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·         Preface

·         Introduction

·         I. The Sacred Scriptures of the Jewish people are a fundamental part of the Christian Bible

A. The New Testament recognizes the authority of the Sacred Scripture of the Jewish people

1. Implicit 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
2. Re-reading the Old Testament in the light of Christ
3. Allegorical Re-reading
4. Return to the Literal Sense
5. The unity of God's Plan and the Idea of Fulfillment
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 Savior
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

C. Conclusion

1. Continuity
2. Discontinuity
3. Progression

·         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
5. Conclusion

C. The Jews in the Pauline Letters and other New Testament Writings

1. Jews in the undisputed Pauline Letters
2. Jews in the other Letters
3. Jews in the Book of Revelation

·         IV. Conclusions

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 Manicheans.1


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 pathways.3


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 interpretative key.


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 systematized 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 modernized 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 highly unlikely.


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 practized 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 analyzed 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

JosephCardinal 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 endeavor. 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.




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 recognized 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”.


A. 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 recognizes 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, recognizing thereby the authority of the Jewish Bible as divine revelation.


2. 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 Lk 20:28).

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 instances.


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.


B. 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 Scriptures.


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 realization of God's plan.


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 recognize 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.


1. 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.


2. 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 recognize 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 third place.


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 intercultural relations.


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 fulfillment 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 comprehended.


D. 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.

2. 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 exegesis.


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 a lesson.


Among the Gospels, Matthew shows greatest familiarity with the Jewish techniques in utilizing 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 biblical commentators.


E. 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 Scripture30 “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 2422 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.] 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 2422 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 2422 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 impression.


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 judgment 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 recognized 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-honored 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.




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 methodology.


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 of Christ.


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 allegorizing 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 original one.


Jews in the diaspora sometimes utilized 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 recognizing her house (Jos 2:18), as an allusion to the blood of the Savior. 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 honor 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 meaning.


5. The Unity of God's Plan and the Idea of Fulfillment

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 realized progressively over the course of time. Both the unity and the gradual realization 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 fulfillment and, consequently, certain aspects that remain constant began to appear: God reveals himself, calls, confers a mission, promises, liberates, makes a covenant. The first realizations, 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 fulfillment 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 fulfillment is already substantially realized in the mystery of Christ.


The notion of fulfillment 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 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 reductionist. In reality, in the mystery of Christ crucified and risen, fulfillment 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 fulfillment of prophecy must be discarded. This insistence has contributed to harsh judgments 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 spiritualization. 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.


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 monopolized 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 practiced 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 research.


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 though 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 God47 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 recognized 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 summarizes 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 your 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 recognized 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 Co 8:6).


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 1:4-31).


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 recognisz 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 Savior of the Israelite people as well as of individuals.59


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 realized 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.

2. 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 characterize 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 recognize 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 (Gn 2:15-17).


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 fulfill 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 honor 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 realized 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 its culmination.


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 15:13-16).


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 somber 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 recognizes 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 Savior

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 Savior; I declared and saved” (Is 43:11-12). As “Saviour” and “Redeemer” of Israel, the lordwill be known to all men (Is 49:26).


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 fulfillment, yet to come, of the redemption of Israel as a divine intervention at the end of time.87 It is as Savior 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” (Ps 130:8).


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 Savior. 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 Savior” (Lk 2:11). The Fourth Gospel opens up a wider perspective when the Samaritans proclaim that Jesus “is truly the Savior of the world” (Jn 4:42).


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 saviors 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 Savior of the world” (Jn 4:42).


The title Savior is above all attributed to the risen Jesus, for, by his resurrection, “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior 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 5:9).


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 fulfillment in the New.


4. The Election of Israel

a) In the Old Testament

33. God is the Liberator and Savior, 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 lord has “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 your 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. 104


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 relativizes 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 lord said: 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 lord chose 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 favorably disposed towards Jesus. 113 In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke emphasizes 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 people.


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 world”. 119


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 honor “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 honor 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 emphasizes 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 double aspect.


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 lord makes 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 lord alone, represented by “a flaming torch” passes between the portions of animal flesh.


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 fulfillment 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 lord and 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 lord has 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 lord commits 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 favor 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”. 130


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 favor (2 S 7:14-15). The perspective is very different from that of the Sinai covenant, where the divine favor 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 realized 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 fulfillment, 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 fulfillment 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 them” (21:3).


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 fulfillment 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 3:14-16).


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 fulfillment. 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 fulfillment 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 fulfillment 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 recognizing 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 fulfillment 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 11:26-32).


42. The Letter to the Hebrews quotes in extenso the prophetic message of the “new covenant” 139 and proclaims its fulfillment 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. 9: 14-15).


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 fulfillment 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 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).


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 Decalogue. 150


“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 concretize 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 civilization. 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 strong.


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 organization of the Psalter. The Tôr~h revealed to mankind is also the organizing 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 Christ.


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 radicalizing 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 neighbor (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 realized 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 neighbor; 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 (splendor coming from God) so that Israelites could not even look on the face of Moses (3:7). This glory loses its luster by the very fact that a superior glory (3:10) now exists, that of the “ministry of the Spirit” (3:8).


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 fulfill 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 fulfillment 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 neighbor. 161 This is “the perfect law of liberty” (1:25; 2:12-13), which is concerned with working through a faith that is active (2:14-26).


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 neighbor (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 favor (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 (32:10,14).


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 organize 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. 167


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 realization 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 lord your 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 relativization 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 favor (2 K 19:20-34).




Copyright © 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved