Romans 9-11 and the Old Covenant: What's the status of the Jews?

I recently read in a document by the Synod of Bishops something I’m not sure (sorry for the pun) kosher Catholic belief:

Christ and the Jews are Sons of Abraham, grounded in the same Covenant, because God, who is always faithful to his promises, has not revoked the first covenant (cf. Rm 9-11). Pope John Paul II maintains: “This people was gathered together and led by God, the Creator of heaven and earth. Thus, its existence is not a mere fact of nature or culture, in the sense that through culture man displays the resources of his own nature. It is a supernatural fact. This people perseveres in spite of everything, because they are the people of the Covenant, and despite human infidelities, the Lord is faithful to his Covenant.”[RIGHT]Historia Salutis 29[/RIGHT]

Now, on a reading of Romans 9-11, I see that God regards the Jews in a special way because of their ancestry (cf. Rom 9:4-5, 11:28-29). But Paul also says that “they did not pursue [righteousness] through faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone” of Christ (Rom 9:32). Moreover, he prays to God “that they may be saved” because while “they have a zeal for God …] it is not enlightened” (Rom 10:1-2).

But then Paul writes “has God rejected his people? By no means!” (Rom 11:1) Paul clarifies this by identifying himself as an Israelite, and says that those Israelites who have believed in Jesus are a “a remnant, chosen by grace …] no longer on the basis of works” (Rom 11:5-6). Those who were “elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened” (Rom 11:7). They have not “stumbled so far as to fall” (Rom 11:11), but so that the Gentiles would hear and receive salvation so as to make Israel jealous. Indeed, Paul hopes to “make [his] fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them”, for “what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” (Rom 11:14-15) He uses the analogy of an olive tree, and clearly says that some branches were broken off and others were grafted in (cf. Rom 11:17-24), and he makes it clear that “even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again” (Rom 11:23).

He concludes the matter by saying that “a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:25-26), a saying which confuses me somewhat, because he reiterates that, “as regards the gospel they are enemies of God”, but “as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers” (Rom 11:28).

What I get out of this is that God respects Israel for its heritage – it’s His heritage! – but that some of the Jews are stubborn (as was prophesied) and refuse to acknowledge the New Covenant in Jesus Christ: as such, they are “enemies of God” and are broken off from the olive tree which represents salvation. Israel’s heritage will not save those who deny Christ. At least, that’s how I read it. That’s why Paul is praying for them to be saved, and trying to make them jealous of the Gentiles, and hoping that they do not persist in their unbelief – not unbelief in God and the Old Covenant of the Law, but unbelief in God’s New Covenant of Grace.

So my question is, does God remain faithful to the Old Covenant, or has it been revoked? From what I’ve heard, modern Judaism isn’t the same as pre-Christian Judaism, because, among other things, they have no Temple; I’ve heard that Judaism became reactionary to the Christian movement and changed.

What’s confusing matters further is that I’ve found Pope Eugene IV’s Bull from the time of the Ecumenical Council of Florence, in 1442, which says:

[The Catholic Church] firmly believes, professes and teaches that the legal prescriptions of the old Testament or the Mosaic law, which are divided into ceremonies, holy sacrifices and sacraments, because they were instituted to signify something in the future, although they were adequate for the divine cult of that age, once our lord Jesus Christ who was signified by them had come, came to an end and the sacraments of the new Testament had their beginning. Whoever, after the passion, places his hope in the legal prescriptions and submits himself to them as necessary for salvation and as if faith in Christ without them could not save, sins mortally. It does not deny that from Christ’s passion until the promulgation of the gospel they could have been retained, provided they were in no way believed to be necessary for salvation. But it asserts that after the promulgation of the gospel they cannot be observed without loss of eternal salvation. Therefore it denounces all who after that time observe circumcision, the sabbath and other legal prescriptions as strangers to the faith of Christ and unable to share in eternal salvation, unless they recoil at some time from these errors. Therefore it strictly orders all who glory in the name of Christian, not to practise circumcision either before or after baptism, since whether or not they place their hope in it, it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation.[RIGHT]Council of Florence, Session 11, “Bull of union with the Copts”, 4 February 1442[/RIGHT]

What also strikes me as bizarre is that it condemns those who are circumcised even before their baptism (like many male infants are), “whether or not they place their hope in it”, which seems to imply that it is an unretractable sin, a stain that even baptism cannot wash away, since “it cannot possibly be observed without loss of eternal salvation”. If that’s the case, I might as well give up my Catholic faith, since I was circumcised at birth.

I’d appreciate any shedding of light on this matter, as it’s quite perplexing to me. It seems to me that, since the first spreading of the gospel was to Jews, it was done for a reason, that they might be saved, and therefore Jews need the gospel (that is, they need to believe in Jesus Christ) to be saved.

