Law-Observance Among Jewish Christians: Benefiting from Augustine’s View

Abstract: While some church fathers are guilty of antisemitism, many authors have recognized that Augustine’s stance towards Jews and Torah is nuanced. After examining Augustine’s view on the law and its development, this article shows that although Augustine disapproved of Jewish practice, his view was uniquely positive among his contemporaries because he understood a Jewish-gentile distinction regarding law-observance that gave room for Jewish practice among Yeshua-followers of the apostolic era. To resolve a tension in Augustine’s construal of Jewish practice in New Testament times and his own, I propose that a fine-tuning of Augustine’s view on the ceremonial law’s antitype gives a theological system that would have removed Augustine’s rationale for prohibiting law-observance among Jewish Christians1 of his day.

Recent reappraisals of Augustine’s posture on Jews and Judaism abound. Was Augustine truly anti-Jewish? In Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism, Paula Fredriksen and other researchers argue that calling Augustine anti-Jewish/Judaism like many other church fathers would be a mistake.2

If healing Christian-Jewish relationships is one goal of going back to Augustine—as it presumably is—the recent focus on Augustine’s view on Jews and Judaism, as helpful as it is, might fall short. Considering the patristic disparagement of Jewish practice, a reassessment of Augustine’s view of the Mosaic law and its place in the life of Christian believers is also needed.

Since the early second century, most church fathers have viewed the Mosaic law as abrogated by Jesus’ first advent.3 A direct implication of this understanding was a prohibition of law-observance for all Christians, even Jewish Christians. In fact, the second council of Nicaea (787 ce) issued a declaration that prohibited Jewish Christians from observing any aspect of the Mosaic law:

But if any of them [the Jews], out of a sincere heart and in faith, is converted and makes profession with his whole heart, setting at naught their customs and observances, and so that others may be convinced and converted, such an one is to be received and baptized, and his children likewise; and let them be taught to take care to hold aloof from the ordinances of the Hebrews [e.g., Sabbath observance]. But if they will not do this, let them in no wise be received.4

Because some within the church today see Messianic Judaism5 as the solution to heal the wound between Jews and Christians, the matter of the Mosaic law is gaining increased attention.6 How would Augustine view Messianic Judaism? Specifically, would he approve of Jewish followers of Jesus observing the Mosaic regulations?

Augustine’s stance on this issue sheds light on a long theological tradition of disparagement of the Mosaic law and provides a way forward for Christian-Jewish relationships from a revered patristic father. After examining Augustine’s view on the law and its development, this article shows that although Augustine disapproved of Jewish practice, his general view was uniquely positive among his contemporaries. These first two parts reveal a tension in Augustine’s thought that the remainder of the discussion endeavors to resolve. Based on a comparison between Augustine’s understanding and some key New Testament references, I argue that fine-tuning Augustine’s interpretation of what was prefigured by the ceremonial commands of the Tanakh yields a theological system that would have removed Augustine’s own rationale for prohibiting law-observance among Jewish followers of Jesus.

Augustine’s View of the Law: Fulfilled when Christ Came

Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil,” provide a platform to hint at Augustine’s understanding of the law. In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount (393–396 ce), Augustine remarks that Jesus fulfilled the law in two ways. He perfected the law by adding what was lacking, and he did what was in it.7 Although Augustine does not really explain what he means by these phrases, it appears that by “perfecting the law,” Augustine does not have in mind the totality of the Mosaic law but rather only its moral commands. He thus construes the law as containing two different kinds of commandments.

It is necessary to review Augustine’s correspondence with Faustus the Manichaean (398–400 ce) to clarify and confirm this perception. As he replies to Faustus’ charge of Christians’ inconsistency for not observing the law, Augustine explains why Christians do not practice the circumcision of males, the Sabbath rest, the Jewish feasts, and the dietary laws, thus apparently disregarding Matthew 5:17.8 He divides the law into two categories: moral and symbolic precepts. He instructs Faustus, “‘You shall not covet’ is a moral precept; ‘you shall circumcise every male on the eighth day’ is a symbolic precept.”9

