I Believe …. A reflection of the first article of the Creed.

Prologue

At the beginning, that which had always existed, moved. Energy was transformed. Creation had begun. For an instant, there was light – then matter sundered and the myriad of tiny lights began to dim. Creation was taking place.

Later – much later – the seed that was there before the beginning, took root.

Humankind was born. But the light could no longer be clearly seen.

Later – much later – one solitary human saw the light that had been there at the beginning. In seeing that light, He became light. But the light blinded and confused, because creation had never before seen such a light.

Later, basking in the memory of that light, others caught a glimpse, and themselves became light. As time passed, the light spread, and towards the end of creation, there was nowhere in which light was not. Creation was complete – and there was light.

I believe in one God ……

Before creation – before time itself began – before the beginning – there exists a perfect oneness – a perfect love – a fragrance – the source of all being.

The Father – the almighty …..

The unity – the totality – the perfect outpouring of love – and what is there to be loved? Where is the lover to be caught up in this majestic, serene outpouring? “Where is my beloved?”

Maker of all that is ….

Out of unity a voice as yet unheard. Out of perfection, that which is as yet incomplete. Creation begins – seed is planted. It is the beginning.

Seen and unseen …..

Seeing, and yet not seeing. Creation waits. Where is the creator? What is life? What has meaning? Are we chaos and darkness yet? Where is the light? And yet, deep down – far away – unseen, and yet all around, is something – someone. We become aware. We become aware, and are filled with desire for that which we once were.

Parent God – Mother Father God: unity, for a time dispersed. The child grows, and leaves its parent. The child is independent. Then, drawn by love, the child turns back. The child, now full grown, now adult, seeks love, and becomes in every way like the parent. Only the relationship has changed: no longer is the offspring a child. The parent becomes known as the friend. Love becomes fulfilled. The parent and the offspring are one once more. Has the child become the parent? Has the parent become the child? The question has no meaning. They are one. We are one. Consummatus est. Creation is complete.

Footnote – a reflection on the above ….

Although the above is the result of my own pondering, meditation and prayer, it holds a great deal of value for me. It is in harmony (broadly) with a number of post-modern theologians (see especially Ninian Smart and Catherina Halkes). In addition, it is at odds neither with science, nor with the creation myths – Christian and non-Christian alike. Equally, its movement of “Paradise Lost” – the fall story, to the instant of creation, rather than into the world of humanity, nicely parallels the now accepted psychodynamic concept of “Primal Bliss” as an intra-uterine experience of human bliss – human perfection – the memory of which we all share, both on an individual and on a human racial scale (see Lake, also Janov).

Perhaps more importantly than this, is the concept of a creator-God who is both transcendent and immanent. The matter out of which creation is formed, is both from God and of God, and the Spirit is both with, and in the matter, and is the Imago-Dei which is “becoming” in humankind. Creation takes place as God, of her own volition allows a part of herself to become the material of creation. Here, I see God in the feminine (in other circumstances, it might be easier to see God as the masculine). I see God as akin to the mother, in whom is produced the material of which the child is made, and out of whom the child (the whole cosmos) is given birth. The child then separates from the mother. To strike a parallel between God’s creative act, and male ejaculation, as has frequently been conjectured in the past seems to me to be a travesty of creation as I perceive it.

I feel that in recent years, theology has tended to dwell on the notion of “God Immanent”, to the possible exclusion of “God Transcendent” – and I feel that the overwhelming human need for a transcendent God is itself proof enough of the existence of one! Coupled with this is the idea of our growing into oneness with the creator – and this concept has parallels in many theologies, Christian and non-Christian alike. In addition, the reflection hints at a liberal, inclusivist (and possibly adoptionist) Christology – without being too specific. Personally, I feel comfortable with that picture at this moment.

“I Confess ….” A reflection on confession to God.

“Test me O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me ….”

I stand before my creator in prayer. I become aware of the all-pervading fragrance of divine love. My heart fills with praise, and for a brief instant I am exalted; I stand with God. From there, I turn around, and look at my humanness. With infinite compassion, I become aware of my hurt and my pain. I become aware of all that is empty in my heart. I become aware of my relationships with my fellows – and I begin to see those around me in a different way. I have poured out my own hurt – my pain – and I have hurt them. They too, have thrown their pain at me – pain that has torn me like a burning arrow. Pain that has been unjust, unfair. Pain that has made me scream. Pain that has broken my relationships; pain that has broken my heart. Pain that has made those around me less than the beautiful creatures that they are made to be.

Is it: “Not that we have done wrong, but that we have been wronged”?

And as I see myself and my friends from the viewpoint of such love; as my heart is filled with compassion, I forgive myself, and I allow the love to fill the emptiness that was my soul in torment. Thus forgiven, not only by the creator, who is eager and ready to forgive, but by that harshest and most cruel of judiciaries – my own self; thus forgiven, I see my fellows as hurting souls. I see their torment. “God forgive them”, I cry – because their pain has become my pain. “God forgive them – for surely, they know not what they are doing, such is their pain that blinds them to all love”.

Some further thoughts ….

As I write, this very morning my mentally sick friend poured out his heart to me. He wanted to “go high” – to become manic. When he is hypermanic, he believes he is Jesus. “I can’t spend the rest of my life being an insignificant little nobody. I am nothing. When I am high, I feel I really am somebody – I feel important”. Together with another friend, I tried hard, but in vain, to convince him that his self-image is nothing more than a phantasy. Our friend would have none of this. This poor man, this dejected, hurt soul has himself, hurt many others with his pain. And the church – the church which ought to care, and to love, has done everything in its power to reinforce his dejection. Small wonder then, that I am so deeply critical of the church’s attitude towards sin, and confession.

The meditation above is a personal one, and the experience of God’s mercy and loving kindness is, for me, a very real one. If only we were able to emphasise the forgiveness and the love ….

I am filled with anguish at the plight of my friend John. I am reminded of the heart rending vision of sin given to Mother Julian of Norwich – the vision of the Master and his servant.

She sees the Lord look at his servant “with rare love and tenderness, and quietly send him to a certain place to fulfil his purpose. Not only does the servant go, but he starts off at once, running with all speed, in his love, to do what his master wanted. And without warning, he falls into a deep ditch, and injures himself very badly. And though he groans and moans and cries and struggles he is quite unable to get up or help himself in any way. To crown all, he could get no relief of any sort: he could not even turn his head to look at the Lord who loved him, and who was so close to him. The sight of him would have been of real comfort, but he was temporarily so weak and bemused that he gave vent to his feelings as he suffered his pains.”

Some thoughts on Moltmann ……..

Moltmann says: “So in the suffering history of the world of nature and human beings, we have to discern the inexpressible sighings of the indwelling spirit and the suffering presence of God”.

Personally, I find no grounds whatsoever for disagreeing with what Moltmann says.

Suffering, most theologians tell us, is the result of sin. Asked what is the cause of that sin, most theologians would disagree with one another. But the origin of sin does seem, paradoxically, to be centred around that very aspect of our humanness that is the most divine – our “imago dei”. Made in the image and likeness of God, we are prone to seek out for ourselves godly attributes (or what we might perceive as being godly attributes) – power, and power symbols such as status, recognition and materialistic possessions figure high. Perhaps the origin of sin can be traced back to this very human (very divine?) quest. This “seeking” can be for evil, or for good, depending on whether its ultimate goal is individuation, or union (and here I am thinking of union with God transcendent). The goal of union is directly opposed to the goal of the world – which is directed towards individuation – individual achievement at the expense of the rest of creation. `Self-Actualisation’ is a trendy description of this process of power struggle – a process that is in total opposition to the process of detachment that is a part of the spiritual path in all major faiths.

It is as though we see a contrast; a contrast in which humankind is playing God on the one hand, and becoming God on the other. Can we make any sense of this: is it, as theologians and mystics alike assure us, a necessary part of creation? Certainly, if we understand God’s Kingdom as a perfect state of unity, then humankind in God’s kingdom will have intimate experience both of sin, and of the pain caused by that sin; the loneliness, the dejection, the devaluing of the divine. Playing God devalues that which is divine. Becoming God increases and ripens it beyond our wildest imagination. Perhaps humankind has to experience both sides of this question in order to become perfected. Creation is about a “becoming”. (see William Rusch – quoting Augustine – “Jesus became man, in order that we might become God.”).

And God; is God – our transcendent God – involved in this process of “becoming” in which we have our being?

Let me quote Ninian Smart:

“You could conjure up in your mind the swirls of atoms, the patterns of molecules, the growth of cells, the thunder of stars: and eventually you would see living creatures, and feel their consciousness, and in due course there would emerge humans, the creatures you would have endowed with your own consciousness, capacity for feeling and imagination. They would be in your image. It would be a wonderful ebullience to make such a cosmos. But could you bring yourself to make it when you knew that rats would bleed to death in sewers, and birds fall suffering into the undergrowth, and women drown in seas, and men burn in fires? Could you create a world in which, inevitably, there would be suffering? Would it be enough that joys would outweigh pains, and happiness distress? It would be a partly callous thing would it not, for a blissful God to bring into being swarms of suffering creatures?

But the Christian God is not a blissful God, or rather, she is not a wholly blissful God …… “

And the chapter goes on to say that it is inconceivable, impossible even, that a God could not allow such a creation – unless that God is prepared to suffer – to be part of – to take part – in that suffering creation, until it is wholly complete, and pain is no more.

If as Christians, we accept Jesus as true God, then can we in all honesty place God above suffering – can we place God above and outside of any intimate relationship with us, God’s creation? And where does a view of God, a theology which places God at such an unimaginable distance, place Humankind? The great prayer of Jesus is “That all may be one, just as I and the Father are one”. Jesus, quoting the Psalmist, said, “You are Gods, all of you, and sons of the most high”. The evidence here, and in many other places is plain: God created humanity to be at one with him – and therefore to try to distance God from us can be no more than a vain attempt to hide from our creator and from our future. Our suffering, our pain is God’s suffering, God’s pain, for it is no less than the groans, the crying out, of a creation yet to be finished. Our pain, God’s pain, is the pain of birthing, and the pain of being. It is our pain and God’s pain as we become that which is to be. Birth pangs? More than that – far greater pangs than we can imagine, because creation leads to something that is totally beyond our present experience, or even our wildest imaginations.

Perhaps it is fitting to let Jurgen Moltmann have the last word in support of my own perception of our intimate relationship with the God who suffers just as we suffer, for a time, “in this vale of tears”. Perhaps it would be more truthful to assert that we suffer, just as God has suffered, and will continue to suffer (for a time) until creation is all complete:

“A God who cannot suffer is poorer than any human. For a God who is incapable of suffering is a being who cannot be involved. Suffering and injustice do not affect him. And because he is so completely insensitive, he cannot be affected or shaken by anything. He cannot weep, for he has no tears. But the one who cannot suffer cannot love either. So he is also a loveless being.”

Perhaps a part of the process of suffering is a “becoming” also, for God. God, becoming more human, as man becomes more divine?

“The Kingdom of Heaven is Like …… “

A question from a little child.

I imagined myself being asked this question – and immediately I thought of the most original, arguably one of the most outstanding theologians that the twentieth century has produced. I thought of Anna – the Anna of “Mister God this is Anna” by Fynn. I imagined that it was Anna that was asking me the question. And I could do no more than wait patiently for her to give me the answer. After all, she was able to tell me from present experience – and with age, my memory grows seemingly more and more dull.

I think of Anna, as she realises that God is “In her middle”, and that “God is in Fynn’s middle too”. She makes the leap to realising that God is in the middle of everyone, every creature and everything that God has created. Having taken that mind-stretching leap, Anna has not finished. One day, she says to Fynn – `Where are you?’, `Here, of course’, Fynn replied. `Where’s me then?’ `There!’ `Where do you know about me?’ `Inside myself someplace.’ `Then you know my middle in your middle.’ `Yes, I suppose so.’ And Anna goes on to say `Then you know Mister God in my middle in your middle, and every person you know, you know in your middle. Every person and everything that you know has got Mister God in their middle, and so you have got their Mister God in your middle too – it’s easy.’

Is this, I wondered, a description of God’s Kingdom? If it is, then God’s Kingdom is the most wonderful state of `being in relatedness’ that we could imagine – and there’s more!

And I wonder how I can even begin to say anything about the Kingdom of God to a child like Anna – it’s almost as though if I share my picture, I’ll ruin hers.

`Do you know what it’s like to be loved – really loved?’ I say, wondering to what extent she’s ever really known love. `Yes’, she tells me. `Well’, I continue, `God’s kingdom is even better than all the love you can ever imagine. And there’s more – do you know what it’s like to be really accepted – accepted without ever having to earn it? Well, God’s kingdom is even better, because you’ll be accepted by God and by everybody – they just want you to be there, and you know they want you so much that they’re more pleased to see you than anyone has ever been before.’

As I continue in my imagination, I seem to hear a chuckle. `I know that, silly, but there’s a lot more you haven’t told me. People are happy – really happy – not just putting it on, but happy deep down inside. And God’s happy too, because we’re happy, and we’re happy because God’s happy.’ I pause. Why did she ask me in the first place? A tear comes into my eye, because I know the answer. She just wanted to see if I still remembered what God’s Kingdom is like. I must think myself into it more often – it’s obvious that she’s never left it!

Anna is aware of bliss. Anna is aware of rapture. And here I am coming close to forgetting the rapture, the bliss and the glory that is God’s and our Kingdom. Then, in my imagination, perhaps thinking of Matt 18:2, it seems as though Jesus takes Anna and shows her to me – `Unless you experience things in the way that she does, you’re going to find the Kingdom a bit of a problem’. `Sorry, Jesus’, I find myself saying, `I’ve still got a lot to unlearn, haven’t I?’.

Non ex nihilo, sed ex Deo ….. A creation metaphor?

Catherina Halkes says: “God did not create from nothing, nor did she give birth, but acted in love and creativity with what was available to her. Just as God gave the people the duty to watch carefully over the garden of life, to work in it and guard it, `he’ himself did this for the whole universe”.

In the beginning, all was without form, and void – an empty God? A God without purpose? A God who is love, and who needed to love. And who better than we, to understand this agony, this anguish, our own agony, our own – God’s own – agony and anguish as we long to create – to bring into being – and to love. In the beginning, I am. In the beginning, I am alone – I am lonely, I am in pain.

I think once more of my favourite theologian: Anna, in “Mr. God this is Anna”. `Mr. God don’t know he is good and kind and loving. Mr. God is – is – empty’, she tells Fynn, as she makes the incredible discovery. Later, she explains that she has come to this amazing paradoxical conclusion because Mr. God was not empty in the sense that there isn’t anything there, but `empty because he accepted everything, because he wanted everything’.

God is love. Anyone who lives in love lives in God. And there is no one to live – no one to love – no one to be loved. An empty God – a God who has needs? A God who needs us just as much, and in the same way, that we need God? For me personally, this view, this paradigm, that is a God with needs, is the only way I can see creation justified. If God has no need of us then we are mere toys, objects to be pitied. I am less than human, a manikin, a plaything. And I don’t feel like Pinocchio. If that were the case, how could the splendour of humankind that Psalm 8 shows us, be possible? And conversely, for us to be able to say that `We are Gods, all of us, and sons of the most high’ (Psalm 82), we must be created not only in the image of God, but intended to be God’s friends rather than mere toys.

The Idea, the Plan, the Form of creation was there already – for it was the shape of God. And what else was there, when God alone was there? Out of God there flowed Matter – at first without shape; at first empty. Then the matter took shape – and became like God. Matter became the very image of God. Matter from God became Humankind. In God’s own image, we were created – out of God’s own being. And we were not alone; and God was not alone. But the memory of the pain of aloneness was there – because it was a part of God. The need, the agony, the anguish that moved God to create was, and is, a part of our own being, made in the Image of God as we are. In our anguish, we were not able to be the companion. We needed to separate, to move away, in order to learn to love and to be loved – in order to learn how to create.

I am suggesting that it is in the very act of creation itself that we need to look to find the source of the pain that we have called `sin’. Was the original sin disobedience, or was it obedience – obedience to that divine spark that filled us with desire to `be as Gods’ (Gen 3:5)? The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11) suggests that it was this very separation, this very experience of the pain of aloneness that was God’s before it became ours, that allowed the blissful acceptance to take place later. A time of joyful reunion in which we learn to enjoy relationship with our very hearts’ desire. A reunion, not of creatures with an overlord, but of friends who have yearned and yearned to be together.

And it is for this blissful re-union that “the whole of creation waits with eager longing, and groans in travail”.

© The Revd Barry Drake MA – Theology – God and the World – May/June 1995

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Fynn – “Mister God this is Anna” – Collins, 1974, Fount 1977, 1980

Halkes, Catherina J. M. – “New Creation” – SPCK 1989 In her vision – “the world was a dance; God and ourselves dancing together”. Relationships.

Hick, John – “Evil and the Love of God” – Macmillan – 1966

Hodgson, Peter C. – “Winds of the Spirit” – SCM 1994 Hodgson, Peter C. with Robert H. King – “Christian Theology” – Fortress

Janov, Arthur – “The Primal Scream” – 1973 – Abacus

McGrath, Alister – Christian Theology – 1994 – Blackwell

Moltmann, Jürgen – “Theology of Hope” – SCM – 1967

Moltmann, Jürgen – “The Crucified God” – 1974 – quoted in McGrath

Lake, Frank – “Clinical Theology” – 1966 – DLT

Rahner, Karl – “Theological Investigations” – DLT

Rusch, William – “The Trinitarian Controversy”

Smart, Ninian, with Steven Konstantine – “Christian Systematic Theology in a World Context” – Marshall Pickering – 1991

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The divinity of Humankind

©The Revd Barry Drake M.A.

Introduction

In September 2000, I wrote the following:

“It is a passionate concern of my own that the Church in all its history seems to have exalted the divinity of Jesus, while making little effort to understand his teaching that ‘we are Gods all of us and sons of the most high’. In quoting the psalmist, Jesus clearly points us towards our divine origin; we are, after all made in God’s own image and likeness. I believe that Jesus was asking us to accept this fact in a very literal manner. In pointing to our divinity as human beings, he fully accepted his own divinity. As Christians or Jews, each of us ought to be able to do exactly as he did. If we are able to recognise our own divinity, we must recognise each and every other human person as divine. In doing that, there can never again be the devaluing of individual humans at any scale – especially devaluing of the scale that we have seen in the Shoah.[1]

At the very beginning of the Hebrew bible in the creation story is the phrase that God created humankind ‘in his own image and likeness’. This phrase is emphasised and later repeated. It seems to have some considerable importance. It seems to imply that humankind is, in some way, divine. In the Christian scriptures, Jesus makes reference to the divinity of humankind, and seems to have an understanding of this aspect of humankind which is rather more literal than the church has taught. What might we understand from this? And how does the ‘divinity of humankind’ fit alongside the Christian teaching about the divinity of Jesus?

It is my view that Jesus gained an awareness of his own divinity as a sudden revelation or insight, and I would place this insight at the point of his baptism. I believe it was this awareness that led to his subsequent ministry. The reaction of Jesus as recorded in the Christian scriptures[2] suggest that this is the case, and further, that the insight that Jesus gained at this point did not in any way set him apart in his own mind from the rest of humankind. I suggest that in coming to terms with his own divinity, made as he was in God’s image, Jesus became aware of the divinity of the whole of humankind, and of the immense responsibility that this brings with it.

Since this view is based in the bible and its teaching, it will be necessary to look at the different ways in which those passages that imply the divinity of humankind have been interpreted by both Jews and Christians over the years. I intend to compare those passages, and their subsequent interpretations, with mystical insights offered by Jews and Christians in their writings in order to show the importance of the concept of ‘divinity’ to an understanding of our relationship with God. When considering the bible, (both the Tanach and the Christian books[3]) I take the traditional (Catholic) view that the books of the bible are inspired by God, and can be regarded as God’s revelation of Godself and our relationship with Him.

For this reason, I intend to set out my own understanding of biblical interpretation with reference to the current broad range of understandings of how the bible is to be understood and studied. At the present time, views on the status, or authority of the bible vary from the extreme conservative, in which the bible is regarded as the ‘Word of God’ in its entirety, ‘inerrant’ in every aspect, through to the extreme liberal position in which the bible is regarded as a useful collection of writings which owe little or nothing to God’s revelation. My own position here is similar to Catholic doctrine which regards the bible as reliable, trustworthy and inspired by God[4].

In order to consider fully the rationale behind my interpretation of the bible, I will need to look at the nature of revelation, both in and beyond the scriptural writings. It is my view that the bible is based on God’s revelation of Godself, and that subsequent revelations or mystical experiences ought to illuminate our understanding of the revelations given in the bible. I would go so far as to suggest that revelations offered through World Faiths other than Judaism and Christianity might prove worthy of study, as, if they are given by the same one true God in whom we believe, they ought not to contradict Jewish and Christian insights and revelations. I hold that the bible is ‘revealed’ or inspired by God, but that the writers have included much that reflects their own personality and point of view. Martin Buber speaks of mystical writing as being akin to an organ which in its own way ‘modifies’ or gives voice to the wind which blows it[5].

During the last few decades, protestant theology and hermeneutics have been influenced most strongly by the work of Bultmann and Barth, who in turn were greatly influenced by the rationalist school, and the philosophers of the Enlightenment. Until very recent times, Evangelical scholars have been in the minority. Poythress points out that:

‘ ….. evangelicals have been less scholarly [than liberals] by any standard. Evangelicals, because of their views on the spiritual and eternal importance of biblical knowledge, have a natural concern to produce suitable popular and semi-popular literature. In addition the triumph of the historical-critical revolution has meant that few evangelicals were allowed to be scholars in the first place.[6]

He goes on to suggest that this situation has produced something akin to anti-intellectualism in some evangelical circles.

In spite of the above, it is true that there has been considerable negative reaction to theologians of the Bultmannian school from respected scholars from time to time. Of particular note is C S Lewis, in his paper ‘On Fern Seed and Elephants’. I would also offer as an example, the archaeologist and expert on ancient papyri, Sir Frederick Kenyon. Writing in 1948, Kenyon launched an attack on the work of a liberal Christian bishop of that time, Dr. Barnes[7]. Kenyon demonstrated that Barnes had been extremely biased in his use of sources, and had neglected entirely the results of some then recent important archaeological discoveries because they did not suit Barnes’ argument. What concerns me here is that the dating evidence that Kenyon produced for the Christian Scriptures, and which has never since been challenged, is seldom if ever mentioned by scholars even today[8]. Somehow, the rationalist liberal school seem to have led the way for much of the last century[9], sometimes to the detriment of faith in a living God who acts in the world, and interacts with His creation.

This position is changing. There are now a number of respected evangelical scholars, who are not anti-intellectual and who are able to use the critical tools that we now have without compromising their position on God’s inspiration and action in the world[10]. It is this position with which I would largely align myself. As I see the situation, one extreme of biblical criticism seeks to rule out anything supernatural. This is in direct opposition to the evangelical position which holds that God not only interacted with His people in biblical times, but has done so ever since. And this includes belief in prophecy, the working of miracles and all the other supernatural events that occur in the bible.

In addition, liberal protestant scholarship has placed little credence on the accurate reporting of events during the life of Jesus, and indeed the words of Jesus as recorded in the Christian gospels. Bultmann and Barth had much to say about this aspect. It is interesting to note though, that Bultmann’s original thoughts about ‘demythologisation’ (1941) were so widely misunderstood, that he needed to offer not one but two further essays by way of explanation (1952, 1961).

Along with Kenyon and present day evangelical writers, I hold that the gospels were written temporally close enough to the events they record to allow good accuracy. I hold too that the words that Jesus is recorded as having said were so very important to early Christians that these above all would have been correctly reported, if not verbatim, then accurately reflecting the meaning of what he said. I take this view because in the main, the sayings were handed down in a largely non-literate society, and it has been shown that reporting is far more accurate in this kind of culture than in our own literate culture. It is known that the people whom Jesus had addressed and taught during his lifetime were very probably non-literate for the most part[11]. It has also been shown that in a non-literate society, the spoken word is far better remembered than it is in a literate society such as ours[12].

In this study, I aim to show that Christianity has removed the concept of ‘divinity of humankind’ from applying to the whole of humankind and has instead divinised the person of Jesus to the point at which he and he alone is the ‘divine person’ made in God’s image. In so doing, I believe that Christianity has not only done itself a disservice, but has failed to respond to the teachings of Jesus on this point. In taking this line of argument, I intend to show that humankind as a whole is ‘divine’ and that Jesus is himself divine in the same sense that humankind is divine but has a different and more significant place as well.

The Christian scriptures show that Jesus after his death reappears and is in some way different. I intend to show that this ‘post crucifixion’ Jesus is seen by those who met with him as more evidently divine than the pre-crucifixion Jesus that some of his disciples had known. In claiming this, I refer to the statement I made above that I understand the words of Jesus to have been accurately reported – however, I would add a strong caveat here. The biblical Christian writers make no distinction between the revealed words of Jesus as they experienced them after the resurrection of Jesus, and the words that he was reported to have said to his disciples before his crucifixion. As I have said, the post-crucifixion Jesus was very different and his revealed words reflect this difference – this heightened divinity – that his followers encountered in him.

I want to suggest that the post-crucifixion Jesus – the ‘risen glorified Christ’ of the Christians is identical to the ‘Son of Man’ from Daniel, with whom Jesus is often identified, but that this Son of Man is far more than Jesus alone. I will show evidence from mystics[13], from the bible[14] and from commentators that from God’s viewpoint, the whole of humankind is this mythical ‘Son of Man’ both in its origin and in its completion. That is to say, every living human being throughout the whole of time is, or can be[15], incorporated into this ‘Primal Human’, which I believe is, or will be, one with God, and thus fully divine.

The implications for interfaith dialogue are considerable. But these can only come at the expense of a re-thought Christianity, and a re-worked Christology. However, in this postmodern age, there are a number of Christian thinkers who are calling for what they would describe as a lower Christology. As Pittenger puts the question, ‘Is Jesus different in degree or kind?’

I have mentioned above that some of the impetus for this dissertation came from the realisation that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is the biggest hurdle imaginable in any interfaith dialogue.

The Christian concept of ‘the Trinity’ has never been an easy one, and has been and is a stumbling block for any interfaith dialogue. In the main, this is because other faiths understand that Christians see Jesus as being interchangeable with God the father. In fact, there is some justification for this view because this is the way in which many Christians view Jesus. In this, I will be looking at what the bible, in particular Paul, has to say about the person of Jesus. When, for example, Paul says: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death ….” (Phillipians 3:9), is he saying the same as John’s: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.” (1 John 3:1). Neither of these statements put Jesus in the place of some kind of superhuman in which some Christians see him. This would in any case go completely against the formal teaching of the church, which has always said clearly that Jesus is to be regarded as ‘True Man’. The question I ask here is not, ‘Is the Trinity a reasonable concept?’ but rather, ‘Where are you and I (and Jesus) within the Trinity, made in God’s image as we all are?”

Chapter 2

How are we to understand ‘Divine’ ?

Since the intention of this dissertation is to look at the concept of the divinity of humankind, I will begin by looking at what ‘divine’ and ‘divinity’ might mean. I want to suggest first and foremost that divinity has to do with the attributes[16] of God. These might be some of the attributes of God as we see them in the bible, and in Jewish and Christian tradition: Omnipotence[17]. Creativity. Loving. Keen sense of justice. Peacemaking/peacegiving.

It might seem to be obvious that humankind does not have the first of these attributes. However, what humankind does have is a need for, even a lust for, power. Freudian psychology makes much of this particular human (divine?) attribute. His follower, Jung said:

“Where love rules, there is no will to power; and where power predominates, there love is lacking. The one is the shadow of the other”[18].

I suggest that this aspect of human need is a result of our being made in the image of God – and it is an attribute which is the root cause of our separation from the Godhead. My intention is to look further at this aspect of human divinity in chapter 3 “The Hebrew Bible and the Christian Scriptures”.

Humans are creative. All human beings have a creative urge. It is part of our nature, and once again, I see it as a divine attribute[19].

Love is at the heart of all human relationships. Love is at the heart of the human family. Without love, there would be no future for humankind. And love is perhaps the most important attribute of the God of both Jews and Christians[20]. 1 John 4:15 tells us that ‘God is love’. Love, too is as mentioned above, something which is in tension with the human need for power. It is at the heart of our human existence, and it is right at the centre of the bible’s teaching about God[21].

Justice and peace[22] are something for which humankind has striven throughout recorded history – sometimes with considerable success. Justice and peace are also at the very heart of the Pentateuch, the prophets, and the Gospels. Perhaps the best example of this is Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

In Matthew 5:9 from the beatitudes, we have “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” This seems to sum up not only the attitude of Jesus towards peace, but also the teachings that we find in the Pentateuch[23].

If one were to take an atheistic view – that God is nothing more than a projection of our human needs, then the divine attributes I have listed above would certainly be at the top of our list of needs, and their opposites would be seen as neuroses – perhaps even psychoses – which psychiatry might see as attributes which the disturbed mind might project onto the devil. As a believer, I would say that overall, there is good evidence here to speak of the ‘divinity’ of humankind simply because of the divine attributes which we possess. And it is evident that the attributes mentioned above can be used by individuals or by groups of individuals either for the good, or the harming of our fellow human beings, simply because each of those attributes has a dark side to it.

Chapter 3

The Hebrew Bible and the Christian scriptures

The Tanach

I have stated above that I regard the Tanach and the Christian scriptures as being foundational in my understanding of both Jewish and Christian belief and that I hold it as being fully authoritative in presenting God’s revelation of Godself. For this reason, I am going to look first and foremost at what the bible says about the divinity of humankind.

“God created humankind in his own image” – Gen 1:27. This phrase implies that there is something special – something divine – about the human race. It occurs only three times in the Tanach as a direct reference to the ‘Image of God’, but the fact that it is repeated and emphasised – especially in Genesis 1:27 – suggests that this concept has great significance. Because of the importance of these passages, I quote them here in full[24].

Then God said, “Let us[25] make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Gen 1:26-27

This is the list of the descendants of Adam. When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them “Humankind” when they were created. When Adam had lived one hundred thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. Gen 5:1-3

For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life. Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image[26] God made humankind. Gen 9:5-6

In looking at these passages, one might note that the second clearly says that Adam’s son is also made in the image and likeness of God, and the third passage makes it clear that the whole of humankind, according to the Noahide covenant, remains in God’s image and likeness. This is significant as an argument against the understanding that humankind only existed as God’s image up to the fall.

In addition to the passages above, the Septuagint carries the book of Ecclesiasticus (also known as Sirach). Ecclesiasticus 17:3 on the creation of humankind says: “He endowed them with strength like his own, and made them in his own image”.

These few references have brought a great amount of comment and speculation from Christian scholars and commentators beginning with the early church fathers and continuing through to later writers. I will look further at these in subsequent chapters. It is worth commenting that surprisingly little writing comes from Jews during the same period. In a later chapter I will offer some thoughts on the lack of Jewish material. Although the above bible passages are the only ones that refer directly to humankind being created in God’s image and likeness, there are passages in the Tanach which directly echo the concept.

