We Christians have great admiration for the Jewish people. Yet we have a proven history of treating them terribly. What is the right way forward?
The Jewish people are our revered ancestors in the faith. They are chosen of the Most High God.
God will never reject them. They will never be un-chosen.
Many of our greatest heroes of the faith were Jewish. Jewish people wrote almost all of the Bible, including the New Testament.
The Lord Jesus Christ himself was a practicing Jewish man. And so were the Twelve. And so was Paul.
However, despite our esteem for the Jewish people, we Christians have a proven history of treating them terribly.
Many Christians blame them for Christ’s death. Some of our preachers rage against them.
Christian leaders have restricted their freedom and imprisoned them in ghettos. When Hitler slaughtered millions of Jewish people, Christian leaders said almost nothing.
We Christian believers are trapped in a sort of maelstrom. On the one hand, we want to do the right thing. On the other hand, we have all this horrible baggage from our collective past.
In our day, what Christian attitudes toward the Jews are appropriate?
In the second Christian millennium, the most prominent Christian answer to that question was provided by the Second Vatican Council.
One of the 16 documents of the Second Vatican Council is called “Nostra Aetate.” That means “The Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.” Paragraph #4 addresses our relationship with the Jewish people.
Like many magisterial documents, Nostra Aetate is dense. A lot of rich content is compressed into its brief paragraphs. The verbiage is specialized and might escape the notice of a casual reader.
To unpack Nostra Aetate requires significant work. To that end, we are sharing with you our own significant work at unpacking the paragraph.
Here is paragraph #4 of Nostra Aetate, along with our own comments:
PARAGRAPH 4. As the sacred synod searches into the mystery of the Church, it remembers the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham’s stock.
the people of the New Covenant. That is, us Christians.
Abraham’s stock. That is, the Jewish people.
Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God’s saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets.
She professes that all who believe in Christ-Abraham’s sons according to faith [note 6] – are included in the same Patriarch’s call, and likewise that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the chosen people’s exodus from the land of bondage.
note 6. It cites Galatians 3:7, which says:
Know therefore that those who are of faith, the same are children of Abraham.
The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant.
This sentence is very convoluted. Here is our paraphrase:
We Christians should always remember that the revelation of Jesus Christ came to us through the Jews. It was through them that God had effected (“brought about”) the Old Covenant.
Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles. [note 7]
olive tree. In the Bible, Israel is sometimes referred to as an olive tree.
note 7. It cites Romans 11:17-24, which says:
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them, and became partaker with them of the root and of the richness of the olive tree; 18 don’t boast over the branches. But if you boast, it is not you who support the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.” 20 True; by their unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by your faith. Don’t be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God didn’t spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 See then the goodness and severity of God. Toward those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in his goodness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 They also, if they don’t continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut out of that which is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree, how much more will these, which are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?
Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles. making both one in Himself. [note 8]
note 8. It cites Ephesians 2:14-16, which says:
14 For he is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition, 15 having abolished in his flesh the hostility, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man of the two, making peace; 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, having killed the hostility thereby.
The Church keeps ever in mind the words of the Apostle about his kinsmen: “theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:4-5), the Son of the Virgin Mary. She also recalls that the Apostles, the Church’s main-stay and pillars, as well as most of the early disciples who proclaimed Christ’s Gospel to the world, sprang from the Jewish people.
As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation, [note 9] nor did the Jews in large number, accept the Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading. [note 10]
As Holy Scripture testifies. These are the complaints that Christians scream at the Jewish people.
note 10. It cites Romans 11:28, which says:
Concerning the Good News, they are enemies for your sake. But concerning the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sake.
Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues-such is the witness of the Apostle. [note 11]
note 11. It cites Romans 11:28-29, which says:
Concerning the Good News, they are enemies for your sake. But concerning the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sake. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
In company with the Prophets and the same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and “serve him shoulder to shoulder” (Soph. 3:9). [note 12]
note 12. It cites three Bible passages:
Isaiah 66:23. It shall happen that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh will come to worship before me,” says the LORD.
Psalm 65:4. Blessed is one whom you choose, and cause to come near, that he may live in your courts. We will be filled with the goodness of your house, your holy temple.
Romans 11:11-32. This passage is too long to include here
Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is thus so great, this sacred synod wants to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit, above all, of biblical and theological studies as well as of fraternal dialogues.
biblical and theological studies. Studying the Bible can lead us to a greater understanding and respect for the Jewish people. So too can the study of theology.
fraternal dialogues. This refers to the Ministry of Interreligious Dialogue.
True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; [note 13] still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today.
note 13. It cites John 19:6, which says:
When therefore the chief priests and the officers saw him, they shouted, saying, “Crucify! Crucify!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves, and crucify him, for I find no basis for a charge against him.”
cannot be charged against all the Jews. We Christians should not blame the Jewish people for Christ’s death.
then alive. Of all the Jewish who were alive when Jesus Christ was executed, only a tiny percent of them consented to it. None of the others did. We cannot blame all of them.
the Jews of today. No Jewish person alive today had anything to do with the death of Jesus Christ. They were not alive 2,000 years ago.
Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.
Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed. Some Christian preachers and teachers portray the Jewish in these ways. They need to stop it!
Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel’s spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.
decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone. We Christians need to shout this from the rooftops!
Besides, as the Church has always held and holds now, Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It is, therefore, the burden of the Church’s preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God’s all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.
Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.