvation after death makes its appearance. What, for Job,
was only a glimmer of hope (“My redeemer lives” Jb 19:25) becomes a sure
hope in the Psalm: “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for
he will receive me” (Ps 49:15). Likewise, in Ps 73:24 the Psalmist says:
“Afterwards you will receive me in glory”. God then can not only subdue the
power of death to prevent the faithful from being separated from him, he can
lead them beyond death to a participation in his glory.
The Book of Daniel and the Deuterocanonical Writings take up the
theme of salvation and develop it further. According to apocalyptic expectation,
the glorification of “the wise ones” (Dn 12:3) — no doubt, the people who
are faithful to the Law in spite of persecution — will take their place in the
resurrection of the dead (12:2). The sure hope of the martyrs' rising “for
eternal life” (2 M 7:9) is forcefully expressed in the Second Book of
Maccabees.90 According to the Book of Wisdom “people were
taught... and were saved by wisdom” (Ws 9:19). The just man is a “son of
God”, so God “will help him and deliver him from the hand of his
adversaries” (2:18), preserve him from death or save him beyond death, for
“the hope” of the just is “full of immortality” (3:4).
b) In the New Testament
32. The New Testament follows the Old in presenting God as Saviour. From the
beginning of the Gospel of Luke, Mary praises God her “Saviour” (Lk 1:47)
and Zechariah blesses “the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has...redeemed
his people” (Lk 1:68); the theme of salvation resounds four times in the
“Benedictus”91 with ever greater precision: from the desire to be
delivered from their enemies (1:71,74) to being delivered from sin (1:77). Paul
proclaims that the Gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who
has faith” (Rm 1:16).
In the Old Testament, to bring about liberation and salvation, God makes use of
human instruments, who, as we have seen, were sometimes called saviours, as God
himself more often was. In the New Testament, the title “redeemer” (lytr(o-)ts)
appears only once and is given to Moses who is sent as such by God (Ac
7:35).92 The title “Saviour” is given to God and to Jesus. The
very name of Jesus evokes the salvation given by God. The first Gospel draws
attention to it early on and makes it clear that it has to do with spiritual
salvation: the infant conceived by the virgin Mary will receive “the name
Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). In the Gospel
of Luke, the angels announce to the shepherds: “To you is born this day a
Saviour” (Lk 2:11). The Fourth Gospel opens up a wider perspective when the
Samaritans proclaim that Jesus “is truly the Saviour of the world” (Jn
It can be said that in the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and in the
uncontested Pauline Letters, the New Testament is very sparing in its use of the
title Saviour.93 This reticence is explained by the fact that the
title was widely used in the Hellenistic world; it was conferred on gods such as
Asclepius, a healer god, and on divinized kings who were hailed as saviours of
the people. The title, then, could become ambiguous. Furthermore, the notion of
salvation, in the Greek world, had a strong individual and physical connotation,
while the New Testament, in continuity with the Old, had a collective amplitude
and was open to the spiritual. With the passage of time, the danger of ambiguity
lessened. The Pastoral Letters and Second Peter use the title Saviour often and
apply it both to God and to Christ.94
In Jesus' public life, his power to save was manifested not only in the
spiritual plane, as in Lk 19:9-10, but also — and frequently — in the
bodily realm as well. Jesus cures sick people and heals them;95 he
observes: “It is your faith that has saved you”.96 The disciples
implore him to rescue them from danger and he accedes to their request.97
He liberates even from death.98 On the cross his enemies mockingly
recall that “he saved others” and they defy him to “save himself and come
down from the cross”.99 But Jesus rejects a salvation of this kind
for himself, because he has come to “give his life as a ransom (lytron: means
of liberation) for the many”. 100 People wanted to make him a
national liberator, 101 but he declined. He has brought salvation of
a different kind.
The relationship between salvation and the Jewish people becomes an explicit
object of theological reflection in John: “Salvation comes from the Jews”
(Jn 4:22). This saying of Jesus is found in a context of opposition between
Jewish and Samaritan cults, that will become obsolete with the introduction of
adoration “in spirit and truth” (4:23). At the end of the episode, the
Samaritans acknowledge Jesus as “the Saviour of the world” (Jn 4:42).
The title Saviour is above all attributed to the risen Jesus, for, by his
resurrection, “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour that he
might give repentance and forgiveness of sins” (Ac 5:31). “There is
salvation in no other” (4:12). The perspective is eschatological. “Save
yourselves” Peter said, “from this corrupt generation” (Ac 2:40) and Paul
presents the risen Jesus to Gentile converts as the one “who rescues us from
the wrath that is coming” (1 Th 1:10). “Now that we have been justified by
his blood, much more surely will we be saved through him from the wrath” (Rm
This salvation was promised to the Israelite people, but the “nations” can
also participate since the Gospel is “the power of God for salvation to
everyone who has faith, to the Jew first, and also the Greek”. 102
The hope of salvation, expressed so often and so forcefully in the Old
Testament, finds its fulfilment in the New.
4. The Election of Israel
a) In the Old Testament
33. God is the Liberator and Saviour, above all, of an insignificant people —
situated along with others between two great empires — because he has chosen
this people for himself, setting them apart for a special relationship with him
and for a mission in the world. The idea of election is fundamental for an
understanding of the Old Testament and indeed for the whole Bible.
The affirmation that the lordhas “chosen” (b~char) Israel is one of
the more important teachings of Deuteronomy. The choice which the Lord made of
Israel is manifest in the divine intervention to free it from Egypt and in the
gift of the land. Deuteronomy explicitly denies that the divine choice was
motivated by Israel's greatness or its moral perfection: “Know that the lord
God is not giving you this good land to occupy because of your righteousness;
for you are a stubborn people” (9:6). The only basis for God's choice was his
love and faithfulness: “It is because he loved you and kept the oath that he
swore to your ancestors” (7:8).
Chosen by God, Israel is called a “holy people” (Dt 7:6; 14:2). The
word “holy” (q~dôš) expresses, negatively, a separation from what
is profane and, positively, a consecration to God's service. By using the
expression “holy people”, Deuteronomy emphasises Israel's unique situation,
a nation introduced into the domain of the sacred, having become the special
possession of God and the object of his special protection. At the same time,
the importance of Israel's response to the divine initiative is underlined as
well as the necessity of appropriate conduct. In this way, the theology of
election throws light both on the distinctive status and on the special
responsibility of a people who, in the midst of other peoples, has been chosen
as the special possession of God, 103 to be holy as God is holy.
In Deuteronomy, the theme of election not only concerns people. One of the more
fundamental requirements of the book is that the cult of the Lord be celebrated
in the place which the Lord has chosen. The election of the people appears in
the hortatory introduction to the laws, but in the laws themselves, divine
election is concentrated on one sanctuary. 105 Other books focus on
the place where this sanctuary is located and narrow the divine choice to the
election of one tribe and one person. The chosen tribe is Judah in preference to
Ephraim, 106 the chosen person is David. 107 He takes
possession of Jerusalem and the fortress of Zion becomes the “City of David”
(2 S 5:6-7), to it the ark of the covenant is transferred (2 S 6:12). Thus the
Lord has chosen Jerusalem (2 Ch 6:5) or more precisely, Zion (Ps 132:13), for
his dwelling place.
For the Israelites in troubled and difficult times, when the future seemed
closed, the conviction of being God's chosen people sustained their hope in the
mercy of God and in fidelity to his promises. During the Exile, Second Isaiah
takes up the theme of election 108 to console the exiles who thought
they were abandoned by God (Is 49:14). The execution of God's justice had not
brought an end to Israel's election, this remained solid, because it was founded
on the election of the patriarchs. 109 To the idea of election,
Second Isaiah attached the idea of service in presenting Israel as “the
servant of the lord” 110 destined to be “the light of the
nations” (49:6). These texts clearly show that election, the basis of hope,
brings with it a responsibility: Israel is to be, before the nations, the
“witness” to the one God. 111 In bearing this witness, the
Servant will come to know the lordas he is (43:10).
The election of Israel does not imply the rejection of the other nations. On the
contrary, the presupposition is that the other nations also belong to God, for
“the earth belongs to the Lord with all that is in it” (Dt 10:14) and God
“apportioned the nations their patrimony” (32:8). When Israel is called by
God “my first-born son” (Ex 4:22; Jr 31:9) and “the first-fruits of
the harvest” (Jr 2:3), these metaphors imply that other nations are equally
part of God's family and harvest. This understanding of election is typical of
the Bible as a whole.
34. In its teaching on Israel's election, Deuteronomy, as we have said, puts the
accent on the divine initiative, but also on the demands of the relationship
between God and his people. Faith in the election could, nevertheless, harden
into a proud superiority. The prophets battled against this deviation. A message
of Amos relativises the election and attributes to the nations the privilege of
an exodus comparable to Israel's (Am 9:7). Another message says that election
brings with it, on God's part, a greater severity: “You only have I known of
all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your
iniquities” (Am 3:2). Amos believes that the Lord had chosen Israel in a
unique and special manner. In the context, the verb “to know” has a more
profound and intimate meaning than consciousness of existence. It expresses a
personal relationship more intimate than simply intellectual knowledge. But this
relationship brings with it specific moral demands. Because it is God's people,
Israel must live as God's people. If it fails in this duty, it will receive a
“visit” of divine justice harsher than that of the other nations.
For Amos, it is clear that election means responsibility more than privilege.
Obviously, the choice comes first followed by the demand. It is nonetheless true
that God's election of Israel implies a high level of responsibility. By
recalling this, the prophet disposes of the illusion that being God's chosen
people means having a claim on God.
The peoples' and their kings' obstinate disobedience provoked the catastrophe of
the Exile as foretold by the prophets. “The lordsaid: I will also remove Judah
out of my sight as I have removed Israel; I will reject this city that I have
chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, ‘My name shall be there'”
(2 K 23:27). This decree of God produced its effect (2 K 25:1-21). But at the
very moment when it was said: “The two families that the lordchose have been
rejected by him” (Jr 33:24), the Lord formally contradicts it: “I will
restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them” (Jr 33:26). The prophet
Hosea had already announced that at a time when Israel had become for God
“Not-my-people” (Ho 1:8), God will say: “You are my people” (Ho
2:25). Jerusalem must be rebuilt; the prophet Haggai predicts for the rebuilt
Temple a glory greater than that of Solomon's Temple (Hg 2:9). In this way, the
election was solemnly reconfirmed.
b) In the New Testament
35. The expression “chosen people” is not found in the Gospels, but the
conviction that Israel is God's chosen people is taken for granted although
expressed in other terms. Matthew applies to Jesus the words of Micah where God
speaks of Israel as my people; God says of the child born in Bethlehem:
“He will shepherd my people Israel” (Mt 2:6: Mi 5:3). The choice of
God and his fidelity to his chosen people is reflected later in the mission
entrusted by God to Jesus: he has only been sent “to the lost sheep of the
house of Israel” (Mt 15:24). Jesus himself uses the same words to limit the
first mission of the “twelve apostles” (Mt 10:2, 5-6).
But the opposition Jesus encounters from the leaders brings about a change of
perspective. At the conclusion of the parable of the murderous vineyard tenants,
addressed to the “chief priests” and “elders of the people” (Mt 21:23),
Jesus says to them: “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given
to a nation that will produce its fruits” (21:43). This word does not mean,
however, the substitution of a pagan nation for the people of Israel. The new
“nation” will be, on the contrary, in continuity with the chosen people, for
it will have as a “cornerstone” the “stone rejected by the builders”
(21:42), who is Jesus, a son of Israel, and it will be composed of Israelites
with whom will be associated in “great numbers” (Mt 8:11) people coming from
“all the nations” (Mt 28:19). The promise of God's presence with his people
which guaranteed Israel's election, is fulfilled by the presence of the risen
Lord with his community. 112
In the Gospel of Luke, the canticle of Zechariah proclaims that “the God of
Israel has visited his people” (Lk 1:68), and that the mission of
Zechariah's son will be a “going ahead of the Lord” so as to “give his
people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins”
(1:76-77). During the presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple, Simeon
qualifies the salvation brought by God as “glory for your people Israel”
(2:32). Later on, a great miracle performed by Jesus gives rise to the crowd's
exclamation: “God has visited his people” (7:16).
Nevertheless, for Luke a certain tension remains because of the opposition
encountered by Jesus. This opposition, however, comes from the people's leaders,
not from the people themselves who are favourably disposed towards Jesus.
113 In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke emphasises that a great number of
Peter's Jewish listeners, on the day of Pentecost and following, accepted his
appeal to repent. 114 On the other hand, the narrative of Acts
underlines that, on three occasions, in Asia Minor, Greece and Rome, the
opposition initiated by the Jews forced Paul to relocate his mission among the
Gentiles. 115 In Rome, Paul recalls, for the Jewish leaders, Isaiah's
oracle predicting the hardening of “this people”. 116 Thus the
New Testament, like the Old, has two different perspectives on God's chosen
At the same time, there is an awareness that Israel's election is not an
exclusive privilege. Already the Old Testament announced the attachment of
“all the nations” to the God of Israel. 117 Along the same lines,
Jesus announces that “many will come from the east and west and take their
place in the banquet with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. 118 The risen
Jesus extends the apostles' mission and the offer of salvation to the “whole
Because of this, the First Letter of Peter, addressed mostly to believers
converted from paganism, confers on them the titles “chosen people” 120
and “holy nation” 121 in the same manner as those converted from
Judaism. Formerly, they were not a people, henceforth they are the “people of
God”. 122 The Second Letter of John calls the Christian community
whom he addresses as “the chosen lady” (v.1), and “your chosen sister”
(v.13) the community from which it was sent. To newly converted pagans Paul does
not hesitate to declare: “We know, brothers, beloved by God, that he has chosen
you... (1 Th 1:4). Thus, the conviction of partaking in the divine election
was communicated to all Christians.
36. 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 Gentiles are “the wild olive shoot”, “grafted to
the real olive” to “share the riches of the root” (Rm 11:17,24). They have
no need to boast to the prejudice of the branches. “It is not you that support
the root, but the root that supports you” (11:18).
To the question of whether the election of Israel remains valid, Paul gives two
different answers: the first says that the branches have been cut off because of
their refusal to believe (11:17,20), but “a remnant remains, chosen by
grace” (11:5). It cannot, therefore, be said that God has rejected his people
(11:1-2). “Israel failed to attain what it was seeking. The elect [that
is, the chosen remnant] attained it, but the rest were hardened” (11:7). The
second response says that the Jews who became “enemies as regards the
Gospel” remain “beloved as regards election, for the sake of the
ancestors” (11:28) and Paul foresees that they will obtain mercy (11:27,31).
The Jews do not cease to be called to live by faith in the intimacy of God
“for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (11:29).
The New Testament never says that Israel has been rejected. 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 belongs, in the first place, to
Israel, despite the fact that only a small number of Israelites accepted it.
While Paul compares the providence of God to the work of a potter who prepares
for honour “vessels of mercy” (Rm 9:23), he declines to say that these
vessels are exclusively or principally the Gentiles, rather they represent both
Gentiles and Jews with a certain priority for Jews: “He called us not from the
Jews only, but also from the Gentiles” (9:24).
Paul recalls that Christ “born under the Law” (Ga 4:4) has become “a
servant to the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God, in order that he might
confirm the promises given to the patriarchs” (Rm 15:8), meaning that Christ
not only was circumcised, but is at the service of the circumcised because God
has made promises to the patriarchs which were binding. “As regards the
Gentiles”, the apostle says “they glorify God for his mercy” (15:9), and
not for his fidelity, for their entry into the people of God is not the result
of divine promises, it is something over and above what is owed to them.
Therefore, it is the Jews who will first praise God among the nations; they will
then invite the nations to rejoice with the people of God (15:9(b)-10).
Paul himself recalls with pride his Jewish origins. 123 In Rm 11:1,
he mentions his status as “an Israelite, a descendent of Abraham, a member of
the tribe of Benjamin” as proof that God has not rejected his people. In 2 Co
11:22, he sees it as a title of honour parallel to his title as minister of
Christ (11:23). It is true that in Ph 3:7, these advantages which were for him
gains, he now “regards as loss, because of Christ”. But the point he is
making here is that these advantages, instead of leading to Christ, kept him at
a distance from him.
In Rm 3:1-2, Paul affirms unhesitatingly “the superiority of the Jews and
the value of circumcision”. Because first and most important, “the oracles
of God were entrusted to them”. Other reasons are given later on in Rm
9:4-5, forming an impressive list of God's gifts and not only of promises: to
Israelites belong “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the Law, the
worship, the promises and the Patriarchs, and from them according to the flesh
came the Messiah” (Rm 9:4-5).
Nevertheless, Paul immediately adds that it is not enough to belong physically
to Israel in order to rank among the “children of God”. Before all else it
is necessary to be “children of the promise” (Rm 9:6-8), which, according
to the apostle's thinking, implies belonging to Christ Jesus in whom “every
one of God's promises is a Yes” (2 Co 1:20). According to the Letter to the
Galatians, the “offspring of Abraham” can only be one which is identified
with Christ and those who belong to him (Ga 3:16,29). But the apostle emphasises
that “God has not cast off his people” (Rm 11:2). Since “the root is
holy” (11:16), 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. 124
5. The Covenant
a) In the Old Testament
37. As we have seen, the election of Israel presents a double aspect: it is a
gift of love with a corresponding demand. The Sinai covenant clearly shows this
As with the theology of election, that of the covenant is from beginning to end
a theology of the people of the lord. Adopted by the lord as his son (cf. Ex 3:10,
4:22-23), Israel was to live totally and exclusively for him. The notion of
covenant then, by its very definition, is opposed to an election of Israel that
would automatically guarantee its existence and happiness. Election is to be
understood as a calling that Israel as a people is to live out. The
establishment of a covenant demanded on Israel's part a choice and a decision
every bit as much as it had for God. 125
As well as being employed in the Sinai narrative 126 (Ex 24:3-8),
the word berît, generally translated as “covenant”, appears in
different biblical traditions, in particular those of Noah, Abraham, David, Levi
and levitical priesthood; it is regularly used in Deuteronomy and in the
Deuteronomic History. In each context, the word has different nuances of
meaning. The usual translation of berît as “covenant” is often
inappropriate. For the word can also mean more generally “promise”, which is
also a parallel with “oath” to express a solemn pledge.
Promise to Noah(Gn 9:8-17). After the deluge, God tells Noah and his sons that he is going to
establish a bond (berît) between them and all living creatures. No
obligation is imposed on Noah or on his descendants. God commits himself without
reserve. This unconditional commitment on God's part towards creation is the
basis of all life. Its unilateral character, that is, without imposing
obligations on another, is evident by the fact that this promise explicitly
includes the animals (“as many as came out of the ark”: 9:10). The rainbow
is to be a sign of God's promise. As long as it continues to appear in the
clouds, God will recall his “everlasting promise” to “all flesh that is on
the earth” (9:16).
Promise to Abraham(Gn 15:1-21; 17:1-26). According to Gn 15, the lordmakes a promise to
Abraham expressed in these terms: “To your descendants I give this land”
(15:18). The narrative makes no mention of a reciprocal obligation. The
unilateral character of the promise is confirmed by the solemn rite which
precedes the divine declaration. It is a rite of self-imprecation: passing
between the two halves of the slaughtered animals, the person making the promise
calls down on himself a similar fate, should he fail in his obligations (cf. Jr
34:18-20). If Gn 15 were a covenant with reciprocal obligations, both parties
would have to participate in the rite. But this is not the case: the lordalone,
represented by “a flaming torch” passes between the portions of animal
The notion of promise in Gn 15 is also found in Gn 17 joined to a commandment.
God imposes a general obligation of moral perfection on Abraham (17:1) and one
particular positive prescription, circumcision (17:10-14). The words: “Walk
before me and be blameless” (17:1) connote a total and unconditional
dependence on God. The promise of a berît follows (17:2) and includes
promises of extraordinary fecundity (17:4-6) and the gift of the land (17:8).
These promises are unconditional and differ from those of the Sinai covenant (Ex
19:5-6). The word berît appears 17 times in this chapter, with a basic
meaning of solemn promise, but envisaging something more than a promise: here an
everlasting bond is created between God and Abraham together with his posterity:
“I will be your God” (Gn 17:8).
Just as the rainbow is the sign of the covenant with Noah, circumcision is the
“sign” of the promise for Abraham, except that circumcision depends on a
human decision. It is a mark that identifies those who will benefit from God's
promise. Those who do not bear that mark will be cut off from the people,
because they have broken the bond (Gn 17:14).
38. The Covenant at Sinai. The text of Ex 19:4-8 shows the fundamental
importance of the covenant of God with Israel. The poetic symbolism used —
“carry on eagles' wings” — shows clearly how the covenant is intimately
connected with the great liberation begun at the crossing of the Red Sea. The
whole idea of covenant depends on this divine initiative. The redemption
accomplished by the lordat 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).
Ex 24:3-8 brings to fulfilment the establishment of the covenant announced in
19:3-8. The separation of the blood into two equal parts prepares for the
celebration of the rite. Half of the blood is poured on the altar, consecrated
to God, while the other half is sprinkled on the assembled Israelites who are
now consecrated as a holy people of the lordand preordained to his service. The
beginning (19:8) and the end (24:3,7) of this great event, the founding of the
covenant, are marked by a repetition of the same formula of response on the part
of the people: “Everything that the lordhas spoken, we will do.”
This relationship did not last. Israel adored the golden calf (Ex 32:1-6). The
narrative recounting this infidelity and its consequences constitutes a
reflection on the breaking of the covenant and its re-establishment. The
people have experienced the anger of God — he speaks of destroying them
(32:10). But the repeated intercession of Moses, 127 the intervention
of the Levites against the idolators (32:26-29), and the people's repentance
(33:4-6) secure a promise from God not to carry out his threats (32:14) and to
agree instead to walk once more with his people (33:14-17). God takes the
initiative in re-establishing the covenant (34:1-10). These chapters reflect
the conviction that, from the beginning, Israel tended to be unfaithful to the
covenant, but that God, on his part, always restored relations.
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 lordcommits
himself to the gift of the land as well as his own beneficent presence in the
midst of his people.
Covenant in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy and the redaction of the historical books which depend on it
(Jos-Kings), distinguishes between “the promise to the ancestors”
concerning the gift of the land (Dt 7:12; 8:18) and the covenant with the
generation of Horeb (5:2-3). This latter covenant is a promise of allegiance
to the Lord (2 K 23:1-3). Destined by God to be permanent (Dt 7:9,12), it
demands the people's fidelity. The word berît often occurs with specific
reference to the Decalogue rather than to the relationship between the Lord and
Israel of which the Decalogue is a part: The Lord “declared to you his berît,
that is, the ten commandments, which he charged you to observe”. 128
The declaration of Dt 5:3 merits particular attention, for it affirms the
validity of the covenant for the present generation (cf. also 29:14). This verse
gives a kind of key to interpreting the whole book. The temporal distance
between the generations is abolished. The covenant at Sinai is made
contemporaneous; it has been made “with us who are all alive here today”.
Promise to David. This berît is along the same lines as those made with Noah, and Abraham:
a promise of God without a corresponding obligation for the king. David and his
house from now on enjoy the favour of God who commits himself by oath to an
“eternal covenant”. 129 The nature of this covenant is defined by
the words of God: “I will be a father to him and he shall be a son to me”.
Being an unconditional promise, the covenant with the house of David cannot be
broken (Ps 89:29-38). If David's successor sins, God will punish him like a
father punishes his sons, but he will not withdraw his favour (2 S 7:14-15).
The perspective is very different from that of the Sinai covenant, where the
divine favour is conditional: it requires obedience to the covenant on Israel's
part (Ex 19:5-6).
