The word “supersessionism” describes the influential idea that Christians (the people of “the new covenant”) have replaced Jews (the people of “the old covenant”) as the people of God. One early example of supersessionism appears in the Epistle of Barnabas, most probably written between the fall of the Second Temple (70 C.E.) and the second Jewish revolt against the Romans (135 C.E.):
These things [the Jewish cult] then he abolished in order that the new law of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is without the yoke of necessity, might have its oblation not made by man. (Epistle of
Those who are in favor of this theological interpretation often refer to
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring then out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord.
This passage is quoted in the New Testament in
The best explanation of the difference between the Hebrew and Greek texts is that either the translators of the Septuagint were translating from a Hebrew manuscript that contained a different word or that the translators misread the manuscript that they were reading—the translator might have misread ba‘al as the word ga‘al (“to despise,” “to abandon”).
If Hebrews is based on ga‘al, then those who use
After the end of the Second World War, a number of Christian churches began to question and to some extent even denounce supersessionism. One of the most famous examples is the Roman Catholic document Nostra Aetate. Published on October 28, 1965, this is arguably the most important text on Jewish-Christian relations since Paul’s letter to the Romans. The fourth paragraph of this declaration on the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and non-Christian religions states:
It is true that the Church is the new people of God, yet the Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from Holy Scripture.To a remarkable degree, this single sentence highlights the tension between the Roman Catholic Church’s eagerness to retain the language of being the “people of God” and its desire to refute the idea of supersessionism.
- Svartvik, Jesper. “Reading the Epistle to the Hebrews without Presupposing Supersessionism.” Pages 77–91 in Christ Jesus and the Jewish People Today: New Explorations of Theological Interrelationships. Edited by Philip A. Cunningham et al. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2011.
- Svartvik, Jesper. “Geschwisterlichkeit: Realizing that We Are Siblings.” Pages 315–27 in Kirche und Synagoge: Ein Luterisches Votum. Edited by Folker Siegert. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012.
- Svartvik, Jesper. “What if There Is Life on Other Planets?! Theological Reflections on Kurt Cardinal Koch’s Inaugural Lecture.” Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations 7 (2012): 1–12.