Psalm 8 speaks of the dignity of humankind, and says: “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour”. Ps 8:4-5 [27] Another Psalm which implies the divinity of humankind is Psalm 82. “You are gods, children of the Most High, all of you nevertheless, you shall die like mortals ….” Ps 82:6 [28]

These then are the bible references that seem directly to point towards the divinity of humankind. Taking a broader view, it can be seen that that the entire Tanach supports the view that humankind and life itself, is sacred and is sacrosanct and could thus be said to be divine. Cairns points to the prophets[29]. Their endless call for justice claim the justice of God for the whole of humankind, and not just for Israel. The Septuagint too is full of injunctions to care for our fellow human being. It is this that leads to one of the best known Talmudic comments. I refer to R. Hillel and his statement that the whole of Torah is summed up by the saying: “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, and never do to anyone else what you wouldn’t want them to do to you. The rest is commentary – now go and learn it.” [30]

The sacredness of humankind, the dignity of every single human life – I suggest the divinity of every single human being – is right at the centre of the whole of the Tanach. The thinking is this: If humankind is divine, then whatever we do to our fellow person, we are doing that to our God[31].

There is a further concept in the Tanach which deserves exploration in the connection of the divinity of humankind. This is the idea of the ‘Son of Man’.

The phrase ‘son of man’ as it appears in several places in the Tanach ought simply to mean ‘descendant of Adam’, or perhaps ‘Mortal Man’ as some bible versions have it. This is clearly the usage in, for example Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor the son of man, that he should repent”. It is used too as a form of address by God to the prophet Ezekiel[32]. However, in Daniel, the phrase is used with a very different shade of meaning. Daniel 7:13 has:

“I was watching in the night visions, And with the clouds of the sky there was coming one like a son of man. He approached the Ancient of Days and was escorted before him. To him was given ruling authority, honour, and sovereignty. All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him. His authority is an eternal authority which will not pass away. His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.”

Later in this chapter we will see how this phrase is taken and used by Christianity, however it is important first of all to look at the context and at the quotation from Daniel as it was understood before the church came into being.

My understanding is that the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision is, or at least represents, the divinity of humankind as it is pointed to by the creation story. Raymond Brown cites a number of scholars who regard this view of the apocalyptic Son of Man as a later development brought about by the Christian use of the phrase. I find the argument by Borsch, who looks at Gnostic texts alongside the Christian scriptures convincing, as he finds in those texts considerable evidence for Jewish thought before the time of Jesus on the early understanding of the ‘Son of Man’ in the way I have suggested above. Fuller sees the vision of ‘one like a son of man’ as ‘a collective symbol for the elect[33]’ and this seems to me to be the direction to which mystical revelation points. I will come back to this.

Daniel is an apocalyptic[34] book. Apocalyptic is a peculiar genre which is first and foremost of a revelatory nature, and concerns what might be called the ‘eschaton’ – the Kingdom of God which is to come. In short, it is visionary, and it speaks symbolically of a heavenly world rather than the earthly world that we know. It is the stuff of the supernatural, and cannot therefore be explained by mere logic. Jewish thought before the coming of Christianity simply took apocalyptic at face value and understood it more as one might understand poetry than anything else. The language is evocative and speaks straight to the heart. The vision of Daniel is a clear allusion to the creation in which the Son of Man (mortal man, offspring of Adam), is given authority and honour in the end times. It is highly unlikely that anyone would have understood ‘The Son of Man’ as seen by Daniel as an individual. The intention was more probable that humanity as a whole was here taken symbolically and glorified, or restored to the place it had before the fall. It is possible that some Jewish thought associated it with the expected supremacy of Israel, but there is little evidence for that point of view.

The passage from Daniel, with all its mystery and symbolism has had great influence on Christianity as we will see in the following section.

The Christian books

We have seen in the previous section that the concept of humankind ‘made in the Image of God’ is central to the understanding of the Pentateuch. One of the most Jewish of the letters in the Christian books is the letter of James:

“Nobody can tame the tongue — it is a pest that will not keep still, full of deadly poison We use it to bless the Lord and Father, but we also use it to curse people who are made in God’s image …. “ James 3:8-9.

This, it would seem is the same understanding that we discovered in the Hebrew bible; “whatever we do to our fellow person, we are doing that to our God”

The Christian scriptures make a great deal of reference to the phrase ‘Son of Man’ which occurs eighty-three times in the books of the Christian scriptures. Seventy-nine of these occurrences are in the four gospels and all of these are in quoted sayings of Jesus which are understood by Christians to mean that Jesus identified himself with the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision. Before looking further at this usage, I want to discuss the idea that we can see in the books of the Christian Scriptures two distinct and different views of the person of Jesus.

It is not difficult to see in the scriptures the historic Jesus who lived with and taught his followers. In addition, we find a different Jesus. Jesus after his death – the Jesus whom Christians describe as risen, ascended and glorified. This is the Jesus of revelation – the Jesus who revealed himself to Paul, to a number of his other followers and to countless Christians through the ages even up to the present day.

Dunn is quite clear that the early church ”seems to have regarded Jesus’ resurrection as the day of his appointment to divine sonship, as the event by which he became God’s son”.[35]

When Alan Segal[36] tells us that Paul ‘almost explicitly says that he identifies the mystical Kavod, God’s Glory, with Jesus the crucified messiah …’ and in support of this quotes 2 Cor 4:6, it seems that in his view, there is a way of looking at the risen Jesus in an eternal and very Jewish light. It is fitting to remember that in the same collection of essays, Monika Hellwig speaks of the concept of deification or divinisation of the believer which runs through the Eastern Christian tradition. She goes on to say: ‘The Glory, or revelation of God is the human person fully alive’[37].

Gerald O’Collins is very clear on this post-resurrection understanding of Jesus. For him, it is the glorified risen Jesus and only him that is of importance. He writes:

“Christology properly began with what we can call the ‘post-existent’ Jesus. After his death he was experienced and worshipped by his disciples as risen to new life, exalted in glory, and existing in power and dignity on the divine level.” He goes on to write: “Jesus was ‘adopted’ and became Son of God only as a result of his resurrection. Rather the sense that believers began to experience his powerful, heavenly existence in the aftermath of his resurrection from the dead – as opposed to the way people experienced Jesus in his earthly existence when he was born from the house of King David.[38]

From the above, I argue that the revealed, post-crucifixion Jesus was a bigger influence on the writers than was the rabbi who lived and taught among the people. That there is a difference seems clear. Paul says that God: “will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body.” [39] and John tells us that: “what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is.[40]” It is not completely clear from the Christian Scriptures as to whether the difference between Jesus and other human beings was one based on his glorification, or whether this difference was there in his lifetime. It was left to the later church to interpret and add to what was written in the scriptures.

If we hold to the assumption that Jesus has been accurately reported, then we can say with some assurance that Jesus did use the title ‘Son of Man’ of himself. The question here is, what did he mean? Christians have understood that he claimed for himself the entirety of the Son of Man from the vision of Daniel. The alternative would be that Jesus was aware of his divinity as a human being – the divinity promised in the creation story: the divinity in which we all share. Mark 8:38 has: “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” This particular passage suggests that Jesus is anticipating the coming of Daniel’s ‘Son of Man’ in his judgment of those who reject the words of prophets and good teachers.

 

This line of thought does not hold true for all the ‘Son of Man’ passages in the gospels though. It is especially the case in John’s gospel. As an example, John 5:25-27 reads: “Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live for just as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself and he has given him authority to execute judgement, because he is the Son of Man”. In this, as in many other passages, it might seem that Jesus is claiming that he, as an individual, identifies with, in fact is, the Son of Man from Daniel.

However, the idea that Jesus is making a claim to be the “Son of Man” in its entirety becomes less likely when taken alongside other statements. The passage in John 17:20-23 says:

“I pray not only for these but also for those who through their teaching will come to believe in me. May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you, so that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me. I have given them the glory you gave to me, that they may be one as we are one. With me in them and you in me, may they be so perfected in unity that the world will recognise that it was you who sent me and that you have loved them as you have loved me.”

This suggests that Jesus is aware of a kind of unity to which the whole of humankind is called, and that does not fit well alongside any claim for Jesus and Jesus alone to be ‘The Son of Man’.

Fuller takes the view that as most of the Son of Man sayings are in the third person, they are simply recollections of Jesus’ teaching about the apocalyptic Son of Man which became mixed in with his sayings about himself[41].

In John’s gospel, Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6 when he is told: “you, though only a human being, are making yourself God”. Here, Jesus answers, “Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, you are gods’?[42] Again, this does not fit well alongside a claim that he and he alone is the Son of Man. I suggest that to Jesus, his ‘son of man’ sayings mean that we (together) are the ‘Son of Man’ that Daniel writes of, although his claim was and still is, misunderstood as Jesus ‘making himself God’. The context here is that Jesus refers to God as ‘his father’. McGrath points out that the meaning of ‘Son of God’ in the Tanach was broad. “ … perhaps best translated as ‘belonging to God’. It was applied across a wide spectrum of categories, including the people of Israel in general[43]”.

Fuller quotes H.E. Tödt commenting on one particular ‘Son of Man’ saying (Luke 12:8-9) as follows: “The mystery of this saying lies in the relation which exists between the fellowship of the disciples with Jesus and their participation in the salvation with the son of man.” There is thus, he adds, a “soteriological continuity, though not a christological identity between Jesus and the Son of Man”.

Moses[44] makes close comparison between the ‘Son of Man’ from Daniel and the Christian Transfiguration story. The fact that in the Transfiguration story, a kind of preview of the glorified Jesus is seen alongside glorified figures of Moses and Elijah makes any comparison with the ‘Son of Man’ from Daniel point towards the composite nature of this ‘Son of Man’ figure.

James Moffatt, writing in 1912 was aware of a difference in the way Jesus is portrayed in what he believed to be the earliest parts of the gospels from what he sees in the later texts. He says that “The most casual reader can hardly miss alterations in one or both of the later synoptic gospels which were plainly due to the growing reverence for Jesus ….[45] He sees this progression reaching its peak in John’s gospel which he views as the latest of the gospels[46]. To me, this indicates the beginnings of a gradually increasing perception of Jesus which places him higher and higher as we move chronologically further away from his own lifetime. Effectively, this growing reverence, this elevated ‘christological thinking’, serves to place Jesus further and further out of reach!

A further problem is that of pre-existence. We shall see later that the thinking of Philo and others pointed to the Son of Man as seen by Daniel as a pre-existent figure being with God before creation. This attribute is given to Jesus in John’s gospel and is also seen in the letter to the Colossians.

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers– all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together”[47].

In John’s Gospel, we have:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God all things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being[48]”.

I will discuss the concept of ‘The Word’ further on in this chapter.

I conclude here that both of these examples come from personal experiences of the glorified Jesus, rather than from knowledge of him during his lifetime. Those who have met him in this revelatory manner claim to have seen him in his divinity, as ‘One like a Son of Man’, but as one like whom we are destined to become when we enjoy the fullness of our own divinity[49]. In addition, they see him as identical with the ‘Primal Man’ – the Adam from before the fall, who, according to Philo, existed before the creation – an identity which is not solely for Jesus as an individual, but for us as humankind. For this reason, I believe that every one of the above examples from the Christian Scriptures point not to the divinity of Jesus alone, but to the corporate divinity of humankind which is yet to be fully realised. I also conclude that the later writings within the Christian corpus, and the interpretations that the church began to put upon them were influenced by the ever-increasing insistence on the deity of Jesus over and against the divinity of humankind.

At the same time, it is true that the church as a whole has been very insistent that Jesus is to be regarded as ‘true man’. Since apostolic times there has existed a tension between those who would strive to put him ‘up there, out of reach’, so to speak, and those who would want to bring him down to their own level. I will go on to cite mystical and revelatory insights during the time following the bible to show that understanding of the Christian (and Jewish) truths concerning the place of humankind is, as yet incomplete. As Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:12; “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Something of the apostolic attitude may be seen in Paul’s letter to the Philippians in which he tells us that Jesus “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped at”. Philippians 2:5 “In the form of God” is, as we have seen in the Hebrew bible an attribute of humankind “made in God’s image and likeness”. To ‘grasp at’ equality with God is something we recognise only too well in the world[50]! Paul is saying specifically that Jesus did not do, or attempt to do any such thing.

John, Paul and Philo

The use of ‘εν αρχη’ as the first two words of John’s gospel suggests that he is writing his gospel in the form of a midrash on Genesis[51]. Borgen points out that Jewish thinkers in the period of the second temple were teaching about something significant prior to the actual creation. He suggests that it is this pre-creation ‘moment’ (one could hardly call it a ‘time’) that John wishes us to consider as ‘The Beginning’. And it is in this ‘Beginning’ that John places his ‘Word’. It is this ‘Word’ that we see in John’s gospel as wholly and entirely identified with the person of Jesus in verse 14 of John’s prologue in which the ‘Word’ becomes human. There seems to be general agreement among commentators that this ‘Word’ – the ‘λογος’

’ – of John’s prologue is based on the Greek concept of the divine spirit that is found in Stoic and Platonic philosophical thought. Philo of Alexandria is perhaps the most likely source for John’s concept of λογος [52].

There is a big difference between John’s personification and identification of the λογος with Jesus, and Philo’s thought. Philo makes it clear that God’s creative ‘Word’ is there, pre-existent at the very beginning. It is an idea, or a plan that God holds, and right at the centre of this plan is humankind ‘created in God’s own image and likeness’ (Gen. 1:26). And there is no doubt that in Philo’s understanding this means that humankind is Godlike in its divinity[53]. At the same time, Philo is clear that humankind has yet to reach fulfilment. He says:

“And even if there be not as yet any one who is worthy to be called a son of God, nevertheless let him labour earnestly to be adorned according to his first-born word, the eldest of his angels, as the great archangel of many names; for he is called, the authority, and the name of God, and the Word, and man according to God’s image, and he who sees Israel[54]

It seems likely that John has this in mind when he offers the identification between the λογος of contemporary philosophical thought, and Jesus.

We have seen above that John identifies the λογος so completely with Jesus that at first sight, he seems to leave little room for consideration of the divinity of the rest of humankind. Paul, however seems to have a broader view of what Philo is proposing. As is the case with John, it seems clear that Paul takes the view of the pre-existence of a divine plan before creation begins. Philippians 2:6 makes a similar identification between Jesus, and what John referred to as the λογος. However, he puts the concept somewhat differently elsewhere – in his first letter to the Corinthians, he says: “It is written, moreover, that: ‘The first man Adam became a living being” – here referring to Gen. 2:7, and he goes on to say:

“So the last Adam is a life-giving Spirit. But we should notice that the order is ‘natural’ first and then ‘spiritual’. The first man came out of the earth, a material creature. The second man came from Heaven and was the Lord himself. For the life of this world men are made like the material man; but for the life that is to come they are made like the one from Heaven. So that just as we have been made like the material pattern, so we shall be made like the heavenly pattern”.[55]

Also in Romans 8:18-29 Paul seems to be making a similar statement about the place of humankind from the viewpoint of its divinity.

I want to suggest that there is a special consideration here that one ought to take into account. We can be fairly certain that neither John[56] nor Paul met with Jesus prior to his death. Both of them, however, claim to have met him in some kind of religious experience at a later time. In each case, they believe that they are speaking of a person they feel they have met and known personally, but at the same time a person who, though still human has been in some way changed and perfected in his divinity. Paul goes on to say in verse 51 of the same passage from 1st Corinthians that:

“We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet call. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed”.

Similarly, in verse 18 of 2nd Corinthians, he speaks of all of us being transformed into God’s image. He clearly believes that this pre-existent divinity that Philo calls the logoV is not only a pattern or a plan for all of humankind, but a reality which all can expect to attain at the end of the age. Paul sees Jesus not as unique, but as ‘firstborn’ into the divinity which is an attribute of humankind.

For these reasons, I am convinced that ‘The Word’ (λογος) and the pre-existent ‘Divine Man” from Philo, and the apocalyptic ‘Son of Man’ from Daniel are interchangeable.

While not suggesting common authorship of the first letter of John and of John’s gospel, I do suggest that John’s first letter comes out of the Johanine tradition. At the very least this suggests that the early Christian community was beginning to understand the divinity of Jesus alongside the divinity of humankind. In 1 John 3:1, we read: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is”. Whatever the later Christian church may have made of Jesus, and however highly it exalted him, there was – and is – an understanding of the divinity of humankind not as being an exclusive attribute of Jesus, but as something to be shared among the whole of humankind. An attribute which is here in and among us, though not fully perfected in us, as yet.

What I am saying here is that there is a vast difference between the Jesus of the synoptic gospels which attempt to tell the handed down stories of the historical Jesus, and Jesus as he is seen through the eyes of Paul and John – and perhaps also the letters of John. This difference is even more evident in the Jesus presented by the writer of the book of Revelation. Bultmann was convinced that many of the sayings of Jesus in the gospels are actually later prophetic writings. He wrote:

“The Church drew no distinction between such utterances by Christian prophets (ascribed to the ascended Christ) and the sayings of Jesus in the tradition for the reason that even the dominical sayings in the tradition were not the pronouncement of past authority, but sayings of the risen Lord, who is always a contemporary for the Church.[57]“.

In this, though, one needs to be aware of the conclusion reached by Bultmann, that from his point of view, it was the ‘Kerygma’ or core of the teachings of the church that mattered, rather than what was said by the man, Jesus, or even if it was said. Nevertheless, revealed prophetic teaching is and always has been as important to the Christian tradition as have been the actual teachings of the human Jesus. Jesus was known to Paul and to many others by revelation. It is very likely that words given prophetically – revealed – to the writers of the books of the Christian Scriptures were included as the words of Jesus[58]. A specific example is that of all the sayings of Jesus in the book of revelation. The nature of some of the sayings[59] in John’s gospel lead me to suspect that John is writing sayings revealed to him rather than reporting handed down words.

To summarise my position here, I am saying that there are two versions of Jesus present in the Christian scriptures and tradition – Jesus the man, Jesus the Jew, a rabbi who worked and taught in first century Israel, and who died there – and Jesus the divine being who has appeared to and who continues to be experienced by Christians ever since the death of Jesus the man. This should not present a problem for the Christian, but needs to be recognised and handled with great sensitivity in dialogue with Judaism and other faiths.

In a later chapter, I want to look further at the notion of truths revealed through religious experience compared with historical ‘facts’. I believe that this is important as part of an understanding of faith in the climate of modernism. The entire bible[60] is full of revealed truths, and whether or not we choose to refer to this collection of revealed truth as ‘myth’ it is central and foundational both to the Christian and the Jewish faith. In this context, it is important to be aware of the meaning of the word myth. When Bultmann was forced to re-visit his work on demythologisation, it was largely because of popular (and scholastic) misunderstanding of the word ‘myth’. Myth is popularly understood to mean ‘untruth’. Bultmann defines his use of the word thus: “Myth is the report of an occurrence or an event in which supernatural, superhuman forces or persons are at work”[61]. In my view, there are limitations in the application of human language to supernatural events. These events ‘stretch’ language beyond its normal bounds and lead to writing which contains ‘word pictures’ to try to convey a writer’s mystical experience which is beyond mere words.

Alongside all of this is consideration of the development of the way in which Jesus is seen in the early years of Christianity. James Moffatt held the view that there was a growing ‘tendency to magnify the person of Jesus Christ’ which reaches its highest level in John’s gospel as I have mentioned above. If this tendency can be seen so clearly in the Christian scriptures, which span relatively few years, how much further might this ‘growing reverence for Jesus as the Christ’ be taken in the years following the writing of those scriptures?

Chapter 4

The Early Church Fathers and the Talmudic Rabbis

In the very early days of the church, this new Christian faith was exciting. In part the new Christians wanted to throw off the chains of tradition, which itself caused the problem that we call the ‘Council of Jerusalem’ (Acts 15). The church did, however feel a freedom to experiment, and at the same time, it felt less and less the need to listen to the wisdom of its elder brother. The faith that Jesus and his disciples had held dear began to be seen as dry and useless by Christians. At the same time, Judaism, in the desperate times that followed the destruction of the temple in 70 CE was undergoing a period of renewal and reformation. It too had become exciting!

During the first hundred years or so of the church’s existence, there was considerable dialogue and cross-fertilisation between church and synagogue. There were many who were happy to regard Christianity as a Jewish movement[62]. As attitudes on both sides hardened, dialogue was exchanged for polemic. This is clearly seen in Ignatius of Antioch’s Epistles[63] to the Ephesians to the Magnesians and to the Romans (some time before 107 CE). By this time, a Christian view of Jesus had developed which was totally unacceptable to Jews. To the Ephesians, he writes:

“There is one only physician, of flesh and of spirit, generate and ingenerate, God in man, true Life in death, Son of Mary and Son of God, first passible and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

He goes on to give Jesus the title Son of Man and Son of God. In the epistle to the Magnesians, he wrote of the pre-existence of Jesus: “who was with the Father before the worlds and appeared at the end of time”. In the epistle to the Romans, he takes the exaltation of Jesus a stage further, and refers to “Jesus Christ, our God”.

Just a few years on, perhaps the middle of the second century, we find a continuation – we might say a progression – in the continued deification of Jesus. Clement of Alexandria, for example, takes a very high view of the divinity of Jesus[64]. The Shepherd of Hermas (139 to 155 CE), a near contender for Christian scriptural canonicity[65], speaks of Jesus as “The Holy pre-existent spirit which created the whole creation, God made to dwell in flesh that He desired”. The Shepherd also identifies the Son of God with the Holy Spirit. It continues with: “The Son of God is older that all His creation, so that he became the Father’s advisor in His creation.”

By the time of Justin martyr (100-165 CE) the Christian attitude was becoming plain. It was beyond doubt antisemitic. A hundred years later, Cyprian’s treatise ‘Against the Jews’[66] showed a very well developed anti-Jewish theology[67]. Central to the deepening division between Christian and Jew was the vexed question of the nature of Jesus. Was he human or divine? And if he were divine, what form did his divinity take? Cyprian himself actually refers to ‘Christ our God’ at one point. Parallel to this question was the Christian concept of the pre-existence of Jesus[68] springing from the identification of Jesus with the apocalyptic ‘Son of Man’ which we looked at earlier.

The question of the nature of Jesus caused a great deal of argument among Christians as well as making any dialogue between Christian and Jew well nigh impossible. The basis of the argument came out of scripture – both Christian and Hebrew, but scripture is subject to interpretation. There was thus a broad span of opinion. The leaders of the church took it upon themselves to resolve the differences and impose upon the church a complete answer. It seems likely when one looks at Cyprian that the church was teaching that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine from some time during the third century. The point here is that if Jesus were fully divine and there is only one God, then Jesus must also be God! This, of course avoids completely the question of the divinity of humankind. Because of this, I suggest that it was at quite an early point in Christian history that Jesus had become so high exalted above the rest of humankind that the church began to lose sight of the place of humankind in God’s plan.

The nature of Jesus was formulated and applied in a succession of credal statements. Athanasius (c. 296 – 373 CE) was responsible for much of the development of Christian thought on the nature of Jesus. The creed of the first council of Nicaea was set down in 325 CE [69]. The work of Athenasius was completed by the work of the Cappadocian fathers. Up to the time of Athanasius, there had been two dissimilar views expressed by different people at different times. One view, which had been around since the first century, denied the divinity of Jesus, while the other saw him as God masquerading as a man – thus denying his humanity[70]. At the time of Athenasius, the followers of Arius saw Jesus as something neither human nor divine – certainly not in any way the same as God. The creeds formulated in the fourth and early fifth centuries offered a Christology which is still held by most of the church today – and this says nothing about the divinity of humankind nor where humankind stands in relation to God and to Jesus[71].

This is not to say that the early church fathers said nothing of the ‘Image of God’ in humankind. Irenaeus (c. 130 – 200) declared that God had created humankind in his image, after his likeness – but that this ‘image’ had in some way been lost or damaged in the ‘Fall’[72]. We have already seen that Genesis 9:5-6 suggests that this is not the case. Nonetheless, the view of Irenaeus was popularly held, and has continued to be held by the Christian church for the most part up to the present time. The present day conservative scholar Hoekma takes this same rigid view.

Professor Hopkins examines the various non-canonical writings of the early church – especially the so-called Gnostic texts. He sees these to be meeting a need for intermediaries less exalted than Jesus. In his examination of the Acts of Thomas, he sees Thomas, the twin brother of Jesus as such an intermediary[73]. Hopkins is clear that the Jesus of history has, by the fourth century become exalted out of reach of ‘mere humanity’.

Augustine (354 – 430 CE) was one of the greatest of the early Christian theologians. His extensive work has had a profound influence on western Christianity right up to the modern era. Augustine was strongly influenced by a number of concepts out of Greek philosophy. One of these was the neo-Platonic idea that humankind is trapped in a kind of bondage to the material world, and the human soul can and should rise above the degradation which matter was seen to be. It is not surprising then, the Augustine writes of the ‘Image of God’ as being applied to the human soul only and not to the entire human being. Augustine writes extensively about the ‘Image of God’, both in his ‘City of God[74]’ and in his ‘ of theTrinity[75]’. He sees in the ‘Image’ a kind of reflection of the Trinity – and in particular, refers to God ‘breathing’ the Holy Spirit into Adam. This ‘breathing’ of God’s Spirit into humankind, Augustine sees as his furnishing humankind with its soul, which he sees as the only divine attribute of humanity. The Holy Spirit is, to Augustine, the Spirit of Jesus as much as it is the Spirit of God, and it is on this reasoning that he sees humankind as a reflection not of God but of the Trinity. Jesus, for Augustine is completely identified with God.

It seems fairly clear from the above, that a process which began within a few years after the death of Jesus resulted firstly in the teaching that Jesus was God, and secondly in the identification with Jesus as the sole contender for the divinity of humankind. Further than this: the whole concept of human divinity – of humankind created in the image of God – became overshadowed by Christian obsession with ‘The Fall’ which somehow destroyed the divine image!

During this formative period in Christian history, the Jewish Rabbis – the Talmudic Rabbis – were re-evaluating, one might almost say re-inventing, Judaism. What did it mean to be a Jew in exile from the land of Israel, with no Temple in existence? Christianity was growing rapidly – both in numbers and in political power. The Rabbis were very observant and well informed as to its teachings. The church was in the process of re-interpreting the scripture of the Septuagint in its own terms. Many passages of scripture came to have a very different meaning to Christians from the understanding of traditional Jewish interpretation[76]. This is a process which began in the Christian scriptures themselves, and continued through the times of the Church Fathers and beyond. Of particular relevance to this paper, we can see that every piece of scripture telling of the divinity of humankind, and of the apocalyptic ‘Son of Man’ was applied by Christians not to humankind as a whole, but to Jesus and to him alone.

I suspect that it is for this reason that the Talmud has comparatively little to say about the whole question of humankind made in the image of God[77]. In Talmudic thought, the emphasis seems to be on the great value to be ascribed to each and every human life because humankind is made in the image of God. Cohen says[78]:

“That the human being was created in the image of God lies at the root of the Rabbinic teaching concerning man. In that respect he is pre-eminent above all other creatures and represents the culminating point in the work of Creation. ‘Beloved is man for he was created in the image of God; but it was by a special love that it was made known to him that he was created in the image of God; as it is said, “For in the image of God made He man” (Gen. ix. 6)’ (Aboth iii. 18).

This fact gives the human being his supreme importance in the economy of the Universe. ‘One man is equal to the whole of Creation’ (ARN xxxi). ‘Man was first created a single individual to teach the lesson that whoever destroys one life, [79] Scripture ascribes it to him as though he had destroyed a whole world; and who­ever saves one life, Scripture ascribes it to him as though he had saved a whole world’ (Sanh. iv. 5).

Moreover, since men are formed in the divine semblance, they must keep that knowledge always in mind in their relationship with one another. An affront to man is ipso facto an affront to God. R. Akiba declared the text, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ (Lev. xix. 18), to be an important basic principle of the Torah, and deduced from it the doctrine: ‘You should not say that inasmuch as I am despised let my fellow-man be despised with me: inasmuch as I am cursed, let my fellow-man be cursed with me. L Tanchuma said, If you act in this manner, know who it is you despise, for “in the image of God made He man”’ (Gen. R. xxiv)”

In addition, Urbach quotes Hillel as saying that the human race – in its entirety – is ‘The Image of God in the world’[80]. He refers here to the whole of humankind together, which is very reminiscent of Philo’s concept of the logoV. Urbach makes it clear that this is an idea which was held by the later sages. It leads to the understanding that that killing destroys or somehow diminishes God. It leads too to the view that failure of humankind to procreate is also an offence!

In summary, then, during this formative period, Christianity placed so much emphasis on the divinity of Jesus, that it began to lose sight of the divinity of humankind – and therefore of the innate value – the sacrosanct nature – of every single human life! Judaism has never lost sight of this most important principle.

Chapter 5

Growing tensions between the mystical and the doctrinal

During the middle ages, Christianity became more and more concerned with temporal power, perhaps more so than with its message. By the beginning of the middle ages, usually reckoned from the fifth century, Christianity had firmly established it’s key doctrines, in particular the doctrine of the Trinity, and was largely unanimous in stating precisely what one could and could not believe. By this time, Christianity held a very high Christology – one which put Jesus well out of reach – and although the official teaching was that Jesus is fully human, his divinity made him co-equal and co-eternal with God – he had become divinised to the point at which he was superhuman. From the church’s point of view, it was something to be encouraged. If Jesus were completely out of reach, it would need some kind of mediator to allow the ordinary Christian to relate to him. The church through its hierarchical priesthood took on this function. Attempts were made to make Jesus more human. These were stamped out as being heretical. An early example is the Acacian schism which took place between 484 and 519 CE[81].

It was during the medieval period that one of the greatest Christian thinkers, Thomas Aquinas, took his place among the church fathers. In his massive Summa Theologiae he attempted to give the church a complete systematic theology.

His view of the image of God in man is that this is ‘imperfect’, and that Jesus alone bears perfectly and completely the Image of God. Something of his thinking is seen in the following extract from the Summa.

“Reply to Objection 2. The First-Born of creatures is the perfect Image of God, reflecting perfectly that of which He is the Image, and so He is said to be the ‘Image,’ and never ‘to the image.’ But man is said to be both ‘image’ by reason of the likeness; and ‘to the image’ by reason of the imperfect likeness. And since the perfect likeness to God cannot be except in an identical nature, the Image of God exists in His first-born Son; as the image of the king is in his son, who is of the same nature as himself: whereas it exists in man as in an alien nature, as the image of the king is in a silver coin, as Augustine says explains in De decem Chordis (Serm. ix, al, xcvi, De Tempore).” Summa – Part 1:93[82]

Aquinas apart, there is little new thought relating to the divinity of humankind during the whole of the period between Augustine and the reformation, which brings in the beginnings of the modern era.

