Joined by Word and Covenant: Reflections on a Recent
Vatican Document on Jewish Christian Relations

John R. Donahue, S.J.

Msgr George A. Denzer Lecture, Immaculate Conception Seminary

Huntington, Long Island, March 16, 2003


John R. Donahue is the Raymond E. Brown Distinguished Professor of New Testament Studies at St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore. Posted with the kind permission of the author.  


I. Introduction[1]

In her important book, Has God Only One Blessing: Judaism as a Source of Christian Self Understanding, p. 248, Prof. Mary Boys, a Professor at Union Theological Seminary and a Catholic religious, remarks that "if the teaching of the Catholic Church on issues of social justice is our ‘best kept secret,’ [citing a book by that title by Peter Henriot] Catholicism’s rethinking of its relationship with the Judaism is equally unknown."[2] In the generation since the decree of the Second Vatican Council on relation of Catholicism to non-Christian religious (Nostra Aetate) there has been a sea change not only in attitudes toward the Jewish people and their faith, but also have occurred major shifts in theology which parallel these changes. In her book Boys provides a superb path through the movements and documents that chronicle these changes. These evening I will look at one of the most significant and most recent Roman Catholic statements and argue that far from being a well-kept secret is should be proclaimed from the roof tops.

One Friday morning in January 2002, I was reading the New York Times and noticed around pg. 10 a short article entitled, "Vatican Says Jews’ Wait for Messiah is validated by the Old Testament." The lead comments by Melinda Henneberger noted that "some Jewish scholars" welcomed it as an important document, most notably, Rabbi Alberto Piatelli, a leader of the Jewish community in Rome who commented, "it recognizes the value of the Jewish position regarding the wait for the Messiah, changes the whole exegesis of biblical studies and restores our biblical passages to their original meaning. I was surprised." The article epitomized the document as stating that "Jews and Christians share the wait for the Messiah, though Jews are waiting for the first coming, and Christians for the second," and quoted the introduction by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger" "The difference consists in the fact that for us, he who will come will have the same traits of that Jesus who has already come."

With my curiosity piqued I looked forward to follow up comments on the document, only to find that it disappeared from the radar screen so much so that I have often dubbed it "the stealth missive from the Vatican." (Tulia Levi, a longtime Jewish leader in Rome, asked why it was kept "secret" for so long). The document has a rather cumbersome title, "The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible," hereafter abbreviated as "Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures," and comprises over 200 pages in the Vatican Press edition> It does far more than discuss Christian and Jewish Messianic theology. It was released without the usual rituals of publication which characterize Roman documents, as for example a document released this week on "New Age" religious which was announced in advance and presented by Cardinals who were in charge of various Roman offices. For the "Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures," there has been virtually no coverage by the Catholic Press. To this point, America has never discussed it and only in the current issue has it been treated in Commonweal. It was not printed or summarized in Origins (the official documentary service of the U.S. Bishops). Though originally issued in French and Italian on the Feast of the Ascension, Mary 24, 2001, it was not available in English until the spring of 2002, but then only from the Vatican Press, and a readily available English edition appeared in late summer (Pauline Books and Media, 2002). A commentator in Jewish Weekly suggested that the Messiah might arrive before the English translation. It was however discussed in a talk at Catholic University by Fr. Henry Wansbrough, O.S.B., and a member of the Biblical Commission that drafted the document, published subsequently in Scripture Bulletin.[3] In April 2002, Prof. Philip Cunningham of Boston College posted on the web site of the Center for Christian-Learning what remains the most extensive and important commentary. An important conference took place at Catholic University of America on May 7, 2002 co-hosted by the Rabbinical Conference for Interreligious Dialogue and the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Dialogue of the NECK. At this time Rev. Joseph Jensen, O.S.B., Executive Secretary of the Catholic Biblical Association offered an important analysis, which, however, received little notice in the Catholic Press. Rev. Donald Senior, C.P., a New Testament scholar and presently a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission gave four lectures on it at the Los Angeles Biblical Institute in June 2002, and it was the subject of a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the Catholic Biblical Association in August with a presentation by Senior and Reponses by Fr. Larry Frizzell at Seton Hall and Dr. Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt University. A revised version of Senior’s has been published Commonweal, (January 31, 2003), and I recommend it highly.