Augustine then explains that the symbolic precepts of the Tanakh prefigured what Christ had accomplished at his coming. Because they were only “shadows of future things,” Christians were not bound to obey them. Concerning the moral commandments, Augustine asserts that neither Christ nor Christians “destroy” or “abolish” them. Rather, Christians fulfill the moral commandments by Christ’s help “by the newness of the Spirit.”10 At the end of his letter, Augustine summarizes for Faustus:

The only sense in which the Lord came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, is this, that besides the fulfillment of the prophetic types, which are set aside by their actual accomplishment, the precepts also, in which the law is holy, and just, and good, are fulfilled in us [Christians], not by the oldness of the letter which commands, and increases the offense of the proud by the additional guilt of transgression, but by the newness of the Spirit, who aids us, and by the obedience of the humble, through the saving grace which sets us free.11

Augustine construed the nature of Old Testament ceremonial laws as a shadow of Christ’s advent and work. In his refutation of Faustus’ charge, Augustine emphasized that whatever Mosaic commandments Christians do not obey are commandments that prefigured future things.12 By “future things,” Augustine did not mean things ahead of him—from his 4th-century standpoint—but only things ahead of the Old Testament dispensation. These “sacraments,” “symbols,” and “shadows” actually prefigured or foreshadowed “the things fully disclosed to us”: “Christ,” “his advent,”13 “the coming of Christ,”14 “Christ’s death and resurrection,”15 “the grace of Jesus Christ,”16 “the grace by which we are justified,”17 “that revelation of faith,”18 “the faith that had come,”19 and “the revelation of the grace.”20 For Augustine, the Old Testament ceremonial laws thus prefigured the future things, namely Christ’s advent and work. These ceremonies “in many and various ways all pointed to the one sacrifice.”21 Christ in his advent indeed “came to fulfill all these prophecies.”22

The above citations reveal that Augustine believed the entire ceremonial law was fulfilled in Christ at his first coming.23 Augustine indeed declares, “I maintain, therefore, that circumcision, and other things of this kind, were, by means of what is called the Old Testament, given to the Jews with divine authority, as signs of future things which were to be fulfilled in Christ; and that now, when these things have been fulfilled the laws concerning these rights remained only to be read by Christians . . . .”24 In answering Faustus’ charge of the inconsistency of the Christian stance (for not observing the ceremonial law), Augustine also notes that the law’s fulfillment happened at Christ’s first coming:

When you ask why a Christian does not observe the distinction in food as enjoined in the law, if Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, I reply, that a Christian does not observe this distinction precisely because what was thus prefigured is now fulfilled in Christ. . . . When you ask, again, why a Christian does not offer sacrifices to God of the flesh and blood of slain animals, if Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, I reply, that it would be improper for a Christian to offer such sacrifices, now that what was thus prefigured has been fulfilled in Christ’s offering of His own body and blood. When you ask why a Christian does not keep the feast of unleavened bread as the Jews did, if Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, I reply, that a Christian does not keep this feast precisely because what was thus prefigured is fulfilled in Christ. . . . When you ask why a Christian does not keep the feast of the paschal lamb, if Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, my reply is, that he does not keep it precisely because what was thus prefigured has been fulfilled in the sufferings of Christ. . . . When you ask why a Christian does not keep the feasts of the new moon appointed in the law, if Christ came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it, I reply, that he does not keep them precisely because what was thus prefigured is fulfilled in Christ.25

Augustine’s setting aside a literal observance of the ceremonial law does not mean that he rejects its value. He recognizes that each ceremony contains a timeless principle. The symbolic uncleanness of an animal that does not chew the cud, for example, teaches that men “that hear the words of wisdom” and “never reflect on them afterwards” are sinning.26 “To patch linen garments with purple, or to wear a garment of woolen and linen together, is not a sin now. But to live intemperately, and to wish to combine opposite modes of life—as when a woman devoted to religion wears the ornaments of married women, or when one who has not abstained from marriage dresses like a virgin—is always sin.”27 Likewise, for Augustine, “There is no harm in joining an ox with an ass where it is required. But to put a wise man and a fool together, not that one should teach and the other obey, but that both with equal authority should declare the word of God, cannot be done without causing offense.”28

