“Jews” in the New Testament

This morning I’m taking the reading less as an opportunity for devotion, but more as an opportunity for instruction, or at least to point toward resources for instruction.  In verses 23, 23, and 25 of 1 Corinthians, Paul uses the term “Jews.”  When read narrowly, passages like this one in 1 Corinthians can lead to a highly negative view of Jews in the New Testament (i.e. “Jews demand signs”).

However, the church in modern times has done a great deal, at least in official writings, to try to correct this misperception.  For example, in Pope Paul VI’s “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to the Non-Christian Religions” (Nostra Aetate), he states the following (emphasis added):

As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation, nor did the Jews in large number, accept the Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading. 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. 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)…

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. 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.

I would recommend that you give the whole declaration a read HERE if you have time.

In addition, the Pontifical Biblical Commission has written a document entitled “The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible.”  This is a more lengthy document than Pope Paul VI’s; however, it is definitely worth reading if you have the time.  At the very least, you could go and read the conclusion of the document to get the gist of what has been written throughout.  I’ll just provide one quote from the conclusion:

But it must be admitted that many of these passages are capable of providing a pretext for anti-Jewish sentiment and have in fact been used in this way. To avoid mistakes of this kind, it must be kept in mind that the New Testament polemical texts, even those expressed in general terms, have to do with concrete historical contexts and are never meant to be applied to Jews of all times and places merely because they are Jews. The tendency to speak in general terms, to accentuate the adversaries’ negative side, and to pass over the positive in silence, failure to consider their motivations and their ultimate good faith, these are characteristics of all polemical language throughout antiquity, and are no less evident in Judaism and primitive Christianity against all kinds of dissidents.

I would have provided emphasis once again, but I would have had to italicize the whole paragraph.  This paragraph expresses exactly what I am getting at this morning.  Texts like the one in 1 Corinthians is “capable of providing a pretext for anti-Jewish sentiment.”  However, this would be a serious and narrow misreading.

Let us today pray for Jewish – Christian relations.  Let us also recognize out indebtedness to the Jewish faith.


About Jeremy

I work at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Hammond, LA. I teach part-time classes from time to time, through Loyola University in New Orleans, Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and St. Joseph's Abbey and Seminary College. I also just finished a doctoral degree in Biblical languages through the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.
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