Role of the Jewish People
After the Coming of the Messiah
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
One of the most common statements we hear in discussions about Jews and Christianity goes something like this: “You can’t be a Jew and a Christian at the same time —it is impossible!”
We know what people mean when they say that. They are being respectful of both Faiths, and protecting of their own. However we see it quite differently. It would not be an exaggeration for us to state our position something like this:
“The ceremonial Law and sacrifices as offered in the Temple
liturgies have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ and the
commands to put them into practice are therefore abrogated.
Nevertheless the bulk of what we understand today as
Judaism can be lived in all its richness and discipline
within the Church when all is seen as transformed in the
Light of Jesus Messiah. Its traditions are enhanced by the
additional perspective of finding their perfect fulfilment in the
Lord Jesus. Fulfilment gives lustre to the spiritual treasury
of Jewish liturgy and practice, but does not alter, annul, nor
detract from their venerable forms and customs.”
This short article merely introduces this beautiful subject about which we love to talk. Our hope is that readers will follow up our bold statement by reading the small number of references we offer at the conclusion. These particular books and articles are treasures in their own right but collectively offer huge insights into the relationship of Judaism and Christianity.
II A Vital Understanding: “Preparation”
One of the leading authorities in this area of discussion is Dr. Lawrence Feingold and his works are of inestimable value. In his series, “The Mystery of Israel and the Church — Volume One —Figure and Fulfilment” he provides some important points to help us appreciate the emphasis God gave to “preparation” for the Coming of the Messiah, promised in Genesis 3: 16. We draw on portions of his book found in chapters 5 and 10. Incidentally, Dr. Feingold is Director of Theology in the Association of Hebrew Catholics, International.
Dr. Feingold provides a most helpful introduction to a vitally important aspect of Biblical studies and it goes by the name of “typology” — or the study of “types,” which he calls: “a Divine Bridge” between the Old and New Testaments. He explains what he means by this:
Biblical typology provides a divine bridge between the
Old and New Testaments. I say “divine” because this bridge
was prepared by God Himself. Guiding the events and
religious ceremonies of the Old Testament so as to make
them figures, signs, or symbols of the New. We may ask
why God wished to make this bridge between the
Testaments, creating a subtle symbolism that most
readers would never understand unless they were expressly
taught. Why did God create these figures?
God begins His Plan using a sequence of progressively unfolding learning experiences (comprising “a progressive pedagogy”). This proceeds from imperfect, incomplete representations, moving towards the perfect and complete unfolding. The people involved thus grow with the unfolding process, as does their understanding of the meaning of it all.
In this process which takes place over time and space, those involved are introduced to spiritual realities presented with the help of tangible material examples, analogies and stories. These are necessary as our understanding of abstract and spiritual ideas first impact on us through our senses, and what is called, “sense knowledge”.
Dr. Feingold emphasises that this demonstrates God’s respect for our human nature by revealing great spiritual truths through historical narratives as well as images we experience through our senses.
The following are some of the chief examples of Biblical images and accounts which all contribute to God’s “teaching method” — i.e. the progressive unfolding of stories, events, symbols and customs in a way which draws the person reflecting on them towards deeper spiritual perception.
• The Covenant with Abraham.
• The election of the Chosen People.
• The Law of Moses
• The prophecies concerning the Messiah and His Church.
• Customs and ceremonies, especially those belonging to
the Temple liturgies.
• The history of the people and their Faith.
• The Fathers of the early Church, following the teaching
of Jesus and of St. Paul see the entire framework of the
Old Testament — its history and ceremonial laws — as a
tangible, visible (in theology, “sensible”) figure of future
spiritual realities that would be brought by the Church.
These, then, are important aspects of the notion of the Jewish Faith being the forerunner, prefiguring the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of His Church. All of this demonstrates how Judaism has been the preparation for the Messiah and His Mission. This begs the question:
— Is its role or preparation complete and “over with”
in light of the Messiah’s coming?
— Are these aspects of the role to which Judaism was
appointed, that require further or continued attention?
III Spiritual Blindness
(We remind readers that we are presenting only a
very brief introduction to our subject which is drawn
largely from the book cited above, by Dr. Lawrence Feingold.
Details are provided at the end to enable readers
to obtain the series which we consider indispensable.)
