Fundamental Themes in the Jewish Scriptures
and their Reception into Faith in Christ
19. To the Jewish Scriptures which it received as the authentic Word of God, the Christian Church added other Scriptures expressing its faith in Jesus, the Christ. It follows then that the Christian Bible is not composed of one “Testament”, but two “Testaments”, the Old and the New, which have complex, dialectical relationships between them. A study of these relationships is indispensable for anyone who wishes to have a proper appreciation of the links between the Christian Church and the Jewish people. The understanding of these relationships has changed over time. The present chapter offers firstly an overview of these changes, followed by a more detailed study of the basic themes common to both Testaments.
By “Old Testament” the Christian Church has no wish to suggest that the Jewish Scriptures are outdated or surpassed.37 On the contrary, it has always affirmed that the Old Testament and the New Testament are inseparable. Their first relationship is precisely that. At the beginning of the second century, when Marcion wished to discard the Old Testament, he met with vehement resistance from the post-apostolic Church. Moreover, his rejection of the Old Testament led him to disregard a major portion of the New — he retained only the Gospel of Luke and some Pauline Letters — which clearly showed that his position was indefensible. It is in the light of the Old Testament that the New understands the life, death and glorification of Jesus (cf. 1 Co 15:3-4).
This relationship is also reciprocal: on the one hand, the New Testament demands to be read in the light of the Old, but it also invites a “re-reading” of the Old in the light of Jesus Christ (cf. Lk 24:45). How is this “re-reading” to be done? It extends to “all the Scriptures” (Lk 24:27) to “everything written in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (24:44), but the New Testament only offers a limited number of examples, not a methodology.
The examples given show that different methods were used, taken from their cultural surroundings, as we have seen above.38 The texts speak of typology39 and of reading in the light of the Spirit (2 Co 3:14-17). These suggest a twofold manner of reading, in its original meaning at the time of writing, and a subsequent interpretation in the light of Christ.
In Judaism, re-readings were commonplace. The Old Testament itself points the way. For example, in the episode of the manna, while not denying the original gift, the meaning is deepened to become a symbol of the Word through which God continually nourishes his people (cf. Dt 8:2-3). The Books of Chronicles are a re-reading of the Book of Genesis and the Books of Samuel and Kings. What is specific to the Christian re-reading is that it is done, as we have said, in the light of Christ.
This new interpretation does not negate the original meaning. Paul clearly states that “the very words of God were entrusted” to the Israelites (Rm 3:2) and he takes it for granted that these words of God could be read and understood before the coming of Christ. Although he speaks of a blindness of the Jews with regard to “the reading of the Old Testament” (2 Co 3:14), he does not mean a total incapacity to read, only an inability to read it in the light of Christ.
20. The Hellenistic world had different methods of which Christian exegesis made use as well. The Greeks often interpreted their classical texts by allegorising them. Commenting on ancient poetry like the works of Homer, where the gods seem to act like capricious and vindictive humans, scholars explained this in a more religious and morally acceptable way by emphasising that the poet was expressing himself in an allegorical manner when he wished to describe only human psychological conflicts, the passions of the soul, using the fiction of war between the gods. In this case, a new and more spiritual meaning replaced the original one.
Jews in the diaspora sometimes utilised this method, in particular to justify certain prescriptions of the Law which, taken literally, would appear nonsensical to the Hellenistic world. Philo of Alexandria, who had been nurtured in Hellenistic culture, tended in this direction. He developed, often with a touch of genius, the original meaning, but at other times he adopted an allegorical reading that completely overshadowed it. As a result, his exegesis was not accepted in Judaism.
In the New Testament, there is a single mention of “things spoken allegorically” (allgoroumena: Ga 4:24), but here it is a question of typology, that is, the persons mentioned in the ancient text, are presented as evoking things to come, without the slightest doubt being cast on their historicity. Another Pauline text uses allegory to interpret a detail of the Law (1 Co 9:9), but he never adopted this method as a general rule.
The Fathers of the Church and the medieval authors, in contrast, make systematic use of it for the entire Bible, even to the least detail — both for the New Testament as well as for the Old — to give a contemporary interpretation capable of application to the Christian life. For example, Origen sees the wood used by Moses to sweeten the bitter waters (Ex 15:22-25) as an allusion to the wood of the cross; he sees the scarlet thread used by Rahab as a means of recognising her house (Jos 2:18), as an allusion to the blood of the Saviour. Any detail capable of establishing contact between an Old Testament episode and Christian realities was exploited. In every page of the Old Testament, in addition, many direct and specific allusions to Christ and the Christian life were found, but there was a danger of detaching each detail from its context and severing the relationship between the biblical text and the concrete reality of salvation history. Interpretation then became arbitrary.
Certainly, the proposed teaching had a certain value because it was animated by faith and guided by a comprehensive understanding of Scripture read in the Tradition. But such teaching was not based on the commentated text. It was superimposed on it. It was inevitable, therefore, that at the moment of its greatest success, it went into irreversible decline.
Thomas Aquinas saw clearly what underpinned allegorical exegesis: the commentator can only discover in a text what he already knows, and in order to know it, he had to find it in the literal sense of another text. From this Thomas Aquinas drew the conclusion: a valid argument cannot be constructed from the allegorical sense, it can only be done from the literal sense.40
Starting from the Middle Ages, the literal sense has been restored to a place of honour and has not ceased to prove its value. The critical study of the Old Testament has progressed steadily in that direction culminating in the supremacy of the historical-critical method.
And so an inverse process was set in motion: the relation between the Old Testament and Christian realities was now restricted to a limited number of Old Testament texts. Today, there is the danger of going to the opposite extreme of denying outright, together with the excesses of the allegorical method, all Patristic exegesis and the very idea of a Christian and Christological reading of Old Testament texts. This gave rise in contemporary theology, without as yet any consensus, to different ways of re-establishing a Christian interpretation of the Old Testament that would avoid arbitrariness and respect the original meaning.
21. The basic theological presupposition is that God's salvific plan which culminates in Christ (cf. Ep 1:3-14) is a unity, but that it is realised progressively over the course of time. Both the unity and the gradual realisation are important; likewise, continuity in certain points and discontinuity in others. From the outset, the action of God regarding human beings has tended towards final fulfilment and, consequently, certain aspects that remain constant began to appear: God reveals himself, calls, confers a mission, promises, liberates, makes a covenant. The first realisations, though provisional and imperfect, already give a glimpse of the final plenitude. This is particularly evident in certain important themes which are developed throughout the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation: the way, the banquet, God's dwelling among men. Beginning from a continuous re-reading of events and texts, the Old Testament itself progressively opens up a perspective of fulfilment that is final and definitive. The Exodus, the primordial experience of Israel's faith (cf. Dt 6:20-25; 26:5-9) becomes the symbol of final salvation. Liberation from the Babylonian Exile and the prospect of an eschatological salvation are described as a new Exodus.41 Christian interpretation is situated along these lines with this difference, that the fulfilment is already substantially realised in the mystery of Christ.
The notion of fulfilment is an extremely complex one,42 one that could easily be distorted if there is a unilateral insistence either on continuity or discontinuity. Christian faith recognises the fulfilment, in Christ, of the Scriptures and the hopes of Israel, but it does not understand this fulfilment as a literal one. Such a conception would be reductionist. In reality, in the mystery of Christ crucified and risen, fulfilment is brought about in a manner unforeseen. It includes transcendence.43 Jesus is not confined to playing an already fixed role — that of Messiah — but he confers, on the notions of Messiah and salvation, a fullness which could not have been imagined in advance; he fills them with a new reality; one can even speak in this connection of a “new creation”.44 It would be wrong to consider the prophecies of the Old Testament as some kind of photographic anticipations of future events. All the texts, including those which later were read as messianic prophecies, already had an immediate import and meaning for their contemporaries before attaining a fuller meaning for future hearers. The messiahship of Jesus has a meaning that is new and original.
The original task of the prophet was to help his contemporaries understand the events and the times they lived in from God's viewpoint. Accordingly, excessive insistence, characteristic of a certain apologetic, on the probative value attributable to the fulfilment of prophecy must be discarded. This insistence has contributed to harsh judgements by Christians of Jews and their reading of the Old Testament: the more reference to Christ is found in Old Testament texts, the more the incredulity of the Jews is considered inexcusable and obstinate.
Insistence on discontinuity between both Testaments and going beyond former perspectives should not, however, lead to a one-sided spiritualisation. What has already been accomplished in Christ must yet be accomplished in us and in the world. The definitive fulfilment will be at the end with the resurrection of the dead, a new heaven and a new earth. Jewish messianic expectation is not in vain. It can become for us Christians a powerful stimulant to keep alive the eschatological dimension of our faith. Like them, we too live in expectation. The difference is that for us the One who is to come will have the traits of the Jesus who has already come and is already present and active among us.
The Old Testament in itself has great value as the Word of God. To read the Old Testament as Christians then does not mean wishing to find everywhere direct reference to Jesus and to Christian realities. True, for Christians, all the Old Testament economy is in movement towards Christ; if then the Old Testament is read in the light of Christ, one can, retrospectively, perceive something of this movement. But since it is a movement, a slow and difficult progression throughout the course of history, each event and each text is situated at a particular point along the way, at a greater or lesser distance from the end. Retrospective re-readings through Christian eyes mean perceiving both the movement towards Christ and the distance from Christ, prefiguration and dissimilarity. Conversely, the New Testament cannot be fully understood except in the light of the Old Testament.
The Christian interpretation of the Old Testament is then a differentiated one, depending on the different genres of texts. It does not blur the difference between Law and Gospel, but distinguishes carefully the successive phases of revelation and salvation history. It is a theological interpretation, but at the same time historically grounded. Far from excluding historical-critical exegesis, it demands it.
Although the Christian reader is aware that the internal dynamism of the Old Testament finds its goal in Jesus, this is a retrospective perception whose point of departure is not in the text as such, but in the events of the New Testament proclaimed by the apostolic preaching. It cannot be said, therefore, that Jews do not see what has been proclaimed in the text, but that the Christian, in the light of Christ and in the Spirit, discovers in the text an additional meaning that was hidden there.
22. The horror in the wake of the extermination of the Jews (the Shoah) during the Second World War has led all the Churches to rethink their relationship with Judaism and, as a result, to reconsider their interpretation of the Jewish Bible, the Old Testament. It may be asked whether Christians should be blamed for having monopolised the Jewish Bible and reading there what no Jew has found. Should not Christians henceforth read the Bible as Jews do, in order to show proper respect for its Jewish origins?
In answer to the last question, a negative response must be given for hermeneutical reasons. For to read the Bible as Judaism does necessarily involves an implicit acceptance of all its presuppositions, that is, the full acceptance of what Judaism is, in particular, the authority of its writings and rabbinic traditions, which exclude faith in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God.
As regards the first question, the situation is different, for Christians can and ought to admit that the Jewish reading of the Bible is a possible one, in continuity with the Jewish Sacred Scriptures from the Second Temple period, a reading analogous to the Christian reading which developed in parallel fashion. Both readings are bound up with the vision of their respective faiths, of which the readings are the result and expression. Consequently, both are irreducible.
On the practical level of exegesis, Christians can, nonetheless, learn much from Jewish exegesis practised for more than two thousand years, and, in fact, they have learned much in the course of history.45 For their part, it is to be hoped that Jews themselves can derive profit from Christian exegetical research.
23. A God who speaks to humans. The God of the Bible is one who enters into communication with human beings and speaks to them. In different ways, the Bible describes the initiative taken by God to communicate with humanity in choosing the people of Israel. God makes his word heard either directly or though a spokesperson.
In the Old Testament, God manifests himself to Israel as the One who speaks. The divine word takes the form of a promise made to Moses to bring the people of Israel out of Egypt (Ex 3:7-17), following the promises made to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for their descendants.46 There is also the promise David receives in 2 S 7:1-17 concerning an offspring who will succeed him on the throne.
After the departure from Egypt, God commits himself to his people by a covenant in which he twice takes the initiative (Ex 19-24; 32-34). In this setting, Moses receives the Law from God, often called “words of God”47 which he must transmit to the people.
As bearer of the word of God, Moses is considered a prophet,48 and even more than a prophet (Nb 12:6-8). Throughout the course of the people's history, prophets were conscious of transmitting the word of God. The narratives of the prophetic call show how the word of God comes, forcefully imposes itself, and invites a response. Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezechiel perceive God's word as an event which changed their lives.49 Their message is God's; to accept it is to accept the word of God. Even though it meets with resistance because of human freedom, the word of God is efficacious:50 it is a force working at the heart of history. In the narrative of the creation of the world by God (Gn 1), we discover that, for God, to say is to do.
The New Testament prolongs this perspective and deepens it. For Jesus becomes the preacher of the word of God (Lk 5:1) and appeals to Scripture: he is recognised as a prophet,51 but he is more than a prophet. In the Fourth Gospel, the role of Jesus is distinguished from that of John the Baptist by opposing the earthly origin of the latter to the heavenly origin of the former: “The one who comes from above...testifies to what he has seen and heard... he whom God has sent speaks the words of God” (Jn 3:31,32,34). Jesus is not simply a messenger; he makes plain his intimacy with God. To understand Jesus' mission, is to know his divine status: “I have not spoken on my own”, Jesus says; “what I speak, I speak just as the Father has told me” (Jn 12:49,50). Beginning from this bond which unites Jesus to the Father, the Fourth Gospel confesses Jesus as the Logos “the Word” which “became flesh” (Jn 1:14).
The opening of the Letter to the Hebrews perfectly summarises the way that has been traversed: God who “spoke long ago to our ancestors by the prophets”, “has spoken to us by a Son” (Hb 1:1-2), this Jesus of whom the Gospels and the apostolic preaching speak.
24. God is One. The strongest affirmation of the Jewish faith is that of Dt 6:4: “Hear, O Israel, the lordour God is one lord”,which may not be separated from its consequences for the faithful: “you shall love the lordyour God with all your heart, with all your soul and all your might” (Dt 6:5).52 The one God of Israel, the lordwill be acknowledged as the one God of all humanity at the end of time (Zc 14:9). God is ONE: this proclamation points to the language of love (cf. Sg 6:9). The God who loves Israel is confessed as unique and calls each one to respond to that love by a love ever total.
Israel is called to acknowledge that the God who brought it out of Egypt is the only one who liberated it from slavery. This God alone has rescued Israel and Israel must express its faith in him by keeping the Law and through the cult.
The affirmation “The lordis one”was not originally an expression of radical monotheism, for the existence of other gods was not denied as, for example, the Decalogue shows (Ex 20:3). From the time of the Exile, the faith affirmation tended to become one of radical monotheism formulated through expressions like “the gods are nothing” (Is 45:14) or “there is no other”.53 In later Judaism the profession of Dt 6:4 becomes one of monotheistic faith; it is at the heart of Jewish prayer.
In the New Testament the profession of Jewish faith is repeated by Jesus himself in Mk 12:29, quoting Dt 6:4-5, and by his Jewish questioner who quotes Dt 4:35. The Christian faith also affirms the oneness of God for “there is no God but one”.54 This oneness of God is firmly held, even when Jesus is recognised as Son (Rm 1:3-4), united with the Father (Jn 10:30; 17:11). For the glory that comes from the one God is received by Jesus from the Father as the “only Son full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). To express the Christian faith, Paul does not hesitate to divide into two the profession of Dt 6:4 to say: “For us there is one God, the Father...and one Lord, Jesus Christ” (1 Co 8:6).
25. God the Creator and providence. The Bible opens with the words: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gn 1:1); this heading dominates the text of Gn 1:1-2:4(a) as well as the whole of Scripture which recounts the divine acts of power. In this opening text, the affirmation of the goodness of creation is repeated seven times, becoming one of the refrains (Gn 1:4-31).
In different formulations, in different contexts, the affirmation of God as Creator is constantly repeated. Thus in the narrative of the Exodus from Egypt, God exercises power over the wind and the sea (Ex 14:21). In Israel's prayer, God is confessed as the one “who made heaven and earth”.55 The creative action of God is the foundation and assurance of the salvation to come, likewise in prayer (Ps 121:2), as well as in the pronouncements of the prophets, for example in Jr 5:22 and 14:22. In Is 40-55, this creative action is the basis of hope for a salvation to come.56 The sapiential books give the creative work of God a central place.57
The God who creates the world by his Word (Gn 1) and gives human beings the breath of life (Gn 2:7), is also the one who shows solicitude towards every human being from the moment of conception.58
Outside the Hebrew Bible, the text of 2 M 7:28 should be mentioned where the mother of the seven martyred brothers exhorts the last one in the following way: “I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth, and see everything that is in them and recognise that God did not make them out of things that existed”. The Latin translation has creation ex nihilo “from nothing”. An interesting aspect of this text is that the creative action of God serves here to ground faith in the resurrection of the just. The same is true of Rm 4:17.