Augustine’s View of Jewish Practice: Not for Today

Because Augustine construes the Old Testament ceremonial laws as shadows of Christ’s first advent and work, he affirms that Christians are not bound to observe these laws. He says, “We are no longer bound to observe them;”29 “the rest of the Sabbath we consider no longer binding as an observance;”30 “we consider it no longer a duty to offer sacrifices;”31 and “the community of believers is not burdened with the practice of the observances.”32 Augustine, however, goes further than merely explaining why non-observance of the law is not at odds with Matthew 5:17 (“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil”); he severely opposes the practice of any Mosaic ceremonial command. Curiously, Augustine’s opposition to the law seems to have evolved from a state of neutrality to a state of stern opposition.33

Augustine was simply discouraging law-observance in his correspondence with Faustus in 398–400 ce. Keeping the Mosaic precepts was “unsuitable now,” “misleading,” and “improper.”34 Observance of the ceremonial laws is “unsuitable” because it denies Christ’s first coming. Augustine says, “If Christians were to continue in the use of acts and observances by which things to come were prefigured, the only meaning would be that the things prefigured had not yet come. Either the thing prefigured has not come, or if it has, the figure becomes superfluous or misleading.”35

In his correspondence with Jerome in 403–405 ce, Augustine proves to be more firmly opposed to Mosaic customs than he had been.36 As Augustine opposes Jerome’s view on the Antioch incident between Peter and Paul (Gal 2:12–14, Letter 40), he betrays a Jewish-gentile distinction toward law-observance that Jerome exploits (Letter 75) to elicit an answer from Augustine. Threatened by Jerome to be counted among heretics, Augustine responds (Letter 82) with potent condemnatory words against any Christian—whether Jew or gentile—who would observe Mosaic ceremonies:

Thus, therefore, I believe that the Apostle Paul did all these things honestly, and without dissimulation; and yet if any one now leave Judaism and become a Christian, I neither compel nor permit him to imitate Paul’s example, and go on with the sincere observance of Jewish rites, any more than you, who think that Paul dissembled when he practised these rites, would compel or permit such an one to follow the apostle in that dissimulation.37

Augustine further asserts, “It never was my opinion that in our time, Jews who become Christians were either required or at liberty to observe in any manner, or from any motive whatever, the ceremonies of the ancient dispensation.”38 Probably because Jerome threatened to charge Augustine with sharing a position reminiscent of the Ebionite heresy39 (Jerome, “Letter 75,” 4:13), Augustine felt it necessary to declare full agreement with Jerome’s anti-law stance:

Whoever observes them [the Jewish ceremonies], whether he was originally Jew or Gentile, is on his way to the pit of perdition, I entirely endorse that statement, and add to it, Whoever observes these ceremonies, whether he was originally Jew or Gentile, is on his way to the pit of perdition, not only if he is sincerely observing them, but also if he is observing them with dissimulation.40

Augustine and Jewish Practice: A Distinction within the Church

Although Augustine’s later words concerning Jewish practice are downright prohibitive, the whole issue that led to their writing was triggered by a positive attitude on law-observance by Jewish Christians. As he challenged Jerome’s view of the Antioch incident (Gal 2:11–14), Augustine gave his version of what was reprehensible about Peter’s behavior. For him, there was nothing wrong with Peter’s observance of the commandments; instead, the deplorable problem was that Peter compelled gentiles to observe precepts that were unintended for gentiles. He says, “The thing, therefore, which he rebuked in Peter was not his observing the customs handed down from his fathers—which Peter, if he wished, might do without being chargeable with deceit or inconsistency, for, though now superfluous, these customs were not hurtful to one who had been accustomed to them—but his compelling the Gentiles to observe Jewish ceremonies.”41 Augustine noticed that the New Testament corpus revealed a difference between both groups (Jewish and gentile Christians) regarding their expected obedience to the Mosaic law.42 There was a Jewish-gentile distinction. Although he uses wording that Augustine had not used (“under the law”), Jerome gets the gist of Augustine’s view when he says:

You . . . have devised a new argument against the view proposed; maintaining that the Gentiles who had believed in Christ were free from the burden of the ceremonial law, but that the Jewish converts were under the law, and that Paul, as the teacher of the Gentiles, rightly rebuked those who kept the law; whereas Peter, who was the chief of the circumcision, was justly rebuked for commanding the Gentile converts to do that which the converts from among the Jews were alone under obligation to observe.43

Jerome required Augustine to bring out the full implications of his Jewish-gentile distinction view.44 This insistence finally resulted in Augustine’s apparent change of stance regarding the lawfulness of observing the law in his own time; Augustine was no longer neutral—as he had seemed in his correspondence with Faustus—but was now fiercely opposed to Christian observance of the Mosaic law. Our focus now turns to the apparent discrepancy between Augustine’s eventual anti-law stance and his understanding of the New Testament corpus.