39. A new covenant in Jr 31:31-34. In Jeremiah's time, Israel's inability to keep the Sinai covenant was manifested
in a tragic manner, resulting in the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of
the Temple. But God's fidelity towards his people is now manifested in the
promise of a “new covenant”, which the Lord says “will not be like the
covenant that I made with their ancestors, when I took them by the hand to bring
them out of Egypt; a covenant that they broke” (Jr 31:32). Coming after the
breaking of the Sinai covenant, the new covenant makes possible a new beginning
for the people of God. The prophetic message does not announce a change of law,
but a new relationship with the Law of God, an interiorization. Instead of being
written on “tablets of stone”, 131 the Law will be written by God
on their “hearts” (Jr 31:33), which will guarantee a perfect obedience,
willingly embraced, instead of the continual disobedience of the past. 132
The result will be a true reciprocal belonging, a personal relationship of each
one with the Lord, which will make exhortation superfluous, something that had
been so necessary in the past and yet so ineffectual as the prophets had learned
from bitter experience. This stupendous innovation will be based on the Lord's
gratuitous initiative: a pardon granted to the people's faults.
The expression “new covenant” is not encountered elsewhere in the Old
Testament, but a prophetic message in the Book of Ezechiel develops Jr
31:31-34, by announcing to the house of Israel the gift of a “new heart”
and a “new spirit”, which will be the Spirit of God and will ensure
submission to the Law of God. 133
In Second Temple Judaism, certain Israelites saw the “new covenant” 134
realised in their own community, as a result of a more exact observance of the
Law of Moses, according to the instructions of a “Teacher of Righteousness”.
This shows that the oracle of the Book of Jeremiah commanded attention at the
time of Jesus and Paul. It will not be surprising then to see the expression
“new covenant” repeated many times in the New Testament.
b) In the New Testament
40. The theme of God's covenant with his people in the writings of the New
Testament is placed in a context of fulfilment, that is, in a fundamental
progressive continuity, which necessarily involves breaks at certain points.
Continuity concerns above all the covenant relationship, while the breaks
concern the Old Testament institutions that were supposed to establish and
maintain that relationship. In the New Testament, the covenant is established on
a new foundation, the person and work of Christ Jesus; the covenant relationship
is deepened and broadened, opened to all through Christian faith.
The Synoptic Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles make little mention of the covenant. In the infancy gospels, the canticle of
Zechariah (Lk 1:72) proclaims the fulfilment of the covenant-promise given by
God to Abraham for his descendants. The promise envisages the establishment of a
reciprocal relationship (Lk 1:73-74) between God and those descendents.
At the Last Supper, Jesus intervened decisively in making his blood “the blood
of the covenant” (Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24), the foundation of the “new
covenant” (Lk 22:20; 1 Co 11:25). The expression “blood of the covenant”
recalls the ratification of the Sinai covenant by Moses (Ex 24:8), suggesting
continuity with that covenant. But the words of Jesus also reveal a radical
newness, for, whereas the Sinai covenant included a ritual of sprinkling with
the blood of sacrificed animals, Christ's covenant is founded on the blood of a
human being who transforms his death as a condemned man into a generous gift,
and thereby makes this rupture into a covenant event.
By “new covenant”, Paul and Luke make this newness explicit. Yet, it is in
continuity with another Old Testament text, the prophetic message of Jr
31:31-34, which announced that God would establish a “new covenant”. The
words of Jesus over the cup proclaim that the prophecy in the Book of Jeremiah
is fulfilled in his Passion. The disciples participate in this fulfilment by
their partaking of the “supper of the Lord” (1 Co 11:20).
In the Acts of the Apostles (3:25), it is to the covenant promise that Peter
draws attention. Peter addresses the Jews (3:12), but the text he quotes also
concerns “all the nations of the earth” (Gn 22:18). The universal scope of
the covenant is thereby expressed.
The Book of Revelation presents a characteristic development: in the
eschatological vision of the “new Jerusalem” the covenant formula is
employed and extended: “they will be his people and God himself will be with
41. The Letters of Paul discuss the issue of the covenant more than once. The
“new covenant” founded on the blood of Christ (1 Co 11:25) has a vertical
dimension of union with the Lord through the “communion with the blood of
Christ” (1 Co 10:6) and a horizontal dimension of the union of all Christians
in “one body” (1 Co 10:17).
The apostolic ministry is at the service of the “new covenant” (2 Co 3:6),
which is not “of the letter”, like that of Sinai, but “of the Spirit”,
in accordance with the prophecies which promised that God would write his Law
“on their hearts” (Jr 31:33) and give “a new spirit” that would be his
Spirit. 135 Paul mentions more than once the covenant-law of Sinai,
136 he contrasts it with the covenant-promise of Abraham. The
covenant-law is later and provisional (Ga 3:19-25). The covenant-promise
is prior and definitive (Ga 3:16-18). From the beginning it has a universal
openness. 137 It finds its fulfilment in Christ. 138
Paul opposes the covenant-law of Sinai, on the one hand, to the extent that it
competes with faith in Christ (“a person is justified not by works of the Law,
but through faith in Jesus Christ”: Ga 2:16; Rm 3:28), and, on the other,
insofar as it is a legal system of a particular people, which should not be
imposed on believers coming from the “nations”. But Paul affirms the value
of revelation of “the old diathk”, that is to say, the writings of
the “Old Testament”, which are to be read in the light of Christ (2 Co
For Paul, Jesus' establishment of “the new covenant in [his] blood” (1 Co
11:25), does not imply any rupture of God's covenant with his people, but
constitutes its fulfilment. He includes “the covenants” among the privileges
enjoyed by Israel, even if they do not believe in Christ (Rm 9:4). Israel
continues to be in a covenant relationship and remains the people to whom the
fulfilment of the covenant was promised, because their lack of faith cannot
annul God's fidelity (Rm 11:29). Even if some Israelites have observed the Law
as a means of establishing their own justice, the covenant-promise of God, who
is rich in mercy (Rm 11:26-27), cannot be abrogated. Continuity is underlined
by affirming that Christ is the end and the fulfilment to which the Law was
leading the people of God (Ga 3:24). For many Jews, the veil with which Moses
covered his face remains over the Old Testament (2 Co 3:13,15), thus preventing
them from recognising Christ's revelation there. This becomes part of the
mysterious plan of God's salvation, the final outcome of which is the salvation
of “all Israel” (Rm 11:26).
The “covenants of promise” are explicitly mentioned in Ep 2:12 to announce
that access to them is now open to the “nations”, Christ having broken down
“the wall of separation”, that is to say, the Law which blocked access to
them for non-Jews (cf. Ep 2:14-15).
The Pauline Letters, then, manifest a twofold conviction: the insufficiency of
the legal covenant of Sinai, on the one hand, and on the other, the validity of
the covenant-promise. This latter finds its fulfilment in justification by
faith in Christ, offered “to the Jew first, but also to the Greek” (Rm
1:16). Their refusal of faith in Christ places the Jewish people in a situation
of disobedience, but they are still “loved” and promised God's mercy (cf. Rm
42. The Letter to the Hebrews quotes in extenso the prophetic
message of the “new covenant” 139 and proclaims its fulfilment in
Christ “mediator of the new covenant”. 140 It demonstrates the
insufficiency of the cultic institutions of the “first covenant”; priesthood
and sacrifices were incapable of overcoming the obstacle set by sins, and
incapable of establishing an authentic mediation between God and his people.
141 Those institutions are now abrogated to make way for the sacrifice and
priesthood of Christ (Heb 7:18-19; 10:9). For Christ has overcome all
obstacles by his redemptive obedience (Heb 5:8-9; 10:9-10), and has opened
access to God for all believers (Heb 4:14-16; 10:19-22). In this way, the
covenant announced and prefigured in the Old Testament is fulfilled. It is not
simply a renewal of the Sinai covenant, but the establishment of a covenant that
is truly new, founded on a new base, Christ's personal sacrificial offering (cf.
God's “covenant” with David is not mentioned explicitly in the New
Testament, but Peter's discourse in Acts links the resurrection of Jesus to the
“oath” sworn by God to David (Ac 2:20), an oath called a covenant with David
in Ps 89:4 and 132:11. The Pauline discourse in Ac 13:34 makes a similar
connection by employing the expression of Is 55:3 (“the holy things guaranteed
to David”), which, in the Isaian text, defines an “eternal covenant”. The
resurrection of Jesus, “son of David”, 142 is thus presented as
the fulfilment of the covenant-promise given by God to David.
The conclusion which flows from all these texts is that the early Christians were conscious of
being in profound continuity with the covenant plan manifested and realised 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
6. The Law
43. The Hebrew word tôr~h, translated “law”, more precisely means
“instruction”, that is, both teaching and directives. The Tôr~h is
the highest source of wisdom. 143 The Law occupies a central place in
the Jewish Scriptures and in their religious practice from biblical times to our
own day. This is why, from apostolic times, the Church had to define itself in
relation to the Law, following the example of Jesus himself, who gave it its
proper significance by virtue of his authority as Son of God. 144
a) Law in the Old Testament
Israel's Law and cult are developed throughout the Old Testament. The different
collections of laws 145 can also serve as guides for the chronology
of the Pentateuch.
The gift of the Law. The Law is, first of all, God's gift to his people. The gift of the Law is the
subject of a main narrative of composite origin, 146 and of
complementary narratives 147 among which, 2 K 22-23, has a special
place because of its importance for the Deuteronomist. Ex 19-24 integrates the
Law with the “covenant” (berît) which the Lord concludes with
Israel, on the mountain of God, during a theophany before the whole of Israel
(Ex 19-20), and then to Moses himself 148 and to the seventy
representatives of Israel (Ex 24:9-11). These theophanies, together with the
covenant, signify a special grace for the people, present and future, 149
and the laws revealed at that moment in time are their lasting pledge.
But the narrative traditions also link the gift of the Law with the breaking of
the covenant, that result from violation of the monotheism prescribed in the
“The spirit of the Laws” according to the Tôr~h. The laws contain moral precepts (ethical), juridical (legal), ritual and
cultural (a rich assemblage of religious and profane customs). They are of a
concrete nature, expressed sometimes as absolutes (e.g., the Decalogue), at
other times as particular cases that concretise general principles. They then
have the status of precedent and serve as analogies for comparable situations,
giving rise to the later development of jurisprudence, called halakah, the
oral law, later called the Mishna. Many laws have a symbolic meaning, in
the sense that they illustrate concretely invisible values such as equity,
social harmony, humanitarianism, etc. Not all laws are to be applied, some are
school texts for the formation of future priests, judges and other
functionaries; others reflect ideas inspired by the prophetic movement. 151
They were applied in the towns and villages of the country (Covenant Code), then
throughout the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and later in the Jewish community
dispersed throughout the world.
From a historical point of view, biblical laws are the result of a long history
of religious, moral and juridical traditions. They contain many elements in
common with the Ancient Near Eastern civilisation. Seen from a literary and
theological aspect, they have their source in the God of Israel who has revealed
them either directly (the Decalogue according to Dt 5:22), or through Moses as
intermediary charged with promulgating them. The Decalogue is really a
collection separate from the other laws. Its first appearance 152
describes it as the totality of the conditions necessary to ensure freedom for
Israelite families and to protect them from all kinds of oppression, idolatry,
immorality and injustice. The exploitation experienced by Israel in Egypt must
never be reproduced in Israel itself, in the exploitation of the weak by the
On the other hand, the provisions of the Covenant Code and of Ex 34:14-26
embody a range of human and religious values, and also sketch a communitarian
ideal of permanent value.
Since the Law is Israelite and Jewish, it is therefore a specific and
determinate one, adopted to a particular historical people. But it has also an
exemplary value for the whole of humanity (Dt 4:6). For this reason, it is an
eschatological good promised to all the nations because it will serve as an
instrument of peace (Is 2:1-4; Mi 4:1-3). It embodies a religious
anthropology and an ensemble of values that transcend both the people and the
historical conditions of which the biblical laws are in part the product.
Tôr~h spirituality. As a manifestation of the all-wise divine will, the commandments become more
and more important in the social and individual life of Israel. The Law becomes
omnipresent there, especially from the time of the Exile (6th c.). Thus a form
of spirituality arose that was marked by a profound veneration for the Tôr~h.
Its observance was regarded as a necessary expression of the “fear of the
Lord” and the perfect form of service of God. The Psalms, Sirach and Baruch
are witnesses within the Scriptures themselves. Ps 1, 19, 119 as Tôr~h Psalms,
enjoy a structural role in the organisation of the Psalter. The Tôr~h revealed
to mankind is also the organising principle of the created universe. In
observing that Law, believing Jews found therein their joy and their blessings,
and participated in the universal creative wisdom of God. This wisdom revealed
to the Jewish people is superior to the wisdom of the nations (Dt 4:6,8), in
particular to that of the Greeks (Ba 4:1-4).
b) Law in the New Testament
44. Matthew, Paul, the Letter to the Hebrews and James devote an explicit
theological reflection to the significance of the Law after the coming of Jesus
The Gospel of Matthew reflects the situation of the Matthean ecclesial
community after the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.). Jesus affirms the
permanent validity of the Law (Mt 5:18-19), but in a new interpretation, given
with full authority (Mt 5:21-48). Jesus “fulfils” the Law (Mt 5:17) by
radicalising it: at times by abolishing the letter of the Law (divorce, law of
the talion), at other times, by giving a more demanding interpretation (murder,
adultery, oaths), or a more flexible one (sabbath). Jesus insists on the double
commandment of love of God (Dt 6:5) and of neighbour (Lv 19:18), on which
“depends all the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 22:34-40). Along with the Law,
Jesus, the new Moses, imparts knowledge of God's will to mankind, to the Jews
first of all, then to the nations as well (Mt 28:19-20).
The Pauline theology of the Law is rich, but imperfectly unified. This is
due to the nature of the writings and to a process of thinking still being
worked out in a theological terrain not yet explored in depth. Paul's reflection
on the Law was sparked by his own personal spiritual experience and by his
apostolic ministry. By his spiritual experience: after his encounter with Christ
(1 Co 15:8), Paul realised that his zeal for the Law had led him astray to the
point of leading him to “persecute the Church of God” (15:9; Ph 3:6), and
that by adhering to Christ, he was renouncing that zeal (Ph 3:7-9). Through
his apostolic experience: since his ministry concerned non-Jews (Ga 2:7; Rm
1:5), it posed a question: does the Christian faith demand of non-Jews
submission to the Jewish Law and, in particular, to the legal observances that
are the marks of Jewish identity (circumcision, dietary regulations, calendar)?
A positive response would have been disastrous for Paul's apostolate. Wrestling
with this problem, he was not content with pastoral considerations: he undertook
a deeper doctrinal exploration.
Paul becomes acutely aware that the coming of Christ demands that he redefine
the function of the Law. For Christ is the “end of the Law” (Rm 10:4), at
once the goal towards which it progressed and the terminal moment where its rule
ends, because from now on, it is no longer the Law that will give life — it
could not do so effectively anyway 153 — it is faith in Christ that
justifies and gives life. 154 The Christ risen from the dead
transmits his new life to believers (Rm 6:9-11) and assures them of their
salvation (Rm 10:9-10).
Henceforth, what is to be the role of the Law? Paul struggled to give an answer.
He is aware of the positive function of the Law: It is one of Israel's
privileges (Rm 9:4), “the Law of God” (Rm 7:22); it is summed up in the love
of neighbour; 155 it is “holy” and “spiritual” (Rm 7:12,14).
According to Ph 3:6, the Law defines a certain “justice”. On the other hand,
the Law automatically opens up the possibility of a contrary choice: “If it
had not been for the Law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known
what it is to covet if the Law had not said ‘you shall not covet'” (Rm 7:7).
Paul frequently speaks of this option inescapably inherent in the gift of the
Law, for example, when he says that in the concrete human condition (“the
flesh”) “sin” prevents mankind from adhering to the Law (Rm 7:23-25), or
that “the letter” of the Law, deprived of the Spirit that enables one to
fulfil the Law, ends up by bringing death (2 Co 3:6-7).
Contrasting “the letter” and “the spirit”, the apostle sets up a
dichotomy as he did in the case of Adam and Christ; he places what Adam (that
is, the human being deprived of grace) is capable of doing against what Christ
(that is, grace) brings about. Indeed, for pious Jews, the Law was part of God's
plan where both the promises and faith also had their place, but Paul wants to
speak about what the Law can do by itself, as “letter”, that is, by
abstracting from providence which always accompanies the human being, unless he
wishes to establish his own justice. 156
If, according to 1 Co 15:56, “the sting of death is sin and the power of sin
is the Law”, it follows that the Law, insofar as it is letter, kills, albeit
indirectly. Consequently, the ministry of Moses could be called a ministry of
death (2 Co 3:7), of condemnation (3:9). Nevertheless, this ministry was
surrounded by a glory (splendour coming from God) so that Israelites could not
even look on the face of Moses (3:7). This glory loses its lustre by the very
fact that a superior glory (3:10) now exists, that of the “ministry of the
45. The Letter to the Galatians declares that “all who rely on the works of
the Law are under a curse”, for the Law curses “everyone who does not
observe and obey all the things written in the book of the Law”. 157
The Law is opposed here to the way of faith, proposed elsewhere by the
Scriptures; 158 it indicates the way of works, leaving us to our own
resources (3:12). Not that the apostle is opposed to “works”. He is only
against the human pretension of saving oneself through the “works of the
Law”. He is not against works of faith — which, elsewhere, often coincide
with the Law's content — works made possible by a life-giving union with
Christ. On the contrary, he declares that “what matters” is “faith that
works through love”. 159
Paul is aware that the coming of Christ has led to a change of regime.
Christians no longer live under the Law, but by faith in Christ (Ga 3:24-26;
4:3-7), which is the regime of grace (Rm 6:14-15).
As regards the central contents of the Law (the Decalogue and that which is in
accordance with its spirit), Ga 5:18-23 affirms first of all: “If you are
led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the Law” (5:18). Having no need of
the Law, a person will spontaneously abstain from “works of the flesh”
(5:19-21) and will produce “the fruit of the Spirit” (5:22). Paul adds
that the Law is not contrary to this (5:23), because believers will fulfil 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”. One of the reasons for redemption
was precisely to obtain this fulfilment of the Law!
In the Letter to the Hebrews, the Law appears as an institution that was
useful in its time and place. 160 But true mediation between the
sinful people and God is not in its power (7:19; 10:1). Only the mediation of
Christ is efficacious (9:11-14). Christ is a High Priest of a new kind
(7:11,15). Because of the connection between Law and priesthood, ”the change
of priesthood involves a change of law” (7:12). In saying this, the author
echoes Paul's teaching according to which Christians are no longer under the
Law's regime, but under that of faith in Christ and of grace. For a relationship
with God, the author insists, is not through the observance of the Law, but
through “faith”, “hope” and “love” (10:22,23,24).
For James, as for the Christian community at large, the moral demands of
the Law continue to serve as a guide (2:11), but as interpreted by the Lord. The
“royal law” (2:8), that of the “kingdom” (2:5), is the precept of love
of neighbour. 161 This is “the perfect law of liberty” (1:25;
2:12-13), which is concerned with working through a faith that is active
This last example shows the variety of positions in relation to the Law
expressed in the New Testament, and their fundamental agreement. James does not
announce, like Paul and the Letter to the Hebrews, the end of the Law's reign,
but he agrees with Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul in underlining the priority not
only of the Decalogue but also the precept of love of neighbour (Lv 19:18) which
leads to the perfect observance of the Decalogue and to do still better. The New
Testament then depends on the Old. It is read in the light of Christ, who has
confirmed the precept of love and has given it a new dimension: “Love one
another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34; 15:12), that is, to the sacrifice of
one's life. The Law is thereby more than fulfilled.
7. Prayer and Cult, Jerusalem and Temple
a) In the Old Testament
46. In the Old Testament, prayer and cult occupy an important place because
these activities are privileged moments of the personal and communal
relationship of the Israelites with God who has chosen and called them to live
within his Covenant.
Prayer and cult in the Pentateuch. The narratives show typical situations of prayer, especially in Gn 12-50.
Cries of distress (32:10-13), requests for favour (24:12-14), acts of
thanksgiving (24:48), as well as vows (28:20-22) and consultations of the Lord
about the future (25:22-23) are to be found. During the Exodus, Moses
intercedes 162 and the people are saved from extermination
As a primary source for the knowledge of the institutions, the Pentateuch
assembles aetiologies that explain the origin of places, times and sacred
institutions. Places like Shechem, Bethel, Mamre, Beersheeba. 163
Sacred times like the sabbath, sabbatical year, jubilee year, feast days
are fixed, including the Day of Atonement. 164
The cult is a gift from the Lord. Many texts in the Old Testament insist on this
perspective. The revelation of God's name is purely gratuitous (Ex 3:14-15).
It is the Lord who makes possible the celebration of sacrifices, because it is
he who makes available the blood of animals for this purpose (Lv 17:11). Before
becoming the people's offering to God, the first-fruits and the tithes are
God's gift to the people (Dt 26:9-10). It is God who institutes priests and
Levites and designs the sacred utensils (Ex 25-30).
The collections of the Law (cf. above II. B. 6, no. 43) contain numerous
liturgical directives and diverse explanations of the purpose of the cultic
order. The fundamental distinctions between pure and impure, on the one hand,
and holy and profane, on the other, serve to organise space and time, even to
the details of daily life, and consequently social and individual living is
regulated. Impurity places the affected persons and things outside the
socio-cultic space, while what is pure is completely integrated with it.
Ritual activity includes multiple purifications to re-integrate the impure
into the community. 165 Inside the circle of purity, another limit
separates the profane (which is pure) from the holy (which is pure and also
reserved to God). The holy (or the sacred) is the domain of God. The liturgy of
the “Priestly”(P) source also distinguishes “holy” from “Holy of
Holies”. Holy places are accessible to priests and Levites, but not to the
people (“laity”). Sacred space is always set apart. 166
Sacred time restricts profane employment (prohibition of work, the sabbath day,
sowing and reaping during the sabbatical year). It corresponds to the return of
the created order to its original state before it was delivered to mankind.
Space, persons and sacred things must be made holy (consecrated). Consecration
removes what is incompatible with God, impurity and sin, which are opposed to
the Lord. The cult includes multiple rites of pardon (expiations) to restore
holiness, 168 which implies that God is near. 169 The
people are consecrated and must be holy (Lv 11:44-45). The purpose of the cult
is that the people be made holy — through expiation, purification and
consecration — and be at the service of God.
The cult is a vast symbolism of grace, an expression of God's
“condescension” (in the patristic sense of beneficent adaptation) towards
human beings, since he established it for pardon, purification, sanctification
and preparation for direct contact with his presence (kabôd, glory).
47. Prayer and cult in the Prophets. The book of Jeremiah contributes a
lot to the appreciation of prayer. It contains “confessions”, dialogues with
God, in which the prophet, both as an individual and as a representative of his
people, expresses a deep, interior crisis about election and the realisation of
God's plan. 170 Many prophetic books include psalms and canticles
171 as well as fragments of doxologies. 172
Among the pre-exilic prophets, we notice one prominent feature — repeated
condemnation of liturgical sacrifices 173 and even of prayer itself.
174 The rejection seems radical, but these invectives are not to be
interpreted as an abrogation of the cult, or a denial of their divine origin.
Their aim is to denounce the contradiction between the conduct of the
participants and the holiness of God which they claim to be celebrating.
Prayer and cult in the other Writings. Three poetical books are of immense importance for the spirituality of prayer.
First Job: with a sincerity equal to the art, the protagonist expresses
all the states of his soul directly to God. 175 Then there is Lamentations,
where prayer and complaint are mingled. 176 And, of course, the Psalms,
that constitute the very heart of the Old Testament. In fact, the impression
given is if the Hebrew Bible has retained so few developments on prayer, it is
to concentrate all the beams of light on one particular collection. The Psalter
is the one irreplaceable key to reading not only the whole life of the Israelite
people, but the whole of the Hebrew Bible itself. Elsewhere, the Writings
contain little more than vague general principles 177 and some
samples of more or less elaborated hymns and prayers. 178
An attempt can be made to classify the Psalms around four central axes that
retain a universal value in all times and cultures.
