Reflections for 12/11: Final Reflections

Israel-ecclesiology relates the nature of the Church to the People of God.  For Kinzer, following an interpretations of Nostra Aetate 4, this relationship is one where the Church and the People are intrinsically linked.  Torah-christology examines Jesus’ identity through the idea that Jesus is an incarnation of the Torah and is obedient to and a fulfillment of the Torah.  For Kinzer the link described by Israel-ecclesiology is Torah-christology insofar as Jesus provides a unity between the People and the Church through His manifestation as Torah.

Kinzer’s main concern is explaining the link between the Jewish people and the Church.  He uses the ideas of the ecclesia ex circumcisione and the ecclesia ex gentibus to argue that the fundamental aspect of this link is the Jewish part of the Church.  That is, the ecclesia ex circumcisione provides a means of seeing the spiritual bond between the Jews and the Church.  In the modern world this ecclesia ex circumcisione would be Messianic Judaism which acknowledges Jesus as a part of Judaism and thus fulfills Kinzer’s idea of Jesus being the link between the Church and the Jews.  This partially satisfies Pawlikowski’s desire to reclaim some of the Jewishness of Christianity but it also seems to fall short in explaining the role of the revelation to the Jews in Christianity.  That is, it does not completely explain what this revelation contributes as it still focuses almost entirely on Jesus’ revelation almost.

Kinzer seems more compatible with Romans 9-11 because he sees a world in which Jews can recognize Jesus and not necessarily lose their identity as Jews and therefore the role of the Jewish people can be maintained while salvation also extends to the Gentiles.  Compatibility with Romans 9-11 is of particular importance because it provides some of the earliest ways of thinking about the relationship of Christianity to Judaism.

Christian witness to Jesus and reading of scripture does not have to be supersessionist.  One can defend a relationship between Christianity and Judaism and not contend that Christianity replaces Judaism or that Judaism has been rejected so long as one maintains that the covenant with the People of God remains intact.  If the covenant is intact then Christianity is something which benefits from its relationship to Judaism but Judaism and the Jewish people continue to be united with God in a meaningful way.  Kinzer provides the best way to defend this thesis by showing that there is not a contradiction between an affirmation of Jesus and the maintenance of this covenant.  At the same time Nostra Aetate 4 shows the potential benefit of preventing anti-Semitism which cannot be consistent with Christian moral teachings and Pawlikowski shows that with greater appreciation of Judaism Christians can understand their own theological concepts better.

When a reading community defines itself there will inevitably be a negative dimension to the definition that says what the community is not.  This is not intrinsically wrong but there are some associated dangers that come with it.  Part of the problem is that the revelation of Scripture may be limited if the community seeks too strongly to focus on its own identity and not to simply encounter Scripture in a more direct fashion.  So a Christian of a particular denomination may read the Bible to find evidence against others.  At the same time at the beginning of the course we recognized that outside of a tradition Scripture does not make a lot of sense.  A community therefore must bring something to its reading of Scripture in order to make sense of it. The presence of the identity of a community has dangers and benefits but at the end of the day it is inevitable.  Reading Scripture cannot be a neutral exercise.

Reflections for 12/9: Christianity and Judaism as Equal Paths?

Pawlikowski understands Kasper to say that from the Christian perspective Judaism is the only other religion to have legitimate revelation and therefore if the Jewish people continue to follow their religious tradition as they understand it they will be in line with God’s plan.  Pawlikowski sees ambiguity in the fact that Kasper continues to insist on the universality of salvation through Jesus and the consequent lack of clarity on whether or not the Jewish people need to gain salvation through Jesus.  The single covenant model says that there was one covenant made with the Jewish people at Sinai that Jesus extended to non-Jews while the double covenant model says that Jesus made a new covenant. Pawlikowski’s proposal at the end of his article does not fall into either category but rather replaces both saying that Judaism and Christianity are two paths that can be distinguished but which are not completely separate.

The Christian understanding of revelation is necessary in order to explain how God could have revealed something to the world by coming into the world as Jesus.  Revelation in general provides completeness to the Christian tradition that Greek philosophical language alone cannot provide.  The Christian perspective on incarnation and revelation has lost some of its “Jewishness” by ignoring the way these concepts are explored by Judaism and the relationship of the revelation to the Jews to Christianity.