II. General Overview of the Document

In his address, Henry Wansbrough noted that the document originated in an explicit desire of Pope John Paul II in 1997 to address the issue. This was in accord with one of the overriding concerns of John Paul’s papacy and constitutes a significant elaboration of his famous statement to the Jewish Community at Mainz in November 1980: "The encounter between the People of the Old Covenant which has never been abrogated by God, and that of the New Covenant is a dialogue internal to our Church." Despite Pope John Paul II’s interest in the issue and in the document itself, unlike other magisterial documents there is no indication in the preface that the Pope reviewed or approved the document. Yet, since a major Roman congregation issued it, it has the authority of Catholic doctrine, especially in its developmental historical context.

The document is not a general treatment of Jewish-Christian relations and its intended audience is Christian readers. In introducing the document Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, of which the Biblical Commission is a subdivision states that a new theological and historical situation has been created by the "Shoah" (the preferred Jewish term for the Holocaust). He notes that its purpose is to inform Christians, "that the Jewish reading of the Bible is a possible one in continuity with the Jewish Scriptures of the Second Temple," and that Christians can learn a great deal from a Jewish exegesis "practice for more than 2000 years," with the hope that "Jews can profit from Christian exegetical research."

The document is divided into four major parts: I. "The Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish People are a Fundamental Part of the Christian Bible," (roughly 40 pages) II. Fundamental Themes in the Jewish Scriptures and Their Reception into Faith in Christ (the longest section, c. 100 pages), III. The Jews in the New Testament (c. 43 pp.) and (IV) a short conclusion with pastoral suggestions (c. 8 pp).

While "Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures" is a rich document with helpful insights for exegesis and theology, it is also somewhat sprawling and uneven. Since the only scholar from the United States on the Biblical Commission which drafted the document was Raymond E. Brown who died in August 1998, the document shows little influence of discussions in the United States of issues such as intertextuality within the Jewish Scriptures themselves and with Christian Scriptures, the "new perspective" on Paul and the application of critical hermeneutics to problematic texts as, for example, practiced by feminist hermeneutics. (Somewhat surprisingly many of these approaches are commended in the 1993 statement of the Biblical Commission, "The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church").

At the risk of superficiality but drawing on the work of Philip Cunningham, Donald Senior, Amy-Jill Levine and some other Jewish commentators which I have located, I will highlight certain of the major positive contributions of the document, indicate some critical comments, and propose for discussion suggestions for further reflection.


III. Positive Contributions

At the end of January, I participated in a discussion of this document with the faculties of the Washington Theological Union. One of the respondents to my presentation was Rabbi George B. Dresden, a faculty member and rabbi of a large Washington congregation. His reaction to the document, which he invited me to share with you, is worth quoting:

When I first read hurriedly through this document, I was thrilled by it. The document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, read as a Jew must read it, through the lens of the painful history of the relationship between our people and the Christian World, is nothing less than inspiring. My parents and grandparents, and the rabbis and teachers who trained me in my early life to think and act as a Jew, would have blinked in disbelief, if they did not laugh at the absurdity of the news that an authoritative document issued by the Church of Rome states, ‘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.’

Rabbi Driesen then says, "In context I infer that one aspect of God’s positive plan is that Christians and Jews will live side by side indefinitely.

One of the most significant and initially discussed sections of the document occurs in the introductory comments on the common themes shared by Jews and Christians. In a subsection entitled, "The Unity of God’s Plan and the Idea of Fulfillment," It reads:

The notion of fulfillment is an extremely complex one, one that could easily be distorted if there is a unilateral insistence either on continuity or discontinuity. Christian faith recognizes the fulfillment, in Christ, of the Scriptures and the hopes of Israel, but it does not understand this fulfillment as a literal one. Such a conception would be reductionism. In reality, in the mystery of Christ crucified and risen, fulfillment is brought about in a manner unforeseen. It includes transcendence. 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".

