Report on Vienna Theological Symposium, 11–13 July 2022 by James Patrick
The parting of the ways between Judaism and Christianity in the first few centuries after Jesus has been gradually converging again in the past six decades. Christians have realized how Christian antisemitism contributed to the Holocaust, and also that Jesus and the first generation of the Church were truly Jewish. The Catholic doctrinal teaching of Nostra Aetate was a major step forward in Christian–Jewish relations, and other churches have published their own equivalent documents in subsequent years. But the reappearance during the same period of communities of Messianic Jews, or Jewish believers in Jesus, has been seen as problematic for Christian–Jewish dialogue, since it seems to blur the boundaries between the two dialogue partners. Still, Christians cannot ignore or marginalize Jewish people who share their beliefs about Messiah if they are serious about solidarity with the Jewish people more widely.
An academic conference was held in July 2022 to bring this important question out into the open and discuss its implications for the Church in Europe: “Jesus—Also the Messiah for Israel? Messianic Jewish Movement and Christianity in Dialogue.”
Under the patronage of Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, Prof. Jan-Heiner Tück, and the Catholic Department of the University of Vienna hosted the study days, which were organized by the ecumenical network Towards Jerusalem Council 2 (TJCII). Around one hundred participants registered from all across Europe and from many different Christian traditions for the three-day symposium delivered in both English and German. Those invited were mainly academics, but also church leaders and others interested in theology, and most attended in person with some online. Twenty-four scholars were scheduled to deliver papers or responses, either about introductory matters or about the three theological topics of Christology (study of Messiah Jesus), ecclesiology (study of the church), or land and eschatology (study of end-times). Of these, five Jewish believers in Jesus delivered six of the papers, a full quarter of the total, and hence a genuine “Dialogue.” The main arguments of all these papers and responses will each be described, followed by summaries of the most important questions for further study.
Richard Harvey, a Jewish believer in Jesus from All Nations Christian College (UK), began the conference with a paper “Introducing the Messianic-Jewish Reality.” Being careful not to exaggerate either the numbers or the unity of his subject, he surveyed both the history and current situation of Jewish believers in Jesus (JBJs). He believes there are around 150,000 JBJs worldwide out of a total of around 15 million Jews, and around 500 Messianic Jewish congregations that acknowledge Yeshua as Messiah, the ongoing election of Israel, and usually also the value of Torah roots and tradition. JBJs have a wide diversity of theological views, but the most popular is neither amillennial Reformed nor dispensational nor halakhic, but historic premillennial with New Testament halakha and Jewish expressions of evangelical and charismatic faith.
David Neuhaus SJ, a Jewish Catholic priest in the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem Seminary (Israel), continued with a paper asking “Who are the Hebrew Catholics Today?” Noting first that Pope John Paul II acknowledged the possibility of “Jewish Catholics” when canonizing Edith Stein, he described two groupings in Israel: either the Kehilla (Saint James Vicariate for Hebrew-Speaking Catholics in Israel) or the mostly English-speaking AHC, the Association of Hebrew Catholics. Two founding figures of both groups illustrate the diversity of views. Daniel (Osvald) Rufeisen was non-missionary and at home in Hebrew-speaking Jewish society, whereas Elias (John) Friedman permitted traditional Jewish practices alongside Catholic orthodoxy for the sake of bearing witness to unbelieving fellow Jews. Antoine Lévy has recently brought a new voice, arguing that neither Judaism nor the Catholic Church is complete without Jewish Catholics. Neuhaus feels an affinity with both communities, and loves the Hebrew language and Israel while avoiding Zionism and Jewish nationalism, so his identity is as a Jewish Catholic, an eschatological sign of convergence.
The third paper was by Christian Rutishauser SJ, from the Central European Province of the Jesuit Order, addressing “The Place of Encounter with Jesus-believing Jews in the History of Jewish–Catholic Dialogue.” He began with three examples of Catholic-baptized Jews who have been catalysts for the Jewish–Christian dialogue in the 20th century: Paul Demann (who contributed the idea of the gentile church’s break with the Jewish people as the foundational “Ur-schism” of later church divisions), Johannes Oesterreicher (co-worker with Cardinal Bea who produced Nostra Aetate), and Sophie van Leer (who shifted from a prayer and mission focus to a rejection of mission in Israel). But in Catholic theology, it was only in the 2015 Vatican document whose title quotes Romans 11:29, fifty years after Nostra Aetate, that the Church is first described as consisting of Jews and Gentiles. This document offers two principles underlying Jewish–Catholic dialogue—first the “irrevocable covenant” with Israel (a term influenced by John Paul II but critiqued by Benedict XVI), and second the renunciation of Jewish “mission” in favor of “dialogue” (since Jews are not idolatrous heathen but worship the one true God). JBJs in Jewish–Christian dialogue must therefore also be post-supersessionist and post-missionary. On the other hand, Judaism must relate to a church that is essentially composed of Jew and Gentile, each distinct, because the covenant with Israel is with the collective of Israel rather than with individual Jews, so those who are in the new covenant church still belong to Israel. Daniel Rufeisen and Cardinal Lustiger were presented as two examples of JBJs in Jewish–Catholic dialogue.
