SALVATION IS FROM THE JEWS
Rarely does a book cause a person to reconsider deeply held
religious and political beliefs. Roy Schoeman's Salvation Is From the Jews
is one of those rare books. In
some ways, this book is more powerful that Mel Gibson's, The Passion of the Christ ,
because the book examines questions behind the movie such as: "Is the Gospel
anti-Jewish?" "Should we revise it to reflect the worldview of the 21st
The Second Vatican Council document, Nostra Aetate, states that in pondering her own Mystery, the Church
encounters the Mystery of Israel.
Schoeman summarizes the role of the Jews and Judaism in salvation from
Abraham to the present day. His subject
matter couldn't be timelier as a key new component of any fruitful dialogue
between Jews and Catholics. For the conversation to continue and thrive, the
Church must understand her own identity and Schoeman presents the Mystery of
the Church in the proper Jewish perspective.
Judaism played an essential role in bringing the Jewish
Messiah to the world: Jesus, His mother, and all of his Apostles were Jews.
Every Jew who enters the Catholic Church proclaims that he has entered into the
fullness of Judaism. Famous Jewish Catholics such as Edith Stein and Cardinal
Jean-Marie Lustiger and many others proudly proclaimed that they remain Jewish.
The author is one of these Jewish Catholics and includes a brief testimony of
his own spiritual pilgrimage of discovery.
The hotly debated document released by the U.S. Bishops'
Committee in August 2002, "Reflections on Covenant and Mission," claimed to be
a starting point for dialogue with and about the role of Judaism in
salvation. Schoeman's book serves as a
much needed counter to some of the problems of that 2002 document. Schoeman's
effort is a success: it is a good starting place for genuine reflections on the
role of Judaism in our salvation.
We may disagree with some of Schoeman's opinions but we
should focus on his questions, especially one dominant question: Are we seeing
the mass conversion of Jews that signifies the end times? This question ties
the whole book together. The first part, chapters 1 to 4, discusses Judaism
before Christ (beginning with Abraham), messianic expectations, Jewish
responses to Jesus in the 1st century (including Jews who followed Him and Jews
who didn't), and the idea of a "remnant."
The middle part, chapters 5 to 7, brilliantly examines
events in the 20th century: the Holocaust, Nazi ideology, and post-Holocaust
anti-Semitism (with a very controversial chapter about Islam). There is a broad
leap from the 1st to the 20th century. The author loosely ties all this
together in the third part, the last two chapters, on the Second Coming and the
return of the Jews. Here he explains the battle between the economy of
salvation and the economy of perdition.
A general thesis gradually appears at the end of the book:
Salvation is from the Jews and the forces of perdition attack the Jews as a
means of opposing salvation. Early in the book, he presents the idea that there
will be a mass conversion of Jews before the Second Coming. Based on this
assumption, the author theorizes that the forces of perdition resist the
conversion of the Jews in an attempt to prevent the Second Coming. His
presentation is fascinating and challenging. His conclusions call for further
examination, they deserve further study.
Some of Schoeman's speculations are presented
authoritatively. Though he presents a "disclaimer" near the end of the book, in
most of the book the distinction between speculation and authoritative teaching
is not as clear as such a profound subject requires. His belated clarification
is worth citing in full:
As stated earlier, the purpose of
this discussion is not to "prove" that the Second Coming is near. Many of the proposed interpretations of
the prophecies are speculative.
Yet cumulatively they suggest that
the Second Coming takes place at a time
when the Jewish people have
returned to Israel and formed a Jewish nation. If this is, in fact, a precondition for the
return of Christ, the concerted efforts
of the past century to eliminate the Jews and, failing that, to destroy the nascent State of Israel, well might
be part of a diabolical attempt to prevent the Second
Is Jesus the Jewish
The author presents a genuinely Catholic perspective without
apology. The book is primarily for Catholics -- not primarily for dialogue with
Jews. It fills a need for the Church to better understand her Jewish roots
before there can be a fruitful dialogue. Chapter One states: "God's ultimate
revelation of Himself to man was in the coming of Jesus Christ. (15)" This is
not a good opening for charitable dialogue.