There were, however a number of significant writings from Christian mystics. One in particular, Mother Julian of Norwich, offers us a striking picture of humankind. In chapter 51 of her revelations of divine love[83], she offers a vision of a Lord, and a servant. The Lord asks the servant to go on an errand for him, and the servant eagerly runs to do the Lord’s will, but falls into a ditch and can no longer move. Mother Julian sees this as ‘all of humankind’ – in her explanation of the vision, she says:

“The Lord that sat stately in rest and in peace, I understood that He is God. The Servant that stood afore the Lord, I understood that it was shewed for Adam: that is to say, one man was shewed, that time, and his falling, to make it thereby understood how God beholdeth All-Man and his falling. For in the sight of God all man is one man, and one man is all man.”

There is great similarity between this mystical picture, and the picture of the ‘Son of Man’ in Daniel, restored to his former glory.

She goes on to say later in the same chapter:“When Adam fell, God’s Son fell: because of the rightful oneing which had been made in heaven, God’s Son might not [be disparted] from Adam. (For by Adam I understand All-Man.)”

Mother Julian, it seems sees all of humankind from God’s viewpoint, not as individuals, but as a composite ‘Son of Man’, who waits to be restored (healed) in God’s own good time.

It seems at this point in time, that Christian theologians are producing an increasingly higher Christology in which humankind is lowly and does not share in the divinity which they ascribe to Jesus, while mystics – Mother Julian at least – are seeing a different picture of the divinity of humankind.

While the church was theologising and increasing in political power and wealth, in the Jewish community during the middle ages, there was much scholarship and learned writing which was to become foundational to modern-day Judaism. The medieval period saw a great flowering of Torah study, and rabbinical wisdom. Among the many great names from this era are Rashi, (R. Shlomo ben Isaac 1040 – 1105), The Rambam (R. Moshe ben Maimon – better known as Maimomedes 1135 – 1204), and the Ramban (R. Moshe ben Nachman 1194 – 1270). The difference between Christian Theology and the Jewish wisdom of this period could not be greater. The Rabbis, far from producing theological doctrines were looking at the teaching of the Torah and of the earlier Rabbis to build practical interpretations and guides for the person who wishes to do God’s will.

Rashi is quoted as saying “Man came forth below just as God had depicted him in his own mind”[84]. This seems to be in agreement with the pre-existent ‘Adam Kadmon’ of the Kabbalists (see Scholem below), or the logoV which we have seen in chapter 3 above in the section on John, Paul and Philo.

In his ‘Guide for the perplexed’, Maimonides does talk at length about the image of God in humankind[85]. This he sees as relating to the human intellect alone. Maimonides seems here only to be giving some kind of guidance on the nature of the ‘image’ and ‘likeness’. He explains the meaning of the Hebrew words, and makes comments on the choice of these particular words. There is no suggestion that he wishes to lessen the place of humankind, or its importance in creation. This seems to be a Christian trait. For Maimonides, humankind is created in God’s image, and is thus precious and every human person must be treated with the respect we give to God.

As in the Christian tradition, there is a great deal of work during this period from the Jewish mystical tradition – the Kabbalists. Isaac Luria (1534 – 1572) is of particular note in the context of the divinity of humankind. He offers us the concept known as Tsimtsum, which means withdrawal or contraction. God made an empty space – God ‘withdrew’ so that there was a space, as it were, for creation to be placed in. This is coupled with the idea that we are then left with the task of Tikkun Olam – the repair, or the ‘making whole’ of the world. When God withdrew[86], he left behind ‘divine sparks’, and it is these that are found in the whole of creation. When all of these are brought together by us from within us, then Tikkun Olam has been completed – creation is complete. Gershon Scholem, a present day authority on Kaballah and the Kaballists, has the following:

“The intrinsic extramundane process of Tikkun [is] symbolically described as ‘the birth of God’s personality’ ….. The historical process and its innermost soul, the religious act of the Jew, prepare the way for the final restitution of all the scattered and exiled lights and sparks[87]

Scholem goes on to say that this process of Tikkun is the restoration of the Divine Light which flowed into the ‘Divine Adam’. In his later work ‘Kabbalah’, Scholem enlarges on this idea. After Tsimtsum, there exists ‘Adam Kadmon’, or primordial man[88]. This is the residue of ‘Ein Sof’, the infinite.

This process of ‘Tikkun’ is remarkably similar to the concept that Christian mystics call ‘mystical union[89]’ – and the ‘Adam Kadmon’ is much the same as the ‘Adam’ which Mother Julian made reference to (above). A similar concept to mystical union is to be found in many world faiths. For this reason, I take Athenasius’ saying that: “The Son of God became man so that we might become God.[90]” in a somewhat broader sense than that of incarnation in Jesus. Since I have shown that the ‘son of God’ and the ‘Adam Kadmon’ and ‘the Word’ are one and the same, the saying of Athenasius describes exactly how mystics from more than one World Faith have experienced incarnation as the creative process which is even now taking place.

Chapter 6

Growing tensions between the rationalist and the experiential

The beginning of the eighteenth century saw the rise – or should I say ‘elevation’ of reason, around the time of the enlightenment. This led to some large changes in the way theology was done, and brought about different emphases within theology. If anything did not stand up to ‘reason’ and scientific method it began ultimately to present a problem. For Christianity, beginning perhaps with John Locke in 1695, Christianity came into painful contact – one might say conflict – with the ‘modern’ world. John Locke’s work ‘The reasonableness of Christianity[91]’ could almost be said to represent the beginning of the end for the church. To satisfy the thinker of those days, one had to ‘prove’ scientifically all that one believed, and generally speaking anything we might regard as ‘supernatural’ could not be treated in this way. The supernatural was out, and the rational was all that could be relied upon. This concept was famously taken up later by David Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion[92].

A major effect of this kind of thinking is that it sidelines the Transcendent God, and emphasizes God Immanent, and whilst this might be seen as making us look once more at the divinity of humankind, in fact, without the Transcendent aspect, God Immanent is reduced simply to the better side of human nature, with no supernatural power or glory. It is a very small step from that position to atheism.

The problem here is that God is not ‘Irrational’, but neither is God ‘Rational’. I would want to use words like ‘Supra-Rational[93], or maybe ‘Trans-Rational’. God – if there is a God – is simply above and beyond the limitations of human reason.

In short, the result of modern thinking, and thus, modern theology was to try to explain away anything that goes beyond our limited reason. Miracles had to go, and so ultimately did revelation. This has been of great concern to some commentators and theologians. Moffatt, in “An approach to the New Testament” sees a grave danger in taking the historical critical method of exegesis to its limit. He shows that it simply doesn’t have the mechanism for dealing with the supernatural and would therefore seek to rule it out altogether.. I cite especially C S Lewis, whom I have mentioned in the introduction. In ‘Fern seed and elephants’, speaking of the liberal theologians of his time he says: ‘ …. I find in these theologians a constant use of the principle that the miraculous did not occur …. ‘ (p113). He goes on to link this with complete non-acceptance of revealed truth and prophecy. He places this as the end result of thinking by enlightenment philosophers.[94]. Whilst there have been many strands of thinking which differ right through the modern period, the effect that this rejection of God’s intervention in any form has had on Christianity seems little to have been influenced by those strands. If it were not for the inexplicable revival movements that broke out from time to time throughout this period, I doubt there would be any trace of Christianity left today.

Here, I see the big problem as being this: the bible full of ‘revealed truth’ – truth revealed by God to human persons. The bible contains revelations of God, by God through mystics down through the ages. The question here has to be: can a theologian who is not a mystic as well as a thinker actually ‘do’ theology? The Eastern Orthodox churches would probably say no to this. Gerald O’Collins writes:

“Theologians should have deeply experienced Christ in faith and been led by his Spirit before attempting a Christology. ……. In Christology holiness is a decisive factor that deep ‘knowing’ or experience of Jesus which St. Paul insisted on (Phil 3:8,10)[95]”.

Among Jews, a process which was not dissimilar was taking place. The enlightenment in Jewish terms is known as Haskalah. The key figure in Haskalah was Moses Mendelssohn (1729 – 1786). Unlike Christian thinkers, Mendelssohn was not prepared to have the place of God, or of divine intervention, undermined. Mendelssohn conceived of God as a perfect Being and had faith in God’s wisdom, righteousness, mercy and goodness. He argued that, “the world results from a creative act through which the divine will seeks to realize the highest good.” He accepted the existence of miracles and revelation as long as belief in God did not depend on them. He also believed that revelation could not contradict reason. Like the deists, he claimed that reason could discover the reality of God, divine providence and immortality of the soul[96].” Mendelssohn took the view that for humankind, being made in the image of God meant that we are ‘faced with the choice between good and evil’[97].

It was Haskalah which let ultimately to the Liberal movement in Judaism. But once again, liberal Judaism was and is very careful not to undermine God, or the principle of divine revelation. Claude Montefiore, writing in 1912 makes this principle very clear. He is anxious that modern scholarship – especially bible criticism in its various forms should be taken on board by Jews just as it had been by Christians – but that is as far as he will go. Among Jews, then, we do not meet with the serious problem that modernism brought to Christians. This entry under ‘Man, the nature of’ from the 1978 printing of the Encyclopaedia Judaica sums up the modern view of the Image of God: “God is served in the righteousness of human relationships – in love between man and man, which reflects God’s image – as well as in divine worship. When the “Image” is wronged, religious service becomes an abomination[98]”.

Gillian Rose, in “Judaism and Modernity” states firmly that rationalism has had comparatively little effect on Judaism quite unlike the impact it had on Christianity. Samuel Sandmel enlarges on this thinking when he writes:

“You Christians have had to handle the problem of how to maintain your traditional supernatural beliefs in the light of the emergence of an age which has so largely repudiated supernaturalism”.

He goes on to say that this is simply not a problem for the Jew.

“We, on the other hand, have had very little difficulty in such matters (for even the traditional among us have not been bound to the literal wording of the scriptures as most of you protestants have been).[99]

I have shown above that the Christian attitude towards revelation that follows the enlightenment as being a big problem – and I have also shown that this is less true of Judaism, although there is more than one progressive strand within Judaism, overall the movement seems far less extreme than within Christianity. Let us digress for a moment and look at the nature of revelation and revealed truth.

Religious experience and revelation

I want to begin this section with an illustration which is not part of either Christian or Jewish tradition. Towards the end of the fifteenth century, the first of the Sikh Gurus, Guru Nanak, went missing for three days. When he came back, his life had been changed by what had happened to him, and as a result, he went on to found the Sikh religion. He spoke of his experience as being a meeting with God[100]. It is clear that it was a profound religious experience.

I offer this example because it took place in comparatively recent times, and is well documented. I offer it because in many ways it shows similarity to ‘experiences’ of God that are described in the tanach. The experience of Jacob in Genesis 22:32-30 is one of many such meetings with God – or with His angel. It is notable here that the person with whom Jacob wrestles is first of all described as a man, and then Jacob says that he has seen ‘a divine being’ in the JPS version or ‘God’ in most other translations. Here, it is the human form which the object of the encounter takes that is of interest: a divine being – or the Divine Being in human form. In a more controversial thought, both the encounter of Guru Nanak either with God or with a divine being, and the encounter of Jacob with such a being, bear some similarity with the many post-crucifixion encounters with Jesus. In every case, these encounters have been life changing for the recipient of the experience. I would want further to illustrate this kind of ‘encounter’ by looking at Genesis 18:16ff. In this passage, God says ‘I must go down and see …. ‘. God’s representatives – two men – (or are they angels?) – ‘go down to see’. In this case, it is God’s representatives – his sons – who ‘are’ God as far as the people of Sodom are concerned.

McGrath sees a considerable tension between those who reject the ‘experimental’ approach towards God and theology as ‘mere feelings’ and those who build their theological thinking on religious experience, both their own and that of others[101].

In 1941. Rudolf Bultmann published an essay ‘New Testament and Mythology[102]’ which was to have a profound effect upon modern theology and theologians. Bultmann himself said that he was not really expounding any new thoughts: ‘everything that has been said up to this point, or something like it, could have been said thirty or forty years ago …[103].’ There had been a move since the beginning of the enlightenment to question the signs and symbols of religion and to bring in a ‘scientific’ understanding of all of these. Bultmann is aware that an understanding of the bible is needed which makes sense to a ‘modern’ audience – but at the same time he sees the need to dialogue with truths about the supernatural which have their basis in religious experience. If we were to disregard every supernatural event in the bible, we would lose entirely the core truths of Jewish and Christian faith. As Bultmann sees it: ‘demythologising undertaken by the critical theology of the nineteenth century was carried out in an inappropriate way – namely in such a way that with the elimination of the mythology, the kerygma itself was also eliminated.[104]’ There is a profound problem here which Bultmann was grappling with. At the very centre of this problem is the divinity of humankind. He explores a tension between human beings as ‘Cosmic Beings’ and the human ability for self-determination and thus failure.

In Bultmann’s own view, he is attempting to re-interpret the spiritual truths of the bible into a modern age. This is, or ought to be, an ongoing and continuous process. It is, after all no more nor less that we have already seen Philo, John and Paul doing at the very beginning of the Common Era. It is the same kind of re-interpretation that the sages needed to carry out in order to give us post-temple Judaism. But it is what resulted from Bultmann’s writing that caused what is in my view a serious problem. In the first place, the word ‘myth’ had altered its meaning from the original. The word ‘myth’, far from having the meaning which Bultmann has to spell out in a later essay, “…. is the report of an occurrence or an event in which supernatural, superhuman forces or persons are at work’, but ‘myth’ had in common usage come to mean ‘untruth’. It was not long before Bultmann’s essay was understood as a kind of permission to understand every embarrassing supernatural event or occurrence in the bible to be an untruth. I use the word ‘embarrassing’ because in the first half of the twentieth century science – and especially ‘scientific humanism’ – was levelling harsh criticism towards theistic religion as being nothing more than outdated, outmoded superstition.

Ultimately, disregarding and discounting the supernatural must lead to the denial of God. Bultmann was aware of this, and needed to re-visit the subject of demythologisation. In his essay ‘On the problem of demythologising[105]’ – 1952 – in which the above definition of myth appears, Bultmann is eager to point out that although the world of science is ‘closed against the intervention of non-worldly powers’, science itself is ‘open’ in the sense that it does not have all the answers. He re-iterates his earlier point – that his intention in demythologising is to understand and interpret the truth into his world – to ‘bring out the real intention of the myth’. John Robinson admits to being deeply influenced by Bultmann when he wrote ‘Honest to God’ in 1963 for a popular readership. Perhaps Robinson was misunderstood[106] – but from that time on, a gap began to appear between modern ‘liberal’ Christians, and ‘conservative’ Christians. Liberalism reached its zenith in the ‘Sea of Faith[107]’ movement, and conservatism reached its zenith in ‘Conservative Evangelicalism’ of an extreme degree. At the one extreme lies a ‘faith’ which denies the existence of God and becomes nothing more than a rather pale set of moralistic rules, and at the other extreme lies a fundamentalist-literalist view of the bible which defies – even contradicts – intelligent thought.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives careful consideration to this process in his letter of May 5th 1944 in ‘Letters and Papers from Prison’. Speaking of the ‘religionless Christianity’ earlier proposed by Karl Barth, he states that Bultmann has not gone nearly far enough in his process of demythologising. ‘You cannot, as Bultmann imagines, separate God and miracles …..’. Bonhoeffer is a prophetic voice. He is a contemplative and he is a mystic. His personal theology relies on the reality of religious experience – his own and that of many others. For this reason, Bonhoeffer is saying categorically that you can’t keep God and throw out the rest of the supernatural. The true liberal will inevitably need ultimately to throw out God as well as all the rest!

Where is this leading? What we are seeing here is a process – a process of understanding – a process of re-interpretation and learning which we call Theology. As we have seen, this is a process that began ‘in the beginning’ – that is to say with the divine revelation which was the start and centre of every theistic faith. It is a process of interpreting into every age the timeless truths to which those religious experences point us – and essential to those truths is the concept of the place of humankind in relationship to its God – a God who is sufficiently real and alive that He is perceived and encountered by people of many faiths. Jews and Christians alike have scripture which implies that humankind is divine, made in the image and likeness of its God. Christians have a scripture – a serious of scriptures even – which imply that in the post-crucifixion appearances of Jesus, we have seen and met with humankind in all its perfected glory. In this section, we have seen that we can go only two ways with our argument. We can choose to believe that there is nothing supernatural at all – no God, and presumably therefore no after-life – or we can attempt to follow the guidance that scripture seems to be giving us and continue on a spiritual path seeking our own divinity for ourselves through our religious teachings and practices, and through further divine revelation. There seem to be no other options for the progress of theology into the future.

As we move from the ‘modern’ to the ‘Post Modern’ era, we no longer need be troubled by such thoughts as:

‘we cannot use electric lights and radios, and in the event of illness avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means, and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the new testament[108]‘.

Certainly the need is, as always to re-interpret, but alongside that consideration, perhaps even above that consideration, is the need to re-mythologise – to learn once more to own, and to live our myth. In the present day mindset, this is becoming once more a possibility. Diogenes Allen writes a great deal in argument against the modernist and rationalist devaluation of revelation, and concludes that it is going to be very profitable for Christians to take note and compare the revelations received not only by Christians, but also by other World Faiths. This, Allen feels, is something that we may do with complete integrity.

I end this section with a quotation from the sermon given by the Archbishop of Canterbury on the occasion of his enthronement:

“Once we recognise God’s great secret, that we are all made to be God’s sons and daughters, we can’t avoid the call to see one another differently. No-one can be written off; no group, no nation, no minority can just be a scapegoat to resolve our fears and uncertainties. We cannot assume that any human face we see has no divine secret to disclose: those who are culturally or religiously strange to us; those who so often don’t count in the world’s terms (the old, the unborn, the disabled) [109]”.

This gives me hope. If a church leader is willing to admit publicly to the divinity of humankind, there is a call once again to Christianity to teach the love for justice and peace that is the very core of the Bible.

In the present day, theologians are beginning to revisit and re-examine the Christian idea of revelation and the ‘Trinity’ in a way that takes into account insights given to other World faiths than Christianity.

Chapter 8

The deification of Jesus – a high Christology leading to a diminished humankind

Today, we enjoy a very different climate in theology and faith issues. It is no longer fashionable to try to force theologians into a rationalist position. This means that we are free once more to take revelation seriously and accept it as a basis not only for Jewish and Christian belief, but also as some kind of basis for all the world-faiths that we encounter. In addition, the very frequent encounters between many world faiths that we see today bring a need for the development of interfaith dialogue, and this leads to considerable theological reflection. We have seen in earlier sections how the nature of Jesus moved from being human to a general acceptance that Jesus was God. This ran counter to the teachings of the church, which tried to insist that although divine, Jesus was and is fully human in every way. Today’s theologians are working hard on this aspect of Christian teaching. They see the high Christology that has developed over the centuries as a problem – especially in interfaith dialogue.

James Parkes deplores what he calls ‘the extreme christocentricity of the church’ in his ‘Prelude to Dialogue’. He says “It is surely time that the church faced the fact that a christocentric gospel has not only led them into deplorable beliefs and attitudes, but has failed of itself to meet the whole of human need[110]”. In his ‘Foundations’ he reminds us that “For him [Paul] Jesus was never the equal of God; whatever of divinity has to be ascribed to him has to be so ascribed because God had willed and planned it thus[111]”, and he points out that “Paul was not a Trinitarian ….. [112]

John Hick, from his pluralist viewpoint expresses deep concern about the deification of Jesus. If what he calls ‘the Christian Myth’ is taken to its extreme, then Christianity and only Christianity would be the faith of God. It is that kind of thinking, he points out, that led to untold abominations committed by Christians in the name of their religion. Those abominations include, of course, the Shoah.

Norman Pittenger speaks of the modern high Christology in these terms:

“The first disciples and the early Christian Church would not have put their experience of companionship with the historic Jesus and the risen Lord in such terms [such as were used by Cardinal Newman] ..…… Jesus did not think of himself as God; nor did those who were his companions in his earthly ministry entertain any such ideas about the one with whom they associated themselves in response to his call to discipleship[113]”.

Pittenger is concerned that the divinity of humankind is devalued by an over exalted Christology. He asks the question ‘Is Jesus different in degree or kind?’ Was Jesus

“the one in whom God actualised in a living human personality the potential God-man relationship which is the divinely intended truth about every man[114]

I see Pittenger’s last suggestion as being true of the ‘Son of Man’ which is for me, the same as Mother Julian’s ‘Adam’ and Luria’s ‘Adam Kadmon’

Hans Küng[115] is deeply concerned about the way Christology has developed. He speaks strongly against the tendency to make God and Jesus equal. Jesus is ‘not simply God’ he declares, and he tells us that it is necessary to ‘defend the humanity of Jesus’. He also affirms that the gospels were written in the light of the exalted Jesus.

I want to look a little closer at this aspect by taking something with a mystical flavour to it. In a poem called ‘Well?’, Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy – “Woodbine Willy” of First World War fame – wrote the following poem about judgement day. It is the tale of a young soldier’s dream. He sees the faces of all the people he has wronged during his life in the face of a man whom he assumes is Jesus.

‘Twere all men’s face yet no man’s face,

And a face no man can see,

And it seemed to say in silent speech,

“Ye did ‘em all to Me ……

For all their souls were Mine.”

 

All eyes was in ‘Is eyes — All eyes;

My wife’s and a million more;

And once I thought as those two eyes

Were the eyes of the London whore[116].

It seems to me that Kennedy is offering us something from his own religious experience here. And he is agreeing with my personal view of what the ‘Son of Man’ is – how the ‘Son of Man’ might be regarded – perhaps envisioned would be better – because we are looking at the language of revelation – of revealed truths – and when we encounter these we often run out of language.

One might be tempted to think that the more conservative wings of Christianity would be lagging behind the liberal component in attempts to re-think our position. This would not be true. A recent flyer from CAIRS – Churches agency for interfaith relations in Scotland quotes the Pentecostalist theologian, Amos Yong. He has three axioms on which he builds his conversation with people of other faiths:

God is universally present and active in the Spirit

God’s Spirit is the life-breath of the Image of God in every human being and is the basis of all human relationships and communities

The religions of the world, like everything else that exists, are providentially sustained by the Spirit of God for divine purposes.[117]

Yong, and his Catholic opposite number to whom Yong refers in his writings, D. Gelpi, are looking at a pneumatological approach to common ground in interfaith dialogue. They feel that experience of God in all world faiths can be possible through the work of the Spirit of God which can be perceived and understood as one and the same Spirit of God in which Christians believe. This may useful – very helpful even – but it does avoid the problem brought about by the extreme deification of Jesus that we have seen to take place from apostolic times onward. Once again, I feel that we need to listen hard to what our mystics are saying, and be led by their experience of aspects of God as they see them. And in an interfaith climate, should we not be listening to mystics from all World Faiths, and comparing their experiences? One might consider in this context, the Hindu tale of the blind men and the elephant[118]. Our perception and our putting into words of our religious experiences are determined by our cultural background and our point of view. It is at this point that we need to be exceptionally sensitive in our listening to the many voices around us.

In the Christian tradition, we can perceive the popular point of view best from our modern worship songs. The majority of Christian hymns and worship songs concentrate on God as Father and Jesus as saviour, and there is a distinction. Some however do not – as an example I would give ‘His name is higher than any other’. This contains the line ‘His name is prince of peace, the mighty God’, and clearly refers to Jesus. Hymns and songs such as this obviously reflect a very high Christology in which Jesus is seen not just as being in God, or equal to the Father, but as interchangeable with the Father. It would clearly be impossible to work effectively in interfaith dialogue at any level if this were an entrenched viewpoint.

As I have said already, it comes back to somewhat individual experience of God – and of Jesus. Many Christians would claim to have experienced Jesus, and I would include myself among that number[119]. These experiences will naturally vary from person to person. But it is safe to say that the vast majority would feel that what they have experienced is not the man Jesus with whom the disciples met and whom they knew, but the ‘risen exalted’ one that some might describe as ‘the Jesus of faith’. From our earthly viewpoint, there would seem to be little difference between the ‘Son of Man’ which Daniel saw, and to whom the book of Revelation alludes, and God the Father. Martin Buber speaks of two kinds of mystical experience in which some kind of mystical union is felt to be attained:

“But what of mysticism? Does it not inform us how unity without duality is experienced? May we dispute the truth of its account?

-I know not of a single but of two kinds of happening in which duality is no longer experienced. These are at times confused in mystical utterances – I too once confused them.

The one is the soul’s becoming a unity. That is something that takes place not between man and God, but in man. Power is concentrated, everything that tries

to divert it is drawn into the orbit of its mastery, the being is alone in itself and rejoices, as Paracelsus says, in its exaltation. This is the decisive moment for a man.

Without it he is unfit for the work of the spirit; with it, he decides, in his innermost being, if this means a breathing-space, or the sufficient end of his way. Concentrated in unity, he can go out to the meeting, to which he has only now drawn quite close, with the mystery, with salvation. But he can also enjoy to the full this blessed concentration of his being, and without entering on the supreme duty fall back into dissipation of being. -Everything on our way involves decision, purposive, dimly seen, wholly mysterious: this in the innermost being is the primal mysterious decision, carrying the mightiest consequences for our destiny.

The other happening lies in the unfathomable nature of the relational act itself, in which two, it is imagined, become one: “one and one united, bareness shines there into bareness.” I and Thou are absorbed, humanity, which just before confronted the godhead, is merged in it-glorification, deification, and singleness of being have appeared. But when the man, illuminated and exhausted, falls back into the cares of earthly affairs, and with knowledge in his heart think of the two situations, is he not bound to find that his being is split asunder and one part given to perdition? What does it help my soul that it can be withdrawn anew from this world here into unity, when this world itself has of necessity no part in the unity-what does all “enjoyment of God” profit a life that is rent in two?[120]

Martin Buber is one of the most loved and most frequently quoted writers in what I would call the post-modern era[121]. Would Buber have preferred to be known as a philosopher or a mystic? He certainly seems to have the attributes of each.

In his best loved work, ‘Ich und Du’, originally translated somewhat controversially as ‘I and Thou’, Buber concentrates on the intimate relationship between one person and another, and incidentally on the intimate relationship between a person and God. Buber sees that for every one of us, at our birth, we are ‘separated’ from a kind of oneness that we spend the whole of our lives searching for.

“Yet this connection has such a cosmic quality that the mythical saying of the Jews, ‘in the mother’s body man knows the universe, in birth he forgets it,’ reads like the imperfect decipherment of an inscription from earliest times. And it remains indeed in man as a secret image of desire. Not as though his yearning meant a longing to return, as those suppose who see in the spirit – confusing it with their intellect – a parasite of nature, when it is rather (though exposed to diverse illnesses) nature’s best flower. But the yearning is for the cosmic connection, with its true Thou, of life that has burst forth into spirit[122].”

And he goes on to speak of this deep need:

“The doctrines of absorption appeal to the great sayings of identification, the one above all to the Johannine ‘I and the Father are one,’ the other to the teaching of Sandilya: ‘The all-embracing, this is my Self in my very heart.[123]

Buber, from his own mystical experience seems to have no problem with the Johanine sayings of Jesus, realising that they are just like his own experiences of God – and come directly from the writer’s own experience. John’s gospel is a mystical gospel and needs to be understood as such. It is, in Buber’s words, a gospel of relation.

“Here is a truer verse than the familiar mystical verse: ‘I am Thou and Thou art I.’ The Father and the Son, like in being-we may even say God and Man, like in being-are the indissolubly real pair, the two bearers of the primal relation, which from God to man is termed mission and command, from man to God looking and hearing, and between both is termed knowledge and love. In this relation the Son, though the Father dwells and works in him, bows down before the ‘greater’ and prays to him. All modern attempts to interpret this primal reality of dialogue as a relation of the I to the Self, or the like-as an event that is contained within the self-sufficient interior life of man-are futile: they take their place in the abysmal history of destruction of reality[124].”

Whilst the work of Buber came to be treasured by theologians and mystics alike, it was also taken seriously by Frank Lake, the psychiatrist who in the 1960’s founded the then ‘Clinical Theology Association’[125]. It was Lake who later published ‘Tight Corners in Pastoral Counselling’ which contains a concept that he called ‘Blastocystic Bliss’. In regressing patients back to the womb, initially under the influence of LSD and later using ‘Phantasy Journey’ techniques, Lake came to the conclusion that we all have an experience of utter bliss when we are nothing more than a fertilised ovum, before implantation into our mother’s womb, at which point we exist as a blastocyst[126]. If one may say with Buber, “… ‘I am Thou and Thou art I.’ The Father and the Son, like in being – we may even say God and Man, like in being – are the indissolubly real pair”. Then we have a mystical view of the relationship with the whole of humankind together – the ‘Adam Kadmon’ of Luria, and it represents – indeed is – a view of God, Father and Son which is arguably the same as the Christian Trinity, provided that the ‘Adam Kadmon’, the Son of Man, the Exalted Jesus, and the Adam of Mother Julian’s perception are one and the same as I believe and experience them to be. Pinchas Lapide admits that there is a Jewish mystical tradition which sees in God more that one aspect – the Kaballah, he tells us, speaks of up to ten distinct aspects of God. God is one – but it the ‘Adam Kadmon’ is seen by us from our limited point of view as at the very least, an aspect of God, and if, as Christians believe, Jesus – that is the glorified Jesus – is part of the ‘Son of Man’, then it seems to me that there is rather more convergence between our mystical traditions than there is between our somewhat inflexible intellectual understandings. Fred Moy puts the concept very succinctly:

“can it be seen that Mohammed and Jesus and Krishna and Bah’a’llah are one with God? And God is one[127]”.

I have suggested that we ought to listen more than we do to our mystics – with an eye on the mystical traditions of all the World Faiths. In March 2004, there was an interfaith conference in Edinburgh. Most of the keynote speakers were mystics of different faiths. One of them, Dr. Neil Douglas Klotz, wants to take us back to the beginning – to creation. There, all faiths meet. Time and progress, he tells us are a modern Western concept. We need to look at our stories, creation in particular, and see it as a ‘moving past’, a living creation, a moving ‘caravan of life’, in which everything is moving including God. We have switched our beginnings for our endings. “I believe”, says Klotz, separates us. “In the beginning” unites us. He sees the perfection in the Garden of Eden at Creation as something which is to come.

In one of his books, ‘The Genesis Meditations’, he enlarges on that theme by looking at the ‘Primal Human’ as seen through various faith traditions including Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Klotz sees it as the idea of a primordial light filled human being – which is called the Muhammedan light in the Ismaeli and Sufi traditions.

It is mystics such as Klotz with whom I feel the future – both of Christianity and of interfaith relations – lies. And I feel that a re-think of the nature of the ‘Son of Man’, and of the post-crucifixion Jesus, though difficult for many Christians, would be possible in the light of their meditations.