The fourth paper, by Hanna Rucks of the Protestant Reformed Church, conversely considered “The Place of Encounter with Messianic Jews in the History of Jewish–Protestant Dialogue,” noting that this title refers to German state churches, not the free churches who are more sympathetic. The history was tracked through four phases. First, from 1945 through the 1960s, Karl-Heinrich Rengstorf founded in 1948 a German branch of the International Committee on the Christian Approach to the Jews, with around ten percent being JBJs who didn’t have to reject mission, even if the Jewish side were not always comfortable. A major declaration was brought out in 1961. Second, the 1970s onwards lost the elderly “Hebrew Christians,” who hadn’t developed into “Messianic Jews” (MJs) as they had in the English-speaking west and in Israel. Third, from the 1990s onwards, MJs arrived from Russia and elsewhere but didn’t join the dialogue, and since they are usually associated with mission, Jews will leave if MJs are invited. A very important illustration is theologian Peter von der Osten-Sacken’s complete change of view between 1982 and 2010, partly based on the vital question of how JBJs can maintain Jewish identity over time. Having begun by affirming how fundamental Jewish Christians are as a bridge, a context for New Testament coherence, and an argument against supersessionism, he ended by questioning whether a common life for Jews and non-Jews in one faith community is even possible, rejecting any future for JBJs outside Israel, and urging the Church to distance itself from MJs in the Diaspora. Fourth, there have been some improvements in the last fifteen years, such as a 2017 paper on Jewish Christians and MJs published by the Protestant Church in Germany (EKD) that is extremely cautious but does open the door to conversation; Rucks raised four points of criticism about its misrepresentations, such as its failure to acknowledge JBJs as victims of the Holocaust and as agents of change thereafter. A new study program in Germany takes students to Israel to study Talmud and Jewish culture but also to study MJs; this gives more hope for a future generation of scholars.
The fifth paper, by Ludger Schwienhorst-Schönberger who teaches Old Testament at the University of Vienna, discussed “Post-Supersessionist Theology (= ‘Beyond Replacement Theology’) as a Challenge for Biblical Hermeneutics (= ‘Interpretation’).” He observed that Old Testament exegesis has largely abandoned replacement theology, but in its place, a model has been proposed by Zenger and Dohmen that insists the Hebrew Bible be read first without any Christian interpretation. Ludger challenged this, noting that Judaism and Christianity are joint heirs of the OT, whose interpretations have been developed in relation to one another. A MJ-inspired model would therefore consider both traditions equally. Three examples were offered, in which both Judaism and Christianity have explored re-interpretations of traditional OT emphases, namely on kingship and state (religion / Messiah instead), on sacrifice
(prayers / Messiah instead), and on the land of Israel (future hope / nearness to God instead). Finally, he discussed Joseph Klausner’s interpretation of Jesus, and argued that his critique of Jesus’ teaching is valid only if that teaching is separated from the OT, hence the need for MJ input.
After these five papers, there was a special public lecture delivered by R. Kendall Soulen of Emory University, who had pioneered post-supersessionist theology with his book The God of Israel and Christian Theology (1996). His title was “Ecclesia ex circumcisione and ex gentibus: The Church as a Trinitarian Ecosystem of Praise,” aiming to answer the question of why the distinction between the Jewish and gentile church is still essential to the Church rather than just a fact about its history. His answer is that it is the firstfruits of a global ecosystem of praise, rooted in the Trinity. The Church can be defined in three ways, as “People of God,” “Body of Christ,” and “Temple of the Holy Spirit,” and the Father’s purpose for sending the Son and the Spirit was not just for salvation but for self-revelation that he might be praised as “Our Father, hallowed be your Name (= YHWH)!” God’s proper name is “YHWH,” a personal name that is sanctified uniquely by the Jewish people whose proper name is “Israel”; so the Church can only understand itself as the People of God in conjunction with Israel, even in their unbelief in Yeshua as Messiah. Prior to the incarnation, Israel was already created to praise YHWH, and prior to Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was already moving among the nations to prepare them to praise “God,” but there could be no unity between Israel and the nations apart from the Body of Christ. Jesus is the one who teaches both Israel and the nations to pray “Our Father!”, so a diverse church of Jew and Gentile is not a passing historical point but a sign of its essentially messianic identity in time and eternity.
After the public lecture, delegates at the conference were invited by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn to a reception at the Archbishop’s Palace, next to St Stephen’s Cathedral. He spoke movingly about the history of his archbishop predecessors in relation to the Jewish people, especially during the Holocaust, and said how honored he was to have been involved in this dialogue with Messianic Jewish friends such as Mark Kinzer.
Christology—The Jewish Jesus
On the Tuesday morning, Michael Theobald from Tübingen University began the new session with the first of three papers, each with a response by another scholar. His paper was on “Jesus, the Messiah from Israel, and Messiah for Israel.” Although the New Testament is clear that Jesus is the Messiah from Israel, this was lost from the creeds of the Church, who therefore also lost sight of his purpose as Messiah for Israel, even within Nostra Aetate. To address this, Theobald noted that Paul in Romans 11:26 said that Messiah’s coming would remove the sins of “all Israel,” a coming not dependent on them first accepting him. In Luke, likewise, Jesus is presented as the Messiah for Israel repeatedly, in Luke 1:30b–33 and 1:68–69, in 13:34–35, in Acts 1:6–8, and in 3:19–21. Paul and Luke agree that Jews are the natural first audience for the gospel, that the Jewish “no” led to mission to Gentiles, and that God’s predestination is at work in this. On the other hand, neither Ephesians nor John’s Gospel emphasizes a messianic hope for Israel, but both instead have an individual eschatology geared towards the death of each individual (citing Eph 2:11–13 and John 12:37–40). He therefore notes diverging New Testament conceptions, so it is hard to establish a messianically contoured theology of the future, even if this is necessary to confess that Jesus is both Messiah from and for Israel.