Further on in the same section, the document links Jewish and Christian eschatological hope:

What has already been accomplished in Christ must yet be accomplished in us and in the world. The definitive fulfillment 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.

Somewhat unfortunately the document offers no explanation of how Jesus confers on the "notions of the Messiah," a fullness which could not have been imagined in advance. This is especially acute since the meaning and diversity of Second Temple Jewish Messianic hopes are very much disputed today. Also, as Philip Cunningham has noted the "traits of the Messiah who has already come" can scarcely refer to traits of the historical Jesus but to the Jesus who is "already active among us." Here would have been a good chance from a Christian perspective to offer some comments on pneumatology and the role of the Paraclete in John’s Gospel.

Another important insight from this section of the document is not only the rejection of lingering misinformation about the Jewish Scriptures or Jewish Bible (terms favored by the document), still harbored by many Christians (e.g. God of wrath, vs. God of mercy), one of the most significant statements of the document recognizes a pluralism of legitimate readings of the same text by Jews and Christians. In concluding the important first section on ways Jews and Christians read the Bible, we find the following statement:

As regards the first question [that is whether Christians have monopolized the Jewish Bible] 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 [No. 22].

This text then tells Christians that a contemporary Jewish reading is a possible (and legitimate one), and admits that in addition to the need for historical critical readings of texts (discussed earlier in the document) interpretations arise from "the vision of their respective faith." While this may seem like a truism, the key admission by the Catholic Biblical Commission is the validity of the "vision of the respective faith" — of Judaism. The revolutionary quality of this statement emerges when we contrast the statement of Pope Pius X almost a century ago: "The Jewish faith was the foundation of our own, but it has been superseded by the teaching of Christ, and we cannot admit that it still enjoys any validity."[4] 

The fundamental perspectives of part one then influence the discussion of nine fundamental themes that united Jewish and Christian faith: (1) Revelation of God; (2) anthropology or the human person; (3) God liberator and savior; (4) the election of Israel; (5) the Covenant, (6) the Law, (7) Prayer and Cult, the Jerusalem Temple; (8) Divine Reproaches and Condemnation, (9) the Promises. While this list was not intended to be exhaustive, the omission of the wisdom tradition is somewhat surprising. I should also mention here the criticism of Prof. Amy-Jill Levine that "Law" is not the best translation for Torah, which in Jewish interpretation comprises far more that legal material. [One parenthetical remark is important here. The document alternates between using the term, "Jewish Scriptures," and Old Testament. The preferable term is much discussed by both Christian and Jewish scholars, though the preferred Jewish term is TANAK an acronym for the Torah, the Prophets and the Writings]

Obviously, coverage of these themes is beyond the scope of my presentation so I will highlight some important observations.

First. As a consequence of God as liberator and savior, the document affirms "the idea of election [of Israel] is fundamental for an understanding of the Old Testament and indeed for the whole Bible." (No. 33), which, citing Deuteronomy, it describes as "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." It then goes on following Old Testament texts to describe this election not in an exclusive or sectarian sense but as a choice of Israel to be a light to "the nations" which also belong to God. The idea of election continues in the New Testament and the document affirms, "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 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 this view is reminiscent of the older "remnant" theology, it moves beyond the earlier overtones of the rejection of Judaism.

Second. After a survey of the different covenants in the Bible, the document makes clear that "the whole idea of covenant depends on the divine initiative" (No. 38) and that observance of the covenant stipulations is a sign of gratitude—a view close to that proposed by E.P. Sanders when using the term "covenantal nomism."[5] The covenant of Jeremiah 30:31-33 written not on tablets of stone but on hearts of flesh is described in its own right as "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." (No. 39). While I cannot judge Jewish reaction to this statement, I feel that the Vatican Document is a welcome caution against over interpretation of Jeremiah’s covenant in reference to the Christ event.

After a necessarily cursory survey of New Testament covenant texts the document concludes:

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 realized 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 1:5(b)-6) (No. 42).