Chapter 9

Conclusion – back to the beginning

It would be irresponsible not to come to the conclusion that Christianity has failed itself and caused a major problem by allowing the development of a Christology which allows Jesus and God to become almost interchangeable. In this, it is essential that we give thought to the divinity of the whole of humankind, and welcome into our experience the views and opinions of the mystics, not only from the Christian tradition, but from the entire faith community. This view is now a commonly held one, and is challenging today’s church. It is a view that is more and more being driven by work on interfaith dialogue and it is to be welcomed.

This of course may offer a problem to the conservative Christian. How should one ‘understand’ the place and nature of Jesus? If we are able to accept the experience of the ‘Son of Man’ that I have shown above, then we can conceive a way forward. The ‘Son of Man’ is pre-existent. The ‘Son of Man’ is ‘The Word’. The ‘Son of Man’ is the coalescence of the whole of humankind, and Jesus is [in] the ‘Son of Man’, as, I expect are the great heroes of many World Faiths. But suppose that the person who is speaking in John’s gospel is more than Jesus alone? Suppose that this person is the ‘Son of Man’ in the entirety we have seen above? How much more sense does this make when we hear the words ‘No-one can come to the Father except through [incorporation into] the Son of Man’?

Earlier, I spoke of ‘attributes of God’, and in particular of power and love. Much has been said in the field of psychotherapy about the abuse of just these two attributes. Love, for example can be used – abused – when it becomes demanding on the one hand, or overwhelming ‘smother-love’ on the other. In the same way, the lust for power may be perverted to become overpowering and controlling, or demanding and manipulative in its helplessness and false humility (as Uriah Heep). In creation, God ‘cut the strings’ so that we would not be puppets – God gave us freedom out of his love[128].

Early Christians held the view the ‘God became man the man might become God[129]’. As I see it, we have two opposite options for our divinity. We can ‘play God’; one might want to look at modern examples such as Hitler or Saddam Hussein, or one can ‘become God’ by allowing our ‘divine spark’ to coalesce with other ‘divine sparks’ as we grow closer to Divine Union. We might want to see this quality in the saints of the modern era – Ghandhi, perhaps, or Martin Luther King ….

[1] Theology rising out of the Holocaust – September 2000 – Some thoughts on Franklin Littell’s assertion that “Christians need the Jewish people as a “model” of peoplehood in God’s work in history, and they need the living interaction with the people of the Torah” Franklin Littell on the Holocaust

[2] The synoptic gospels speak of Jesus going into the desert to be tempted by Satan. The key phrase here is: “If you are the son of God ….. “ which precedes each of the temptations. This statement suggests that Jesus had grave doubts about his own ‘religious experience’ at the time of his baptism in the river Jordan. In addition his attitude towards the question of his divinity (and possibly that of his fellows) may be seen in John 10:33-34 to which I will refer later.

[3] I have referred to that part of the Christian bible that Christians call the ‘New Testament’ as the Christian scriptures since for me the term ‘New Testament’ suggests supersession. For the same reason, I have used the Jewish term ‘tanach’ to refer to the books that Christians call ‘Old Testament’.

[4] See the Catholic Encyclopaedia: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02543a.htm (March 2005) which offers the following: “It was declared by the Vatican Council (Sess. III, c. ii) that the sacred and canonical character of Scripture would not be sufficiently explained by saying that the books were composed by human diligence and then approved by the Church, or that they contained revelation without error. They are sacred and canonical “because, having been written by inspiration of the Holy Ghost, that have God for their author, and as such have been handed down to the Church”. The inerrancy of the Bible follows as a consequence of this Divine authorship. Wherever the sacred writer makes a statement as his own, that statement is the word of God and infallibly true, whatever be the subject matter of the statement”.

[5] “I and Thou” Kaufmann tr, p166

[6] Vern S Poythress writing in Foundations of Contemporary Interpretation (Silva) p468

[7] Kenyon, The Bible and Modern Scholarship.

[8] Kenyon mentions the Chester-Beatty papyri and the Rylands papyrus. His dates for these appear to be confirmed by the Chester-Beatty web-site and such other evidence, as I have been able to find. However, this information does not so far appear in bible commentaries etc. These seem for example to place John’s gospel at a far later date than the Rylands fragment would suggest. I take this as evidence of the kind of biased scholarship that Kenyon is concerned about.

[9] Moises Silva, in his work “has the church misread the bible?” expresses concern that the WCC rreport on biblical authority was heavily influenced by Barth, and was, therefore “reluctant to base the authority of scripture on the notion of inspiration”. (Silva – p42) He states that the historical-critical method which has been widely accepted, actually rejects any question of divine intervention, and is therefore seriously to be questioned by evangelical Christian believers. For this reason, he is able to say that theological scholarship has largely excluded evangelicals until recent years.

[10] Here, I would cite Moises Silva, John Goldingay, Tremper Longman iii, Richard Muller, and V Phillips Long as well as the aforementioned Vern Poythress.

[11] Hopkins states that less than two percent of the apostolic Roman world could read and write.

[12] Alex Haley’s “Roots” gave a good example of this ability to record information accurately. It is a talent that is lost in a literate society.

[13] Mother Julian of Norwich had a mystical experience in which she describes God’s view of the whole of humankind. I will offer more on that in chapter 5 below.

[14] The creation story, in comparison with Daniel’s vision and the vision in Revelation will be examined in and alongside the things that Jesus is reported to have said about the Son of Man.

[15] There could be a lengthy discussion on the question of those who are to be excluded or damned. It is not appropriate to pursue this line of thought here. Suffice it to say that I trust in God’s mercy and that alone to make, in Mother Julian’s words, ‘all manner of things well’.

[16] The New Dictionary of Christian Theology points out that there was a great deal of argument in the middle ages as to whether or not God may be said to have attributes. Key players in this debate were Maimonides and Aquinas. The argument against God having attributes is that this might undermine the one-ness of God.

[17] MacQuarrie (p189) point out that “the notion of God’s ‘omnipotence’ has caused a lot of trouble ….” He considers that some theologians have focussed on this attribute of God to the point at which God becomes a ‘capricious despot’. McGrath and Ninian Smart also clearly see this as an ‘attribute’ of God. McGrath (p222ff) sees God as omnipotent, but self-limiting for the good of creation.

[18] This oft quoted phrase is a little hard to pin down. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Carl_Jung (March 2005) gives it as coming from: “The Psychology of the Unconscious (1943)”. I learned it many years ago while training for pastoral counselling with the Clinical Theology Association, as at that time, Jung’s ideas about power and love were widely used in a psychodynamic model called the ‘Power-Love compass’. There is little doubt that the roots of most if not all human neurosis and even psychosis lie in deep rooted feelings of powerlessness and lack of love.

[19] McGrath (p233ff) offers a lengthy discourse on God’s creativity, beginning with reference to the creation stories in Genesis. He refers to a number of different theological understandings of God as creator, but places centrally the fact that God created humankind in ‘the image of God’.

[20] McGrath (p244) reminds us that Augustine sees the Holy Spirit as the bond of love. He regards the Spirit as a bond of unity between Father and Son on the one hand, and between God and believers on the other. Ninian Smart devotes an entire chapter to love, in which he links it with the attribute of justice and peace, below.

[21] MacQuarrie (p192) talks of the attributes of ‘love’ and ‘mercy’. ‘… of all the attributes’, he says, ‘love has a supreme place’.

[22] In pointing out the extent to which love effects behaviour, Ninian Smart shows the ways in which Christian ethics lead to justice for the poor, and the under-privileged. This emphasis comes directly from the Pentateuch and its teachings.

[23] MacQuarrie (p193) talks of ‘love’ and ‘mercy’, which, he tells us, ‘are not really different from righteousness and justice’.

[24] Using the New Revised Standard version.

[25] There is a lengthy discussion on the uses of the plural form here to be found at: http://www.bible.org/netbible/index.htm in the notes to the NET bible.

[26] The NET bible translator’s note for this passage tells us of the two different terms in the Hebrew, which are generally translated ‘image’ and ‘likeness’. The note says: “In the Book of Genesis the two terms describe human beings who in some way reflect the form and the function of the creator.” http://www.bible.org/netbible/index.htm (March 2005)

[27] In this verse, the LXX translates God (here the Hebrew is ‘Elohim’), as ‘Angels’ and several bible versions follow this concept of Elohim (plural) signifying ‘divine beings’. The old JPS Tanach follows this practice, although the NJPS moves to ‘what is man that You have been mindful of him, mortal man that You have taken note of him that You have made him little less than divine …….”

[28] We shall see later that this psalm is quoted in the Christian scriptures as being cited by Jesus. For this reason, its use here brings big questions of how to interpret this passage.

[29] David Cairns – The Image of God in Man”

[30] Babylonian Talmud, “Shabbat”, 31a. tells of a man who came to Hillel asking to be taught the entire Torah during the time he could stand on one foot. He was told, “What is hateful to you, do not to your fellowman. This is the entire Torah. All the rest is commentary — now go and study.”

[31] The Encyclopaedia Judaica under the heading “man, the nature of” says “God is served in the righteousness of human relationships – in love between man and man which reflects God’s image – as well as in divine worship. When the “Image” is wronged, religious service becomes an abomination”. See below for more on this aspect.

[32] Beginning in Ezekiel 2:1, God uses this form of address in speaking to Ezekiel. The Net translator’s notes say: “The phrase son of man occurs ninety-three times in the book of Ezekiel. It simply means “human one,” and distinguishes the prophet from the nonhuman beings that are present in the world of his vision”. http://www.bible.org/netbible/index.htm March 2005

[33] Fuller, R. H. – The foundations of New Testament Christology p35

[34] The New Jerome commentary puts the case this way: “The [Apocalyptic genre] employed in chapters 7-12 consists in a certain mysterious ”revelation” received in fantastic visions or transmitted by angels, both about the past and present history, and about the eschatological establishment of God’s messianic kingdom”.

[35] Dunn p36

[36] Segal writing in Jews and Christians speak of Jesus (ed Zannoni), p132

[37] Hellwig writing in Jews and Christians speak of Jesus (ed Zannoni), p144-146

[38] O’Collins p14-15

[39] Philippians 3:21

[40] 1 John 3:1

[41] Fuller – p199 ff

[42] John 10:33-34

[43] Christian Theology – p277. Cf Exodus 4:22 ‘Israel is my firstborn son.’

[44] A. D. A. Moses – chapter 4

[45] The Gospels and their Theology, p25

[46] I have some sympathy with JAT Robinson’s “The Priority of John” on this issue!

[47] Col 1:14-16

[48] John 1:1

[49] In a later chapter, I will be looking at the rôle of revelation in our faith understanding.

[50] See my thoughts on attributes of God in chapter 2 above.

[51] Borgen is very clear in his thought on this – although he goes back directly to the Hebrew text of Genesis and argues for John’s choice of words being based on the Hebrew text. The fact that the LXX also begins Genesis with the words ‘en arch ’ may suggest that John, writing as he was to Christians living in contact with Diaspora Jews, would expect them to have knowledge of the LXX and to relate his commentary to this Greek text.

[52] Philo – questions and answers on Genesis, part I “This man was created as perceptible to the senses, and in the similitude of a Being appreciable only by the intellect; but he who in respect of his form is intellectual and incorporeal, is the similitude of the archetypal model as to appearance, and he is the form of the principal character; but this is the word of God, the first beginning of all things, the original species or the archetypal idea, the first measure of the universe”. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/book41.html March 2005

[53] “This is Moses’ doctrine, not mine. Indeed, in the next passage, recording the beginning of man, he confesses that (the human) was modelled after the image of God. Now if the part is the image of an image, it is clear that the whole is too. But if the entire sensible world — which is greater than the human — is a copy of the divine image, it is clear also that the archetypal seal which we say is the world of the mind is the very Word [logos] of God”.

— Philo, Creation 25 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/ March 2005

[54]Philo – Confusion 146. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/ March 2005

[55] 1 Cor. 15:45-49

[56] There is the traditional view that John was ‘the beloved disciple’ referred to in his gospel. The more usual view is that he became a follower after the death of Jesus.

[57] Bultmann – History of the Synoptic Tradition, p. 127.

[58] Raymond Brown writes: “I think the sayings and deeds of Jesus reported in the gospels have been influenced by hindsight after the resurrection”. P24 Here, I understand Brown to be thinking more of reflection and redaction than the divine inspiration that I believe to have taken place.

[59] I am considering particularly the ‘I am’ sayings in John 14

[60] I am referring to the Christian use of the word ‘bible’, but the statement is especially applicable to the Tanach.

[61] 1952 essay, Bultmann “on the problem of demythologising” from ’New Testament and Mythology’.

[62] Frend, in ‘Saints and Sinners in the Early Church’ holds that this was the case during much of the first three hundred years of the church.

[63] http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/ignatius.html March 2005

[64] “This is the New Song, the manifestation of the Word that was in the beginning, and before the beginning. The Saviour, who existed before, has in recent days appeared. He, who is in Him that truly is, has appeared; for the Word, who “was with God,” and by whom all things were created, has appeared as our Teacher. The Word, who in the beginning bestowed on us life as Creator when He formed us, taught us to live well when He appeared as our Teacher; that as God He might afterwards conduct us to the life which never ends”. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/clement-exhortation.html March 2005 Clement of Alexandria, “Exhortation to the Heathen”.

[65] In the first three centuries of Christianity, the church found a variety of books and letters useful. Some of these were the subject of debate, and in the year 367 CE the word ‘Canon’ was first used by Christians to denote the writings that they considered ‘inspired’. The other works, which include the Shepherd and several others, were regarded as useful, though not to be held to have the same authority.

[66] All the writings of Cyprian are to be found at: http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-05/TOC.htm (March 2005)

[67] In his first book of ‘Against the Jews’, his opening chapter headings are: “1. That the Jews have fallen under the heavy wrath of God, because they have departed from the Lord, and have followed idols.

  1. Also because they did not believe the prophets, and put them to death. 3. That it was previously foretold that they would neither know the Lord, nor understand nor receive Him. 4. That the Jews would not understand the Holy Scriptures, but that they would be intelligible in the last times, after Christ had come. 5. That the Jews could understand nothing of the Scriptures unless they first believed on Christ.
  2. That they would lose Jerusalem, and leave the land which they had received. 7. That they would also lose the Light of the Lord.

 

[68] Valentinus, the gnostic Christian and heretic of the second century CE had an interesting angle on the pre-existence question. He held that at his baptism, Jesus became united with the pre-existent ‘Christ’ – which in his thinking seems to be identical with the apocalyptic ‘Son of Man’. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/valentinus.html March 2005

[69] We believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten of the Father, that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, light of light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of the same substance with the Father, through whom all things were made both in heaven and on earth; who for us men and our salvation descended, was incarnate, and was made man, suffered and rose again the third day, ascended into heaven and cometh to judge the living and the dead. And in the Holy Ghost. Those who say: There was a time when He was not, and He was not before He was begotten; and that He was made our of nothing; or who maintain that He is of another hypostasis or another substance [than the Father], or that the Son of God is created, or mutable, or subject to change, [them] the Catholic Church anathematizes.

[70] This is very much a simplification of the many variations in christological thinking – especially among Gnostic Christians.

[71] It is outside the scope of this paper to look at the development and meaning of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Suffice it to say that this teaching has been a problem for many Christians throughout church history. It is a problem that will not go away: see Pittenger for further thought on this.

[72] Irenaeus ‘Against Heresies’. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/irenaeus.html March 2005. See also Hoekema and Cairns.

[73] Hopkins p158

[74] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.iv.I_1.i.html March 2005

[75] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf103.iv.i.iii.i.html March 2005

[76] An example of this is to be found in Acts 2:34-36: “For David himself never went up to heaven, but yet he said: ‘The Lord declared to my Lord, take your seat at my right hand till I have made your enemies your footstool’ – for this reason the whole House of Israel can be certain that the Lord and Christ whom God has made is this Jesus whom you crucified.”

[77] Hershon refers to only one talmudic comment on the image of God: “Rav Yehuda said ….. When the Holy One, blessed be He! wished to create man, He first called into existence a set of ministering angels, and said to them: Is it your pleasure that we should make man in our own image?”

[78] Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud. P67ff

[79] (Cohen’s footnote) This is the original wording. There is a later interpolation, one soul of Israel‘ which destroys the universal character of the teaching.

[80] Urbach p277

[81] This schism began with argument over ‘Monophysitism’, the teaching that Jesus had one nature only. This was expressed in at least three complex formulae, all different. In the end though, it could be argued that the question revolved arouind power and power struggle rather than christology.

[82] The Summa can be found in an English translation at: http://www.ccel.org/a/aquinas/summa/home.html March 2005

[83] The complete text of Revelations can be found at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/julian/revelations.toc.html, and the chapter referenced is as p109 at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/julian/revelations.xvi.viii.html (March 2005)

[84] Arthur Green p186

[85] Maimonides, book 1 chapter 1 discusses at length the two Hebrew words which are translated into the English word ‘image’ (or form) and ‘likeness’ p13ff, and in the following chapter he expands on this, coming to the conclusion that it is only in the matter of our intellect that we are in any way like God.

[86] I have included a reflection of my own as appendix 2. This was written before I had heard of Tsimtsum, and describes the way in which I felt God was revealing Godself to me.

[87] Pp 273-274 Major trends in Jewish mysticism

[88] A new dictionary of Christian theology refers under the heading ‘Gnosticism’ to the idea of primal man, and the ‘divine spark’ as being around before New Testament times. The article says that this concept was taken up by Gnostic Christian groups, especially by the Manichees.

[89] A tender and poetic description of mystical union (Moy refers to it as Divine Union) is to be found in Fred Moy – The Exiles. “ ….. a total giving of self to the Divine Union. This union in not only a union in intellect, but the actual fusion of the total individual identity into the Absolute Source. The giving is complete as a stream loses its identity in the ocean or the light from a lamp is lost in the brilliance of the sun, or a spark falls into the Divine Fire.

[90]St. Athanasius, Of the incarnation 54, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/athanasius/incarnation.ix.html (Aqpril 2005)

[91] http://www3.baylor.edu/~Scott_Moore/essays/reasonableness.html

[92] http://www.anselm.edu/homepage/dbanach/dnr.htm

[93] MacQuarrie uses the term ‘suprarational’ in his description of the tension that exists in a rational approach to an ‘understanding’ of God

[94] Tremper Longman offers an entire book in which he comes to this same conclusion.

[95] Collins preface; p xi

[96] Shira Shoenberg – a brief biography of Moses Mendelssohn found on the internet at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Mendelssohn.html March 2005.

[97] David Sorkin – ‘Moses Mendelssohn and the religious enlightenment’

[98] This entry shows the considerable influence of Martin Buber on modern Judaism. See below for more about Buber.

[99] Sandmel in his chapter headed ‘The responses to modernism’.

[100] http://www.sikhs.org/guru1.htm

[101] McGrath cites Feuerbach and Schleiermacher as holding opposed positions on this issue.

[102] The first essay in the collection referred to under Bultmann in the bibliography.

[103] Bultmann – p11

[104] Bultmann, Mythology p11. It is of these earlier attempts to demythologise that James P Mackey says, particularly of D F Strauss, of the Hegelian school of philosophy, that he takes: ‘a too narrow view of ‘scientific’ reason, a closed view of human nature and human faith, a restrictive philosophical preconception, which makes him demythologise in the name of history and thus ruin the history of the origins of Christianity’. – Mackey p34.

[105] All the essays referred to appear in the collection referred to in Bultmann’s Mythology work in the bibliography. ‘On the problem …’ begins on p 95

[106] See also ‘The Honest to God Debate’.

[107] This takes its name from the book and the TV series by Don Cupitt in the late 1980’s. The ethos is summed up by the ‘Sea of Faith’ network’s statement that ‘Religious faith is a purely human creation’.

[108] Bultmann – Mythology, p4

[109] Rowan Williams at his enthronement, 27th Feb 2003

[110] Parkes – Prelude p209-210

[111] Parkes – Foundations p220

[112] Parkes – Foundations p219

[113] Pittenger p7

[114] Pittenger p114

[115] Küng – On Being a Christian

[116] Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy – “Woodbine Willy” From “The Unutterable Beauty” 1927). The Collected Poetry of GSK – complete version of ‘Well?’ in appendix 1.

[117] Flyer for ‘The Wind blows where It Wills’ – An Exploration of God’s Spirit in a world of many faiths – conference in Scotland. Yong is quoted from his work ‘Beyond the Impasse: Toward a Pneumatological Theology of Religions’. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003. ISBN 0801026121]

[118] In its simplest form, there are three blind men (some versions have more men) who wish to ‘see’ an elephant. They are led to the elephant. One of them leans against its side. ‘It’s like a wall’, he says. Another takes hold of its tail. ‘It’s like a snake’. The third one puts his arms around a leg and declares that it’s like a tree. The point is that all of them are correct in what they describe, but there is a bigger picture. I can say with confidence that this is even more true of the God in whom I believe!

[119] Unusually, the Jesus with whom I had a mystical encounter some years ago was not the Jesus of faith. I felt that my encounter was with the Jesus of the temptations in the desert, immediately after his baptism. This was a very human Jesus who was, quite simply, staggered by what was happening to him – staggered by the enormity of the call which he had received, and needed to be by himself to reflect and to pray! This religious experience is reflected in my own attitude towards Christology and the nature of Jesus.

[120] p86 1959 Clark edition

[121] One might argue that Buber’s time was before the advent of the postmodern world. Perhaps his mystical reflection is timeless – certainly it fits well into the postmodern scene.

[122] p25 1959 Clark edition

[123] p84 1959 Clark edition

[124] p85 1959 Clark edition

[125] It was Lake’s work ‘Clinical Theology that caused a stir in 1967 when it was published, and which led to what has since been called ‘Primal Therapy’.

[126] While training as an assistant tutor with the CTA, I was encouraged to make one of these ‘Primal Journeys’. The experience of ‘bliss’ was for me being one with the universe or one with God – or perhaps one with the Son of Man who is part of God …. How does one put into words an experience such as this?

[127] Moy p61

[128] See Jonathan Magonet – the chapter ‘Did they fall or were they pushed?’ in ‘A Rabbi’s Bible.

[129] [129] From Athanasius – see above.

Mysticism and faith

Four voices

All world faiths have mystical experience at their root, and at least in their beginnings, at their heart. Mysticism ……. [definitions – explanations etc] ……

….. [Insert – Prophecy/Mysticism – dependency one to the other?] ……

Christianity along with all mature faiths recognises the need to discern. There are many claims from ‘prophets’ who are ‘saying what God is telling them’. The Christian scriptures recognise well the need to ‘test the spirits’ – 1 John 4:1 is one example of this. And Paul speaks of ‘discernment of spirits’ (1 Cor 12:10). In 1 Corinthians 14:29, he suggests that two or three members (of a meeting) should decide on the nature of a message that the speaker is claiming to be ‘of God’.

Controversy over what God is saying is right at the heart of all the disputes from the early days of Christianity, and one might say that there are still elements of this problem around in the church today. The church has long held that tradition needs to be taken into account alongside scripture and prophecy. Unhappily, the church as a whole cannot agree on what is and what is not valid tradition. It is this disagreement that has allowed, even encouraged, schism into the many traditions that claim to be a part of the ‘one holy catholic church’. The Eastern Orthodox traditions claim that all views on the authority of scripture must be tested against the teachings not only of the church, but especially of the early church fathers. Canon 19 of the Quinisext Ecumenical Synod is specific about this1. Vassilios Bakoyannis speaks also of three ‘interpreters’ [of scripture]. He names them as: The Devil, Our Passions, and the Holy Fathers. It is in a similar vein to this that I want to suggest that when the mystic ‘listens’ to God, he or she may in fact ‘hear’ four voices. These are: The Devil, His or Her Passions, His or Her Intellect, and Almighty God. Indeed, perhaps it is true to say that all ‘Words from God’ begin as a mixture of all four ‘voices’ with one or other being the dominant factor. Many years ago, I met a very humble and very holy Franciscan Catholic Friar. He was very much a part of the charismatic movement, and often felt moved to give a word of prophecy for discernment by the assembled church. He said with great humility that the first thousand or so words of prophecy that he had given were ‘probably 99% me, and 1% God’2.

Recently I read the first volume of Conversations with God, by Neale Donald Walsch. This, and his two subsequent volumes became best sellers, and I believe rightly so. I found reading them to be a very moving experience which led me to a great deal of reflection and a great deal of though including listening to God’s voice in my own heart. It is out of that reflection that I begin to write now.

I have no wish to critique Walsch’s work. That is for others. I would certainly advise that it be widely read – I would also suggest that it needs to be read prayerfully and with discernment of the spirits (the Four Voices?) always in mind.

With the spread of the charismatic movement through the church in almost all of its denominations, the majority of Christians recognise that the gift of Prophecy is working in the church today along with other gifts of the Holy Spirit. These same Christians recognise that discernment of spirits is required alongside the gift of Prophecy, and that this is the task of the church; however, the definition of ‘church’ may vary from denomination to denomination. I imagine that the majority of Christians who accept ‘words of Prophecy’ would agree that testing against scripture must be a criterion for the validity of the ‘word’. Some would also want to test against the traditions of their denomination, and many would be happy to take into account the methods of scriptural interpretation laid down by the early church and the early church fathers. For the most part, this will lead to the majority of Christians being in agreement most of the time as to the validity of the ‘word of prophecy’.

1 One Lord, One Faith, p 23. (Archimandrite Vassilios Bakoyannis).

2 1982 Ratcliffe College Charismatic conference, Fr. Joseph di Mauro …..

Who are the people of God?

Who are the people of God?

A discussion with reference to Isaiah 54 and Romans 9-11

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© The Revd Barry Drake M.A. May 2000

Introduction

The phrase “The People of God” can have many meanings. Taken at the beginning of the biblical creation story, the “People of God” means all the people – God created them, “…. and saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). The meaning might become less clear in the Cain and Abel story, but in spite of his having killed his brother, God does not seem to reject Cain. Cain and his descendants are still among the people of God. In the story of Noah, we do appear to have people who are no longer the “People of God” because they have turned away from Him. We see here that Noah was a “righteous man” and found favour in God’s sight. At this point, Noah and his family alone are the people of God.

Before Israel, then, perhaps we could say that “The Righteous” are the “People of God”, and that the wicked are not His people – not that He has rejected them, but that they have rejected Him in their wickedness. Later, God’s covenant with Abraham is made, and from that time on, the bible speaks of the people of Israel as the people of God, living always among pagan nations who worship other gods. The distinction here is easy: Israel has accepted The Lord as God – the only God – and therefore Israel is the people of God. The nations have rejected God and turned aside to other gods. By that act, they have made themselves no longer His people.

With the coming of Christianity, a definition of “The People of God” becomes far more difficult. Neither Christians nor Jews were of one mind as to who the People of God were, and even in early Christian times, Christians were becoming divided on the same issue. By the present day, the notion of the “People of God” varies from Christian to Christian, and from one Jew to another according to their tradition and background. In this essay, we are looking at two brief passages: one from Isaiah in the Hebrew bible, and the other from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Both of these have been interpreted and re-interpreted many times, and have been used – perhaps even abused – in support of greatly differing views about who the people of God might be.

Today, definitions of “The People of God” would vary from “Those who love the Lord, or who would like to[i].” Through to narrow definitions stating categorically that “the only salvation is through Jesus Christ[ii].” In between these extremes there are a number of other possibilities[iii].

In this essay, I intend to look at Isaiah 54, and Romans 9 – 11, to discover as far as possible the people to whom they were written, and the circumstances that they address. It is my view that both passages have been read by Christians in a manner far from the writers’ original intentions. In my investigation, I will look at writings of the early church, as well as commentaries and exegetical texts from various periods in Christian history. I intend to look closely at a particular Christian viewpoint that sees the Church as having superseded The Jews as “The people of God”, and which is associated strongly with the passages concerned.

Isaiah’s People of God

The passage in chapter 54 of Isaiah deserves to be clear in the way in which it sees the people of God: it very clearly refers to Israel as a people, God’s people. It is written as a word of hope to a people in exile. It is written to the people of God, and if more evidence is required, the following chapter, Isaiah 55, speaks of the gentiles; the nations, and says that God will one day call them to be His people too. The entire chapter is full of comfort, encouragement and promise, and it reminds Israel of the promise from God that its “descendants will possess the nations” (54:3) and calls them “the servants of the Lord”, saying that their vindication will come from God. (54:17). Although the passage does not use the words “people of God”, it is perfectly clear to whom the passage is addressed, and it would be difficult to read anything into the passage as it stands, either in or out of context to suggest that the “People of God” might be understood as anything other than the scattered and downtrodden people of Israel.

It is commonly accepted[iv] that chapters 40 to 55 of Isaiah were written during the Babylonian exile – this would place its authorship in the sixth century BCE. A date between 520 – 516 BCE has been suggested. At that time, the Jews had been exiled from Jerusalem, firstly the nobles and the leading citizens in 597 BCE, and then the ordinary people in 586 BCE apart from some peasants. (See 2 Kings 24:14-16;25:11). The anguish of the exiled Jews is illustrated in Psalm 137. It is into this situation that the words of comfort – and hope – are written.

Chapter 54 begins by comparing Israel (here called “Jerusalem”) to a barren woman. There are echoes here of the sterility of Sarah (Gen 15:2) and of God’s promise fulfilled in Isaac. The promise to His people will be remembered and fulfilled; the Lord, who for a time seems to have abandoned his people, has not forgotten them. The now barren Jerusalem will be rebuilt and repopulated. Verse 6 uses tones reminiscent of the earlier prophet Hosea, when it speaks of Israel as a young wife deserted by her husband – “cast off” by him. Then God speaks – “for a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you” (54:7). In verse 9, the comparison is made with the Lord’s anger in the time of Noah, but as in the time of Noah, the promise is made, and will be kept.

The second half of the chapter speaks of the city of Jerusalem rebuilt – and rebuilt in far greater splendour than ever before. It ends with the promise that the Lord Himself will be Jerusalem’s protector and vindicator. The whole chapter is a prophetic statement that the promises, which God made to the fathers, are still valid: God keeps His promises, and will continue to do so. The election of Israel as the people of God is a reality, and is permanent. The prophet uses overtones of God’s earlier promises to His covenant-people to affirm, and to guarantee the everlasting covenant that is His promise to Israel – forever.

Most present day whole-bible Christian commentators seem to agree with the above analysis. How then, could there be any possibility of a different interpretation of this chapter, especially one that might show a different understanding of the “people of God”?

Potential problems for Jewish-Christian relations begin to show when the references to Isaiah 54 in Paul’s letter to the Galatians and in John’s Gospel are considered. John (6:45) has Jesus quoting Isaiah 54:13 “All your sons will be taught by the Lord” in a way that seems to mean that everyone who has listened to the Lord will come to Jesus. This in itself provides some difficulty, but Paul’s letter to the Galatians quotes Isaiah 54:1, and uses this reference to suggest that Israel (here called Jerusalem) is in slavery, and that Christians “are children of the promise”, “born according to the Spirit”, “not children of the slave, but of the free woman”. Whatever Paul actually meant by this, and we will look more closely at Paul and his thinking later on, that quotation, and others from the same letter have been used by Christians in anti-Jewish polemic through the ages.

