Dual-covenant theology

Dual-covenant theology
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Dual-covenant theology is a Liberal Christian view that holds that Jews may simply keep the Law of Moses, because of the "everlasting covenant" (Genesis 17:13) between Abraham and God expressed in the Hebrew Bible, whereas Gentiles (those not Jews or Jewish proselytes) must convert to Christianity or alternatively accept the Seven Laws of Noah. Many forms of Christianity, especially Conservative Protestants, consider this view to be heresy. The alternative Christian views are that the Law of Moses has been superseded or abrogated.

The ongoing Christian debate over Christian views on the old covenant began in the lifetime of the apostles, notably at the Council of Jerusalem and Incident at Antioch, and parallels the ongoing debate about Paul of Tarsus and Judaism and the Protestant views of the Ten Commandments.


Jewish background

Judaism maintains that in the post-diluvian era there is a universally binding covenant between God and man in the form of the Noahide Laws[1] (a code of law based on seven basic principles) and that there is additionally a unique Sinaitic covenant that was made between God and, the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai. In this respect Judaism can be said to espouse a sort of “dual-covenant theology.” However Judaism has not historically maintained that there is a separate covenant for gentiles wherein they should convert to Christianity. Indeed from the Maimonidean perspective, belief in the divinity of Jesus would be a breach of the universally binding covenant of Noahide Law[2], see also Shituf.

The esteemed 18th century rabbinic thinker Rabbi Yaakov Emden has even opined that “the original intention of Jesus, and especially of Paul, was to convert only the Gentiles to the seven moral laws of Noah and to let the Jews follow the Mosaic law — which explains the apparent contradictions in the New Testament regarding the laws of Moses and the Sabbath.[3]

Later on the 20th century unorthodox Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig consequent to his flirtations with Christianity advanced the idea in his work the Star of Redemption that “Christianity acknowledges the God of the Jews, not as God but as “the Father of Jesus Christ.” Christianity itself cleaves to the “Lord” because it knows that the Father can be reached only through him....We are all wholly agreed as to what Christ and his church mean to the world: no one can reach the Father save through him. No one can reach the Father! But the situation is quite different for one who does not have to reach the Father because he is already with him. And this is true of the people of Israel.[4]

Daniel Goldhagen, former Associate Professor of Political Science at Harvard University, also suggested in his book A Moral Reckoning that the Roman Catholic Church should change its doctrine and the accepted Biblical canon to excise statements he labels as anti-Semitic, to indicate that "The Jews' way to God is as legitimate as the Christian way".[5]

Christian views

Dual-Covenant theology originated with R. Moshe Ben-Maimon (“The RaMBaM,” Maimonides, 1135–1204). It was proffered in the 20th century by the non-Messianic Jewish philosopher Franz Rosenzweig (1886–1929), and was elaborated upon by such liberal Christian theologians as Reinhold Niebuhr and James Parkes.

According to David H. Stern, a Messianic Jewish theologian, Dual-Covenant theology holds that Jesus' message is not for Jews but for Gentiles and, for example, John 14:6 is to be understood thusly: "I am the way, the truth and the life; and no Gentile comes to the father except through me."[6] See also Olive Tree Theology. However, asserts Dr. Stern, the very problem of Dual-Covenant Theology is that "replacing Yeshua’s 'No one comes to the Father except through me' with 'No Gentile comes...' does unacceptable violence to the plain sense of the text and to the whole New Testament." (see also Acts 4:12).[7]

Apostolic decree

James the Just, whose judgment was adopted in the Apostolic Decree of Acts 15:19-29, c. 50 AD: "...we should write to them [Gentiles] to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood..." (NRSV)

The Apostolic Decree in the Book of Acts (15:19-29) has sometimes been read as a form of dual-covenant theology and as parallel to Noahide Law. Though the Apostolic Decree is no longer observed by many Christian denominations today, it is still observed in full by the Greek Orthodox.[8]

An alternative interpretation[citation needed] is that the text refers to converted Jews and converted Gentiles, meaning that it is an intra-Church debate that doesn't necessarily include Jews who did not accept Jesus as their Messiah. Traditionally, the decree has been understood as a response to, and denial of, the claim made by a certain sect of Jewish converts that Gentile converts had to follow the Mosaic Law for salvation, and not to have referred to those Jews who were outside the Church either positively or negatively.

Criticism of Dual-Covenant Theology

A major theme of Paul's Epistle to the Romans is that, so far as salvation is concerned, Jews and Gentiles are equal before God (2:7-123:9-314:9-125:12,17-199:2410:12-1311:30-32). Romans 1:16, by stating that the Gospel is the same for Jew and Gentile, presents a serious problem for Dual-covenant theology.[9] However, the relationship of Paul of Tarsus and Judaism is still a subject of scholarly debate.

Galatians 5:3 is sometimes cited as a verse supporting Dual-covenant theology. A problem with this argument, however, is the context of Galatians 5[10]. Galatians 5:4[11]in particular, says, "You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace." Line this up with Galatians 2[12], Galatians 2:21[13]in particular, which says “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”

A similar challenge is presented by Galatians 2:15[14]and 16[15], in which Paul says (speaking to Peter, a fellow Jew), “We are Jews by nature and not sinners from among the Gentiles; nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified."