Most of the Psalms revolve around the axis of liberation. The dramatic
sequence appears to be stereotyped, whether rooted in personal or collective
experiences. The experience of the need for salvation reflected in biblical
prayer covers a wide range of situations. Other prayers revolve around the axis
of wonder. They foster a sense of wonder, contemplation and praise. The
axis of instruction gathers up three types of meditative prayer:
syntheses of sacred history, instruction for personal and communal moral choices
(frequently including prophetic words and messages), description of the
conditions necessary for participation in the cult. Finally, some prayers
revolve around the axis of popular feasts. There are four in particular:
harvests, marriages, pilgrimages, and political events.
48. Privileged places of prayer include sacred spaces, sanctuaries,
especially the Jerusalem Temple. But prayer is always possible in the privacy of
one's home. Sacred times, fixed by the calendar, mark the times for
prayer, even personal prayer, as well as the ritual hours of sacrifice,
especially morning and evening. We notice different postures for prayer,
standing, with raised hands, kneeling, fully prostrate, sitting or lying down.
If one can distinguish between the permanent and the dispensable elements in
thought and language, the treasury of Israel's prayer can serve to express, at a
profound level, the prayer of human beings in all times and places. That is to
say the permanent value of those texts. Certain Psalms, however, express
a type of prayer that will gradually become obsolete, in particular, the curses
and imprecations hurled at enemies.
In appropriating the prayers of the Old Testament just as they are, Christians
re-read them in the light of the paschal mystery, which at the same time gives
them an extra dimension.
The Jerusalem Temple. Built by Solomon (c. 950 B.C.), this edifice of stone, dominating the hill of
Zion, has enjoyed a central place in Israelite religion. Aided by the religious
reform of Josiah (640-609), 179 the deuteronomic law prescribed one
sanctuary in the land for all the people (Dt 12:2-7). The Jerusalem sanctuary
was designated as “the place chosen by the lordyour God as a dwelling for his
name” (12:11,21, etc.). Several etiological narratives explain this choice.
180 The priestly theology (P), for its part, designated this presence by
the word “glory” (kabôd), evoking the manifestation of God, at one
and the same time both fascinating and awesome, especially in the Holy of
Holies, above the ark of the covenant covered by the propitiatory: 181
the nearest contact with God is based on pardon and grace. That is why the
destruction of the Temple (587) was the equivalent of total desolation, 182
and took on the proportions of a national catastrophe. The eagerness to rebuild
it at the end of the Exile (Hg 1-2) and to celebrate there a worthy cult (Ml
1-3), became the criterion of the fear of God. The Temple radiated blessing to
the ends of the earth (Ps 65). Hence the importance of pilgrimage, as a symbol
of unity (Ps 122). In the work of the Chronicler, the Temple is clearly at the
centre of all religious and national life.
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 centre of the world.
Nevertheless, a critical relativisation of the symbolism of the
holy place can be observed. It can never guarantee and “contain” the divine
presence. 183 Parallel to the criticism of a hypocritical and
formalist cult, the prophets exposed the conceit of placing unconditional
confidence in the holy place (Jr 7:1-15). A symbolic vision solemnly presents
“the glory of the Lord” departing from the holy place. 184 But
this glory will return to the Temple (Ezk 43:1-9), to an ideal, restored one
(40-42), a source of fecundity, healing and salvation (47:1-12). Before this
return, God promises the exiles that he himself will be “a sanctuary”
(11:16) for them.
Jerusalem. From a theological perspective, the history of the city has its origin in a
divine choice (1 K 8:16). David conquered Jerusalem, an ancient Canaanite city
(2 S 5:6-12). He transferred the ark of the covenant there (2 S 6-7).
Solomon built the Temple there (1 K 6). Thus the city ranked among the older
sacred places in Judah and Israel where people went on pilgrimage. In the war of
Sennacherib against Hezechiah in 701 (2 K 18:13), Jerusalem alone among the
towns of Judah is spared, although the kingdom of Israel was completely
conquered by the Assyrians in 722. The deliverance of Jerusalem had been
prophetically announced as an act of divine favour (2 K 19:20-34).
Jerusalem is usually designated as “the city chosen by the Lord”, 185
“established” by him (Is 14:32), “city of God” (Ps 87:3), “holy
city” (Is 48:2), because the Lord is “in its midst” (Zp 3:17). She is
promised a glorious future: assurance of divine presence “for ever” and
“from age to age” (Jl 4:16-21), guaranteed protection (Is 31:4-5) as
well as happiness and prosperity. Certain texts even attribute an ideal
perfection to this city of cities. Above and beyond its geographical location,
she becomes the pole of attraction and the axis of the world. 186
Nevertheless, the greatness of Jerusalem will not prevent evil descending on the
city. Numerous prophetic messages (2 K 23:27), symbolic actions (Ezk 4-5) and
visions (8-11) announce the rejection and the destruction of the city chosen
Later on, a restored Jerusalem becomes one of the great symbols of
eschatological salvation: a city illumined by the Lord, 187 given a
“new name” and which becomes again the “espoused” of God. 188
Jerusalem will become paradise regained with the coming of the “new heavens”
and the “new earth”, 189 essentially a cultic place (Ezk
40-48), the centre of the recreated world (Zc 14:16-17). “All the
nations” will assemble there to seek arbitration from the Lord and the divine
teaching which will put an end to war. 190
b) In the New Testament, prayer and cult, Temple and Jerusalem
49. Prayer and cult. In contrast to the Old Testament, the New Testament
contains no detailed legislation concerning the establishment of cultic
institutions and rituals — it briefly prescribes baptism and the celebration
of the Eucharist 191 — but it puts a strong emphasis on prayer.
The Gospels frequently show Jesus at prayer. His filial love for God, his
Father, urged him to give a lot of time to this activity. He rises early to
pray, even after a late night due to the influx of the sick people with their
maladies (Mk 1:32,35). Sometimes he spends the whole night in prayer (Lk 6:12).
He isolates himself “in desert places” to pray better (Lk 5:16), or ascends
“the mountain” (Mt 14:23). Luke shows how intense prayer prepares for or
accompanies the more decisive moments of Jesus' ministry: his baptism (Lk 3:21),
the choice of the Twelve (6:12), the question of his identity posed to the
Twelve (9:18), his transfiguration (9:28), his passion (22:41-45).
The Gospels only rarely report the content of Jesus' prayer. The little they do
say shows that his prayer expressed the intimacy with his Father, whom he calls
“Abba” (Mk 14:36), a term of familiarity not found in the Judaism of the
time, to invoke God. Jesus' prayer is often one of thanksgiving, following the
Jewish ber~k~h. 192 During the Last Supper, he “chants the
Psalms” prescribed by the ritual of the great feast. 193 According
to the four Gospels, he quotes eleven distinct Psalms.
The Son gratefully recognises that everything comes from his Father's love (Jn
3:35). At the end of the Last Supper Discourse, John puts on the lips of Jesus a
long prayer of petition for himself, and for his disciples, present and future,
thereby revealing how his passion is to be understood (Jn 17). The Synoptics
record the suppliant prayer of Jesus at the moment of mortal sadness in
Gethsemane (Mt 26:36-44 and par.), a prayer accompanied by a gracious
compliance with the Father's will (26:39,42). On the cross, he makes his own the
doleful cry of Ps 22:2, 194 or following Luke, the prayer of
abandonment of Ps 31:6 (Lk 23:46).
Alongside the prayer of Jesus, the Gospels report many demands and
supplications made to Jesus, to which he generously responds, underlining
at the same time the efficacy of faith. 195 Jesus gave instructions
on prayer 196 and through parables encouraged perseverance in prayer.
197 He insisted on the necessity of prayer in times of trial “so as not
to come into temptation” (Mt 26:41 and par.).
The example of Jesus gave rise to the disciples' wish to imitate him: “Lord,
teach us to pray” (Lk 11,1). He responds by teaching them the Our Father. The
formulas of the Our Father 198 resemble Jewish prayer (“The
Eighteen Benedictions”), but with an unparalleled sobriety. In a few words,
the Our Father offers a complete programme of filial prayer: adoration
(first petition), yearning for eschatological salvation (second petition),
compliance with the divine will (third petition), prayer for daily necessities
in confident abandon, day after day, to God's providence (fourth petition),
request for pardon, conditioned by a willingness to pardon (fifth petition),
prayer for deliverance from temptation and mastery of Evil (sixth and seventh
Paul, for his part, gives examples of thanksgiving prayer, expressed in various
forms, at the beginning of his letters. He invites Christians to “give thanks
in all circumstances” and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17).
50. The Acts frequently show Christians at prayer, either individually
(Ac 9:40; 10:9, etc.) or together (4:24-30; 12:12, etc.), in the Temple (2:46;
3:1), in houses (2:46), and even in prison (16:25). Sometimes prayer is
accompanied by fasting (13:3; 14:23). In the New Testament, prayer formulas are
usually hymnic: the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55), the Benedictus (1:68-79),
the Nunc dimittis (2:29-32) and numerous passages in the Book of
Revelation. They are moulded in biblical language. In the Pauline corpus, hymns
are Christological, 199 reflecting the Church's liturgy. Like the
prayer of Jesus, Christian prayer utilises the Jewish ber~k~h (“Blessed
be God...”). 200 In a Hellenistic milieu it was more charismatic (1
Co 14:2,16-18). Prayer is the work of the Spirit of God. 201
Certain things are possible only through prayer (Mk 9:29).
The New Testament reveals traits of the early Church's liturgical prayer. The
“Lord's Supper” (1 Co 11:20) occupies a prominent place in the traditions.
202 Its form resembles the liturgy of Jewish festal meals: ber~k~h over
the bread at the beginning, over the wine at the end. From the tradition
underlying 1 Co 11:23-25 and the Synoptic narratives, the two blessings were
brought closer in such a way that the meal was placed, not in between, but
either before or after. This rite is a memorial of Christ's passion (1 Co
11:24-25); it creates fellowship (koin(o-)nia: 1 Co 10:16) between
the risen Christ and his disciples. Baptism, a profession of faith, 203
offers pardon for sin, unites with Christ's paschal mystery (Rm 6:3-5) and
gives entry into the community of believers (1 Co 12:13).
The liturgical calendar remained that of the Jews (except for the Pauline
Christian communities that came from paganism: Ga 4:10; Col 2:16), but the
sabbath began to be replaced by the first day of the week (Ac 20:7; 1 Co 16:2)
called the “day of the Lord” or the “Lord's day” (Rv 1:10), that is, the
day of the risen Lord. Christians continued, at first, to frequent the Temple
functions (Ac 3:1), which provided the point of departure for the Christian
liturgy of the hours.
The Letter to the Hebrews recognised 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,
204 it denies all efficacy to animal sacrifices for the purification of
conscience and for the establishment of a deep relationship with God. 205
The only fully efficacious sacrifice is the personal and existential offering of
Christ making him the perfect High Priest, “mediator of the new covenant”.
206 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).
The apostle Paul already spoke in this manner (Rm 12:1-2).
51. The Jerusalem Temple. During the lifetimes of Jesus and Paul the
Temple still existed as a material and liturgical reality. Like all Jews, Jesus
went there on pilgrimage; he taught there. 207 He performed a
prophetic act there by expelling the merchants (Mt 21:12-13 and par.)
The edifice retained its symbolic role as the privileged divine abode, which
represented on earth the dwelling place of God in heaven. In Mt 21:3 Jesus
quotes a prophetic word where God himself calls it “my house” (Is 56:7); in
Jn 2:16 Jesus calls it “my Father's house”. But some texts relativise this
symbolism and pave the way for transcending it. 208 As Jeremiah had
done, Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple (Mt 24:2 and par.) and
announced, instead, its replacement by a new sanctuary, to be built in three
days. 209 After his resurrection, Jesus' disciples will understand
that the new Temple was his risen body (Jn 2:22). Paul tells believers that they
are members of this body (1 Co 12:27) and the “temple of God” (3:16-17) or
“of the Spirit” (6:19). The First Letter of Peter tells them that united
with Christ, the “living stone”, they form together a “spiritual house”
(1 P 2:4-5).
The Book of Revelation frequently speaks of a sanctuary. 210 With the
exception of Rv 11:1-2, it is always in reference to “God's heavenly
sanctuary” (11:19), from which divine intervention on earth emanates. In the
final vision it is said of “the holy city, Jerusalem, which descends from
heaven” (21:10), that it has no sanctuary, “for its Temple is the Lord God
Almighty and the Lamb” (21:22). This is the final fulfilment of the Temple
Jerusalem. The New Testament fully recognises the importance of Jerusalem in God's
plan. Jesus forbids swearing by Jerusalem “because it is the city of the Great
King” (Mt 5:35). He resolutely goes up there; it is there that he must fulfil
his mission. 211 But he says that the city “did not know the time
of its visitation” and he tearfully foresees that this blindness will bring
about its ruin, 212 as had already happened in Jeremiah's time.
In the meantime, Jerusalem continues to play an important role. In the Lukan
theology, it is at the centre of salvation history; it is there that Christ dies
and is raised. Everything converges on this centre: the Gospel begins (Lk
1:5-25) and ends (24:52-52) there. Then everything begins from there: it is
from there that, after the coming of the Holy Spirit, the good news of salvation
is spread to the four corners of the inhabited world (Ac 8-28). As regards
Paul, although his apostolate did not begin from Jerusalem (Ga 1:17), he
considers communion with the Jerusalem Church to be indispensable (2:1-2).
Elsewhere, he declares that the mother of Christians is “the Jerusalem
above” (4:26). The city becomes the symbol of eschatological fulfilment both
in future (Rv 21:2-3, 9-11) and in present dimension (Heb 12:22).
Thus, aided by a symbolic intensification already well attested in the Old
Testament itself, the Church will always recognise the bonds that intimately
unite it to the history of Jerusalem and its Temple, as well as to the prayer
and cult of the Jewish people.
8. Divine Reproaches and Condemnations
a) In the Old Testament
52. The election of Israel and the covenant, as we have seen, resulted in
demands for faithfulness and holiness. How did the chosen people respond to
these demands? To this, the Old Testament frequently gives an answer that
expresses the disappointment of Israel's God, a response full of reproaches and
The narrative writings give a long list of infidelities and resistance to the voice of God, a list
beginning with the departure from Egypt. In times of real crisis, which ought to
have been occasions for proving their trust in God, the Israelites “murmur”,
213 adopting an attitude of challenge to God's plan and of opposition to
Moses, to the point of wanting to “stone” him (Ex 17:4). No sooner was the
Sinai covenant concluded (Ex 24) than the people let themselves lapse into the
gravest infidelity, idolatry (Ex 32:4-6). 214 Faced with this
disloyalty, the Lord declares: “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked
they are” (Ex 32:9). This pejorative description of them is frequently
repeated later on 215 and becomes a sort of natural epithet to
describe the character of Israel. Another episode is no less important: having
arrived at the borders of Canaan and been invited to enter the land which the
Lord is giving them, the people refuse to enter, on the grounds that it was too
dangerous. 216 The Lord then reproaches his people for their lack of
faith (Nu 14:11) and condemns them to wander for forty years in the desert,
where all the adults will die (14:29,34), with the exception of those who
unreservedly followed the Lord.
The Old Testament frequently mentions that Israel's disobedience began “from
the day their ancestors came out of Egypt”, and adds that it has continued
“even to this day”. 217
The Deuteronomic History which comprises the books of Joshua, Judges, 1-2
Samuel, 1-2 Kings, gives an unqualified negative judgement on the history of
Israel and Judah between the time of Joshua and the Babylonian Exile. The people
and their kings, with few exceptions, have generally succumbed to the temptation
of foreign gods in the religious sphere and to social injustice and every kind
of disorder forbidden in the Decalogue. That is why this history ended finally
on a negative note, the visible consequences of which were the loss of the
promised land with the destruction of the two kingdoms and Jerusalem, including
the Temple, in 587.
The prophetic writings contain reproaches that are particularly vehement. One of
the principal tasks of the prophets was precisely to “cry out with full voice
without holding back” to “announce to my people their rebellion”. 218
Among the eighth century prophets, Amos denounces the sins of Israel,
with primary emphasis on the lack of social justice. 219 For Hosea,
idolatry is the basic sin, but reproaches extend to many others: “swearing,
lying, and murder, and stealing, and adultery break out, bloodshed follows
bloodshed” (Ho 4:2). For Isaiah, God has done all he could for his
vineyard, but it has not produced fruit (Is 5:1-7). Like Amos before him
(4:4), Isaiah rejects the cult of those who show no concern for justice (Is
1:11-17). Micah declares that he is “full of strength to declare to
Jacob his crimes” (Mi 3:8).
These crimes led to the greatest threats the prophets could hurl against Israel
and Judah: the Lord will reject his people. 220 This will lead to the
destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, where his beneficent and protecting
presence dwells. 221
The last decades of Judah and the beginning of the Exile were accompanied by the
preaching of many prophets. Like Hosea, Jeremiah enumerates sins 222
and shows that abandoning the lordis the root of all evil (2:13); he brands
idolatry as adultery and prostitution. 223 Ezechiel does the same in
lengthy chapters (Ezk 16; 23) and calls the Israelites a “brood of rebels”
(2:5,6,7,8), “stubborn and hard-hearted” (2:4;3:7). The force of the
prophetic accusations is astonishing. What is surprising is that Israel gave
them such a large place in its Scriptures, which shows a sincerity and humility
that is exemplary.
During the Exile and after, the Judean and Jewish community acknowledged their
sins through liturgies and prayers in a national confession. 224
When they contemplated their past, the people of the Sinai covenant could only
pass a severe judgement on themselves: their history had been a long succession
of infidelities. The punishments were deserved. The covenant had been broken.
But the Lord had never resigned himself to accepting this rupture. 225
He had always offered the grace of conversion and resumption of relations, in a
more intimate and stable form. 226
b) In the New Testament
53. John the Baptist follows the ancient prophets in his call for
repentance to the “brood of vipers” (Mt 3:7; Lk 3:7) that flocked to his
preaching. This preaching was based on the conviction that a divine intervention
was about to take place. The judgement was imminent: “Already the axe is at
the root of the tree” (Mt 3:10; Lk 3:9). Conversion was then a matter of
Like that of John, the preaching of Jesus is a call to conversion, made
urgent by the proximity of the reign of God (Mt 4:17); it is at the same time
the announcement of “the good news”, of a favourable intervention of God (Mk
1:14-15). Shocked at their refusal to believe, Jesus had recourse to
invective, like the prophets of old. He castigates this “evil and adulterous
generation” (Mt 12:39), “unbelieving and perverted generation” (17:17),
and announces a judgement more severe than that which befell Sodom (11:24; cf.
The rejection of Jesus by the leaders of his people, who carried with them the
population of Jerusalem, increased their guilt to its extreme degree. The divine
sanction will be the same as in Jeremiah's time: the capture of Jerusalem and
the destruction of the Temple. 227 But — as in Jeremiah's time –
God is not satisfied merely to punish, he also offers pardon. To the Jews of
Jerusalem who have “killed the Prince of Life” (Ac 3:15), Peter preaches
repentance and promises forgiveness of sins (3:19). Less severe than the ancient
prophets, he regards their sin as one committed “in ignorance”. 228
Thousands respond to his appeal. 229
In the Apostolic Letters, although exhortations and warnings are very
frequent, and accompanied at times by threats of condemnation for sin, 230
reproaches and condemnations as such are relatively rare, though not lacking in
In the Letter to the Romans, Paul draws up a forceful indictment against
“those who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (Rm 1:18). The basic
fault of the pagans is their failure to recognise God (1:21); their punishment
consists of being handed over by God into the grip of immorality. 232
The Jews are reproached for their inconsistency: their conduct contrasts with
their knowledge of the Law (Rm 2:17-24).
Christians themselves are not shielded from reproaches. The Letter to the
Galatians contains some very serious ones. The Galatians are accused of turning
away from God to follow “another gospel”, which is a false one (Ga 1:6);
they have “cut themselves off from Christ”, they have “fallen away from
grace” (5:4). But Paul hopes for their return (5:10). The Corinthians are
reproached for the discord stirred up in the community by the cult of certain
personalities, 233 as well as for a serious lapse in charity when
they celebrate the “Supper of the Lord” (1 Co 11:17-22). “For this
reason”, Paul says, “many of you are weak and ill, and some of you have
died” (11:30). In addition, the community is severely reprimanded because it
has tolerated a case of scandalous misconduct. The offender must be
excommunicated, “handed over to Satan”. 234 Paul quotes the
precept of Dt 17:7: “Drive out the wicked person from among you” (1 Co
5:13). The Pastoral Letters take issue with “self-styled teachers of the
Law” who have strayed from true charity and sincere faith (1 Tm 1:5-7);
their names are given as well as the sanctions imposed on them. 235
The letters sent “to the seven churches” (Rv 1:11) by the author of the Book
of Revelation clearly show the diversity of situations in which the Christian
communities lived at the time. Almost all of the letters — five out of seven
— begin with praise; two contain praise only, but the other five have
reproaches, some of them serious, accompanied by threats of punishment. These
reproaches are of a general nature (“you have abandoned your first fervour”:
2:4; “you have a name of being alive, but you are dead”: 3:1); sometimes
they are more precise, as when they are criticised for tolerating “the
teaching of the Nicolaitans” (2:15) or for their compromise with idolatry
(2:14,21). All the letters express “what the Spirit is saying to the
churches”. 236 They show that, in most cases, the Christian
communities deserve reproaches and that the Spirit is calling them to
9. The Promises
54. Many of the promises made by God in the Old Testament are re-read in the
light of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. This poses real and delicate
questions which touch upon the dialogue between Jews and Christians; they
concern the legitimacy of an interpretation of the promises over and above their
original, obvious meaning. Who exactly are the descendants of Abraham? Is the
Promised Land first and foremost a geographical location? What future horizon
does the God of Revelation reserve for Israel, the people originally chosen?
What becomes of the wait for the kingdom of God? And for the Messiah?
a) Descent from Abraham
In the Old Testament
God promised to Abraham innumerable descendants 238 through the
single son, the privileged inheritor, born of Sarah. 239 These
descendants will become, like Abraham himself, a source of blessing for all the
nations (12:3; 22:18). The promise is renewed to Isaac (24:4,24) and Jacob
The experience of oppression in Egypt does not prevent the realisation of the
promise. On the contrary, the beginning of the Book of Exodus attests many times
to the numerical growth of the Hebrews (Ex 1:7,12,20). When the people are freed
from oppression, the promise is already fulfilled: the Israelites are
“numerous as the stars of heaven”, but God increases their number even more,
as he promised (Dt 1:10-11). The people lapse into idolatry and are threatened
with extermination; Moses then intercedes before God on their behalf; he recalls
God's oath made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to multiply their descendants (Ex
32:13). A grave act of disobedience on the part of the people in the desert (Nu
14:2-4), as at the foot of Sinai (Ex 32), gives rise, as in Ex 32, to Moses'
intercession, which is answered, and saves the people from the consequences of
their sin. Nevertheless, the present generation will be excluded from the
promised land, with the exception of Caleb's clan which remained faithful (Nu
14:20-24). Subsequent generations of Israelites will enjoy all the promises
made to their ancestors on the condition however of resolutely choosing “life
and blessing” and not “death and curse” (Dt 30:19), which unfortunately
the northern Israelites did choose later on, with the result that “the Lord
rejected” them (2 K 17:20), as he did also the southern kingdom that he
subjected to the purifying trial of the Babylonian Exile (Jr 25:11).
The ancient promises were quickly revived for those who returned. 240
After the Exile, to preserve purity of descent, beliefs and observances,
“those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners”.
241 Later on, the little Book of Jonah — perhaps also, according to
some, Ruth — denounces such closed particularism. This poorly reflects the
prophetic message in the Book of Isaiah where God bestows on “all the
peoples” the hospitality of his house (Is 56:3-7).
In the New Testament
55. In the New Testament, the validity of the promise made to Abraham is never
called into question. The Magnificat and the Benedictus refer explicitly to it.
242 Jesus is presented as “son of Abraham” (Mt 1:1). To be a son or
daughter of Abraham (Lk 13:16; 19:19) is a great honour. Nevertheless, the
understanding of the promise differs from the one given in Judaism. The
preaching of John the Baptist already relativises the importance of belonging to
the family of Abraham. Descent from him according to the flesh is not enough,
nor is it even necessary (Mt 3:9; Lk 3:8). Jesus declares that the pagans
“will take their place at the banquet with Abraham”, “while the heirs of
the kingdom will be cast out” (Mt 8:11-12; Lk 13:28-29).