Henk Bakker, a Baptist from the Free University of Amsterdam, gave the response to Theobald’s paper. He agreed with him that the Church has lost sight of Jesus being from Israel, and argued that according to Scripture, Jesus did not become man and a Jew (as something extra and disposable), but rather, he became a Jew and consequently man. The Jewish people have therefore been dogmatically degraded as a mere forerunner of the Church, which is effectively ecclesiological Docetism, a church forgetting its Jewish roots. Given how Luke makes Jesus’ return conditional upon Jerusalem’s repentance (Acts 3:20), it would seem that early Christian Jews saw the predicted fate of the temple as able to be averted through prayer, just as Jesus’ brother James prayed constantly in the temple for his people. And Bakker also suggests that Theobald supplement his conclusions with a Spirit-Christology that sees the Spirit preserving the identity of the Jewish people and their Messiah, just as the eternal “Word” in John 1 is also the Jewish “only-begotten” (used of Isaac in the Septuagint).
The second paper was by Helmut Hoping, dogmatics professor in Freiburg im Breisgau, on “The Jewish Jesus and His Significance for Systematic Christology.” Noting that it was Jewish scholars (Geiger, Klausner, Flusser) who rediscovered the Jewishness of Jesus, he explored this theme in many ways. Karl Barth insisted against the Nazis that the Word had to become Jewish flesh, just as the mediaeval “Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord” (strangely removed by Vatican II) was created to prove the true incarnation of Jesus. The Jewish man is eternal God, “unmixed,” which is the “Jewish thorn in Christology” according to theologian Josef Wohlmuth. Benedict XVI in conversation with Jacob Neusner noted that Jesus saw himself as the Torah (Word of God), the goal of the Law of Moses but not its substitute. Even though Jewish Messianic hope is now declining, especially among liberals and progressives, Jesus is still the “Yes” of God to the promises given to ethnic Israel (2 Cor 1:20; Rom 15:8). If it is Jesus of Nazareth who now sits at the right hand of the Father, to him belong those connected to him through belief and baptism but also those connected according to the flesh, Israel. Paul never questioned the connection of Israel to its land, and Jesus has not replaced the Promised Land as NT Wright suggests. As such, it is not enough for Benedict XVI to justify the modern State of Israel purely in terms of natural law; if Jesus’ appearance did not render the promise of land ineffective, then Christian theology about Israel must recognize at the very minimum an indivisible connection of the people and land of Israel, whatever its borders. Finally, MJs who reject mission to non-Messianic Jews should be welcome in the Catholic–Jewish dialogue.
The response to Hoping’s paper was given over Zoom by Markus Bockmuehl, New Testament professor at Oxford. He noted the tragic double-helix of Christian-Jewish history, that according to orthodoxy in both communities, a follower of Jesus cannot be a Jew and vice versa—this is supersessionism of Messianic Judaism by both Judaism and Christianity. He agrees with Hoping about Christology and also with the critique of Tom Wright’s replacement theology. But he would say that Christian theology of the land should not simply be ceded to Jewish views; symbolic reading does not supersede literal meaning. Matthew, Luke, Paul, and John of Patmos all saw land as important, even if the application to the 21st century is tricky. Furthermore, Paul arguably differed from the view of twentieth-century Jewish philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz that Christianity is defined by a lack of commandments (mitzvot). And finally, although Galatians 2 does distinguish apostolic mission to Jews and to Gentiles, on what basis can Gentiles presume to tell MJs not to speak of the Jewish Messiah among fellow Jews?
The third paper was given by Mark Kinzer, Messianic theologian and moderator of Yachad BeYeshua, the first of two papers he delivered to this symposium, on the topic of “The Present and Future Jewish King.” He began by noting that in 2000, both Robert Jenson and Bruce Marshall argued that God’s ownership of Jesus’ Jewish flesh is permanent, and since Jewish identity is inherently corporate rather than individual, the resurrected Jesus keeps his distinctive relationship with the Jewish people as a whole, and Jewish identity will carry over into the age to come. Barbara Meyer’s 2020 book explores this further, with a central thesis that “This means that Jesus’ otherness for Christian non-Jews will not be dissolved either,” opening up “new intellectual, spiritual, and ethical horizons for the non-Jewish Christian,” a “vulnerability” or fruitful dependence of the Christian faith on Judaism and Jews. Kinzer takes this further with regard to MJs, because their alienation from both communities parallels that of the King of the Jews. His subjects’ dependence on him (and vice versa) is true even if they do not acknowledge his current resurrected reign over them. Thus, Jesus rules as a still-veiled servant king, wrestling with Israel to unleash Jewish agency, and he calls his servants to govern likewise in a way that serves to equip those governed to become responsible agents. We therefore do not seek to reveal to Jews a Jesus who is King of the Gentiles, de-Judaizing Jews, but rather Yeshua haNotzri, past, present, and future. His future unveiling will reveal the mutual dependence of both the Jewish people and the Church, which both have contested, and as such, JBJs also bear witness to the Coming One who fulfils the truths of each tradition.