Although Augustine recognized that Jesus, Peter, and Paul observed the law, he construed this phenomenon as a transitional one. Consequently, it was unacceptable to obey the law in his own day.45 To clarify this point and reassure Jerome of Augustine’s “orthodoxy,” Augustine flooded his answer to Jerome with a “then/now” distinction. For Augustine, the New Covenant era could be subdivided into one phase when Mosaic observances were not only tolerated but also commended (“then”), and another when they were hurtful and punishable (“now”).46 He construed his own time as the latter.

Augustine explains that the discontinuance of Jewish ceremonies was to be slow and gradual in the early days of the New Covenant era.47 He does not mention the precise moment of history at which observing the law became problematic, but it appears from his correspondence with Jerome that the end of the apostolic era was in view.48

The fact that Jewish converts of the early New Testament era did not stop observing the law at conversion was endorsed by Augustine. Ceasing law observance would have placed Mosaic precepts on par with heathenism. Augustine reasoned that since Christians were to abandon heathenism at once at conversion, the Mosaic rituals—which were qualitatively different from pagan rituals—were to be treated differently.49

We can only briefly consider the fact that Augustine’s view on the status of the law has influenced mainstream Christianity. These explanations were broadly disseminated and accepted: (1) the ceremonies prefigured Christ’s first advent and work, and (2) they are now prohibited to Christians. For example, the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas followed Augustine fully on the matter:

The ceremonies of the Old law betokened Christ as having yet to be born and to suffer whereas our sacraments signify Him as already born and having suffered. Consequently, just as it would be a mortal sin now for anyone, in making a profession of faith, to say that Christ is yet to be born, which the fathers of old said devoutly and truthfully; so too it would be a mortal sin now to observe those ceremonies which the fathers of old fulfilled with devotion and fidelity. Such is the teaching of Augustine (Contra Faust. xix, 16), who says: “It is no longer promised that He shall be born, shall suffer and rise again, truths of which their sacraments were a kind of image: but it is declared that He is already born, has suffered and risen again; of which our sacraments, in which Christians share, are the actual representation.”50

Augustine’s influence on the status of the law seems to have continued beyond the Middle Ages, not only among Catholics51 but also among Protestants.52 Up to this day, in certain Christian circles, Jewish Yeshua-followers who observe the commandments are often looked down upon as legalists. However, one could argue that Augustine’s writings on the law do not primarily cause such antipathies but rather the teaching of the NT itself. To this hypothesis, we now turn.

Augustine’s View and Key New Testament References

Augustine’s rationale for harshly condemning Jewish Christians who observe Mosaic ceremonies is theological.53 For Augustine, these ceremonies point to the “future things,” namely Christ’s first advent and work. On this basis, he says that observing any Mosaic ceremony would mean that Christ has not yet come. However, it is not completely clear that the NT restricts the “future things” exclusively to Christ’s first advent and work. While the letter to the Hebrews speaks of “shadows” (Heb 8:5; 10:1), “symbols” (9:9), and “copies” (8:5; 9:23, 24) to refer to the ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant, it never gives Christ’s first advent and work as the exclusive antitype of these ceremonies. The NT reveals that these are shadows, symbols, and copies of “the heavenly things” (Heb 8:5), “the things in the heavens” (9:23), “heaven itself” (9:24), and “the good things to come” (10:1).

Some New Testament references imply that Augustine’s view imprecisely identifies the antitype of the ceremonies. Colossians 2:17 seems to demand that the reality of some ceremonies remains to be fulfilled in the future when it uses the participle τῶν μελλόντων in the phrase “these are only a shadow of things to come (τῶν μελλόντων).” In other words, when Colossians was written—decades after Christ’s first advent and work—some ceremonial laws of the OT were pointing to something still future for its author (presumably Paul).54 All the ceremonial laws cannot, then, be pointing exclusively to Christ’s first advent and work as in Augustine’s theology. Perhaps, a more fine-tuned grasp would have prevented Augustine from construing law-observance as a denial of Christ’s coming. This, in turn, would have presumably allowed Jewish Christians to observe the mosaic regulations even in Augustine’s time.