But it is Paul in particular who develops this theme. To the Galatians,
preoccupied with entering, through circumcision, the family of the patriarch, in
order to have a right to the promised heritage, Paul shows that circumcision is
no longer necessary, for what is important is faith in Christ. By faith, one
becomes a son of Abraham (Ga 3:17), for Christ is the privileged descendant
(3:16) and, through faith, people are incorporated into Christ and so become
“descendants of Abraham, heirs to the promise” (3:29). It is in this way —
and not through circumcision — that the pagans will receive the blessing
transmitted by Abraham (3:8,14). In Ga 4: 22-31, a daring typological
interpretation arrives at the same conclusions.
In the Letter to the Romans (4:1-25), Paul returns to the subject in less
polemical terms. He highlights the faith of Abraham, for him the source of
justification and the basis of Abraham's paternity which extends to all who
believe whether Jew or pagan. For God had promised Abraham: “You shall be the
father of a multitude of nations” (Gn 17:4); Paul sees the promise realised in
the many believers of pagan origin who belong to Christ (Rm 4:11,17-18). He
makes a distinction between “children of the flesh” and “children of the
promise” (Rm 9:8). The Jews who belong to Christ are both. Believers of pagan
origin are “children of the promise”, that is the more important of the two.
In this way, Paul confirms and accentuates the universal import of Abraham's
blessing and situates the true posterity of the patriarch in the spiritual
b) The Promised Land
56. Every human group wishes to inhabit territory in a permanent manner.
Otherwise, reduced to the status of stranger or refugee, it finds itself, at
best, tolerated, or at worst, exploited and continually oppressed. Israel was
freed from slavery in Egypt and received from God the promise of land. Its
realisation required time and gave rise to many problems throughout the course
of its history. For the people of the Bible, even after the return from the
Babylonian Exile, the land remained an object of hope: “Those blessed by the lord”will
possess the land (Ps 37:22).
In the Old Testament
The term “promised land” is not found in the Hebrew Bible, which has no word
for “promise”. The idea is expressed by the future tense of the verb “to
give”, or by using the verb “to swear”: “the land which he swore to give
to you” (Ex 13:5; 33:1, etc.).
In the Abraham traditions, the promise of land will be fulfilled through
descendants. 243 It concerns the “land of Canaan” (Gn 17:8). God
raises up a leader, Moses, to liberate Israel and lead it into the promised
land. 244 But the people as a whole lose faith: of those faithful
from the beginning, only a few survive the long journey through the desert; it
is the younger generation that will enter the land (Nu 14:26-38). Moses
himself dies without being able to enter (Dt 34:1-5). Under the leadership of
Joshua, the tribes of Israel are settled in the promised territory.
For the Priestly tradition, the land must as far as possible be without blemish,
for God himself dwells there (Nu 35:34). The gift is therefore conditioned by
moral purity 245 and by service to the Lord alone, to the exclusion
of foreign gods (Jos 24:14-24). On the other hand, God himself is the owner of
the land. If the Israelites dwell there, it is as “strangers and
sojourners”, 246 like the patriarchs in former times (Gn 23:4; Ex
After the reign of Solomon, the heritage land was split into two rival kingdoms.
The prophets condemn idolatry and social injustice; they threaten punishment:
the loss of the land, conquered by foreigners, and the exile of its population.
But they always leave open a way to return to a new occupation of the promised
land, 247 while emphasising also the central role of Jerusalem and
its Temple. 248 Later the perspective opens out to an eschatological
future. Although occupying a limited geographical space, the promised land will
become the focus of attraction for the nations. 249
The theme of the land should not be allowed to overshadow the manner in which
the Book of Joshua recounts the entry to the promised land. Many texts 250
speak of consecrating to God the fruits of victory, called the ban (chérèm).
To prevent all foreign religious contamination, the ban imposed the obligation
of destroying all places and objects of pagan cults (Dt 7:5), as well as all
living beings (20:15-18). The same applies when an Israelite town succumbs to
idolatry, Dt 13:16-18 prescribes that all its inhabitants be put to death and
that the town itself be burned down.
At the time when Deuteronomy was written — as well as the Book of Joshua —
the ban was a theoretical postulate, since non-Israelite populations no longer
existed in Judah. The ban then could be the result of a projection into the past
of later preoccupations. Indeed, Deuteronomy is anxious to reinforce the
religious identity of a people exposed to the danger of foreign cults and mixed
Therefore, to appreciate the ban, three factors must be taken into account in
interpretation; theological, moral, and one mainly sociological: the recognition
of the land as the inalienable domain of the lord;the necessity of guarding the
people from all temptation which would compromise their fidelity to God;
finally, the all too human temptation of mingling with religion the worst forms
of resorting to violence.
In the New Testament
57. The New Testament does not develop much further the theme of the promised
land. The flight of Jesus and his parents to Egypt and their return to the
“land of promise” (Mt 2:20-21) clearly retraces the journey of the
ancestors; a theological typology undergirds this narrative. In Stephen's
discourse which recalls their history, the word “promise” or “promised”
is found side by side with “land” and “heritage” (Ac 7:2-7). Although
not found in the Old Testament, the expression “land of promise” is found in
the New (Heb 11:9), in a passage which, undoubtedly, recalls the historical
experience of Abraham to better underline its provisional and incomplete
character, and its orientation towards the absolute future of the world and
history. For the author, the “land” of Israel is only a symbolic pointer
towards a very different land, a “heavenly homeland”. 252 One of
the beatitudes transforms the geographical and historical meaning 253
into a more open-ended one, “the meek shall possess the land” (Mt 5:5);
“the land” is equivalent here to “the kingdom of heaven” (5:3,10) in an
eschatological horizon that is both present and future.
The authors of the New Testament are only deepening a symbolic process already
at work in the Old Testament and in intertestamental Judaism. It should not be
forgotten, however, that a specific land was promised by God to Israel and
received as a heritage; this gift of the land was on condition of fidelity to
the covenant (Lv 26; Dt 28).
c) The eternal and the final salvation of Israel
In the Old Testament
58. What kind of future awaits the people of the covenant? Down through history
the people itself has constantly asked this question in direct connection with
the themes of divine judgement and salvation.
From before the Exile, the prophets questioned the naive hope in a “Day of the
lord”which would automatically bring salvation and victory over the enemy.
Quite to the contrary, to announce the unhappy lot of a people seriously
deficient in social consciousness and faith, they reversed the image of the Day
of the lordinto one of “darkness and not light”, 254 not,
however, without leaving some little light of hope to glimmer intermittently.
The experience of the Exile as the result of the breaking of the covenant, posed
the same question with maximum urgency: Can Israel, far from its land, still
hope for salvation from God? Has it any future? First Ezechiel, followed by
Second Isaiah, announces, in God's name, a new Exodus, that is, Israel's return
to its own country, 256 an experience of salvation that implies
several elements: the gathering together of a dispossessed people (Ezk 36:24)
brought about by the Lord himself, 257 a profound interior
transformation, 258 national 259 and cultic 260
renewal, as well as the revival of past divine choices, especially the choice of
the ancestors Abraham and Jacob 261 and that of king David (Ezk
More recent prophetic developments continue along the same lines. Prophetic
messages solemnly proclaim that the race of Israel will endure forever, 262
and will never cease to be a nation before the Lord and will never be rejected
by him, despite all that it has done (Jr 31:35-37). The Lord promises to
restore his people. 263 The ancient promises made in Israel's favour
are confirmed. The post-exilic prophets expand their range within a universal
Regarding the future, the importance of one particular theme must be emphasised
as the counterpart: that of “remnant”. Theologically, the future of Israel
is guaranteed, but it is a circumscribed group, instead of the whole people,
that will be the carrier of national hopes and God's salvation. 265
The post-exilic community considered itself to be this “remnant of
survivors”, awaiting the salvation of God. 266
In the New Testament
59. In the light of the resurrection of Jesus, what becomes of Israel, the
chosen people? God's pardon is offered to it from the start (Ac 2:38), as well
as salvation by faith in the risen Christ (13:38-39); many Jews accepted,
267 including “a multitude of priests” (6:7), but the leaders were
opposed to the nascent Church, and in the end, the majority of the people did
not attach themselves to Christ. This situation has always aroused serious
questions with regard to the fulfilment of the salvific plan of God. The New
Testament searched for an explanation in the ancient prophecies and maintained
that the situation was foretold there, especially in Is 6:9-10, which is
frequently quoted in this regard. 268 Paul, in particular,
experienced great sorrow (Rm 9:1-3) and confronted the problem in depth (Rm
9-11). His “brothers according to the flesh” (Rm 9:3) “have stumbled
over the stumbling stone” put there by God; rather than relying on faith, they
relied on works (9:32). They have stumbled, but not “so as to fall” (11:11).
For “God has not rejected his people” (11:2); witness to that is the
existence of a “Remnant”, who believe in Christ; Paul himself is part of
that Remnant (11:1,4-6). For him, the existence of this Remnant guarantees the
hope of Israel's full restoration (11:12,15). The failure of the chosen people
is part of God's paradoxical plan: it brings about the “salvation of the
pagans” (11:11). “A hardening has come upon a part of Israel, until the full
number of the Gentiles has come in, then all Israel will be saved”, through
the mercy of God, who has promised it (11:25-26). Meanwhile, Paul puts
Christian converts from paganism on their guard against the pride and
self-reliance which lie in wait for them, if they forget that they are only
wild branches grafted on to the good olive tree, Israel (11:17-24). The
Israelites remain “loved” by God and are promised a bright future “for the
gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (11:29). This is a very positive
doctrine which Christians should never forget.
d) The reign of God
60. Many passages in the Bible express the expectation of a completely renewed
world through the inauguration of an ideal reign in which God takes and keeps
all the initiative. Nevertheless, the two Testaments differ considerably, not
only in the importance which each one accords this theme, but especially by the
different accents they place on it.
In the Old Testament
The concept of divine kingship has deep roots in the cultures of the ancient
Near East. The reign of God over his people Israel appears in the Pentateuch,
269 especially in the Book of Judges (Jg 8:22-23) and in the First Book
of Samuel (1 S 8:7; 12:12). God is also acclaimed as King of the whole universe,
particularly in the royal Psalms (Ps 93-99). The lord reveals himself to the prophet Isaiah c.740 B.C. (Is 6:3-5). One prophet
unveils him as the universal King, surrounded by a celestial court (1 K
During the Exile, the prophets conceive the reign of God as operative in the
very heart of the eventful history of the chosen people. 270 So too
in more recent prophetic texts. 271 Nevertheless, the theme already
begins to take on a more emphatic eschatological colouration 272
which manifests itself in the sovereign arbitration that the Lord will exercise
over the nations of the world from his dwelling place on Mount Zion (Is 2:1-4
= Mi 4:1-4). The greatest degree of eschatological concentration is reached in
the apocalyptic literature with the emergence of a mysterious figure presented
as “one like a son of man”, “coming on the clouds of heaven”, to whom
“was given dominion and glory and kingship” over “all the peoples” (Dn
7:13-14). Here, one is approaching the idea of a transcendent, heavenly,
eternal reign, that the people of the saints of the Most High are invited to
It is in the Psalter that the theme of God's reign reaches its height. There are
six Psalms in particular. 273 Five have the same key phrase in
common: “The lordreigns”, which is placed either at the beginning or in the
middle. 274 There is great emphasis on the cosmic, ethical and cultic
dimensions of this reign. In Ps 47 and 96 universalism is emphasised: “God
reigns over the nations”. 275 Ps 99 makes way for human mediation
that is royal, priestly and prophetic (99:6-8). Ps 96 and 98 open out to an
eschatological and universal reign of God. On the other hand, Ps 114, a Passover
psalm, celebrates the lordboth as King of Israel and King of the universe. The
reign of God is suggested in many other Psalms as well.
In the New Testament
61. The reign of God, a theme well attested in the Old Testament, especially in
the Psalter, becomes a major theme in the Synoptic Gospels, because it serves as
the basis of Jesus' prophetic preaching, his messianic mission, his death and
resurrection. The ancient promise is now fulfilled, in a fruitful tension
between the already and the not-yet. Certainly at the time of Jesus, the Old
Testament concept of a “reign of God” that was imminent, terrestrial,
political, and centred on “Israel” and in “Jerusalem”, was still
strongly entrenched (Lk 19:11), even among the disciples (Mt 20:21; Ac 1:6). But
the New Testament as a whole brings about a radical change, which was already
evident in intertestamental Judaism where the idea of a heavenly, eternal
kingdom makes its appearance (Jubilees XV:32; XVI:18).
Matthew most frequently speaks of “the kingdom of the heavens” (33
times), a semitism which avoids pronouncing the name of God. It devolves on
Jesus to “preach the good news of the kingdom” through teaching, healing of
illnesses 276 and the expulsion of demons (12:28). The teaching of
Jesus on the “righteousness” necessary for entry into the kingdom (5:20)
proposes a very high religious and moral ideal (5:21-7:27). Jesus announces
that the reign of God is near at hand (4:17), which inserts an eschatological
tension into the present time. From now on the reign belongs to those who are
“poor in spirit” (5:3) and to those who are “persecuted for the sake of
righteousness” (5:10). Several parables present the reign of God as present
and operative in the world, as a seed that grows (13:31-32), as a leaven
active in the dough (13:33). For his role in the Church, Peter will receive
“the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (16:19). Other parables concentrate on
eschatological judgement. 277 The kingdom of God becomes a reality
now through the reign of the Son of Man. 278 A comparison between Mt
18:9 and Mk 9:47 shows that the kingdom of God points to the access to the true
“life”, in other words, the access to the communion that God accomplishes
for his people, in justice and holiness through Jesus Christ.
Mark and Luke have the same teaching as Matthew, each with his own nuances.
Elsewhere in the New Testament the theme is less prominent, though frequent
enough. 279 Without using the expression “kingdom of God”,
280 the Book of Revelation describes the great battle against the forces
of evil that produces the establishment of this reign. The “kingship of the
world” belongs from now on “to our Lord and his Christ”, “he will reign
for ever and ever” (Rv 11:15).
e) The son and successor of David
In the Old Testament
62. In some biblical texts, the hope of a better world is mediated through a
human agent. An ideal king is awaited, who will liberate from oppression and
establish perfect justice (Ps 72). This waiting takes shape, beginning with the
message of the prophet Nathan who promised king David that one of his sons would
succeed him and that his kingdom would last forever (2 S 7:11-16). The obvious
sense of this oracle is not messianic; it did not promise David a privileged
successor who would inaugurate the definitive reign of God in a renewed world,
but simply an immediate successor who, in turn, would be succeeded by others.
Each of David's successors was an “anointed” of the Lord, in Hebrew (m~šiach),
for kings were consecrated by the pouring of oil, but none of them was the
Messiah. Other prophecies, following Nathan's, in the crises of the succeeding
centuries, promised that the dynasty would certainly endure as part of God's
fidelity to his people (Is 7:14), but they tended more and more to paint a
portrait of an ideal king who would inaugurate the reign of God. 281
Even the failure of the political expectations to materialise only served to
deepen that hope. The ancient prophetic messages and the royal Psalms (Ps 2; 45;
72; 110) were reread with this hope in mind.
The final results of this revolution appear in the writings from the Second
Temple period, and in the writings of Qumran. They express messianic expectation
in different forms: royal messianic, priestly, and heavenly. 282
Other Jewish writings combine the expectation of earthly salvation for Jerusalem
with an eternal salvation beyond this world, by proposing an earthly and
intermediate messianic kingdom that would precede the coming of the definitive
reign of God in a new creation. 283 Although messianic hope continued
to be part of the traditions of Judaism, it did not appear in all currents as a
central and integral theme, even as a special indicator.
In the New Testament
63. For the Christian communities of the first century, however, the promise of
an anointed son of David becomes an essential and basic interpretative key.
Although the Old Testament and the intertestamental literature can still speak
of an eschatology without a Messiah in the context of the vast movement of
eschatological expectation, the New Testament itself clearly recognises in Jesus
of Nazareth the promised Messiah, awaited by Israel (and by the whole of
humanity): it is he, therefore, who fulfils the promise. Hence, the concern for
emphasising his Davidic descent, 284 and even his superiority to his
royal ancestor, who calls him “Lord” (Mk 12:35-37 and par.).
In the New Testament, the Hebrew term m~šiach transliterated in Greek as
messias is only found twice, and is followed by its Greek translation christos,
which means “anointed”. 285 In Jn 1:41 the context points to
royal messianism (cf. 1:49: “King of Israel”), in 4:25 to a prophetic
Messiah, in accordance with Samaritan beliefs: “He will tell you
everything”. Jesus here explicitly acknowledges this title (4:26). Elsewhere,
the New Testament expresses the idea of Messiah by the word christos, but
at times also by the expression “he who is to come”. 286 The
title christos is reserved to Jesus except in texts that denounce false
messiahs. 287 Together with Kyrios, “Lord”, it is the most
frequently used title to identify who Jesus is. It sums up his mystery. He is
the object of many confessions of faith in the New Testament. 288
In the Synoptics, the recognition of Jesus as Messiah plays a prominent role,
especially in Peter's confession (Mk 8:27-29 and par.). The explicit
prohibition against revealing the title, far from being a denial, confirms
rather a radically new understanding of it in contrast to a too earthly
political expectation on the part of the disciples and the crowds (8:30). The
necessary passage through suffering and death is affirmed. 289
Confronted by the High Priest during his trial, Jesus clearly identifies himself
with the Messiah according to Mk 14:61-62: the drama of the passion lifts the
veil on the specific uniqueness of Jesus' Messiahship, in line with the
Suffering Servant who is described by Isaiah. The paschal events open the way to
the parousia, in other words, to the coming of “the Son of Man in the clouds
of heaven” (Mk 13:26 and par.), a hope already expressed opaquely in the
apocalypse of Daniel (Dn 7:13-14).
In the Fourth Gospel, the messianic identity of Jesus is the object of
remarkable confessions of faith, 290 but also the ocasion for several
controversies with the Jews. 291 Numerous “signs” tend to confirm
it. It is plainly a transcendent royalty that is described (18:36-37),
incomparably different from the nationalistic and political aspirations current
at the time (6:15).
According to Nathan's prophetic message, the son and successor of David will be
recognised as son of God. 292 The New Testament proclaims that Jesus
is in reality “the Christ, the Son of God”, 293 and gives that
sonship a transcendent definition: Jesus is one with the Father. 294
A privileged witness to the Church's post-paschal faith, Luke's second volume
makes the royal consecration (messianic) of Jesus coincide with the moment of
his resurrection (Ac 2:36). The demonstration of the title's credibility becomes
an essential element of the apostolic preaching. 295 In the Pauline
corpus, the word “Christ” abounds, frequently as a proper name, deeply
rooted in the theology of the cross (1 Co 1:13; 2:2) and glorification (2 Co
4:4-5). Based on Ps 109 (110), verses 1 and 4, the Letter to the Hebrews
demonstrates that Christ is the priest-Messiah (5:5-6:10) as well as royal
Messiah (1:8; 8:1). This expresses the priestly dimension of Christ's sufferings
and his glorification. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus' Messiahship is set in
the Davidic line: Jesus possesses “the key of David” (Rv 3:7), he fulfils
the Davidic messianism of Ps 2; 296 he declares: “I am the shoot
and the descendent of David” (Rv 22:16).
For the New Testament then, it is Jesus who fulfils in his person, above all in
his paschal mystery, all the promises of salvation associated with the coming of
the Messiah. He is Son of David of course, but also Suffering Servant, Son of
Man and eternal Son of God. In him, salvation takes on a new dimension. The
emphasis changes from a predominantly earthly salvation to a transcendent one
that surpasses the conditions of temporal existence. It is addressed to every
single human being, to the entire human race. 297
64. Christian readers were convinced that their Old Testament hermeneutic,
although significantly different from that of Judaism, corresponds nevertheless
to a potentiality of meaning that is really present in the texts. Like a
“revelation” during the process of photographic development, the person of
Jesus and the events concerning him now appear in the Scriptures with a fullness
of meaning that could not be hitherto perceived. Such a fullness of meaning
establishes a threefold connection between the New Testament and the Old:
continuity, discontinuity, and progression.
In addition to recognising the authority of the Jewish Scriptures and despite
the constant seeking to demonstrate that the “new” events were in conformity
with what was predicted (see ch. 1), the New Testament fully appropriates the
great themes of the theology of Israel in a threefold reference to past, present
A universal perspective is always present: God is one; it is he who, by his word
and spirit, created and sustains the whole universe, including human beings, who
are “great” and “noble” despite their “wretchedness”.
Other themes are developed in the context of a particular history: God has
spoken, he has chosen a people, has freed and saved them innumerable times, has
established a covenant relationship with them by the giving of himself (grace)
and by offering a way of faithfulness (Law). The person and work of Christ
together with the existence of the Church prolong this history.
This opens up for the chosen people wonderful future horizons: posterity
(promised to Abraham), living space (a territory), survival beyond crises and
testings (due to God's fidelity), and the establishment of an ideal political
order (the reign of God, messianism). From the beginning, a reign universal in
its scope is envisaged for the blessing given to Abraham. The salvation bestowed
by God will spread to the ends of the earth. Indeed, it is Jesus Christ who
offers salvation to the entire world.
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the passage from one Testament to the
other also involves ruptures. These do not submerge continuity. They presuppose
it in essentials. Yet these ruptures impinge upon whole tracts of the Law: for
example, institutions like the levitical priesthood of the Jerusalem Temple;
cultic forms like animal sacrifice; religious and ritual practices like
circumcision, rules concerning purity and impurity, dietary prescriptions;
imperfect laws such as divorce; restrictive legal interpretations concerning the
sabbath. It is clear that — from the viewpoint of Judaism — these are
matters of great importance for it. But it is also clear that the radical
replacement in the New Testament was already adumbrated in the Old Testament and
so constitute a potentially legitimate reading.
65. Discontinuity on certain points is only the negative side of what is
positively called progression. The New Testament attests that Jesus, far from
being in opposition to the Israelite Scriptures, revoking them as provisional,
brings them instead to fulfilment in his person, in his mission, and especially
in his paschal mystery. In fact, none of the great Old Testament themes escapes
the new radiation of Christological light.
a) God. The New Testament firmly holds on to the monotheistic faith of
Israel: God remains the One; 298 nevertheless, the Son participates
in this mystery that from now on will be expressed in a ternary symbolism,
already opaquely foreshadowed in the Old Testament. 299 God creates
by his word (Gn 1), but this Word pre-exists “with God” and “is God”
(Jn 1:1-5), and after entering history through a line of authentic
spokespersons (Moses and the prophets), is now incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth.
300 God also creates “by the breath of his mouth” (Ps 33:6). This
breath is “the Holy Spirit” sent from the Father by the risen Christ (Ac
b) Human Beings. The human being is created noble, “in the image of
God” (Gn 1:26). But the most perfect “image of the invisible God” is
Christ (Col 1:15). And we ourselves are invited to become images of Christ,
301 that is, “a new creation”. 302 From our poverty and
wretchedness God saves and liberates us through the unique mediation of Jesus
Christ, who died for our sins and is risen for our life. 303
c) 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. 304 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, 305 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 honour for the poor and oppressed. 306 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 symbolisation already begun in the Old Testament and in intertestamental
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).
III. THE JEWS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
66. Having examined the relationship between the New Testament writings and the
Jewish Scriptures, we will now consider the various attitudes to the Jews
expressed in the New Testament. We will begin by noting the diversity evident
then within Judaism itself.