Here’s more on the matter from Nostra Aetate 4, which deals with the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people:

Thus the Church of Christ acknowledges that, according to God’s saving design, the beginnings of her faith and her election are found already among the Patriarchs, Moses and the prophets. She professes that all who believe in Christ – Abraham’s sons according to faith {cf. Gal 3:7} – are included in the same Patriarch’s call, and likewise that the salvation of the Church is mysteriously foreshadowed by the chosen people’s exodus from the land of bondage. The Church, therefore, cannot forget that she received the revelation of the Old Testament through the people with whom God in His inexpressible mercy concluded the Ancient Covenant. Nor can she forget that she draws sustenance from the root of that well-cultivated olive tree onto which have been grafted the wild shoots, the Gentiles. {cf. Rom 11:17-24} Indeed, the Church believes that by His cross Christ, Our Peace, reconciled Jews and Gentiles, making both one in Himself. {cf. Eph 2:14-16}

As Holy Scripture testifies, Jerusalem did not recognize the time of her visitation, {cf. Luke 19:44} nor did the Jews in large number, accept the Gospel; indeed not a few opposed its spreading. {cf. Rom 11:28} Nevertheless, God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues – such is the witness of the Apostle. {cf. Rom 11:28-29; Lumen Gentium} In company with the Prophets and the same Apostle, the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and “serve him shoulder to shoulder” {Zeph 3:9; cf. Is 66:23; Ps 65:4; Rom 11:11-32}.

True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ {cf. John 19:16}; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.

The Latin text of NA 4 regarding the conclusion of the Ancient Covenant is “Quare nequit Ecclesia oblivisci se per populum illum, quocum Deus ex ineffabili misericordia sua Antiquum Foedus inire dignatus est, Revelationem Veteris Testamenti accepisse”. I am not versed in Latin, but inire seems to match up with “concluded”, but this seems to be a duplicitous English word! The Latin inire is the infinitive of ineo, “to begin; to commence”. But it turns out, in English, “conclude” in the context of a treaty or deal, can mean “to bring about”. So what I first read in English made me think: “God ended the old covenant with the Jews by starting the new covenant in Christ”. But that’s not what the intent of the English translation is! (Oy vey.)

Concerning Eph 2:14-16, I thought Paul was saying that Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are not “different” to God. This idea is found in some of Paul’s letters (cf. Rom 9:24; 1 Cor 1:24; 1 Cor 12:13).

I don’t understand how NA can say that “the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God” when Paul says that they are enemies of God because they reject the Gospel (cf. Rom 11:28). It’s one thing for God to “hold the Jews most dear”, but it’s another to imply something contrary to Hebrews 10:8-9:

When he said above, “Thou hast neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Lo, I have come to do thy will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.

If God rejects covenants, we have big problems.

Forget the covenant with Moses—God promised Noah he would not destroy the Earth again as he did with The Flood!

Here’s the relevant passage from Genesis 8:

21: And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

I’m aware of that. But the promised Messiah has come! How can the Jews expect to reap the promises of the Old Covenant when they are rejecting its fruition?

God gave them the land He promised, He gave Abraham millions of descendants, He brought forth the King who sits on David’s throne forever. God brought the Israelites to countless victories, but Israel often fell out of God’s favor by their wickedness.

What promises are the Jews still waiting for from their covenant?

Beats me. For me the mystery is what will happen to those righteous Jews who through no fault of their own are invincibly ignorant of Christ’s Church and the need to be part of it. Is the Good Samaritan heaven- or hellbound, in other words?

Excellent Question. I think the St Thomas Aquinas addressed this confusion in adequate fashion in** SUMMA THEOLOGICA:
Q10 Unbelief in general
Article 1. Whether unbelief is a sin?

On the contrary, Vice is opposed to virtue. Now faith is a virtue, and unbelief is opposed to it. Therefore unbelief is a sin.

I answer that, Unbelief may be taken in two ways: first, by way of pure negation, so that a man be called an unbeliever, merely because he has not the faith. Secondly, unbelief may be taken by way of opposition to the faith; in which sense a man refuses to hear the faith, or despises it, according to Isaiah 53:1: “Who hath believed our report?” It is this that completes the notion of unbelief, and it is in this sense that unbelief is a sin.

If, however, we take it by way of pure negation, as we find it in those who have heard nothing about the faith, it bears the character, not of sin, but of punishment, because such like ignorance of Divine things is a result of the sin of our first parent. If such like unbelievers are damned, it is on account of other sins, which cannot be taken away without faith, but not on account of their sin of unbelief.** Hence Our Lord said (John 15:22) “If I had not come, and spoken to them, they would not have sin”; which Augustine expounds (Tract. lxxxix in Joan.) as “referring to the sin whereby they believed not in Christ.”**

**Article 3. Whether unbelief is the greatest of sin?
On the contrary, Augustine, commenting on John 15:22, “If I had not come, and spoken to them, they would not have sin,” says (Tract. lxxxix in Joan.): “Under the general name, He refers to a singularly great sin. For this,” viz. infidelity, “is the sin to which all others may be traced.” Therefore unbelief is the greatest of sins.