Such a fine-tuning also makes Augustine’s solution of the transitional period unnecessary.55 As mentioned, the transitional period was Augustine’s way of reconciling, on the one hand, the fact that Jewish Christians observed the law in the NT, and on the other, the meaning that law-observance conveyed for Augustine—namely that Christ had not come. A more precise understanding of the antitype of OT ceremonies would have removed the need for reconciliation altogether. If Augustine had understood the ceremonies as shadows of the vaguer (but more literal) “heavenly things to come,” observing the law would not have been construed as a denial of Christ’s coming. In other words, Augustine started with an incorrect premise—that Jewish ceremonies pointed exclusively to Christ’s first advent and work. The problem created by this incorrect premise had, in turn, to be solved, and the “transition period” became the answer.

As already hinted, Augustine defended the idea that Jewish Christians needed to continue to observe the law in the apostolic era.56 This idea was seen as a pioneering understanding among his contemporaries. According to Jerome indeed, “Origen,” “Chrysostom,” “all the other commentators,” and the “old expositors” had a different unanimous view.57 Jerome recognized the newness of Augustine’s position when he qualified it as a “new argument.”58 Interestingly enough, more and more scholars today are being convinced of an ongoing Jewish-gentile distinction vis-à-vis law-observance within the church.59

If it can be established that Augustine’s identification of “the future things” to which ceremonies point needs fine-tuning, Augustine’s pioneering understanding of a Jewish-gentile distinction can be used for the benefit of Christian-Jewish relationships. Such a model would simultaneously encourage Jewish Yeshua believers to observe the law—because the rationale for prohibiting observance would vanish—and would visibly demonstrate the church’s regret vis-à-vis the centuries-long debasement of the ceremonial law.


For Augustine, the Mosaic law could be divided into moral and ceremonial commandments. Augustine construed the ceremonial commandments as shadows of Christ’s first advent and work. Christ at his coming fulfilled what the ceremonial commandments foreshadowed.

Augustine understood a Jewish-gentile distinction vis-à-vis law-observance, e.g., it was appropriate for Jewish Christians to obey the ceremonial aspects of the law in the apostolic era, while it was not for gentile Christians. However, observance of the ceremonial law by Jewish Christians became harmful with time. Augustine reasoned that such practice would deny Christ’s coming because the ceremonies point exclusively to Christ’s first advent and work. Therefore, Jewish Christians’ observance of the law in the New Testament was only part of a transitional period, not to be imitated by Jewish Christians of Augustine’s time.

A look at Scripture suggests that Augustine’s understanding of the antitype of the ceremonial law is not completely accurate. Construing the antitype of Mosaic ceremonies as things past and future (or, to keep the biblical terminology, “heavenly things”) would presumably have removed Augustine’s severe opposition to law-observance by Jewish Christians.60

Although Augustine’s words against law-observance are stern, his construal of an ecclesial distinction vis-à-vis law-observance is pioneering. The Jewish-gentile distinction that Augustine recognized can be foundational for Christian-Jewish relationships because it allows Jews who want to confess Jesus as Messiah to remain fully Jews. This is what Augustine understood from the New Testament corpus, but that his theological system eventually made inapplicable for his time.

In the final analysis, Augustine’s view of the Mosaic law and its place in the life of Christian believers does not need to be hostile towards Judaism. An adjusted Augustinian model will recognize the Jewish distinctiveness (by rejecting the blurring of differences between Jews and gentiles) and provide the Jewish community with living proof of the church’s high view of the Mosaic law (by the unhindered law-observance of some Jews within her).

Etienne Jodar is a Ph.D. student in New Testament Interpretation at Bob Jones University Seminary in Greenville, South Carolina. He is married and blessed with two terrific kids. Upon completing his degree, he plans to return to his hometown of Geneva, Switzerland, and teach the Scriptures wherever the Lord would place him.