The Judaeo-Christian understanding is full of seemingly endless mysteries. We have a natural tendency to draw back from facing them. When we use the word “mystery” in any religious discussion we should remember that a “mystery in theology is a truth revealed by God which exceeds the full grasp of the human mind. Human reason can never fully understand mysteries through its own power” (L. Feingold).
In Christianity we have the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation and the Passion of Christ which constantly challenge us.
In the history and culture of Israel (taking the word in the Biblical rather than the political sense) there are, likewise, mysteries which also challenge the thinking person: for example —
• Why was Israel chosen from all the nations of the world?
Only God can answer that.
To go further — quoting Lawrence Feingold:
“Certainly one of the greatest mysteries about Israel is the
fact that God allowed a certain spiritual blindness to come
upon a part of Israel so that it would not recognise the Messiah
who came from her bosom. As we shall see, St. Paul speaks of
this very profoundly. Nevertheless, he too finds it tremendously
mysterious, as mysterious as it is tragic. God in His inscrutable
plans allowed a great part of Israel to remain blinded in that
regard for two thousand years. Does this mean that they are
no longer chosen or have been repudiated?”
There is a simplistic approach we could take to answer this question. Dr. Feingold comments:
“The human mind naturally seeks to avoid mysteries. The easy
way out of this dilemma would be to say that the Chosen People
who have become blinded are no longer chosen. The human mind
would eliminate this aspect of the mystery of Israel simply by
rejecting the continuing election.”
IV Simplistic Judgments Can Be Misleading
If we dwell on the spiritual blindness of Israel — (ignoring our own for now — but that’s another story) — we may well come up with a range of intriguing questions:
• What is the “status” of the Jewish people today in
• Are they still the chosen people or has their lack of
belief in Jesus as Messiah annulled that?
• Is the Old Covenant still in force for the Jewish people?
• Do they continue to play a role in Salvation History
after the coming of the Messiah?
Lawrence Feingold skillfully engages with what is behind these questions. He says:
“As with most theological questions, the truth lies between
two extremes. It is like the summit of a mountain between
two opposite slopes. One error would be to say that the
Jewish people has been completely rejected by God because
of its failure to recognise the Messiah and thus no longer
has any special role in salvation history.
An opposing error would be to hold a theory of parallel
covenants, thinking that after the coming of Jesus there
are two parallel and equal covenants for approaching and
pleasing God: Christianity for the Gentiles, and Judaism
for Jews. Thus there would be no reason for Jews to
embrace Christ and enter the Church.”
Dr. Feingold then goes on, after some preliminary conclusions, to answer the above questions and give a very clear and concise “position statement” (Section ‘V’ C).
V The “Status” of the Jewish People Today.
Following the model of Dr. Lawrence Feingold’s presentation, we will address this in three steps. (Using his text; any emphasis is ours).
A. Preliminary Conclusions
1. God’s plan for the salvation of the human race, from
all eternity, centred on the Incarnation and Passion
of God the Son, the Word of God, the Second Person of
the Trinity. The Jewish people was chosen precisely for
the inestimable privilege of being the people to whom the
Messiah — the Word Incarnate — would come into the world,
into human history and society; He would be born of a Jewish
mother and raised under the Law of Moses. As St. Paul says
in Galatians 4: 4: “When the fullness of time came, God sent
His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem
those who were under the Law, so that we might receive
adoption as sons.”
2. The coming of the Messiah was the blessing promised
to Abraham in his descendants: “In your seed shall all
the nations of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 22: 18). The Jewish
people was called in Abraham and progressively formed
through numerous wondrous interventions of God to be the
people in whom God would become man, so as to redeem mankind.
3. The role of the Jewish people was manifold.
• First, as we have said,they were to prepare for the coming
of the Messiah, so that His coming would be long awaited,
ardently desired, and constantly prayed for.
(Review our Part II on the concept of “preparation”.)
• They were called also to be a witness to God’s entire plan
of salvation, announcing the coming of the Messiah, and
giving solemn witness to the signs of His coming.
• They were called to live out in their own history the
glorious figures of Christ’s work of salvation, as we saw
with regard to Biblical typology.
(See Part II of this article re “typology”.)
