“Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.” (Matt.3:9)
E.P. Sanders, in his seminal 1977 work, “Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion”, submits a theory of “covenantal nomism”, and, in kind, a form of bilateral ecclesiology.
Essentially, and overly simply, the theory is that the Jewish people are in covenant status with God, and that this places them in a different category regarding the message of the gospel presented by the apostles. In effect, according to bilateral ecclesiology, there are two paths to salvation. One for the Gentile (Jesus), and another for the Jew (Jesus and/or covenant faithfulness in Torah).
This theory, further popularized by Mark Kinzer in his 2005 book “Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People”, challenges a traditional Christian understanding of soteriology, as revealed in the New Testament.
This post will not be able to adequately deal with all the implications of this theory, or the positive influence that these author’s works have had on the state of relations between Christians and Jews. Nor will I seek to criticize either author. Particularly Rabbi Kinzer, who, probably more than any other person, is chiefly responsible for the recent move by the Roman Catholic Church to revisit Her relationship with the Jewish people, even going so far as reflecting an official bilateral ecclesial position in a recent document released by the Vatican. See Rabbi David Rosen’s comments on this development here: https://www.rabbidavidrosen.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Jewish-Vatican_Relations_-_-Opportunities_and_Problems_October_2011.pdf
The path to reconciliation between Judaism and Christianity must necessarily include concessions and statements which we may struggle to embraces, as well as huge amounts of respectful dialog. From a Christian standpoint, at least, it can be deeply unnerving to consider the implications of such theories. In light of how the gospel is apparently presented in the apostolic texts, in which only confession of and faith in Jesus Christ is offered as an acceptable path to reconciliation with God, we should take some time to question the validity of “covenental nomism”. Continue reading