Different Viewpoints within post-exilic Judaism
1. The last centuries before Jesus Christ
“Judaism” is a term designating the period of Israelite history which began
in 538 B.C. with the permission from the Persian authorities to reconstruct the
Jerusalem Temple. The religion of Judaism, in many respects, inherited the
pre-exilic religion of the kingdom of Judah. The Temple was rebuilt:
sacrifices were offered; hymns and Psalms were chanted, pilgrimage feasts were
again celebrated. Judaism took on a particular religious hue after the
proclamation of the Law by Ezra (Ne 8:1-12) in the Persian era. Gradually, the
synagogue became an important factor in Jewish life. Diverse attitudes to the
Temple were a source of division for Jews until 70 A.D., as is clear in the
Samaritan schism and in the Qumran manuscripts. Divisions based on different
interpretations of the Law existed after the year 70 just as they did before.
The Samaritan community was a dissident group, shunned by others (Si
50:25-26). It was based on a particular form of the Pentateuch after rejection
of the Jerusalem Temple and its priesthood. The Samaritan Temple was built on Mt
Gerizim (Jn 4:9,20). They had their own priesthood.
The description of three “parties” or schools of thought given by Josephus,
Pharisees, Sadduccees, and Essenes (Ant.13:5,9; (*)171), is a simplification that must be interpreted with
circumspection. One can be sure that many Jews did not belong to any of the
three groups. Furthermore, the differences between them extended beyond the
The origin of the Sadduccees is probably to be found in the Zadokite
priesthood of the Temple. They apparently became a distinct group in Maccabean
times because of the closed attitude of one section of the priesthood towards
the Hasmonean rulers. The difficulty of precisely identifying them is evident
from a study of the period from the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids, from
167, to the Roman intervention in 63. The Sadduccees became more and more
identified with the Hellenised aristocracy who held power; one can surmise that
they had little in common with the ordinary people.
The origin of the Essenes, according to some authors, dates from around
200 B.C. in an atmosphere of Jewish apocalyptic expectations, but most see it as
a reaction to the changing attitude to the Temple beginning from 152, when
Jonathan, brother of Judas Maccabeus, was anointed High Priest. They are the
Hasidim or “pious” who took part in the Maccabean revolt (1 M 2:42), but
later felt betrayed by Jonathan and Simon, brothers of Judas Maccabeus, who
accepted appointment as High Priests by the Seleucid kings. What we know of the
Essenes has been considerably augmented by the discoveries, beginning in 1947,
of about 800 scrolls and fragments at Qumran, near the Dead Sea. A majority of
scholars are of the opinion that these documents come from a group of Essenes
who established themselves on this site. In The Jewish War, 307
Josephus gives a lengthy laudatory description of Essene piety and its way of
life that, in many ways, resembled a monastic settlement. Disdaining the Temple
ruled by priests whom they judged to be unworthy, the Qumran group formed the
community of the new covenant. They sought perfection through strict observance
of the Law, interpreted by the Teacher of Righteousness. They awaited an
imminent messianic appearance, an intervention by God that would destroy all
iniquity and punish their enemies.
The Pharisees were not a priestly movement. Apparently, the seizure of
the High Priesthood by the Maccabees did not proccupy them. Nevertheless, their
very name, which implies separation, is probably the result of strong criticism
of the Hasmonean descendants of the Maccabees, from whose growing secularised
rule they dissociated themselves. To the written Law, the Pharisees added a
second Law of Moses, the oral Law. Their interpretation was less strict than the
Essenes and more innovative than the conservative Sadducees who accepted only
the written Law. They also differed from the Sadduccees by professing belief in
the resurrection of the dead and in angels (Ac 23:8), beliefs that made their
appearance during the post-exilic period.
The relations between the different groups were at times severely strained, even
to the point of hostility. It is worth keeping in mind that this hostility can
put in context, from a religious viewpoint, the enmity that is found in the New
Testament. High Priests were responsible for much of the violence. There is the
case of a High Priest, whose name is unknown, who tried to put to death,
probably towards the end of the second century B.C., the Teacher of
Righteousness in Qumran during the Yom Kippur celebrations. The Qumran writings
are full of polemics against the Jerusalem Sadduccean hierarchy, wicked priests
accused of violating the commandments, and they likewise denigrate the
Pharisees. While exalting the Teacher of Righteousness, they accuse another
person (an Essene?) of scoffing and lying and persecuting with the sword “all
who walk in perfection” (Damascus Document, ms. A,I,20). These incidents
happened before the time of Herod the Great and the Roman rule in Judea, and so
before the time of Jesus.
The first third of the first century A.D. in Palestine
67. This is the period corresponding to the life of Jesus which had already
begun a little earlier, when Jesus was born before the death of Herod the Great
in 4 B.C. After his death, the emperor Augustus divided the kingdom between the
three sons of Herod: Archelaus (Mt 2:22), Herod Antipas (14:1, etc.), and Philip
(16:13; Lk 3:1). The reign of Archelaus stirred up hostility among his subjects,
and Augustus before long put his territory, Judea, under Roman administration.
What was Jesus' attitude towards the three religious “parties” mentioned
above? Three questions in particular merit consideration.
Which was the most important religious group during Jesus' public life? Josephus
says that the Pharisees were the main party, extremely influential in the towns.
308 It was perhaps for this reason that Jesus is presented more often in
conflict with them than with any other group, an indirect acknowledgement of
their importance. Furthermore, this party within Judaism survived better than
the others and nascent Christianity had to confront it.
What beliefs did the Pharisees hold? The Gospels frequently present the
Pharisees as hypocritical and heartless legalists. There was an attempt to
refute this by referring to certain rabbinical attitudes attested in the Mishna,
which shows that they were neither hypocritical nor strictly legalist. But this
argument is not convincing, for a legalist tendency is also present in the
Mishna. Furthermore, it is unknown whether these attitudes codified by the
Mishna c. 200, actually correspond to those of the Pharisees of Jesus' time.
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”. 309
Did Jesus belong to any of the three groups? There is no reason to think that
Jesus was a Sadduccee. He was not a priest. His belief in angels and the
resurrection of the body, as well as the eschatological expectation attributed
to him in the Gospels, is much closer to the theology of the Essenes and the
Pharisees. But the New Testament never mentions the Essenes, and there is no
recollection that Jesus belonged to such a specific community. As regards the
Pharisees, who are frequently mentioned in the Gospels, their relationship with
Jesus is usually one of opposition, because of his position of non-conformance
to their observances. 310
It is much more likely that Jesus did not belong to any of the sects existing
within Judaism at the time. He was simply one of the common people. Recent
research has attempted to situate him in various contemporary contexts: a
charismatic rabbi from Galilee, an itinerant Cynic preacher, and even a
revolutionary zealot. He does not fit into any of these categories.
On Jesus' relationship with the Gentiles and their ways of thinking, there has
been much speculation, but there is too little information to go on. During this
period in Palestine, even in regions where the greater part of the population
was Jewish, Hellenistic influence was strong, but not equally felt everywhere.
The influence on Jesus of the culture of the Hellenistic towns like Tiberias on
the shore of lake Galilee and Sepphoris (6-7 kilometres from Nazareth) is
still uncertain, since the Gospels give no indication that Jesus had any contact
with these towns. Neither do we have any evidence that Jesus or his closest
disciples spoke Greek in any significant measure. In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus
has little contact with Gentiles, he orders his disciples not to preach to them
(Mt 10:5); he forbids imitation of their lifestyle (6:7,32). Some of his sayings
reflect a Jewish attitude of superiority towards the Gentiles, 311
but he knows how to distance himself from such attitudes and affirms instead the
superiority of many of the Gentiles (Mt 8:10-12).
What was the attitude of Jesus' early disciples to the Jewish religious
environment? The Twelve and others would have shared Jesus' Galilean mentality,
although the environs of the lake of Galilee where they lived were more
cosmopolitan than Nazareth. The Fourth Gospel reports that Jesus drew disciples
from John the Baptist (Jn 1:35-41), that he had Judean disciples (19:38) and
that he converted one entire Samaritan village (4:39-42). The group of
disciples, then, could very well reflect the pluralism that existed in Palestine
at that time.
3. The second third of the first century
68. The first period of direct Roman rule in Judea came to an end in 3940. Herod
Agrippa I, friend of the emperor Caligula (37-41) and of the new emperor
Claudius (41-54), became king of all Palestine (41-44). He gained the
support of the Jewish religious leaders and gave the appearance of being
religious. In Ac 12, Luke attributes a persecution to him, and also the death of
James, the brother of John and son of Zebedee. After the death of Agrippa, which
Ac 12:20-23 dramatically recounts, a second period of Roman rule began.
It was during this second third of the first century that the disciples of the
risen Christ greatly increased in numbers and were organised into “churches”
(“assemblies”). It is likely that the structures of certain Jewish groups
influenced primitive Church structures. It may be asked whether the Christian
“presbyters” or “elders” were modelled on the “elders” of the
synagogues, and whether the Christian bishops (“overseers”) were modelled on
the Qumran “overseers”. Does not the designation of the Christian community
as “the way” (hodos) reflect the spirituality of the Qumran groups,
gone into the desert to prepare the way of the Lord? From a theological
viewpoint, some have thought that traces of Qumran influence are to be found in
the dualism of the Fourth Gospel, expressed in terms of light and darkness,
truth and falsehood, in the battle between Jesus, the light of the world, and
the powers of darkness (Lk 22:53), and in the battle between the Spirit of Truth
and the prince of this world (Jn 16:11). Nevertheless, the presence of common
themes does not necessarily imply dependence.
The Roman procurators for the years 44-66 were men devoid of vision, corrupt
and dishonest. Their mis-government gave rise to the “sicarii” (terrorists
armed with knives) and “zealots” (zealous for the Law, devoid of pity), and
finally provoked a great Jewish revolt against the Romans. The great Roman
armies and their best generals fought to quell this revolt. For Christians, a
noteworthy event was the death of James, “the brother of the Lord”, in the
year 62, following a decision of the Sanhedrin convened by the High Priest
Ananus (Anne) II. This High Priest was dismissed by the procurator Albinus for
acting illegally. Only two years later, after a great fire ravaged Rome in July
64, the emperor Nero (54-68) persecuted the Christians in the capital city.
According to a very ancient tradition, the apostles Peter and Paul were martyred
at that time. Generally speaking, the last third of the first century may be
called the post-apostolic era.
4. The final third of the first century
69. The Jewish revolt of 66-70 and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple
precipitated a change in the dynamics of the religious groupings. The
revolutionaries (sicarii, zealots and others) were exterminated. The Qumran
foundation was destroyed in 68. The cessation of Temple sacrifices weakened the
power base of the Sadduccean leaders who belonged to the priestly families. We
do not know to what extent rabbinic Judaism is the successor of the Pharisees.
What we do know is that after 70, the rabbinic masters, “the sages of
Israel”, gradually came to be recognised as leaders of the people. Those who
reassembled at Jamnia (Yavneh), on the coast of Palestine, were considered by
the Roman authorities to be spokespersons for the Jews. From c.90-110,
Gamaliel II, son and grandson of distinguished interpreters of the Law, presided
over “the assembly” in Jamnia. When they speak of Judaism, Christian
writings from this period were more and more influenced by this rabbinic Judaism
then in the process of formation. In certain areas, conflicts between the
synagogue leaders and Jesus' disciples were sharp. This is evident from the
expulsion from the synagogue imposed on “whoever confesses Jesus as the
Christ” (Jn 9:22) and, on the other hand, in the strong anti-Pharisee
polemic of Mt 23, as well as in the reference made from the outside to “their
synagogues” as places where Jesus' disciples were flogged (Mt 10:17). The Birkat
ha-minim, a synagogal “blessing” (actually, a curse) against
non-conformists is often cited. Its dating to 85 is uncertain, and the idea
that it was a universal Jewish decree against Christians is almost certainly
wrong. But one cannot seriously doubt that at certain times in different places,
local synagogues no longer tolerated the presence of Christians, and subjected
them to harassment that could even go as far as putting them to death (Jn16:2).
Gradually, probably from the beginning of the second century, a formula of
“blessing” denouncing heretics or deviants of different sorts was composed
to include Christians, and much later, they were the ones specifically targeted.
Everywhere, by the end of the second century, the lines of demarcation and
division were sharply drawn between Christians and Jews who did not believe in
Jesus. But texts like 1 Th 2:14 and Rm 9-11 demonstrate that the lines of
division were already clearly visible before that time.
B. Jews in the Gospels and Acts of the Apostles
70. The Gospels and Acts have a basic outlook on Jews that is extremely positive
because they recognise that the Jews are a people chosen by God for the
fulfilment of his plan of salvation. This divine choice finds its highest
confirmation in the person of Jesus, son of a Jewish mother, born to be the
Saviour of his people, one who fulfils his mission by announcing the Good News
to his people, and by performing works of healing and liberation that culminate
in his passion and resurrection. The attachment to Jesus of a great number of
Jews, during his public life and after his resurrection, confirms this
perspective, as does Jesus' choice of twelve Jews to share in his mission and
continue his work.
The Good News, accepted wholeheartedly in the beginning by many Jews, met with
opposition from the leaders, who were eventually followed by the greater part of
the people. The result was that between Jewish and Christian communities a
conflict situation arose that clearly left its mark on the redaction of the
Gospels and Acts.
1. The Gospel according to Matthew
The relationship between the First Gospel and the Jewish world is extremely
close. Many details in it show a great familiarity with the Scriptures, the
traditions and the mentality of the Jewish milieu. More than Mark and Luke,
Matthew stresses the Jewish origin of Jesus: the genealogy presents him as
“son of David, son of Abraham” (Mt 1:1) and goes no further back. The
etymology of Jesus' name is underlined: the child of Mary will bear this name
“because it is he who will save his people from their sins” (1:21). Jesus' mission during his public life is limited
“to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24), and he assigns the same
limits to the mission of the Twelve (10:5-6). More than the other evangelists,
Matthew often takes care to note that events in Jesus' life happened “so that
what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled” (2:23). Jesus
himself makes it clear that he has come not to abolish the Law, but to fulfil it
Nevertheless, it is clear that the Christian communities kept their distance
from the Jewish communities that did not believe in Jesus Christ. A significant
detail: Matthew does not say that Jesus taught “in the synagogues”,
but “in their synagogues” (4:23; 9:35: 13:54), in this way noting the
separation. Matthew introduces two of the three Jewish parties described by the
historian Josephus, the Pharisees and the Sadduccees, but always in a context of
opposition to Jesus. This is also true for the scribes, 313 who are
frequently associated with the Pharisees. Another significant fact: it is in the
first prediction of the passion (16:21) that the three divisions of the
Sanhedrin, “the elders, chief priests and scribes”, make their first
appearance together in the Gospel. They are also set in a situation of radical
opposition to Jesus.
Jesus many times confronts the opposition of the scribes and Pharisees, and
finally responds by a vigorous counter-offensive (23:2-7,13-36) where the
phrase “Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” occurs six times. This invective
certainly reflects, in part at least, the situation of Matthew's community. The
redactional context is that of two groups living in close contact with one
another: Jewish Christians, convinced that they belong to authentic Judaism, and
those Jews who do not believe in Christ Jesus, considered by Christians to be
unfaithful to their Jewish vocation in their docility to blind and hypocritical
It should be noted that Matthew's polemic does not include Jews in general.
These are not named apart from the expression “the King of the Jews”,
applied to Jesus (2:2; 27:11,29,37) and in the final chapter (28:15), a phrase
of minor importance. The polemic is for the most part internal, between two
groups both belonging to Judaism. On the other hand, only the leaders are in
view. Although in Isaiah's message the whole vine is reprimanded (Is 5:1-7),
in Matthew's parable it is only the tenants who are accused (Mt 21:33-41). The
invective and the accusations hurled at the scribes and Pharisees are similar to
those found in the prophets, and correspond to a contemporary literary genre
which was common in Judaism (for example, Qumran) and also in Hellenism.
Moreover, they put Christians themselves on guard against attitudes incompatible
with the Gospel (23:8-12).
Furthermore, the anti-Pharisee virulence of Mt 23 must be seen in the context
of the apocalyptic discourse of Mt 24-25. Apocalyptic language is employed in
times of persecution to strengthen the capacity for resistance on the part of
the persecuted minority, and to reinforce their hopes of a liberating divine
intervention. Seen in this perspective, the vigour of the polemic is less
Nevertheless, it must be recognised that Matthew does not always confine his
polemics to the leading class. The diatribe of Mt 23 against the scribes and
Pharisees is followed by an apostrophe addressed to Jerusalem. It is the whole
city that is accused of “killing the prophets” and of “stoning those sent
to it” (23:37), and it is for the whole city that punishment is predicted
(23:38). Of its magnificent Temple “there will not remain a stone upon a
stone” (24:2). Here is a situation parallel to Jeremiah's time (Jr 7:26). The
prophet announced the destruction of the Temple and the ruin of the city
(26:6,11). Jerusalem is about to become “a curse for all the nations of the
earth” (26:6), exactly the opposite of the blessing promised to Abraham and
his descendants (Gn 12:3; 22:18).
71. At the time of the Gospel's redaction, the greater part of the Jewish
population had followed their leaders in their refusal to believe in Christ
Jesus. Jewish Christians were only a minority. The evangelist, therefore,
foresees that Jesus' threats were about to be fulfilled. These threats were not
directed at Jews as Jews, but only insofar as they were in solidarity with their
leaders in their lack of docility to God. Matthew expresses this solidarity in
the passion narrative when he reports that at the instigation of the chief
priests and elders “the crowd” demands of Pilate that Jesus be crucified (Mt
27:20-23). In response to the Roman governor's denial of responsibility,
“all the people” present themselves took responsibility for putting Jesus to
death (27:24-25). On the people's side, adopting this position certainly
showed their conviction that Jesus merited death, but to the evangelist, such
conviction was unjustifiable: the blood of Jesus was “innocent blood”
(27:4), as even Judas recognised. Jesus would have made his own the words of
Jeremiah: “Know for certain that if you put me to death, you will be bringing
innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city and its inhabitants” (Jr
26:15). From an Old Testament perspective, the sins of the leaders inevitably
bring disastrous consequences for the whole community. If the Gospel was
redacted after 70 A.D., the evangelist knew that, like Jeremiah's prediction,
Jesus' prediction had also been fulfilled. But he did not see this fulfilment as
final, for all the Scriptures attest that after the divine sanction God always
opens up a positive perspective. 314 The discourse of Mt 23 does end
on a positive note. A day will come when Jerusalem will say: “Blessed is he
who comes in the name of the Lord” (23:39). Jesus' passion itself opens up the
most positive perspective of all, for, from his “innocent blood” criminally
shed, Jesus has constituted a “blood of the covenant”, “poured out for the
remission of sins” (26:38).
Like the people's cry in the passion narrative (27:25), the ending of the
parable of the tenants seems to indicate that, at the time of the Gospel's
composition, the majority of the Jews had followed their leaders in their
refusal to believe in Jesus. Indeed, having predicted that “the kingdom of God
will be taken away from you”, Jesus did not add that the kingdom would be
given “to other leaders”, but would be given “to a nation producing
its fruits” (21:43). The expression “a nation” is implicitly opposed to
the “people of Israel”; this assuredly suggests that a great number of the
subjects will not be of Jewish origin. The presence of Jews is in no way
excluded, for the Gospel community is aware that this “nation” will be set
up under the authority of the Twelve, in particular of Peter, and the Twelve are
Jews. With these and other Jews “many will come from east and west and will
eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the heirs
of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness” (8:11-12). This universal
outlook is definitively confirmed at the end of the Gospel, for the risen Jesus
commands the “eleven disciples” to go and teach “all the nations”
(28:19). This ending, at the same time, confirms the vocation of Israel, for
Jesus is a son of Israel and in him the prophecy of Daniel concerning Israel's
role in history is fulfilled. The words of the risen One: “All authority in
heaven and on earth has been given to me” 315 make explicit in what
sense the universal vision of Daniel and the other prophets are henceforth to be
Conclusion. More than the other Synoptic Gospels, Matthew is the Gospel of fulfilment —
Jesus has not come to abolish, but to fulfil — for it insists more on the
continuity with the Old Testament, basic for the idea of fulfilment. 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' defence. 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
2. The Gospel according to Mark
72. Mark's Gospel is a message of salvation that does not inform us as to who
the recipients are. The ending which has been added addresses it boldly “to
the whole of creation”, “into the whole world” (16:15), an address which
corresponds to its universalist openness. As regards the Jewish people, Mark,
himself a Jew, does not pass any judgement on them. The negative judgement of
Isaiah (29:13) is applied in Mark only to the Pharisees and scribes (Mk
7:5-7). Apart from the title “King of the Jews” which is applied to Jesus
five times in the passion narrative, 316 the title “Jew” appears
only once in the Gospel, in the course of explaining Jewish customs (7:3),
addressed obviously to non-Jews. This explanation comes in an episode in which
Jesus criticises the Pharisees' extreme attachment to “the tradition of the
elders”, causing them to neglect “the commandments of God” (7:8). Mark
mentions “Israel” only twice, 317 and twice also “the
people”. 318 In contrast, he frequently mentions “the crowd”,
for the most part certainly composed of Jews, and favourably disposed towards
Jesus, 319 except in one passion episode, where the chief priests
pressure them to choose Barabbas (15:11).
It is towards the religious and political authorities that Mark takes a critical
stance. His criticism is essentially of their lack of openness to the salvific
mission of Jesus: the scribes accuse Jesus of blasphemy, because he uses his
power to forgive sins (2:7-10); they do not accept that Jesus “eats with
publicans and sinners” (2:15-16); they say he is possessed by a devil
(3:22). Jesus has continually to face opposition from them and from the
The political authorities are less frequently called in question: Herod for the
death of John the Baptist (6:17-28) and for his “leaven”, juxtaposed with
that of the Pharisees (8:15), the Jewish Sanhedrin, a political-religious
authority (14:55; 15:1), and Pilate (15:15) for their role in the Passion.
In the passion narrative, the second Gospel attempts to reply to two
questions: By whom is Jesus condemned and why is he put to death? It begins by
giving a general answer that puts events in a divine light: all this happened
“so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled” (14:49). It then reveals the
role of the Jewish authorities and that of the Roman governor.
Jesus was arrested on the orders of the three components of the Sanhedrin,
“chief priests, scribes and elders” (14:43). The arrest was the end result
of a long process, set in motion in Mk 3:6, where, however, the protagonists are
different: there they are the Pharisees who have joined the Herodians to plot
against Jesus. A significant fact: it is in the first prediction of the passion
that “the elders, chief priests and scribes” appear together for the first
time (8:31). In 11:18 “the chief priests and the scribes” search for a way
to eliminate Jesus. The three categories meet in 11:27, to put Jesus through an
interrogation. Jesus recounts for them the parable of the murderous tenants;
their reaction is “to look for a way to arrest him” (12:12). In 14:1, their
intention is to apprehend him and “to put him to death”. The betrayal of
Jesus offers them a suitable opportunity (14:10-11). The arrest, followed by
condemnation and death, is therefore the work of the nation's ruling class at
that time. Mark regularly opposes the attitude of the leaders to that of “the
crowd” or “the people”, who are favourably disposed to Jesus. Three times
the evangelist notes that in their attempts 321 to have Jesus killed,
the authorities were inhibited by fear of the people's reaction. Nevertheless,
at the end of the trial before Pilate, the chief priests succeeded in
sufficiently inciting the attendant crowd to make them choose Barabbas (15:11)
in preference to Jesus (15:13). The final decision of Pilate, powerless to calm
the crowd, is to “satisfy” them, which, for Jesus, means crucifixion
(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.
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.
Conclusion. 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. 322
Rather, it is well to recall that the passion of Jesus is part of God's
mysterious plan, a plan of salvation, for Jesus came “to serve and to give his
life as a ransom for many” (10:45), and has made of the blood that he shed a
“blood of the covenant” (14:24).
The Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles
73. Addressed to the “most excellent Theophilus” to complete his Christian
instruction (Lk 1:3-4; Ac 1:1), the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts are
writings very open to universalism and, at the same time, very well disposed
The names “Israel”, “the Jews”, “the people”
The positive attitude to “Israel” is seen immediately in the infancy
narratives, where the name appears seven times. It is found only five times in
the rest of the Gospel, in much less positive contexts. The name of the Jews
appears only five times, three of which occur in the title “King of the
Jews” given to Jesus in the passion narrative. More significant is the use of
the word “people” which occurs thirty six times in the Gospel (as against
twice in Mark's Gospel), usually in a favourable light, even at the end of the
Passion narrative. 323
In Acts, there is a positive outlook from the beginning, because the apostles
announce the resurrection of Christ and the forgiveness of sins for “the whole
house of Israel” (2:36), and they attract numerous followers (2:41; 4:4). The
name Israel occurs fourteen times in the first part of Acts (Ac 1:6-13:24),
and a fifteenth time at the end (28:20). With forty eight occurances the word
“people” is much more frequent; “the people” are well disposed at first
to the Christian community (2:47; 5:26), in the end they follow is the example
of their leaders and turn hostile towards it (12:4,11), to the extent of seeking
the death of Paul, in particular (21:30-31). Paul insists on saying that he
“has done nothing against the people” (28:17). The same evolution is
reflected in the use of the word “Jews” (79 times).On the day of Pentecost
(2:5), the Jews whom Peter addresses and respectfully calls by that name (2:14),
are summoned to faith in the risen Christ and adhere to him in great numbers. At
the start, the Word is addressed exclusively to them (11:19). But very quickly,
especially after Stephen's martyrdom, they become persecutors. The putting to
death of James by Herod Antipas was an event that pleased them (12:2-3), and
their “anticipation” was that the same fate could be waiting for Peter
(12:11). Before his conversion, Paul was a relentless persecutor (8:3; cf. Ga
1:13); but after conversion, from persecutor he became the persecuted: already
at Damascus “the Jews plotted to kill him” (9:23). Nevertheless, Paul
continues to preach Christ “in the synagogues of the Jews” (13:5; 14:1) and
brings to the faith “a great multitude of Jews and Greeks” (14:1), but this
success provokes the hostile reaction of the “unbelieving Jews” (14:2). The
same treatment is frequently repeated, in various ways, right up to Paul's
arrest in Jerusalem, incited by “the Jews of the province of Asia” (21:27).
But Paul continues to proclaim with pride: “I am a Jew” (22:3). He suffers
the hostility of the Jews, but does not reciprocate.
The Gospel narrative
74. The infancy narrative creates an atmosphere very favourably disposed to the
Jewish people. The announcements of extraordinary births reveal “Israel”
(1:68) and “Jerusalem” (2:38) as beneficiaries of salvation in fulfilment of
an economy rooted in the people's history. The result is “a great joy for all
the people” (2:10), “redemption” (1:68-69), “salvation” (2:30-31),
“glory for your people” (2:32). This good news is well received. But a
future negative reaction to God's gift is glimpsed, for Simeon predicts to Mary
that her Son will become a “sign of contradiction” and foretells that “a
fall” will precede “the rising up” (or: the resurrection) “of many in
Israel” (2:34). Thus he opens up a deep perspective in which the Saviour is at
grips with hostile forces. A touch of universalism, inspired by Second Isaiah
(42:6; 49:6), joins the “light of revelation to the nations” to the “glory
of your people Israel” (2:32), a conjoining which clearly shows that
universalism does not mean being anti-Jewish.
In the rest of the Gospel, Luke inserts further touches of universalism: first
in relation to the preaching of John the Baptist (3:6; cf. Is 40:5), and then by
tracing the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam (3:38). However, the first episode
of Jesus' ministry at Nazareth at once shows that universalism will create
problems. Jesus appeals to his fellow townspeople to renounce a possessive
attitude to his miracles and accept that these gifts are also for the benefit of
foreigners (4:23-27). Their resentful reaction is violent; rejection and
attempted murder (4:28-29). Thus Luke clarifies in advance what the repeated
reaction of Jews will be to Paul's success among the Gentiles. The Jews
violently oppose a preaching that sweeps away their privileges as the chosen
people. 324 Instead of opening out to the universalism of Second
Isaiah, they follow Baruch's counsel not to share their privileges with
strangers (Ba 4:3). Other Jews resist that temptation and generously give
themselves to the service of evangelisation (Ac 18:24-26).
Luke reports gospel traditions depicting Jesus in conflict with the scribes and
Pharisees (Lk 5:17-6:11). In 6:11, however, he plays down the hostility of
those adversaries by not attributing to them a murderous intention from the
beginning, unlike Mk 3:6. Luke's polemical discourse against the Pharisees
(11:42-44), later extended to include the “lawyers” (11:46-52) is
considerably shorter than Mt 23:2-39. The parable of the Good Samaritan is an
instruction on the universality of love in reply to a lawyer's question (Lk
10:29,36-37). This puts the Jewish priest and Levite in a bad light, while
proposing a Samaritan as a model (cf. also 17:12-19). The parables of mercy
(15:4-32), addressed to the Pharisees and scribes, also urge an openness of
heart. The parable of the merciful father (15:11-32) who invites the elder son
to open his heart to the prodigal, does not directly apply to relations between
Jews and Gentiles, although this application is often made (the elder son
represents observant Jews who are less open to accepting pagans whom they
consider to be sinners). Luke's larger context, nevertheless, makes this
application possible because of his insistence on universalism.
The parable of the coins (19:11-27) has some very significant special
features. There is the pretender to royalty who suffers hostility from his
fellow citizens. He must go to a foreign country to be invested with royal
power. On his return, he has his opponents executed. This parable, together with
that of the murderous vineyard tenants (20:9-19), is a warning by Jesus of the
consequences of rejecting him. Other passages in Luke's Gospel expressing Jesus'
pain at the prospect of these tragic consequences, complete the picture: he
weeps over Jerusalem (19:41-44) and he disregards his own sufferings to
concentrate on the misfortune of the women and children of that city
Luke's passion narrative is not particularly severe on the Jewish authorities.
During Jesus' appearance before “the assembly of the elders of the people,
chief priests and scribes” (22:66-71), Luke spares Jesus from confrontation
with the High Priest, the accusation of blasphemy and condemnation, all of which
serve to play down the culpability of Jesus' enemies. They bring accusations of
a political order before Pilate (23:2). Pilate declares three times that Jesus
is innocent (23:4,14,22), but intends to “give him a lesson” (23:16,22) by
having him flogged, and finally succumbs to the growing pressure of the mob
(23:23-25) that includes “chief priests, leaders of the people” (23:13).
In the events that follow, the “leaders” remain hostile (23:35), while the
people are more favourably disposed towards Jesus (23:27,45,48), just as they
were during his public life, as we have already noted. Jesus prays for his
executioners whom he generously excuses, “for they do not know what they are
In the name of the risen Jesus “repentance and forgiveness of sins”
is to be “proclaimed to all the nations” (24:47). This universalism has no
polemical connotation, for the phrase emphasises that this preaching must
“begin from Jerusalem”. The perspective corresponds to Simeon's vision of
messianic salvation, prepared by God as “a light of revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel” (2:30-32).
Therefore, what the Third Gospel transmits to Acts is then substantially
favourable to the Jewish people. The forces of evil have had their “hour”.
“Chief priests, captains of the Temple guard and elders” have been their
instruments (22:52-53). But they have not prevailed. God's plan is fulfilled
in accordance with the Scriptures (24:25-27,44-47), and it is a merciful
plan for the salvation of all.
The Acts of the Apostles
75. The beginning of Acts depicts Christ's apostles passing from a narrow
perspective, the establishment of the kingdom for Israel (Ac 1:6), to a
universal one of witness “to the ends of the earth” (1:8). The Pentecost
episode, curiously enough, sympathetically places Jews in this universal
perspective: “There were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in
Jerusalem” (2:5). These Jews are the first recipients of the apostolic
preaching, symbolising at the same time the universal destination of the Gospel.
Luke suggests as well, more than once, that far from being mutually exclusive,
Judaism and universalism go together.
The kerygmatic or missionary discourses preach the mystery of Jesus by
emphasising the strong contrast between the human cruelty which put Jesus to
death and the liberating intervention of God who raised him up. “Israel's”
sin was to have “put to death the Prince of Life” (3:15). This sin, which is
principally that of the “leaders of the people” (4:8-10) or the
“Sanhedrin” (5:27:30), is recalled only as a basis for an appeal to
conversion and faith. Besides, Peter attenuates the culpability, not only of the
“Israelites” but even of their “leaders” by saying that they acted
“out of ignorance” (3:17). Such forbearance is impressive. It corresponds to
the teaching and attitude of Jesus (Lk 6:36-37; 23:34).
Nevertheless, the Christian preaching quickly stirs up opposition on the part of
the Jewish authorities. The Sadduccees oppose the apostles' “proclaiming that
in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead” (Ac 4:2) in which they do not
believe (Lk 20:27). But a very influential Pharisee, Gamaliel, takes the side of
the apostles in thinking that their enterprise possibly “comes from God” (Ac
5:39). Then opposition decreases for a while. It flares up again in Hellenistic
synagogues when Stephen, himself a Hellenistic Jew, works “great wonders and
signs among the people” (6:8-15). At the end of his discourse before members
of the Sanhedrin, Stephen has recourse to the invective of the prophets (7:51).
He is stoned. Following Jesus' example, he prays to the Lord that “this sin be
not held against them” (7:60; cf. Lk 23:34). “That day a severe persecution
began against the Church in Jerusalem” (Ac 8:1). “Saul” zealously took
part in it (8:3; 9:13).
After his conversion and during all his missionary journeys, he himself — as
we have already noted — experiences the opposition of his fellow countrymen,
sparked by the success of his universalist preaching. This is particularly
evident immediately after his arrest in Jerusalem. When he spoke “in the
Hebrew language”, “the assembly of people” (21:36) first heard him calmly
(22:2), but from the moment he mentions his being sent “to the nations”,
they get terribly agitated and demand his death (22:21-22).
Acts ends on a surprising, but all the more significant, note. Shortly after his
arrival in Rome, Paul “called together the local leaders of the Jews”
(28:17), a unique gesture. He wants “to convince them about Jesus both from
the Law of Moses and the prophets” (28:23). What he wished to obtain was not
individual adherents, but a collective decision involving the whole Jewish
community. After his unsuccessful attempt, he repeats the very harsh words of
Isaiah concerning the hardness of “this people” (28:25-27; Is 6:9-10),
and announces instead the docile acceptance that the nations will give to the
salvation offered by God (28:28). In this ending, which gives rise to
interminable discussion, Luke apparently wishes to accept the undeniable fact
that, in the end, the Jewish people collectively did not accept the Gospel of
Christ. At the same time, Luke wishes to reply to an objection that could be
made against the Christian faith, by showing that this situation had already
been foreseen in the Scriptures.
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.
4. The Gospel according to John
76. About the Jews, the Fourth Gospel has a very positive statement, made by
Jesus himself in the dialogue with the Samaritan woman: “Salvation comes from
the Jews” (Jn 4:22). 325 Elsewhere, to the statement of the High
Priest Caiaphas who said that it was “advantageous” “to have one man die
for the people”, the evangelist sees a meaning in the word inspired by God and
emphasises that “Jesus was about to die for the nation”, adding “not for
the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God” (Jn
11:49-52). The evangelist betrays a vast knowledge of Judaism, its feasts, its
Scriptures. The value of the Jewish patrimony is clearly acknowledged: Abraham
saw Jesus' day and was glad (8:56); the Law is a gift given through Moses as
intermediary (1:17); “the Scripture cannot be annulled” (10:35); Jesus is
the one “about whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote” (1:45); he
is “a Jew” (4:9) and “King of Israel” (1:49) or “King of the Jews”
(19:19-22). There is no serious reason to doubt that the evangelist was Jewish
and that the basic context for the composition of the Gospel was relations with
The word “Jews” is found 71 times in the Fourth Gospel, usually in the
plural, three times in the singular (3:25; 4:9; 18:35). It is applied especially
to “Jesus” (4:9). The name “Israelite” only appears once; it is a title
of honour (1:47). A certain number of Jews are well disposed to Jesus. One such
is Nicodemus, a “leader of the Jews” (3:1) who saw Jesus as a teacher come
from God (3:2), defends him before his Pharisee colleagues (7:50-51) and,
after his death on the cross, takes charge of his burial (19:39). At the end,
“many of the leaders” believed in Jesus, but lacked courage to declare
themselves as his disciples (12:42). The evangelist frequently reports that
“many” people came to believe in Jesus. 326 The context shows
that it is the Jews, except in 4:39,41; the evangelist is sometimes precise,
though rarely sufficiently so (8:31; 11:45; 12:11).
Nonetheless, “the Jews” are often hostile to Jesus. Their opposition begins
with the curing of the paralytic on the sabbath day (5:16). It intensifies when
Jesus makes himself “equal to God”; they try from then on to have him put to
death (5:18). Later, like the High Priest during the trial of Jesus in Mt 26:65
and Mk 14:64, they accuse him of “blasphemy” and try to punish him
accordingly by stoning (10:31-33). It has been noted with good reason that
much of the Fourth Gospel anticipates the trial of Jesus and gives him the
opportunity to defend himself and accuse his accusers. These are often called
“the Jews” without further precision, with the result that an unfavourable
judgement is associated with that name. But there is no question here of
anti-Jewish sentiment, since — as we have already noted — the Gospel
recognises that “salvation comes from the Jews” (4:22). This manner of
speaking only reflects the clear separation that existed between the Christian
and Jewish communities.
A more serious accusation made by Jesus against “the Jews” is that of having
the devil for a father (8:44); it should be noted that this accusation is not
made against the Jews insofar as they are Jews, but, on the contrary, insofar as
they are not true Jews, since they entertain murderous intentions (8:37),
inspired by the devil, who is “a murderer from the beginning” (8:44). The
only concern here is a small number of Jesus' contemporaries, paradoxically, of
“Jews who had believed in him” (8:31). By accusing them openly, the Fourth
Gospel puts other Jews on guard against the temptation to similar murderous
77. By translating “the Jews” as “the Judeans”, an attempt has been made
to eliminate the tensions that the Fourth Gospel can provoke between Christians
and Jews. The contrast then would not be between the Jews and Jesus' disciples,
but between the inhabitants of Judea, presented as hostile to Jesus, and those
of Galilee, presented as flocking to their prophet. Contempt by Judeans for
Galileans is certainly expressed in the Gospel (7:52), but the evangelist did
not draw the lines of demarcation between faith and refusal to believe along
geographical lines, he distinguishes Galilean Jews who reject Jesus' teaching as
hoi Ioudaioi (6:41,52).
Another interpretation of “the Jews” identifies them with “the world”
based on affirmations which express a comparison (8:23) or parallelism between
them. 327 But the world of sinners, by all accounts, extends beyond
Jews who are hostile to Jesus.
It has also been noted that in many Gospel passages “the Jews” referred to
are the Jewish authorities (chief priests, members of the Sanhedrin) or
sometimes the Pharisees. A comparison between 18:3 and 18:12 points in this
direction. In the passion narrative, John frequently mentions “the Jews”
where the Synoptics speak of Jewish authorities. But this observation holds good
only for a certain restricted number of passages and such precision cannot be
introduced into a translation of the Gospel without being unfaithful to the
text. These are echoes of opposition to Christian communities, not only on the
part of the Jewish authorities, but from the vast majority of Jews, in
solidarity with their leaders (cf. Ac 28:22). 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. 328 But these succeeded in provoking a
general demonstration in favour of Barabbas and against Jesus, 329
which permitted the evangelist to use a general expression, anticipating a later
At times in the Gospel the separation of Jesus' disciples from “the Jews” is
evident in the expulsion from the synagogue imposed on Jews who believed in
Jesus. 330 It is possible that the Jews in the Johannine communities
experienced this treatment, since they would be considered unfaithful to Jewish
monotheistic faith (which, in fact, was not at all the case, since Jesus said:
“I and the Father are one”: 10:30). The result was that it became
almost standard to use “the Jews” to designate those who kept this name for
themselves alone, in their opposition to the Christian faith.
78. Conclusion. The ministry of Jesus stirred up the mounting opposition
on the part of the Jewish authorities, who, finally, decided to hand Jesus over
to the Roman authorities to have him put to death. But he arose alive to give
true life to all who believe in him. The Fourth Gospel recalls these events, and
re-evaluates them in the light of the experience of the Johannine communities
that had encountered opposition from the Jewish communities.
The actions and words of Jesus show that he had a very close filial relationship
with God that was unique of its kind. The apostolic catechesis progressively
deepened its understanding of this relationship. 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).
Christians, no longer able to participate in Jewish cultic life, became more
aware of the plenitude they had received from the Word made flesh (1:16). The
risen Christ is the source of living water (7:37-38), light of the world
(8:12), bread of life (6:35), and new Temple (2:19-22). Having loved his own
to the end (13:1), he gave them his new commandment of love (13:34). Everything
must be done to stir up faith in him, and, through faith, life (20:31). In the
Gospel, polemics are secondary. What is of the greatest importance is the
revelation of the “gift of God” (4:10; 3:16), which is offered to all in
Jesus Christ, especially to those “who have pierced him” (19:37).
The Gospels reveal that the fulfilment of God's plan necessarily brought with it
a confrontation with evil, which must be eradicated from the human heart. This
confrontation puts Jesus at odds with the leaders of his people, just like the
ancient prophets. Already in the Old Testament, the people of God were seen
under two antithetical aspects: on the one hand, as a people called to be
perfectly united to God; and on the other, as a sinful people. These two aspects
could not fail to manifest themselves during Jesus' ministry. During the
Passion, the negative aspect seemed to prevail, even among the Twelve. But the
resurrection showed that, in reality, the love of God was victorious and
obtained for all the pardon of sin and a new life.
The Jews in the Pauline Letters and other New Testament Writings
79. The Pauline Letters will be considered in accordance with the most commonly
accepted groupings: first, seven Letters generally recognised as authentic (Rm,
1-2 Co, Ga, Ph, I Th, Phm), then Ephesians and Colossians, the Pastorals
(1-2 Tm, Tt). Finally, the Letter to the Hebrews, the Letters of Peter, James
and Jude, and the Book of Revelation will be looked at.
1. Jews in the undisputed Pauline Letters
Personally, Paul continued to be proud of his Jewish origin (Rm 11:1). Referring
to the time preceding his conversion, he says: “I advanced in Judaism beyond
many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the
traditions of my ancestors” (Ga 1:14). Having become an apostle of Christ, he
says of his adversaries: “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So
am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I” (2 Co 11:22). Still, he can
relativise all these advantages by saying: “These I have come to regard as
loss because of Christ” (Ph 3:7).
Nonetheless, he continues to think and reason like a Jew. His thought is visibly
permeated by Jewish ideas. In his writings, as was mentioned above, we find not
only continual references to the Old Testament, but many traces of Jewish
traditions as well. Furthermore, Paul often uses rabbinic techniques of exegesis
and argumentation (cf. I. D. 3, no. 14).
Paul's ties to Judaism are also seen in his moral teaching. In spite of his
opposition to the pretentions of those who kept the Law, he himself includes a
precept of the Law, Lv 19:18 (“You shall love your neighbour as yourself”)
to sum up the whole of the moral life. 332 Summing up the Law in one
precept is typically Jewish, as the well-known anecdote about Rabbi Hillel and
Rabbi Shammai, Jesus' contemporaries, demonstrates. 333
What attitude did the apostle adopt towards the Jews? In principle, a positive
one. He calls them: “My brothers, my kindred according to the flesh” (Rm
9:3). Convinced that the Gospel of Christ is “the power of God for the
salvation of everyone who has faith, to the Jews first” (Rm 1:16), he desired
to transmit the faith to them and spared no effort to that end. He could say:
“To the Jews I became a Jew, in order to win Jews” (1 Co 9:20) and even:
“To those under the Law I became as one under the Law — though I myself am
not under the Law — so that I might win those under the Law” (1 Co 9:20).
Likewise in his apostolate to the Gentiles, he endeavoured to be indirectly
useful to his fellow Jews, “in the hope of saving some of them” (Rm 11:14).
For this, he relied on emulation (11:11,14): that the sight of the marvellous
spiritual enrichment that faith in Christ Jesus gave to pagan converts, would
stir up the desire among the Jews not to be outdone, and would lead them also to
be receptive to the faith.
The resistance mounted by the majority of Jews to the Christian preaching
produced in Paul's heart “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” (Rm 9:2),
clear evidence of his great affection for them. He said that he himself was
willing to accept on their behalf the greatest and most inconceivable sacrifice,
to be branded “accursed”, separated from Christ (9:3). His afflictions and
suffering forced him to search for a solution: in three lengthy chapters (Rm
9-11), he goes to the heart of the problem, or rather the mystery, of Israel's
place in God's plan, in the light of Christ and of the Scriptures, without
giving up until he is able to conclude: “and so all Israel will be saved”
(Rm 11:26). These three chapters in the Letter to the Romans constitute the most
profound reflection in the whole of the New Testament on Jews who do not believe
in Jesus. Paul expressed there his most mature reflections.
The solution he proposed is based on the Scriptures which, in certain places,
promised salvation only to a “remnant” of Israel. 334 In this
phase of salvation history then, there is only a “remnant” of Israelites who
believe in Christ Jesus, but this situation is not definitive. Paul observes
that, from now on, the presence of the “remnant” proves that God has not
“rejected his people” (11:1). This people continues to be “holy”, that
is, in close relationship with God. It is holy because it comes from a holy
root, the ancestors, and because their “first fruits” have been blessed
(11:16). Paul does not make it clear whether by “first fruits” he means
Israel's ancestors, or the “remnant” sanctified by faith and baptism. He
exploits the agricultural metaphor of the tree when he speaks of branches being
cut off and grafted (11:17-24). It is understood that the cut off branches are
Israelites who have refused to believe in Christ Jesus and that those grafted on
are Gentile Christians. To these — as we have already noted — Paul preaches
humility: “It is not you that support the root, but the root that supports
you” (11:18). To the branches that have been cut off, Paul opens up a positive
perspective: “God has the power to graft them on again” (11:23); this would
be easier than in the case of the Gentiles, since it is “their own olive
tree” (11:24). In the final analysis, God's plan for Israel is entirely
positive: “their stumbling means riches for the world”, “how much more
will their full inclusion mean?” (11:12). They are assured of a covenant of
mercy by God (11:27,31).
80. In the years preceding the writing of the Letter to the Romans, because he
experienced fierce opposition from many of his “relatives according to the
flesh”, Paul occasionally expressed strong defensive reactions. On the
opposition of the Jews, Paul wrote: “From the Jews I received forty lashes
minus one” (cf. Dt 25:3). A little later he notes what he must do in the face
of danger from brothers of his race as well as from Gentiles (2 Co 11:24,26).
The recalling of these sad experiences elicits no comment from Paul. He is ready
to “participate in the sufferings of Christ” (Ph 3:10). But what provokes an
animated reaction are the obstacles placed by Jews in the way of his apostolate
to the Gentiles. This is evident in a passage in the First Letter to the
Thessalonians (2:14-16). These verses are so much at variance with Paul's
habitual attitude towards the Jews that attempts have been made to demonstrate
that they are not from Paul, or to play down their vehemence. But the unanimous
testimony of manuscripts renders their exclusion impossible, and the tenor of
the whole does not permit restriction to the inhabitants of Judea, as has been
suggested. The final verse is pungent: “God's wrath has overtaken them at
last” (1 Th 2:16). One is reminded of Jeremiah's predictions 335
and of a phrase in 2 Ch 36:16: “The wrath of the Lord against his people
became so great that there was no remedy”. These predicted the national
catastrophe of 587 B.C.: the siege and capture of Jerusalem, the burning of the
Temple, the deportation. Paul apparently foresees a catastrophe of similar
proportions. It is worth noting, though, that the events of 587 were not the
end. The Lord then had pity on his people. It follows that the terrible
prediction of Paul — one which unfortunately came to pass — did not exclude
a subsequent reconciliation.