The statement is, however, the foundation of our Catholic
identity. The premise of honest dialogue is that the identities of the
participants be well defined and not compromised for the sake of a false
irenicism. Current discussions and explorations of Jewish-Catholic relations
are inspired and driven by the documents of Vatican II. Schoeman's starting point (that God's
ultimate self-revelation is in Jesus) is stated explicitly and repeatedly in
Schoeman brings the reader immediately to the most important
question. In his Preface, he reveals his own presupposition -- a position
vigorously supported by many Catholics today:
I claim that a Jew who has become
Catholic is the best person to explore the true meaning of Judaism. To
understand salvation history, one must be a Christianâ€¦ a Catholic who is not
from a Jewish background would necessarily have a moreâ€¦ incomplete
understanding of Judaism than someone who grew up within Judaism. (9)
Schoeman is aware of difficulties caused by this premise.
What "right" does an "apostate" have to represent Judaism? He responds directly: "The issue is not
whether one is an â€˜apostate' or â€˜real' Jew, but whether Jesus was the Jewish
Messiah -- the Messiah long prophesied, expected, and prayed for by the Jews."
St. Paul and all the other Apostles had to answer this same
question. Is Jesus of Nazareth the One Who Is To Come, the long expected Jewish
Messiah? Schoeman's hearty "yes"
underlies the purpose of the book: "to examine the meaning of the words
["salvation is from the Jews"] from a Jewish perspective within the Catholic
faith. (9)" This is a monumental task. Schoeman gives us a wonderful glimpse
from this perspective. But, because he is discussing Mysteries of our Faith, he
cannot give us the final word.
Two terms in need of
The phrase, "Salvation is from the Jews," occurs only in
John 4:22. What is meant by "salvation" and what is meant by "Jews"? The first
term signifies being saved from sin and death, saved from eternal punishment
(damnation). The premise for much of Schoeman's book is drawn from the famous
enigmatic Romans 11:26: "All Israel will be saved." The meaning of "saved," "salvation," and "savior," is clear.
arises, however, from the word "Jews." Schoeman
cites the definition from Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary on the
of chapter one. But "Jews" remains problematic throughout the book
is not used in the same sense theologically or in Sacred Scripture as
used in modern conversation (defined by Webster's). The equivocal uses
word present a much bigger obstacle than most people realize. St. Paul
make a strong distinction between "Jew" and "Israel" in the Epistle to
Romans. One of Schoeman's primary assumptions throughout the book ("the
conversion of the Jews must precede Christ's return") inserts "Jews"
deliberately says "all Israel." A careful examination of Romans 9 to 11
context of Paul's citations of the Prophets indicates that the phrase
in 11:26, "all Israel will be saved," is not synonymous with
"conversion of the Jews."
The interpretation of Romans 11:26 is central to Schoeman's
entire book. Early in the book, he asserts, "the conversion of the Jews must
precede Christ's return." (page 246) Schoeman supports his view with this
citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The glorious Messiah's
coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by â€˜all
Israel' (Rom 11:20-26) (CCC #671)." Even though the statement in the Catechism
is speculative and open to a variety of interpretations, Schoeman builds his
theory on the assumption that this statement (in the Catechism) is synonymous
with "the conversion of the Jews."
If the adversary's primary motivation behind the Holocaust
was to prevent the Second Coming of Christ by exterminating all of the Jews,
there was still a secondary way he could succeed even if some Jews survived.
That would be by stopping the conversion of the Jews that must precede Christ's
return. And the Holocaust has certainly
had a tremendous deterring effect on conversion of Jews to Christianity. (246)
importance of interpreting "all Israel will be saved" in
light of "Salvation is from the Jews" (Jn 4:22) calls for a much fuller
discussion than space allows here. Briefly, from my own studies, I
that "all Israel will be saved" is understood as "remnants from all
Tribes will be saved," rather than "widespread conversion of the Jews."
"Remnants from all Twelve Tribes" is more consistent with the context
Epistle. Maybe there also will be "widespread conversion of the Jews"
don't think we can assume it from Romans 11:26.