The same exclusive claims for the Christian message are also made by other writers. John 14:6[16]states, "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.'" Peter, speaking to fellow Jews about Jesus in Acts 4:12[17], says: "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved."

The First Epistle of John states, "Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist—he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also."[18] This does not differentiate between Jews or Gentiles.

Catholic criticism

Cardinal Avery Dulles was critical of dual-covenant theology, especially as understood in the USCCB's document Reflections on Covenant and Mission.[19] In the article All in the Family: Christians, Jews and God, evidence has also been compiled from Scripture, the Church Fathers and official Church documents that the Catholic Church does not support dual covenant theology.[20]

On the other hand, the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (2006) states[21]:

"The covenant that God made with the Jewish people through Moses remains eternally valid for them."

However, in June 2008 the bishops decided by a vote of 231-14 to remove this from the next printing of the Catechism, because it could be construed to mean that Jews have their own path to salvation and do not need Christ or the Church.[22] In August 2009, the Vatican approved the change, and the revised text states:[23]

"To the Jewish people, whom God first chose to hear his Word, 'belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ.'"

Evangelical criticism

In 2006, Evangelical Protestant Jerry Falwell denied a report in the Jerusalem Post that he supported dual-covenant theology:[24]

"I have been on record all 54 years of my ministry as being opposed to dual covenant theology... I simply cannot alter my deeply held belief in the exclusivity of salvation through the Gospel of Christ for the sake of political or theological expediency. Like the Apostle Paul, I pray daily for the salvation of everyone, including the Jewish people."

See also


  1. ^ BT Sanhedrin 57a
  2. ^ Maimonides, Peirush HaMishnha on Avodah Zarah 1.3, and his rulings in Hilchos Avoda Zarah 9:4, Hilchos Ma'achalos Asuros 11:7 and Hilchos Melachim 11:4
  3. ^ Appendix to "Seder 'Olam" pp. 32b-34b, Hamburg, 1752 as cited in the Jewish Encyclopedia under the entry Gentile
  4. ^ Nahum N. Glatzer, Franz Rosenzweig: His Life and Thought (New York: Schocken Books, 1961), p. 341.
  5. ^ Riebling, Mark (January 27, 2003). "Jesus, Jews, and the Shoah". National Review. Archived from the original on February 8, 2007. http://web.archive.org/web/20070208063622/http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1282/is_1_55/ai_96403717. Retrieved January 5, 2008. 
  6. ^ David H. Stern, "Jewish New Testament Commentary", page 196, Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1992.
  7. ^ http://baruchhashemsynagogue.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/H_Lesson_-_Restoring_the_Jewishness_of_the_Gospel.pdf
  8. ^ Karl Josef von Hefele's commentary on canon II of Gangra notes: "We further see that, at the time of the Synod of Gangra, the rule of the Apostolic Synod with regard to blood and things strangled was still in force. With the Greeks, indeed, it continued always in force as their Euchologies still show. Balsamon also, the well-known commentator on the canons of the Middle Ages, in his commentary on the sixty-third Apostolic Canon, expressly blames the Latins because they had ceased to observe this command. What the Latin Church, however, thought on this subject about the year 400, is shown by St. Augustine in his work Contra Faustum, where he states that the Apostles had given this command in order to unite the heathens and Jews in the one ark of Noah; but that then, when the barrier between Jewish and heathen converts had fallen, this command concerning things strangled and blood had lost its meaning, and was only observed by few. But still, as late as the eighth century, Pope Gregory the Third (731) forbade the eating of blood or things strangled under threat of a penance of forty days. No one will pretend that the disciplinary enactments of any council, even though it be one of the undisputed Ecumenical Synods, can be of greater and more unchanging force than the decree of that first council, held by the Holy Apostles at Jerusalem, and the fact that its decree has been obsolete for centuries in the West is proof that even Ecumenical canons may be of only temporary utility and may be repealed by disuse, like other laws."
  9. ^ David H. Stern: "Jewish New Testament Commentary", page 329. Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc., 1992.
  10. ^ http://nasb.scripturetext.com/galatians/5.htm
  11. ^ http://bible.cc/galatians/5-4.htm
  12. ^ http://nasb.scripturetext.com/galatians/2.htm
  13. ^ http://bible.cc/galatians/2-21.htm
  14. ^ http://bible.cc/galatians/2-15.htm
  15. ^ http://bible.cc/galatians/2-16.htm
  16. ^ http://bible.cc/john/14-6.htm
  17. ^ http://nasb.scripturetext.com/acts/12.htm
  18. ^ 1 John 2:22-23, NIV, http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20John%202:22-23&version=NIV
  19. ^ Covenant and Mission
  20. ^ Forrest and Palm; All in the Family: Christians, Jews and God; Lay Witness, July/Aug 2009; [1]
  21. ^ United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, (Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2006).
  22. ^ O'Brien: Bishops Vote to Revise U.S. Catechism on Jewish Covenant with God; CNS, http://www.usccb.org/stories/bishops_vote_catec.shtml
  23. ^ U.S. Bishops get Vatican ‘Recognitio’ for Change in Adult Catechism; USCCB News Release, http://www.usccb.org/comm/archives/2009/09-174.shtml
  24. ^ Jerusalem Post, 2006-03-02, Hagee, Falwell deny endorsing 'dual covenant'. Retrieved 2009-10-21.

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