Bernard Mallmann from the University of Vienna gave the response to Kinzer’s first paper. He noted that Jesus said his mission was first to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt 10:6), while at the same time Jesus embodied the life and history of the whole people of Israel, and brought into reality the calling that was given and promised to Israel. As “King of the Jews” he not only recapitulated Israel’s past history, but also demonstrated that the present election of Israel is for the sake of universal mission, and yet at the same time pointed forward to a kingdom “not of this world” (John 18:36), awaiting future fulfilment of the surplus of promises in both Old and New Testaments. The kingship of Jesus should not be read only as a symbol yet to be fully understood, but also as a present reality that works to undo the “structural replacement thinking” in so much Christian theology. In terms of theology of the church, it may be helpful to compare the recent Catholic restatement that the Church of Jesus Christ “subsists in” (rather than “is”) the Catholic Church. Similarly, the Kingdom of Jesus will be reflected in the people of God to which both Judaism and the church of Jews and of Gentiles belong, “undivided and unmixed.” Their unity is to be found in the flesh of the Jewish Messiah himself on the cross, perfectly revealed at his return. So the challenge now is to work out what the relationship should be between Judaism and the church of Jews and Gentiles, “bound together in a Messianic pilgrimage.”
There was a brief time of discussion after the three papers on Christology and their responses. Antoine Lévy emphasized that “we Messianic Jews must avoid self-idolization,” and Kinzer agreed that MJs are not “true Judaism and true Christianity,” cannot dismiss the church calendar as “pagan,” and so on; even so, MJs are still different (not better) in their identity. Kinzer further responded to Theobald, that despite its few mentions, “King of the Jews” is an important, un-allegorizable ethnic explanation of what “Messiah” means, whereas “Christos” tends to be misunderstood as a mere title. Hanna Rucks and Thomas Schumacher asked whether, if the risen Jesus is still Jewish, that means that the Father or Holy Spirit is also Jewish, and is the pre-incarnate Jesus also Jewish? Kinzer in response said he was wary of the doctrine of perichoresis in terms of full sharing of attributes among persons of the Trinity. He differed from Soulen’s Augustinian withdrawal from an emphasis on theophany, and affirmed instead that theophanies in the Old Testament were indeed manifestations of the second person of the Trinity specifically, given in the context of Israel, and in human form if not yet in flesh.
The third session, on Tuesday afternoon, was made up of four papers, the first two having formal responses by other scholars. The first paper was by Thomas Schumacher, New Testament professor at the University of Fribourg, entitled “Unity in Diversity: Plurality as a Characteristic in Early Christian Ecclesiology.” Introducing the problem of binary thinking about Judaism and Christianity, he noted that the Jewishness of the historical Jesus works to unify Christianity with non-Messianic Judaism, despite christological differences that separate the two, and similarly the “New Perspective on Paul” challenges the idea that Paul converted as such on the road to Damascus, rather remaining “within Judaism.” He quoted passages from Romans (1:16–17; 11:16b–24; 10:4; 16:4) to show that Paul valued plurality of Jew and Gentile within the early Christian movement. Then he turned to Galatians, where 2:15–16 is often read as advocating Jewish separation from Torah. In fact, the oldest and most valuable manuscript (P46) has some key variants, for example in 2:14 it reads “live like a gentile Christian,” and 2:15–16 could be read “We, Jewish from birth . . . know that man is not righteous because of works of Torah,” something every Jew knows, as the New Perspective has long argued. Galatians 6:13 should be translated (as per P46) “those who have let themselves be circumcised,” meaning Judaizing gentile Christians were Paul’s opponents rather than Jewish false teachers. Then, turning to the book of James, he noted that this is an intra-Jewish text, so it cannot be an anti-Pauline writing as Luther saw it. There is an emphasis on Torah-faithful actions, which would go without saying in a Jewish context, but would make sense for scattered Jewish believers now living in gentile Christian contexts, urging them not to forsake a conduct-based, law-grounded consummation of their faith. Thus, the Judaizing gentile Christians’ Torah-focus in Galatians is a mirror image of Torah-neglectful Jewish Yeshua-believers in the letter of James.
In response, Markus Tiwald, New Testament professor at the University of Vienna, pointed out that the New Perspective on Paul as formulated by E.P. Sanders is out of date in some aspects, such as its static view of Torah. In fact, Torah was less a compendium of commandments, “works of the law,” and more the life-inspiring law of nature, the cosmic order instituted by God in the world (compare Rom 1:20). In that case, the Torah must have had some relevance for salvation, even if it does not mechanically redeem anyone who works off a catalogue of “works of the law.” Conversely, Paul’s mission to the nations did not teach a “law-free” religious practice for Gentiles. In Aristeas and Philo, ritual aspects of the Torah had an ethical interpretation, though not to neglect the rituals themselves. If Paul adopted the liberal view that Torah can be fulfilled by the double commandment of love, while rejecting the ritual purity norms of “works of the law,” this would be on the spectrum of Jewish ideas.
The second paper was by Etienne Vetö ICN, Jewish Catholic director of the Cardinal Bea Centre for Jewish Studies, on “Assessing Jewish Christianity: The Lessons of the ‘Parting of the Ways’.” He considered whether the disappearance of Jewish disciples of Jesus (JDJs) depended on other factors or was inevitable, and how this might relate to their modern reappearance. The process went through four historical stages: (1) Jewish ecclesia: Perhaps Jesus himself initiated the parting by appointing the Twelve as replacements for Jewish leaders of his day (Matt 21:33–46). (2) Mixed Jewish-gentile ecclesia: There are different interpretations of the “balancing act” of Acts 15, whether the rules were Noachide Laws or else rules for gerim (resident aliens in Israel), but in any case, they allowed them to share table-fellowship with JDJs who continued to be Torah-observant. (3) Parting: This varied across times, regions, and social levels, with leaders insisting on incompatibility earlier than their flocks. The tipping point in Rome was early 2nd century for leaders / late 2nd for the people, in the Greek world late 2nd / early 3rd, in Antioch probably 3rd / 4th century. Reasons for the parting would have been on four grounds: theology, leadership, tension within the community of Jesus believers, and political decisions by the Roman Empire. (4) Two religions: Even so, Judaism and Christianity then continued to develop in relation to one another, both in practices and in beliefs. In some sense, the separation through “hardening” was inevitable, to preserve Gentiles and Jews as distinct, but it is necessary to ask forgiveness both of Jews and JDJs, and recognise the value of both church and rabbinical traditions. (5) Reverse process? Perhaps the grounds for the messy process of parting can point to the multiple ways we can seek to reunite in this era.
