1 or 2 Covenant Discussion

Kasper sees in the theology after Auschwitz an “epochal turning” and revision. It was then that the substitution theory was recognised as untenable in light of God’s faithfulness as testified to in the Old and New Testament. In particular he sites the Second Vatican Council and Pope John Paul II’s “unabrogated covenant” as the basis of a renewed theology of Judaism within the catholic and protestant churches. Kasper finds the ‘one covenant or two’ debate inadequate - the former too readily assuming a unified canonical covenant, the latter losing the sense of continuity and interconnection. Instead, he speaks of “the historical concurrence on the basis of eschatological hope” - drawing on an image of Paul’s in the Epistle to the Romans, whereby the root of the olive tree is Israel, upon which the church of the gentiles is grafted like a branch.(Full text.)

Dr Rowan Williams (Anglican) considers an area of agreement for Jews and Christians to be “that the covenant exists so that God may be known” - moreover, known as wholly dependable and consistent in his dealings with humans. It is thus that Christian supersessionism is untenable in light of the fidelity of God, for the supersessionist automatically doubts the coherence of God’s work: “the very idea of a covenanting God is undermined if this means a rejection of the history of the covenant thus far”.


During the conference, Cardinal Avery Dulles, a major Catholic theologian, participated in an intensive session with a group of Catholic and Jewish scholars. Dulles affirmed the traditional belief that Christians " … will want all men and women, Jewish and Gentile … to benefit from Christ’s teaching and … enjoy the fullness of sacramental life (conversion to Christianity) … But Christians must learn to be patient … (while) they gladly acknowledge Jews as their elder brothers in the faith … "

Dulles rejects the two-covenant concept – a valid covenant for Jews made at Mount Sinai (the life of Torah) and a valid one for Christians made at Calvary (the resurrection of Jesus).

The cardinal’s views elicited sharp negative responses from both Catholics and Jews. The Catholic critics charged that Dulles’ view does not properly reflect the church’s advances articulated in “Nostra Aetate” and other authoritative Vatican documents vis-a-vis Jews and Judaism. They further said that Dulles offered a “disjointed paper” that minimized the dynamic quality of Jewish religious life during the past 2,000 years.

Jewish critics said Dulles presented a reaffirmation of positions that in the past provided theological justification for anti-Jewish actions by “impatient” Christians who attempted to coerce Jews into conversion. In response, Dulles rejected any coercive or manipulative efforts to bring Jews to Christianity. Nonetheless, the Jewish participants were strongly “disappointed” in Dulles’ presentation.


I agree with Cardinal Dulles. There is only one covenant and it has been fulfilled in Christ. The concept of two covenants was unknown to the early Jewish Christians. Don’t you think they would have been aware of it? If they were aware they never mentioned it. We certainly don’t have Christ mentioning it. On the contrary, Christ said he came for the Jews first. That implies the new covenant is more theirs than it is ours as gentiles! Cardinal Dulles is right on the money here. Thank God he is there speaking the truth.

Cardinal Dulles is reliable for orthodoxy. He admits that this may not have been the case in the years immediately following Vatican II, but nowadays he can be depended upon to intelligently (and eloquently) articulate the position of the Church. This case is no exception. He is right. EVEN JEWS would benefit from Christ.

The Catholic critics charged that Dulles’ view does not properly reflect the church’s advances articulated in “Nostra Aetate” and other authoritative Vatican documents vis-a-vis Jews and Judaism.

And this part is just silly. No fair reading of “Nostra Aetate” would bring the reader to the conclusion that the Church no longer encourages all to convert to Christ and the Catholic Religion.

For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second.
Hebrews 8:7

For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.
Romans 11:29

I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers, so that you will not become wise (in) your own estimation: a hardening has come upon Israel in part, until the full number of the Gentiles comes in …
Romans 11:25**Catechism of the Catholic Church

839** … The relationship of the Church with the Jewish People. When she delves into her own mystery, the Church, the People of God in the New Covenant, discovers her link with the Jewish People,[326] “the first to hear the Word of God.”[327] The Jewish faith, unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To the Jews “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”,[328] “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”[329]

840 And when one considers the future, God’s People of the Old Covenant and the new People of God tend towards similar goals: expectation of the coming (or the return) of the Messiah. But one awaits the return of the Messiah who died and rose from the dead and is recognized as Lord and Son of God; the other awaits the coming of a Messiah, whose features remain hidden till the end of time; and the latter waiting is accompanied by the drama of not knowing or of misunderstanding Christ Jesus.

