An Irrevocable Covenant?

Ever since St. Paul struggled with conflicted feelings about his own “kindred” (see Romans 9-11) Christians have wrestled with our relationship with the Jewish people. From the sad history of Christian anti-Semitism to improved relations after World War II and especially after Vatican II, right on down to present-day disagreements (or at least tensions) about the situation in Israel-Palestine, it has never been easy.

While Anglicans have never been quite as clear as our Roman Catholic colleagues (for example, in the Vatican II document “Nostra Aetate”) about God’s irrevocable covenant with the Jews, a recent joint declaration by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbis of Israel comes close when it says, of the relationship between Jews and Christians:

“Our relationship is unique, not only historically and culturally but also scripturally, and for both religions, is rooted in the one overarching covenant of God with Abraham to which God remains faithful through all time.” As far as interfaith dialogue is concerned, “Neither evangelism nor conversion has a place amongst the purpose of the dialogue and we emphasize the importance of respect for each other’s faith and of rejecting actions intended to undermine the integrity of the other.”

For myself, I believe that God’s covenant with the Jewish people is irrevocable and that we Christians are best understood as “…a wild olive shoot grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree.” (Romans 11:17). We are not to “boast over the branches” but to “remember that it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you.” 


4 Responses to “An Irrevocable Covenant?”

  1. thomas bushnell, bsg Says:

    surely the place to find our theology here is going to be in the early chapters of Acts and the middle chapters of Romans (the latter of which we are all supposed to be reading each morning at the moment). Paul told the gentiles not to lord it over the Jews, and he also told the Jews not to lord it over the gentiles, and he also was convinced that non-Christian Jews had missed something truly crucial, and hoped for the day when the full number of Israel would be added. dispensationalism is wildly un-Christian, with its odd view that the Law can save, after all.

    i don’t disagree that God’s covenant with the Jews is irrevocable, but Christian theology has always taught that Jesus Christ is not just some kind of optional add-on to the covenant with the Jews, but an intrinsict part of it, without which that covenant itself cannot make sense.

    inter-religious dialogue, of course, is not about conversion attempts, but that only means that inter-religious dialogue is not a sufficient thing by itself to the reality of other religions. in a Christian/Buddhist dialogue, for example, it is beside the point to try and argue the other person out of their view. but at the end of the day, i return home thinking that Christ is the answer to what the Buddhist seeks, and the Buddhist returns home thinking that peace is found only in detaching from symbols like “Christ.” and if we didn’t, then we would no longer be Christians and Buddhists in dialogue, but some other sort of thing, neither Christian nor Buddhist. and the same for dialogue with Jews. Jews are perfectly clear that they think we are wildly wrong about some important things, and there is no shame in us thinking that Jews are wrong about some important things. if we cannot think that any longer, then we have given up the task of dialogue, not advanced it.

  2. Phil Snyder Says:

    I agree that God’s covenant with Israel is irrevocable and, at the same time, God has temporarily “suspended” it. Read Hosea where God calls Israel “not my people.”

    However, I agree with what I understand Thomas bushnell to say. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Covenant with Abraham and with Israel. We should be able and willing to offer the Jews the same relationship with God where He is Our Father, not just the God if Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.

    Where I disagree with Thomas is in the purposes of the Law. The Jews live Torah, not out of hope of salvation, but in thanksgiving for being God’s people. Judaism is not a primitive (or early) form of pelagianism. It is a vibrant faith lived in a set relationship with God, but cut off from the fullness of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.

    Phil Snyder

  3. ecubishop Says:

    Thanks for the two helpful comments above.

  4. Phil Snyder Says:

    On thinking about evangelism or attempting conversion of the Jews, I am reminded of the words of a wise friend of mine:

    “Conversion is a Management responsibility. I work in sales.”

    It is our task to make God’s redemptive and reconciling love known by “word and example.” So long as we are doing that, we are doing our part. We can trust God to do His.

    Phil Snyder

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