Having stated that most present day commentators make no mention of specifically Christian interpretations for Isaiah 54, the same is not true of earlier scholars. The passage follows immediately after the “Servant Songs” which are well referenced both in the Gospels and the church fathers, who understand the Servant to be a “type” of Jesus, and they continue to follow the same typology in chapter 54, the passage in question. John Wesley, in his “Notes”[v] makes the following statement commenting on Isaiah 54:

“The prophet having largely discoursed of the sufferings of Christ, and of the blessed fruits thereof, and here foreseeing that glorious state of the church, he breaks forth into this song of triumph. And as the foregoing chapter literally speaks of Christ, so doth this of the church of Christ. This church, consisting at first of the Jews, and afterwards of the Gentiles, had been barren, ’till the coming of Christ. The desolate – The church of the Gentiles, which in the times of the Old Testament was desolate, does now bring forth to God a more numerous posterity than that of the Jews.”

Wesley goes on to say, referring to verse 10 of Isaiah 54:

“God will not cast off his Christian church, as he cast off the church of the Jews, the New Covenant is established upon better and surer promises than the Old.”

The understanding here is clearly one of supersession. That is to say, the Jews were the People of God only until the death of Jesus, after which the Christians have superseded the Jews. Christians are then seen as the “New People of God”. Only in commentaries of this century do we begin to find a different attitude taken towards Isaiah, and towards this passage, and it is only in some of the most recent commentaries that the People of Israel, to whom Isaiah is clearly speaking, are allowed to own this passage once more!

Having said that, the purpose of most modern general commentaries is to offer explanation rather than interpretation. It is simply not within the remit of these commentaries to offer the kind of comment that Wesley offered. The situation is not the same in up-to-date specialised commentaries on Isaiah. On the one hand, we see commentators such as Paul Hanson[vi] who are anxious to show both Jewish and Christian interpretative viewpoints. On the other hand, there is a school of commentators such as Alec Motyer[vii], who continue the traditional Christian treatment of the Bible in which the Jews are superseded by the new “People of God” – the church. In his introduction to Isa 54, Motyer says:

“The picture is that of the normative state of the community of the redeemed, the people of God, the church. They have been brought into being by supernatural birth, designed for growth and are secure in the loving care of the Lord.”

There is a view within both Jewish and Christian traditions that prophecy is a living thing: that is to say it has the same relevance in later situations that it had when first given. This view states that all prophecy is spoken by God, through the lips of the prophet, and is therefore a ‘word’ that stands outside time. Whatever their position with regard to the Jews, all Christians identify themselves as a part of the people of God. Taking the view that all prophecy is for the people of God for all time, then it follows that Isaiah 54 might be said to include Christians and modern-day Jews alongside the Jews to whom it was originally written.

It seems, then, that the answer to the question “Who are the people of God with reference to Isaiah 54?” is not a simple one. It depends entirely upon whom you ask!

Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 9-11

In the passages in question, Paul seems to be in the midst of a difficult personal struggle. Verse 2 of chapter 9 is explicit about this. Paul reminds the reader that he himself is a Jew. His letter tells us that he is writing to Jewish Christians as well as to Gentiles. Scholars vary in their opinions as to the background, but perhaps the most widely held opinion[viii] is that the church in Rome was originally composed of Jewish and Gentile Christians. In 49 CE, Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. When they were allowed to return in 54 CE, it was to a church that had moved a long way from its previous tradition which was closer to that of the Palestinian Jews. The suggestion here is that Paul is aware that Paul, writing around 57 or 58 CE, is aware that he is addressing a church torn apart by the resulting tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians.

Whatever the situation, and whatever subsequent commentators have made of Paul’s writings[ix], Paul is quite clear as to who the people of God are. At the beginning of Chapter 11, he says, speaking of the people of Israel: “Has God rejected His people“, and he goes on to declare that God has not rejected them. The people of Israel remain for Paul, the people of God. What then of the Gentiles? It is in this connection that Paul presents a well-developed view of how he sees Jew and Gentile together as God’s people.

Let us now turn back to Paul’s struggle at the beginning of Romans 9 in which he speaks of his great sorrow and anguish of heart. Paul’s anguish is about his own people, the Jews. It seems clear that Paul would far rather have the Jews accept Jesus as the Messiah than endure the situation in which he finds himself: effectively cut off from his own people who are rejecting Paul’s claim that Jesus is “The Messiah”. We can be sure that by this time, Paul is truly immersed in tension between Jews and Christians to the extent that he is aware of his own imminent rejection by the Jews. He could almost wish that the situation were reversed, and that he were “cut off from Christ” in order to remain at one with his own people (Rom 9:3). Paul then presents a great deal of difficult argument, and at times it is far from clear just what he is saying. This lack of clarity in some of Paul’s writing has been well noted from the very early days of the church. In the second letter of Peter, the writer seems to imply that Paul’s letters are not easy, and that his words were being used in some kind of undesirable polemic even at that time. The passage referred to says: “So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures”. (2 Peter 3:15-16[x])

 

Paul uses the example of Isaac’s birth, reminding the reader that his birth came about only as the result of a promise from God. He uses this idea of Isaac as a gift from God to say that the children of Isaac, that is, “The children of Israel”, are children of grace, children of a promise, gifts from God, rather than natural children born of a purely human series of relationships. As James Dunn writes:

“That which he [Paul] describes as the covenanted status of the descendants of Abraham is their status before God. It is a status which the natural descendants of Abraham cannot assume for themselves by virtue of being the natural descendants of Abraham. The ground of filial relationship to God is not simply filial relationship to Abraham.[xi]

Paul continues his argument to attempt to show that God can call whomsoever He wishes to be “children of the promise” in whatever way He wills. The end of the argument states that God has called his people “not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles”. (Rom 9:24)

Paul’s argument in Romans 9 and 10 is difficult, tortuous and full of bible references with which the reader is expected to be familiar. Perhaps because it lacks clarity, and is therefore easy to “twist”, and perhaps also because of growing hostility between many Jews, especially Palestinian Jews, and the early church, we find Paul’s words referenced a great deal in anti-Jewish polemic. Much has been written about the tension that existed within the Judaism of Paul’s day between Jews from the land that we now call Israel, and Jews of the Diaspora, the Greek-speaking Jews. There was considerable pressure among the Hellenistic Jews for a more progressive form of Judaism, and many of the Levitical prohibitions were being brought into question. Rosemary Ruether[xii] holds that this tension – between the Greek Jew: the Jew of the diaspora, and the Palestinian Jew – plays a large part in the tensions between early church and synagogue. Whatever the cause of the use, or abuse of Paul’s words in polemical texts, it seems clear from the text itself that Paul holds the Gentile Christians to be part of the people of God, together with the Jews, whom God has not rejected.

In chapter 9, Paul refers to the Torah, here called the Law (Gk Nomos). “Israel, who pursued the righteousness which is based on the Law did not succeed in fulfilling that Law”. (Rom 9-31). James Dunn, in his “Theology of Paul[xiii]” is clear that Paul does not see Torah as an impossible burden – “Israel’s pursuit (of righteousness) …. Has failed not because the Law was the wrong goal but because they had pursued it in the wrong way”. Dunn sees the main thrust of Paul’s argument in chapters 9-11 as being to the effect that God can accept Gentiles as well as Jews. Dunn argues that Paul is seeking to claim a place for the Gentiles, alongside the Jews by faith, rather than the works of Torah. It is as though for the Gentiles, Torah is being “replaced” by faith in Jesus Christ, but it is also a question of election – of God’s choice. God can choose whomsoever He wishes – as illustrated by His choice of Jacob over Esau. Dunn tells us that Paul is calling on Israel to recognise the place of faith apart from, or alongside Torah. Paul believes the Jews to be wrong in their rejection of his message – but does not see them as being outside God’s plan because of this. He really longs for his people to be with him, accepting the Christian way as the new Judaism. He has realised though, that this is not happening, and in part is trying to understand the situation himself. It is Paul’s conclusion here that God must have His purpose, otherwise the Jews would hear the message, and would follow it. One part of the answer he finds by quoting Deuteronomy “I will provoke you to jealousy by a nation that is not a nation; by a nation of fools I will make my people angry.” Deut 32:21), suggesting that it is by Israel becoming jealous of the success of Christianity that it will itself turn to the teachings which he is offering. The second part of the answer, Paul sees as being the need to allow the Gentiles to become the people of God through the gospel. Here Dunn comments:

“As we might say, Israel’s early election had given historic Israel such an advantage in the pursuit of righteousness (9:30) that, had Israel smoothly taken to the new phase of the pursuit (through faith in Christ), Gentiles might have been wholly put off, and missed out”.

In other words, Paul sees God to be allowing His “stubborn” people to stay as they are – the people of Israel, the people of God, until the full number of the nations are given the opportunity to hear the gospel that Paul is preaching.

In chapter 11, Paul develops his argument further. He offers a vivid illustration. He compares Israel to a cultivated olive tree, and the Gentiles to a wild olive. He suggests that some of the branches of the cultivated olive have been broken off because of their unbelief. Paul suggests that God has allowed a branch of the wild olive to be “grafted in” to the cultivated olive in order that the Gentiles may share the same root. Of particular note for later consideration is the fact that Paul never suggests that all of the branches have been broken off, but only some. Paul goes on to challenge any pride that Gentile Christians might have in the “breaking off” of Jewish branches to make way for them. He assures them that they can just as easily be “broken off” themselves, and if God so wills, the Jewish branches grafted back in to the root that is Israel. The Gentiles are there by faith and by God’s mercy alone – but in a sense, so are the Jews.

Paul implies that his Messianic claim for Jesus has become a “Stumbling block” for the Jews (Rom 9:32-33), but in chapter 11, he goes on to assert that the “Stumbling” of the Jews has brought salvation to the Gentiles (Rom 11:11). An important point here is that the Jews only “stumble”, they do not fall. Once again, it is God’s providence that allows this to happen, in order to give the nations a fighting chance. The final point that Paul makes towards the end of chapter 11 clarifies his position a great deal, both with regard to the Jews and the Gentiles:

“So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, “Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.” “And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”. (Rom 11:25-29)

This last passage seems to make it quite clear that the Jews are still the people of God because of God’s promise. God has “hardened their hearts” for a while[xiv], once again for the sake of the nations. Dunn points us to a fresh interpretation -a linguistic technicality – here. He says that the “hardening” should be correctly understood as a partial hardening, or blindness, rather than the accepted translation that suggests only “part of Israel” is hardened.

Beker makes three important points concerning Rom 11:25-28. They are:

“1) There will be no final eschatological deliverance for the world without the salvation of all of Israel. (Rom 11:25-26)

2) The church of the gentiles has no authenticity or identity unless it realises that it is “grafted contrary to nature onto a cultivated olive tree” ie into Israel, “beloved for the sake of the forefathers” (Rom 11:24,28

3) The promises of God for the Gentiles become null and void unless God’s promises to all Israel become realised.[xv]

Whether the Jews have, or have not rejected the Christian gospel, God has not rejected them, simply blinded them to the truth as Paul sees it.

Overall, it is clear that Paul was writing to a divided church, and was attempting to show a kind of middle way. Dunn sees him as walking a tightrope, and refusing an easy solution that would allow the two opposite errors that he sees the church (and the Jews) falling into. Precisely what each party to the argument was saying cannot now be seen clearly. Most scholars suggest that on the one hand, Gentile Christians are arguing that the church has superseded Israel as the people of God, and on the other hand, Jews and Jewish Christians are claiming that they alone are the true people of God – perhaps allowing that “Righteous Gentiles” may be included[xvi]. For this reason, Paul is attempting to show that God makes “no distinction between Jew and Greek” (Rom 10:12).

The above understanding of Romans 9-11 is well supported by the text itself, and by some of the modern commentators[xvii] and theologians. Krister Stendahl, for example, argues with great sensitivity that Paul never sees himself as being converted to Christianity, but rather obeys a call from God to preach the Christian message as a Jew, and to the Jews. When the majority of Jews reject his teaching, he continues his work among the gentiles, and is finally rejected by the Jews. Stendahl asserts that Paul never rejects his own Judaism[xviii], and continues to regard the Jews as being the people of God alongside Christians. He adds that: “The central issue claiming Paul’s attention is that of the inclusion both of Gentiles and Jews[xix].” Stendahl feels strongly that the text itself is not read today as it ought to be. There is a great deal of “handed down” interpretation – much of which he sees as being wrong. He says: “What has happened to Christianity is that instead of having free access to the original, we have lived in a sort of chain reaction – Augustine touching up Paul, and with Pelagius discussing and turning these things around, the medievalists pushing one way or another, and then further reactions, moving away from the original”

The view outlined above is not the only view that is held however. When looking at the Isaiah text earlier, we saw that there was a strongly held view that the Church had superseded the Jews as “the people of God”. In taking this view, John Wesley was among the orthodox of his day, and was reflecting a view that had existed since the church fathers. This view that the church has superseded Israel has been supported by texts from Paul – particularly from Galatians and Romans. How, then, has Romans 9-11 been understood?

In Romans 9:6, Paul says, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel”, and in 11:5, he speaks of the “faithful remnant” of Israel. The view has been taken that only Jews who convert to Christianity are part of this “remnant”. The rest of Israel is then understood to be outside the new people of God, which is the church, until the end times, when the full number of Gentiles have become Christian. After that, there will be a sudden conversion, in which all the Jews will become Christian. The old standard, “Ellicott’s Commentary” says: “The reconversion of the Jews will be a signal to inaugurate that reign of eternal life which will be ushered in by the resurrection of the dead.” This understanding of Paul seems to be a very common one within Christianity

Taken out of context, and with scant reference to Romans 11:25-29, the texts at 9:6-7 and 11:4-10 could be read as references to Jews who converted to Christianity. Is this what Paul intended? Paul is speaking as a Pharisee. At the time he is writing, the Pharisees were deeply concerned that most of Israel had lost its commitment to the Torah. The more extreme sects among the Jews were claiming, according to Ruether, that: “the Judaism of the temple and of ordinary believers was to be ranked with the “nations” and counted among the hosts of Belial”[xx]. It is most likely that Paul the Pharisee is referring to lack of faith, lack of Torah observance, and general spiritual malaise among Jews when he declares that “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel”, and speaks of the faithful remnant of Israel that remains true in its observance, and its faith in God.

The kind of exegesis which claims to prove that the Church has superseded the Jews does not end there. It uses Paul’s illustration of the olive tree (Rom11:17) as though it is saying that all the branches had been broken off. It takes Paul’s statements about lack of faith among Jews to include all the Jews who have not converted to Christianity. Paul’s illustrations are regarded as absolutes that the text simply does not support. The one statement in Rom 11 – the one earlier referred to as making it quite clear that the Jews are still the people of God because of God’s promise, that is 11:28, ought to present a severe problem to the supersessionist. It is abundantly clear from the text that the Jews still remain the people of God because of election (the promise) and that they are still beloved by God. The text bears no other interpretation. The Greek is unambiguous – the phrase “κατα δε την εκλογην αγαπητοι δια τους πατερας

[xxi]” literally, “but concerning the election, they are loved through (or on account of) the fathers”, cannot be understood to mean anything other than that the Jews are still God’s chosen people because of God’s promise to the Patriarchs. In spite of this, Wesley, who, as we have seen was a convinced supersessionist, offers the following: “They are now enemies – To the gospel, to God, and to themselves, which God permits. For your sake: but as for the election – That part of them who believe, they are beloved”. It is clear from the context that by “that part of them who believe”, Wesley means only those who have become Christian. This is hardly justified by the text itself. Many of the older commentaries

[xxii] follow a similar method, by reading into the text such an unsupported comment.

It is not only the older commentators and theologians who offer supersessionist doctrines. A number of modern writers also take the traditional view. “The New Jerome Commentary” of 1989 follows this approach, and presents it as the current Catholic teaching of the time. “New Jerome” seems to take the traditional view that we have just seen concerning the place of Israel, even though Karl Barth, whose views do not entirely support supersessionism, is cited. Jerome’s stance seems surprising in the light of the Vatican declaration “Nostra Aetate” – 1965. This document offers the following:

“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. Consequently, all must take care, lest in catechising or in preaching the Word of God, they teach anything which is not in accord with the truth of the Gospel message or the spirit of Christ”.

In contrast to the way in which the writer in Jerome understands him, Barth seems to be struggling with the question of the Jews. He sees the “faithful remnant” in Romans 11:15 as Jewish Christians, but softens the implication of this by seeing the rest of Israel somehow as “secret Christians”. He says: “There is always – there was then and there is now – the Church from and in Israel too, and all Israel secretly lives – lived then and lives now – in her. The remnant of Israel, kept by the election of grace, however large or small it may be, is in God’s sight all Israel.

[xxiii]” Writers in the Tübingen school – represented here by Käsemann generally follow a supersessionist understanding. Commenting on Romans 11:28

[xxiv] he cites Schrank:

“Israel is simultaneously loved and rejected because it received a promise and did not accept the gospel. But it has the possibility of conversion so long as the word goes out to it”.

Surprisingly, Rosemary Ruether, who presents a great deal of information concerning Paul’s background, and a clear picture of the Judaism of his day, comes down heavily on the side of Paul being anti-Torah, and anti-Jew

[xxv]. In essence than, supersessionists are clear that Christians are seen as part of a new covenant, and that unconverted Jews are no longer the people of God, but remain in some sort of limbo until the parousia, whereupon they will all convert to Christianity by an act of God.

As we have already seen when considering Isaiah 54, the answer to the question “Who are the people of God?” is not a simple one. This is true also of in Paul’s letter to the Romans. The answer depends once again upon whom you ask.

Looking at the Problem

A major problem for Jewish-Christian relations is a brand of supersessionism that gives no place among the people of God to the Jews. This has been highlighted in the study of Isaiah 54, and Romans 9-11 above. Jacob Neusner

[xxvi] sees supersessionism as the major stumbling block in Jewish Christian relations today. The problem seems to begin in the very early church. We have seen already that it was precisely this kind of attitude that Paul sought to avoid in his letter to the Romans. Within a few years of Paul’s letter to the Romans, the church fathers were writing strongly supersessionist anti-Jewish polemic, and referring to the Jews as Christ Killers

[xxvii]. Dunn, when looking at this problem, states categorically that Paul’s attempt (to re-define Israel as “the called of God”, both Jew and Christian) has failed

[xxviii]. The idea that Jews are no longer the people of God strengthened during the first three or four centuries of Christianity and beyond. Neusner sees the problem as having intensified and taken on an even more serious character at the hands of the Christian reformers and today it represents not only the view of some modern theologians, but for the most part, the popular understanding among ordinary Christians. Following a recent trip to Israel, I sent a questionnaire to my fellow participants to obtain a list of their favourite and least favourite places. One response, to the question “Which site did you find the most moving?” reads as follows: “The Wailing Wall on the Jewish Sabbath. Praying and weeping …… for the Peace of Jerusalem that Jews and Gentiles will acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Messiah

[xxix]“. From what has been said to me by Christians from time to time I feel sure that this attitude – that Jews need to be “saved” by becoming Christians – is the majority Christian response.

I would like to extend this messianic notion just a little. Paul quotes Isaiah 59:20-21 in Romans 11:26. “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”. Perhaps the most central area of common ground for both Jew and Christian is the expectation that the Messiah will come, and will usher in the eternal kingdom of God. Dunn suggests that Paul’s lack of identification in 11:26 of the Messiah with Jesus is a deliberate one. If Paul makes the identification in his own mind, in his writing, he leaves the question open, allowing both Christian and Jew to continue to expect Messiah’s coming each in his own way. We have much to learn from that simple point made by Paul, in Jewish Christian relations today.

Conclusion

In summary, it seems that not only has Christianity effectively hijacked large sections of the Hebrew Bible and claimed them as though they are Christian texts, but it has also abused some of them beyond reasonable bounds. The idea that the Church is the new Jerusalem, and that the Jews have been rejected is something that has permeated Christian teaching since the beginning, and as we have seen, this is contrary to the teaching of the Apostle Paul. The answer to the original question ought to be a simple one: in Isaiah 54, we ought to be able to say clearly that the people of God as seen in that passage are the people of Israel, and that by adoption, the prophecy may later be applied to Christians. In a similar way, referring to the passages from Paul, we ought to be able to say categorically that Paul sees the people of God as Jews and Christians together, and that this applies whether or not the Jews have become Christians. We can see from the above study that this is not the case. The waters have become very muddy indeed.

The conclusions reached in the above essay suggest that there is a great deal of work to be done. If Paul’s intention in his letter to the Romans has been correctly understood by Dunn, Stendahl and others, then the church has lived with a malignant error – one might say a heresy – since its earliest days

[xxx]. Rabbi Jonathan Magonet illustrates the fact that the way any of us reads the Bible is influenced strongly, often mindlessly, by the baggage that each of us brings to our reading of it

[xxxi]. This baggage is educational, cultural and religious, and the stark reality of it begins to be seen in the light of joint study by Jews and Christians together. Jews and Christians working together are each able to challenge, and sometimes to correct the other.

Dr. Edward Kessler sees one answer to problems in Jewish-Christian dialogue as an intense programme of education

[xxxii] – for both Christians and Jews. His assertion that the teaching must be made to filter right down through all levels is an evident, but challenging one; any misconception that has been supported and reinforced for two millennia, as has the ‘doctrine’ of supersession, will be a hard one to overturn. The work is urgent – and vitally important. Where is the witness to the rest of the world if God’s own people can’t be seen to live and work in harmony with one another? The sins of our forebears may be handed down through the generations – but there comes a time when, with the help of God, and end must be made. I fancy that this will be a glorious end indeed.

Bibliography

Barth, Karl – Shorter Commentary on Romans – SCM – 1959

Bettenson, Henry – Documents of the Christian Church – OUP – 1943 to 1954

Beker, J. Christiaan – The New Testament View of Judaism – an essay in “Jews and Christians”, edited by J. H. Charlesworth – Crossroads NY – 1990

Bultmann, Rudolf – Theology of the New Testament – SCM – 1952

Dunn, James D. G. – The Theology of Paul the Apostle – Clark (under license from Eerdmans) – 1998

Dunn, James D. G. – 38B Word Biblical Commentary – Word publishing – 1991

Dunn, James D. G. – The Parting of the Ways – SCM 1991

Ellicott, Chas. J. (Ed.) – A Bible Commentary for English readers – Cassell – Undated Ca. 1910

Hanson, Paul D – Interpretation – Isaiah 40-66 – John Knox press – 1995

Hunter, A. M. – The Epistle to the Romans (Torch series) – SCM – 1955

Käsemann, Ernst – Commentary on Romans – SCM 1973, 1980

Magonet, Jonathan – “A Rabbi’s Bible” – SCM – 1991

Motyer, Alec – The Prophecy of Isaiah – IVP – 1993

Moule, H. C. G – The Epistle to the Romans – Pickering and Inglis – 1928, 1975

Neusner, Jacob – Jews and Christians – The Myth of a Common Tradition – SCM – 1991

Roetzel, Calvin J. – The Letters of Paul – SCM – 1975, 1982

Ruether, Rosemary R. – Faith and Fratricide – Seabury (NY) – 1974

Stendahl, Krister – Paul among Jews and Gentiles – Fortress (Pa) – 1976 to 1979

General Commentaries and references:

Encyclopaedia Judaica

Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church – OUP

Peake’s Commentary on the Bible – Thomas Nelson – 1962

The Interpreter’s one volume Commentary on the Bible – Abingdon 1971,1992

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary – Geoffrey Chapman – 1989

CD ROMs:

Online Bible Deluxe Edition – published by Online Bible, Canada 1999 Use made of the Jamieson Fawcett Brown commentary

Wesleyan Heritage Library – published by Wesleyan Heritage, USA – 1997

Use made of John Wesley’s Sermons, and Notes on the Bible (Ca. 1740?)

From the internet:

Early Church Fathers – edition by Philip Schlaff downloaded from http://ccel.org/fathers2/

Nostra Aetate – downloaded from the Vatican web site

Kessler, Edward – Jewish Christian Relations – the next generation – downloaded from the CJCR web site

[i] A broad definition used to my knowledge by some of the more liberal members of the United Reformed Church, including myself. It may well be a definition worth pursuing in dialogue between Jews and Christians.

[ii] There are many Conservative Evangelical Christians today who insist that the only salvation is through Jesus Christ, and would take that to mean that the only people of God are those who have become Christians.

[iii] One possibility would include only those who have been through some kind of ritual initiation – some Cristians would cite baptism, others baptism by immersion, as believers. Perhaps there are Jews who would cite circumcision.

[iv] An increasing number of conservative Christian scholars assert that the whole of Isaiah dates from the eight century BCE. This is not the place to discuss that particular issue, but the dating will not, in any case affect my argument.

[v] Wesley, John – Notes on the Bible – Ca. 1740? (Computer edition, Wesleyan Heritage Publications 1998 – CD ROM)

[vi] Paul Hanson – Interpretation Isaiah 40-66

[vii] Alec Motyer – The prophecy of Isaiah

[viii] A number of the most recent commentators take this view, including Roetzel and the Pauline contributor to the New Jerome commentary.

[ix] Passages from Paul’s writings in the letter to the Romans are quoted as proof texts in early Christian anti-Jewish polemic. We can see some of this in the many references to Paul in ‘adversos Judaeos’ passages in the church fathers.

[x] This passage may be referring to Galatians. Certainly the writer seems to imply not only that Paul is difficult to understand, but also that there is already controversial teaching in the church, possibly anti-Jewish, that “twists Paul’s words”.

[xi] “38B Word Biblical Commentary” – JDG Dunn

[xii] She makes reference to this situation in “Faith and Fratricide”, and regards it as formative in the Jewish-Christian split.

[xiii] J D G Dunn – The theology of Paul the Apostle

[xiv] A comparison is used here from Exodus: God hardened the heart of the Pharaoh so that Israel might be saved.

[xv] Beker’s essay “The new testament view of Judaism” in “Jews and Christians”

[xvi] Rosemary Ruether writes: “The doctrine of the Noachian laws gave Judaism a rationale for accepting the “righteous pagan” as a child of God who had a place in the promised Kingdom”. She says that this was an accepted teaching among Hellenistic Jews well before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE. “Faith and Fratricide”

[xvii] James Dunn is one of several commentators who are clear that Paul sees non-Christian Jews as a part of the people of God.

[xviii] In this, James Dunn agrees with Stendahl. Writing in “The Partings of the Ways”, Dunn states “Paul would by no means have regarded himself as outside Israel looking in. Outside Judaism perhaps; but Judaism as defined by his Pharisaic contemporaries; Paul an Israelite still”.

[xix] In his third chapter, “Justification rather than forgiveness”, Stendahl takes a refreshing look at Paul and his background and point of view. Krister Stendahl -“Paul among Jews and Gentiles”

[xx] Ruether produces much evidence to show that the Judaism of Paul’s day was degenerate, most of the people had lost faith in God, and especially among the Hellenistic Jews, the people were becoming more and more secular in their outlook. “Faith and Fratricide” – R. Ruether – 1974

[xxi] Technical note: I have transliterated the Greek here, as “kata de thn ekloghn agaphtoi dia touV pateraV” (Romans 11:28) may not transmit electronically to resemble the original. Greek computer fonts seem a bit variable in the way they work.

[xxii] The text is unavoidable here, but some commentators who are insisting on the supersession of the church get around the problem by suggesting that the Jews are still loved by God, even though being excluded from His people. From Jamieson Fawcett Brown commentary – Rom 11:28. As concerning the Gospel they are enemies for your sakes–that is, they are regarded and treated as enemies (in a state of exclusion through unbelief, from the family of God) for the benefit of you Gentiles; in the sense of #Ro 11:11,15. but as touching, the election–of Abraham and his seed — they are beloved–even in their state of exclusion for the fathers’ sakes.

[xxiii] Karl Barth’s Shorter Commentary on Romans. This book is especially interesting as Barth gave the work originally as a series of lectures during the Second World War. This work was not published until 1956, and I find it surprising that Barth did not feel a need to add some later thoughts from a post war situation – in the light of the destruction of six million Jews.

[xxiv] Käsemann’s “Commentary on Romans”

[xxv] Ruether is demonstrating that anti-Semitism has deeply Christian roots. Maybe she feels that this view of Paul strengthens her argument. I feel strongly that the text itself does not support her argument here. . “Faith and Fratricide” – R. Ruether – 1974

[xxvi] Neusner – “Jews and Christians, the Myth of a Common Tradition”

[xxvii] One of the earliest of the fathers to write in this manner is St. Ignatius. By that time (late first century) it has become clear that the church, or at least part of the church, is strongly anti-Jew, classing Jews along with ‘the heathen’.

[xxviii] Chapter 6 of “The Theology of Paul the Apostle”

[xxix] I am sure that many people, Jew and Christian alike, are moved to pray at the Western Wall that the Messiah will come. It is the implication here that the Jews have been rejected by God and need to accept the Christian Messiah, Jesus, before he can come again as Messiah that I find problematical.

[xxx] One might also wonder as to what other errors are lurking, yet to be discovered, in our handed down theologies.

[xxxi] “How a donkey reads the Bible” – a chapter in “A Rabbi’s Bible”.

[xxxii] Hugo Gryn Memorial Lecture: “Jewish-Christian Relations – the next generation”.

Is Antisemitism Christian?

The development of teaching aimed at non-academic Christians to raise awareness of the Christian responsibility for antisemitism

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© The Revd Barry Drake M.A.

Why?

When one considers that James Parkes began working on the issue of Christian Antisemitism prior to the second World War, and had published a phenomenal amount of pioneering work before his death in 1981, one can begin to see something of the inertia of church. Given that there is little knowledge on the subject among church leaders at the present time, how much more ignorance must there be among ordinary Christians? It is this aspect that suggests the need to look at ways of addressing the issue at local level.

In this, it is also important to realise that the education process that is mentioned above as beginning in the churches is only so in the structured denominations within Christianity. For this reason, it is appropriate to look at the Church as it exists today.

The Christian Church today

Surveys of the Church in the United Kingdom carried out over the last few years by each of the mainstream denominations show a serious decline in membership. Many local churches are almost at the point of closure and the resulting difficulties would point towards the demise and complete extinction of Christianity in this country. One area of Christianity is, however, growing – and in some cases growing fast. This is the Conservative Evangelical end of the church – and in particular, what one might call the “New Churches”. While there are Conservative Evangelical local churches within most of the mainstream denominations, it seems likely that an even larger number of conservative Christians are represented in the “New Churches”

Much of the success of these conservative churches seems to be due to their rejection of a great deal of the modernist approach to biblical interpretation. All Conservative Evangelical Christians take what they would describe as a ‘high’ view of scripture. There are various shades of understanding of this position, but these vary from ‘Bible Inerrancy’, through more moderate positions in which absolute accuracy in a scientific sense is not claimed. Conservative Evangelicals claim, however, that the bible is “wholly inspired by God”. For this reason, they will reject any claim that any part of the bible has an antisemitic bias simply because of the time and the circumstances that it was written to address. It seems clear from this that any attempt to teach along with Rosemary Ruether and other theologians who share this view, that, for example, John’s gospel and Matthew’s gospel are antisemitic per se will be rejected by conservatives. We are, in their eyes talking about the “Word of God”, and if God Himself were telling us to be antisemitic, then so be it!