326 Cf. NA 4.
327 Roman Missal, Good Friday 13:General Intercessions,VI.
328 Rom 9:4-5.
329 Rom 11:29

Some Jews are convinced the Catholic Church has jettisoned supersessionism. The quote below is part of ADL President Abraham Foxman’s tribute to our late Holy Father.

“Most importantly, the Pope rejected the destructive concept of supersessionism and has recognized the special relationship between Christianity and the Jewish people, while sharing his understanding of Judaism as a living heritage, of the permanent validity of God’s covenant with the Jewish people. He was a man of God in every sense and a true friend whose visionary leadership will be sorely missed.”

Other posters have mentioned Nostra Aetate as the document often pointed to by those who accept the two-convenant concept, but Foxman seems to say Pope John Paul II also accepted this. What documents of the Holy Father are they using to support their argument?

I do not have a clue either; it would seem to me that if the matter were “settled” theologians wouldn’t be holding these debates about it – I believe that I’ve seen statements by Cardinal Lustiger to the effect that there are two covenants but I took that as his opinion just as I accept that these men mentioned in the original article are still thrashing it out in good ole thologian style.

PS Would you mind using a larger size font? - on my screen much of your post looks like wee ants marching across it.

There’s nothing incompatible between saying that there are two Covenants, and that the Christian Covenant is the only Covenant of Salvation. The Hebrew Covenant is upheld by God, as can be seen by the Jews’ continued existance. The Christian Covenant is a different kettle of fish, a Covenant of Salvation for all people, Jew and Gentile.

The Hebrew Covenant doesn’t really speak of Salvation in any detail, only that it is coming. There are vague hints of what the Kingdom to Come will be like, and various expectations of the Messiah, but they are pious speculation under the Hebrew Covenant. The only sure thing is that the Messiah will indeed come, and will usher in the Kingdom to Come for both Jew and Gentile. The Christian Covenant is nothing more nor less than the fullfilment of that aspect of the Hebrew Covenant, the bringing of Salvation to both Jew and Gentile. The existance of the Christian Covenant does not erase the Hebrew Covenant, but rather builds upon it, and the Hebrew Covenant is not predicated on the acceptance of the Christian Covenant, as it is built on the faithfulness of Abraham and the promise God made to him. The Christian Covenant is instead the ultimate capstone on the Hebrew Covenant, new in that it applies to all people rather than just the Jews, and old because it grows entirely out of the Hebrew Covenant.

We can see from history that God has upheld the Hebrew Covenant despite the failure of many Jews to accept the Christian Covenant (and even to uphold their own faith in many instances), and Jews have been protected from annihilation in spite of concentrated efforts to wipe them out. Clearly the Hebrew Covenant still stands, as it was made with Abraham and predicated on his faithful obedience to God. In fact, to say that the Hebrew Covenant is void is to call God a liar, because He promised Abraham that all his descendents would be looked after, and would become “as numerous as stars in the sky”. God did not deal in Salvation with the Hebrew Covenant, so neither is it incorrect to say that only Christianity is a Salvivic Covenant. The Hebrew Covenant and the Christian Covenant exist side by side, with the Christian Covenant “sprouting” from the Hebrew Covenant. We are always warranted in hoping and praying that Jews accept the Christian Covenant, and even in friendly invitations for them to come and claim the reward that God promised them first. Gentiles are essentially guests at the banquet promised by God, we are the wild branches grafted on to the Tree of Life, and it is only right and proper that we should hope for the guests of honor to come to their own feast that God has prepared and promised. Honestly, it seems kind of empty without them. As Paul said, how much greater will the Tree be when the native branches return?

The problem is that for many centuries it was popular to view the Hebrew Covenant as null and void, which is absolutely preposterous. Jesus spoke of the New Covenant, certainly, but did not say that the Old one was being wiped away. Paul elaborated and said that the non-Christian Jews would be preserved until the full measure of Gentiles came into the New Covenant, at which point they would realize God’s faithfulness to them in the Christian Covenant and come in themselves. The Scriptures clearly point to the survival of the Hebrew Covenant until the end of time, even as the Christian Covenant is the one that Saves.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.