1 Although I would ordinarily use the phrase “Messianic Jews,” the phrase “Jewish Christians” will be used throughout the article to avoid anachronisms. Moreover, the language throughout the essay will often reflect Augustine’s Christian perspective rather than current Messianic Jewish usage.

2 Paula Fredriksen, Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism (New York: Doubleday, 2008). (See also, Fredriksen, “Augustine on Jesus the Jew,” Augustinian Studies 42 [2011]: 1–20). Although not agreeing fully with Fredriksen, Wendy Elgersma Helleman remarks that two of Augustine’s sermons that would have given him extensive opportunity for derogatory comments on Jews did not contain them (“Casting out Hagar: Anti-Judaism in the Sermons of Augustine,” Calvin Theological Journal 51 [2016]: 20–36). Jeremy Cohen remarks that Augustine’s positive view on Judaism remained influential until the thirteenth century (The Friars and the Jews; The Evolution of Medieval Anti-Judaism [London: Cornell University Press, 1982]). Michael Frassetto overall agrees with Cohen, although he remarks that Augustine’s view was challenged around the turn of the millennium already (“Augustine’s Doctrine of Witness and Attitudes toward the Jews in the Eleventh Century,” Church History and Religious Culture 87 [2007]: 287–304). Gregory W. Lee, while affirming some of Fredriksen’s arguments, challenges Fredriksen’s positive reappraisal of Augustine’s theology of Jews and Judaism (“Israel between the Two Cities: Augustine’s Theology of the Jews and Judaism,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 24 [2016]: 523–51).

3 Mark Kinzer, Postmissionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005), 181–201.

4 Henry R. Percival, The Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Undivided Church (New York: Christian Literature, 1898), 561. James Parkes lists various confessions of Jews converting to Christianity who promise, under anathema, to abandon all ties with Jews and Jewish commands (The Conflict of the Church and the Synagogue: A Study in the Origins of Antisemitism [New York: Meridian, 1961], 394–400).

5 “Messianic Judaism” here refers to the community of Jewish followers of Yeshua who remain loyal to the wider Jewish community and its practices, including Torah observance.

6 Markus Bockmuehl argues that reflection on Messianic Judaism is “crucial for any further substantive progress in contemporary Christian-Jewish understanding” (Seeing the Word: Refocusing New Testament Study [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006], 225).

7 Augustine, On the Sermon on the Mount, ed. Kevin Knight, New Advent,

8 Augustine uses the words rites, (symbolic) precepts, (Jewish) customs, (ancient) ceremonies, (typical) sacraments, ordinances, and types to denote the commandments of the law of Moses traditionally understood as non-moral. In this article these will be called ceremonial laws.

9 Augustine, Faust, 6.2; 6.9.

10 Augustine, Faust, 19.30. See also, Michael Cameron, Christ Meets Me Everywhere: Augustine’s Early Figurative Exegesis, Oxford Studies in Historical Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 262–69.

11 Augustine, Faust, 19.30. Another summary is given in Faust, 19.18: “These moral precepts are distinct from typical sacraments: the former are fulfilled by the aid of divine grace, the latter by the accomplishment of what they promise.”

12 He affirms, “For the only things which they [Christians] do not observe are those [precepts] that prefigured Christ” (Augustine, Faust, 19.18).

13 Augustine, Faust, 6.2.

14 Augustine, Faust, 19.11.

15 Augustine, Faust, 19.16.

16 Augustine, Letter 82, 2:9, ed. Kevin Knight, New Advent,

17 Augustine, Letter 82, 2:14.

18 Augustine, Letter 82, 2:15.

19 Augustine, Letter 82, 2:16.

20 Augustine, Letter 82, 2:20.

21 Augustine, Faust, 6.5.

22 Augustine, Faust, 6:5. That for Augustine the sacraments of the law foreshadowed things that have already come is also seen in his letter to Petilian the Donatist (Augustine C. litt. Petil. 2.37.87).

23 Only rarely do writers underscore that for Augustine all the Old Testament ceremonial laws pointed solely to Christ’s first advent and work. Gavin D’Costa mentions it but does not find anything worth challenging in this understanding, as will be done in this essay. His concern is completely different, so this is understandable (“The Mystery of Israel: Jews, Hebrew Catholics, Messianic Judaism, the Catholic Church, and the Mosaic Ceremonial Laws,” Nova et Vetera 16 [2018]: 949).