A response to Vetö’s paper was given by Mariusz Rosik of the Pontifical Faculty of Theology in Wroclaw, Poland. He pointed out that the ways of ethno-Christians and non-Christian Jews were never common, so the parting into distinct rabbinic Judaism and Christianity concerns mainly Judeo-Christians. They had three options: either to join majority ethno-Christian communities, or to stay within Jewish communities that rejected Jesus, or to create their own religious structures. In practice, the second option was denied them, and the third did not survive long, so as a result they lost their Jewish identity. Vetö’s paper is valuable for defining contemporary MJ communities, for clarifying ambiguous terms commonly used in the literature by distinguishing early JBJs from later “Judeo-Christians” (some of whom were not ethnically Jewish), and for offering a Judeo-Christian perspective on this subject, rather than just a Christian or Jewish viewpoint.
The third paper, without a formal response, was by Ursula Schumacher from Karlsruhe, soon to take up a dogmatics chair at the University of Lucerne, on the topic of “Abandoning Supersessionism and Rediscovering the Ecclesia ex Circumcisione: Ecclesiological reflections with regard to Messianic Judaism.” She argued that the Romans 11 olive tree implies not two entities, Israel and the Church, but only Israel as God’s people and a movement of Christ-followers that includes non-Jews, so the Church participates in Israel’s calling and relationship with God, in partial fulfilment of prophetic promises of the nations going up to Jerusalem. The Church has a permanent inner-connection to Israel at a salvation-historical level, not just through individual MJs. Schumacher proposed that (1) Messianic Judaism has implications for understanding the Church. The Church is to be seen as de-centered, relative to Israel. But the loss of MJs led to forgetting the grace of election, and then to triumphalism. So we need to reinterpret the four definitions of church in the Apostles Creed in light of Israel: “united” (in diversity), “holy” (making Israel’s God known), “catholic” (needing MJs as in the beginning), and “apostolic” (the first 12 apostles pointed to the 12 tribes). (2) There is a broader universal relevance of the particular, hence a sacramental or representative role for MJs. The incarnation made God’s redemption concrete in the Jewish people, and so MJs are a sacramental remnant pointing to God’s promises to all Israel and to all nations. (3) MJs are too fundamental to all varieties of ecclesiology for this relationship with them to be merely a matter of “ecumenical” discussion.
The fourth paper, also without a response, was from Jewish Catholic theologian Antoine Lévy OP of the Universities of Helsinki and of Eastern Finland, on “Restoration of the Ecclesia ex Circumcisione?” He explains that the earliest believers were indeed all Jewish, for prophetic reasons, but never identical to the one true church, as recognized in Acts 15 when discipleship through faith was considered more essential than ethnicity. And from that time on, a pure Jewish church never existed as distinct from a gentile church, so it cannot be “restored” as it was at the beginning. To answer the question of the title, therefore, he focuses on the first use of this Latin term in the early 5th-century dedicatory mosaic of the Basilica di Santa Sabina in Rome, founded by Peter of Illyria who was probably Jewish. The mosaic was evidently inspired by Jerome’s commentaries written not long before, and Jerome was also from Illyria, so the inscription must be quoting from the only place Jerome uses these terms—his commentary on Haggai 1:1. There he argues that the initial church, damaged by Jewish lack of faith, had been rebuilt from both the circumcision and from the Gentiles, and this will happen again to perfect the Church before Jesus returns. Peter as a Jewish priest would have seen himself as part of the Jewish remnant who could play that key role in his own generation, as does Lévy today. So Lévy ends with a call to the gentile church to help to “restore” (in the sense of apokatastasis, Acts 3:21) what was not actually needed at the start—“an established biosphere that will preserve the uniqueness of the nation of Israel in the midst of the universal Church.”
The plenary group discussion after this third session included a couple of questions responding to details in Kendall Soulen’s public lecture (on the Jewishness of God/YHWH, and on the legitimacy of drawing Trinitarian language from other indigenous cultures). But the primary focus was on the question of what sort of “Jewishness” the Church should be seeking to preserve. Lévy responded that it is not a religion like Christianity, but an “ethnological biological reality . . . our deepest reality, regardless of who we are showing it to.” One contributor then asked whether Jewishness should be seen not as an essential / metaphysical / ontological reality but rather as a faith or a cultural construct, as with Abraham who was not biologically Jewish. Vetö suggested it is genealogical more than biological, salvation-historical more than ontological, along with culture and faith, and Jews have various combinations of these realities. Boris Grisenko (Kyiv Jewish Messianic Congregation) simply said that we cannot define our own Jewishness, as diverse now as it was in the first century. Neuhaus consequently explained that the 98.735% (!) of Jews who do not believe in Yeshua keep him Jewish as a Catholic, especially in Israel. Finally, Tück asked whether the need for Messianic Jews to restore the catholicity (universality) of the Church implies that Catholics need to change their doctrinal view about the Church being complete. (Lumen Gentium 8 says that the Church in its mystery resembles the incarnate Christ, a complex reality containing human and divine, which hints at the need for MJs too.) Fichtenbauer reported that Benedict XVI (as Cardinal Ratzinger) said in 1998, “The Church will not be complete until the two ecclesia are reunited,” and this was what persuaded John Paul II to start the Catholic–Messianic Jewish dialogue. Vetö commented further that if it is true that the Church is complete, then the Catholic Church must have never lost its Jewish remnant, but the Church is certainly wounded and needs to restore its Jewish dimension.