Faith in God the Creator, vanquisher of the cosmic forces and of evil, becomes inseparable from trust in him as Saviour of the Israelite people as well as of individuals.59
26. In the New Testament, the conviction that all existing things are the work of God comes straight from the Old Testament. It seems so obvious that no proof is needed and creation vocabulary is not prominent in the Gospels. Nevertheless, there is in Mt 19:4 a reference to Gn 1:27 which speaks of the creation of man and woman. More generally, Mk 13:19 recalls “the beginning of the creation that God created”. Lastly, Mt 13:35(b) referring to parables speaks of “what has been hidden from the foundation of the world”.
In his preaching, Jesus frequently insists on the trust human beings should have in God on whom everything depends: “Do not worry about your life what you will eat or about your body with what you will wear... Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap... and yet your heavenly Father feeds them”.60 The care of God the Creator extends to both good and bad, on whom “he makes his sun to rise” and to whom he sends rain to fructify the earth (Mt 5:45). The providence of God embraces all; for Jesus' disciples, this conviction ought to lead them to seek “first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Mt 6:33). In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus speaks of “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt 25:34). The world created by God is where the salvation of human beings takes place; it awaits a complete “regeneration” (Mt 19:28).
Beginning from the Jewish Bible which affirms that God created all things by his word,61 the prologue of the Fourth Gospel proclaims that “in the beginning was the Word”, that “the Word was God” and that “all things came into being through him” and “without him not one thing came into being” (Jn 1:1-3). The Word came into the world, yet the world did not know him (Jn 1:10). In spite of human obstacles, God's plan is clearly defined in Jn 3:16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life”. Jesus witnesses to this love of God to the very end (Jn 13:1). After the resurrection Jesus “breathes” on the disciples, repeating God's action in the creation of human beings (Gn 2:7), and suggesting that a new creation will be the work of the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22).
Using a different vocabulary, the Book of Revelation offers a similar perspective. The creator God (Rv 4:11) is the originator of a plan of salvation that could not be realised except by the Lamb, “as if sacrificed” (Rv 5:6), accomplished in the paschal mystery by him who is “the origin of God's creation” (Rv 3:14). In history, the victory over the forces of evil will go hand in hand with a new creation that will have God himself as light,62 and a temple will no longer be needed, for the Almighty God and the Lamb will be the Temple of the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem (Rv 21:2,22).
In the Pauline Letters, creation has an equally important place. The argument of Paul in Rm 1:20-21 concerning the pagans is well known. The apostle affirms that “since the creation of the world, his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made”, and so the pagans are “without excuse” in not giving glory to God and having “served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rm 1:25; cf. Ws 13:1-9). Creation will be freed “from its bondage to decay” (Rm 8:20-21). So creation then may not be rejected as evil. In 1 Tm 4:4, it is affirmed that “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected provided it is received with thanksgiving”.
In the act of creation, the role attributed to Wisdom in the Old Testament is attributed in the New Testament to the person of Christ, the Son of God. Like the “Word” in John's prologue (1:3), it is a universal mediation, expressed in Greek by the preposition dia, which is also found in Heb 1:2. Associated with “the Father from whom are all things”, it is Jesus Christ “through whom are all things” (1 Co 8:6). Developing this theme, the hymn of Col 1:15-20 affirms that “in him all things were created” and that “all things have been created through him and for him; he is before all things, in him all things hold together” (Col 1:16-17).
On the other hand, the resurrection of Christ is understood as the inauguration of a new creation, of a kind that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a ‘new creation'”.63 Faced with the proliferation of human sin, the plan of God in Christ was to bring about a new creation. We will take up this theme later after treating of the human condition.
a) In the Old Testament
27. It is common place to speak in one phrase of the “greatness and wretchedness” of the human person. These terms are not found in the Old Testament to characterise the human condition, but equivalent expressions are encountered: in the first three chapters of Genesis, man and woman are, on the one hand, “created in the image of God” (Gn 1:27), but are also “sent forth from the garden of Eden” (Gn 3:24) because they disobeyed the command of God. These chapters set the tone for reading the entire Bible. Everyone is invited to recognise therein the essential traits of the human situation and the basis for the whole of salvation history.
Created in the image of God: affirmed before the call of Abraham and the election of Israel, this characteristic applies to all men and women of all times and places (Gn 1:26-27)64 and confers on them their highest dignity. The expression may have originated in the royal ideology of the nations surrounding Israel, especially in Egypt, where the Pharaoh was regarded as the living image of god, entrusted with the maintenance and renewal of the cosmos. But the Bible has made this metaphor into a fundamental category for defining every human person. God's words: “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over...” (Gn 1:26) show that human beings are creatures of God whose task it is to govern the earth that was created and populated by God. Insofar as they are images of God and the Creator's stewards, human beings become recipients of his word and are called to be obedient to him (Gn 2:15-17).
Human beings exist as man and woman whose task is at the service of life. In the affirmation: “God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them” (Gn 1:27), the differentiation of the sexes is paralleled with the relationship to God.
Furthermore, human procreation is closely associated with the task of governing the earth, as the divine blessing of the first human couple shows: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over...” (1:28). In this way, the likeness to God, the relationship of man and woman, and ruling over the world are intimately connected.
The close relationship between being created in God's image and having authority over the earth has many consequences. First of all, the universality of these characteristics excludes all superiority of one group or individual over another. All human beings are in the image of God and all are charged with furthering the Creator's work of ordering. Secondly, arrangements are made with a view to the harmonious co-existence of all living things in their search for the necessary means of subsistence: God provides for both humans and beasts (Gn 1:29-30).65 Thirdly, human existence is endowed with a certain rhythm. As well as the rhythm of day and night, lunar months and solar years (Gn 1:14-18), God establishes a weekly rhythm with rest on the seventh day, the basis of the sabbath (Gn 2:1-3). When they keep the sabbath observance (Ex 20:8-11), the masters of the earth render homage to their Creator.
28. Human wretchedness finds its exemplary biblical expression in the story of the first sin and punishment in the garden of Eden. The narrative of Gn 2:4(b)-3:24 complements that of Gn 1:1-2:4(a) by explaining how, in a creation that was “good”66 and with the creation of humans even “very good” (Gn 1:31), wretchedness is nevertheless introduced.
The narrative defines the task given to the man, “to till and keep” the garden of Eden (Gn 2:15), adding the prohibition not “to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (2:16-17). This prohibition implies that serving God and keeping his commandments are correlatives of the power to subdue the earth (Gn 1:26,28).
The man fulfils God's intentions first of all by naming the animals (2:18-20) and then in accepting the woman as God's gift (2:23). In the temptation scene, in contrast, the human couple ceases to act in accordance with God's demands. By eating the fruit of the tree, the woman and the man succumb to the temptation to be like God and to acquiring a “knowledge” that belongs to God alone (3:5-6). The result is that they try to avoid a confrontation with God. But their attempt to hide themselves shows the folly of sin, because it leaves them in the very place where the voice of God can be heard (3:8). God's question which indicts the man: “Where are you?” suggests that he is not where he ought to be: at the service of God and working at his task (3:9). The man and the woman perceive that they are naked (3:7-10), which means that they have forfeited trust in each other and in the harmony of creation.
By his sentence, God redefines the conditions of human living but not the relationship between him and the couple (3:17-19). On the other hand, the man is relieved of his particular task in the garden, but not of work (3:17-19,23). He is now oriented towards the “soil” (3:23; cf. 2:5). In other words, God continues to give human beings a task. In order to “subdue the earth and have dominion over it” (1:28), man must now work (3:23).
Henceforth, “pain” is the constant companion of the woman (3:16) and the man (3:17); death is their destiny (3:19). The relationship between man and wife deteriorates. The word “pain” is associated with pregnancy and birth (3:16), and with physical and mental fatigue resulting from work as well (3:17).67 Paradoxically, into what should be in themselves a source of profound joy, childbirth and productivity, pain is introduced. The verdict assigns “pain” to their existence on the “soil”, which has been cursed because of their sin (3:17-18). Likewise for death: the end of human life is called a return “to the soil” from which the man was taken to fulfil his task.68 In Gn 2-3, immortality seems to be dependent on existence in the garden of Eden and conditioned by respect for the prohibition of eating from the tree of “knowledge”. When this prohibition is violated, access to the tree of life (2:9) is henceforth blocked (3:22). In Wi 2:23-24, immortality is associated with likeness to God: “death entered the world through the devil's envy”, and so a connection is established between Gn 1 and Gn 2-3.
Created in God's image and charged with cultivating the soil, the human couple have the great honour of being called to complete the creative action of God in taking care of his creatures (Wi 9:2-3). By refusing to heed the voice of God and preferring that of creatures human freedom is brought into play; to suffer pain and death is the consequence of a choice made by the persons themselves. “Wretchedness” becomes a universal aspect of the human condition, but this aspect is secondary and does not abolish the “greatness” willed in God's plan for his creatures.
The chapters following in Genesis show to what level the human race can sink in sin and wretchedness: “The earth was corrupt in God's sight and was filled with violence... All flesh had corrupted its ways upon the earth” (Gn 6:11-12), to the extent that God decided on the deluge. But at least one man, Noah, together with his family “walked with God” (6:9), and God chose him to be the beginning of a new departure for humanity. From his posterity, God chose Abraham, commanding him to leave his country and promising “to make [his] name great” (Gn 12:2). The plan of God is now revealed as a universal one, for in Abraham “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (12:3). The Old Testament reveals how this plan was realised through the ages, with alternating moments of wretchedness and greatness. Yet God was never resigned to leaving his people in wretchedness. He always reinstates them in the path of true greatness, for the benefit of the whole of humanity.
To these fundamental traits, it may be added that the Old Testament is not unaware of either the deceptive aspects of human existence (cf. Qo), the problem of innocent suffering (cf. especially Job), or the scandal of the persecution suffered by the innocent (cf. the stories of Elijah, Jeremiah, and the Jews persecuted by Antiochus). But in every case, especially the last, far from being an obstacle to human greatness, the experience of wretchedness, paradoxically, served to enhance greatness.
b) In the New Testament
29. The anthropology of the New Testament is based on that of the Old. It bears witness to the grandeur of the human person created in God's image (Gn 1:26-27) and to his wretchedness, brought on by the undeniable reality of sin, which makes him into a caricature of his true self.
Greatness of the human person. In the Gospels the greatness of the human being stands out in the solicitude shown to him by God, more than that of the birds of heaven or the flowers of the fields (Mt 6:30); it is also highlighted by the ideal proposed to him: to become merciful as God is merciful (Lk 6:36), perfect as God is perfect (Mt 5:45,48). For the human being is a spiritual being who “does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4; Lk 4:4). It is hunger for the word of God that draws the crowds first to John the Baptist (Mt 3:5-6 and par.) and then to Jesus.69 A glimpse of the divine draws them. As the image of God, the human person is attracted towards God. Even the pagans are capable of great faith.70
It was the apostle Paul who deepened anthropological reflection. As “apostle of the nations” (Rm 11:13), he understood that all people are called by God to a very great glory (1 Th 2:12), that of becoming children of God,71 loved by him (Rm 5:8), members of the body of Christ (1 Co 12:27), filled with the Holy Spirit (1 Co 6:19). One can scarcely imagine a greater dignity.
The theme of the creation of the human person in God's image is treated by Paul in a multifaceted way. In 1 Co 11:7, the apostle applies it to man “who is the image and glory of God”. Elsewhere, he applies it to Christ “who is the image of God”72 The vocation of the human person called by God is to become “conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he may be a firstborn among many brothers” (Rm 8:29). It is by contemplating the glory of the Lord that this resemblance is bestowed (2 Co 3:18; 4:6). Begun in this life, transformation is achieved in the next when “we will bear the image of the heavenly man” (1 Co 15:49). The greatness of the human person will then reach its culmination.
30. The wretchedness of the human being. The wretched state of humanity appears in various ways in the New Testament. It is clear that earth is no paradise! The Gospels repeatedly give a long list of maladies and infirmities that beset people.73 In the Gospels demonic possession shows the abject slavery into which the whole person can fall (Mt 8:28-34 and par.). Death strikes and gives rise to sorrow.74
But it is especially moral misery that is the focus of attention. Humanity finds itself in a situation of sin that puts it in extreme danger.75 Because of this, the invitation to conversion makes its presence felt. The preaching of John the Baptist reverberates with force in the desert.76 Then Jesus takes up the cry; “he proclaimed the good news of God and said... repent and believe in the good news” (Mk 1:14-15); “he went about all the cities and villages” (Mt 9:35). He denounced the evil “that comes out of a person” and “defiles” him (Mk 7:20). “For it is from within, from the human heart that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within and they defile a person”.77 In the parable of the prodigal son, Jesus described the miserable state to which the human person is reduced when he is far from his Father's house (Lk 15:13-16).
Jesus also spoke of persecutions suffered by people who dedicate themselves to the cause of “righteousness” (Mt 5:10) and predicted that his disciples would be persecuted.78 He himself was (Jn 5:16); people sought to have him killed.79 This murderous intention ended by bringing it about. The passion of Jesus was then an extreme manifestation of the moral wretchedness of humanity. Nothing was missing: betrayal, denial, abandonment, unjust trial and condemnation, insults and ill-treatment, cruel sufferings accompanied by mockery. Human wickedness was released against “the Holy and Just One” (Ac 3:14) and put him in a state of terrible wretchedness.
It is in Paul's Letter to the Romans that we find the most sombre description of the moral decay of humanity (Rm 1:18-3:20), and the most penetrating analysis of the condition of the sinner (Rm 7:14-25). The picture which the apostle paints of “all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth” is truly overwhelming. Their refusal to give glory to God and to thank him leads to complete blindness and to the worst perversions (1:21-32). Paul wants to show that moral decay is universal and that the Jew is not exempt, in spite of the privilege of knowing the Law (2:17-24). He supports his thesis by a long series of texts from the Old Testament which declares that all people are sinners (3:10-18): “There is no one who is righteous, not even one”.80 This all-embracing negation is assuredly not the fruit of experience. It is more in the nature of a theological intuition of what humans become without the grace of God: evil is in the heart of each one (cf. Ps 51:7). This intuition of Paul is reinforced by the conviction that Christ “died for all”.81 Therefore, all have need of redemption. If sin were not universal, there would be some who would have had no need of redemption.
The Law did not bring with it a remedy for sin, for even if he recognises that the Law is good and wishes to keep it, the sinner is forced to declare: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rm 7:19). The power of sin avails of the Law itself to manifest its destructiveness all the more, by inciting transgression (7:13). And sin produces death82 that provokes the sinner's cry of distress: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rm 7:24). Thus is manifested the urgent need of redemption.
On a different note, but still quite forcefully, the Book of Revelation itself witnesses to the ravages of evil produced in the human world. It describes “Babylon”, “the great prostitute”, who has captivated “the kings of the earth” and “the inhabitants of the earth” in their abominations and who is “drunk with the blood of the saints and of the witnesses to Jesus” (Rv 17:1-6). “Their sins are heaped high as heaven” (18:5). Evil releases terrible calamities. But it will not have the last word. Babylon falls (18:2). From heaven descends “the holy city, the new Jerusalem”, “the abode of God among men” (21:2-3). The salvation that comes from God is opposed to the proliferation of evil.
a) In the Old Testament
31. From the beginning of its history, with the Exodus from Egypt, Israel had experienced the lordas Liberator and Saviour: to this the Bible witnesses, describing how Israel was rescued from Egyptian power at the time of the crossing of the sea (Ex 14:21-31). The miraculous crossing of the sea becomes one of the principal themes for praising God.83 Together with Israel's entrance to the Promised Land (Ex 15:17), the Exodus from Egypt becomes the principal affirmation of their profession of faith.84
One must be aware of the theological significance contained in the Old Testament formulations that express the Lord's intervention in this salvific event which was foundational for Israel: the lord“led out” Israel from Egypt, “the house of slavery” (Ex 20:2; Dt 5:6), he “brought them up” to “a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex 3:8,17), he “rescued” them from their oppressors (Ex 6:6; 12:27), he “ransomed” them as slaves are ransomed (p~d~h: Dt 7:8), or by exercising a right of kin (g~'al: Ex 6:6; 15:13).