I answer that, Every sin consists formally in aversion from God, as stated above (I-II, 71, 6; I-II, 73, 3). Hence the more a sin severs man from God, the graver it is. Now man is more than ever separated from God by unbelief, because he has not even true knowledge of God: and by false knowledge of God, man does not approach Him, but is severed from Him.

Nor is it possible for one who has a false opinion of God, to know Him in any way at all, because the object of his opinion is not God. Therefore it is clear that the sin of unbelief is greater than any sin that occurs in the perversion of morals. This does not apply to the sins that are opposed to the theological virtues, as we shall stated further on (20, 3;34, 2, ad 2; 39, 2, ad 3).:thumbsup:

(to member japhy: greetings, this topic has some familiarity for us and our discussions concerning comments/remarks on other religions.:wink: )

The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas
Second and Revised Edition, 1920

for full question see link above.

I just caught the tail end of an interview with Roy Schoeman on Faith and Family. He is a Jewish convert to Catholicism who wrote Salvation is from the Jews: The Role of Judaism in Salvation History. This book is supposed to discuss this very issue (I have not yet read it, just wanted to tell you about it). I highly recommend you listen to the interview; it is about 55 minutes long. If you click on this link you will see a list of interviews with Roy Schoeman. About halfway down the first section of Radio/TV (sound only) you will see the Faith and Family interview with Steve Wood. Take a listen,if you can, it is very interesting.

Dear japhy,

I think, for one, that liberal bishops influence language so as to phrase things in the most positive light. A document like this probably never would have come out if the Holocaust had never happened. In effect, the argument goes like this: many people who “professed” faith in Christ complied with, or in some cases, helped exercise the Holocaust. Some Jews, then, admittedly horrified and scandalized say, “So then you expect us to ‘believe in Jesus?’ You hypocrites!” Not saying this isn’t understandable, but in the end, no matter how many atrocities against Jews by Christians that have occurred, it does not diminish the objective reality that we are saved by sanctifying grace. Hence, all Jews who have ever been saved or will ever be saved, whether before or after the First Coming of Christ, will be saved or were saved by the infusion of sanctifying grace by the Triune God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.

The proper Catholic response cannot ultimately deny the objective truth of the Gospel, nor that Christ’s sanctifying grace is what truly saves anyone now, be he Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or other. But I think that herein is the mercy of God: the Jews are really, at least somewhat, innocent of their continuance in the Old Covenant until the Great Apostasy, because, it is the inevitable consequence of normal human nature. That is, in ANY Salvation history, there would always HAVE to be the Two Covenants, the Old and the New.

Why? Because in the intial stages of the fall, humanity is necessarily weighed down by the Creation and the worship thereof, such that, given this intrinsically necessary attachment to the material world, it would be ontologically impossible for God to give Catholicism all at once in the beginning. It can’t be fully processed. (“You can’t HAAANDLE the truth!”, Jeff Cavins pulled that one! :smiley: ) I mean, when man already is driven by the force of an infant and strong original sin, intellecutally and religiously primitive, and, therefore, prone to polytheism, worshipping the creation, and deifying himself, how can God tell humanity, “There is only ONE all poweful, all good God, but He is THREE Distinct Persons in One Nature, and one of the Persons has BECOME man!” Given this data all at once in the beginning, it is likely humanity would never be anything greater than a Mormon.

Hence, behold, God must give a PREFIGURING Covenant, that gives an INITIAL Revelation, but not the fullness, and that uses things in the material Creation that POINT to spiritual realities and what will later be FULFILLED in the New.

But behold, human nature takes things for granted! Is it not therefore inevitable that the People to whom is given the first, PREFIGURING Covenant will take it as end in and of itself? Will they not fail to realize that what they were given was not the REAL thing, but only a foreshadowing? And will not the Revelation of the Trinity and the Incarnation simply be too much, overload, the final straw? Hence, from all eternity, it would always happen this way: the High Priest shall tear his garment and cry “Blasphemy!”.

Therefore, in a sense, God does not utterly condemn the Jews because it is human nature. It couldn’t be any other way. But behold, how will they eventually convert?

I have a theory. And it is a simple theory, and I base it on one of the perennial proclamations by Christ: “Amen, Amen, I say to you, it will all be FULFILLED!”

So then, my theory is this, the three spiritual ages that the Jews passed through in their history, leading up to Christ, are just a macro example of the Catholic three-stage way of the saint, which is in turn what the People of the New Covenant must also walk, hence, “it will all be fulfilled”. And it fits. If we take the mystics’ prophesies in the most likely scenario, Church history is surprisingly a big fulfillment of the stages of the Jews. Hence, just as the OT Antichrist Antiochus was the final darnkess of Jewish history prior to Christ’s FIRST Coming, so the NT Antichrist is the final age of darkness in the Church before the SECOND Coming of Christ, at which time , as the Jews see their history completed by the Gentiles, their eyes are opened.

You might check out these, if it would help:

Final Jewish Conversion, a Hypothesis
The Mysterious Threes

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