Other scholars put forward the view that no part of the New Testament is antisemitic – the antisemitism comes only from the interpretations of the Christian scriptures over the years – in particular by the early church Fathers. We will look at this as a possibility in a later section of this essay.

A very few years ago, one division of Christianity might have experienced a serious problem in the understanding of Jewish Christian relations at local church level. This is because of the high degree of importance given to the institutional teaching of churches at the opposite end of the Christian spectrum from the “New Churches”. Today, however, the

denominations which would take this view – in the main, Catholic and Anglican in the UK – have produced statements that substantially change their view from the historic position. How widely these are taught and understood at local church level is hard to say – but in the course of the teaching to be undertaken, these documents can be used to support all statements that antisemitism must be rooted out and removed from the Christian agenda.

The previous section of this essay stated that the process of education that is under way does not apply to the “NewChurches”. The reason for this is that for the most part, the leaders of these churches are self-taught. This is not to say that they are not up-to-date with their reading – many of them are – but there is no formal education for ministry as such that these leaders are obliged to attend.

In view of all of the above, the teaching that is being developed here will centre on the study of the bible – both the Hebrew and the Christian scriptures – in those areas that can be useful to demonstrate that Christian Antisemitism is at best in error, and at worst contrary to the very essence of the teachings of Jesus.

Translations of the New Testament itself may well have a bias brought about by the antisemitic tradition within Christianity. As an example, I quote from Luke 20:46. The NIV (currently the most popular version among conservative evangelical Christians) has the wording: Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the market-places and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets”. This same passage may equally well be rendered: “Be on your guard against those scribes who like to walk about in long robes, and love salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts”. It is evident that the first translation is talking of “all Scribes”, whereas the second is only referring to “some”. In the latter rendering, the sense of this phrase is remarkably similar to two Talmudic illustrations – the first is the “showy” Pharisee in JT Berakhot 14b who carries his good deeds on his shoulder, and the second is the Judge who likes to walk about in his “long robes”. Moshe Weinfeld points to both of these. For this reason, it seems probable that the second translation of Luke 20:46 is a more likely rendition of the actual teaching that Jesus was giving.

This translation example is one illustration from the Christian Scriptures. A translator uses, in addition to his linguistic skills, knowledge of the attitude of the writer from other sources. In this instance, the ‘other sources’ have, historically been the early church Fathers. Their antisemitism is well known, and is the subject of later discussion in this essay.

Rationale

Currently, the Alpha course is becoming very popular within Christianity. It is being used and accepted right across the denominations, and is showing phenomenal success. Alpha begins with few preconceptions. It commences by looking at Christianity in its most basic form, and allows questions to be posed and fully discussed. Alpha is structured around a short talk appropriate to each session, followed by question and answer sessions in small groups. This pattern follows the widely accepted need for interactive learning in the process of adult education.  It is intended that this paper be used as a training resource for churches.

Generalisations, Stereotypes and Misunderstandings about Jews

During almost 2000 years of Christian development, there has been a move away from first hand knowledge of Jews and Judaism to a whole set of understandings and teachings about the subject which are not just inaccurate, but often the very opposite of the truth. In the setting of a training day, it will not be reasonable to examine these to the full, but it is intended to make a start in this important aspect of education. Working in small groups, the participants of such a study day will be asked to look first at verbal caricatures of “The Jew” which they know to be false, and also positive stereotypes that they may know, or have heard of. Recollections of Jewish and anti-Jewish jokes, and sayings from a past generation may be useful in discussion. Following a short time on that aspect, the group members will be asked to look at the lifestyle and culture of Jews, Jewish religion and the Jewish attitude towards “The Law” as they see it. One can expect that views of Judaism as a legalistic religion will be among those held. Questions such as “Who were the Jewish leaders at the time of Jesus?” will lead naturally into discussion about Sadducees, Scribes and Pharisees – and the probable composition of the Sanhedrin at that time. A very common misconception among Christians is that at the time of Jesus, Pharisees were the Jewish leaders, and all Pharisees were harsh, legalistic and enemies of Jesus.

Bible study on the following passages will be used to illustrate that not all Pharisees are shown in a bad light in the New Testament. In Luke’s Gospel, the story of Jesus eating with Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-43) and also Luke 11:37 shows that Jesus was well known to, and friendly with Pharisees. In Luke 13:31, Pharisees come to Jesus to warn him that Herod is going to kill him. In John’s gospel, the story of Nicodemus in John 3:1:21 is one example of a Pharisee with whom Jesus has a good relationship. The same idea may be further illustrated from the Acts of the Apostles. Acts 10:34 tells of a Pharisee named Gamaliel, who is sympathetic towards the Christians after the death of Jesus. It is usually

assumed that this is the same Gamaliel who was the teacher of Paul. Acts 15:5 shows that Pharisees were among the early Christians (although it has to be admitted that the passage does not show them in a particulary good light). Also, in Acts 23:9 it appears to be the Pharisees who are on the side of Paul. Both these and passages that speak unfavourably of Pharisees will be introduced to suggest that of all Jews of his day, Jesus associated the most with Pharisees Rabbi Harvey Falk suggests that all of the differences of opinion between Jesus and various Pharisees in the gospels are due to Jesus teaching according to bet Hillel and his opponents belonging to bet Shammai. Perhaps the easiest way to introduce this aspect to participants of a study day will be to tell the well known Talmudic story in which Shammai and Hillel are each asked to teach a would-be convert the whole of the Law while he stood on one leg. This example will be used to illustrate that observing Jews understand Halakah as both liberating, and leading to a real relationship with God within what is today, a faith that is very much alive for the Jew. This is the very opposite of the Christian stereotype so often quoted, that “The Jew is in bondage to the Law”. The example will also serve as an illustration of the tradition within which Jesus taught. Hillel’s view that we should love the Lord with all of our heart, and never do to anyone what we wouldn’t want them to do to us is the whole of the law – and “the rest is commentary” has a very obvious parallel in the Christian gospels. Mark 12:28-31 offers: “And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Views on Christian Antisemitism

A vast amount of work has been published in the last fewyears on the subject of antisemitism. In this, it is evident that the horror of the unprecedented magnitude and sheer brutality of the Shoah has triggered a great deal of profound thought. Without exception, scholars and theologians are in agreement that Christianity itself has presented an antisemitic message from the beginning of its history until the present day, and careful examination of this deeply worrying aspect has resulted in works by Jews and by Christian theologians alike.

Rosemary Radford Ruether has been widely accepted as a leading theologian on the subject. Briefly, she takes the view that the New Testament is antisemitic in all of its books, and that the degree of antisemitism increases as the time of the writing of a particular book grows later. Ruether takes the dating of the gospels as it is commonly accepted as a firm piece of evidence. It isn’t. It is not appropriate here to go into detail on this aspect. Suffice it to say that John Robinson’s “The Priority of John” may not in itself ‘prove’ anything, but it certainly suggests that placing too much reliance on specific dating of the gospel texts is unsafe.

Another area about which one might have doubt is Ruether’s acceptance that Paul, writing in his letter to the Romans, is offering an antisemitic viewpoint. In her argument for this, she accepts the traditional Christian understanding of Paul as found in the early church fathers and in most commentaries up until the last few years as representing Paul’s actual view. This view is that Paul is saying that God has rejected the Jews and removed them from the covenant except for those who converted to Christianity. It is difficult to see how the text itself justifies this view Paul presents an emphatic position that God has not rejected His people – or indeed denied the Covenant – this can safely be used as a platform for teaching that the church has misled Christians into a false position vis-à-vis Jews and Judaism over the many centuries of its existence. Currently, all of the mainstream Christian denominations are, through their various statements moving towards this position.

There are a few scholars who support the position that the New Testament, including the gospels, is not antisemitic – but that statements within the New Testament have been interpreted in an antisemitic way. Lloyd Gaston makes a case for Paul trying to develop a theology of a valid Judaism existing and developing alongside Christianity and this is detailed in Paul’s letter to the Romans. Personally I believe this to be the what Paul was intending in his letters, and for this reason a large portion of the study day will be devoted to a study of Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapters 9, 10 and 11.

Paul – writing to the Romans and to the Galatians

The foundation of the Christian attitude towards Jews, the Torah, and the place of the Gentiles in God’s sight come mainly from the letters of Paul. We have seen above that the Christian tradition has interpreted Paul as saying that Israel has been rejected and replaced by Christianity. Is this in fact what Paul intends us to understand?

A study of the text itself in Romans 9, 10 and 11 shows Paul struggling with the idea of Israel existing alongside Christianity. But he is emphatic. “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means” [Rom 3:31]; “Has God rejected his people? By no means”[Rom 11:1]. Gaston points out that Paul is speaking to Gentiles, not Jews – and that, at times, he is speaking not as a Jew, but as the Gentile Christian that Paul considers he has become. With regard to Paul’s frequent assertions in all his letters that the law is a state of bondage and brings death (see 1 Cor. 36 as an example), Gaston points us to the Talmud. He quotes R. Tanhuma writing

about the Torah in the Talmud. He offers this reference as one of many similar. “The word of the Lord went forth in two aspects, slaying the heathen who would not accept it, but giving life to Israel who accepted the Torah”. Exod Rab 5.9. Gaston continues: “For Gentiles, who do not have the Torah as covenant, Torah as law functions in an exclusively negative way”.

This is to say that all of Paul’s apparently negative assertions about the Torah are intended only for Gentile Judaizers, and not for Jews for whom Torah is life itself.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is about Judaizers. Both Gaston and Marcus Braybrook, along with others are certain that Paul is not talking to Jews but to Gentile Christians who are insisting upon circumcision as being required of other gentile converts to Christianity. His letter to the Romans is written a few years after his letter to the Galatians, and may well be an attempt to clear up misunderstandings that have arisen from the teachings he has been offering previously, of which the letter to the Galatians is the written example. In Romans, Paul goes a step further. He himself leaves the company of his fellow Jews and becomes apostate. He becomes a gentile by removing himself from Torah observance in order to demonstrate to gentiles that the Christian faith is enough. Gaston is clear that Paul never intends to teach Jews that they ought to do the same.

Another comment that has been made on the basis of Paul is that he points to Jesus as “The end of the law” (Rom. 10:4). In fact, the word Paul uses means ‘end’ only in the sense of object or goal. The example one might use here would be that of a building. The ‘topping out’ of a building signals its completion. It also represents the ‘end’ of the building works. It does not imply that the foundations, or, for that matter, the entire building below roof level no longer have a purpose. They are, in fact, the entire purpose. The ‘end’ in that instance means that nothing further need be added – and the building is ready for use. The Jewish response to that might well be that the Torah needed no completion. My reply would be that the purpose of the chosen people of God is to be “a light to the gentiles”. In using the passage from Isaiah, I am using it in the sense in which it was intended to be read when it was written – that is to say that salvation is to come to all the world through the Jews. If Christianity is to be regarded as a “conduit for the Torah” as Bayfeld suggests, when he tells us that the liberal Jew is well on the way to accepting “the most famous son of Israel” – not as saviour, messiah etc – but as “the conduit of the Torah” to the goyim, then one could argue that in Jesus, the Torah is indeed moving towards its goal; ‘being completed’. There is a parallel to this argument in Jacobus Schoneveld, who sees the Logos (in John’s gospel) as being synonymous with the oral Torah

CJCR Summer School 2001 – Poland – a case study

The 2001 Polish experience with CJCR provides a valuable place to begin to teach both the development of Christian Antisemitism and the dreadful consequence of this in the Shoah. It will be helpful to remind participants in a training day, of the way in which Jews were treated during the Second World War, and by way of introduction, I will briefly mention our experiences in Auschwitz and in the Jewish Cemeteries that we visited.

Two further illustrations taken from the Poland visit will be used to help underline the past attitude of the church towards Jews. During a visit to a church, the guide from that church was asked by a member of our party about the legend under one of the Stations of the Cross. There was a degree of antisemitism implied in the wording. The guide responded as follows: “It is known that the Jews crucified Jesus. That is what the Stations of the Cross depict. It is what the bible says, and that cannot be changed.”

There was a stunned silence. It was finally broken by a Catholic priest who was with our party. He pointed out that the bible did not say  anything of the kind. It was the Romans who crucified Jesus. Our host was unrepentant: “The Jews put the Romans up to it. It was they who were responsible for his death.” was the reply.

It was evident that his Christian education had not moved on in the years after the war.

The other illustration that will be offered is that of a piece of mediaeval church art. This depicts Jews carrying out ritual murder of a child. The painting is still hanging in a church in Poland in spite of much protest. But for the destruction of ecclesiastical art following the English Reformation, it is very likely that similar paintings would have existed in the UK.

In a study day, discussion concerning the social structure of Poland immediately prior to the Nazi occupation should be offered.

Jews in Europe before World War 2

During the Polish study trip, time was devoted to a brief outline of the social and economic interaction between Christians and Jews from the middle ages up to the inter-war period. By the time of the First World War, social interaction between Christians and Jews had reached a stable and soundly viable position. This had been heavily influenced by the restrictions that had been placed by all European countries on the life and influence that Jews were allowed to have. These restrictions were made during many periods up to at least the nineteenth century. The exact nature of the restrictions varied from country to country. In Poland, Jews had not been allowed to become land-owners. This fact meant that they could not be part of the agricultural sector of Polish communities. In addition, one common factor in Jewish development in every part of the world is the need for Jews to live within a short distance of their Synagogue. The result was that Jews lived in towns, and took up occupations as traders, craftsmen and financial professionals of various kinds. In parts of Europe in Mediaeval times, only Jews were allowed to lend money and receive interest. This led to the eventual establishment of Jewish owned banks. The situation has been simplified a great deal, but by the time of the first World War, Poland had a Jewish community associated with every town, with a population almost equal to that of the non-Jewish community. In each of these towns, Jews found themselves in positions of power and influence – more especially since emancipation of European Jews during the nineteenth
century.

During the Second World War, propaganda was used to suggest that all Jews were dishonest, and were working together to gain money and power at the expense of non-Jews. This kind of propaganda inflamed the already present undercurrents of antisemitism which had been laid down by the church over the centuries.

The Early Church Fathers

It is in the vehement antisemitism of a number of the early church fathers that we find a real turning point away from any hope of mutual understanding. The various doctrines and theologies that were developed during the time of the fathers has left us with a legacy that we have to face – and challenge – if Jewish Christian relations is to have any substance at all. When we consider that many foundational Christian doctrines come from the fathers, we begin to see the immensity of the overall task. The Trinity immediately springs to mind. For better or for worse, this doctrine is right at the heart of Christian teaching and thinking – and Gregory of Nyssa, one of the Cappadocian Fathers, who were the originators of this teaching, is noted also for his antisemitism!

There is a whole catalogue of antisemitic writings in many of the fathers. Of these, one in particular deserves special mention: John Chrysostom is notorious for the vicious and libellous way in which he treats Jews. Especially of note is his accusation that Jews are guilty of infanticide – they sacrifice their sons and daughters to demons”. It is this accusation that much later, led to the ‘Blood Libels’ mentioned below.

It is John Chrysostom too, who develops the charge of deicide: “If someone had killed your son, could you stand the sight of him or the sound of his greeting? Wouldn’t you try to get away from him as if he were an evil demon; as if he were the devil himself? The Jews killed the Son of your Master ….. Will you so dishonour Him as to respect and cultivate His murderers, the men who crucified Him?” The concept of deicide was made possible by the new Trinitarian thought, but it was Chrysostom who put it into words, and fashioned out of it a weapon that has been used to vilify, persecute, torture and murder Jews ever since his time.

It is these two libellous statements in Chrysostom that have led time and time again to persecution, torture and murder of Jews. As examples of such Christian antisemitism for the purposes of a study day, the treatment of Jews during the Crusades and during the Spanish Inquisition will be offered, together with a brief outline of the European “Blood Libels” – this last example is illustrated by the Polish antisemitic painting referred to in the section about the 2001 CJCR Summer School. The need for clarity and brevity suggest that it would be inappropriate to offer more that these examples. In particular, in addition to the blood libels, the example will be quoted of the torture and murder of many thousands of Jews who would not agree to be baptised as Christians – and this with the encouragement and full approval of the church.

Conclusion

From questions I have asked of a number of Christians from all the mainstream denominations, it seems that most have some small sense that Christianity has played its part in antisemitism. Most of these Christians have heard the libellous statement that “The Jews crucified Jesus” at some time in their lives. And there is an eagerness to know more. We have seen above that the current state of teaching Christian antisemitism in training for Christian ministry is not far advanced. Even if it were, it would be a generation or so before such teaching filtered down to grass roots level in the majority of churches.

We have seen above that Paul shows Israel as remaining within the covenant for ever. In view of this, it is surprising that Christians have not applied the test of Gamaliel (Acts 5:34-40) to the Jews and Judaism. Christians who hold Scripture in high authority will accept the importance of these facts in determining the attitude that Christians ought to take towards Jews.

Because of this, I am proposing that a study day I was preparing as I wrote this, might be regarded as something of an experiment. It is my hope that it might now be developed further in the light of experience gained on the day itself, and perhaps move towards future presentations. If sufficient energy is put into work along these lines, I would expect it to
result in a greatly increased pace of awareness in Christian circles. As a secondary aim, it ought to be possible to develop awareness of modern-day Judaism, and encourage Christians to make contact with Jews through the CCJ. It is evident that we are only just at the beginnings of this kind of dialogue – there is much work to do. I suspect that as Jewish Christian dialogue reaches non-academic people at grass roots level, and from this comes a greater awareness of the Jewish roots of our Christian faith, there will be a profound change in our entire faith climate – a change for the better.

An Afterthought

To say that perseverance in Jewish Christian relations will bring a profound change in our faith climate is not enough. Some kind of vision for this change needs to be set out. In studying the Holocaust, Christians will inevitably be confronted with the “Suffering Servant” passages from Isaiah understood in a very different context from their old Christian teaching in which Jesus alone is seen as the suffering servant.

Perhaps it is time for Christians to begin to look at their best known scripture – John 3:16 – in Jewish light – perhaps we might think in terms of “God so loved the world that He gave His Firstborn son …” thus makingthe passage into a reference to Exodus 4:22. Taken as a possibility for Jewish Christian relations, this approach would be unacceptable to most Christians at the present time. Given perseverance, we might begin to move towards it. In another area, the vexed question of the Trinity has to be faced. If Christians begin to look more deeply at the various sayings in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the words of Jesus about the divinity of Humankind, we may find that this is an area in which Christians can begin to understand the divinity of Jesus in a marginally different way from their traditional approach. The issue of human divinity is one which is common to both Jews and Christians.There may be a possibility for further dialogue here.

Bibliography

Braybrooke, Marcus – “Christian Jewish Dialogue, the next step” – London, SCM – 2000

Braybrooke, Marchs – “Time to Meet” – London SCM – 1990

Brockway et al, “The theology of the churches and the Jewish people” – Geneva, WCC – 1988

Cohn-Sherbock, Dan – “Issues in Contemporary Judaism” – London, MacMillan – 1991

Everett, Robert A. – “Christianity without Antisemitism” – 1993 – Oxford – Pergamon

Falk, Harvey – “Jesus the Pharisee” – New York, Paulist – 1985

Freudmann, Lillian C. “Antisemitism in the New Testament” – Maryland and London, UPA – 1994

Fry, Helen P (1996) Christian-Jewish Dialogue – a reader – Exeter: University of Exeter Press

Gager, John – “The Origins of Anti-Semitism” – New York – Oxford University Press – 1983

Gaston, Lloyd – “Paul and the Torah” -Vancouver, UBC – 1987

Jones, Gareth Lloyd, “Hard Sayings – Difficult New Testament Texts for Jewish Christian Dialogue, London, CCJ

Klein, Charlotte – “Anti-Judaism in Christian Theology” – London SPCK 1978

Lowe, M (Ed) – “The New Testament in Christian Jewish Dialogue” – Jerusalem, Ecumenical Research Fraternity, 1990

Rausch, David A. – “Fundamentalist-Evangelicals and Anti-Semitism” – Philadelphia, Trinity – 1993

Richardson, Peter (Ed) – “Anti Judaism in Early Christianity” – Vancouver, Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion – 1986, 1998

Robinson, John A. T. – “The priority of John” – London: SCM, 1985

Rubenstein, Richard with J. K. Roth – “Approaches to Auschwitz” – London, SCM – 1987

Sandmel, Samuel – “We Jews, You Christians” – Philadelphia, Lippincott – 1967

Schweitzer, Frederick M. – “A Histroy of the Jews” – 1971 – New York – Macmillan

Sian Jones (Editor), “Cultures of Ambivalence and Contempt: Studies in Jewish – Non-Jewish Relations” – London, Vallentine Mitchell – 1998

Parkes, James – “Antisemitism” – London, Vallentine Mitchell – 1963

Ruether, Rosemary – “Faith and Fratricide” – New York Seabury Press 1974

Rubenstein, Richard L with Roth, John K “Approaches to Auschwitz” – London SCM – 1987

Wilson, Stephen G. – “Related Strangers” – Minneapolis – Fortress – 1995

Web Sites of interest:

http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/anti-semitism/Christian.html

http://www.torah.org/features/secondlook/antisem.html

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/guidelines2.htm

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/byrne.htm

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/christjew.html

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/Christology.html

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/gaston.htm

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/gaston2.htm

http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/history/chicago.stm.txt

http://www.adherents.com/,

http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_deno.htm

http://www.mcjonline.com/news/01a/20010221e.shtml

http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/history/chicago.stm.txt

Appendix a

Is Antisemitism Christian?

A day of reflection and study

The day should commence with a look at antisemitism in the many

forms it takes. Participants will look, in particular about the rôle of Christianity in inciting antisemitism, and its involvement in the persecution, torture and murder of Jews in many periods of history. They will also consider the attitude of different parts of the church before and during the Holocaust. An important part of the day will be spent studying the Bible. Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapters nine ten and eleven are of great importance in this study, and participants will need to be familiar with them beforehand.

It will also be helpful to have read some of the passages in which God makes His covenant with the Jews, and perhaps also Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Commentaries vary greatly on how they treat Paul and his attitude towards Jews – it might be more helpful to read the text prayerfully and let it speak for itself than to spend time with commentaries.

Practical arrangements:

Tea or coffee should be provided at lunchtime. Expect to finish around 4.30 pm with a short act of worship.

Outline of the work:

After a brief introductory talk, form small discussion groups to look at their knowledge of Jews and Judaism, what they have heard about them and stereotypes (good and bad) that they might have come across. They should also discuss what they understand Jews believe, and how they understand the expression of their faith.

The second talk should be on the antisemitic side of early church history. This will be followed by more group work to discuss examples of the way in which early Christian teaching has adversely affected the Christian attitude towards Jews in the modern world. After lunch, they should dip briefly into the part the church played in the persecution of the Jews from medieval times up to the present day. Each talk should be followed by group discussion work. The day will end with a short act of worship.

Appendix b

A Sermon for Holocaust Memorial Day

Is Antisemitism Christian?

 “And so I believe to-day that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord. “

These are the words at the end of chapter two of Mein Kampf. Some of you would want to say that Adolf Hitler was mad – others that he was possessed. But I ask, what was the Christian climate of his day that allowed him to say that he was doing God’s work in taking antisemitism to the unbelievable extremes of Auschwitz? What was the climate that encouraged mechanised murder on such an unprecedented scale?

 

Let me offer two more quotations – the first was something said to a Jewish leader in 1942: “You will not die there of hunger or disease. They will slaughter all of you there, old and young alike; women and children – it is the punishment that you deserve for the death of our Lord and redeemer, Jesus Christ[56]”. This was no fanatic – this was not the German Führer at his worst – these were the words of an archbishop of the church.

One more quotation: “The Jewish minority within the Polish government cannot be tolerated, because the nation fears it”. Later, challenged about what he had said, the speaker affirmed his statement: “I said aloud what the Polish nation is thinking. Not by mistake, but out of conviction[57]. A politician? A fanatic from the extreme right? Another wartime example? No – this was a statement by a Christian priest made in 1997. Is antisemitism Christian? That is the question I ask. And the answer is ‘Yes’. Christianity has incited the world to antisemitism throughout its long and iniquitous history. And I say now that it is time for it to stop. It is time for us to listen to our Lord and Saviour Jesus – to Jesus the Jew – and to root out all the lies, the propaganda and the wicked, wicked seeds of hate that have blighted our Christian history from the very beginning. You will, no doubt, point out to me Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a handful of other remarkable and brave Christian saints from the last war. Believe me, they are a tiny minority. Most of the church was either solidly behind Hitler, or was just carried along with his policies without so much as a word. And there are more than six million dead Jews who will one day testify to that!

We’ve heard in the first of our readings tonight that God made a covenant with the sons and daughters of Israel[58]. This was to be a lasting covenant. It will not end this side of eternity. We have heard in the words of the Apostle Paul that God has in no way rejected His people, or for that matter, the law that He gave them on mount Sinai. And we have heard in the gospel reading that Jesus came not for us gentiles, but for the Children of Israel. How then can we go along with the antisemitism with which our church has soiled itself until recently?

I could give you quote after quote after quote – from the early church fathers, from the church in the middle ages, and from the reformers. And all of those quotes would be violently, obscenely antisemitic. I can distill them all into one sharp sentence. “The Jews killed God – they crucified Him – and they all deserve to die – every last one of them!” None of us can look at another denomination than our own, and place the blame on it – this is something in which we all share.

And it is not even true. It’s a lie. A fabrication. A piece of really malicious propaganda. The Jews didn’t kill Jesus – our bible tells us that the Romans did. And if you want to say that the Jews put them up to it, look again. Some Jews – and only some Jews – took part. And they – all of them – have been dead for many a century. You might want to point to that dreadful blood oath in Matthew’s gospel – I quote: “Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’” How many generations have there been in which we have condemned the children of Israel? Where would be the loving, forgiving God that Jesus came to show us if those words have brought condemnation on Jews for nearly two thousand years. And did not that wonderful saying from the agonised, crucified Jesus: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” cover all those who were involved?

This is the faith which we have inherited. A faith bloodied with the lives of millions of Jews – a faith contaminated – a faith a million miles away from the teachings of our beloved Saviour Jesus. We have seen the awful conclusion to the distortion of that faith – we have seen the awful horror – we have seen the destruction of six million of God’s own chosen people. And it could happen again. It could happen tomorrow unless we are prepared to read our bibles and understand – and be prepared to purge our Christian faith of antisemitism for once and for all.

It is we – we of this present generation – who have to face up to the errors of the past. It is we who have to change. But the benefit to us when we do take a long hard look at our elder brother, the Jew, is going to be pure gold. You may have been taught – as I was – that present day Judaism – the religious faith of the Jews – is nothing more than a barren legalism. That teaching couldn’t be further from the truth. When we meet the Jews and listen to them, we soon begin to see that many of them have a depth of faith in Almighty God that surpasses that of a great many Christians. We find that present day Judaism is alive, and deeply spiritual. And when we listen to the rabbis, and read the wisdom that is handed down to us in the Mishnah and the Talmud, light begins to dawn on much of our bible that never was there before. And it is not only the Jewish bible that comes alive – we begin to read the gospels and the letters of our Christian scriptures in a different way too. Paul takes on a new light when we read him as Paul the Jew; when we soak ourselves in the traditions of his people. And the teachings of our Master himself take on an even greater authority than they had before when we see them through the lens of the Jewish Torah.

Even our most treasured translations of Holy Scripture will need to be questioned when we carry out further reading and meet with Jews in discussion. I want to give just one tiny example: Open your bible at Luke Chapter 20 and verse 46. You probably have something similar to: “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the market-places and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets”[59]. This same passage may equally well be rendered: “Be on your guard against those scribes who like to walk about in long robes, and love salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at feasts [60]“. Can you see the difference? Why do I suggest that the second translation is more probably what Jesus had in mind? Because it is very similar to two passages in the Talmud that condemn hypocrites. And these are very likely to be sayings that were current at the time of Jesus. And why, in that case, is the first translation more commonly offered? Because the antisemitic tradition deeply embedded in our own Christian teachings suggests that all Jews were (and are) bad – but especially so when they were Scribes and Pharisees. And the bible just does not bear this out. Look how many Pharisees we see in our bible who were good men, and friends of Jesus.

So – where do we begin? I have issued a challenge here – one which may strike deeply at a part of our Christian foundations. We might want to begin by joining the Council for Christians and Jews – but if we do that, let us not fall into the trap of regarding the Jews we might meet as fodder for our weapons of conversion. Be prepared for dialogue. Be prepared to listen, and to learn. They have much to teach all of us. We might, if we are at all academically inclined, want to pick up a few books. I will be happy to point you in the right direction. But above all, be very wary of what you tell people about Jews, and especially Scribes and Pharisees at the time of our Lord. When you have read a few books by Jews about their history; when you have spoken to a few Jews and listened to what they have to say about their own problems – their own experience of persecution – then you might want to change your position.

Let me end with a brief fantasy[61]. I told you that the holocaust could happen again tomorrow if we don’t take steps to prevent it. In July, I was privileged to attend a Summer School in Jewish-Christian relations in Poland. During that time, we visited several Jewish cemeteries from before world war two, and we also visited Auschwitz. One might expect that the experience of Auschwitz was shattering. It was. No one can possibly describe the horror of actually going to that awful place. No amount of reading, or even viewing pictorial evidence can prepare you. But Auschwitz was not the only profoundly emotive experience.

The second of the Jewish cemeteries that we visited had been subjected to little by way of restoration. Many smashed and prone gravestones are there to be seen. The knowledge that the Nazis destroyed Jewish cemeteries is one thing. The terrible reality of a vandalised graveyard is quite another. It was in that cemetery that I experienced a kind of fantasy, a sort of waking dream. We had been told that several hundred Jews had been shot dead in that place. Murdered by the Nazi military under orders and buried in a mass grave. In my fantasy, I was there as a young soldier. How did it feel? I was feeling a great satisfaction in having assisted in purging Europe from the evil of the Jews. There was a sense of having done well for the Fatherland, and having (yes, even this) of having done God’s work.

The fantasy took seconds: the after effects of that fantasy will take a lifetime to review. How much does that brief fantasy reflect thousands of young German soldiers in they way they behaved? How much does the knowledge – and yes – it is knowledge – that any of us could have been caught up in the awful horror that is the Holocaust in that selfsame way? Jesus, the most famous Jew that ever lived, said of his persecutors “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. In the light of my fantasy, I have to see that statement again – and in a different light. I can’t even thank God that I was not there – that I was not of that generation – the reality is that had I been, I would have acted just as they had!