In 1 Th 2:14-16, in the context of sufferings inflicted on the Thessalonian
Christians by their compatriots, Paul recalls that the churches in Judea had
suffered the same fate at the hands of the Jews, and accuses them of a series of
crimes: they “killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out”;
then in the present tense: “they displease God and are hostile to all men in
their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be
saved”. It is clear that the last is more important to Paul than the two
preceding negative appraisals. Because the Jews are an obstacle to the Christian
preaching addressed to the Gentiles, they “oppose all men” 336
and “they displease God”. In opposing the Christian preaching, the Jews of
Paul's time show themselves in solidarity with the ancestors who killed the
prophets, and with their own brothers who demanded that Jesus be condemned to
death. The formulae used by Paul seem to suggest that the death of Jesus is to
be attributed to all Jews indiscriminately without distinction: anti-Jewish
interpreters understand them in this sense. Put in context, however, they refer
only to Jews who were opposed to preaching to the pagans and therefore opposed
their salvation. When the opposition ceases, the accusation does as well.
Another polemical passage is found in Ph 3:2-3: “Beware of the dogs, beware
of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh (katatom)!
For it is we who are the circumcision (peritom)”. Whom has the apostle
in mind here? Since the reference is not explicit enough, it does not allow us
any certainty, but the interpretation that Jews are envisaged, can at least be
excluded. According to a current opinion, Paul would have in mind judaising
Christians, who wished to impose circumcision on Christians from the
“nations”. Paul aggressively applies to them a term of contempt, “dogs”,
a metaphor for the ritual impurity that the Jews sometimes attributed to the
Gentiles (Mt 15:26). He downgrades circumcision of the flesh by ironically
calling it “mutilation” (cf. Ga 5:12), and opposes to it a spiritual
circumcision, similar to Deuteronomy's circumcision of the heart. 337
The context, in this case, would have been the controversy about Jewish
observances within the Christian churches, as in the Letter to the Galatians. It
would probably be better to see a reference, as in Rv 22:15, to the pagan
context in which the Philippians lived, and to assume that Paul is referring
here to pagan customs: sexual perversions, immoral acts, cultic mutilations
associated with orgiastic cults. 338
81. On the matter of Abraham's descendants, Paul makes a distinction — as we
have already indicated — between the “children of the promise like Isaac”,
who are also children “according to the Spirit”, and children “according
to the flesh”. 339 It is not enough to be “children of the
flesh” in order to be “children of God” (Rm 9:8), for the essential
condition is commitment to him whom “God has sent... so that we might receive
the adoption of sons” (Ga 4:4-5).
In another context, the apostle omits this distinction, and speaks of the Jews
in general. He declares that they have the privilege of being the depositories
of divine revelation (Rm 3:1-2). Nevertheless, this privilege has not exempted
them from sin's dominion over them (3:9-19), hence it is still necessary to
gain justification by faith in Christ rather than by the observance of the Law
When he considers the situation of Jews who have not followed Christ, Paul
insists on affirming his profound esteem for them by enumerating the marvellous
gifts which they have received from God: “They are Israelites, and to them
belong the adoption, 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, who is over all, God blessed forever.
Amen” (Rm 9:4-5). 340 Despite the absence of verbs, it can
scarcely be doubted that Paul wishes to speak of these gifts as still actually
possessed (cf. 11:29), even if, from his viewpoint, possession of them is not
sufficient, for they refuse God's most important gift, his Son, although
physically he is one with them. Paul attests that “they are zealous for
God”, adding: “but it is not enlightened. For being ignorant of the
righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have
not submitted to God's righteousness” (10:2-3). Nevertheless, God does not
abandon them. His plan is to show them mercy. “The hardening” which affects
“a part of” Israel is only provisional and has its usefulness for the time
being (11:25); it will be followed by salvation (11:26). Paul sums up the
situation in an antithetical phrase, followed by a positive affirmation:
“As regards the Gospel they are enemies of God for your sake;
as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors;
for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (11:28-29).
Paul views the situation realistically. Between Christ's disciples and the Jews
who do not believe in him, the relation is one of opposition. These Jews call
the Christian faith into question; they do not accept that Jesus is their
Messiah (Christ) and the Son of God. Christians cannot but contest the
position of these Jews. But at a level deeper than opposition there exists from
now on a loving relationship that is definitive; the other is only temporary.
2. Jews in the other Letters
82. The Letter to the Colossians contains the word “Jew” only once,
in a sentence that says, in the new man “there is no longer Greek and Jew”,
adding as well a parallel expression: “circumcised and uncircumcised”; there
is only Christ “who is all and in all” (Col 3:11). This phrase, which
recalls the teaching of Ga 3:28 and Rm 10:12, denies any importance to being a
Jew from the point of view of a relationship with Christ. It passes no judgement
on Jews, any more than it does on Greeks.
The value of cirumcision before the coming of Christ is indirectly affirmed,
when the author recalls for the Colossians that formerly they were “dead in
trespasses and the uncircumcision of [their] flesh” (2:13). But the value of
Jewish circumcision is eclipsed by “circumcision in Christ”, “a
circumcision not made with hands, by putting off the body of the flesh”
(2:11); there is here an allusion to Christians' participation in Christ's death
through baptism (cf. Rm 6:3-6). The result is that Jews who do not believe in
Christ are in an unsatisfactory situation from a religious point of view; but
this is not expressed.
The Letter to the Ephesians does not use the word “Jew” even once. It
mentions only once “uncircumcision” and “circumcision”, in a phrase
alluding to the contempt that Jews have for pagans. The latter were “called
‘the uncircumcision' by those who are called ‘the circumcision'” (2:11).
Elsewhere, in conformity with the teaching of the Letters to the Galatians and
Romans, the author, speaking in the name of Jewish-Christians, describes in
negative terms the situation of Jews before their conversion: they were among
the “sons of disobedience” together with the pagans (2:2-3), and their
conduct served “the passions of [their] flesh”; they were then “by nature
children of wrath, like everyone else” (2:3). However, another passage in the
Letter indirectly gives a different image of the situation of the Jews, this
time a positive image, by describing the sad lot of non-Jews who were
“without Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the
covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world” (2:12).
The privileges of the Jews are here recalled and greatly appreciated.
The principal theme of the Letter is precisely an enthusiastic affirmation that
those privileges, brought to their culmination by Christ's coming, are
henceforth accessible to the Gentiles, who “have become fellow heirs, members
of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus” (3:6). The
crucifixion of Christ is understood as an event that has destroyed the wall of
separation erected by the Law between Jews and Gentiles, and so has demolished
the hatred between them (2;14). The perspective is one of perfectly harmonious
relations. Christ is the peace between both, in such a way as to create from the
two a unique new man, and to reconcile both with God in one body (2:15-16).
The refusal of the Christian faith given by the majority of Jews is not
mentioned. The atmosphere remains eirenic.
Concerned with the internal organisation of the Christian communities, the Pastoral
Letters never speak of the Jews. There is a single allusion to “those of
the circumcison” (Ti 1:10), but this refers to Jewish-Christians belonging
to the community. They are criticised for being, more so than other members of
the community, “rebellious people, idle talkers and deceivers”. Besides, the
putting on guard against “endless genealogies” found in 1 Ti 1:10 and Ti
3:9, probably refers to Jewish speculations about Old Testament personages,
“Jewish myths” (Ti 1;4).
Neither does the Letter to the Hebrews mention “the Jews” or even
“the Hebrews”! It does mention once “the sons of Israel”, in reference
to the Exodus (Heb 11:22), and twice “the people of God”. 341 It
speaks of Jewish priests when it recalls “those who officiate in the tent”
(13:10), pointing out the distance that separates them from the Christian cult.
On the positive side, it recalls Jesus' connection with “the descendants of
Abraham” (2:16) and the tribe of Judah (7:14). The author points out the
deficiencies of Old Testament institutions, especially the sacrificial cult, but
always basing himself on the Old Testament itself, whose value as divine
revelation he always fully recognises. With regard to the Israelites of the
past, the author's appreciation is not one-sided, but corresponds faithfully
to that of the Old Testament itself: that is, on the one hand, by quoting and
commenting on Ps 95:7-11, he recalls the lack of faith of the generation of
the Exodus, 342 but on the other hand, he paints a magnificent fresco
of examples of faith given throughout the ages by Abraham and his descendants
(11:8-38). Speaking of Christ's Passion, the Letter to the Hebrews makes no
mention of the responsibility of the Jewish authorities, but simply says that
Jesus endured strong opposition “on the part of sinners”. 343
The same holds for the First Letter of Peter, which evokes Christ's
Passion by saying that “the Lord” was “rejected by men” (1 Pt
2:4) without further precision. The Letter confers on Christians the glorious
titles of the Israelite people, 344 but without any polemical intent.
It never mentions the Jews. The same is true for the Letter of James, the Second
Letter of Peter and the Letter of Jude. These Letters are steeped in Jewish
teaching, but do not touch on the relationship between the Christian Church and
3. Jews in the Book of Revelation
83. A very favourable attitude towards the Jews is evident throughout the book,
but especially in the mention of 144,000 “servants of our God” marked “on
their foreheads” with the “sign of the living God” (Rv 7:2-4) coming
from all the tribes of Israel which are enumerated one by one (a unique case in
the New Testament: Rv 7:5-8). Revelation reaches its high point in its
description of “the new Jerusalem” (Rv 21:2) with its “twelve gates” on
which the names are inscribed “which are those of the twelve tribes of
Israel” (21:12), in parallel to “the names of the twelve apostles of the
Lamb”, inscribed on the twelve foundations of the city (21:14).
Regarding the “so-called Jews” mentioned in two parallel passages (2:9 and
3:9), the author rejects their pretensions and calls them a “synagogue of
Satan”. In 2:9, these “so-called Jews” are accused of defaming the
Christian community of Smyrna. In 3:9, Christ announces that they will be
compelled to pay homage to the Christians of Philadelphia. These passages
suggest that Christians are denying the title of Jew to the Israelites who
defame them, and range themselves on the side of Satan, “the accuser of our
brothers” (Rv 12:10). There is a then positive appreciation of “Jew” as a
title of honour, an honour that is denied to a synagogue which is actively
hostile to Christians.
A. General Conclusion
84. 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.
The New Testament recognises the divine authority of the Jewish Scriptures and
supports itself on this authority. When the New Testament speaks of the
“Scriptures” and refers to “that which is written”, it is to the Jewish
Scriptures that it refers. It affirms that these Scriptures must of necessity be
fulfilled, since they define God's plan which cannot fail to be realised,
notwithstanding the obstacles encountered and the human resistance opposing it.
To that the New Testament adds that these Scriptures are indeed fulfilled in the
life of Jesus, his Passion and resurrection, as well as in the foundation of the
Church that is open to all the nations. All of these bind Christians and Jews
closely together, for the foremost aspect of scriptural fulfilment is that of
accord and continuity. This is fundamental. Inevitably, fulfilment brings
discontinuity on certain points, because without it there can be no progress.
This discontinuity is a source of disagreements between Christians and Jews, no
purpose is served by hiding the fact. But it was wrong, in times past, to
unilaterally insist on it to the extent of taking no account of the fundamental
This continuity has deep roots and manifests itself at many levels. That is why
in Christianity the link between Scripture and Tradition is similar to that in
Judaism. Jewish methods of exegesis are frequently employed in the New
Testament. The Christian canon of the Old Testament owes its formation to the
first century Jewish Scriptures. To properly interpret the New Testament,
knowledge of the Judaism of this period is often necessary.
85. But it is especially in studying the great themes of the Old Testament and
their continuation in the New which accounts for the impressive symbiosis that
unites the two parts of the Christian Bible and, at the same time, the vigorous
spiritual ties that unite the Church of Christ to the Jewish people. In both
Testaments, it is the same God who enters into relationship with human beings
and invites them to live in communion with him; the one God and the source of
unity; God the Creator who continues to provide for the needs of his creatures,
in particular those who are intelligent and free, and who are called to
recognise the truth and to love; God especially is the Liberator and Saviour of
human beings, because, although created in his image, they have fallen through
sin into a pitiful slavery.
Since it is a project for inter-personal relationships, God's plan is realised
in history. It is impossible to discover what that plan is by philosophical
speculation on the human being in general. God reveals this plan by
unforeseeable initiatives, in particular, by the call addressed to an individual
chosen from all the rest of humanity, Abraham (Gn 12:1-3), and by guiding the
destiny of this person and his posterity, the people of Israel (Ex 3:10). A
central Old Testament theme (Dt 7:6-8), Israel's election continues to be of
fundamental importance in the New Testament. Far from calling it into question,
the birth of Jesus confirms it in the most spectacular manner. Jesus is “son
of David, son of Abraham” (Mt 1:1). He comes “to save his people from their
sins” (1:21). He is the Messiah promised to Israel (Jn 1:41,45); he is “the
Word” (Logos) come “to his own” (Jn 1:11-14). The salvation he
brings through his paschal mystery is offered first of all to the Israelites.
345 As foreseen by the Old Testament, this salvation has universal
repercussions as well. 346 It is also offered to the Gentiles.
Moreover, it is accepted by many of them, to the extent that they have become
the great majority of Christ's disciples. But 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
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 “fulfilment of the Law”
(Rm 13:10). As regards the earthly Temple, the New Testament, borrowing terms
prepared by the Old Testament, relativises 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
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.
B. Pastoral Orientations
86. 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”. 347 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
emphasised on the day of the promulgation of the conciliar document Nostra
With this text, Vatican Two 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)”. 349
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”. 350 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 favoured brothers and, in a certain sense, one can
say our elder brothers”. 351 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”. 352 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 Saviour,
Israelites are still “loved” (Rm 11:29). Whoever wishes to be united to God,
must also love them.
87. 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 inadmissable, but they must be understood
in their historical and literary contexts. The slow historical progress of
revelation must be recognised: 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
The fact that the New Testament is essentially a proclamation of the fulfilment
of God's plan in Jesus Christ, puts it in serious disagreement with the vast
majority of the Jewish people who do not accept this fulfilment. The New
Testament then expresses at one and the same time its attachment to Old
Testament revelation and its disagreement with the Synagogue. This discord is
not to be taken as “anti-Jewish sentiment”, for it is disagreement at the
level of faith, the source of religious controversy between two human groups
that take their point of departure from the same Old Testament faith basis, but
are in disagreement on how to conceive the final development of that faith.
Although profound, such disagreement in no way implies reciprocal hostility. 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 favour
of a better understanding of the patrimony they share and to strengthen the
links that bind them.
(1) See the presentation of this phase of Augustine's spiritual journey in the
work of Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, A Biography, London, 1967,
(2) A von Harnack, Marcion, 1920. Reissued Darmstadt 1985, XII and 217.
(3) The decisive breakthrough for an appreciation of Origen's exegesis was made
by H. de Lubacin his work Histoire et Esprit. L'intelligence de l'Écriture
d'après Origène, Paris 1950. Since then, the works of H. Crouzelespecially
merit attention (for example, Origene, 1985). A good overview of the
state of research is given by H.-J. Siebenin his Einleitung zu Origenes. In
Lucam homiliae, Fribourg, 1991, pp. 7-53. A synthesis of the various works of
H. de Lubac on the question of the interpretation of Scripture is given in the
work edited by J. Voderholzer, H. de Lubac, Typologie, Allegorese, Geistiger
Sinn. Studien zur Geschichte der christlichen Schriftauslegung, Johannes
Verlag, Fribourg 1999.
(4) Translated from the French by Maurice Hogan.
(5) For example, angelos, “messenger” or “angel”, gin(o-)skein,
“to know” or “to have relations with”, diathk, “testament”
or “pact”, “covenant”, nomos, “law” or “revelation”, ethn,
“nations” or “pagans”.
(6) For example, in the Gospel of Matthew there are 160 implicit quotations and
allusions; 60 in the Gospel of Mark; 192 in the Gospel of Luke; 137 in the
Gospel of John; 140 in Acts; 72 in the Letter to the Romans, etc.
(7) There are 38 quotations in Matthew; 15 in Mark; 15 in Luke; 14 in John; 22
in Acts; 47 in Romans and so on.
(8) Rm 10:8; Ga 3:16; Heb 8:8; 10:5.
(9) Subjects understood: Scripture (Rm 10:8; cf. 10:11), the Lord (Ga 3:16; cf.
Gn 13:14-15; Heb 8:8; cf. 8:8,9), Christ (Heb 10:5).
(10) Subjects expressed: “Scripture” (Rm 9:17; Ga 4:30); “the Law” (Rm
3:19; 7:7); “Moses” (Mk 7:10; Ac 3:22; Rm 10:19), “David” (Mt 22:43; Ac
2:25; 4:25; Rm 4:6), “the prophet” (Mt 1:22; 2:15), “Isaiah” (Mt 3:3;
4:14, etc., Jn 1:23; 12:39,41; Rm 10:16,20), “Jeremiah” (Mt 2:17), “the
Holy Spirit” (Ac 1:16; Heb 3:7; 10:15), “the Lord” (Heb 8:8,9,10 = Jr
(11) Rm 9:15,17; 1 Tm 5:18.
(12) Mt 2:5; 4:10; 26:31, etc.
(13) 1 Co 9:8; Rm 6:19; Ga 3:15.
(14) Rm 15:4; cf. 1 Co 10:11.
(15) Mk 8:31; cf. Mt 16:21; Lk 9:22; 17:25.
(16) Mt 1:22; 2:15; 2:23; Mt 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4.
(17) Jn 12:38; 13:18; 15:25; 17:12; 19:24,28,36.
(18) Mk 14:49; cf. Mt 26:56; Jn 19:28.
(19) Lk 24:27; cf. 24:25,32, 45-46.
(20) Passion: Ac 4:25-26; 8:32-35; 13:27-29; Resurrection: 2:25-35;
4:11; 13:32-35; Pentecost: 2:16-21; missionary outreach: 13:47; 15:18.
(21) Ga 3:6-14,24-25; 4:4-7; Rm 3:9-26; 6:14; 7:5-6.
(22) According to rabbinic understanding, the written Law was duplicated by a
complementary oral Law.
(23) The origin and extension of the canon of the Jewish Bible will be treated
below in I.E., no. 16.
(24) Ezk 47:1-12 followed by Jl 2:18,27 and Za 14:8-11.
(25) Heb 1:5-13; 2:6-9; 3:7-4:11; 7:1-28; 10:5-9; 12:5-11, 26-29.
(26) Qal wa-homer is found in Mt 6:30; 7:11; Jn 7:23; 10:34-36; Rm
5:15,17; 2 Co 3:7-11; gezerah shawah in Mt 12:1-4; Ac 2:25-28; Rm
4:1-12; Ga 3:10-14.
(27) Cf. Ga 3:19 (Paul derives from the mediation of angels in the promulgation
of the Law an argument to demonstrate the inferiority of the Law); 4:21-31
(the mention of Sarah and Hagar serves to demonstrate that Gentiles who believe
in Christ are “children of the promise”); Rm 4:1-10 (it is the faith of
Abraham, not circumcision, that justifies him); 10:6-8 (the verse that speaks
of ascending the heavens is applied to Christ); 1 Co 10:4 (Christ is identified
with the rock that accompanied the people in the desert); 15:45-47 (the two
Adams, of whom Christ is the second and more perfect); 2 Co 3:13-16 (a
symbolic meaning is attributed to the veil that covered Moses' face).
(28) Cf. Ep 4:8-9 (where a text on ascending the heavens, traditionally
applied to Moses, is applied to Christ); Heb 7:1-28 (on the superiority of the
priesthood according to Melchizedek over that of the levitical priests).
(29) 1 QH 2:31-36; 5:12-16; 18:14-16.
(30) Jews count 24 books in their Bible, called TaNaK,
a word formed from the initials of Tôr~h, "Law", Nebi'im,
"Prophets", and Ketubim, other "Writings". The
number 24 was often reduced to 22, the number of letters in the Hebrew
alphabet. In the Christian canon, to these 24/22 books correspond 39 books,
called "protocanonical". The numerical difference is explained by
the fact that the Jews regarded as one book several writings that are distinct
in the Christian canon, the writings of the Twelve Prophets, for example.
31) The Catholic Church accepts 46 books in its Old Testament
canon, 39 protocanonical books and 7 deuterocanonical, so called because the
former were accepted with little or no debate, while the latter (Sirach, Baruch,
Tobit, Judith, Wisdom 1,2 Maccabees and parts of Esther and Daniel) were
accepted only after centuries of hesitation (on the part of certain Eastern
Church Fathers as well as Jerome); the Churches of the Reformation call these
(32) In Contra Apion(1:8), written between 93 and 95, Josephus comes very close to the idea of a
canon of Scripture, but his vague reference to books to which titles had not yet
been attached (later called the “Writings”), shows that Judaism had not yet
accepted a definitive collection of books.
(33) The so-called Council of Jamnia was more in the nature of a school or an
academy that sat in Jamnia between the years 75 and 117. There is no evidence of
a decision drawing up a list of books. It seems that the canon of the Jewish
Scriptures was not definitively fixed before the end of the second century.
Scholarly discussion on the status of certain books continued into the third
(34) If the early Church had received from Alexandria a closed canon or a closed
list of books, one would expect that the existing manuscripts of the Septuagint
and the Christian lists of Old Testament books would be virtually the same. But
this is not the case. The Old Testament lists of books of the Church Fathers and
early councils do not have such unanimity. It was not the Alexandrian Jews who
fixed the exclusive canon of Scripture, but the Church, beginning from the
(35) These books comprised not only writings originally composed in Hebrew and
translated into Greek, but also writings composed in Greek.
(36) Cf. Denziger-Huenermann, Enchiridion Symbolorum, 36th edition,
Fribourg-im-Breisgau, Basil, Rome, Vienna 1991, nos 1334-1336,
(37) For the origin of this title, see above no. 2. Today in certain circles
there is a tendency to use “First Testament” to avoid any negative
connotation attached to “Old Testament”. But “Old Testament” is a
biblical and traditional expression which of itself does not have a negative
connotation: the Church fully recognises the importance of the Old Testament.
(38) Cf. I. D.: “Jewish Exegetical Methods employed in the New Testament”,
(39) Cf. Rm 5:14; 1 Co 10:6; Heb 9:24; 1 P 3:21.
(40) Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1a, q. 1, a. 10ad 1um; cf. also Quodl.
(41) Is 35:1-10; 40:1-5; 43:1-22; 48:12-21; 62.
(42) Cf. below II B.9 and C, nos 54-65.
(43) “Non solum impletur, verum etiam transcenditur”, Ambroise Autpert,
quoted by H. de Lubac, Exégèse médiévale, II.246.
(44) 2 Co 5:17; Ga 6:15.
(45) Cf. the document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, The
Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, I.C.2.: “Approach through
Recourse to Jewish Traditions of Interpretation”.
(46) Gn 12:1-3; 26:23-24; 46:2-4.
(47) Ex 20:1; 24:3-8; 34:27-28; cf. Nb 15:31.
(48) Ho 12:14; Dt 18:15,18.
(49) Is 6:5-8; Jr 1:4-10; Ez 2:1-3:3.
(50) Is 55:11; Jr 20:9.
(51) Mt 21:11, 46; Lk 7:16; 24:19; Jn 4:19; 6:14; 7:40; 9:17.
(52) The word lordis usually put in capitals here since the Hebrew text has the
unpronounced tetragrammaton YHWH, the proper name of the God of Israel. In
reading, the Jews substituted other words, especially 'adonaï, ”Lord”.
(53) Dt 4:35,39; Is 45:6,14.
(54) 1 Co 8:4; cf. Ga 3:20; Jm 2:19.
(55) Ps 115:15; 121:2; 124:8; 134:3; 146:6.
(56) Is 42:5; 44:24; 45:11; 48:13.
(57) Pr 8:22-31; 14:31; 17:5; Jb 38; Ws 9:1-2.
(58) Ps 139:13-15; Jb 10:9-12.
(59) Jb 26:12-13; Ps 74:12-23; 89:10-15; Is 45:7-8; 51:9-11.
(60) Mt 6:25-26; cf. Lk 12:22-32.
(61) Ws 9:1; cf. Ps 33:6-9; Si 42:15.
(62) Rv 22:5; cf. Is 60:9.
(63) 2 Co 5:17; cf. Ga 6:15.