In the land of Canaan, continuing the experience of liberation from Egypt, Israel was once again the recipient of the liberating and salvific intervention of God. Oppressed by enemy peoples because of its infidelity towards God, Israel called to him for help. The Lord raised up a “judge” as “saviour”.85
In the anguished situation of the Exile – after the loss of the Land – Second Isaiah, a prophet whose name is unknown, announced to the exiles an unheard-of message: the Lord was about to repeat his original liberating intervention — that of the Exodus from Egypt — and even to surpass it. To the descendants of his chosen ones, Abraham and Jacob (Is 41:8), he would manifest himself as “Redeemer” (g(o-)'l) in rescuing them from their foreign masters, the Babylonians.86 “I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no Saviour; I declared and saved” (Is 43:11-12). As “Saviour” and “Redeemer” of Israel, the lordwill be known to all men (Is 49:26).
After the return of the exiles, seen as imminent by Second Isaiah and soon to become a reality — but not in a very spectacular manner — the hope of eschatological liberation began to dawn: the spiritual successors of the exilic prophet announced the fulfilment, yet to come, of the redemption of Israel as a divine intervention at the end of time.87 It is as Saviour of Israel that the messianic prince is presented at the end of time (Mi 4:14-5:5).
In many of the Psalms, salvation takes on an individual aspect. Caught in the grip of sickness or hostile intrigues, an Israelite can invoke the Lord to be preserved from death or oppression.88 He can also implore help from God for the king (Ps 20:10). He has confidence in the saving intervention of God (Ps 55:17-19). In return, the faithful and especially the king (Ps 18 = 2 S 22), give thanks to the Lord for the help obtained and for the end of oppression.89
Furthermore, Israel hopes that the Lord will “redeem it from all its faults” (Ps 130:8).
In some texts, salvation after death makes its appearance. What, for Job, was only a glimmer of hope (“My redeemer lives” Jb 19:25) becomes a sure hope in the Psalm: “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me” (Ps 49:15). Likewise, in Ps 73:24 the Psalmist says: “Afterwards you will receive me in glory”. God then can not only subdue the power of death to prevent the faithful from being separated from him, he can lead them beyond death to a participation in his glory.
The Book of Daniel and the Deuterocanonical Writings take up the theme of salvation and develop it further. According to apocalyptic expectation, the glorification of “the wise ones” (Dn 12:3) — no doubt, the people who are faithful to the Law in spite of persecution — will take their place in the resurrection of the dead (12:2). The sure hope of the martyrs' rising “for eternal life” (2 M 7:9) is forcefully expressed in the Second Book of Maccabees.90 According to the Book of Wisdom “people were taught... and were saved by wisdom” (Ws 9:19). The just man is a “son of God”, so God “will help him and deliver him from the hand of his adversaries” (2:18), preserve him from death or save him beyond death, for “the hope” of the just is “full of immortality” (3:4).
b) In the New Testament
32. The New Testament follows the Old in presenting God as Saviour. From the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, Mary praises God her “Saviour” (Lk 1:47) and Zechariah blesses “the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has...redeemed his people” (Lk 1:68); the theme of salvation resounds four times in the “Benedictus”91 with ever greater precision: from the desire to be delivered from their enemies (1:71,74) to being delivered from sin (1:77). Paul proclaims that the Gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith” (Rm 1:16).
In the Old Testament, to bring about liberation and salvation, God makes use of human instruments, who, as we have seen, were sometimes called saviours, as God himself more often was. In the New Testament, the title “redeemer” (lytr(o-)ts) appears only once and is given to Moses who is sent as such by God (Ac 7:35).92 The title “Saviour” is given to God and to Jesus. The very name of Jesus evokes the salvation given by God. The first Gospel draws attention to it early on and makes it clear that it has to do with spiritual salvation: the infant conceived by the virgin Mary will receive “the name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). In the Gospel of Luke, the angels announce to the shepherds: “To you is born this day a Saviour” (Lk 2:11). The Fourth Gospel opens up a wider perspective when the Samaritans proclaim that Jesus “is truly the Saviour of the world” (Jn 4:42).
It can be said that in the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles and in the uncontested Pauline Letters, the New Testament is very sparing in its use of the title Saviour.93 This reticence is explained by the fact that the title was widely used in the Hellenistic world; it was conferred on gods such as Asclepius, a healer god, and on divinized kings who were hailed as saviours of the people. The title, then, could become ambiguous. Furthermore, the notion of salvation, in the Greek world, had a strong individual and physical connotation, while the New Testament, in continuity with the Old, had a collective amplitude and was open to the spiritual. With the passage of time, the danger of ambiguity lessened. The Pastoral Letters and Second Peter use the title Saviour often and apply it both to God and to Christ.94
In Jesus' public life, his power to save was manifested not only in the spiritual plane, as in Lk 19:9-10, but also — and frequently — in the bodily realm as well. Jesus cures sick people and heals them;95 he observes: “It is your faith that has saved you”.96 The disciples implore him to rescue them from danger and he accedes to their request.97 He liberates even from death.98 On the cross his enemies mockingly recall that “he saved others” and they defy him to “save himself and come down from the cross”.99 But Jesus rejects a salvation of this kind for himself, because he has come to “give his life as a ransom (lytron: means of liberation) for the many”. 100 People wanted to make him a national liberator, 101 but he declined. He has brought salvation of a different kind.
The relationship between salvation and the Jewish people becomes an explicit object of theological reflection in John: “Salvation comes from the Jews” (Jn 4:22). This saying of Jesus is found in a context of opposition between Jewish and Samaritan cults, that will become obsolete with the introduction of adoration “in spirit and truth” (4:23). At the end of the episode, the Samaritans acknowledge Jesus as “the Saviour of the world” (Jn 4:42).
The title Saviour is above all attributed to the risen Jesus, for, by his resurrection, “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins” (Ac 5:31). “There is salvation in no other” (4:12). The perspective is eschatological. “Save yourselves” Peter said, “from this corrupt generation” (Ac 2:40) and Paul presents the risen Jesus to Gentile converts as the one “who rescues us from the wrath that is coming” (1 Th 1:10). “Now that we have been justified by his blood, much more surely will we be saved through him from the wrath” (Rm 5:9).
This salvation was promised to the Israelite people, but the “nations” can also participate since the Gospel is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first, and also the Greek”. 102 The hope of salvation, expressed so often and so forcefully in the Old Testament, finds its fulfilment in the New.
a) In the Old Testament
33. God is the Liberator and Saviour, above all, of an insignificant people — situated along with others between two great empires — because he has chosen this people for himself, setting them apart for a special relationship with him and for a mission in the world. The idea of election is fundamental for an understanding of the Old Testament and indeed for the whole Bible.
The affirmation that the lordhas “chosen” (b~char) Israel is one of the more important teachings of Deuteronomy. The choice which the Lord made of Israel is manifest in the divine intervention to free it from Egypt and in the gift of the land. Deuteronomy explicitly denies that the divine choice was motivated by Israel's greatness or its moral perfection: “Know that the lord your God is not giving you this good land to occupy because of your righteousness; for you are a stubborn people” (9:6). The only basis for God's choice was his love and faithfulness: “It is because he loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors” (7:8).
Chosen by God, Israel is called a “holy people” (Dt 7:6; 14:2). The word “holy” (q~dôš) expresses, negatively, a separation from what is profane and, positively, a consecration to God's service. By using the expression “holy people”, Deuteronomy emphasises Israel's unique situation, a nation introduced into the domain of the sacred, having become the special possession of God and the object of his special protection. At the same time, the importance of Israel's response to the divine initiative is underlined as well as the necessity of appropriate conduct. In this way, the theology of election throws light both on the distinctive status and on the special responsibility of a people who, in the midst of other peoples, has been chosen as the special possession of God, 103 to be holy as God is holy. 104
In Deuteronomy, the theme of election not only concerns people. One of the more fundamental requirements of the book is that the cult of the Lord be celebrated in the place which the Lord has chosen. The election of the people appears in the hortatory introduction to the laws, but in the laws themselves, divine election is concentrated on one sanctuary. 105 Other books focus on the place where this sanctuary is located and narrow the divine choice to the election of one tribe and one person. The chosen tribe is Judah in preference to Ephraim, 106 the chosen person is David. 107 He takes possession of Jerusalem and the fortress of Zion becomes the “City of David” (2 S 5:6-7), to it the ark of the covenant is transferred (2 S 6:12). Thus the Lord has chosen Jerusalem (2 Ch 6:5) or more precisely, Zion (Ps 132:13), for his dwelling place.
For the Israelites in troubled and difficult times, when the future seemed closed, the conviction of being God's chosen people sustained their hope in the mercy of God and in fidelity to his promises. During the Exile, Second Isaiah takes up the theme of election 108 to console the exiles who thought they were abandoned by God (Is 49:14). The execution of God's justice had not brought an end to Israel's election, this remained solid, because it was founded on the election of the patriarchs. 109 To the idea of election, Second Isaiah attached the idea of service in presenting Israel as “the servant of the lord” 110 destined to be “the light of the nations” (49:6). These texts clearly show that election, the basis of hope, brings with it a responsibility: Israel is to be, before the nations, the “witness” to the one God. 111 In bearing this witness, the Servant will come to know the lordas he is (43:10).
The election of Israel does not imply the rejection of the other nations. On the contrary, the presupposition is that the other nations also belong to God, for “the earth belongs to the Lord with all that is in it” (Dt 10:14) and God “apportioned the nations their patrimony” (32:8). When Israel is called by God “my first-born son” (Ex 4:22; Jr 31:9) and “the first-fruits of the harvest” (Jr 2:3), these metaphors imply that other nations are equally part of God's family and harvest. This understanding of election is typical of the Bible as a whole.
34. In its teaching on Israel's election, Deuteronomy, as we have said, puts the accent on the divine initiative, but also on the demands of the relationship between God and his people. Faith in the election could, nevertheless, harden into a proud superiority. The prophets battled against this deviation. A message of Amos relativises the election and attributes to the nations the privilege of an exodus comparable to Israel's (Am 9:7). Another message says that election brings with it, on God's part, a greater severity: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities” (Am 3:2). Amos believes that the Lord had chosen Israel in a unique and special manner. In the context, the verb “to know” has a more profound and intimate meaning than consciousness of existence. It expresses a personal relationship more intimate than simply intellectual knowledge. But this relationship brings with it specific moral demands. Because it is God's people, Israel must live as God's people. If it fails in this duty, it will receive a “visit” of divine justice harsher than that of the other nations.
For Amos, it is clear that election means responsibility more than privilege. Obviously, the choice comes first followed by the demand. It is nonetheless true that God's election of Israel implies a high level of responsibility. By recalling this, the prophet disposes of the illusion that being God's chosen people means having a claim on God.
The peoples' and their kings' obstinate disobedience provoked the catastrophe of the Exile as foretold by the prophets. “The lordsaid: I will also remove Judah out of my sight as I have removed Israel; I will reject this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, ‘My name shall be there'” (2 K 23:27). This decree of God produced its effect (2 K 25:1-21). But at the very moment when it was said: “The two families that the lordchose have been rejected by him” (Jr 33:24), the Lord formally contradicts it: “I will restore their fortunes and will have mercy on them” (Jr 33:26). The prophet Hosea had already announced that at a time when Israel had become for God “Not-my-people” (Ho 1:8), God will say: “You are my people” (Ho 2:25). Jerusalem must be rebuilt; the prophet Haggai predicts for the rebuilt Temple a glory greater than that of Solomon's Temple (Hg 2:9). In this way, the election was solemnly reconfirmed.
b) In the New Testament
35. The expression “chosen people” is not found in the Gospels, but the conviction that Israel is God's chosen people is taken for granted although expressed in other terms. Matthew applies to Jesus the words of Micah where God speaks of Israel as my people; God says of the child born in Bethlehem: “He will shepherd my people Israel” (Mt 2:6: Mi 5:3). The choice of God and his fidelity to his chosen people is reflected later in the mission entrusted by God to Jesus: he has only been sent “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15:24). Jesus himself uses the same words to limit the first mission of the “twelve apostles” (Mt 10:2, 5-6).
But the opposition Jesus encounters from the leaders brings about a change of perspective. At the conclusion of the parable of the murderous vineyard tenants, addressed to the “chief priests” and “elders of the people” (Mt 21:23), Jesus says to them: “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce its fruits” (21:43). This word does not mean, however, the substitution of a pagan nation for the people of Israel. The new “nation” will be, on the contrary, in continuity with the chosen people, for it will have as a “cornerstone” the “stone rejected by the builders” (21:42), who is Jesus, a son of Israel, and it will be composed of Israelites with whom will be associated in “great numbers” (Mt 8:11) people coming from “all the nations” (Mt 28:19). The promise of God's presence with his people which guaranteed Israel's election, is fulfilled by the presence of the risen Lord with his community. 112
In the Gospel of Luke, the canticle of Zechariah proclaims that “the God of Israel has visited his people” (Lk 1:68), and that the mission of Zechariah's son will be a “going ahead of the Lord” so as to “give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins” (1:76-77). During the presentation of the child Jesus in the Temple, Simeon qualifies the salvation brought by God as “glory for your people Israel” (2:32). Later on, a great miracle performed by Jesus gives rise to the crowd's exclamation: “God has visited his people” (7:16).
Nevertheless, for Luke a certain tension remains because of the opposition encountered by Jesus. This opposition, however, comes from the people's leaders, not from the people themselves who are favourably disposed towards Jesus. 113 In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke emphasises that a great number of Peter's Jewish listeners, on the day of Pentecost and following, accepted his appeal to repent. 114 On the other hand, the narrative of Acts underlines that, on three occasions, in Asia Minor, Greece and Rome, the opposition initiated by the Jews forced Paul to relocate his mission among the Gentiles. 115 In Rome, Paul recalls, for the Jewish leaders, Isaiah's oracle predicting the hardening of “this people”. 116 Thus the New Testament, like the Old, has two different perspectives on God's chosen people.
At the same time, there is an awareness that Israel's election is not an exclusive privilege. Already the Old Testament announced the attachment of “all the nations” to the God of Israel. 117 Along the same lines, Jesus announces that “many will come from the east and west and take their place in the banquet with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob”. 118 The risen Jesus extends the apostles' mission and the offer of salvation to the “whole world”. 119
Because of this, the First Letter of Peter, addressed mostly to believers converted from paganism, confers on them the titles “chosen people” 120 and “holy nation” 121 in the same manner as those converted from Judaism. Formerly, they were not a people, henceforth they are the “people of God”. 122 The Second Letter of John calls the Christian community whom he addresses as “the chosen lady” (v.1), and “your chosen sister” (v.13) the community from which it was sent. To newly converted pagans Paul does not hesitate to declare: “We know, brothers, beloved by God, that he has chosen you... (1 Th 1:4). Thus, the conviction of partaking in the divine election was communicated to all Christians.
36. In the Letter to the Romans, Paul makes clear that for Christians who have come from paganism, what is involved is a participation in Israel's election, God's special people. The Gentiles are “the wild olive shoot”, “grafted to the real olive” to “share the riches of the root” (Rm 11:17,24). They have no need to boast to the prejudice of the branches. “It is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you” (11:18).
To the question of whether the election of Israel remains valid, Paul gives two different answers: the first says that the branches have been cut off because of their refusal to believe (11:17,20), but “a remnant remains, chosen by grace” (11:5). It cannot, therefore, be said that God has rejected his people (11:1-2). “Israel failed to attain what it was seeking. The elect [that is, the chosen remnant] attained it, but the rest were hardened” (11:7). The second response says that the Jews who became “enemies as regards the Gospel” remain “beloved as regards election, for the sake of the ancestors” (11:28) and Paul foresees that they will obtain mercy (11:27,31). The Jews do not cease to be called to live by faith in the intimacy of God “for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (11:29).
The New Testament never says that Israel has been rejected. From the earliest times, the Church considered the Jews to be important witnesses to the divine economy of salvation. She understands her own existence as a participation in the election of Israel and in a vocation that belongs, in the first place, to Israel, despite the fact that only a small number of Israelites accepted it.
While Paul compares the providence of God to the work of a potter who prepares for honour “vessels of mercy” (Rm 9:23), he declines to say that these vessels are exclusively or principally the Gentiles, rather they represent both Gentiles and Jews with a certain priority for Jews: “He called us not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles” (9:24).