The Land and People of Israel, Jesus, and Eschatology
The first of three papers, each with a scheduled response, was Mark Kinzer’s second, on the topic of “Post-Supersessionist Eschatology: Welcoming Jesus at the Mount of Olives,” much of which summarised his argument in his recent book Jerusalem Crucified, Jerusalem Risen (2018). To begin, he explained why he prefers the term “post-supersessionist” to “non-supersessionist,” as a less reactionary term, appreciating contributions of supersessionist theologians (especially in the ecumenical creeds) but correcting their flaws. Drawing on Luke 13:33–35, 19:37; Acts 1:6–12, and 3:17–21, he suggests replacing a hope for end-time “conversion of the Jews” with a recognition that the Jewish people and their capital city are still at the center of God’s concern, awaiting reconciliation with their king because of their covenantal status. Whereas Romans 11 could allow for an end-time Jewish response to Jesus all over the world, the eschatology of Luke–Acts clearly expects a national presence in the land of Israel centered on Jerusalem where the nation’s leaders respond to Jesus on behalf of “all Israel” worldwide. Acts does not record a shift from Jerusalem to Rome but rather concludes every missionary journey with a return to Jerusalem, so the abrupt ending of the book also anticipates a final end-time return. In light of this, the “astonishing dual resurrection in the modern period of a Jewish commonwealth in the land of Israel, and of a Jewish expression of the body of Messiah” sets the stage for the hope envisioned in Luke–Acts, however distant its fullness may still be, so these eschatological signs demand theological attention.
Piotr Oktaba OP gave the response to Mark Kinzer’s paper, seeking to draw attention to the reason for the delay of the end-time hope promised in Luke–Acts and in Romans 11. His suggestion is that somewhere along the way, both church and synagogue have stopped striving for the fullness of the nations to come in (Rom 11:25). “Practically, Israel will find its election when it turns to the nations, as Paul did, and the nations, as Luke did, will find their God when they recognize the priority of Israel’s election.” So the nations in the Church need MJs, as they need the nations, each recognizing the other as “brothers” (Acts 15:23).
The second paper was presented by Gavin D’Costa from the University of Bristol, on “The case for a Catholic theological affirmation of Israel,” summarizing chapters 3–4 of his 2019 book. Although he himself had strongly supported the Palestinians and viewed Israel as a colonialist power, thirteen years ago he decided “theology should not be hostage to politics, but to God’s revelation,” though he still approves of the Catholic Church’s recognition of the Palestinian state and the 1947 UN boundaries when speaking about “Israel.” His theological argument has three steps. First, the Old Testament explicitly links “covenant” to the land promise in 70% of its references, though the Jewish people are chosen regardless of the land, boundaries of the land are drawn in various ways, and they may be expelled as punishment. Second, the New Testament never calls the Church the “new Israel”; rather, the land promise to the Jewish people can be read as intact (Rom 11:29), reconfigured in Jesus Christ but not in a way that dematerializes it, and it may well be related to end-times theology. Third, in modern Israel (that is, the Jewish people in the land, regardless of its form of governance which can be legitimately criticized based on Catholic social doctrine), the ingathering of Jews may be seen as God’s providential action (Ezek 34:13), though “justice for the Palestinians is non-negotiable.” Pope Benedict XVI wrote in 2018 that Catholics cannot affirm nation states as God-given, yet he also said that the State of Israel “expresses God’s faithfulness to the people of Israel,” because of the biblical link of the people and the land. Hence it would seem right to support Catholic Jews who wish to make aliyah.
Sadly, Marianne Moyaert from the Free University of Amsterdam was unable to attend the symposium either in person or online, and she did not manage to send through a text of her response to Gavin D’Costa’s paper, by the time of the symposium.
The third paper was given by the host of the symposium, Jan-Heiner Tück of the University of Vienna, on the topic of “Parousia, the land of Israel and the 1000-year reign of Christ.” He observes that most MJs are premillennial, though amillennialism exists too, but all agree on the eschatological need for the land, Jerusalem, and Zionism. Contrast Catholic “empty-space Israel theology” and anemic expectation of the second coming (= Parousia) alongside individualized spiritualized hope in “heaven.” It was Augustine who domesticated end-time chiliasm (belief in a millennial reign) into merely a description of the current unpurified church age in his book City of God, but perhaps this should be revised in light of MJ’s more concrete expectation? Tück summarised views about the millennium in the Church Fathers, and then explained how Augustine’s form of replacement theology reconfigured earlier views to define the Messianic kingdom as the church between the Ascension and Parousia, though he was not willing to discard the Jewishness of Jesus and of Christianity. In asking if Augustine’s views should be revised, Tück remarked on three “productive irritants”: (1) Regarding the Parousia, as King of the Jews, Jesus will come not just to JBJs but to the whole people of Israel. (2) Regarding the land of Israel, this can be seen as “a sign of the faithfulness of God” to the Jewish people, opening wide questions about the borders and governance and politics regarding the Palestinians; but in any case, it is no longer reasonable to define the Christian hope in purely spiritualized de-territorialized ways as “Our homeland is in heaven.” (3) And regarding Christ’s kingdom of peace, in contrast to the many amillennial theologians who follow Augustine, Jurgen Moltmann’s book The Coming of God allows for a transitional time before the new heaven and new earth, when Jews and Christians will establish the messianic reign with Christ.
