Christian bible - Paul.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
For most Jews, Saul/Paul was a renegade remembered with bitterness for the
criticism he aimed at the Jewish religion after he became an ardent follower of
Jesus. Perhaps it is time for this negative view of Paul to be balanced by the
solid defense of the Jews he wrote in the middle of the first century CE.
Scholars estimate that the main purpose of this letter to the Roman church was
to encourage Christian-Jewish coexistence and prevent Roman Christians from
supporting the anti-Jewish sentiment prevailing in Rome.
defense of the Jews was the most important scriptural backing for the turnaround
of Catholic attitudes to Jews in the Second Vatican Council.
speculate that if Paul’s defense had been properly understood from the start,
contempt for the Jews may never have taken root in the Church.
letter, there is one statement that deserves special attention just as the whole
world is demonizing the Jewish inhabitants of Judaea and Samaria. Over the past
few years, strong condemnations have issued from the World Council of Churches,
Presbyterian Church (USA), Disciples and United Church of Christ, Mennonite
Central Committee, Sabeel and in the Kairos Palestine document, to mention a
Most recently the United Methodist Church has resorted to punishing
the Jews of Judaea and Samaria with a boycott. Not only do these mainstream
Christians condemn Jews for living in their ancient homeland, but they also
influence leading statesmen, politicians and non-governmental organizations to
do the same.
Quite apart from the usual legal and historical arguments
supporting Jewish settlement in Judaea and Samaria, these Christians should be
challenged for ignoring Paul on this issue. For in his letter, Paul says of the
Jews: “In respect to the gospel, they are enemies on your account; but in
respect to election, they are beloved because of the patriarchs. For the gifts
and the call of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:28-29). And in this reference to
‘the gifts and call,’ no one can deny that the Land is among the most prominent
of the gifts. There is no question here of Christian abrogation or
supersessionism, for Paul confirms that the gifts, including the Land, are
irrevocable. For believing Christians, this should be self-evident.
brings us to the enduring incomprehension of this passage. Prof.
Sievers summarizes a series of ecclesiastical misunderstandings going back
nearly 2,000 years: “We have observed that Ambrosiaster’s misinterpretation of
Romans 11:29, based on a simple error or on a somewhat forced theology of
baptism, exerted its influence for over 1,000 years, even beyond the time of the
Protestant Reformation. Similarly, Augustine’s teaching on grace and
predestination, which made extensive use of our verse, has had an enduring
influence on Catholic and Protestant theology.... Finally, important impulses
for further exegetical and theological reflection have come through the
teachings of Vatican II and of Pope John Paul II” (A History of the
Interpretation of Romans 11:29’ in Annali di Storia dell’Esegesi 14/2 ,
381-442, quote from 442).
It is almost unbelievable that such an
apparently simple verse should have to wait until the middle of the twentieth
century to start making sense to Christians. Prof. Sievers ascribes this delay
to the strong Christian prejudice against Jews, which persisted more or less
unchallenged until the Shoah: “The verse, perhaps the most concise statement of
God’s fidelity, has long been neglected. For based on a Christian reading of
other biblical texts it seemed inconceivable that Jews who did not accept Jesus
as the Christ could still have a positive relationship with God. Thus it was
frequently argued that God’s gifts and call had either passed entirely to the
Christian Church or had been put on hold until the Jews’ conversion…” (op. cit.
In the wake of the Shoah, Christian communities have cited this
verse again and again in their radical reassessment of Jews. However, confronted
with current Christian attitudes toward the Jewish inhabitants of Judaea and
Samaria, one wonders whether the full significance of this verse has even yet
been grasped.Yochanan Ben-Daniel is a family doctor with an abiding interest
in Christian- Jewish relations.