ROME, APRIL 19, 2002 (Zenit.org).- Christianity cannot be understood without knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures, say a pair of scholars from both faiths.
Rabbi David Novak, professor of Jewish studies at the University of Toronto and author of “Jewish-Christian Dialogue: A Jewish Justification” (see ZENIT, April 18), was on the Jewish side at a debate here Thursday.
Father Albert Vanhoye, secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and professor emeritus of exegesis of the New Testament at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, was on the Christian side.
The debate took place in the framework of the conference “John Paul II and Church Dialogue in the 21st Century,” held at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical Athenaeum. The conference was organized in collaboration with the Catholic Studies Program of the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics and Public Policy Center.
The debate followed shortly after the Vatican Press Office published the English translation of the document “The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible.” This document was first published by the Pontifical Biblical Commission, to “be more aware of the fraternal ties that closely unite Christians with the Jewish people.”
Q: What are the ties that Jews and Christians share, which are highlighted in the document?
Father Vanhoye: It is important to recall the Jewish origin of the Christian community. This community believes in Jesus of Nazareth, a son of these people, as are also the Twelve he chose “to be with him, and to be sent out to preach” (Mark 3:14).
In the beginning, apostolic preaching was addressed only to Jews and proselytes. Therefore, Christianity was born at the heart of first-century Judaism; then it gradually separated from it, but the Church has never forgotten its Jewish roots, clearly evidenced in the New Testament, even giving Jews a priority, as the Gospel is a divine force for the salvation of all those who believe: “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
Q: What is the relation between the Old and New Testaments? How important is it?
Father Vanhoye: The Christian reading of the Old Testament is certainly different from the Jewish, as it is done in the light of Christ. However, the document “The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible” warns against underestimating the Old Testament, stating that the Old Testament has enormous value in itself as Word of God. The document shows that the Jewish people´s sacred Scriptures are a fundamental part of the Christian Bible.
In the preface, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, president of the Biblical Commission, points out forcefully that the Church has never accepted the rejection of the Old Testament as something that is too imperfect. It condemned this error in Marcion (85-160 A.D.), [an error] which unfortunately was rearticulated last century by a Protestant exegete.
The document also states that the relations between the Scriptures and oral tradition are analogous in Christianity and Judaism, and that the New Testament uses Jewish exegetical methods.
Q: Why has this document been published?
Father Vanhoye: The document makes Christians aware that we really have a lot in common with Jews, and not just in secondary matters, but in fundamental questions. In fact, it ends by saying: “Dialogue is possible because Jews and Christians possess a rich common patrimony that unites them, and it must be promoted to increasingly eliminate prejudices and misunderstandings on the part of one another, to favor better knowledge of the common patrimony, and to reinforce reciprocal ties.