Paul recalls that Christ “born under the Law” (Ga 4:4) has become “a servant to the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God, in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs” (Rm 15:8), meaning that Christ not only was circumcised, but is at the service of the circumcised because God has made promises to the patriarchs which were binding. “As regards the Gentiles”, the apostle says “they glorify God for his mercy” (15:9), and not for his fidelity, for their entry into the people of God is not the result of divine promises, it is something over and above what is owed to them. Therefore, it is the Jews who will first praise God among the nations; they will then invite the nations to rejoice with the people of God (15:9(b)-10).
Paul himself recalls with pride his Jewish origins. 123 In Rm 11:1, he mentions his status as “an Israelite, a descendent of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” as proof that God has not rejected his people. In 2 Co 11:22, he sees it as a title of honour parallel to his title as minister of Christ (11:23). It is true that in Ph 3:7, these advantages which were for him gains, he now “regards as loss, because of Christ”. But the point he is making here is that these advantages, instead of leading to Christ, kept him at a distance from him.
In Rm 3:1-2, Paul affirms unhesitatingly “the superiority of the Jews and the value of circumcision”. Because first and most important, “the oracles of God were entrusted to them”. Other reasons are given later on in Rm 9:4-5, forming an impressive list of God's gifts and not only of promises: to Israelites belong “the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the Law, the worship, the promises and the Patriarchs, and from them according to the flesh came the Messiah” (Rm 9:4-5).
Nevertheless, Paul immediately adds that it is not enough to belong physically to Israel in order to rank among the “children of God”. Before all else it is necessary to be “children of the promise” (Rm 9:6-8), which, according to the apostle's thinking, implies belonging to Christ Jesus in whom “every one of God's promises is a Yes” (2 Co 1:20). According to the Letter to the Galatians, the “offspring of Abraham” can only be one which is identified with Christ and those who belong to him (Ga 3:16,29). But the apostle emphasises that “God has not cast off his people” (Rm 11:2). Since “the root is holy” (11:16), Paul is convinced that at the end, God, in his inscrutable wisdom, will graft all Israel back onto their own olive tree (11:24); “all Israel will be saved” (11:26).
It is because of our common roots and from this eschatological perspective that the Church acknowledges a special status of “elder brother” for the Jewish people, thereby giving them a unique place among all other religions. 124
a) In the Old Testament
37. As we have seen, the election of Israel presents a double aspect: it is a gift of love with a corresponding demand. The Sinai covenant clearly shows this double aspect.
As with the theology of election, that of the covenant is from beginning to end a theology of the people of the lord. Adopted by the lord as his son (cf. Ex 3:10, 4:22-23), Israel was to live totally and exclusively for him. The notion of covenant then, by its very definition, is opposed to an election of Israel that would automatically guarantee its existence and happiness. Election is to be understood as a calling that Israel as a people is to live out. The establishment of a covenant demanded on Israel's part a choice and a decision every bit as much as it had for God. 125
As well as being employed in the Sinai narrative 126 (Ex 24:3-8), the word berît, generally translated as “covenant”, appears in different biblical traditions, in particular those of Noah, Abraham, David, Levi and levitical priesthood; it is regularly used in Deuteronomy and in the Deuteronomic History. In each context, the word has different nuances of meaning. The usual translation of berît as “covenant” is often inappropriate. For the word can also mean more generally “promise”, which is also a parallel with “oath” to express a solemn pledge.
Promise to Noah(Gn 9:8-17). After the deluge, God tells Noah and his sons that he is going to establish a bond (berît) between them and all living creatures. No obligation is imposed on Noah or on his descendants. God commits himself without reserve. This unconditional commitment on God's part towards creation is the basis of all life. Its unilateral character, that is, without imposing obligations on another, is evident by the fact that this promise explicitly includes the animals (“as many as came out of the ark”: 9:10). The rainbow is to be a sign of God's promise. As long as it continues to appear in the clouds, God will recall his “everlasting promise” to “all flesh that is on the earth” (9:16).
Promise to Abraham(Gn 15:1-21; 17:1-26). According to Gn 15, the lordmakes a promise to Abraham expressed in these terms: “To your descendants I give this land” (15:18). The narrative makes no mention of a reciprocal obligation. The unilateral character of the promise is confirmed by the solemn rite which precedes the divine declaration. It is a rite of self-imprecation: passing between the two halves of the slaughtered animals, the person making the promise calls down on himself a similar fate, should he fail in his obligations (cf. Jr 34:18-20). If Gn 15 were a covenant with reciprocal obligations, both parties would have to participate in the rite. But this is not the case: the lordalone, represented by “a flaming torch” passes between the portions of animal flesh.
The notion of promise in Gn 15 is also found in Gn 17 joined to a commandment. God imposes a general obligation of moral perfection on Abraham (17:1) and one particular positive prescription, circumcision (17:10-14). The words: “Walk before me and be blameless” (17:1) connote a total and unconditional dependence on God. The promise of a berît follows (17:2) and includes promises of extraordinary fecundity (17:4-6) and the gift of the land (17:8). These promises are unconditional and differ from those of the Sinai covenant (Ex 19:5-6). The word berît appears 17 times in this chapter, with a basic meaning of solemn promise, but envisaging something more than a promise: here an everlasting bond is created between God and Abraham together with his posterity: “I will be your God” (Gn 17:8).
Just as the rainbow is the sign of the covenant with Noah, circumcision is the “sign” of the promise for Abraham, except that circumcision depends on a human decision. It is a mark that identifies those who will benefit from God's promise. Those who do not bear that mark will be cut off from the people, because they have broken the bond (Gn 17:14).
38. The Covenant at Sinai. The text of Ex 19:4-8 shows the fundamental importance of the covenant of God with Israel. The poetic symbolism used — “carry on eagles' wings” — shows clearly how the covenant is intimately connected with the great liberation begun at the crossing of the Red Sea. The whole idea of covenant depends on this divine initiative. The redemption accomplished by the lordat the time of the Exodus from Egypt constitutes forever the foundation for fidelity and docility towards him.
The one acceptable response to this act of redemption is one of continual gratitude, which expresses itself in sincere submission. “Now, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant...” (19:5a): these stipulations should not be regarded as a basis for the covenant, but rather as a condition to be fulfilled in order to continue to enjoy the blessings promised by the Lord to his people. The acceptance of the proffered covenant includes, on the one hand, obligations and guarantees, on the other, a special status: “You shall be my treasured possession (segullah)”. In other words: “You shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (19:5b, 6).
Ex 24:3-8 brings to fulfilment the establishment of the covenant announced in 19:3-8. The separation of the blood into two equal parts prepares for the celebration of the rite. Half of the blood is poured on the altar, consecrated to God, while the other half is sprinkled on the assembled Israelites who are now consecrated as a holy people of the lordand preordained to his service. The beginning (19:8) and the end (24:3,7) of this great event, the founding of the covenant, are marked by a repetition of the same formula of response on the part of the people: “Everything that the lordhas spoken, we will do.”
This relationship did not last. Israel adored the golden calf (Ex 32:1-6). The narrative recounting this infidelity and its consequences constitutes a reflection on the breaking of the covenant and its re-establishment. The people have experienced the anger of God — he speaks of destroying them (32:10). But the repeated intercession of Moses, 127 the intervention of the Levites against the idolators (32:26-29), and the people's repentance (33:4-6) secure a promise from God not to carry out his threats (32:14) and to agree instead to walk once more with his people (33:14-17). God takes the initiative in re-establishing the covenant (34:1-10). These chapters reflect the conviction that, from the beginning, Israel tended to be unfaithful to the covenant, but that God, on his part, always restored relations.
The covenant of course is only a human way of conceiving the relationship of God with his people. As with all human concepts of this kind, it is an imperfect expression of the relationship between the divine and the human. The objective of the covenant is defined simply: “I will be your God and you will be my people” (Lv 26:12; cf. Ex 6:7). The covenant must not be understood simply as a bilateral contract, for God cannot be obligated in the same way as human beings. Nevertheless, the covenant allows the Israelites to appeal to God's fidelity. Israel has not been the only one to make a commitment. The lordcommits himself to the gift of the land as well as his own beneficent presence in the midst of his people.
Covenant in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy and the redaction of the historical books which depend on it (Jos-Kings), distinguishes between “the promise to the ancestors” concerning the gift of the land (Dt 7:12; 8:18) and the covenant with the generation of Horeb (5:2-3). This latter covenant is a promise of allegiance to the Lord (2 K 23:1-3). Destined by God to be permanent (Dt 7:9,12), it demands the people's fidelity. The word berît often occurs with specific reference to the Decalogue rather than to the relationship between the Lord and Israel of which the Decalogue is a part: The Lord “declared to you his berît, that is, the ten commandments, which he charged you to observe”. 128
The declaration of Dt 5:3 merits particular attention, for it affirms the validity of the covenant for the present generation (cf. also 29:14). This verse gives a kind of key to interpreting the whole book. The temporal distance between the generations is abolished. The covenant at Sinai is made contemporaneous; it has been made “with us who are all alive here today”.
Promise to David. This berît is along the same lines as those made with Noah, and Abraham: a promise of God without a corresponding obligation for the king. David and his house from now on enjoy the favour of God who commits himself by oath to an “eternal covenant”. 129 The nature of this covenant is defined by the words of God: “I will be a father to him and he shall be a son to me”. 130
Being an unconditional promise, the covenant with the house of David cannot be broken (Ps 89:29-38). If David's successor sins, God will punish him like a father punishes his sons, but he will not withdraw his favour (2 S 7:14-15). The perspective is very different from that of the Sinai covenant, where the divine favour is conditional: it requires obedience to the covenant on Israel's part (Ex 19:5-6).
39. A new covenant in Jr 31:31-34. In Jeremiah's time, Israel's inability to keep the Sinai covenant was manifested in a tragic manner, resulting in the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. But God's fidelity towards his people is now manifested in the promise of a “new covenant”, which the Lord says “will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors, when I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt; a covenant that they broke” (Jr 31:32). Coming after the breaking of the Sinai covenant, the new covenant makes possible a new beginning for the people of God. The prophetic message does not announce a change of law, but a new relationship with the Law of God, an interiorization. Instead of being written on “tablets of stone”, 131 the Law will be written by God on their “hearts” (Jr 31:33), which will guarantee a perfect obedience, willingly embraced, instead of the continual disobedience of the past. 132 The result will be a true reciprocal belonging, a personal relationship of each one with the Lord, which will make exhortation superfluous, something that had been so necessary in the past and yet so ineffectual as the prophets had learned from bitter experience. This stupendous innovation will be based on the Lord's gratuitous initiative: a pardon granted to the people's faults.
The expression “new covenant” is not encountered elsewhere in the Old Testament, but a prophetic message in the Book of Ezechiel develops Jr 31:31-34, by announcing to the house of Israel the gift of a “new heart” and a “new spirit”, which will be the Spirit of God and will ensure submission to the Law of God. 133
In Second Temple Judaism, certain Israelites saw the “new covenant” 134 realised in their own community, as a result of a more exact observance of the Law of Moses, according to the instructions of a “Teacher of Righteousness”. This shows that the oracle of the Book of Jeremiah commanded attention at the time of Jesus and Paul. It will not be surprising then to see the expression “new covenant” repeated many times in the New Testament.
b) In the New Testament
40. The theme of God's covenant with his people in the writings of the New Testament is placed in a context of fulfilment, that is, in a fundamental progressive continuity, which necessarily involves breaks at certain points.
Continuity concerns above all the covenant relationship, while the breaks concern the Old Testament institutions that were supposed to establish and maintain that relationship. In the New Testament, the covenant is established on a new foundation, the person and work of Christ Jesus; the covenant relationship is deepened and broadened, opened to all through Christian faith.
The Synoptic Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles make little mention of the covenant. In the infancy gospels, the canticle of Zechariah (Lk 1:72) proclaims the fulfilment of the covenant-promise given by God to Abraham for his descendants. The promise envisages the establishment of a reciprocal relationship (Lk 1:73-74) between God and those descendents.
At the Last Supper, Jesus intervened decisively in making his blood “the blood of the covenant” (Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24), the foundation of the “new covenant” (Lk 22:20; 1 Co 11:25). The expression “blood of the covenant” recalls the ratification of the Sinai covenant by Moses (Ex 24:8), suggesting continuity with that covenant. But the words of Jesus also reveal a radical newness, for, whereas the Sinai covenant included a ritual of sprinkling with the blood of sacrificed animals, Christ's covenant is founded on the blood of a human being who transforms his death as a condemned man into a generous gift, and thereby makes this rupture into a covenant event.
By “new covenant”, Paul and Luke make this newness explicit. Yet, it is in continuity with another Old Testament text, the prophetic message of Jr 31:31-34, which announced that God would establish a “new covenant”. The words of Jesus over the cup proclaim that the prophecy in the Book of Jeremiah is fulfilled in his Passion. The disciples participate in this fulfilment by their partaking of the “supper of the Lord” (1 Co 11:20).
In the Acts of the Apostles (3:25), it is to the covenant promise that Peter draws attention. Peter addresses the Jews (3:12), but the text he quotes also concerns “all the nations of the earth” (Gn 22:18). The universal scope of the covenant is thereby expressed.
The Book of Revelation presents a characteristic development: in the eschatological vision of the “new Jerusalem” the covenant formula is employed and extended: “they will be his people and God himself will be with them” (21:3).
41. The Letters of Paul discuss the issue of the covenant more than once. The “new covenant” founded on the blood of Christ (1 Co 11:25) has a vertical dimension of union with the Lord through the “communion with the blood of Christ” (1 Co 10:6) and a horizontal dimension of the union of all Christians in “one body” (1 Co 10:17).
The apostolic ministry is at the service of the “new covenant” (2 Co 3:6), which is not “of the letter”, like that of Sinai, but “of the Spirit”, in accordance with the prophecies which promised that God would write his Law “on their hearts” (Jr 31:33) and give “a new spirit” that would be his Spirit. 135 Paul mentions more than once the covenant-law of Sinai, 136 he contrasts it with the covenant-promise of Abraham. The covenant-law is later and provisional (Ga 3:19-25). The covenant-promise is prior and definitive (Ga 3:16-18). From the beginning it has a universal openness. 137 It finds its fulfilment in Christ. 138
Paul opposes the covenant-law of Sinai, on the one hand, to the extent that it competes with faith in Christ (“a person is justified not by works of the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ”: Ga 2:16; Rm 3:28), and, on the other, insofar as it is a legal system of a particular people, which should not be imposed on believers coming from the “nations”. But Paul affirms the value of revelation of “the old diathk”, that is to say, the writings of the “Old Testament”, which are to be read in the light of Christ (2 Co 3:14-16).
For Paul, Jesus' establishment of “the new covenant in [his] blood” (1 Co 11:25), does not imply any rupture of God's covenant with his people, but constitutes its fulfilment. He includes “the covenants” among the privileges enjoyed by Israel, even if they do not believe in Christ (Rm 9:4). Israel continues to be in a covenant relationship and remains the people to whom the fulfilment of the covenant was promised, because their lack of faith cannot annul God's fidelity (Rm 11:29). Even if some Israelites have observed the Law as a means of establishing their own justice, the covenant-promise of God, who is rich in mercy (Rm 11:26-27), cannot be abrogated. Continuity is underlined by affirming that Christ is the end and the fulfilment to which the Law was leading the people of God (Ga 3:24). For many Jews, the veil with which Moses covered his face remains over the Old Testament (2 Co 3:13,15), thus preventing them from recognising Christ's revelation there. This becomes part of the mysterious plan of God's salvation, the final outcome of which is the salvation of “all Israel” (Rm 11:26).
The “covenants of promise” are explicitly mentioned in Ep 2:12 to announce that access to them is now open to the “nations”, Christ having broken down “the wall of separation”, that is to say, the Law which blocked access to them for non-Jews (cf. Ep 2:14-15).
The Pauline Letters, then, manifest a twofold conviction: the insufficiency of the legal covenant of Sinai, on the one hand, and on the other, the validity of the covenant-promise. This latter finds its fulfilment in justification by faith in Christ, offered “to the Jew first, but also to the Greek” (Rm 1:16). Their refusal of faith in Christ places the Jewish people in a situation of disobedience, but they are still “loved” and promised God's mercy (cf. Rm 11:26-32).