As we continue with our worship – as we move into a time of penitence – let all of us make up, our minds that we will take up this challenge, and change the church. Let us be determined to destroy forever the antisemitic legacy that we have in our midst.

Bibliography

Braybrooke, Marcus – “Christian Jewish Dialogue, the next step” – London, SCM – 2000

Braybrooke, Marcus – “Time to Meet” – London SCM – 1990 Brockway et al, “The theology of the churches and the Jewish people” – Geneva, WCC – 1988 Cohn-Sherbock, Dan – “Issues in Contemporary Judaism” – London, MacMillan – 1991 Everett, Robert A. – “Christianity without Antisemitism” – 1993 – Oxford – Pergamon

Falk, Harvey – “Jesus the Pharisee” – New York, Paulist – 1985

Freudmann, Lillian C. “Antisemitism in the New Testament” – Maryland and London, UPA – 1994

Fry, Helen P (1996) Christian-Jewish Dialogue – a reader – Exeter: University of Exeter Press

Gager, John – “The Origins of Anti-Semitism” – New York – Oxford University Press – 1983

Gaston, Lloyd – “Paul and the Torah” -Vancouver, UBC – 1987

Jones, Gareth Lloyd, “Hard Sayings – Difficult New Testament Texts for Jewish Christian Dialogue, London, CCJ

Klein, Charlotte – “Anti-Judaism in Christian Theology” – London SPCK 1978

Lowe, M (Ed) – “The New Testament in Christian Jewish Dialogue” – Jerusalem, Ecumenical Research Fraternity, 1990

Rausch, David A. – “Fundamentalist-Evangelicals and Anti-Semitism” – Philadelphia, Trinity – 1993

Richardson, Peter (Ed) – “Anti Judaism in Early Christianity” – Vancouver, Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion – 1986, 1998

Robinson, John A. T. – “The priority of John” – London: SCM, 1985

Rubenstein, Richard with J. K. Roth – “Approaches to Auschwitz” – London, SCM – 1987

Sandmel, Samuel – “We Jews, You Christians” – Philadelphia,
Lippincott – 1967

Schweitzer, Frederick M. – “A Histroy of the Jews” – 1971 – New York – Macmillan

Sian Jones (Editor), “Cultures of Ambivalence and Contempt: Studies in Jewish – Non-Jewish Relations” – London, Vallentine Mitchell – 1998

Parkes, James – “Antisemitism” – London, Vallentine Mitchell – 1963

Ruether, Rosemary – “Faith and Fratricide” – New York Seabury Press 1974

Rubenstein, Richard L with Roth, John K “Approaches to Auschwitz” – London SCM – 1987

Wilson, Stephen G. – “Related Strangers” – Minneapolis – Fortress – 1995

Web Sites of interest:

http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/anti-semitism/Christian.html

http://www.torah.org/features/secondlook/antisem.html

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/guidelines2.htm

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/byrne.htm

Israel and Torah are not two separable entities. Israel is Torah and Torah is Israel. http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/christjew.html

“What are some of the common stereotypes and misconceptions Jews have of Christians and Christians have of Jews?” http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/Christology.html

As James Parkes, the pioneer in twentieth-century Christian appreciation of Jews and Judaism who has curiously been all but ignored by most the- ologians, wrote, “belief in a Messiah was not an invention of Christians; it was a wholly Jewish belief, which Pharisees shared with other Jews. They would have had no ground for opposing a Jew simply on the basis that he claimed to be Messiah.” Instead, “The split would appear to have
developed not because of Jesus, nor even because of Easter; the issue turned on Jewish fidelity to Torah: when Gentile Christians began telling Jews who believed in Jesus that Torah was no more to be followed by them, then all faithful Jews had to say No.”

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/gaston.htm

it is the very name “Old Testament” which is problematical from a very early period the church was guilty of legicide

Paul’s questions:
“Has God rejected his people?” (Romans 11:1) and “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith?”
(Romans 3:31)……. Paul answers both with an indignant “No,” ……but the Synoptic Gospels and Acts ……. say Yes

http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/gaston2.htm

those responsible for the crucifixion and calls them “the rulers of this age” (1 Cor 2:8; 1 Thes 2:15 is not by Paul).

Jesus “was one of the rare Jews of his day who believed in love, mercy, grace repentance, and the forgiveness of sin,” while on the other hand, “Jews in general, and Pharisees in particular, would kill people who believed in such things” (Sanders, Jesus, 326f).

Gaston demonstrates that the Pharisees were NOT those who were responsible for the death of Jesus

I want to remove all anti-Judaism not only from traditional interpretation but also from the text itself.

http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/history/chicago.stm.txt

The Chicago declaration of Bible Inerrancy

http://www.adherents.com/, http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_deno.htm and http://www.mcjonline.com/news/01a/20010221e.shtml

http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/history/chicago.stm.txt

Endnotes:

[1] On a personal note, I was offered little or nothing of this subject during my own training for ordination between 1992 and 1996. The subject was mentioned by the tutor for John’s gospel – briefly. He pointed out that John speaks of “The Jews” in a somewhat pejorative sense. It was also mentioned that Rosemary Radford Ruether had carried out work on the subject. At that time, she was one theologian with whom I could not identify. Her work was not compulsory study. I chose not to look at it. I suspect that the majority of my fellow students did likewise. Enquiries suggest that the situation has not changed a great deal since that time.

[2] Robert Everett gives a full list of the works of Parkes both under his own name, and under the nom-de-plume “John Hadham” in “Christianity without Antisemitism”

[3] The situation varies considerably in the rest of the world. As a generalisation, Christianity is alive and flourishing in some third world countries to an extent that UK church leaders are looking at what we might learn from this.

[4] Twenty or thirty years ago saw the beginnings of what were then called ‘House Churches’ – small groups of Christians meeting together in each other’s homes for worship. These have since formed a number of independent groupings of local churches which network together. Two examples that exist in the part of the UK where I live and work are the “New Frontiers International” fellowships and the “New Wine” fellowships.

[5] The above information is gathered from a number of internet sites:

http://www.adherents.com/, http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_deno.htm and http://www.mcjonline.com/news/01a/20010221e.shtml were among those searched for statistics.

[6] The Bible Inerrancist holds that every word of the bible – both the Hebrew and the Christian scriptures, is inspired by God, and are literally accurate in every way – even in scientific terms. This position can often lead to unfortunate extremes of viewpoint.

See http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/history/chicago.stm.txt for the The Chicago Statement on Bible Inerrancy. Paragraph 2 of the summary statement reads: “Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all

matters upon which it touches: It is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.”

[7] Most would allow that the different authors bring differing viewpoints to the events and teachings that are portrayed. They would also accept that the different groups of readers to whom they are addressed have different needs, and would therefore require a different approach.

[8] Statements such as “By mythologizing the theological division ….   … John gives the ultimate theological form to that diabolising of “the Jews” which is the root of anti-Semitism in the Christian tradition” (Ruether, p116) assume a modernist approach to New Testament interpretation. There is little point in pursuing this approach with a group which includes conservative Christians.

[9] Lillian Freudmann writes with a fresh view of the New Testament. She came to it as a Jewish scholar carrying out bible studies, first of the Hebrew Tanach, then the apocrypha, and finally the Christian books. Her first perception – that all the books of the New Testament are antisemitic – came simply from reading the texts as a modernday Jew with no Christian baggage. We Christians have become desensitised by continual exposure to antisemitic passages in our texts, and this is a factor that we need to take into account.

[10] The word ‘fundamentalist’ is in the main used in a pejorative sense today. I prefer the description ‘conservative-evangelical’ which is better understood in Christian circles.

[11] Rausch, p22

[12] Modern literary criticism presents a problem to the conservative. As “God’s Word” it must be understood literally, with no thought of bias on the part of the author being allowed to influence our understanding. Gaston’s statement that ” .. the interpreter ought to be suspicious of all received wisdom concerning Christian views of Judaism … ” (from his article ‘Legicide and the Problem of the Christian Old Testament’) would encourage the reader to go back to the biblical source. This is precisely what the conservative Christian will do.

[13] An example of the way in which the older commentaries read supersession into Romans 11 is given in the endnote below concerning Rosemary Ruether’s view of Paul.

[14] To the Christian, the various church statements which include Nostra Aetate, 1965, Jews Christians and Muslims: the way of dialogue, 1988, The Theology of the Churches and the Jewish People, 1988, are a real and exciting breakthrough in Jewish Christian relations, but some Jewish writers feel that the process is little more than a token – “…. even the much vaunted Vatican statement on Jewish innocence for the crucifixion is mild and was only achieved after much argument”. – Cohn Sherbok – p96.

[15] In a discussion with Dr. James K. Aitken, AHRB Greek Bible Project, Dept. of Classics, University of Reading it was made clear that either translation would be met equally well by the Greek text.

[16] From “The New Testament in Jewish Christian Dalogue” edited by Malcolm Lowe. The essay referred to is entitled “The charge of hypocrisy in Matthew 23 and in Jewish sources”

[17] The entire handout is included here as appendix a

[18] In my own childhood in the 1940’s, antisemitism was still common in the UK – I have memories of antisemitic slogans and talk. I also have a fond memory of a stage play from the ’40’s called “The Same Sky”. It opened with a young lad shouting “dirty Jew” down the street. The play was set in wartime London, and spoke out against antisemitism in a very refreshing way.

[19] There will be neither time nor necessity for detail at this point, but it is likely to come as something of a revelation to the participants to discover that the Temple was governed by Sadducee priests along with a few (token) Pharisees.

[20] The need to focus on a few significant aspects of Jewish Christian relations because of the very limited time that a study day offers means that the significance of the Pharisees as the founders of present day Judaism will not be able to be explored. I intend simply to show that the common perception of Pharisees and Pharisaism is biased and inaccurate.

[21] “Jesus the Pharisee”, p114ff

[22] This is a controversial view that does not seem to have found widespread support, nevertheless it seems very probable that arguments between bet Hillel and bet Shammai did form a part of the background to the gospel stories.

[23] Everett (p162) tells of James Parkes’ initial encounter with Judaism. Parkes discovered it to be meaningful, alive and spiritual – this was in complete contrast to his Oxford training, which presented it as “an arid and meaningless legalism”.

[24] This saying, is quoted on the internet at http://web.wt.net/~cbenton/Texas1.htm as “On another occasion it happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Thereupon Shammai repulsed him with the builder’s cubit which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel,

Hillel said to the proselyte, ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour: that is the whole of the Torah, the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.’ -Shabbath 31a

This story is to be found in a great many books on Judaism and is now on a number of internet sites apart from the above. Two of these are: http://www.us-israel.org/jsource/biography/hillel.html and http://www.ou.org/about/judaism/hillel.htm

[25] John Gager speaks of the way in which he “abandoned his earlier position” after reading Ruether. Also, the sheer number of references to her work in studies of antisemitism and Jewish Christian relations serve to demonstrate the great influence she has.

[26] John Robinson was writing in 1985, and his work on this subject never met with wide acceptance. He was, however, a very thorough scholar, and perhaps we should look again at what he has to say – if only to show that gospel dating is not as safe as some have been led to believe.

[27] This comment does not apply to the dating of Paul’s letters. There is sufficient evidence in their content to be able to date all of them to within a few years.

[28] As an example, I would give the old commentaries on Romans. The following, from the Matthew Henry’s commentary on the beginning of Romans 11 is typical: “That, though some of the Jews were cast off, yet they were not all so. That, though the body of the Jews were cast off, yet the Gentiles were taken in. And, that, though the Jews were cast off at present, yet in God’s due time they should be taken into his church again. The Jews, it is true, were many of them cast off, but not all”. In this, the commentator is saying that only Jews who became Christians were, and are, not “rejected”. This does not seem to be what Paul is saying in the text. In a similar way, John Wesley offers the following: “They are now enemies – To the gospel, to God, and to themselves, which God permits. For your sake: but as for the election – That part of them who believe, they are beloved”. It is clear from the context that by “that part of them who believe”, Wesley means only those who have become Christian. Again, this is hardly justified by the text itself.

[29] Nostra Aetate, 1965, Jews Christians and Muslims: the way of dialogue, 1988, The Theology of the Churches and the Jewish People, 1988 are mentioned in footnote xiii above. These and a number of others are an attempt to put right the ancient wrong of Christian antisemitism. See Brockway et al, “The theology of the churches and the Jewish people” for the collected statements.

[30] “Paul and the Torah”, chapter 8

[31] Freudmann points out that this issue is one on which Christians are deeply divided. I suspect though, that the antisemitic interpretation that some scholars are willing to give to Romans 9-11 comes more from antisemitic Christian tradition than from the actual words of Paul.

[32] Gaston (Paul and the Torah – p17) states that Paul is not saying that Jesus has come to overthrow the law: “.. Paul specifically denies these charges (“Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means” [Rom 3:31]; “Has God rejected his people? By no means” [Rom 11:1] …….

[33] See endnote 36 below.

[34] Gaston – “Paul and the Torah” p28ff

[35] http://www.jcrelations.net/articl1/byrne.htm tells us that Israel and Torah are not two separable entities. Israel is Torah and Torah is Israel.

[36] Gaston p76ff – seesPaul as becoming apostate – deliberately leaving Torah behind – not for his own salvation, but in order to become like the gentiles – to become gentile, in fact for the sake of bringing the gospel message to gentiles. He sees this as a move from “salvation by election to salvation in Christ”.

[37] Gaston p77 – He believes that Paul was falsely accused of inciting other Jews to that same apostasy in Acts 21:21

[38] The RSV has: “For Christ is the end of the law, that every one who has faith may be justified.” A small number of versions use ‘completion’ or ‘fulfillment’ in place of ‘end’, see the New Jerusalem Bible for example, which has: “But the Law has found its fulfilment in Christ so that all who have faith will be justified.”

[39] This example is one which I shall be using when teaching Christian antisemitism, and when preaching on this particular passage.

[40] In the chapter “Response”, Rabbi Tony Bayfield (Braybrooke, p124) says: “Christianity as coming to complete Judaism is arrogant – Judaism need no such completion”.

[41] After Isaiah 42:6 “I, the LORD, have called you and given you power to see that justice is done on earth. Through you I will make a covenant with all peoples; through you I will bring light to the nations.”, and Isaiah 49:6 “The LORD said to me, “I have a greater task for you, my servant. Not only will you restore to greatness the people of Israel who have survived, but I will also make you a light to the nations– so that all the world may be saved.”

[42] Braybrooke p101

[43] Schoneveld, in his essay “Torah in the Flesh” from “The New Testament in Christian Jewish Dialogue”.

[44] CJCR Summer Programme. July 3rd to July 18th 2001. “Jewish Christian Relations in Contemporary Europe – Case Study, Poland”.

[45] On my return from Poland, I wrote the following: “One might expect that the experience of Auschwitz was shattering: it was. No one can possibly describe the horror of actually going to that awful place. No amount of reading, or even viewing pictorial evidence can prepare you. But Auschwitz was not the only profoundly emotive experience.

The second of the Jewish cemeteries that we visited had been subjected to little by way of restoration. Many smashed and prone gravestones are to be seen. The knowledge that the Nazis destroyed Jewish cemeteries is one thing. The terrible reality of a vandalised graveyard is quite another. It was in that cemetery that I experienced a kind of fantasy, a sort of waking dream. We had been told that several hundred Jews had been shot dead in that place. Murdered by the Nazi military under orders and buried in a mass grave. In my fantasy, I was there as a young soldier. How did it feel? I was feeling a great satisfaction in having assisted in purging Europe from the evil of the Jews. There was a sense of having done well for the Fatherland, and having (yes, even this) having done God’s work.

The fantasy took seconds: the after effects of that fantasy will take a lifetime to review.”

I quote the above verbatim in a sermon – see appendix b

[46] See more on this in endnote 50

[47] I am indebted to George Wilkes and Prof. Sladomir Kapralski for their concise introduction to this area of study.

[48] George Wilkes has pointed out that by the time of the Second World War, a number of Jewish establishments – including banks – were in non-Jewish hands. The Jewish names of these establishments meant that they were nonetheless used in antisemitic propaganda to ‘prove’ that Jews had too great an influence in non-Jewish affairs.

[49] Freudmann quotes Littell as saying: “Without centuries of antisemitic preaching, Hitler could never have mobilized passionate Jew haters, and immobilized dispassionate spectators”.

[50] Gregory of Nyssa speaks against the Jews in many of his writings. The newly propounded doctrine of the Trinity was, and is offensive to Jews.   For this reason, Gregory finds himself in controversy with them; Jews on the one hand reminding Gregory that the bible tells us that the Lord our God is one, and Gregory angrily responding with the accusation that the Jews are idolaters. He makes this accusation saying that as they will not accept the Trinity, they must be worshipping a God other than the one true God.

[51] Chrysostom – Or. C. Jud, cited in Ruether, p130

[52] The “Blood Libels” were a deliberate attack on Jews by the church. The story was told that Jews murder children and use their blood to make matzos for Pesach . In various parts of Europe, including the UK, the unexplained death of a child resulted in widespread persecution and murder of Jews. The first recorded example was in Norwich, England in 1144.

[53] A full treatment of these atrocities is given in Schweitzer’s “A history of the Jews”, and a digest of them is given in the “Jewish Timeline Encyclopaedia”

[54] The Greek μονογενη is frequently translated ‘only’. Another New Testament incidence of this word – in the letter to the Hebrews, speaking of Isaac as the onlybegotten son of Abraham – Heb. 11:17 – makes translation as ‘only’ questionable – however, to translate the word ‘firstborn’ would be very controversial, though in my opinion possible.

[55] Hebrews 11:17   καὶ τὸν μονογενῆ προσέφερεν ὁ
καὶ τὸν μονογενῆ προσέφερεν ὁ  KJV: offered up his only begotten [son]  Isaac was no his only son, there was his half brother, Ishmael.

It is my thinking, based on Hebrew thought in the Hebrew Bible, that here ‘My son, my son, my one an only’, is used to describe a favoured son.  Joseph was the favoured son of Jacob, and he would have thought of him in this way.  Jesus quotes the psalmist ‘You are Gods, all of you, and sons of the most high’.  We are all God’s sons, made, as we are, in His image.  Luke, in his genealogy, ends by saying: ‘son of Adam, son of Seth, son of God.  We are all ‘sons of Adam, and daughters of Eve’ as CS Lewis puts it in ‘he Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’.

[56] Archbishop Kametko of Nietra, Slovakia, Quoted by Marcus Braybrooke, “Time to Meet”, SCM 1990

[57] Fr. Henryk Jankowsky, quoted by Stanislaw Musial, S.J. in the Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, Nov 16, 1997

[58] Suggested readings are:   Genesis 17:1-7, Psalm 89:1-8, Romans 11:1-5 and Matthew 15:21-28

[59] British NIV translation.

[60] It is evident that the first translation is talking of “all Scribes”, whereas the second is only referring to “some”. In the latter rendering, the sense of this phrase is remarkably similar to two Talmudic illustrations – the first is the “showy” Pharisee in JT Berakhot 14b who ‘carries his good deeds on his shoulder’, and the second is the Judge who likes to walk about in his ‘long robes’. Moshe Weinfeld points to both of these. For this reason, it seems probable that the second translation of Luke 20:46 is a more likely rendition of the actual teaching that Jesus was giving. The validity of the second rendition was verified with Dr. James Aitken, of AHRB Greek bible Project at the University of Reading,

[61] This is quoted from an article I wrote immediately on my return from Poland. It was first published on an internet conference for students and staff of the Centre for Jewish Christian Relations in Cambridge, and later appeared in print in one or two places including the magazine of the church to which I belong.

A Sermon for Holocaust Memorial Day

Is Antisemitism Christian?

“And so I believe to-day that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord. “

These are the words at the end of chapter two of Mein Kampf. Some of you would want to say that Adolf Hitler was mad – others that he was possessed. But I ask, what was the Christian climate of his day that allowed him to say that he was doing God’s work in taking antisemitism to the unbelievable extremes of Auschwitz? What was the climate that encouraged mechanised murder on such an unprecedented scale?

Let me offer two more quotations – the first was something said to a Jewish leader in 1942: “You will not die there of hunger or disease. They will slaughter all of you there, old and young alike; women and children – it is the punishment that you deserve for the death of our Lord and redeemer, Jesus Christ1“.
This was no fanatic – this was not the German Führer at his worst – these were the words of an archbishop of the church.

One more quotation: “The Jewish minority within the Polish government cannot be tolerated, because the nation fears it”. Later, challenged about what he had said, the speaker affirmed his statement: “I said aloud what the Polish nation is thinking. Not by mistake, but out of conviction 2. A politician? A fanatic from the extreme right? Another wartime example? No – this was a statement by a Christian priest made in 1997. Is antisemitism Christian? That is the question I ask. And the answer is ‘Yes’. Christianity has incited the world to antisemitism throughout its long and iniquitous history. And I say now that it is time for it to stop. It is time for us to listen to our Lord and Saviour Jesus – to Jesus the Jew – and to root out all the lies, the propaganda and the wicked, wicked seeds of hate that have blighted our Christian history from the very beginning. You will, no doubt, point out to me Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a handful of other remarkable and brave Christian saints from the last war. Believe me, they are a tiny minority. Most of the church was either solidly behind Hitler, or was just carried along with his policies without so much as a word. And there are more than six million dead Jews who will one day testify to that!

We’ve heard in the first of our readings tonight that God made a covenant with the sons and daughters of Israel 3. This was to be a lasting covenant. It will not end this side of eternity. We have heard in the words of the Apostle Paul that God has in no way rejected His people, or for that matter, the law that He gave them on mount Sinai. And we have heard in the gospel reading that Jesus came not for us gentiles, but for the Children of Israel. How then can we go along with the antisemitism with which our church has soiled itself until recently?

I could give you quote after quote after quote – from the early church fathers, from the church in the middle ages, and from the reformers. And all of those quotes would be violently, obscenely antisemitic.
I can distil them all into one sharp sentence. “The Jews killed God – they crucified Him – and they all deserve to die – every last one of them!” None of us can look at another denomination than our own, and place the blame on it – this is something in which we all share.

And it is not even true. It’s a lie. A fabrication. A piece of really malicious propaganda. The Jews didn’t kill Jesus – our bible tells us that the Romans did. And if you want to say that the Jews put them up to it, look again. Some Jews – and only some Jews – took part. And they – all of them – have been dead for many a century. You might want to point to that dreadful blood oath in Matthew’s gospel – I quote: “Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!'” How many generations have there been in which we have condemned the children of Israel? Where would be the loving, forgiving God that Jesus came to show us if those words have brought condemnation on Jews for nearly two thousand years. And did not that wonderful saying from the agonised, crucified Jesus: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” cover all those who were involved?

This is the faith which we have inherited. A faith bloodied with the lives of millions of Jews – a faith contaminated – a faith a million miles away from the teachings of our beloved Saviour Jesus. We have seen the awful conclusion to the distortion of that faith – we have seen the awful horror – we have seen the destruction of six million of God’s own chosen people. And it could happen again. It could happen tomorrow unless we are prepared to read our bibles and understand – and be prepared to purge our Christian faith of antisemitism for once and for all.

It is we – we of this present generation – who have to face up to the errors of the past. It is we who have to change. But the benefit to us when we do take a long hard look at our elder brother, the Jew, is going to be pure gold. You may have been taught – as I was – that present day Judaism – the religious faith of the Jews – is nothing more than a barren legalism. That teaching couldn’t be further from the truth. When we meet the Jews and listen to them, we soon begin to see that many of them have a depth of faith in Almighty God that surpasses that of a great many Christians. We find that present day Judaism is alive, and deeply spiritual. And when we listen to the rabbis, and read the wisdom that is handed down to us in the Mishnah and the Talmud, light begins to dawn on much of our bible that never was there before. And it is not only the Jewish bible that comes alive – we begin to read the gospels and the letters of our Christian scriptures in a different way too. Paul takes on a new light when we read him as Paul the Jew; when we soak ourselves in the traditions of his people. And the teachings of our Master himself take on an even greater authority than they had before when we see them through the lens of the Jewish Torah.

Even our most treasured translations of Holy Scripture will need to be questioned when we carry out further reading and meet with Jews in discussion. I want to give just one tiny example: Open your bible at Luke Chapter 20 and verse 46. You probably have something similar to: “Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted in the market-places and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets” 4. This same passage may equally well be rendered: “Be on your guard against those scribes who like to walk about in long robes, and love salutations in the market places and the best seats in the synagogues and the places
of honour at feasts
5“. Can you see the difference? Why do I suggest that the second translation is
more probably what Jesus had in mind? Because it is very similar to two passages in the Talmud that condemn hypocrites. And these are very likely to be sayings that were current at the time of Jesus. And why, in that case, is the first translation more commonly offered? Because the antisemitic tradition deeply embedded in our own Christian teachings suggests that all Jews were (and are) bad – but especially so when they were Scribes and Pharisees. And the bible just does not bear this out. Look how many Pharisees we see in our bible who were good men, and friends of Jesus.

So – where do we begin? I have issued a challenge here – one which may strike deeply at a part of our Christian foundations. We might want to begin by joining the Council for Christians and Jews – but if we do that, let us not fall into the trap of regarding the Jews we might meet as fodder for our weapons of conversion. Be prepared for dialogue. Be prepared to listen, and to learn. They have much to teach all of us. We might, if we are at all academically inclined, want to pick up a few books. I will be happy to point you in the right direction. But above all, be very wary of what you tell people about Jews, and especially
Scribes and Pharisees at the time of our Lord. When you have read a few books by Jews about their history; when you have spoken to a few Jews and listened to what they have to say about their own problems – their own experience of persecution – then you might want to change your position.

Let me end with a brief fantasy 6. I told you that the holocaust could happen again tomorrow if we don’t take steps to prevent it. In July, I was privileged to attend a Summer School in Jewish-Christian relations in Poland. During that time, we visited several Jewish cemeteries from before world war two, and we also visited Auschwitz. One might expect that the experience of Auschwitz was shattering. It was. No one can possibly describe the horror of actually going to that awful place. No amount of reading, or even viewing pictorial evidence can prepare you. But Auschwitz was not the only profoundly emotive experience.

The second of the Jewish cemeteries that we visited had been subjected to little by way of restoration. Many smashed and prone gravestones are there to be seen. The knowledge that the Nazis destroyed
Jewish cemeteries is one thing. The terrible reality of a vandalised graveyard is quite another. It was in that cemetery that I experienced a kind of fantasy, a sort of waking dream. We had been told that several hundred Jews had been shot dead in that place. Murdered by the Nazi military under orders and buried in a mass grave. In my fantasy, I was there as a young soldier. How did it feel? I was feeling a great satisfaction in having assisted in purging Europe from the evil of the Jews. There was a sense of having done well for the Fatherland, and having (yes, even this) of having done God’s work.

The fantasy took seconds: the after effects of that fantasy will take a lifetime to review. How much does that brief fantasy reflect thousands of young German soldiers in they way they behaved? How much does the knowledge – and yes – it is knowledge – that any of us could have been caught up in the awful horror that is the Holocaust in that selfsame way? Jesus, the most famous Jew that ever lived, said of his persecutors “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. In the light of my fantasy, I have to see that statement again – and in a different light. I can’t even thank God that I was not there – that I was not of that generation – the reality is that had I been, I would have acted just as they had!

As we continue with our worship – as we move into a time of penitence – let all of us make up, our minds that we will take up this challenge, and change the church. Let us be determined to destroy forever the antisemitic legacy that we have in our midst.

© Barry Drake – 2001 barry@minister.fsnet.co.uk

1 Archbishop Kametko of Nietra, Slovakia, Quoted by Marcus Braybrooke, “Time to Meet”, SCM 1990

2 Fr. Henryk Jankowsky, quoted by Stanislaw Musial, S.J. in the Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, Nov 16, 1997

3 Suggested readings are: Genesis 17:1-7, Psalm 89:1-8, Romans 11:1-5 and Matthew 15:21-28

4 British NIV translation.

5 It is evident that the first translation is talking of “all Scribes”, whereas the second is only referring to “some”. In the latter rendering, the sense of this phrase is remarkably similar to two Talmudic illustrations – the first is the “showy” Pharisee in JT Berakhot 14b who ‘carries his good deeds on his shoulder’, and the second is the Judge who likes to walk about in his ‘long robes’. Moshe Weinfeld points to both of these. For this reason, it seems probable that the second translation of Luke 20:46 is a more likely  rendition of the actual teaching that Jesus was giving. The validity of the second rendition was verified with Dr. James Aitken, of AHRB Greek bible Project at the University of Reading,

6 This is quoted from an article I wrote immediately on my return from Poland. It was first published on an internet conference for students and staff of the Centre for Jewish Christian Relations in Cambridge, and later appeared in print in one or two places including the magazine of the church to which I belong.

The Holocaust and Genocide Now?

Theology rising out of the Holocaust September 2000

Some thoughts on Franklin Littell’s assertion that “Christians need the Jewish people as a “model” of peoplehood in God’s work in history, and they need the living interaction with the people of the Torah”

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©The Revd Barry Drake M.A. September 2000

“The most difficult, if not impossible, prospect for the Christian church would be to have to live and work in a world without Jews. The Christians need the Jewish people as a “model” of peoplehood in God’s work in  history, and they need the living interaction with the people of the torah.” (Franklin Littell, The Crucifixion of the Jews, 5)

Introduction

On his own admission [1], Littell provoked a wide range of reactions when he wrote “The Crucifixion of the Jews”. His work is outspoken, incisive, and even twenty-five years on from his original writing seems avant-garde.

The central question that faces the church and every individual Christian in these post-Shoah years is framed by Littell in his foreword to Eckardt’s “Long Nights Journey Into Day”. The question is: “How do you interpret the survival of the Jewish people?” It takes courage to face that question. Littell says that the church “having given the wrong answer for centuries, now ignores the question.” [2] Littell had, in the “Crucifixion of the Jews” not only faced the question, but had become convinced that the answer to the question is that the Jews must survive; their survival is part of God’s purpose, and essential to the survival of Christianity itself.

Littell begins with a comprehensive look at the roots of antisemitism deeply entrenched in Christianity itself. He goes on to look at how this antisemitism affected the church in Germany during the second world war, and how it was used by Hitler. He then moves forward to the contemporary church, urging it to engage in many ways with the Jews as Littell himself was doing.

In this essay, I will be looking firstly at what Littell is saying in “The Crucifixion of the Jews”, followed by a look at Covenant in relation to God’s people, what the church is saying, what the Bible says, and what the future might hold for the church if Littell’s clarion call for a newly reformed church is heard. Littell has been a voice crying in the wilderness for many years now: I believe that the church is listening, but Christianity is big, diverse, and slow to change. It will take time, but I hope and pray that Littell will live to see the church begin to respond to his call.