24 Augustine, Letter 82, 2:15.

25 Augustine, Faust, 19.10.

26 Augustine, Faust, 6.7.

27 Augustine, Faust, 6.9.

28 Augustine, Faust, 6.9.

29 Augustine, Faust, 6.2.

30 Augustine, Faust, 6.4.

31 Augustine, Faust, 6.5.

32 Augustine, Faust, 6.7.

33 Developments in Augustine’s thoughts are commonly recognized. Edmon L. Gallagher shows that Augustine’s grasp of the relationship between the Hebrew Bible and the Septuagint developed over his lifetime (“Augustine on the Hebrew Bible,” The Journal of Theological Studies 67, no. 1 [2016]: 97–114). Fredriksen argues that Augustine’s view on Jews and Judaism changed over time (Augustine and the Jews).

34 Augustine, Faust, 6.2; 19.8; and 19.10 respectively.

35 Augustine, Faust, 19:8.

36 This is adopting the traditional dating of Augustine’s letters. Fredriksen, however, believes Augustine’s correspondence with Jerome is slightly prior to his refutation of Faustus (“Augustine on Jesus the Jew,” 12). Under her dating, Augustine would move toward a more positive attitude of Jewish practice with time.

37 Augustine, Letter 82, 2:15.

38 Augustine, Letter 82, 2:17.

39 That is to say, the view of a Jewish-gentile distinction vis-à-vis law-observance.

40 Augustine, Letter 82, 2:18.

41 Augustine, Letter 40, 4:5, ed. Kevin Knight, New Advent, The same explanation is given in Augustine’s commentary on Galatians: “Now when Peter came to Antioch he was rebuked by Paul, not for observing the Jewish custom in which he had been born and raised, but for wanting to impose it on the Gentiles” (Augustine’s Commentary on Galatians, trans. Eric Antone Plumer, Oxford Early Christian Studies [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003], 143).

42 This is one of the main points that Jason A. Myers also makes in “Law, Lies and Letter Writing: An Analysis of Jerome and Augustine on the Antioch Incident (Galatians 2:11–14),” Scottish Journal of Theology 66, no. 2 (2013): 127–39.

43 Jerome, Letter 75, 3:5, ed. Kevin Knight, New Advent,

44 As Todd S. Berzon says, “Jerome excoriated Augustine.” (“The Double Bind of Christianity’s Judaism: Language, Law, and the Incoherence of Late Antique Discourse,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 23, no. 3 [2015]: 445–80). Jerome indeed told Augustine that if he were to allow Jewish converts to continue to obey any Mosaic regulation, he would fall into the heresy of Ebion and the Nazarenes (Jerome, Letter 75, 4:13, 4:15). On the same matter, Fredriksen remarks that Jerome “scolded Augustine for the ‘heretical’ implications of his view” (Augustine and the Jews, 293).

45 Augustine’s position is not peculiar among church fathers. As is obvious from above, Jerome was of the same opinion. Kinzer shows that most church fathers were opposed to law-observance of any kind (Postmissionary Messianic Judaism, 181–201).

46 “Yet if any one now leave Judaism” (Augustine, Letter 82, 2:15); “if now any Christian (though he may have been converted from Judaism)” (2:16); “it never was my opinion that in our time” (2:17); “since it [observing Jewish ceremonies] was then to be approved, but now to be abhorred” (2:18 [italics mine]). Together with the period of history before Christ, these two different times in history constitute Augustine’s doctrine of the tria tempora.

47 He says, “Therefore slowly, and by degrees, all this observance of these types was to vanish away” (Augustine, Letter 82, 2:15); “These observances were to be given up by all Christians step by step, as time advanced; not all at once” (2:17); “In the case of the first Christians, who came to faith as Jews, it was by degrees that they were brought to change their customs…” (Augustine Faust. 19.17 [italics mine]).

48 Such is also the understanding of Fredriksen (Augustine and the Jews, 299) and of Joseph W. Trigg, Message of the Fathers of the Church, ed. Thomas Halton (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, 1988), 256. For Kinzer, this time “seems to correspond roughly with 70 ce” (Postmissionary Messianic Judaism, 206).