42. The Letter to the Hebrews quotes in extenso the prophetic message of the “new covenant” 139 and proclaims its fulfilment in Christ “mediator of the new covenant”. 140 It demonstrates the insufficiency of the cultic institutions of the “first covenant”; priesthood and sacrifices were incapable of overcoming the obstacle set by sins, and incapable of establishing an authentic mediation between God and his people. 141 Those institutions are now abrogated to make way for the sacrifice and priesthood of Christ (Heb 7:18-19; 10:9). For Christ has overcome all obstacles by his redemptive obedience (Heb 5:8-9; 10:9-10), and has opened access to God for all believers (Heb 4:14-16; 10:19-22). In this way, the covenant announced and prefigured in the Old Testament is fulfilled. It is not simply a renewal of the Sinai covenant, but the establishment of a covenant that is truly new, founded on a new base, Christ's personal sacrificial offering (cf. 9: 14-15).
God's “covenant” with David is not mentioned explicitly in the New Testament, but Peter's discourse in Acts links the resurrection of Jesus to the “oath” sworn by God to David (Ac 2:20), an oath called a covenant with David in Ps 89:4 and 132:11. The Pauline discourse in Ac 13:34 makes a similar connection by employing the expression of Is 55:3 (“the holy things guaranteed to David”), which, in the Isaian text, defines an “eternal covenant”. The resurrection of Jesus, “son of David”, 142 is thus presented as the fulfilment of the covenant-promise given by God to David.
The conclusion which flows from all these texts is that the early Christians were conscious of being in profound continuity with the covenant plan manifested and realised by the God of Israel in the Old Testament. Israel continues to be in a covenant relationship with God, because the covenant-promise is definitive and cannot be abolished. But the early Christians were also conscious of living in a new phase of that plan, announced by the prophets and inaugurated by the blood of Jesus, “blood of the covenant”, because it was shed out of love (cf. Rv 1:5(b)-6).
43. The Hebrew word tôr~h, translated “law”, more precisely means “instruction”, that is, both teaching and directives. The Tôr~h is the highest source of wisdom. 143 The Law occupies a central place in the Jewish Scriptures and in their religious practice from biblical times to our own day. This is why, from apostolic times, the Church had to define itself in relation to the Law, following the example of Jesus himself, who gave it its proper significance by virtue of his authority as Son of God. 144
a) Law in the Old Testament
Israel's Law and cult are developed throughout the Old Testament. The different collections of laws 145 can also serve as guides for the chronology of the Pentateuch.
The gift of the Law. The Law is, first of all, God's gift to his people. The gift of the Law is the subject of a main narrative of composite origin, 146 and of complementary narratives 147 among which, 2 K 22-23, has a special place because of its importance for the Deuteronomist. Ex 19-24 integrates the Law with the “covenant” (berît) which the Lord concludes with Israel, on the mountain of God, during a theophany before the whole of Israel (Ex 19-20), and then to Moses himself 148 and to the seventy representatives of Israel (Ex 24:9-11). These theophanies, together with the covenant, signify a special grace for the people, present and future, 149 and the laws revealed at that moment in time are their lasting pledge.
But the narrative traditions also link the gift of the Law with the breaking of the covenant, that result from violation of the monotheism prescribed in the Decalogue. 150
“The spirit of the Laws” according to the Tôr~h. The laws contain moral precepts (ethical), juridical (legal), ritual and cultural (a rich assemblage of religious and profane customs). They are of a concrete nature, expressed sometimes as absolutes (e.g., the Decalogue), at other times as particular cases that concretise general principles. They then have the status of precedent and serve as analogies for comparable situations, giving rise to the later development of jurisprudence, called halakah, the oral law, later called the Mishna. Many laws have a symbolic meaning, in the sense that they illustrate concretely invisible values such as equity, social harmony, humanitarianism, etc. Not all laws are to be applied, some are school texts for the formation of future priests, judges and other functionaries; others reflect ideas inspired by the prophetic movement. 151 They were applied in the towns and villages of the country (Covenant Code), then throughout the kingdoms of Judah and Israel, and later in the Jewish community dispersed throughout the world.
From a historical point of view, biblical laws are the result of a long history of religious, moral and juridical traditions. They contain many elements in common with the Ancient Near Eastern civilisation. Seen from a literary and theological aspect, they have their source in the God of Israel who has revealed them either directly (the Decalogue according to Dt 5:22), or through Moses as intermediary charged with promulgating them. The Decalogue is really a collection separate from the other laws. Its first appearance 152 describes it as the totality of the conditions necessary to ensure freedom for Israelite families and to protect them from all kinds of oppression, idolatry, immorality and injustice. The exploitation experienced by Israel in Egypt must never be reproduced in Israel itself, in the exploitation of the weak by the strong.
On the other hand, the provisions of the Covenant Code and of Ex 34:14-26 embody a range of human and religious values, and also sketch a communitarian ideal of permanent value.
Since the Law is Israelite and Jewish, it is therefore a specific and determinate one, adopted to a particular historical people. But it has also an exemplary value for the whole of humanity (Dt 4:6). For this reason, it is an eschatological good promised to all the nations because it will serve as an instrument of peace (Is 2:1-4; Mi 4:1-3). It embodies a religious anthropology and an ensemble of values that transcend both the people and the historical conditions of which the biblical laws are in part the product.
Tôr~h spirituality. As a manifestation of the all-wise divine will, the commandments become more and more important in the social and individual life of Israel. The Law becomes omnipresent there, especially from the time of the Exile (6th c.). Thus a form of spirituality arose that was marked by a profound veneration for the Tôr~h. Its observance was regarded as a necessary expression of the “fear of the Lord” and the perfect form of service of God. The Psalms, Sirach and Baruch are witnesses within the Scriptures themselves. Ps 1, 19, 119 as Tôr~h Psalms, enjoy a structural role in the organisation of the Psalter. The Tôr~h revealed to mankind is also the organising principle of the created universe. In observing that Law, believing Jews found therein their joy and their blessings, and participated in the universal creative wisdom of God. This wisdom revealed to the Jewish people is superior to the wisdom of the nations (Dt 4:6,8), in particular to that of the Greeks (Ba 4:1-4).
b) Law in the New Testament
44. Matthew, Paul, the Letter to the Hebrews and James devote an explicit theological reflection to the significance of the Law after the coming of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel of Matthew reflects the situation of the Matthean ecclesial community after the destruction of Jerusalem (70 A.D.). Jesus affirms the permanent validity of the Law (Mt 5:18-19), but in a new interpretation, given with full authority (Mt 5:21-48). Jesus “fulfils” the Law (Mt 5:17) by radicalising it: at times by abolishing the letter of the Law (divorce, law of the talion), at other times, by giving a more demanding interpretation (murder, adultery, oaths), or a more flexible one (sabbath). Jesus insists on the double commandment of love of God (Dt 6:5) and of neighbour (Lv 19:18), on which “depends all the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 22:34-40). Along with the Law, Jesus, the new Moses, imparts knowledge of God's will to mankind, to the Jews first of all, then to the nations as well (Mt 28:19-20).
The Pauline theology of the Law is rich, but imperfectly unified. This is due to the nature of the writings and to a process of thinking still being worked out in a theological terrain not yet explored in depth. Paul's reflection on the Law was sparked by his own personal spiritual experience and by his apostolic ministry. By his spiritual experience: after his encounter with Christ (1 Co 15:8), Paul realised that his zeal for the Law had led him astray to the point of leading him to “persecute the Church of God” (15:9; Ph 3:6), and that by adhering to Christ, he was renouncing that zeal (Ph 3:7-9). Through his apostolic experience: since his ministry concerned non-Jews (Ga 2:7; Rm 1:5), it posed a question: does the Christian faith demand of non-Jews submission to the Jewish Law and, in particular, to the legal observances that are the marks of Jewish identity (circumcision, dietary regulations, calendar)? A positive response would have been disastrous for Paul's apostolate. Wrestling with this problem, he was not content with pastoral considerations: he undertook a deeper doctrinal exploration.
Paul becomes acutely aware that the coming of Christ demands that he redefine the function of the Law. For Christ is the “end of the Law” (Rm 10:4), at once the goal towards which it progressed and the terminal moment where its rule ends, because from now on, it is no longer the Law that will give life — it could not do so effectively anyway 153 — it is faith in Christ that justifies and gives life. 154 The Christ risen from the dead transmits his new life to believers (Rm 6:9-11) and assures them of their salvation (Rm 10:9-10).
Henceforth, what is to be the role of the Law? Paul struggled to give an answer. He is aware of the positive function of the Law: It is one of Israel's privileges (Rm 9:4), “the Law of God” (Rm 7:22); it is summed up in the love of neighbour; 155 it is “holy” and “spiritual” (Rm 7:12,14). According to Ph 3:6, the Law defines a certain “justice”. On the other hand, the Law automatically opens up the possibility of a contrary choice: “If it had not been for the Law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the Law had not said ‘you shall not covet'” (Rm 7:7). Paul frequently speaks of this option inescapably inherent in the gift of the Law, for example, when he says that in the concrete human condition (“the flesh”) “sin” prevents mankind from adhering to the Law (Rm 7:23-25), or that “the letter” of the Law, deprived of the Spirit that enables one to fulfil the Law, ends up by bringing death (2 Co 3:6-7).
Contrasting “the letter” and “the spirit”, the apostle sets up a dichotomy as he did in the case of Adam and Christ; he places what Adam (that is, the human being deprived of grace) is capable of doing against what Christ (that is, grace) brings about. Indeed, for pious Jews, the Law was part of God's plan where both the promises and faith also had their place, but Paul wants to speak about what the Law can do by itself, as “letter”, that is, by abstracting from providence which always accompanies the human being, unless he wishes to establish his own justice. 156
If, according to 1 Co 15:56, “the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the Law”, it follows that the Law, insofar as it is letter, kills, albeit indirectly. Consequently, the ministry of Moses could be called a ministry of death (2 Co 3:7), of condemnation (3:9). Nevertheless, this ministry was surrounded by a glory (splendour coming from God) so that Israelites could not even look on the face of Moses (3:7). This glory loses its lustre by the very fact that a superior glory (3:10) now exists, that of the “ministry of the Spirit” (3:8).
45. The Letter to the Galatians declares that “all who rely on the works of the Law are under a curse”, for the Law curses “everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the Law”. 157 The Law is opposed here to the way of faith, proposed elsewhere by the Scriptures; 158 it indicates the way of works, leaving us to our own resources (3:12). Not that the apostle is opposed to “works”. He is only against the human pretension of saving oneself through the “works of the Law”. He is not against works of faith — which, elsewhere, often coincide with the Law's content — works made possible by a life-giving union with Christ. On the contrary, he declares that “what matters” is “faith that works through love”. 159
Paul is aware that the coming of Christ has led to a change of regime. Christians no longer live under the Law, but by faith in Christ (Ga 3:24-26; 4:3-7), which is the regime of grace (Rm 6:14-15).
As regards the central contents of the Law (the Decalogue and that which is in accordance with its spirit), Ga 5:18-23 affirms first of all: “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the Law” (5:18). Having no need of the Law, a person will spontaneously abstain from “works of the flesh” (5:19-21) and will produce “the fruit of the Spirit” (5:22). Paul adds that the Law is not contrary to this (5:23), because believers will fulfil all that the Law demands, and will also avoid what the Law prohibits. According to Rm 8:1-4, “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” has freed believers from the powerlessness of the Mosaic Law in such a way that “the just precepts of the Law may be fulfilled”. One of the reasons for redemption was precisely to obtain this fulfilment of the Law!
In the Letter to the Hebrews, the Law appears as an institution that was useful in its time and place. 160 But true mediation between the sinful people and God is not in its power (7:19; 10:1). Only the mediation of Christ is efficacious (9:11-14). Christ is a High Priest of a new kind (7:11,15). Because of the connection between Law and priesthood, ”the change of priesthood involves a change of law” (7:12). In saying this, the author echoes Paul's teaching according to which Christians are no longer under the Law's regime, but under that of faith in Christ and of grace. For a relationship with God, the author insists, is not through the observance of the Law, but through “faith”, “hope” and “love” (10:22,23,24).
For James, as for the Christian community at large, the moral demands of the Law continue to serve as a guide (2:11), but as interpreted by the Lord. The “royal law” (2:8), that of the “kingdom” (2:5), is the precept of love of neighbour. 161 This is “the perfect law of liberty” (1:25; 2:12-13), which is concerned with working through a faith that is active (2:14-26).
This last example shows the variety of positions in relation to the Law expressed in the New Testament, and their fundamental agreement. James does not announce, like Paul and the Letter to the Hebrews, the end of the Law's reign, but he agrees with Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul in underlining the priority not only of the Decalogue but also the precept of love of neighbour (Lv 19:18) which leads to the perfect observance of the Decalogue and to do still better. The New Testament then depends on the Old. It is read in the light of Christ, who has confirmed the precept of love and has given it a new dimension: “Love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34; 15:12), that is, to the sacrifice of one's life. The Law is thereby more than fulfilled.
a) In the Old Testament
46. In the Old Testament, prayer and cult occupy an important place because these activities are privileged moments of the personal and communal relationship of the Israelites with God who has chosen and called them to live within his Covenant.
Prayer and cult in the Pentateuch. The narratives show typical situations of prayer, especially in Gn 12-50. Cries of distress (32:10-13), requests for favour (24:12-14), acts of thanksgiving (24:48), as well as vows (28:20-22) and consultations of the Lord about the future (25:22-23) are to be found. During the Exodus, Moses intercedes 162 and the people are saved from extermination (32:10,14).
As a primary source for the knowledge of the institutions, the Pentateuch assembles aetiologies that explain the origin of places, times and sacred institutions. Places like Shechem, Bethel, Mamre, Beersheeba. 163 Sacred times like the sabbath, sabbatical year, jubilee year, feast days are fixed, including the Day of Atonement. 164
The cult is a gift from the Lord. Many texts in the Old Testament insist on this perspective. The revelation of God's name is purely gratuitous (Ex 3:14-15). It is the Lord who makes possible the celebration of sacrifices, because it is he who makes available the blood of animals for this purpose (Lv 17:11). Before becoming the people's offering to God, the first-fruits and the tithes are God's gift to the people (Dt 26:9-10). It is God who institutes priests and Levites and designs the sacred utensils (Ex 25-30).
The collections of the Law (cf. above II. B. 6, no. 43) contain numerous liturgical directives and diverse explanations of the purpose of the cultic order. The fundamental distinctions between pure and impure, on the one hand, and holy and profane, on the other, serve to organise space and time, even to the details of daily life, and consequently social and individual living is regulated. Impurity places the affected persons and things outside the socio-cultic space, while what is pure is completely integrated with it. Ritual activity includes multiple purifications to re-integrate the impure into the community. 165 Inside the circle of purity, another limit separates the profane (which is pure) from the holy (which is pure and also reserved to God). The holy (or the sacred) is the domain of God. The liturgy of the “Priestly”(P) source also distinguishes “holy” from “Holy of Holies”. Holy places are accessible to priests and Levites, but not to the people (“laity”). Sacred space is always set apart. 166
Sacred time restricts profane employment (prohibition of work, the sabbath day, sowing and reaping during the sabbatical year). It corresponds to the return of the created order to its original state before it was delivered to mankind. 167
Space, persons and sacred things must be made holy (consecrated). Consecration removes what is incompatible with God, impurity and sin, which are opposed to the Lord. The cult includes multiple rites of pardon (expiations) to restore holiness, 168 which implies that God is near. 169 The people are consecrated and must be holy (Lv 11:44-45). The purpose of the cult is that the people be made holy — through expiation, purification and consecration — and be at the service of God.
The cult is a vast symbolism of grace, an expression of God's “condescension” (in the patristic sense of beneficent adaptation) towards human beings, since he established it for pardon, purification, sanctification and preparation for direct contact with his presence (kabôd, glory).
47. Prayer and cult in the Prophets. The book of Jeremiah contributes a lot to the appreciation of prayer. It contains “confessions”, dialogues with God, in which the prophet, both as an individual and as a representative of his people, expresses a deep, interior crisis about election and the realisation of God's plan. 170 Many prophetic books include psalms and canticles 171 as well as fragments of doxologies. 172
Among the pre-exilic prophets, we notice one prominent feature — repeated condemnation of liturgical sacrifices 173 and even of prayer itself. 174 The rejection seems radical, but these invectives are not to be interpreted as an abrogation of the cult, or a denial of their divine origin. Their aim is to denounce the contradiction between the conduct of the participants and the holiness of God which they claim to be celebrating.
