What is Dual-Covenant Theology?
In another article we looked at the theological error of replacement theology, which claims that God has rejected the Jews as His chosen people and replaced Israel by the Church. We saw that this theory cannot be reconciled with the New Testament and the teachings of the Church, which state that God's election of Israel and His covenant with the Jewish people are irrevocable and permanent.
Today, another theological error is causing much confusion in the Church, especially because it is held by not a few influential people. This error is called "dual-covenant theology." Dual-covenant theology teaches that since God's covenant with the Jews is still valid for them, they don't need Jesus or the New Covenant to be saved. Jews could go to Heaven simply by keeping the Law of Moses, because of the "everlasting covenant" between Abraham and God (Gen 17:13), whereas Gentiles (those who are not Jews) must convert to Christianity to be saved. In other words, Jews have their own way to God—the Old Covenant, and the Christians theirs—the New Covenant. Dual-covenant theology is thus the opposite error of replacement theology. Whereas replacement theology claims that God's election, covenant and promises to Israel are superceded and abolished, and the only role left for Jews is to convert to Christianity and enter the Church, dual-covenant theology claims on the contrary that since God's covenant with the Jews is still valid, it is totally sufficient for them, and therefore they don't need Jesus or the Church to be saved.
This idea is attractive to Jews who don't believe in Jesus (and, tragically, even to many Catholics) because it does away with Jesus' commandment to his disciples that they should share the Gospel with everyone, Jews and Gentiles. But the problem with dual-covenant theology is that it completely contradicts the writings of the New Testament and teachings of the Church.
Obviously, the New Testament asserts that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah of Israel whom God promised to the Jewish people through Moses and the prophets (see Messianic Prophecies*, The Messiah in the Tanakh and Who Do You Say I Am?*). At the heart of the Gospel message stands the invitation to the Jewish people that they recognize Jesus as Messiah and become his disciples:
- Jesus' own mission was directed exclusively to the Jews. He said "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." (Mt 15:24)
- The proclamation of the early Church was also exclusively directed to the Jews. (cf. Acts 2-4; 7)
- The apostle Paul wrote: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." (Rom 1:16)
But, one may object, since God's covenant with Israel is still valid, could Jews then be saved by simply observing the Mosaic Law—the Torah? The New Testament and the Catholic Church answer a categorical "no" to this question. Although the Torah is God-given and good, and it can certainly be meritorious for Jews to observe its commandments in a spirit of devotion to God, Divine Revelation tells us that Torah observance alone is not sufficient for salvation:
- "Nor is there salvation in any other [than Christ], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12)
- "A man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ… for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified." (Gal 2:16)
- "I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain." (Gal 2:21)
- "Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also." (1 Jn 2:23)
- "The Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door." (CCC 846)
- "Jesus affirms that ‘there shall be one flock and one shepherd.’ Church and Judaism cannot then be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all." (Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church I. 7, Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, 1985)
- Even the declaration Nostra Aetate, in its section on the Jewish people which affirms the permanence of God's covenant with Israel, states that it is "the burden of the Church's preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God's all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows" (NA 4)
- Most recently, the document "The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable" asserts clearly that "there are not two paths to salvation according to the expression 'Jews hold to the Torah, Christians hold to Christ.' Christian faith proclaims that Christ’s work of salvation is universal and involves all mankind. (GCGI 25)
- "Since God has never revoked his covenant with his people Israel, there cannot be different paths or approaches to God’s salvation. The theory that there may be two different paths to salvation, the Jewish path without Christ and the path with the Christ, whom Christians believe is Jesus of Nazareth, would in fact endanger the foundations of Christian faith. Confessing the universal and therefore also exclusive mediation of salvation through Jesus Christ belongs to the core of Christian faith." (GCGI 35)
The fact that Judaism as practised today is insufficient for salvation should be evident to anyone who reads the Scriptures. In the Old Testament, forgiveness was attained through the offering of animal sacrifices and the shedding of their blood in atonement for sins (cf. Lev 17:11). In the New Testament, Jesus' Paschal Sacrifice and the shedding of His blood universally atoned for the sins of all mankind. Through baptism, we take part in the Messiah's death and resurrection, our sins are washed away, and we receive the gift of God's supernatural, divine life. The Messiah continues to impart to us this supernatural life through the other sacraments that He instituted, and most especially in the Eucharist where we partake of His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. For sure, the observance of the mitzvoth (the commandments)—as meritorious as it may be—can only fall short of this great gift of supernatural grace—even more so because Judaism has been deprived of a Temple and sacrifices since shortly after the coming of the Messiah.
In summary, though God's election of Israel is indeed irrevocable and permanent, Jews cannot be considered "saved" or justified before God through the Mosaic covenant. The NT and teachings of the Church clear affirm that salvation can only be found in Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel. This does not mean, however, that Jews are condemned to hell if they do not explicitly and consciously accept Christ, for the Church also teaches that those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church but seek God with a sincere heart and try to do His will to the best of their ability can be saved. Nonetheless, the fullness of the means of salvation can be found only in Jesus the Messiah and in the Church He founded (CCC 846-47).
A comparison of the different positions we have seen would thus appear in their simplest form as follows:
|Replacement Theology (Error)||Catholic Faith (Kosher)||Dual-covenant Theology (Error)|
Let us close with the words of a Catholic Jew, Roy Schoeman, on the subject of Jews, Jesus, and the Catholic evangelization of Jews:
The greatest misconception that Catholics hold about Jews is the terrible, pernicious one that somehow Jews don’t need Jesus! It is natural that Jews should hold this view – to them Jesus was, after all, a false Messiah who indirectly caused incalculable disaster to befall Jews – but it is tragic that, in the interest of "dialogue" and a false ecumenism, this view is sometimes voiced even by Catholics, and even by Catholics who believe that they are representing the Church... What could be more anti-Semitic than refusing to share the Gospel, the Good News, the joy and fulfillment and salvation brought by the Jewish Messiah with the Jews themselves, through whom He first came? (Judaism Fulfilled, Interview of IgnatiusInsight.com with Roy Schoeman)