For Boyarin incarnation is a way to explain how a God who is wholly other from the world can interact with the world and with humanity.  It is to unify the transcendence and immanence of God.  For Wyschogrod incarnation relates to God’s presence with and in the people of God.  It is not so much an abstraction but a question of how God is with a particular set of humans.

Pawlikowski argues that since Jews have access to legitimate revelation and since their path is on equal footing to the Christian path there is not a need for them to adopt Christianity.  This seems consistent with Wyschogrod’s recovery of incarnation insofar as God continues to be present among the Jewish people and to bless them.  Through these blessings their path still provides hope for salvation.  Boyarin’s recovery of incarnation is more tricky.  It would seem that if, as Boyarin contends, the controversy is in the details of God’s incarnation among humans then there is more mutual exclusivity between a view where God reveals Himself to the world through Jesus and any other method of incarnation.  With this mutual exclusivity there in turn is more of a barrier for salvation except through Jesus.

Pawlikowski’s argument seems to be consistent with Dei Verbum’s understanding that there is a role for reason (i.e. Greek philosophical language) and revelation in theological inquiry and that sometimes we overemphasize one at the expense of the other.  It also seems consistent to a certain degree with Nostra Aetate 4 in its emphasis on the unity between Christianity and Judaism and not making Judaism into something rejected by God.  I think the authors of Nostra Aetate, however, might have reservations about saying that Judaism is a path absolutely equal to Christianity as they would probably still see a need for Christ to have complete salvation.

Reflections for 12/4: A Christianity Farther from Judaism

1. The two models of the “Parting” are the old model which said that promptly around the time of the New Testament the was a clear and sharp distinction between Judaism and Christianity and the new model which suggests a variety of different partial breaking points which separated the groups farther and farther apart culminating in the 4th century.  The “New Perspective” sees Paul and other New Testament authors as still very closely tied to “mainstream Judaism.”  The idea of a series of breaks is related to this idea but it may be more useful because it avoids a temptation to overemphasize similarities by recognizing that some minor breaks had already happened.  When following Jesus is a type of Judaism I think a lot more emphasis would be placed upon him as Messiah and as a Jewish hero.  Christians see him as a universal savior but these Jews would understand him in terms of their own culture.

2. The two models of the “Parting” are the old model which said that promptly around the time of the New Testament the was a clear and sharp distinction between Judaism and Christianity and the new model which suggests a variety of different partial breaking points which separated the groups farther and farther apart culminating in the 4th century.  The “New Perspective” sees Paul and other New Testament authors as still very closely tied to “mainstream Judaism.”  The idea of a series of breaks is related to this idea but it may be more useful because it avoids a temptation to overemphasize similarities by recognizing that some minor breaks had already happened.  When following Jesus is a type of Judaism I think a lot more emphasis would be placed upon him as Messiah and as a Jewish hero.  Christians see him as a universal savior but these Jews would understand him in terms of their own culture.

Reflections for 12/2: Paul’s Stance on Judaism

Paul sees a contrast between the old Israel and the new Israel.  He notes that “For not all who are Israel are Israel, nor are they all children of Abraham because they are his descendants” (9:6-7).  The new Israel is the Christian movement while the old Israel are those Jews related to Abraham simply by blood.  This distinction is emphasized when he says “[f]or I could wish that I myself were accursed and separated from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kin according to the flesh.” (9:3). This indicates that the Jews by blood are separate from Christ and hence “accursed.”  In the place of these Jews there is a new people both composed of Jews by blood and gentiles. He says “as indeed it says in Hosea: ‘Those who were not my people I will call my people, and her who was not beloved I will call beloved’” (9:25).  A new people is selected, on this reading of Hosea, to replace the old.  It should be emphasized that not all Jews by blood are excluded.  Paul remarks that “[i]nasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them” (11:13-14).  Jews are not saved, it would seem, except through this new movement.  Paul also provides a parallel situation in which Elijah points out the sins of the Israelites but God selects a set of elect that will still be saved (11:2-5).  There are certain Jews who will receive justification in Messiah but Judaism itself is no longer adequate.