Prayer and cult in the other Writings. Three poetical books are of immense importance for the spirituality of prayer. First Job: with a sincerity equal to the art, the protagonist expresses all the states of his soul directly to God. 175 Then there is Lamentations, where prayer and complaint are mingled. 176 And, of course, the Psalms, that constitute the very heart of the Old Testament. In fact, the impression given is if the Hebrew Bible has retained so few developments on prayer, it is to concentrate all the beams of light on one particular collection. The Psalter is the one irreplaceable key to reading not only the whole life of the Israelite people, but the whole of the Hebrew Bible itself. Elsewhere, the Writings contain little more than vague general principles 177 and some samples of more or less elaborated hymns and prayers. 178
An attempt can be made to classify the Psalms around four central axes that retain a universal value in all times and cultures.
Most of the Psalms revolve around the axis of liberation. The dramatic sequence appears to be stereotyped, whether rooted in personal or collective experiences. The experience of the need for salvation reflected in biblical prayer covers a wide range of situations. Other prayers revolve around the axis of wonder. They foster a sense of wonder, contemplation and praise. The axis of instruction gathers up three types of meditative prayer: syntheses of sacred history, instruction for personal and communal moral choices (frequently including prophetic words and messages), description of the conditions necessary for participation in the cult. Finally, some prayers revolve around the axis of popular feasts. There are four in particular: harvests, marriages, pilgrimages, and political events.
48. Privileged places of prayer include sacred spaces, sanctuaries, especially the Jerusalem Temple. But prayer is always possible in the privacy of one's home. Sacred times, fixed by the calendar, mark the times for prayer, even personal prayer, as well as the ritual hours of sacrifice, especially morning and evening. We notice different postures for prayer, standing, with raised hands, kneeling, fully prostrate, sitting or lying down.
If one can distinguish between the permanent and the dispensable elements in thought and language, the treasury of Israel's prayer can serve to express, at a profound level, the prayer of human beings in all times and places. That is to say the permanent value of those texts. Certain Psalms, however, express a type of prayer that will gradually become obsolete, in particular, the curses and imprecations hurled at enemies.
In appropriating the prayers of the Old Testament just as they are, Christians re-read them in the light of the paschal mystery, which at the same time gives them an extra dimension.
The Jerusalem Temple. Built by Solomon (c. 950 B.C.), this edifice of stone, dominating the hill of Zion, has enjoyed a central place in Israelite religion. Aided by the religious reform of Josiah (640-609), 179 the deuteronomic law prescribed one sanctuary in the land for all the people (Dt 12:2-7). The Jerusalem sanctuary was designated as “the place chosen by the lordyour God as a dwelling for his name” (12:11,21, etc.). Several etiological narratives explain this choice. 180 The priestly theology (P), for its part, designated this presence by the word “glory” (kabôd), evoking the manifestation of God, at one and the same time both fascinating and awesome, especially in the Holy of Holies, above the ark of the covenant covered by the propitiatory: 181 the nearest contact with God is based on pardon and grace. That is why the destruction of the Temple (587) was the equivalent of total desolation, 182 and took on the proportions of a national catastrophe. The eagerness to rebuild it at the end of the Exile (Hg 1-2) and to celebrate there a worthy cult (Ml 1-3), became the criterion of the fear of God. The Temple radiated blessing to the ends of the earth (Ps 65). Hence the importance of pilgrimage, as a symbol of unity (Ps 122). In the work of the Chronicler, the Temple is clearly at the centre of all religious and national life.
The Temple is both functional and symbolic space. It serves as the place of the cult, especially sacrifice, prayer, teaching, healing and royal enthronement. As in all religions, the material edifice here below evokes the mystery of the divine dwelling in heaven above (1 K 8:30). Because of the special presence of the living God, the Temple becomes the origin par excellence of life (communal birth, rebirth after sin), and of knowledge (word of God, revelation, wisdom). It plays the role of axis and centre of the world. Nevertheless, a critical relativisation of the symbolism of the holy place can be observed. It can never guarantee and “contain” the divine presence. 183 Parallel to the criticism of a hypocritical and formalist cult, the prophets exposed the conceit of placing unconditional confidence in the holy place (Jr 7:1-15). A symbolic vision solemnly presents “the glory of the Lord” departing from the holy place. 184 But this glory will return to the Temple (Ezk 43:1-9), to an ideal, restored one (40-42), a source of fecundity, healing and salvation (47:1-12). Before this return, God promises the exiles that he himself will be “a sanctuary” (11:16) for them.
Jerusalem. From a theological perspective, the history of the city has its origin in a divine choice (1 K 8:16). David conquered Jerusalem, an ancient Canaanite city (2 S 5:6-12). He transferred the ark of the covenant there (2 S 6-7). Solomon built the Temple there (1 K 6). Thus the city ranked among the older sacred places in Judah and Israel where people went on pilgrimage. In the war of Sennacherib against Hezechiah in 701 (2 K 18:13), Jerusalem alone among the towns of Judah is spared, although the kingdom of Israel was completely conquered by the Assyrians in 722. The deliverance of Jerusalem had been prophetically announced as an act of divine favour (2 K 19:20-34).
Jerusalem is usually designated as “the city chosen by the Lord”, 185 “established” by him (Is 14:32), “city of God” (Ps 87:3), “holy city” (Is 48:2), because the Lord is “in its midst” (Zp 3:17). She is promised a glorious future: assurance of divine presence “for ever” and “from age to age” (Jl 4:16-21), guaranteed protection (Is 31:4-5) as well as happiness and prosperity. Certain texts even attribute an ideal perfection to this city of cities. Above and beyond its geographical location, she becomes the pole of attraction and the axis of the world. 186
Nevertheless, the greatness of Jerusalem will not prevent evil descending on the city. Numerous prophetic messages (2 K 23:27), symbolic actions (Ezk 4-5) and visions (8-11) announce the rejection and the destruction of the city chosen by God.
Later on, a restored Jerusalem becomes one of the great symbols of eschatological salvation: a city illumined by the Lord, 187 given a “new name” and which becomes again the “espoused” of God. 188 Jerusalem will become paradise regained with the coming of the “new heavens” and the “new earth”, 189 essentially a cultic place (Ezk 40-48), the centre of the recreated world (Zc 14:16-17). “All the nations” will assemble there to seek arbitration from the Lord and the divine teaching which will put an end to war. 190
b) In the New Testament, prayer and cult, Temple and Jerusalem
49. Prayer and cult. In contrast to the Old Testament, the New Testament contains no detailed legislation concerning the establishment of cultic institutions and rituals — it briefly prescribes baptism and the celebration of the Eucharist 191 — but it puts a strong emphasis on prayer.
The Gospels frequently show Jesus at prayer. His filial love for God, his Father, urged him to give a lot of time to this activity. He rises early to pray, even after a late night due to the influx of the sick people with their maladies (Mk 1:32,35). Sometimes he spends the whole night in prayer (Lk 6:12). He isolates himself “in desert places” to pray better (Lk 5:16), or ascends “the mountain” (Mt 14:23). Luke shows how intense prayer prepares for or accompanies the more decisive moments of Jesus' ministry: his baptism (Lk 3:21), the choice of the Twelve (6:12), the question of his identity posed to the Twelve (9:18), his transfiguration (9:28), his passion (22:41-45).
The Gospels only rarely report the content of Jesus' prayer. The little they do say shows that his prayer expressed the intimacy with his Father, whom he calls “Abba” (Mk 14:36), a term of familiarity not found in the Judaism of the time, to invoke God. Jesus' prayer is often one of thanksgiving, following the Jewish ber~k~h. 192 During the Last Supper, he “chants the Psalms” prescribed by the ritual of the great feast. 193 According to the four Gospels, he quotes eleven distinct Psalms.
The Son gratefully recognises that everything comes from his Father's love (Jn 3:35). At the end of the Last Supper Discourse, John puts on the lips of Jesus a long prayer of petition for himself, and for his disciples, present and future, thereby revealing how his passion is to be understood (Jn 17). The Synoptics record the suppliant prayer of Jesus at the moment of mortal sadness in Gethsemane (Mt 26:36-44 and par.), a prayer accompanied by a gracious compliance with the Father's will (26:39,42). On the cross, he makes his own the doleful cry of Ps 22:2, 194 or following Luke, the prayer of abandonment of Ps 31:6 (Lk 23:46).
Alongside the prayer of Jesus, the Gospels report many demands and supplications made to Jesus, to which he generously responds, underlining at the same time the efficacy of faith. 195 Jesus gave instructions on prayer 196 and through parables encouraged perseverance in prayer. 197 He insisted on the necessity of prayer in times of trial “so as not to come into temptation” (Mt 26:41 and par.).
The example of Jesus gave rise to the disciples' wish to imitate him: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Lk 11,1). He responds by teaching them the Our Father. The formulas of the Our Father 198 resemble Jewish prayer (“The Eighteen Benedictions”), but with an unparalleled sobriety. In a few words, the Our Father offers a complete programme of filial prayer: adoration (first petition), yearning for eschatological salvation (second petition), compliance with the divine will (third petition), prayer for daily necessities in confident abandon, day after day, to God's providence (fourth petition), request for pardon, conditioned by a willingness to pardon (fifth petition), prayer for deliverance from temptation and mastery of Evil (sixth and seventh petitions).
Paul, for his part, gives examples of thanksgiving prayer, expressed in various forms, at the beginning of his letters. He invites Christians to “give thanks in all circumstances” and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Th 5:17).
50. The Acts frequently show Christians at prayer, either individually (Ac 9:40; 10:9, etc.) or together (4:24-30; 12:12, etc.), in the Temple (2:46; 3:1), in houses (2:46), and even in prison (16:25). Sometimes prayer is accompanied by fasting (13:3; 14:23). In the New Testament, prayer formulas are usually hymnic: the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55), the Benedictus (1:68-79), the Nunc dimittis (2:29-32) and numerous passages in the Book of Revelation. They are moulded in biblical language. In the Pauline corpus, hymns are Christological, 199 reflecting the Church's liturgy. Like the prayer of Jesus, Christian prayer utilises the Jewish ber~k~h (“Blessed be God...”). 200 In a Hellenistic milieu it was more charismatic (1 Co 14:2,16-18). Prayer is the work of the Spirit of God. 201 Certain things are possible only through prayer (Mk 9:29).
The New Testament reveals traits of the early Church's liturgical prayer. The “Lord's Supper” (1 Co 11:20) occupies a prominent place in the traditions. 202 Its form resembles the liturgy of Jewish festal meals: ber~k~h over the bread at the beginning, over the wine at the end. From the tradition underlying 1 Co 11:23-25 and the Synoptic narratives, the two blessings were brought closer in such a way that the meal was placed, not in between, but either before or after. This rite is a memorial of Christ's passion (1 Co 11:24-25); it creates fellowship (koin(o-)nia: 1 Co 10:16) between the risen Christ and his disciples. Baptism, a profession of faith, 203 offers pardon for sin, unites with Christ's paschal mystery (Rm 6:3-5) and gives entry into the community of believers (1 Co 12:13).
The liturgical calendar remained that of the Jews (except for the Pauline Christian communities that came from paganism: Ga 4:10; Col 2:16), but the sabbath began to be replaced by the first day of the week (Ac 20:7; 1 Co 16:2) called the “day of the Lord” or the “Lord's day” (Rv 1:10), that is, the day of the risen Lord. Christians continued, at first, to frequent the Temple functions (Ac 3:1), which provided the point of departure for the Christian liturgy of the hours.
The Letter to the Hebrews recognised a certain ritual validity for the ancient sacrificial cult (Heb 9:13), as a prefiguration of Christ's offering (9:18-23). But taking up the criticism expressed in the Prophets and Psalms, 204 it denies all efficacy to animal sacrifices for the purification of conscience and for the establishment of a deep relationship with God. 205 The only fully efficacious sacrifice is the personal and existential offering of Christ making him the perfect High Priest, “mediator of the new covenant”. 206 In virtue of this offering, Christians can approach God (Heb 10:19-22) through grace and by living a life of self-giving (13:15-16). The apostle Paul already spoke in this manner (Rm 12:1-2).
51. The Jerusalem Temple. During the lifetimes of Jesus and Paul the Temple still existed as a material and liturgical reality. Like all Jews, Jesus went there on pilgrimage; he taught there. 207 He performed a prophetic act there by expelling the merchants (Mt 21:12-13 and par.)
The edifice retained its symbolic role as the privileged divine abode, which represented on earth the dwelling place of God in heaven. In Mt 21:3 Jesus quotes a prophetic word where God himself calls it “my house” (Is 56:7); in Jn 2:16 Jesus calls it “my Father's house”. But some texts relativise this symbolism and pave the way for transcending it. 208 As Jeremiah had done, Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple (Mt 24:2 and par.) and announced, instead, its replacement by a new sanctuary, to be built in three days. 209 After his resurrection, Jesus' disciples will understand that the new Temple was his risen body (Jn 2:22). Paul tells believers that they are members of this body (1 Co 12:27) and the “temple of God” (3:16-17) or “of the Spirit” (6:19). The First Letter of Peter tells them that united with Christ, the “living stone”, they form together a “spiritual house” (1 P 2:4-5).
The Book of Revelation frequently speaks of a sanctuary. 210 With the exception of Rv 11:1-2, it is always in reference to “God's heavenly sanctuary” (11:19), from which divine intervention on earth emanates. In the final vision it is said of “the holy city, Jerusalem, which descends from heaven” (21:10), that it has no sanctuary, “for its Temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb” (21:22). This is the final fulfilment of the Temple theme.
Jerusalem. The New Testament fully recognises the importance of Jerusalem in God's plan. Jesus forbids swearing by Jerusalem “because it is the city of the Great King” (Mt 5:35). He resolutely goes up there; it is there that he must fulfil his mission. 211 But he says that the city “did not know the time of its visitation” and he tearfully foresees that this blindness will bring about its ruin, 212 as had already happened in Jeremiah's time.
In the meantime, Jerusalem continues to play an important role. In the Lukan theology, it is at the centre of salvation history; it is there that Christ dies and is raised. Everything converges on this centre: the Gospel begins (Lk 1:5-25) and ends (24:52-52) there. Then everything begins from there: it is from there that, after the coming of the Holy Spirit, the good news of salvation is spread to the four corners of the inhabited world (Ac 8-28). As regards Paul, although his apostolate did not begin from Jerusalem (Ga 1:17), he considers communion with the Jerusalem Church to be indispensable (2:1-2). Elsewhere, he declares that the mother of Christians is “the Jerusalem above” (4:26). The city becomes the symbol of eschatological fulfilment both in future (Rv 21:2-3, 9-11) and in present dimension (Heb 12:22).
Thus, aided by a symbolic intensification already well attested in the Old Testament itself, the Church will always recognise the bonds that intimately unite it to the history of Jerusalem and its Temple, as well as to the prayer and cult of the Jewish people.
a) In the Old Testament
52. The election of Israel and the covenant, as we have seen, resulted in demands for faithfulness and holiness. How did the chosen people respond to these demands? To this, the Old Testament frequently gives an answer that expresses the disappointment of Israel's God, a response full of reproaches and even condemnations.
The narrative writings give a long list of infidelities and resistance to the voice of God, a list beginning with the departure from Egypt. In times of real crisis, which ought to have been occasions for proving their trust in God, the Israelites “murmur”, 213 adopting an attitude of challenge to God's plan and of opposition to Moses, to the point of wanting to “stone” him (Ex 17:4). No sooner was the Sinai covenant concluded (Ex 24) than the people let themselves lapse into the gravest infidelity, idolatry (Ex 32:4-6). 214 Faced with this disloyalty, the Lord declares: “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are” (Ex 32:9). This pejorative description of them is frequently repeated later on 215 and becomes a sort of natural epithet to describe the character of Israel. Another episode is no less important: having arrived at the borders of Canaan and been invited to enter the land which the Lord is giving them, the people refuse to enter, on the grounds that it was too dangerous. 216 The Lord then reproaches his people for their lack of faith (Nu 14:11) and condemns them to wander for forty years in the desert, where all the adults will die (14:29,34), with the exception of those who unreservedly followed the Lord.
