Thoughts for Friday, 31st July, 2020

Psalm 17:1-7, 15; Isaiah 41:8-10; Romans 9:6-13


Friday 31 July


One of the words that comes up in Jewish Christian dialogue is supersessionism. It can be difficult to spell - there are a lot of ss in it, and I sometimes try to get a c in there somewhere instead – but the worst thing I find about the word is having to explain or define it. It’s embarrassing. It comes from a 19th century translation from Latin into English of a late 2nd or early 3rd century book by the Christian writer, Tertullian (c.150-c.240), which is called ‘Against the Jews’. Tertullian is regarded as ‘the father of Western theology’, for much of Christian history his theologically conservative opinions holding considerable sway. He’s the first Christian to have used the word ‘Trinity’ in Latin.


Supersessionism is the view that, post-incarnation, Christianity has now superseded Judaism. It’s a view that has been, and still is being, used by Christians in missions to convert Jewish people to become Christians. As well as Tertullian, Biblically, these ‘missionaries’ look to two main places in Scripture in order to justify this activity. One is Hebrews (see, for example, Hebrews 8:13 – ‘By speaking of a new covenant, God has made the first one old; and anything that becomes old and worn out will soon disappear.’). And the other is Romans 9-11. So that, here in our New Testament reading, just for starters, we have one of Abraham’s sons (Ishmael) described as ‘born in the usual way,’ while the other (Isaac) is said to be ‘born as a result of God’s promise. And then we have God saying about Isaac’s two sons, ‘I loved Jacob,’ but, ‘I hated Esau.’


While we can understand Paul’s felt need to be so polemic, the extremely unfortunate (it seems to me) outcome has been for people like Tertullian and others down through the Christian centuries to believe that the only hope Jewish people have of salvation is, like Paul, to become Christian.


There is, however and thankfully, a solution to this, and this is something which has gained considerable momentum within both Christian and Jewish theological circles since the Holocaust, and that’s what’s called ‘soft’ supersessionalism i.e. the notion that, just as a new storey can be built on top of an existing house, and people can then move in upstairs, both faiths are actually able to coexist as equally valid.


I just wish, though, that someone could come up with a better analogy, as with this one, the idea that Christians occupy the top floor, does still this still give the lie that we are somehow better than those ‘who live downstairs’.


Let us pray:


‘Prayer for Reconciliation with the Jews’ (a proposed replacement for the Anglican ‘Prayer for the Conversion of the Jews’ in the current ‘Book of Common Prayer’)


O God, who didst choose Israel to be thine inheritance: Have mercy upon us and forgive us for violence and wickedness against our brother Jacob; the arrogance of our hearts and minds hath deceived us, and shame hath covered our face. Take away all pride and prejudice in us, and grant that we, together with the people whom thou didst first make thine own, may attain to the fulness of redemption which thou has promised; to the honour and glory of thy most holy Name,




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