(64) Gn 5:1; Ws 2:23; Si 17:3. The same idea is found in Ps 8:5-7, although
(65) This ordinance is completed after the deluge, cf. Gn 9:3-4.
(66) Gn 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25.
(67) Gn 5:29; Is 14:3; Ps 127;2; Pr 5:10; 10:22; 14:23.
(68) Gn 3:19; cf. 2:7; 3:23.
(69) Mt 4:25 and par.; 15:31-32.
(70) Mt 8:10; 15:28.
(71) Ga 3;26; 4:6; Rm 9:26.
(72) 2 Co 4:4; cf. Col 1:15.
(73) Mt 4:24 and par.; 8:16 and par.; 14:35 and par.; Jn 5:3.
(74) Mk 5:38; Lk 7:12-13; Jn 11:33-35.
(75) Mt 3:10 and par.; Lk 13:1-5; 17:26-30; 19:41-44; 23:29-31.
(76) Mt 3:2-12; Mk1:2-6; Lk 3:2-9.
(77) Mk 7:21-23; cf. Mt 15:19-20.
(78) Mt 10:17-23; Lk 21:12-17.
(79) Mt 12:14 and par.; Jn 5:18; Mk 11:18; Lk 19:47.
(80) Rm 3:10; cf. Ps 14:3; Qo 7:20.
(81) 2 Co 5:14; cf. Rm 5:18.
(82) Rm 5:12; 1 Co 15:56.
(83) Ex 15:1-10, 20-21; Ps 106:9-11; 114:1-5; 136:13-15.
(84) Dt 26:6-9; cf. 6:21-23.
(85) Jg 2:11-22; 3:9,15; 2 K 13:5; Ne 9:27. The title Saviour is given to God
in 2 S 22:3; Is 43:3; 45:15; 60:16, as well as in other texts.
(86) Is 41:14; 43:14; 44:6,24; 47:4; 48:17; 49:7,26; 54:5,8.
(87) Is 60:10-12; 35:9-10.
(88) Ps 7:2; 22:21-22; 26:11; 31:16; 44:27; 118:25; 119:134.
(89) Ps 34:5; 66:19; 56:14; 71:23.
(90) 2 M 7:9,11,14,23,29.
(91) Lk 1:69,71,74,77.
(92) In the Septuagint, lytr(o-)ts is found only twice, a title
conferred on God: Ps 18(19):14; 77(78):35.
(93) Applied to God, this title is found only once in the Gospels (Lk 1:47),
never in Acts or in the uncontested Pauline Epistles; it is applied to Jesus,
twice in the Gospels (Lk 2:11; Jn 4:42), twice in Acts (Ac 5:31; 13:23), once in
the uncontested Pauline Letters (Ph 3:20).
(94) The First Letter to Timothy applies the title only to God, three times (1 T
1:1; 2:3; 4:10); the Second applies it only once to Christ (2 T 1:10); the
Letter to Titus applies it three times to God (Ti 1:3; 2:10; 3:4) and three
times to Christ (Ti 1:4; 2:13; 3:6). The Second Letter of Peter applies it only
to Christ, together with the title Lord (2 P 1:1,11; 2:20; 3:2,18).
(95) Mk 5:23,28,34; 6:56.
(96) Mt 9:22 and par.; Mk 10:52; Lk 17:19; 18:42.
(97) Mt 8:25-26 and par.; 14:30-31.
(98) Mt 9:18-26 and par.; Lk 7:11-17; Jn 11:38-44.
(99) Mt 27:39-44 and par.; Lk 23:39.
(100) Mt 20:28; Mk 10:45.
(101) Jn 6:15; Lk 24:21; Ac 1:6.
(102) Rm 1:16; cf. 10:9-13; 15:8-12.
(103) 2 In Hebrew segullah: Ex 19:5; Dt 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Ps 135:4; Ml
(104) Lv 11:44-45; 19:2.
(105) Dt 12:5,11,14,18, 21, 26; 14:23-25, etc.
(106) Ps 78:67-68; 1 Ch 28:4.
(107) 2 S 6:21; 1 K 8:16; 1 Ch 28:4; 2 Ch 6:6; Ps 78:70.
(108) Is 41: 8-9; 44:1-2.
(109) Is 41:8-9; 44:1-2.
(110) Is 41:8-9; 43:10; 44:1-2; 45:4; 49:3.
(111) Is 43:10,12; 44:8; 55:5.
(112) Mt 28:20; cf. 1:23.
(113) Lk 19:48; 21:38.
(114) Ac 2:41,47; 4:4; 5:14.
(115) Ac 13:46; 18:6; 28:28. In the Gospel of Luke, the episode of Jesus'
preaching at Nazareth already presents the same type of structure as Acts
13:42-45 and 22:21-22: Jesus' universal outlook provokes hostility on the
part of his townspeople (Lk 4:23-30).
(116) Ac 28:26-27; Is 6:9-10.
(117) Ps 47:10; 86:9; Zc 14:16.
(118) Mt 8:11; Lk 13:29.
(119) Mk 16:15-16; cf. Mt 28:18-20; Lk 24:47.
(120) 1 P 2:9; Is 43:21.
(121) 1 P 2:9; Ex 19:6.
(122) 1 P 2:10; Ho 2:25.
(123) Rm 11:1; 2 Co 11:22; Ga 1:14; Ph 3:5.
(124) Discourse of John Paul II in the synagogue of Rome, 13-4-1986: AAS 78
(125) Dt 30:15-16,19; Jos 24: 21-25.
(126) Ex 19-24; 32-34; especially 19:5; 24:7-8; 34:10,27-28.
(127) Ex 32: 11-13,31-32; 33:12-16; 34:9.
(128) Dt 4:13; cf. 4:23; 9:9,11,15.
(129) Ps 89:4; 132:11; 2 S 23:5; Ps 89:29-30,35.
(130) 2 S 7:14 and par.; Ps 2:7; 89:28.
(131) Ex 24:12; 31:18, etc.
(132) Is 1:1-31; Jr 7:25-26; 11:7-8.
(133) Ezk 36:26-27; cf. 11:19-20; 16:60; 37:26.
(134) Damascus Document 6:19; 19:33-34.
(135) Ezk 36:26-28; Jl 3:1-2.
(136) Ga 3:15-4:7; 4:21-28; Rm 6:14; 7:4-6.
(137) Gn 12:3; Ga 3:8.
(138) Ga 3:29; 2 Co 1:20.
(139) Heb 8:7-13; Jr 31:31-34 LXX.
(140) Heb 9:15; cf. 7:22; 12:24.
(141) Heb 7:18; 9:9; 10:1,4,11.
(142) Mt 1:1; 9:27; etc., cf. Lk 1:32; Rm 1:3.
(143) Dt 4:6-8; Si 24:22-27; Ba 3:38-4:4.
(144) Mt 5:21-48; Mk 2:23-27.
(145) Decalogue Ex 20:1-17; Dt 5:6-21; Covenant Code Ex 20: 22-23:19; the
collection of Ex 34; Deuteronomic Law Dt 12-28; Holiness Code Lv 17-26;
Priestly Laws Ex 25-31; 35-40; Lv 1-7; 8-10, 11-16, etc.
(146) Ex 19-24; 32-34; cf. Dt 5:9-10.
(147) Gn 17; Ex 12-13; 15:23-26, etc.
(148) Ex 20:19-21; Dt 5:23-31.
(149) Ex 19:5-6; 24:10-11.
(150) Ex 32-34; Ex 20:2-6 and par.
(151) For example, the legislation concerning the freeing of slaves: Ex 21:2; Lv
25:10; Dt 15:12; cf. Is 58:6; 61:1; Jr 34:8-17.
(152) Ex 20:2; Dt 5:6.
(153) Rm 7:10; Ga 3:21-22.
(154) Rm 1:17; Ga 2:19-20.
(155) Lv 19:18; Ga 5:14; Rm 13:8-10.
(156) Rm 10:3; Ph 3:9.
(157) Ga 3:10, quoting Dt 27:26.
(158) Ga 3:11; Hab 2:4.
(159) Ga 5:6; cf. 5:13; 6:9-10.
(160) Heb 2:2; 7:5,28; 8:4; 9:19,22; 10:8,28.
(161) Lv 19:18; Jm 2:8; 4:11.
(162) Ex 32:11-13, 30-32, etc.
(163) Shechem: Gn 12:6-7; Bethel: 12:8; Mamre: 18:1-15; Beersheeba:
(164) Sabbath: Gn 2:1-3; Ex 20:8-11; sabbatical year: Lv 25:2-7, 20-22;
jubilee year: 25:8-19; feasts: Ex 23:14-17; Lv 23; Dt 16:1-17; Day of
Atonement: Lv 16:23, 27-32.
(165) Note that the Old Testament knows nothing of impure times.
(166) Gn 28:16-18; Ex 3:5; Jos 5:15.
(167) Ex 23:11-12; Lv 25:6-7.
(168) Lv 4-5; 16; 17:10-12; Is 6:5-7, etc.
(169) Ex 25:8-9; Dt 4:7,32-34.
(170) Jr 11:19-20; 12:1-4; 15:15-18; etc. Later 2 M 15:14 presents
Jeremiah in the nether world as “the friend of his brothers, who prays much
for the people”.
(171) Is 12:1-6; 25:1-5; 26:7-19; 37:16-20; 38:9-20; 42:10-12;
63:7-64:11; Jon 2:3-10; Na 1:2-8; Hab 3:1-19.
(172) Am 4:13; 5:8-9; 9:5-6.
(173) Is 1:10-17; Ho 6:6; Am 5:21-25; Jr 7:21-22.
(174) Is 1:15; 59:3.
(175) Jb 7:1-21; 9:25-31; 10:1-22; 13:20-14:22; etc.
(176) Lm 1:9-11,20-22; 2:20; 3:41-45,55-66; 5:19-22.
(177) Pr 15:8,29; 28:9.
(178) Pr 30:7-9; Dn 2:20-23; 4:31-32,34; 9:4-19 (cf. vv.20,23). And more
frequently in the deuterocanonical writings.
(179) 2 K 22-23.
(180) Gn 14:18-20; 2 S 7; 24; Ps 132.
(181) Ex 25:10-22; Lv 16:12-15. (And Rm 3:25; Heb 9:5).
(182) Mi 3:12; Jr 26:18; etc.
(183) 1 K 8:27; cf. Is 66:1.
(184) Ezk 10:3-22; 11:22-24.
(185) 1 K 8:44,48; Ze 1:17.
(186) Ps 48; 87; 122.
(187) Is 60: 19-20.
(188) Is 54:1-8; 62:2-5.
(189) Is 65:17-25; 66:20-23.
(190) Is 2:2-4; Mi 4:1-4.
(191) Mt 28:19; Mk 16:16; Lk 22:19; Jn 6:53-56; 1 Co 11:24-25.
(192) Mt 11:25; Lk 10:21; Mt 14:19 and par.; 15:36 and par.; Jn 11:41; Mt
26:26-27 and par.
(193) Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26.
(194) Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34.
(195) Cf. Mt 9:22 and par; 9:29; 15:28; Mk 10:52; Lk 18:42.
(196) Mt 6:5-15; Lk 18:9-14.
(197) Lk 11:5-8; 18:1-8.
(198) Mt 6:9-13; Lk 11:2-4.
(199) Ph 2:6-11; Col 1:15-20; 1 T 3:16. The hymn in Ep 1:3-14 glorifies
the Father for the work accomplished “in Christ”.
(200) 2 Co 1:3-4; Ep 1:3.
(201) Jn 4:23; Rm 8:15,26.
(202) Mt 26:26-28 and par.; Jn 6:51-58; 1 Co 10:16-17; 11:17-34.
(203) Mk 16:16; Mt 28:19-20.
(204) Cf. above note 169 and Ps 40:7-9 quoted and commented on in Heb
10:5-10; Ps 50: 13-14; 51: 18-19.
(205) Heb 9:8-10; 10:1,11.
(206) Heb 5:7-10; 9:11-15; 10:10,14.
(207) Jn 7:14,28; Mk 12:35; Lk 19:47; 20:1; 21:37; Mt 26:55 and par.
(208) Jn 4:20-24; Ac 7:48-49 (in reference to Solomon's Temple, quoting Is
66:1-2), Ac 17:24 (in reference to pagan temples).
(209) Jn 2:19; cf. Mt 26:61 and par.
(210) Rv 3:12; 7:15; 11:1-2, 19; 14:15,17; 15:5,8; 16:1,17; 21:22.
(211) Mt 20:17-19 and par.; 21:1-10 and par.; Lk 9:31,51; 13:33.
(212) Lk 19:41-44. Cf. Mt 23:37-39; Lk 13:34-35; 21:20-24.
(213) Ex 15:24; 16:2; 17:3; etc.
(214) The golden calf episode is the first narrative episode after the
conclusion of the covenant. The intermediate chapters (Ex 25-31) are
(215) Ex 33:3,5; 34:9; Dt 9:6,13; 31:27; Ba 2:30.
(216) Nu 13:31-14:4; Dt 1:20-21, 26-28.
(217) 2 K 21:15; Jr 7:25-26.
(218) Is 58:1; cf. Ho 8:1; Mi 3:8.
(219) Am 2:6-7; 4:1; 8:4-6.
(220) Rejection of Israel in Ho 1:4-6,8-9; Am 8:1-2; of Judah in Is
6:10-13; Jr 6:30; 7:29.
(221) Mi 3:11-12; Jr 7:14-15.
(222) Jr 7:9; 9:1-8.
(223) Jr 3:1-13; 5:7-9.
(224) Ezr 9:6-7,10,13,15: Ne 1:6-7; 9:16-27; Ba 1:15-22; Dn 3:26-45
(225) Ho 11:8-9; Jr 31:20.
(226) Ho 2:21-22; Jr 31:31-34; Ezk 36:24-28.
(227) Lk 19:43-44; Mt 24:2,15-18 and par.
(228) Ac 3:17; cf. Lk 23:34.
(229) Ac 2:41; 4:4.
(230) Ga 5:21; Ep 5:5; Heb 10:26-31.
(231) 1 Co 4:8; 5:1-5; 6:1-8; 11:17-22; 2 Co 12:20-21; Ga 1:6; 4:9;
(232) 1:24,26,28; cf. Ps 81:13.
(233) 1 Co 1:10-13; 3:1-4.
(234) 1 Co 5:1-5; cf also 1 Tm 1:19-20.
(235) 1 Tm 1:19-20; 2 Tm 2:17-18.
(236) Rv 2:7,11,17,29, etc.
(237) Rv 2:5,16,22; 3:3,19.
(238) Gn 13:16; 15:5; 17:5-6.
(239) Gn 15:4; 17:19; 21:12.
(240) Is 61:9; 65:23; 66:22.
(241) Ne 9:2; cf. 10:31; 13:3; Ezr 9-10.
(242) Lk 1:55,73; cf. also Heb 11:11-12.
(243) Gn 12:7; 13:15; 15:4-7,18-21; 17:6-8; 28:13-14; 35:11-12.
(244) Ex 3:7-8; 6:2-8; Dt 12:9-10.
(245) Lv 18:24-28; Dt 28:15-68.
(246) Lv 25:53; Ps 39:13; 1 Ch 29:15.
(247) Am 9:11-15; Mi 5:6-7; Jr 12:15; Ezk 36:24-28.
(248) See above II. B. 7 nos 48 and 51.
(249) Is 2:1-4; Mi 4:1-4; Zc 14; Tb 13.
(250) Jos 6:21; 7:1,11; 8:26; 11:11-12.
(251) Dt 7:3-6; 20:18; cf. Ezr 9:1-4; Ne 13:23-29.
(252) Heb 11:9-16; see also 3:1,11-4:11.
(253) Ex 23:30; Ps 37:11.
(254) Am 5:18-20; 8:9; Zp 1:15.
(255) Ho 11:8-11; Am 5:15; Zp 2:3.
(256) Ezk 20:33-38; Is 43:1-21; 51:9-11; 52:4-12.
(257) Ezk 34:1-31; Is 40:11; 59:20.
(258) Is 44:3; Ezk 36:24-28.
(259) Ezk 37:1-14.
(260) Ezk 43:1-12; 47:1-12.
(261) Is 41:8-10; 44:1-2.
(262) Is 66:22; Jr 33:25-26.
(263) Is 27:12-13; Jr 30:18-22, etc.
(264) Is 66:18-21; Zc 14:16.
(265) Is 11:11-16; Jr 31:7; Mi 2:12-13; 4:6-7; 5:6-7; Zp 3:12-13; Zc
(266) Ezr 9:13-15; Ne 1:2-3.
(267) Ac 2:41; 4:4; 5:14.
(268) Mt 13:14-15 and par.; Jn 12:40; Ac 28:26-27; Rm 11:8.
(269) Ex 15:18; Nu 23:21; Dt 33:5.
(270) Is 41:21; 43:15; 52:7; Ezk 20:33.
(271) Is 33:22; Mi 2:13; Zp 3:15; Ml 1:14.
(272) Is 24:23; Mi 4:7-8; Zc 14:6-9,16-17.
(273) Ps 47; 93; 96-99.
(274) At the beginning in Ps 93; 97; 99; in the middle in Ps 47 and 96.
(275) Ps 47:9; cf. 96:10.
(276) Mt 4;17,23; 9:35.
(277) 13:47-50; 22:1-13; cf. 24:1-13.
(278) Mt 16:28; 25:31,34.
(279) Jn 3:3,5; Ac 1:3; 8:12, etc; Rm 14:17; 1 Co 4:20, etc.
(280) Rv 12:10 “the kingdom of our God”.
(281) Is 9:1-6; 11:1-9; Jr 23:5-6; Ezk 34:23-24; Mi 5:1-5; Zc 3:8;
(282) 1 QS 9:9-11; 1 QSa 2:11-12; CD 12:23; 19:10; 20:1.
(283) 1 Hen 93:3-10; 2 Ba 29-30; 39-40; 72-74; 4 Esd 7:26-36;
12:31-34; Apoc Abr 31:1-2.
(284) Mt 1:1-17; 2:1-6; Lk 1:32-33: 2:11.
(285) Jn 1:41; 4:25.
(286) Mt 11:3; Lk 7:19; Jn 11:27.
(287) Mt 24:5,23-24; Mk 13:21-22.
(288) Mt 16:16 and par.; Jn 11:27; 20:31; Ac 2:36; 9:22; 17:3; 18:5,28; 1 Jn
(289) Mk 8:31-37; Lk 24:26.
(290) Jn 3:28; 11:27; 20:31.
(291) Jn 7:25-31, 40-44; 9:22; 10:24; 12:34-35.
(292) 2 S 7:14; cf. Ps 2:7.
(293) Mt 16:16; Mk 14:61-62 and par.; Jn 10:36; 11:27; 20:31; Rm 1:3-4.
(294) Jn 10:30 (cf. 10:24); cf. 1:18.
(295) Ac 9:22; 18:5,28.
(296) Ap 2:26-27; 11:18; 12:5; 19:15,19.
(297) Mk 16:15-16; Jn 4:42.
(298) Mk 12:29; 1 Co 8:4; Ep 4:6; 1 Tm 2:5.
(299) Ps 33:6; Pr 8:22-31; Si 24:1-23, etc.
(300) Jn 1:14-18; Heb 1:1-4.
(301) Rm 8:29; 2 Co 3:18.
(302) 2 Co 5:17; Ga 6:15.
(303) Rm 4:25; Ph 3:20-21; 1 Tm 2:5-6; Heb 9:15.
(304) Lk 22:20; 1 Co 11:25.
(305) The New Testament never calls the Church “the new Israel”. In Ga 6:14
“the Israel of God” very likely designates Jews who believe in Christ Jesus.
(306) Lk 14:12-24; 1 Co 1:26-29; Jm 2:5.
(307) War 2.8.2-13; § 119-161.
(308) War 2:8.14; § 162; Antiquities 18:13; § 14.
(309) Ga 1:13-14; Ph 3:5-6; cf. Ac 8:3; 9:1-2; 22:3-5; 26:10-11.
(310) Mt 9:11,14 and par.; 12:2,14 and par.; 12:24; 15:1-2 and par.; 15:12;
16:6 and par.; 22:15 and par.
(311) Mt 5:47; 15:26 and par.
(312) In the second century, the story of the martyrdom of Polycarp witnesses to
the “habitual” willingness on the part of Jews in Smyrna to cooperate in
putting Christians to death, “Martyrdom of St Polycarp” XIII,1.
(313) This observation is valid for the plural, not for the singular in 8:19 and
(314) Is 8:23-9:6; Jr 31-32; Ezk 36:16-38.
(315) Mt 28:18; cf. Dn 7:14,18,27.
(316) Mk 15:2,9,12,18,26.
(317) Mk 12:29; 15:32.
(318) Mk 7:6: 14:2.
(319) Mk 11:18; 12:12; 14:2.
(320) See also Mk 8:11-12,15; 10:2-12; 11:27-33.
(321) Mk 11:18; 12:12; 14:2.
(322) This tendency continues to manifest itself: the responsibility of the
Nazis has been extended to include all Germans, that of certain western lobbies
to include all Europeans, that of certain illegal immigrants to include all
(323) Luke notes that “a great multitude of people” followed Jesus (23:27),
of whom the greater part were women “who beat their breasts and wailed for
him” (ibid.). After the crucifixion, “the people stood
watching” (23:35); this watching prepares them for conversion: at the end when
“all the people who had gathered to witness this sight and saw what took
place, they beat their breasts and went away” (23:48).
(324) Ac 13:44-45,50; 14:2-6; 17:4-7,13; 18:5-6.
(325) See above II. B. 3(b), n. 32.
(326) Jn 2:23; 4:39,41; 7:31; 8:30-31; 10:42; 11:45; 12:11,42.
(327) Jn 1:10,11; 15:18,25.
(328) Jn 5:18; 10:33; 19:7.
(329) Jn 18:38-40; 19:14-15.
(330) Jn 9:22; 12:42; 16:2.
(331) Jn 7:20: 8:48,51; 10:20.
(332) Ga 5:14; Rm 13:9.
(333) Cf. Babylonian Talmud, Tract Shabbat 31a.
(334) Rm 9:27-29, quoting Is 10:22-23; Ho 2:1 LXX; – Rm 11: 4-5 quoting
1 K 19:18.
(335) Jr 7:16,20; 11:11,14; 15:1.
(336) Their rejection of idolatry and their contempt for paganism gave rise to
strong animosity towards the Jews, accused of being a people apart (Est 3:8),
“in conflict in everything with all people” (Est 3:13e LXX) and of
nourishing a “hatred of enemies towards all other (people)” (Tacitus, History,
5:5). Paul's viewpoint is quite different.
(337) Dt 10:16; cf. Jr 4:4; Rm 2:29.
(338) Cf 1 Co 6:9-11; Ep 4:17-19. In Dt 23:19 “dog” designates a
prostitute; in Greece, the dog was a symbol of lewdness. For ritual mutilations,
cf. Lv 21:5; 1 K 18:28; Is 15:2; Ho 7:14.
(339) Ga 4:28-29; Rm 9:8.
(340) In Greek, for “to them belong” there is a simple genitive twice, which
expresses possession (literally: “of whom [are]”); for “from them comes”
there is a genitive introduced by the preposition ex which expresses
(341) Heb 4:9; 11:25; cf. 10:30 “his people”.
(342) Nu 14:1-35; Heb 3:7-4:11.
(343) Heb 12:3; cf. Lk 24:7.
(344) 1 Pt 2:9; Ex 19:6; Is 43:21.
(345) Ac 3:26; Rm 1;16.
(346) Ps 98:2-4; Is 49:6.
(347) Declaration “Nostra Aetate” on relations of the Church with
non-Christian religions, no 4.
(348) Paul VI, homily of October 28th, 1965: “ut erga eos reverentia et amor
adhibeatur spesque in iis collocetur”: (“that there be respect and love
towards them and that hope is placed in them”).
(349) ASS 58 (1966) 740.
(350) Documentation Catholique 77 (1980) 1148.
(351) Documentation Catholique 83 (1986) 437.
(352) Documentation Catholique 94 (1997) 1003.
(353) Documentation Catholique 97 (2000) 372.
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