The Old Testament frequently mentions that Israel's disobedience began “from the day their ancestors came out of Egypt”, and adds that it has continued “even to this day”. 217
The Deuteronomic History which comprises the books of Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, gives an unqualified negative judgement on the history of Israel and Judah between the time of Joshua and the Babylonian Exile. The people and their kings, with few exceptions, have generally succumbed to the temptation of foreign gods in the religious sphere and to social injustice and every kind of disorder forbidden in the Decalogue. That is why this history ended finally on a negative note, the visible consequences of which were the loss of the promised land with the destruction of the two kingdoms and Jerusalem, including the Temple, in 587.
The prophetic writings contain reproaches that are particularly vehement. One of the principal tasks of the prophets was precisely to “cry out with full voice without holding back” to “announce to my people their rebellion”. 218 Among the eighth century prophets, Amos denounces the sins of Israel, with primary emphasis on the lack of social justice. 219 For Hosea, idolatry is the basic sin, but reproaches extend to many others: “swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing, and adultery break out, bloodshed follows bloodshed” (Ho 4:2). For Isaiah, God has done all he could for his vineyard, but it has not produced fruit (Is 5:1-7). Like Amos before him (4:4), Isaiah rejects the cult of those who show no concern for justice (Is 1:11-17). Micah declares that he is “full of strength to declare to Jacob his crimes” (Mi 3:8).
These crimes led to the greatest threats the prophets could hurl against Israel and Judah: the Lord will reject his people. 220 This will lead to the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, where his beneficent and protecting presence dwells. 221
The last decades of Judah and the beginning of the Exile were accompanied by the preaching of many prophets. Like Hosea, Jeremiah enumerates sins 222 and shows that abandoning the lordis the root of all evil (2:13); he brands idolatry as adultery and prostitution. 223 Ezechiel does the same in lengthy chapters (Ezk 16; 23) and calls the Israelites a “brood of rebels” (2:5,6,7,8), “stubborn and hard-hearted” (2:4;3:7). The force of the prophetic accusations is astonishing. What is surprising is that Israel gave them such a large place in its Scriptures, which shows a sincerity and humility that is exemplary.
During the Exile and after, the Judean and Jewish community acknowledged their sins through liturgies and prayers in a national confession. 224
When they contemplated their past, the people of the Sinai covenant could only pass a severe judgement on themselves: their history had been a long succession of infidelities. The punishments were deserved. The covenant had been broken. But the Lord had never resigned himself to accepting this rupture. 225 He had always offered the grace of conversion and resumption of relations, in a more intimate and stable form. 226
b) In the New Testament
53. John the Baptist follows the ancient prophets in his call for repentance to the “brood of vipers” (Mt 3:7; Lk 3:7) that flocked to his preaching. This preaching was based on the conviction that a divine intervention was about to take place. The judgement was imminent: “Already the axe is at the root of the tree” (Mt 3:10; Lk 3:9). Conversion was then a matter of urgency.
Like that of John, the preaching of Jesus is a call to conversion, made urgent by the proximity of the reign of God (Mt 4:17); it is at the same time the announcement of “the good news”, of a favourable intervention of God (Mk 1:14-15). Shocked at their refusal to believe, Jesus had recourse to invective, like the prophets of old. He castigates this “evil and adulterous generation” (Mt 12:39), “unbelieving and perverted generation” (17:17), and announces a judgement more severe than that which befell Sodom (11:24; cf. Is 1:10).
The rejection of Jesus by the leaders of his people, who carried with them the population of Jerusalem, increased their guilt to its extreme degree. The divine sanction will be the same as in Jeremiah's time: the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. 227 But — as in Jeremiah's time – God is not satisfied merely to punish, he also offers pardon. To the Jews of Jerusalem who have “killed the Prince of Life” (Ac 3:15), Peter preaches repentance and promises forgiveness of sins (3:19). Less severe than the ancient prophets, he regards their sin as one committed “in ignorance”. 228 Thousands respond to his appeal. 229
In the Apostolic Letters, although exhortations and warnings are very frequent, and accompanied at times by threats of condemnation for sin, 230 reproaches and condemnations as such are relatively rare, though not lacking in severity. 231
In the Letter to the Romans, Paul draws up a forceful indictment against “those who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (Rm 1:18). The basic fault of the pagans is their failure to recognise God (1:21); their punishment consists of being handed over by God into the grip of immorality. 232 The Jews are reproached for their inconsistency: their conduct contrasts with their knowledge of the Law (Rm 2:17-24).
Christians themselves are not shielded from reproaches. The Letter to the Galatians contains some very serious ones. The Galatians are accused of turning away from God to follow “another gospel”, which is a false one (Ga 1:6); they have “cut themselves off from Christ”, they have “fallen away from grace” (5:4). But Paul hopes for their return (5:10). The Corinthians are reproached for the discord stirred up in the community by the cult of certain personalities, 233 as well as for a serious lapse in charity when they celebrate the “Supper of the Lord” (1 Co 11:17-22). “For this reason”, Paul says, “many of you are weak and ill, and some of you have died” (11:30). In addition, the community is severely reprimanded because it has tolerated a case of scandalous misconduct. The offender must be excommunicated, “handed over to Satan”. 234 Paul quotes the precept of Dt 17:7: “Drive out the wicked person from among you” (1 Co 5:13). The Pastoral Letters take issue with “self-styled teachers of the Law” who have strayed from true charity and sincere faith (1 Tm 1:5-7); their names are given as well as the sanctions imposed on them. 235
The letters sent “to the seven churches” (Rv 1:11) by the author of the Book of Revelation clearly show the diversity of situations in which the Christian communities lived at the time. Almost all of the letters — five out of seven — begin with praise; two contain praise only, but the other five have reproaches, some of them serious, accompanied by threats of punishment. These reproaches are of a general nature (“you have abandoned your first fervour”: 2:4; “you have a name of being alive, but you are dead”: 3:1); sometimes they are more precise, as when they are criticised for tolerating “the teaching of the Nicolaitans” (2:15) or for their compromise with idolatry (2:14,21). All the letters express “what the Spirit is saying to the churches”. 236 They show that, in most cases, the Christian communities deserve reproaches and that the Spirit is calling them to conversion. 237
54. Many of the promises made by God in the Old Testament are re-read in the light of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. This poses real and delicate questions which touch upon the dialogue between Jews and Christians; they concern the legitimacy of an interpretation of the promises over and above their original, obvious meaning. Who exactly are the descendants of Abraham? Is the Promised Land first and foremost a geographical location? What future horizon does the God of Revelation reserve for Israel, the people originally chosen? What becomes of the wait for the kingdom of God? And for the Messiah?
a) Descent from Abraham
In the Old Testament
God promised to Abraham innumerable descendants 238 through the single son, the privileged inheritor, born of Sarah. 239 These descendants will become, like Abraham himself, a source of blessing for all the nations (12:3; 22:18). The promise is renewed to Isaac (24:4,24) and Jacob (28:14; 32:13).
The experience of oppression in Egypt does not prevent the realisation of the promise. On the contrary, the beginning of the Book of Exodus attests many times to the numerical growth of the Hebrews (Ex 1:7,12,20). When the people are freed from oppression, the promise is already fulfilled: the Israelites are “numerous as the stars of heaven”, but God increases their number even more, as he promised (Dt 1:10-11). The people lapse into idolatry and are threatened with extermination; Moses then intercedes before God on their behalf; he recalls God's oath made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to multiply their descendants (Ex 32:13). A grave act of disobedience on the part of the people in the desert (Nu 14:2-4), as at the foot of Sinai (Ex 32), gives rise, as in Ex 32, to Moses' intercession, which is answered, and saves the people from the consequences of their sin. Nevertheless, the present generation will be excluded from the promised land, with the exception of Caleb's clan which remained faithful (Nu 14:20-24). Subsequent generations of Israelites will enjoy all the promises made to their ancestors on the condition however of resolutely choosing “life and blessing” and not “death and curse” (Dt 30:19), which unfortunately the northern Israelites did choose later on, with the result that “the Lord rejected” them (2 K 17:20), as he did also the southern kingdom that he subjected to the purifying trial of the Babylonian Exile (Jr 25:11).
The ancient promises were quickly revived for those who returned. 240 After the Exile, to preserve purity of descent, beliefs and observances, “those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners”. 241 Later on, the little Book of Jonah — perhaps also, according to some, Ruth — denounces such closed particularism. This poorly reflects the prophetic message in the Book of Isaiah where God bestows on “all the peoples” the hospitality of his house (Is 56:3-7).
In the New Testament
55. In the New Testament, the validity of the promise made to Abraham is never called into question. The Magnificat and the Benedictus refer explicitly to it. 242 Jesus is presented as “son of Abraham” (Mt 1:1). To be a son or daughter of Abraham (Lk 13:16; 19:19) is a great honour. Nevertheless, the understanding of the promise differs from the one given in Judaism. The preaching of John the Baptist already relativises the importance of belonging to the family of Abraham. Descent from him according to the flesh is not enough, nor is it even necessary (Mt 3:9; Lk 3:8). Jesus declares that the pagans “will take their place at the banquet with Abraham”, “while the heirs of the kingdom will be cast out” (Mt 8:11-12; Lk 13:28-29).
But it is Paul in particular who develops this theme. To the Galatians, preoccupied with entering, through circumcision, the family of the patriarch, in order to have a right to the promised heritage, Paul shows that circumcision is no longer necessary, for what is important is faith in Christ. By faith, one becomes a son of Abraham (Ga 3:17), for Christ is the privileged descendant (3:16) and, through faith, people are incorporated into Christ and so become “descendants of Abraham, heirs to the promise” (3:29). It is in this way — and not through circumcision — that the pagans will receive the blessing transmitted by Abraham (3:8,14). In Ga 4: 22-31, a daring typological interpretation arrives at the same conclusions.
In the Letter to the Romans (4:1-25), Paul returns to the subject in less polemical terms. He highlights the faith of Abraham, for him the source of justification and the basis of Abraham's paternity which extends to all who believe whether Jew or pagan. For God had promised Abraham: “You shall be the father of a multitude of nations” (Gn 17:4); Paul sees the promise realised in the many believers of pagan origin who belong to Christ (Rm 4:11,17-18). He makes a distinction between “children of the flesh” and “children of the promise” (Rm 9:8). The Jews who belong to Christ are both. Believers of pagan origin are “children of the promise”, that is the more important of the two.
In this way, Paul confirms and accentuates the universal import of Abraham's blessing and situates the true posterity of the patriarch in the spiritual order.
b) The Promised Land
56. Every human group wishes to inhabit territory in a permanent manner. Otherwise, reduced to the status of stranger or refugee, it finds itself, at best, tolerated, or at worst, exploited and continually oppressed. Israel was freed from slavery in Egypt and received from God the promise of land. Its realisation required time and gave rise to many problems throughout the course of its history. For the people of the Bible, even after the return from the Babylonian Exile, the land remained an object of hope: “Those blessed by the lord”will possess the land (Ps 37:22).
In the Old Testament
The term “promised land” is not found in the Hebrew Bible, which has no word for “promise”. The idea is expressed by the future tense of the verb “to give”, or by using the verb “to swear”: “the land which he swore to give to you” (Ex 13:5; 33:1, etc.).
In the Abraham traditions, the promise of land will be fulfilled through descendants. 243 It concerns the “land of Canaan” (Gn 17:8). God raises up a leader, Moses, to liberate Israel and lead it into the promised land. 244 But the people as a whole lose faith: of those faithful from the beginning, only a few survive the long journey through the desert; it is the younger generation that will enter the land (Nu 14:26-38). Moses himself dies without being able to enter (Dt 34:1-5). Under the leadership of Joshua, the tribes of Israel are settled in the promised territory.
For the Priestly tradition, the land must as far as possible be without blemish, for God himself dwells there (Nu 35:34). The gift is therefore conditioned by moral purity 245 and by service to the Lord alone, to the exclusion of foreign gods (Jos 24:14-24). On the other hand, God himself is the owner of the land. If the Israelites dwell there, it is as “strangers and sojourners”, 246 like the patriarchs in former times (Gn 23:4; Ex 6:4).
After the reign of Solomon, the heritage land was split into two rival kingdoms. The prophets condemn idolatry and social injustice; they threaten punishment: the loss of the land, conquered by foreigners, and the exile of its population. But they always leave open a way to return to a new occupation of the promised land, 247 while emphasising also the central role of Jerusalem and its Temple. 248 Later the perspective opens out to an eschatological future. Although occupying a limited geographical space, the promised land will become the focus of attraction for the nations. 249
The theme of the land should not be allowed to overshadow the manner in which the Book of Joshua recounts the entry to the promised land. Many texts 250 speak of consecrating to God the fruits of victory, called the ban (chérèm). To prevent all foreign religious contamination, the ban imposed the obligation of destroying all places and objects of pagan cults (Dt 7:5), as well as all living beings (20:15-18). The same applies when an Israelite town succumbs to idolatry, Dt 13:16-18 prescribes that all its inhabitants be put to death and that the town itself be burned down.
At the time when Deuteronomy was written — as well as the Book of Joshua — the ban was a theoretical postulate, since non-Israelite populations no longer existed in Judah. The ban then could be the result of a projection into the past of later preoccupations. Indeed, Deuteronomy is anxious to reinforce the religious identity of a people exposed to the danger of foreign cults and mixed marriages. 251
Therefore, to appreciate the ban, three factors must be taken into account in interpretation; theological, moral, and one mainly sociological: the recognition of the land as the inalienable domain of the lord;the necessity of guarding the people from all temptation which would compromise their fidelity to God; finally, the all too human temptation of mingling with religion the worst forms of resorting to violence.
In the New Testament
57. The New Testament does not develop much further the theme of the promised land. The flight of Jesus and his parents to Egypt and their return to the “land of promise” (Mt 2:20-21) clearly retraces the journey of the ancestors; a theological typology undergirds this narrative. In Stephen's discourse which recalls their history, the word “promise” or “promised” is found side by side with “land” and “heritage” (Ac 7:2-7). Although not found in the Old Testament, the expression “land of promise” is found in the New (Heb 11:9), in a passage which, undoubtedly, recalls the historical experience of Abraham to better underline its provisional and incomplete character, and its orientation towards the absolute future of the world and history. For the author, the “land” of Israel is only a symbolic pointer towards a very different land, a “heavenly homeland”. 252 One of the beatitudes transforms the geographical and historical meaning 253 into a more open-ended one, “the meek shall possess the land” (Mt 5:5); “the land” is equivalent here to “the kingdom of heaven” (5:3,10) in an eschatological horizon that is both present and future.
The authors of the New Testament are only deepening a symbolic process already at work in the Old Testament and in intertestamental Judaism. It should not be forgotten, however, that a specific land was promised by God to Israel and received as a heritage; this gift of the land was on condition of fidelity to the covenant (Lv 26; Dt 28).
c) The eternal and the final salvation of Israel
In the Old Testament
58. What kind of future awaits the people of the covenant? Down through history the people itself has constantly asked this question in direct connection with the themes of divine judgement and salvation.
From before the Exile, the prophets questioned the naive hope in a “Day of the lord”which would automatically bring salvation and victory over the enemy. Quite to the contrary, to announce the unhappy lot of a people seriously deficient in social consciousness and faith, they reversed the image of the Day of the lordinto one of “darkness and not light”, 254 not, however, without leaving some little light of hope to glimmer intermittently. 255
The experience of the Exile as the result of the breaking of the covenant, posed the same question with maximum urgency: Can Israel, far from its land, still hope for salvation from God? Has it any future? First Ezechiel, followed by Second Isaiah, announces, in God's name, a new Exodus, that is, Israel's return to its own country, 256 an experience of salvation that implies several elements: the gathering together of a dispossessed people (Ezk 36:24) brought about by the Lord himself, 257 a profound interior transformation, 258 national 259 and cultic 260 renewal, as well as the revival of past divine choices, especially the choice of the ancestors Abraham and Jacob 261 and that of king David (Ezk 34:23-24).