Thirdly. While "The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures" attempts to describe each of the themes of the Jewish Bible in their original contexts rather than through the prism of the New Testament, it proposes a schema of re-reading and reappropriation by the New Testament which may seem like supersessionism in more elegant garb, a concern voiced by Fr. Roland Murphy, O.Carm. shortly before his death and subsequently published in Biblical Theology Bulletin.[6]

Upon concluding the survey of themes, the document states, "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" (No. 64). The document affirms that the New Testament "fully appropriates the great themes of the theology of Israel in a threefold reference to past, present and future" according to the pattern of continuity, discontinuity and progression. While the first two elements are relatively non-controversial, and are manifest in the tradition history of themes within the Jewish Scriptures themselves, the word "progression" may cause concern to both Christian and Jewish scholars. The document states: "The New Testament attests that Jesus, far from being in opposition to the Israelite Scriptures, revoking them as provisional, brings them instead to fulfillment in his person, in his mission, and especially in his paschal mystery." (No 65). The document then traces this pattern in relation to God, human beings, and the people. The clearest expression occurs when speaking of the Church in relation to the theme of "the people." The carefully worded section merits full quotation:

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.  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, 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). (No. 65)

The term "progression," which in both English and French suggests a move forward, or and advance seems somewhat in tension with the value placed on the Jewish Scriptures throughout the document. Its description is carefully worded, "The New Testament …far from being in opposition to the Israelite Scriptures, revoking them as provisional, brings them instead to fulfillment in his person, in his mission, and especially in his paschal mystery." Progression should not be confused with "progress" since the terms mean very different things in both the French original and English translation. Progression suggests movement toward a goal. For Christians this goal is the Christ event, for Jews it is the definitive arrival of the Messiah and messianic age. Therefore, Christians and Jews are not in opposition in terms of hopes of fulfillment. Christians affirm that the Messiah has come and still works through history, but admit that the present age is a broken and wounded age without the fulfillment of Messianic hopes of joy and peace. Jewish theology sees history also as fragile and wounded as it moves in hope toward the fulfillment of a Messianic age. seems very much like the older promise fulfillment schema that has long characterized Christian theology.

Part III of the Document

The third part of the document presents a somewhat cursory overview of the "Jews in the New Testament." Here perhaps the document shows its origin in the work of a large committee over a number of years. Virtually every book of the New Testament is treated with comments on its perspective on Judaism, so that this section simultaneously attempts too much and accomplishes too little. At the meeting of the Catholic Biblical Association Prof. Amy-Jill Levine found the "exculpatory" treatment here highly dubious because the principal attempt was to locate anti-Jewish material in its general historical setting, thus simply historicizing the often bitter and odious charges against the Jews.[7]   Prof. Levine, and I suspect other Jewish scholars, takes issue with a view articulated by Cardinal Ratzinger and which has become current today that the reproaches of the Jews in the New Testament stand in the prophetic tradition of summoning people to return to covenant fidelity so that Jeremiah’s statements, for example, are harsher than those of the New Testament. Prof. Levine notes "Matthew and John are writing to people who do not see themselves as members of the group being excoriated. New Testament polemic is not comparable to Jeremiah, and as long as it is read so, the true difficulties these texts pose to Jewish-Christian relations will never be honestly addressed " (pg. 5). Prof Sharon Ringe, of Wesley Theological Seminary has also noted that at times the document does not draw on the latest historical research which questions issues surrounding the trial of Jesus, and the depiction of the Pharisees.

In the brief pastoral conclusion, the document citing statements of Pope John Paul II stresses that the perdurance of Jewish faith is not simply a natural historical occurrence, but "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" (No 86) It then urges Christians to avoid a one-sided reading of texts from both Testaments and to better appreciate "the dynamism that animates them, which is precisely a dynamism of love." (No. 86). It continues to urge Christians to see the polemical statements in their historical context and to avoid applying them to Jewish people throughout history.

In its final paragraph, the document admits honestly that significant differences remain between Jews and Christians when they read the same Scripture. Yet, I quote, "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." Donald Senior sees this admission as a sign of maturity in a dialogue, which has progressed steadily in the sea change in Jewish-Christian relations since Nostra Aetate of Vatican. II.