The response to Jan-Heiner Tück’s paper was given by Ulrich Laepple of EKD (the Protestant Church in Germany), who noted that Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk and thus the Protestant Church is rooted in Augustine’s eschatology too. Luther’s question “Where can I find a gracious God?” defined the gospel as individualistic, so the biblical message was spiritualized and disinherited Israel. Ever since Nostra Aetate, there is hope for change because Christians are finally asking Jews to help them understand their own Christian message! The land of Israel is not a spiritual idea but a treasured physical hope. The Protestant Church in the Rhineland dared to speak of the Jewish return and establishment of the State of Israel as “signs of God’s faithfulness,” but later clarified this does not mean “eschatological signs,” to avoid romanticizing Israeli politics. Two questions arise from Tück’s paper: the first whether Catholic theology of the land is too inhibited, as a French Bishops’ Synod suggested in 1973, and whether there is in fact a unique covenantal right of the Jewish population to Jerusalem, more than that of a non-Jewish population (not ignoring political justice for all). The second question is whether Messianic Judaism can be a genuine partner for theological dialogue, given its baffling variety and its general failure to represent Judaism convincingly as opposed to a Jewishly enculturated form of Protestant Christianity. Mark Kinzer’s theology, however, is a notable exception, in his constant dialogue with noted Jewish theologians and rabbinic texts.
In the plenary discussion that followed, there were several different questions and responses, the German contributions being translated into English for the sake of the rest of the audience. Among the comments made was one by Lévy, challenging D’Costa and Tück that Catholic theologians should not pull back in an attempt to be “nice,” but must face up to the theological reality of the State of Israel, despite all of its imperfections. And James Patrick noted that Israel is the nation created by God (Isa 43:1) as an example for all other nations of what it looks like to be a people within a land under God’s authority, receiving their national inheritance ultimately through Messiah at the Parousia. If this is so, wouldn’t the Messianic community within the Jewish people be equivalent to the church of every other nation and tribe on earth? (This may well have implications for the TJCII vision to gather the “whole gentile church” for a second Jerusalem council to welcome the Jewish people, as opposed to the “whole church of each nation.”) Schwienhorst-Schönberger disagreed that Israel is a created nation, but sees it rather as a vocation on behalf of the nations. On the other hand, Harvey confirmed that this is an important topic to explore, since he finds many Gentiles fail to understand what it means to be the ecclesia ex gentibus as opposed to simply the generic “church,” and understanding their own status (and promises) as Gentiles will help them to acknowledge these also for the Jewish people.
In conclusion, Jan-Heiner Tück thanked those who had taken part in the symposium, and noted that we are in discussions with publishers in order to publish a volume of proceedings from these study days. Johannes Fichtenbauer, director of the planning team from TJCII-Europe, then suggested that hopefully we will be able to convene another similar conference in two or three years, maybe in the State University of Belgium for example. More information will be circulated in due course.
Points for Prayer
- Skill and wisdom for those translating and editing the revised papers, to be published soon in German and English editions of the conference proceedings.
- For accurate and speedy translation of all papers either into German or into English.
- For the right choice of publishers in German and English, for wise and sympathetic editors, and for the whole process of publication.
- For the translation and printing and distribution of the pre-conference release Jesus, King of the Jews? into all remaining languages, for local theological gatherings to discuss it, and for significant impact in the churches across the nations of Europe.
- For the TJCII-Europe theologians as they discuss next steps after the Vienna conference, in terms of other academic gatherings and what topics to focus attention upon.
- For the development of a community of scholars in Europe who are eager to meet regularly to discuss topics related to Messianic Judaism and Jewish believers in Jesus.
- For the ongoing Catholic–Messianic Jewish dialogue and for other similar dialogues to be established in other denominations.