We may or may not agree with all of his conclusions, but he
deserves credit for the valuable service of identifying -- and intelligently
presenting -- vital questions. Schoeman helps sort out the horrors of the 20th
century that influenced the Second Vatican Council and its implementation. He
suggests a theological interpretation of the Church's first two millennia -- in
a coherent thesis -- to help direct us forward. We should study his work and
revise what needs revision. We should incorporate into our catechesis all that
is confirmed by the Holy Spirit.
Schoeman's arguments and evidence are all worth serious consideration.
Fulfillment: not "supercession"
"Supercession" is another "hot-button" word. It urgently
needs clarification. This is another rare instance where Schoeman is ambiguous
when even more clarity is required. In the last pages of the book, Schoeman
identifies a serious error:
the very outset of Christianity, many held the mistaken
belief that one must be a member of the Old Covenant to participate in
This error was quickly corrected, but was soon followed by another
known as "supersessionism" -- that the Old Covenant had been entirely
replaced (or superseded,
hence "supersessionism"), made null and void, by the New. This view
Christian theology for much of the past two thousand years. It has only
recently been definitively rejected by the Church [here Schoeman cites
Church documents]. With its rejection, however a new and perhaps even
pernicious error has emerged -- that the Old and New Covenants are two
but equal" parallel paths to salvation, one for Jews, the other for
(352-353; emphasis added)
This explanation of "supersessionism" is minimal. Appearing
only at the end of the book, it is almost too little, too late. Early in the
book (in chapter 3), we find what appears to be a direct contradiction of the
above quote from page 352-3: "Jesus makes clear that although Jews were the
ones initially chosen to receive the Gospel, Gentiles could supplant them by
showing greater receptiveness and faith." (53)
There may be a significant distinction between "supplant"
and "supersede." One key to understanding this question is the Sermon on the
Mount: "Do not think that I have come to destroy the Law. I have not come to
destroy, but to fulfill. (Mt 5:17)" And Paul wrote: "For the whole Law is
fulfilled [not supplanted nor superseded] in one word: You shall love your
neighbor as yourself. (Gal 5:14)" In Schoeman's last chapter, he includes many
testimonies of Jews who found the fullness of Judaism in Christ. Judaism is not
supplanted but fulfilled. This helps clarify chapter 3. I think it is more
helpful to say there is a new Law to replace the old Law and there is a new Way
of Salvation to replace the old Way. But Judaism is more than the Law and more
than the Way. Judaism is not supplanted nor replaced but fulfilled. This is a
difficult concept and requires a careful explanation.
Schoeman's book is a valuable contribution to the Church,
even though the lack of clarity in the early chapters about supplanting and
supersession is one of the book's rare defects.
There are not two
Another question touched very briefly by Schoeman is this:
What were the Jewish messianic expectations 2000 years ago? This question is
implied throughout the Gospels: Is Jesus of Nazareth the Jewish Messiah?
Historically, there were many different opinions on this question, and ancient
Jewish traditions regarding the messiah are uncertain.
The primary doubt about Jesus' messianic credentials was
raised by His suffering and death. Most Jews expected a glorious triumphant
royal Davidic King. Schoeman points out that the Talmud refers to the suffering
messiah as "Son of Joseph," and the triumphant messiah is referred to as "Son
of David." But the Talmud says these two cannot be the same person. Schoeman
concludes, "The apparent contradictions between a Messiah who suffers and dies
and one who comes in power and glory, were resolved by the Talmudic Rabbis
proposing two Messiahs rather than one. (118-119)" Schoeman sees these two
ancient messianic traditions remaining distinct when applied to Jesus: the
suffering messiah describes the first coming, glorious and triumphant describes
Schoeman's research is admirable, I think his
conclusion here is too simplistic -- the Gospel reality is not
exclusively "either/or." Son of Joseph and Son of David are one in
Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus
of Nazareth is one Person with one identity yesterday, today and
Suffering Servant of Isaiah and the glorious triumphant Royal Davidic
two descriptions of the same Person. This is a primary theme of the
Mark Drogin, MTS
Executive Director, Remnant of Israel
Mark Drogin lives in Irving, Texas.