IV. Some Issues for Continued Reflection

In this section I will propose some random reflections both positive and critical that hopefully will further discussion of this important document and help it to become better known among various Christian groups, professional and lay.

1. First. The positive contributions of the document have been heralded in many quarters. The incorporation of John Paul’s phrase "a covenant never revoked" into a major Vatican document solidifies a new theological perspective on Judaism. This had first been done in a 1985 document of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews [I,3]. Its reiteration here is important because in so doing the document explicitly admits major development and change in Catholic teaching, and implicitly recognizes that what was seen as assured doctrine in the past was historically conditioned. This has important implications for the development and change of church teaching in other important areas.

2. Secondly. The long central section which covers major themes of the Jewish Scriptures and their formative influence on the Christian Scriptures is a rejection of any latent Marcionism which plays down the deep religious insights of the Jewish Scriptures and also a renewed summons for Catholic education and preaching to engage continually the riches of the Jewish Scriptures. Yet, as Roland Murphy, lamented in his reflection written shortly before his death that the document in its thematic and Christological focus lacks a "real feel" for the Old Testament and does not capture the "beauty and spirit" of the Jewish Scriptures, and adds "Christians need to learn how to read the Old Testament not merely in light of fulfillment but with eagerness and openness to its tentative and groping grasp of the mystery of the God whom Christians worship."[8] I was also disappointed that the document did not emphasize that part of the Jewish Scriptures that most informs Christian life today—the book of the Psalms.

3. Thirdly. The implications of the document must enter the mainstream of discussion between Christians and Jews today and must also be allowed to challenge other Catholic doctrinal statements. One of the earliest reactions to the New York Times article was by Seymour Reich, the chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation, who in a letter to the Times said that the document "should go a long way to clarify church doctrine and counter the confusion over the earlier Dominus Iesus. Though Cardinal Walter Kasper has gone to great lengths to argue that Dominus Jesus is concerned with the relation of Christianity to religious traditions other than Judaism, the major biblical text cited by Dominus Iesus to argue that "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12) is from a speech in Acts delivered before the Jewish council.[9] The horizon of this statement is not "the nations." Also, though the PBC document rightly and eloquently affirms the unique status of Judaism in relation to Christianity, it still admits more clearly than any other Church document that there is a path to salvation that is in effect, "non-Christian."

Another area that must be investigated in light of the document is the question of Christian evanglelization activity toward Jewish people. On August 12, 2002, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops published a statement from the "Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligioius Affairs in dialogue with the National Council of Synagogues, entitled Reflections on Covenant and Mission which stated that "targeting Jews for conversion to Christianity" is "no long theologically acceptable in the Catholic Church." Two months later in an article in America Cardinal Avery Dulles, who has emerged as the leading United States spokesman of Vatican teaching, criticized Reflections on Covenant and Mission as lacking doctrinal authority but moreso as unfaithful to Church teaching. He then cited with agreement Heb. 8:13 that the first covenant is "obsolete" and "ready to vanish away;" a view countered by Pope John Paul’s frequent reference to Romans 11:29, where Paul says of the Jewish people that "the gifts and the call are irrevocable." Somewhat surprisingly Dulles never mentions the statement by Pope John Paul II at Mainz and repeated or subsequent occasions that the covenant has never been revoked, nor "The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible," though the response in the same issue of America by Mary Boys, Philip Cunningham and John Pawlikowski does cite this document.[10]

4. Fourthly. While the method of reading biblical texts in the document is firmly rooted in historical criticism by locating documents in their original setting and studying their transmission, the document lacks any real engagement with critical hermeneutics, especially those evolved by feminist hermeneutics and liberation theology. It is not enough simply to say that anti-Jewish statements are historically conditioned. As part of a canon of Scripture one must ask as Elisabeth Schuessler Fiorenza has done whether such statements are "for the sake of our salvation," (one of the criteria of inspiration listed in Dei Verbum, No. 11, Vatican II).[11] Even when seen in their historical setting such statements raise questions about the understanding of God handed on in the Scriptures, and also about fundamental negative attitudes toward "the other," or the outsider which have plagued Christian history.