Questions for further reflection
Defining Jewish Believers in Jesus / Messianic Jews
- Who are our JBJ/MJ dialogue partners? What should their relation be to Torah and its authorized interpreters in Judaism today, as per Jesus’ own approach to Jewishness and Torah and the rabbis in his day, and also the approach in the Book of Acts and Epistles? How can they be genuine partners for theological dialogue if they only loosely represent Judaism itself? Must they forego evangelism to fellow Jews in order to be dialogue partners, in view of the apostolic mission to the Jews as well as Gentiles in New Testament times? [See contributions by Harvey, Neuhaus, Rucks, Bockmuehl, Laepple]
- If we are not to open the doors also to Gentiles who self-identify as Messianics, what would be a biblical minimal definition of “Jewish” that can be recognized by the gentile church? [Harvey, Lévy, Vetö, (Boris Grisenko,) Neuhaus, Kinzer]
Church History / Jewish–Christian Dialogue
- How can we better commend the historic and present-day contribution of JBJs to Jewish–Catholic and Jewish–Protestant dialogue? How can we help mainstream Jewish dialogue partners recognize they must now relate to a church essentially made up of Gentiles and Jews? How do we resist Jewish (not just Christian) supersessionism expressed towards MJs? How can we tell the story of Judaism and Christianity as symbiotic, and also acknowledge the persistence of JBJs throughout (plus non-Jewish Judeo-Christians)? [Rutishauser, Rucks, Mallmann, Bockmuehl, Vetö, Rosik]
Relating to JBJs and Nurturing their Ongoing Jewish Identity
- How does the NT present JBJs and gentile Christians as distinct in practice if not in belief, and how does it see varying Torah-observance as affecting table fellowship? How is the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile in Messiah not only to be understood theologically but also to be modelled practically in the church, in relation to identifiable JBJs? How can we seek to reverse the “parting of the ways” today, based on the four factors of theology, leadership, internal church tensions, and political decisions by secular authorities? [T. Schumacher, Soulen, Vetö, Lévy]
- How can JBJs maintain Jewish identity over time, whether in distinct congregations of their own or among gentile churches, in the Diaspora or in Israel? How might the gentile church create within itself “an established biosphere that will preserve the uniqueness of the nation of Israel in the midst of the universal Church”? See Osten-Sacken’s thoughts on this, as mentioned in Rucks’ paper. [Rucks, Vetö, Rosik, Lévy]
- How should the Church relate to MJs / JBJs, if not in an ecumenical-style discussion (as if they are just another denomination) but reflecting more deeply on ecclesiology (theology of the church)? [U. Schumacher]
Interpretation of Scripture (OT, NT)
- If Christian and Jewish interpretations of shared scripture have equal value as joint heirs of the Old Testament / Hebrew Bible, how do we ensure that the Christian views we bring to the dialogue are not infected by supersessionism, e.g. on the question of the land? Equally, how should the Church engage with Jewish (non-Messianic) theology of the end-times, especially if Messianic hope is declining in certain Jewish denominations? [Schwienhorst-Schönberger, Hoping]
- Do New Testament conceptions of Israel’s hope truly diverge in different books, and can we recognise a coherent NT theology of the future that relates to Israel? How does the Holy Spirit relate to the Jewish future in NT theology? [Theobald, Bakker, Kinzer #1]
- How did/does/will Jesus “fulfil” the identity and calling of Israel (in contrast to so-called “fulfilment theology,” a popular alternative term for “replacement theology”)? What is the NT connection of the land to Messiah, if Messiah has not replaced the land as N.T. Wright believes? [Mallmann, Hoping, Bockmuehl]
Systematic / End-time / Land Theology
- How does Jesus’ permanent Jewishness relate to the Trinity (in terms of perichoresis) and to incarnation (in terms of OT theophanies)? [Soulen, Kinzer #1]
- How does the biblical end-time hope for Jerusalem as a geographical and political center of (inter-)national resurrection relate to the Jewish presence in the land today? How do Jews now interpret the return to the land, in light of biblical promises, and should this affect our theology also? [Kinzer #2, Laepple]
- How can we best make the theological case for a Jewish end-time presence in the land to those who see the matter just politically (whether in pro-Zionist or in pro-Palestinian terms)? What is the biblical link of covenant with the land, and how does it relate to non-Jews in the land, whether historically or prophetically or in terms of current disputes over land? [D’Costa, Kinzer #2, Tück, Laepple]
- How does the physical end-time hope of MJs challenge and reshape both individual and collective Christian expectations of life after death (“heaven”) and resurrection? [Tück]
A Theology of the Gentiles
- What was the NT and especially Paul’s view of the Torah’s applicability to gentile believers (as opposed to the “One Torah” error and also to gentile Messianic congregations)? [Tiwald, Vetö, Bockmuehl]
- How should gentile Christians relate to Jesus and to Israel as the permanently Jewish “other,” while still maintaining unity in the body of Messiah? [Kinzer #1]
- How does God’s choice to effect universal redemption through the concrete particularity of Israel, especially in the incarnation, relate to Israel’s ongoing sacramental or representative role as a sign towards the redemption of all nations? What is the role of redeemed Israel, and of MJs, in achieving the fullness of the nations coming in, as per their national call to be a light to the nations? [U. Schumacher, Kinzer #1, Oktaba]
- To what extent does Messianic Judaism’s relation to “all Israel” mirror a gentile national church’s relation to its wider nation? How are Gentiles to understand what it means to be the ecclesia ex gentibus, or even better, the “churches of the nations”—not losing our various distinct gentile identities as member nations within the body of Messiah? [Kinzer #1, (James Patrick,) Harvey]
Dr James Earle Patrick is the Theological Coordinator of Towards Jerusalem Council II – Europe. He completed Bachelors and Masters degrees in biblical studies at Cambridge, and a doctoral thesis in Oxford on the Book of Samuel. He is a member and former officer of the Society for Old Testament Study, secretary of the Love Never Fails coalition in the UK, and has served the NewFrontiers family of churches as a theologian. He has chosen celibacy for the sake of the Church and the soon return of our Messiah King.
1 Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, “The Gifts and the Calling of God Are Irrevocable” (Rom 11:29) – A Reflection on Theological Questions Pertaining to Catholic-Jewish Relations on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Nostra Aetate (No. 4), 2015. .
2 Josef Wohlmuth, Die Tora spricht die Sprache der Menschen. Theologische Aufsätze und Meditationen zur Beziehung von Judentum und Christentum (Paderborn-München-Wien-Zürich: Schöningh, 2002), 182.
3 Barbara U. Meyer, Jesus the Jew in Christian Memory: Theological and Philosophical Explorations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 103, 11, 178–79.
4 Gavin D’Costa, Catholic Doctrines on the Jewish People after Vatican II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).
5 Pope Benedict XVI, “Grace and Vocation without Remorse: Comments on the Treatise ‘De Iudaeis’,” trans. Nicholas J. Healey, Communio 45 (2018): 163–184, at 178; original German text in Communio 47 (2018).
6 See the review in this issue of Kesher.