More recent prophetic developments continue along the same lines. Prophetic messages solemnly proclaim that the race of Israel will endure forever, 262 and will never cease to be a nation before the Lord and will never be rejected by him, despite all that it has done (Jr 31:35-37). The Lord promises to restore his people. 263 The ancient promises made in Israel's favour are confirmed. The post-exilic prophets expand their range within a universal horizon. 264
Regarding the future, the importance of one particular theme must be emphasised as the counterpart: that of “remnant”. Theologically, the future of Israel is guaranteed, but it is a circumscribed group, instead of the whole people, that will be the carrier of national hopes and God's salvation. 265 The post-exilic community considered itself to be this “remnant of survivors”, awaiting the salvation of God. 266
In the New Testament
59. In the light of the resurrection of Jesus, what becomes of Israel, the chosen people? God's pardon is offered to it from the start (Ac 2:38), as well as salvation by faith in the risen Christ (13:38-39); many Jews accepted, 267 including “a multitude of priests” (6:7), but the leaders were opposed to the nascent Church, and in the end, the majority of the people did not attach themselves to Christ. This situation has always aroused serious questions with regard to the fulfilment of the salvific plan of God. The New Testament searched for an explanation in the ancient prophecies and maintained that the situation was foretold there, especially in Is 6:9-10, which is frequently quoted in this regard. 268 Paul, in particular, experienced great sorrow (Rm 9:1-3) and confronted the problem in depth (Rm 9-11). His “brothers according to the flesh” (Rm 9:3) “have stumbled over the stumbling stone” put there by God; rather than relying on faith, they relied on works (9:32). They have stumbled, but not “so as to fall” (11:11). For “God has not rejected his people” (11:2); witness to that is the existence of a “Remnant”, who believe in Christ; Paul himself is part of that Remnant (11:1,4-6). For him, the existence of this Remnant guarantees the hope of Israel's full restoration (11:12,15). The failure of the chosen people is part of God's paradoxical plan: it brings about the “salvation of the pagans” (11:11). “A hardening has come upon a part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, then all Israel will be saved”, through the mercy of God, who has promised it (11:25-26). Meanwhile, Paul puts Christian converts from paganism on their guard against the pride and self-reliance which lie in wait for them, if they forget that they are only wild branches grafted on to the good olive tree, Israel (11:17-24). The Israelites remain “loved” by God and are promised a bright future “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (11:29). This is a very positive doctrine which Christians should never forget.
d) The reign of God
60. Many passages in the Bible express the expectation of a completely renewed world through the inauguration of an ideal reign in which God takes and keeps all the initiative. Nevertheless, the two Testaments differ considerably, not only in the importance which each one accords this theme, but especially by the different accents they place on it.
In the Old Testament
The concept of divine kingship has deep roots in the cultures of the ancient Near East. The reign of God over his people Israel appears in the Pentateuch, 269 especially in the Book of Judges (Jg 8:22-23) and in the First Book of Samuel (1 S 8:7; 12:12). God is also acclaimed as King of the whole universe, particularly in the royal Psalms (Ps 93-99). The lord reveals himself to the prophet Isaiah c.740 B.C. (Is 6:3-5). One prophet unveils him as the universal King, surrounded by a celestial court (1 K 22:19-22).
During the Exile, the prophets conceive the reign of God as operative in the very heart of the eventful history of the chosen people. 270 So too in more recent prophetic texts. 271 Nevertheless, the theme already begins to take on a more emphatic eschatological colouration 272 which manifests itself in the sovereign arbitration that the Lord will exercise over the nations of the world from his dwelling place on Mount Zion (Is 2:1-4 = Mi 4:1-4). The greatest degree of eschatological concentration is reached in the apocalyptic literature with the emergence of a mysterious figure presented as “one like a son of man”, “coming on the clouds of heaven”, to whom “was given dominion and glory and kingship” over “all the peoples” (Dn 7:13-14). Here, one is approaching the idea of a transcendent, heavenly, eternal reign, that the people of the saints of the Most High are invited to accept (7:18,22,27).
It is in the Psalter that the theme of God's reign reaches its height. There are six Psalms in particular. 273 Five have the same key phrase in common: “The lordreigns”, which is placed either at the beginning or in the middle. 274 There is great emphasis on the cosmic, ethical and cultic dimensions of this reign. In Ps 47 and 96 universalism is emphasised: “God reigns over the nations”. 275 Ps 99 makes way for human mediation that is royal, priestly and prophetic (99:6-8). Ps 96 and 98 open out to an eschatological and universal reign of God. On the other hand, Ps 114, a Passover psalm, celebrates the lordboth as King of Israel and King of the universe. The reign of God is suggested in many other Psalms as well.
In the New Testament
61. The reign of God, a theme well attested in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalter, becomes a major theme in the Synoptic Gospels, because it serves as the basis of Jesus' prophetic preaching, his messianic mission, his death and resurrection. The ancient promise is now fulfilled, in a fruitful tension between the already and the not-yet. Certainly at the time of Jesus, the Old Testament concept of a “reign of God” that was imminent, terrestrial, political, and centred on “Israel” and in “Jerusalem”, was still strongly entrenched (Lk 19:11), even among the disciples (Mt 20:21; Ac 1:6). But the New Testament as a whole brings about a radical change, which was already evident in intertestamental Judaism where the idea of a heavenly, eternal kingdom makes its appearance (Jubilees XV:32; XVI:18).
Matthew most frequently speaks of “the kingdom of the heavens” (33 times), a semitism which avoids pronouncing the name of God. It devolves on Jesus to “preach the good news of the kingdom” through teaching, healing of illnesses 276 and the expulsion of demons (12:28). The teaching of Jesus on the “righteousness” necessary for entry into the kingdom (5:20) proposes a very high religious and moral ideal (5:21-7:27). Jesus announces that the reign of God is near at hand (4:17), which inserts an eschatological tension into the present time. From now on the reign belongs to those who are “poor in spirit” (5:3) and to those who are “persecuted for the sake of righteousness” (5:10). Several parables present the reign of God as present and operative in the world, as a seed that grows (13:31-32), as a leaven active in the dough (13:33). For his role in the Church, Peter will receive “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (16:19). Other parables concentrate on eschatological judgement. 277 The kingdom of God becomes a reality now through the reign of the Son of Man. 278 A comparison between Mt 18:9 and Mk 9:47 shows that the kingdom of God points to the access to the true “life”, in other words, the access to the communion that God accomplishes for his people, in justice and holiness through Jesus Christ.
Mark and Luke have the same teaching as Matthew, each with his own nuances. Elsewhere in the New Testament the theme is less prominent, though frequent enough. 279 Without using the expression “kingdom of God”, 280 the Book of Revelation describes the great battle against the forces of evil that produces the establishment of this reign. The “kingship of the world” belongs from now on “to our Lord and his Christ”, “he will reign for ever and ever” (Rv 11:15).
e) The son and successor of David
In the Old Testament
62. In some biblical texts, the hope of a better world is mediated through a human agent. An ideal king is awaited, who will liberate from oppression and establish perfect justice (Ps 72). This waiting takes shape, beginning with the message of the prophet Nathan who promised king David that one of his sons would succeed him and that his kingdom would last forever (2 S 7:11-16). The obvious sense of this oracle is not messianic; it did not promise David a privileged successor who would inaugurate the definitive reign of God in a renewed world, but simply an immediate successor who, in turn, would be succeeded by others. Each of David's successors was an “anointed” of the Lord, in Hebrew (m~šiach), for kings were consecrated by the pouring of oil, but none of them was the Messiah. Other prophecies, following Nathan's, in the crises of the succeeding centuries, promised that the dynasty would certainly endure as part of God's fidelity to his people (Is 7:14), but they tended more and more to paint a portrait of an ideal king who would inaugurate the reign of God. 281 Even the failure of the political expectations to materialise only served to deepen that hope. The ancient prophetic messages and the royal Psalms (Ps 2; 45; 72; 110) were reread with this hope in mind.
The final results of this revolution appear in the writings from the Second Temple period, and in the writings of Qumran. They express messianic expectation in different forms: royal messianic, priestly, and heavenly. 282 Other Jewish writings combine the expectation of earthly salvation for Jerusalem with an eternal salvation beyond this world, by proposing an earthly and intermediate messianic kingdom that would precede the coming of the definitive reign of God in a new creation. 283 Although messianic hope continued to be part of the traditions of Judaism, it did not appear in all currents as a central and integral theme, even as a special indicator.
In the New Testament
63. For the Christian communities of the first century, however, the promise of an anointed son of David becomes an essential and basic interpretative key. Although the Old Testament and the intertestamental literature can still speak of an eschatology without a Messiah in the context of the vast movement of eschatological expectation, the New Testament itself clearly recognises in Jesus of Nazareth the promised Messiah, awaited by Israel (and by the whole of humanity): it is he, therefore, who fulfils the promise. Hence, the concern for emphasising his Davidic descent, 284 and even his superiority to his royal ancestor, who calls him “Lord” (Mk 12:35-37 and par.).
In the New Testament, the Hebrew term m~šiach transliterated in Greek as messias is only found twice, and is followed by its Greek translation christos, which means “anointed”. 285 In Jn 1:41 the context points to royal messianism (cf. 1:49: “King of Israel”), in 4:25 to a prophetic Messiah, in accordance with Samaritan beliefs: “He will tell you everything”. Jesus here explicitly acknowledges this title (4:26). Elsewhere, the New Testament expresses the idea of Messiah by the word christos, but at times also by the expression “he who is to come”. 286 The title christos is reserved to Jesus except in texts that denounce false messiahs. 287 Together with Kyrios, “Lord”, it is the most frequently used title to identify who Jesus is. It sums up his mystery. He is the object of many confessions of faith in the New Testament. 288
In the Synoptics, the recognition of Jesus as Messiah plays a prominent role, especially in Peter's confession (Mk 8:27-29 and par.). The explicit prohibition against revealing the title, far from being a denial, confirms rather a radically new understanding of it in contrast to a too earthly political expectation on the part of the disciples and the crowds (8:30). The necessary passage through suffering and death is affirmed. 289 Confronted by the High Priest during his trial, Jesus clearly identifies himself with the Messiah according to Mk 14:61-62: the drama of the passion lifts the veil on the specific uniqueness of Jesus' Messiahship, in line with the Suffering Servant who is described by Isaiah. The paschal events open the way to the parousia, in other words, to the coming of “the Son of Man in the clouds of heaven” (Mk 13:26 and par.), a hope already expressed opaquely in the apocalypse of Daniel (Dn 7:13-14).
In the Fourth Gospel, the messianic identity of Jesus is the object of remarkable confessions of faith, 290 but also the ocasion for several controversies with the Jews. 291 Numerous “signs” tend to confirm it. It is plainly a transcendent royalty that is described (18:36-37), incomparably different from the nationalistic and political aspirations current at the time (6:15).
According to Nathan's prophetic message, the son and successor of David will be recognised as son of God. 292 The New Testament proclaims that Jesus is in reality “the Christ, the Son of God”, 293 and gives that sonship a transcendent definition: Jesus is one with the Father. 294
A privileged witness to the Church's post-paschal faith, Luke's second volume makes the royal consecration (messianic) of Jesus coincide with the moment of his resurrection (Ac 2:36). The demonstration of the title's credibility becomes an essential element of the apostolic preaching. 295 In the Pauline corpus, the word “Christ” abounds, frequently as a proper name, deeply rooted in the theology of the cross (1 Co 1:13; 2:2) and glorification (2 Co 4:4-5). Based on Ps 109 (110), verses 1 and 4, the Letter to the Hebrews demonstrates that Christ is the priest-Messiah (5:5-6:10) as well as royal Messiah (1:8; 8:1). This expresses the priestly dimension of Christ's sufferings and his glorification. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus' Messiahship is set in the Davidic line: Jesus possesses “the key of David” (Rv 3:7), he fulfils the Davidic messianism of Ps 2; 296 he declares: “I am the shoot and the descendent of David” (Rv 22:16).
For the New Testament then, it is Jesus who fulfils in his person, above all in his paschal mystery, all the promises of salvation associated with the coming of the Messiah. He is Son of David of course, but also Suffering Servant, Son of Man and eternal Son of God. In him, salvation takes on a new dimension. The emphasis changes from a predominantly earthly salvation to a transcendent one that surpasses the conditions of temporal existence. It is addressed to every single human being, to the entire human race. 297
64. Christian readers were convinced that their Old Testament hermeneutic, although significantly different from that of Judaism, corresponds nevertheless to a potentiality of meaning that is really present in the texts. Like a “revelation” during the process of photographic development, the person of Jesus and the events concerning him now appear in the Scriptures with a fullness of meaning that could not be hitherto perceived. Such a fullness of meaning establishes a threefold connection between the New Testament and the Old: continuity, discontinuity, and progression.
In addition to recognising the authority of the Jewish Scriptures and despite the constant seeking to demonstrate that the “new” events were in conformity with what was predicted (see ch. 1), the New Testament fully appropriates the great themes of the theology of Israel in a threefold reference to past, present and future.
A universal perspective is always present: God is one; it is he who, by his word and spirit, created and sustains the whole universe, including human beings, who are “great” and “noble” despite their “wretchedness”.
Other themes are developed in the context of a particular history: God has spoken, he has chosen a people, has freed and saved them innumerable times, has established a covenant relationship with them by the giving of himself (grace) and by offering a way of faithfulness (Law). The person and work of Christ together with the existence of the Church prolong this history.
This opens up for the chosen people wonderful future horizons: posterity (promised to Abraham), living space (a territory), survival beyond crises and testings (due to God's fidelity), and the establishment of an ideal political order (the reign of God, messianism). From the beginning, a reign universal in its scope is envisaged for the blessing given to Abraham. The salvation bestowed by God will spread to the ends of the earth. Indeed, it is Jesus Christ who offers salvation to the entire world.
Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that the passage from one Testament to the other also involves ruptures. These do not submerge continuity. They presuppose it in essentials. Yet these ruptures impinge upon whole tracts of the Law: for example, institutions like the levitical priesthood of the Jerusalem Temple; cultic forms like animal sacrifice; religious and ritual practices like circumcision, rules concerning purity and impurity, dietary prescriptions; imperfect laws such as divorce; restrictive legal interpretations concerning the sabbath. It is clear that — from the viewpoint of Judaism — these are matters of great importance for it. But it is also clear that the radical replacement in the New Testament was already adumbrated in the Old Testament and so constitute a potentially legitimate reading.
65. Discontinuity on certain points is only the negative side of what is positively called progression. The New Testament attests that Jesus, far from being in opposition to the Israelite Scriptures, revoking them as provisional, brings them instead to fulfilment in his person, in his mission, and especially in his paschal mystery. In fact, none of the great Old Testament themes escapes the new radiation of Christological light.
a) God. The New Testament firmly holds on to the monotheistic faith of Israel: God remains the One; 298 nevertheless, the Son participates in this mystery that from now on will be expressed in a ternary symbolism, already opaquely foreshadowed in the Old Testament. 299 God creates by his word (Gn 1), but this Word pre-exists “with God” and “is God” (Jn 1:1-5), and after entering history through a line of authentic spokespersons (Moses and the prophets), is now incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth. 300 God also creates “by the breath of his mouth” (Ps 33:6). This breath is “the Holy Spirit” sent from the Father by the risen Christ (Ac 2:33).
b) Human Beings. The human being is created noble, “in the image of God” (Gn 1:26). But the most perfect “image of the invisible God” is Christ (Col 1:15). And we ourselves are invited to become images of Christ, 301 that is, “a new creation”. 302 From our poverty and wretchedness God saves and liberates us through the unique mediation of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and is risen for our life. 303
c) The People. The New Testament takes for granted that the election of Israel, the people of the covenant, is irrevocable: it preserves intact its prerogatives (Rm 9:4) and its priority status in history, in the offer of salvation (Ac 13:23) and in the Word of God (13:46). But God has also offered to Israel a “new covenant” (Jr 31:31); this is now established through the blood of Jesus. 304 The Church is composed of Israelites who have accepted the new covenant, and of other believers who have joined them. As a people of the new covenant, the Church is conscious of existing only in virtue of belonging to Christ Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, and because of its link with the apostles, who were all Israelites. Far from being a substitution for Israel, 305 the Church is in solidarity with it. To the Christians who have come from the nations, the apostle Paul declares that they are grafted to the good olive tree which is Israel (Rm 11:16,17). That is to say, the Church is conscious of being given a universal horizon by Christ, in conformity with Abraham's vocation, whose descendants from now on are multiplied in a filiation founded on faith in Christ (Rm 4:11-12). The reign of God is no longer confined to Israel alone, but is open to all, including the pagans, with a place of honour for the poor and oppressed. 306 The hope placed in the royal house of David, although defunct for six centuries, becomes the essential key for the reading of history: it is concentrated from now on in Jesus Christ, a humble and distant descendant. Finally, as regards the land of Israel (including the Temple and the holy city), the New Testament extends the process of symbolisation already begun in the Old Testament and in intertestamental Judaism.
Accordingly, for Christians, the God of revelation has pronounced his final word with the advent of Jesus Christ and the Church. “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son” (Heb 1:1-2).