5. Fifthly, as valuable as the document is and as immensely valuable as have been the publications of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, one raise questions about their method of proceeding. Normally their statements are almost exclusively directed to Roman Catholics and deal with inner-church issues. In this statement they are talking about the faith and beliefs of another people, as the title explicitly says, The Jewish People and Their Scriptures. The problem is that the document talked about a distinct group (Jewish People) without any evidence that they talked with representatives of this same people. (I admit that I could be mistaken here but, given the secrecy characteristic of Congregations and Commissions we have no way of knowing whether this took place.)

6. Finally, it is very important that the insights and conclusions of "The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible," be incorporated into the theology and pastoral ministry of the Church. I have honestly found very few Catholic teachers who have read the document or seminarians who know of its existence. Its conclusions should also influence liturgy and worship, since, for example, the first reading from the Old Testament in the Sunday liturgy is often related to the Gospel in a rather wooden scheme of promise/fulfillment. Also something must be done about the pejorative use of the term "Jews" in the Gospel of John and characterizations of them especially in liturgical readings no matter how much sophisticated historical criticism locates this usage in a first century context and cautions against its characterization of Jewish people today. When the average person in the pew hears that "you [the Jews] do not have the love of God in you" (Jn 5:42) [Thursday, Fourth Week of Lent], or "Jesus said to the Pharisees, "you will die in your sins if you do not believe that I am He [the divine name], Jn. 8:21, [Tuesday, Fifth Week of Lent]. I am not in favor of excising these sections from the Bible since they remind me as a Christian that we must come to terms with the negative attitudes of our Scripture and Traditions. Still liturgical readings can and should be revised, and catechesis must break down old prejudices.

A final word: Many who have read this document have commented on the eschatological messianic hope shared by Jews and Christians. This seems to some new and somewhat radical but I want to conclude with the words of a wonderful visionary rabbi, Hershel Jonah Matt who penned the following words over three decades ago.

Jews and Christians—our situations are somewhat different; our roles and tasks are somewhat different; our styles and modes are somewhat different. But we are covenanted to and by the same God of Israel; our essential teachings are markedly similar; our goals, identical. And the one whose second coming Christians await and whose (first) coming we Jews await—when he comes—will surely turn out to have the same face for all of us."[12] 


[1] Slightly revised version of actual lecture.

[2]   P. 248, New York: Paulist, 2000;  Peter Henriot, M. Schulteiss, Edward DeBerri,  Catholic Social Teaching: Our Best Kept Secret. Maryknoll: Orbis, 1988.

 [3] “The Jewish People and its Holy Scriptures in the Christian Bible,” Scripture Bulletin  (Summer 2002)

 [4] Cited in David Kertzer, The Popes Against the Jews: the Vatican’s Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-semitism (New  York: Knopf, 2001) p. 225

 [5] Paul and Palestinian Judaism (Philadelphia: Fortress,  1977), esp. pp. 511-518

 [6] . “The Biblical Commission, the Jews, and Scriptures,” Biblical Theological Bulletin 32/3 (Summer, 2002)  145-149.

 [7] Response to presentation of Donald Senior at meeting of Catholic Biblical Association.

 [8] BTB  30/2 (Summer 2002) 147.

 [9] Address of Cardinal Walter Kasper delivered at the 17th meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee, New York, May 1, 2001. Available on Boston College Web site.

 [10]  Cardinal Dulles’ reading of  Heb 8:13 and 10:9 does not take into consideration the historical setting and theological thrust of the letter, see Raymond E. Brown,  An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997) p. 703.  Brown notes that many theologians are questioning a literal reading of this text.

 [11] See esp. In Memory of Her: A Feminist Reconstruction of Christian Origins (New York: Crossroad, 1983), pp. 3-40.

 [12]  Rabbi Hershel Jonah Matt,  "Should Christians Mean Anything to Jews," in Daniel C. Matt, ed. Walking Humbly With God: The Life and Writings of Rabbi Hershel Jonah Matt (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav, 1993), p. 212.