It is clear that for Paul Israel is still accepted by God.  Paul argues: “I ask then, has God rejected his people?  Of course not!  For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin” (11:1).  It is very clear in the statement that the People of God have not been rejected and by this statement Paul means that since he comes from Judaism his ministry is an extension of Judaism.  Paul provides a parallel situation in which Elijah points out the sins of the Israelites but God selects a set of elect that will still be saved (11:2-5).  From Judaism a special elect movement has emerged.  “What then?  What Israel was seeking it did not attain, but the elect attained it; the rest were hardened” (11:8).  Israel, i.e. the original Jews did not find salvation but from the elect of Judaism it was discovered.  This is made most clear in the metaphor about the branches:  “[b]ut if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place and have come to share in the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches.  If you do boast, consider that you do not support the root; the root supports you” (11:17-18).  Judaism is the original tree, the root, of the new movement.  From Judaism the movement emerged and has significance.  It is not a rejection of Judaism but rather a new manifestation of it.

The first paragraph seems weak in that it emphasizes the fact that a connection by flesh or blood is inadequate but that does not in itself mean that Judaism is rejected.  It fails to express a categorical rejection of Judaism but only indicates that some Jews have failed in obtaining salvation.  The second paragraph in the meantime emphasizes that the new movement comes from Judaism and so Judaism is not rejected but the fact that the new movement is derived from Judaism does not in itself prove that the new movement does not throw out a lot of the old.  The way Acts represents the controversy over allowing non-Jews in the movement may shed some light on this.  It would seem that at the very beginning the movement remained a fundamentally Jewish thing.  However, the way the Gospels depict the people rejecting Jesus at before his crucifixion might provide some support for the thought that the early participants in the movement saw themselves as separate from this movement.  On the whole I think that the idea that the movement is part of Judaism, at least at this stage, is more persuasive because there is a constant need to explain Jesus in terms of existing Jewish thought.  The constant citations of Scripture and the way various authors explain Jesus in relationship to Judaism show that they thought of themselves as still part of this movement.  One question that remains, though, is a question of degree.  To what extent did these early followers of Jesus feel the need to relate to Judaism and to what degree did they feel at liberty to differ from it.  Accepting Gentiles and telling them they did not need to follow the Torah is at odds with Judaism, but at the same time these things are justified by reference to Judaism.

Reflections for 11/20: Paul on Gentiles

It seems as though Paul is using a sort of sliding scale of holiness to determine who can be part of the movement.  Following the Law to the letter is the absolute on one end and pagan idolatry is on the other.  However, within this scale it is not necessary for a Gentile to be all the way to the end of following the Law perfectly, they must simply not be too far on the other extreme.   So non-Jews have to meet certain basic criteria to be part of the movement.  Paul expects the return of Jesus to happen any day and so it is pressing that people make preparations.   This might explain why he compromises because he feels that he needs to achieve as much as possible in a short time and requiring too much of the Gentiles could delay their conversion.

The case of Timothy may be explained using this model of a sliding scale.   Timothy may have had such great faith that moving farther down the scale did not present much of a challenge to him and so Paul suggested it in order to make Timothy more prepared.  Another option is that Jews are still bound by the covenant while Gentiles are not bound in the same explicit way.  In this case Timothy’s Jewish heritage might have justified Paul’s decision to have him circumcised.   A third option is noted by the CSB, Timothy was circumcised simply to make him more acceptable to Jews and thus to get more Jewish converts.

One can read Acts 15:1-16:6 as indicating Paul’s desire to get as many Gentile converts as possible without much trouble.  He, after all, argues for their inclusion and doesn’t think they need to be circumcised.   This seems consistent with the reading of Galatians where Paul is trying to maximize the number of converts possible, no matter what other differences there are.

If I am correct about the sliding scale then it would seem that Paul’s terms for accepting non-Jews are not stringent enough.  Paul thought Jesus’ return was imminent and so a compromised position was acceptable.  Since we now know that Jesus’ return has not yet happened it may be the case that all Gentiles should have been held to a higher standard.  

Reflections for 11/18: Early Christianity as a Rejection of Judaism?