Littell’s view

Littell sees the Shoah as an event which is comparable in magnitude to God’s covenant with Abraham, the Exodus, Sinai and Golgotha. He calls upon Christians to see it in that light. He points out that there could have been no Christianity without the Jews. That is an historic fact. But at the same time, the Jews do not depend on any other faith for their
existence. The Jews exist because God has called them to be his people. Thus far, there can be no controversy, but Littell goes on to see a continuing dependence on the Jewish people for Christianity – a dependence on an ongoing Jewry. It is at this point that he becomes challenging to Christians of all persuasions. Littell argues for a reformation “more radical and universal than the sixteenth century event known by that name”[3]. He sees the only possible solution in a return to the situation before the parting of the ways between Church and Synagogue, and for Jewish Christian dialogue to build a new Christianity without the stain caused by ecclesial antisemitism. “We Christians must go back to the turn in the road and reject the signs and signals which, expressing a spiritual and intellectual teaching which was false though familiar, turned us toward Auschwitz”[4]. In this, he is echoing Karl Barth[5]. His exposition of Christian history in which he shows the direct responsibility of the Church for the pre-existing antisemitism before ww2 is exemplary[6]. Perhaps most important of all, Littell points Christians to the “Suffering Servant” passages from Isaiah [7] reminding us that
the prophecy is for Israel. In their enthusiasm to claim the passage for Jesus and for him alone, Christians may never forget the relevance of “The Suffering Servant” to Israel, in history, and more specifically in respect of the Shoah [8]. Littell’s argument thus far is powerful, and
well presented. There is little doubt that the Shoah is, and will remain, a turning point for Christianity.

Littell is harshly critical of “modern” thinking following on from the Enlightenment. Science has been raised to a far higher place than religion, and from there has gone on to replace God in our Western Culture. In large measure, Littell blames the churches’ attitude towards the Nazis on the

extent to which Enlightenment thinking had permeated Christian culture and the church itself. His book was written in 1975. Twenty-five years on, some of this concept seems remarkably similar to the more recent ideas on post-modernism that is currently so ill defined.

In one particular area, Littell is remarkably (I might say refreshingly) traditional. He makes use of the word “the Adversary” very frequently.
He clearly means “Satan”, or “the Devil”. Perhaps this fact helps explain his some of his attitude towards Christians of a liberal persuasion[9].

His argument for Christianity’s need for and dependence upon present day Jewry is based in the main on Jewish culture being clearly identifiable today and throughout history. If Christianity were true to its roots, then a similar culture (Littell prefers the term counter-culture) would be evident in all Christian countries in the world today. He accuses Christianity of “Blending into the dominant culture, accommodating to the spirit of the times …… “ Littell believes that only the Jews can show us (the Christians) how to get back our roots, our story, and our culture.

Littell – some considerations

Although Littell shows great clarity in his description of the way in which antisemitism is firmly rooted in the church, and however much one may believe that he is correct in his conclusion about the place of the Jews in the world today, his attitude throughout his work is very negative towards Christians who do not share his particular Evangelical position. He has an especially negative attitude towards Liberal Protestants. He begins with a section headed “Liberal Protestant Antisemitism”[10] which perhaps justifiably connects Liberal Protestants in Nazi Germany with the failure of much of Christianity to speak out against Hitler. In other chapters though, Littell takes very negative views of all present day Liberal Christians[11]. It is my personal conviction that any of the extremes within Christianity can cause the same serious problems that he ascribes to one particular group. This can be just as true where extreme Conservative Evangelical Christians involve themselves in interfaith dialogue. I find it hard to understand Littell’s silence on that issue! [12]

In addition to the above criticism, Littell treats present day Jewish culture with an almost too positive attitude. I would venture to say that he idealises Jews and Jewish culture to an unrealistic degree. I feel that these two points needlessly weaken his otherwise powerful and relevant argument calling for a re-reformed Christianity.

In his preface to the second Mercer printing of The Crucifixion of the Jews, Littell speaks of the criticisms leveled at the original edition. Here, the reactions came from the extremes. He mentions criticism from both the extremes of the Conservative Evangelical and the Liberal Protestant camps. One can only conclude that he must have got something right for this to happen. He also speaks of criticism by a part of the Jewish establishment. This time, because of the negative effect that his work was having on Christians! The book was “a negative influence in the
effort to improve relations between Christians and Jews [13]

Littell’s thinking on culture makes good sense, and needs to be considered deeply. It is a pity here though that he makes no reference at all to the great and noble cultural changes that have taken place as a direct result of Judaeo-Christian influence. It is true that so called
Christian nations have never taken Christian values on board in the way in which Littell feels they ought, but there is nonetheless a great deal of the faith ethos that underpins much of the social and legal heritage of these countries [14]. One must never overlook this.

In the other hand, present day Jewry is the product of enforced  dispersion, persecution, pogrom and ghetto over centuries. The need for cultural uniqueness becomes fierce under such conditions. And latterly Jewry is inevitably deeply influenced by the Shoah itself. It is many centuries since Christianity has been persecuted here in the West. This
is a further consideration that seems absent from Littell’s impassioned plea for Jewish culture to be grafted back into Christian community.

Littell bases at least some of his thoughts about Jewish culture on his knowledge of Israel at the time of his writing. Littell was writing twenty-five years ago and the secularisation that we see in Europe is true for Israel too. There is little doubt that Jewish culture is surviving longer and better than Christian culture, but the same problem exists even in Israel. Dan Cohn-Sherbrook[15] makes this point in his criticism of Ignaz Maybaum. He shows evidence of a decline in world Jewry giving as reasons intermarriage, assimilation and indifference[16].

Despite my criticisms of his book, there is a very great deal that Littell opens up for discussion that the Church needs to take very seriously indeed. A reviewer of his book points out that “It is rare to read a book by a Christian who believes in God [17]”. Christian unbelief has to be a commonly held view for this statement to have been used so glibly – and I imagine it refers to a number of theologians in todays church who are spoken of as offering a Godless Christianity. Much as I may believe the reviewer’s view to be in error, it is a commonly held one. However, a theologian with no belief in God would be a contradiction in terms [18]. I mention above Littell’s obvious belief in a force of evil, which he refers to as the ‘Adversary’. I suggest that the “Liberal Protestants” of whom Littell is so scathing may find some difficulty with this concept. On the other hand, acceptance of a real power of evil is normal in the whole of the Bible. ‘Satan’ used to be an essential part of Christian writings and belief and has been so until the last few generations. What, I ask, is one to make of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians without a belief in his “powers and principalities [19]”? Certainly Littell sees no problem with a tangible force of evil in connection with the Shoah.

The points that Littell makes that lead him to the conclusion that Christians could not possibly “live and work in a world without Jews” are then, Covenant (and the Christian teaching of supersession), the Jews as the root of Christianity, the writings of the Apostle Paul, especially Romans 10 and 11, the question of culture, and, by default, the disagreement between Christians of Conservative, Liberal and Catholic persuasions. This last issue is one that has to be discussed if for no other reason than Littell’s strong criticisms of positions other than his own.

The Question of Covenant

The Bible tells us that Jews are the Chosen People; the Covenant People. In Genesis 13:14-17, and again in Genesis 15:4-5, God promises Abraham that his offspring will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens.
He promised the land of Israel to them. It will be necessary to return to this promise in more detail. The covenant is re-iterated in Genesis 17
and again in Genesis 22 after the Akedah. The promise is an ongoing one, and will never be broken.

When Moses leads the Chosen People back to the “Land of the Promise” this is a fulfilment and a sign and a symbol that God has kept the promise that he had made to Abraham, and when Solomon brings the Ark of the Covenant into the newly built temple this again is to be a symbol of the presence of God among his people, and a sign once more that he has kept the everlasting covenant. It ought, then to be inconceivable that the covenant between God and his chosen people should be anything but everlasting. This has not been the case.

In the early days of the church, the idea of supersession arose and became the norm (Littell prefers the term ‘displacement’). There is not the space here to expand the concept fully, but briefly, the idea is that the Church superseded (or displaced) the Jews as the Covenant people. The Christian theological viewpoint was that a “New Covenant” had superseded God’s Covenant with Israel and the Jewish people and the Christians were the new Israel.

The need for the Jews was at an end. They had served God’s purpose in giving Jesus to the Gentile world, and therefore surviving Jews were something of an anachronism. The teaching of supersession progressed, and developed by the Middle Ages into a “teaching of contempt” towards Jews. Some examples of what has been taught might illustrate the situation [20]:

“The former law that was given by Moses was to cease, and a new law was to be given”. Cyprian – treatises.

“God will not cast off his Christian church, as he cast off the church of the Jews, the New Covenant is established upon better and surer promises than the Old.” John Wesley (Wesley’s notes) – commentary on Isaiah 54

“They [the Jews] are now enemies – To the gospel, to God, and to themselves, which God permits. For your sake: but as for the election –
That part of them who believe[have been Christianised], they are beloved”.
John Wesley (Wesley’s notes) on Romans 11 – words in square brackets mine.

“though the Jews were cast off at present, yet in God’s due time they should be taken into his church again. The Jews, it is true, were many of them cast off, but not all …..

God had made a distinction between some of them and others. There was a chosen remnant of believing Jews, that obtained righteousness and life by faith in Jesus Christ …….” Matthew Henry Commentary on Romans 11

This attitude continued well into the 1970’s.

“A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture” from 1969 speaks of: “….. the present exclusion of Israel from the salvation of the Messiah in the Church …..”

A number of documents and statements[21] have been made by various parts of the church in post-war years in the main because of the growing realisation that the antisemitism that caused the Shoah was rooted in
Christian teachings of the kind that we see above. These statements have been slow to take effect, but the majority of the church now rejects supersessionism. Supersession apart, there are two main viewpoints on the question of Covenant within Christianity. One takes the view that  there is one Covenant that has existed since Abraham, and the church is grafted into this covenant alongside Israel. The other view is that there are two covenants; the covenant with Abraham is ongoing, but God, through Jesus made a new covenant and this is separate and operates alongside rather than supersedes the old covenant. I have oversimplified the question of covenant for the purposes of this discussion, however in broad terms the two positions outlined indicate that almost the entire church sees an ongoing Israel as the People of God alongside the church which is also the People of God. This is true except for a small minority within the church that still maintains a strict supersessionist doctrine.

Whilst the above does not lead directly to the conclusion that Christians could not possibly “live and work in a world without Jews” it paves the way insofar as it accepts that Jews remain part of “the People of God” in the world today, and the People of Israel can and should continue  alongside the Church.

What the Christian Scriptures say

During the history of the Church, the Gospels and letters have been used and abused to justify both the doctrine of supersession and the teaching of contempt. It is easy to pick out, for example, from John’s Gospel the phrase: “Jesus said …., “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) and teach that this means that anyone who does not become a Christian cannot enter God’s Kingdom[22]. The earliest of the Christian Scriptures are the letters from Paul the Apostle. In particular, Paul’s letter to the Galatians, and his letter to the Romans say a great deal about his view on the place of the Christians and that of the Jews in relationship to God and to one another.
The letter to the Galatians is very evidently written to a particular church in answer to a specific problem that had arisen there. It is unlikely that Paul had intended it to be anything more than that. The problem
that he addresses is a conflict between Jewish Christians and Gentile
Christians on the question of Torah observance. Paul had previously set out a minimal observance for Gentiles (see the “Council of Jerusalem”, Acts 15, which can safely be dated before the letter to the Galatians[23]). In this letter, he tries to affirm his previous statements, and to give reasons.

The letter to the Romans was written a few years later[24] is a far more
considered approach to Paul’s own theological position. He gives his thoughts on faith, Torah and salvation and discusses once more the topics that he had explored in his letter to the Galatians. It is probable that Paul’s polemical words to the Galatians, written as I have said, into a
particular crisis, were being used by some Christians to defend a position
similar to that of supersession which came later. Certainly Paul in Romans 9 to 11 sets out very plainly his view on the “Mystery of Israel”. Israel has had its “heart hardened” for a time. If Israel has “stumbled” for a time, it is to allow the Gentiles the opportunity to become part of the people of God as Christians. “Has God rejected His people?” Paul asks, and then gives the answer: “By no means!”

A reading of Romans 9-11 with none of the background knowledge that is part of Christian tradition gives a clear enough picture: Paul is struggling with what to him is a mystery. If Jesus is, in fact the expected Messiah [25], why do many Jews carry on as though he had not come? He never fully understands this mystery, but accepts that God must have some purpose in mind for the situation that exists. He speaks of the Church being “grafted in” to its Judaic root[26] and the idea that Christianity has taken over from or superseded the “Old Covenant” is far from evident in Paul’s writing. Nevertheless, supersession was not only taught, but has been ‘proved’ by Paul’s letter for many centuries.

I have already cited John Wesley on Romans[27]. The use of the letter to the Romans to illustrate supersession was normative until recently. In Romans 11:5, Paul speaks of the “faithful remnant” of Israel. The view has been taken that only Jews who convert to Christianity are part of this “remnant”. The rest of Israel is then understood to be outside the new People of God, which is the church, until the end times, when the full number of Gentiles have become Christian. After that, there will be a sudden conversion, in which all the Jews will become Christian. The old standard, “Ellicott’s Commentary” says: “The reconversion of the Jews will be a signal to inaugurate that reign of eternal life which will be ushered in by the resurrection of the dead.” There is something of this thinking behind the present day expectation among some Christians that the restoration of Eretz Israel is a sign of the end times, in which the messiah will soon be among us [28].

To read the Christian Scriptures in a fresh light then, is to see that Paul, at least, was aware that God has a continuing purpose for His Covenant People. Paul is not clear as to the nature of this, but he gives a strong message to the Church which the Church has ignored for far too long. From the point of view of the Christian Scriptures, Littell’s argument has to be taken very seriously.

What the Churches say

I mentioned above that Littell takes a view that the Liberal Protestants and the Conservative Evangelical Christian hold differing views on the question of Jewish Christian Relations. I suggest that he oversimplifies the case. There are, broadly speaking, three schools of thought on the place of Christianity relative to other world faiths. The Jews are regarded by most Christians as being part of the group termed “other world faiths”. The three views are: Exclusivism, which holds strictly to the view that there is no salvation outside the Church, Inclusivism, which states that the only salvation is through Jesus, but that through God’s grace others than Christians may be included in this salvation, and the third view is Pluralism, which accepts that there are  many paths to salvation, and that the world religions represent these paths.

I have simplified the present situation within the churches – as one might expect there are schools of thought that are in between these three clear-cut models. However, these different views do not correspond nicely with divisions of the Church into Catholic, Orthodox, Conservative-Evangelical and Liberal. Until very recent years, the entire church would have allied with the Exclusivist position (which went hand in hand with supersession). In the official statements from the churches mentioned above, there is a shift from Exclusivist to Inclusivist teaching. This is true
in both the Catholic and the Protestant or Evangelical churches [29]. The late Lesslie Newbigin saw the Inclusivist position as being the most appropriate for the Evangelical Christian: Newbigin defines those who hold this view as having “an inclusivist position which acknowledges Christ as the only saviour but affirm that his saving work extends beyond the bounds of the visible church”[30].

The Liberal wing of the church extends right across the denominations. While the Catholic Church tends to produce conservative official statements, it has its share of liberal theologians, whose views in many ways parallel those of liberal Evangelical scholars[31]. It is our liberal theologians who constantly challenge us to look afresh at our doctrines, and consider new possibilities. Pluralism currently has its place among the liberal theologians[32].

Whilst the churches would not generally go as far as Littell in saying that the Jews of the present day are essential to Christians, they do at least acknowledge that Jews remain God’s Covenant People.

A New Christianity?

Littell makes a case for a changed church – a new Christianity – and as mentioned above, he is quoted by Fackenheim as calling for a “Reformation”. I see a big difficulty in this kind of thinking. There is no doubt that the entire church is in a process of change, and that this change is profound. There is also no doubt that the church is having to reconsider its position as a result of the part it undoubtedly played in sowing the seeds of the antisemitism that gave rise to the Shoah. The Reformation came about because an authoritarian church had become too proud to admit that it was wrong. The church of today, as we have seen, is in a process of repentance, and of searching. It is, in fact, in a reforming process, but this is going to take time. Reformation, on the grand scale of which Littell speaks inevitably breeds Counter Reformation, and faction. There can not be a better reason for “making haste slowly”. We are in a Christianity that needs to be fully aware of all of its history as it re-thinks its past mistakes. The admission that the Church Fathers were wrong in their teachings about “The Jews” strikes at the very foundations of church as we know it. The question has to be asked: “If they were wrong about that issue, what about other equally important doctrines?” It is only a small step to begin questioning seriously a wide range of teachings to which the Church holds tenaciously. As an example, the doctrine of the Trinity, necessary in its day, may well need to be reviewed[33]. As I have said, and as the Church knows well, once foundational “truths” are challenged where does one stop? The slow steady transition is to be preferred. This is not to say that change should be delayed unnecessarily, just that it needs to be considered well and at length if we are to make progress.

At this juncture, we need to consider Littell’s point about the Church learning from the Synagogue. There are two sides to this suggestion. The first is that the Church neglected a valuable source of education in the ast when it rejected the work of the Rabbis. One might, for instance look at the Talmud (BT: San. 107b) in which Jesus is accused of “worshipping a brick”. Whilst the episode itself is pure illustration, it is not hard to see the underlying criticism of Christianity as being idolatrous and failing to observe Torah. The first of these charges proved well founded and in part led to the need for the Reformation [34]. The second of these charges may well prove to be equally well founded. Jesus is quoted in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt. 5:18) as saying that the law must be observed. The early church seen in Acts was also concerned about Torah observance as we have seen above in the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). Littell makes a
valuable point in observing that a Christian country ought to have a distinctive culture, and in pointing out that this culture ought to have a
similar ethos to Jewish culture if both cultures were truly Torah based.

At the same time, the Synagogue today is very different from anything that existed in the Second Temple era. This may be an obvious statement, but the Church has tended to act as though the situation had never altered from the time in which Jesus lived. Hilton [35] is able to show that Jewry has been changed significantly because of Christianity. The question has to be asked: “Does either present day Judaism or present day Christianity adequately reflect the teachings of Jesus?” and if so, to what extent? These are not straightforward questions: there are no simple answers. Just as the Shoah came out of a Christianity which is a sham, and a Christendom which is a fraud[36], Christianity never has fully reflected its origin. Open dialogue between Christians and Jews in which Christians are prepared to study and take seriously the foundation of modern-day Judaism in the writings of the Rabbis could lead to further discoveries of the flaws in our inherited tradition. This could only lead to a better church which is more true to its origin than is the
present one. Indeed, the process is
well under way in some sectors of the Church[37]

I mentioned two sides to Littell’s plea for Church to learn from Synagogue. On the other side of this particular coin is the apparent infatuation that Littell has with Jewish culture. I have mentioned that
Dan Cohn-Sherbrook points us to a more measured view. The present spiritual malaise in the Western Christian world that Littell sees as springing from the Enlightenment is affecting our Jewish brothers and sisters too. Here. I believe that dialogue can be at its most productive. When Christians are prepared to step outside their own flawed tradition for a while, and leave behind their preconceptions of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God, they may well discover Jesus the Rabbi in his real context. They may well go on to discover, alongside their Jewish brothers and sisters, Jesus the first century Jewish prophet[38].

The Future

The above discussion has focussed in the main on the findings of Theologians and Scholars, and upon the official statements from various parts of Christianity. There are other levels at which the process is taking place – other areas in which Jewish life, learning and culture is entering into the lives of Christians. As a Christian Minister, I find it very noticeable that ordinary Christians are taking far more of an interest in Jewish thought than was usual just a few years ago. Our local Christian bookshop now boasts a large collection of books about Jews, Jewish feasts and Judaism. There is also a rapidly growing following in so called Messianic Communities. This is not to suggest that Messianic groups are in themselves a good or a bad thing – I mention them simply as an indicator of a burgeoning Christian interest in Judaica. This growing interest in Judaica on the part of ordinary Christians at a grass-roots level is I believe,significant. I would personally regard it as a part of a wider movement of the Holy Spirit.

At another level, the church – perhaps the Synagogue too – needs to listen to its mystics and its prophets. I have in mind the best known quotation from Elie Wiesel – the episode of the child dying on the end of a rope: “Then he heard the same man asking ‘Where is God now?’ And I heard a voice from within me answer him: ‘Where is he? Here he is – He is hanging on this gallows …….” [39] This episode, which Ken Cracknell[40] believes has profoundly influenced Christian Theology, is one that needs to be listened to and understood in the very depths of our soul. Every Christian can identify with the idea – it is basic to our understanding of Jesus – it is basic too to our understanding of Humankind “created in the image and likeness of God”. Elie Wiesel’s mysticism shows through the pain of his anger towards the God who failed him. If we are, as Littell suggests, to go back to the time before the parting of the ways as Christians and Jews together, it is voices such as Wiesel’s that need to be heard and understood.

Conclusion

Littell’s stark and powerful statement that Christians can’t be Christians without the Jews is a challenge. Deep down I have, for reasons more emotional than rational, found myself wanting to oppose it. Equally deep down, I believe Littell to be right. He had great courage to write what he wrote, especially twenty-five years ago. The Church is slowly accepting its part in the antisemitism that led directly to the Shoah – it remains to be seen how much further it will be willing to go in reconsidering its theological position more deeply in the light of its own Hebrew roots.

The Christian Scriptures – particularly the writings of Paul – leave no room for doubt about the attitude that we ought to be taking with regard to the Jews. Littells main point about a clearly defined counter-culture ought to be self-evident. He has a good argument – outsiders ought to
be able to see the Christian difference as easily as they can see the distinctive marks of Jewish community. Going back to “the parting of the ways” as Christians and Jews together would not be easy – but it is what is needed. If – dare I say ‘when’ – we do that, there is much that we will have to examine that will be painful. I mentioned above the question of the Trinity. It seems to me that the Church is going to need to re-think its entire Christology. To many Christians that would be to think the unthinkable. It would be a step too far. Wallis quotes Ekardt as saying that the Church needs to be prepared to give up its ‘incarnational’ Christology – and that the Church will not do that. He goes on to say that it remains a weakness of the Eckardt’s position that he does not begin to offer an alternative Christology. I don’t believe that the Church is yet ready for such an alternative. But I do feel that it is vital that Jewish Christian dialogue works towards the formulation of this. The starting point might well be the divinity of humankind[41]. Our Christian Mystics and our Jewish Kabbalists have a great deal to say about this. Let us begin to listen to them.

Endnotes


[1] Littell’s preface to the Rose reprint – beginning of first page.

[2] “Long Night’s Journey Into Day” – Eckhardt, p13

[3] Fackenheim, quoting Littell from a meeting of Christian and Jewish scholars. P 72 “The
Jewish Bible after the Holocaust”.

[4] Littell – “The Crucifixion of the Jews” p65.

[5] Fackenheim speaks of Barth at a 1963 meeting saying that the Jews and the Christian should each leave behind their traditional teachings while they meet together – the Christians unencumbered by the New Testament, and the Jews without their rabbinic sources together looking at the “Book that belongs to us both” with fresh eyes . . . P 71 “The Jewish Bible after the Holocaust”.

[6] I admit to being so shocked by his citing of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” that I had to see some of it for myself. Hitler’s statement: “And so I believe to-day that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator. In standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord” at the end of Vol. 1, chapter two seems shocking now, but perhaps it is not surprising that churches, indoctrinated by centuries of good sound orthodox Christian teaching accepted it in the nineteen thirties.

[7] Isa 53

[8] The idea of the perpetual suffering of the Jews as a kind of atoning sacrifice has crept in here. It is extremely controversial, especially among some Jews. One exponent of this idea is Ignaz Maybaum as cited by Dan Cohn-Sherbok in Holocaust Theology. Sherbok, for one finds difficulty with Maybaum’s idea.

[9] Alice and Roy Eckardt take this view in “Long Night’s Journey Into Day”. Certainly those who are able to give credence to a real “Evil Personified” find it easier to understand the existence of evil in a world created by a perfectly good God.

[10] Littell – “The Crucifixion of the Jews” p35

[11] Theologians John Hick and Ninian Smart would place themselves among the liberal school of theologians. Both have made valuable
contributions to Christian thinking about non-Christian faiths and belief
systems.

[12] I have to remind myself that Litell was writing twenty-five years ago. In those days, the different camps within Christianity were far more divided than they are today, and attitudes generally were far more partisan. Writing today, Littell is quick to acknowledge positive contributions towards dialogue from all sectors of our faiths. As an example Littell’s address at: Religious Freedom conference. Berlinhttp://www.religiousfreedom.com /index.php?catid=44%3Agermany-conference&id=335%3Alittell-berlin& format=pdf&option=com_content
takes a far broader attitude than “The Crucifixion of
the Jews”.

[13] First page of Littell in the “Rose” reprint from Mercer.

[14] Our modern education system owes much to the Sunday School movement which began in the Methodist Church. The Abolition of Slavery, and the present day concept of a democracy in which both sexes and all classes take part has its roots in Christianity. And there are many more examples that one can find.

[15] “Holocaust Theology” pp 40-41

[16] Far from seeing the state of Israel in an entirely positive light, Cohn-Sherbrook sees a major problem in Anti-Zionism which saps the constructive energy of the nation.

[17] Reviewer in “Commonweal”, quoted by Mercer in the Rose reprint

[18] Littell gives no references for his comments about liberal theologians. Eliezer Berkovitz, in “Faith After the Holocaust” cites Thomas J. Altizer as a radical theologian who preaches Nietzsche’s “God is Dead” enlightenment thinking in an attempt to “modernise” Christianity. It may be that approach that Littell, writing at a similar time, had in mind. Things have moved on from the 1970’s. There are few if any theologians today who would want to offer an “Atheist Theology” – an oxymoron if ever there were one! One might want to cite Don Cupitt and the “Sea of Faith” school as being among todays Liberal Theologians with no belief in God. To do this would be facile: a current introduction on the internet says that “Sea of Faith”, the book by Don Cupitt: “examined the decline of institutional religion and asked what might replace it in our complex postmodern world, where the certainties of scriptures, clerical hierarchies and supernatural underpinnings no longer make sense”. This is a far cry from saying that the Sea of Faith School denies God.Having said that, the Sea of Faith supporters do represent one of the extremes of which I speak.

[19] Eph 6:11-12

[20] These examples were offered by the writer in a handout to his fellow students at CJCR Summer School, 2000.

[21] Brockway (“the Theology of the Churches and the Jewish People”) includes 20 documents of this kind. The first is the statement from the first assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1948. The Catholic statements are not included among them. The Vatican statement “Nostra Aetate” in 1965 is a pivotal document due to its admission that the church must bear its part of the blame for antisemitism. As an acknowledgement that the church had, in its past, been wrong, Nostra Aetate is very much a ‘first’ from the Catholic Church.

[22] “Nor can any man draw nigh God as a Father, who is not quickened by Him as the Life, and taught by Him as the Truth, to come by Him as the Way”. – Matthew Henry Commentary on John 14 is representative of most pre-WW2 commentaries.

[23] The New Jerome commentary puts the letter to the Galatians around 54 CE, and suggests that the instructions to the Gentile Christians had been given during Pauls’ visit referred to in Acts 18:23. The Council of Jerusalem took place between 49 and 51 CE, and therefore would have been formative in Paul’s later teaching.

[24] The New Jerome commentary places it around 58 CE

[25] Interestingly, Littell poses the question: “Was Jesus a false Messiah?” – page 17, “The Crucifixion of the Jews”

[26] Rom 11:17-21

[27] “They [the Jews] are now enemies – To the gospel, to God, and to themselves, which God permits. For your sake: but as for the election – That part of them who believe, they are beloved” – Wesley’s Notes

[28] There is a widespread movement mostly within the conservative evangelical wing of the Church that sees the fulfillment of various verses in Isaiah (mainly from Isa. 27) in the establishment if the state of Israel. Their view is that the Messiah will come soon, and bring in God’s Kingdom. An example is found at: http://www.srv.net/~thor/thor/CR/INDEX.HTM

[29] From the Catholic side, Nostra Aetate in 1965 begins to express the inclusivist doctrine that is now the official position of the Catholic Church. The 1999 statement “Memory and Reconciliation” takes this further, and admits to some of the past mistakes of the church. On the
Protestant side, a development is seen in the statements from the World Council of Churches (see Brockway). Here there is gradual but definite movement from an Exclusivist towards an Inclusivist position. I mentioned above a Catholic commentary from the 1960’s that taught exclusivism. A later Catholic commentary, “The International Bible Commentary” (1998) on Romans 10 & 11 “….. God, who has been able to profit from Israel’s rejection to bring mercy to the Gentiles will still save God’s People ….” Note especially here that Israel remains “God’s People” – the Mosaic Covenant is still valid for the Jews

[30] P174 of “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society”

[31] There is of course the possibility that Catholic Theologians who find themselves too far outside accepted teachings also find themselves outside the church. I offer Hans Küng as an example.

[32] Pluralism’s best known advocate today is John Hick. The idea has been around for many years, indeed Alan Race cites Nicholas of Cusa in the 15th Century as an advocate. Pluralism suggests that God reveals Himself through all the world faiths, and in effect, each holds some of the truth. Ultimately, the pluralist would say that only in the coming together of all the faiths will the truth be found.

[33] I have described the Trinity as a fudge, but an elegant and necessary fudge in its day. The problem that I see (apart from the obvious one in inter-faith dialogue) is that the doctrine of the Trinity sidesteps the bigger issue of the divinity of humankind. Jesus made an uncomfortably large issue of this, and neither Christians nor Jews have been especially keen to follow its implications to the full ever since.

[34] Christianity’s obsession with Holy Places, buildings and relics had reached its zenith in the Middle Ages, and formed one of the main platforms for the reformers.

[35] M. Hilton – “The Christian Effect on Jewish Life”

[36] Littell uses these words with feeling and effect – “The Crucifixion of the Jews” p86

[37] “The Truth Shall Make You Free” document from the Lambeth Conference, 1988 emphasises the importance of learning from the work of the Rabbis, and points out the the state of Jewish understanding and learning today is very different from that of the Second Temple period.

[38] Some thoughts of mine expanding this idea came to the conclusion that Jesus was a pharisee who was called by God to become a prophet, and it was out of his prophetic claim that opinions became deeply divided about him. The essay is available at: Jesus, the Pharisee. Eliezer Berkovits
reports that there is a move among Progressive Jews to recognise Jesus as a prophet.

[39] Elie Wiesel in “Night”, p44

[40] Ken Cracknell in the journal “The Way”, January 1997, p67

[41] It is a passionate concern of my own that the Church in all its history seems to have exalted the divinity of Jesus, while making little effort to understand his teaching that “we are Gods all of us and sons of the most high”. In quoting the psalmist, Jesus clearly points us towards our divine origin; we are, after all made in God’s own image and likeness. I believe that Jesus was asking us to accept this fact in a very literal manner. In pointing to our divinity as human beings, he fully accepted his own divinity. As Christians or Jews, each of us ought to be able to do exactly as he did. If we are able to recognise our own divinity, we must recognise each and every other human person as divine. In doing that, there can  never again be the devaluing of individual humans at any scale – especially devaluing of the scale that we have seen in the Shoah.