• Finally they were called to receive the Law of Moses. As
we have seen, the Law of Moses has three aspects: the
moral law, the ceremonial law, and judicial precepts
which assign penalties and give particular application
of the general precepts of the Law contained in the
Dr. Feingold explains briefly the three categories of what is referred to as “the Law”.
• The moral law of the Old Testament was never abrogated,
and could never be so. On the contrary, Christ came to
fulfil it perfectly in His Person, and to give us the grace and
teaching we need to fulfil it in imitation of Him.
• The ceremonial law was abrogated, however, for it was a
figure that pointed to Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary: the
sacrifices of animals and other offerings point to the perfect
sacrifice of the Messiah, which is their fulfilment. Thus the
ceremonial law, according to God’s eternal plan, was to pass
into a new ceremonial law centering on the seven
sacraments of the Church — divine channels of grace
flowing from the perfect sacrifice of the Messiah.
• The judicial precepts of the Old Testament remain as a model,
but are adapted to the needs of different historical circumstances.
Christ does not promulgate new judicial precepts. This is left to
the Church in her canon law, and to the nations in their
B Current Role of the Jewish People
Dr. Feingold now moves to considering the current role of the Jewish People.
“On the basis of these points, how can we understand
the current role of the Jewish people in salvation history?”
He cites four principal foundational facts.
1. First of all, God’s choice or election of a particular people
in which He would become man can never be revoked.
Still today, the Jewish people have the inestimable
honour and privilege of being the people in which God
chose to become man. He was born of a quintessentially
Jewish mother, circumcised on the eighth day, raised in
pious Jewish fashion, and brought to the Temple three
times a year when He came of age. He participated
weekly in the synagogue, taught and worked miracles
in the streets and marketplaces of Israel. This honour
is still theirs, even if they do not yet recognise Him, as
Joseph’s brothers did not at first recognise Joseph in Egypt.
2. Secondly, the Jewish people were chosen to be a witness
to Jesus’ coming through their sacred books, their Law,
their traditions, their liturgy, and their history. This is
no less true today than it was before His coming.
3. Third, all the Apostles and first disciples of Jesus,
together with Mary, the most perfect disciple of all times,
were chosen from the Jewish people. The Church of
Pentecost was entirely from Judaism.
4. Fourth, God is faithful to His promises, even if men are
unfaithful to Him. The Jewish people are still singularly
beloved on account of the Patriarchs and on account of the
covenant of love that He entered into with them.
Jesus was born into a people that prayed for His coming
for generation after generation.
C Conclusion to the Argument: A Position Statement
Thus we can say that the special role of the Jewish people
did not come to an end with the coming of the Messiah,
as some theologians maintain, because of two crucial facts
mentioned above: God’s fidelity, and the fact that the
Jewish people continue to be a privileged witness to Christ’s
coming. This is true even in their unbelief in Jesus, and
it will be even more true if they come to believe that
Jesus is the Messiah, as we believe shall happen before
His Second Coming, whenever that shall come to pass.
These questions are dealt with authoritatively in two crucial sources:
Dr. Feingold’s book cited above contains an excellent treatment of
Romans 9 — 11. We also link to our more general treatment of
these three chapters entitled,”The Gifts and Call of God“.
In December 2015, the “Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews” published a significant document we strongly recommend to readers:
Our link is first to our selection of readings from this paper. From there we link to the full document.
There will be students of theology and Biblical studies who, having read Lawrence Feingold’s magnificent presentation (even this abbreviated version for the non-specialist), who will be grateful for his perceptive thinking and sound theological foundation. Some of us may well feel we need to even “unlearn” some of the very slanted treatments given before the 1960’s. Be that as it may, we can confidently review all that has gone before, and look now for opportunities to rebuild our vision of the Church in the world. We are now better equipped to help recover a hidden part of our spiritual psyche by helping re-establish an Israelite community in the Church — and even a wider stream accommodating all (of Jewish or Gentile origin) who wish to rally to this great challenge of our times and be active members.
We hope you will join us in this wonderful work of the Holy Spirit as it gathers momentum in our time.
• The Mystery of Israel and the Church by Lawrence Feingold.
(Miriam Press, St. Louis. U.S.A. 2008)
• “Some Special Books“, listed on our website.
Documents (Website links. Printable)
Articles (Website links. Printable)