By calling what happened to Saul/Paul a conversion the editors of the CSB seem to argue that Saul/Paul changes from a Jew to a Christian in the same way a modern person (e.g. St. Edith Stein) might abandon Judaism and then become a Christian.  This heading therefore supports the perspective that Christianity and Judaism were radically different and that the two were in conflict from the start.  However, Oliver and Zetterholm persuasively argue that certain things taken for granted as indicative of a shift from Judaism to Christianity by the followers of “The Way” (Paul’s self-identification and Peter’s staying with a tanner, for example) are misunderstood and do not in fact indicate a rejection of Judaism by these people. A better header, therefore, might be “Saul’s Calling” since it is like a prophet being called to proclaim something within Judaism not someone leaving Judaism.

Christians may be tempted to see Christianity as “replacing” Judaism if they see Christianity’s rise as coming from a rejection of Judaism.  They may even go so far as to understand Jews as having been rejected by God once and for all.  This is not in the spirit of Vatican II and is dangerous thinking which has led to generations of anti-Semitism which in large part culminated with the Holocaust.   If we take Oliver and Zetterholm’s perspective Christianity is simply a movement within Judaism at this time.  That would lead us to understand Judaism as still “true” (perhaps incomplete) and to see Jews as a chosen people with a special relationship with God.  Others may be able to access salvation, but the Jews were never rejected.  Jewish followers of Jesus, if Oliver and Zetterholm’s perspective is valid, at this time would expect people to convert to Judaism first or to accept the validity of Judaism’s fundamental teachings.

Reflections for 11/13: Who Is Jesus for John the Evangelist?

God is King.  Jesus is God.  Jesus is King.

Much of Scripture contributes to the understanding of God’s kingship.  God reigns supreme over the universe establishing His authority through the various chaos struggles and subsequent enthronements that have been highlighted throughout this course (Genesis, the Flood, Exodus, some ways of thinking about Exile etc.).   The problem becomes how we are to interpret the monarchy of Israel in conjunction with God’s kingship.

Reading Scripture through the lens of John’s introduction makes it clear that Jesus is God.  Jesus is the Word which in Genesis (the “In the beginning” that starts John also starts Genesis) is the instrument of God’s Creation.  In this same way the personified Wisdom within the Psalms acts as a creative force.  But John goes beyond this simple understanding.  There are three ways the word “was” is used in the introduction (as noted in the CSB notes).  The first indicates the Word’s existence at the beginning.  In this way Jesus is eternal which means He was not created by God but is God (1:3 repeats this idea).  The second indicates the Word’s relationship with God.  Jesus is personally connected with God (I take God here to mean the Father although admittedly the language should be more precise) which is also emphasized by the claims Jesus makes throughout John (and in the other Gospels).  The third makes it altogether clear that the Word and God are the same.  All of this recounts Genesis to explain a proto-Trinitarian theology.  The problem this ends with is why Jesus was also man.

The solution to these two problems is that Jesus is the legitimate King of Israel.  Azar persuasively argues that John is not, as some scholars assert, avoiding the issue of Jesus’ kingship.  Pilate’s presentation of Jesus to the people, in the way it recalls 1st Samuel, makes intelligible all of Pilate’s actions during the Passion narrative.  Pilate is unwittingly confirming that Jesus is in fact king as he tried to mock Jesus.  He presents Jesus in the same way Samuel presents Saul, he has soldiers put a crown on Him, and he puts a sign in three languages (which may indicate universality according to Azar) that calls Jesus “King of the Jews” and won’t revise it to say “He claimed to be King of the Jews.”  One can, as Azar does, explain some other aspects of Jesus’ actions before the Passion and the People’s responses during the Passion as influenced by this theme.

This solves the problems by explaining that Jesus came down from heaven with the purpose of resolving one more chaos story (perhaps once and for all).  He comes to become the king and so to be enthroned.  He is not a merely human king whom Ezekiel or Saul can legitimately be concerned will detract from the Divine king, but rather since He is God His sovereignty is united with God’s sovereignty.  But how is Jesus enthroned and how does He defeat chaos? To a Jew familiar with His story it would seem He failed.  He certainly didn’t inflict any plagues on any Romans, or wrestle with chaos monsters.  He died.  But His death was His victory and His enthronement was on a cross.