49 Augustine, Letter 82, 2:17.

50 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Q103:4, ed. Kevin Knight, New Advent (italics mine),

51 Commenting on Cantate Domino’s (1442) prohibition against the practice of the ceremonial law, D’Costa notes that it is “continuous with a long theological tradition that is developed through two key figures among Doctors and Fathers of the Church, Augustine and Aquinas” (“The Mystery of Israel,” 945. See also 951).

52 That John Calvin was substantially influenced by Augustine concerning the status of the law is almost certain. In the section on the sacraments of the Old Testament of his Institutes he says, “And this is what the same Augustine meant (whom we quote often as the best and most reliable witness of all antiquity) . . .” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 1303 (4.14.26). A look at Calvin’s commentary on Acts 15:21 further shows how the reformer’s position on law-observance among Jewish Christians seems influenced by Augustine’s; Augustine’s influence cannot be missed: “This is that which is said in the common proverb, That it was meet that the old ceremonies should be buried with some honor [Augustine’s statement]” (John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (Complete), trans. John King; Accordance electronic ed. (Edinburgh: Calvin Translation Society, 1847), paragraph 76461,

53 As Augustine’s quotations above show, Augustine’s rejection of Jewish practice is not absolute; He is not concerned with non-Christian Jews who obey the law. In fact, for Lisa A. Unterseher, “[Augustine] insists that contemporary Jews are to continue to observe their ancestral customs, even though such practices now find their fulfillment in Christ” (“The Mark of Cain and the Jews: Augustine’s Theology of Jews,” Augustinian Studies 33, no. 1 [2002]: 120).

54 Craig Blaising construes the feminine form of the same participle in Hebrews 2:5 and 13:14 (τὴν μέλλουσαν) as pointing to something still future as well (“Biblical Hermeneutics,” in The New Christian Zionism: Fresh Perspectives on Israel & The Land, ed. Gerald R. McDermott [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2016], 86–87). Some commentators disregard the forward-looking component of τῶν μελλόντων in Colossians 2:17 asserting that Paul wanted us to understand “which is a shadow of the things that have come.” It seems much better, however, not to limit this participle to referring to past things only. If Paul wanted to speak about realities that had all come in his own time, he had ways to do it. He could have used the aorist participle of γίνομαι as for example in Luke 10:32 (γενόμενος) or in the variant reading of Hebrews 9:11 (τῶν γενομένων [46 B], “of the things that have come”). Another option would have been to use the perfect of ἐφίστημι as in 2 Timothy 4:6 (“the time of my departure has come”). If one rejects the most plausible meaning of τῶν μελλόντων in Colossians 2:17, then the same should be done for τῶν μελλόντων in Hebrews 10:1 because the context is identical there (it talks about the Mosaic Law and uses the comparison of the shadow [σκιά]). The fact that no English version of Hebrews 10:1 translates τῶν μελλόντων “the good things that have come” confirms that Colossians 2:17 should not be translated “things that have come.” Finally, the already-not-yet shape of Paul’s eschatology lends itself better to the position that τῶν μελλόντων includes future things.

55 This is not to say that Augustine is the father of the “transitional period theory.” Kinzer notes that Irenaeus already had a similar view (Postmissionary Messianic Judaism, 205–06). Due to his influential writings, however, Augustine probably popularized this position more than anyone else.

56 This policy had nothing to do with salvation. Rather, its goal was to differentiate the Mosaic ceremonies from pagan ceremonies that were to be abandoned all at once when accepting Messiah, as noted above.

57 Jerome, Letter 75, 3:4, 3:6. Augustine will respond to this accusation saying that he is not alone in maintaining this view; Ambrose and Cyprian understood the matter likewise according to him (Letter 82, 3:24).

58 Jerome, Letter 75, 3:5.

59 David J. Rudolph and Joel Willitts present some examples in Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations, eds. David J. Rudolph and Joel Willitts (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013).

60 Such a fine-tuning gives an ecclesial model that coheres with God’s penchant for diversity. For Premillennialist Christians, this model also coheres with the apparent law-observance that is going to take place among Jewish Christians in the millennial state.