What is the Covenant?

Apparently, Michael Voris over at so-called “RealCatholicTV” has made some controversial statements about the Jewish religion on his webcast.  Now, Voris’s “news program” has become something of a hit in the Catholic blogosophere the past year or so, esp. after his exposes on the USCCB’s political entanglements.  But I haven’t watched many of his podcasts because even in those videos I heard some Rad Trad-ish buzzwords and tone.

Steven Kellmeyer has critiqued Voris’s latest video, and Mark Shea and Christopher Blosser have echoed Kellemeyer’s warnings.

However, as for the discussion of Judaism.  Kellmeyer uses the modern distinctions of Orthodox, Reform and Conservative.  All these categories still fall under “Rabbinical Judaism,” and Voris–in a rather simplistic way, and missing some historical facts–is trying to define the relationship of Rabbinical Judaism to the Covenant.

Voris asks some great questions, and his ultimate point is valid. Indeed, what he says is not much different from what Kevin Orlin Johnson says in _Why Do Catholics Do That?_ , a very popular apologetics primer.

First, what *is* Judaism?  God’s Chosen People were not “the Jews” but “the Israelites.”  Their religion is always referred to in the Hebrew Bible as the Hebrew Religion.  After the split of the kingdom, and the diaspora, it became known as “Judaism” because of the Tribe of Judah being the main one left.

As you note, even at the time of Jesus, Judaism, the Tribe of Judah’s variant of the Hebrew Religion, had developed responses to the Diaspora that allowed practice of their religion without the ark, without the Tabernacle, and without the Temple.

The original political split between Judah and Israe (later Samaria) led to the first major split in their religion.  Since the Samaritans could not worship in the Temple, they said “Moses didn’t sacrifice in the Temple; he sacrificed in the mountains.”  So they took to the Mountains but allowed their sacrifice to get mixed in with idol worship.

The Tribe of Judah, during their first diaspora, tried to avoid the error of the Samaritans and thus started focusing on cultural separatism and an intellectual faith that did not require sacrifice.

They brought that faith, which we can call “Judaism”, back to the Holy Land.  They had avoided the problem of sacrifice by ceasing sacrifice altogether during the Babylonian Exile.  Instead, they studied the Scriptures under teachers called Rabbis.  When they returned, they rebuilt the temple under Ezra and Nehemiah.  Later, that temple was destroyed by the Greeks, and rabbinical worship in Synagogues became the Norm.  Indeed, Voris is accurate that Temple Judaism and Rabbinical Judaism–which are not necessarily separate–are similar to Protestantism and Catholicism.

However, a more accurate example might be seen among our Orthodox brethren.  We Catholics are used to the idea that you can find Mass almost anywhere.  Few Catholics have to live in a “Diaspora” situation in our day and age.  Orthodox Christians, however, are used to being a minority and having to live sometimes in areas where no Orthodox church is available.  The Orthodox have a tradition called “Readings Services”–services that can be performed in the absence of the priest.  This would be more the equivalent of “Rabbinical Judaism.”

The problem with Voris’s very brief summary is that he claims Rabbinical Judaism started *after* Jesus.  It didn’t.  Jesus was an adherent of Rabbinical Judaism.  Jesus was a Rabbi–even though He spurned the term.

Jesus stood up at a Rabbinical service and read a text as a Rabbi and taught from that text and said, “This text is fulfilled in your presence.”

Jesus, the Priest-King-Messiah, may or may not have been biologically a priest.  Zechariah and Elizabeth were Levites, and Elizabeth was herself, more specifically, an Aaronite–John the Baptist was heir to the full priesthood, though he didn’t practice it.  Mary was Elizabeth’s relative.  The Gospel never tells us that Mary was of David’s line; it only tells us Joseph was.  The only thing Scripture tells us of Mary is that her cousin was a Levite–so was Mary herself a Levite?

In any case, Jesus was most certainly a Rabbi, and Christianity sprung not just from “Judaism” but from “Rabbinical” Judaism.

Now, here comes the tricky part.  The fall of the third Temple marked the end of sacrificial Judaism.

Can one practice “the Hebrew Religion” without Sacrifice?  Presumably yes, since the Diaspora Jews did it before Christ.

Are those who practice “Judaism” today observing the Covenant?  Possibly some of them are, but there are plenty of provisions in the Torah that even the most “orthodox” conveniently ignore or explain away.

Is biological descent from Abraham necessary for observance of the Covenant?  No.  God can raise up descendants to Abraham from Stones.  The Pentateuch/Torah has provisions for grafting Gentiles onto Abraham’s family tree.  Some of Jesus’ most important ancestors were Gentiles.  Any Tom, Dick or Harry can pick up a Bible and start observing the Torah and be part of the Covenant.

The *real* question is what the Covenant Promises.  The Promise of the Covenant (and it really depends which Covenant you’re talking about) is that they will be God’s People, and that they will have a home and a kingdom.

As Catholics, Voris rightly explains, we believe that *We* are the fulfillment of that promise.  The Church is God’s Kingdom on Earth.  The Church is God’s people, and the descendants of Abraham, regardless of race or biological ancestry, because the Gentiles have been adopted into God’s family.

However, the Old Covenant does not offer personal salvation.

We all know that, because of World War II, and the collective extremes and mistakes of the past, it is popular to treat the Jewish religion with kid gloves.  And even many conservative Catholic apologists today get their theology a little confused and like to insist that the Covenant still applies to the Jews of today.  This is particularly true of many converts like Scott Hahn and Mark Shea, whose views of Israel carry over their Protestant Theology.  Protestants, in spite of their exaggerated emphasis on St. Paul, try to say that the Old Covenant still applies, and that the Jews essentially have a separate but permissible religion–because they do not see the Church as the New Israel in fulfillment of the Covenant.  This is why the Nation of Israel is so important to Protestants.

However, in the midst of all that, Protestants, and some post-Vatican II cradle Catholic thinkers, have pursued an implication that the Jewish religion itself does not teach, that observance of the law can bring salvation.

“Salvation” in the way Christians mean it does not appear in the Old Testament, except in metaphors of warfare and material salvation.  Resurrection of the Dead and Judgement in the Afterlife, concepts Judaism picked up from Greek and Persian cultures, were still controversial even in Jesus’ day, as we know.

So the “Covenant” can be said to apply to anyone who is non-Christian and observes the Old Law, but the “Covenant” only, technically, makes a person a member of “God’s People” in this world.

All these considerations together, it would seem that the status of the Jews is not much different than the status of Protestants, who also exist outside the technical Covenant, since they do not have Apostolic Succession or the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist.  Protestants and Jews individually can be credited for their desire to follow God’s law as perfectly as they understand it.  Collectively, we can recognize them as fellow descendants of Abraham and members of God’s people on earth.  However, the observance of the Old Covenant alone cannot bring personal salvation.

Only Christ brings salvation.  The ordinary means He established for salvation was observance of the New Covenant in the Catholic Church.  The Church, in Her power to “loose and bind,” has mercifully recognized the potential that those who do the best to serve God in accordance with their legitimate understanding of Him can be saved by an extraordinary act of Christ’s mercy.

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