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The Society for Post-Supersessionist Theology – Year 2, 2019

Last year, scheduled just before the start of the Society of Biblical Literature‘s Annual Meeting in Boston, the Society for Post-Supersessionist Theology held its first meeting. You can read my summary here. On November 22 of this year, in San Diego, a second meeting was held with auspicious Pauline scholars on the theme of Fulfillment and Supersessionism in the Theology of St. Paul.

The purpose of this blog is to make accessible a simple summary of the meeting, and to construct an aide-memoire for myself.

The first presentation was by William S. Campbell, from the University of Wales, who spoke on fulfillment language in Paul’s writings. He noted that πληρωμα, a not-so-uncommon word, is only used once by Paul in terms of fulfilment, in Galatians. He referred also to τελος, with it emphasis on outcome, more than conclusion, or termination. He stated that “Paul speaks of Christians as the ratification of the Old Testament promises.” He further mentioned that in Romans 9-11 Paul does not use fulfilment language, as Matthew might do. This led to his statement that Paul’s is “not a fulfilment theology but rather a theology of confirmation.” The significance of all of this is that fulfilment language sometimes annuls, whereas confirmation language does not. The covenant can be ratified and renewed. The Covenant of God with Israel remains God’s covenant with Israel and only Israel. As he stated, “Israel is not a theological symbol. Israel is a historical people.” undefined

Not to be confusing, the second panelist was Douglas A. Campbell from Duke Divinity School. Another from the Campbell clan, laddie! His contribution was based on research written up in his new book Pauline Dogmatics: The Triumph of the Love of God. For him, the basic truth claim of Paul was “Jesus is Lord”. Early Christianity, he pointed out, was composed of Torah-observant Jews and Gentile pagans. Paul lived in a new eschatological reality, and he reminds his readers that we all live in it. There was a distinction for Paul between interpersonal and structural. We live in the age of the flesh, but are moving to glory. The very eschatological logic that resulted in Paul resisting the imposition of Judaism on Gentiles should warn us of the danger of imposing Gentile accommodations on Jews (inside, I applauded). Secondly, an apocalyptic account facilitates an understanding of Israel. Israel, for Paul, is above all the place where God moves to save the cosmos. For Campbell the apocalyptic Paul, properly understood (by which scholars typically mean “the way I understand”) is an emphatically non-sapiential Paul.
My dear Douglas Campbell. I think you lost me a bit. I’ll have to buy your book, it seems, if I wish to grasp all of what you were getting at.

Paula Fredriksen from Boston University responded. She did not disappoint and proved her razor sharp wit, perception and forthrightness. She challenged Douglas as to whether apocalyptic eschatology really speaks of the end of the world (it doesn’t). Her position is that “Paul doesn’t preach Christianity but eschatological Judaism for Gentiles.” She sees Messiah as a Davidic warrior, for Paul. She further bridled at the idea that Jewish observance (for Jews) is optional now that Messiah has come. She accepted that the “optional” approach of Douglas Campbell is better than Christian Anti-Judaism, but pointed out that Paul was a believer in circumcision with all the obligations that entailed. undefined

The last panelist was Francis Watson, from Durham University. He contended with the idea that supersessionism is the same thing as erasure, and argued for the radical transcendence of the Christ event. He then interacted with the other panelists. The olive tree analogy of Romans 11 came in for special attention, and William Campbell pointed out that the NRSV translation “in their place” in reference to the Gentile branches being grafted in (Rom 11:17), is a tendentious translation, and problematic.

ensued, with considerable interaction between Paula Fredriksen and Douglas Campbell. It is too much to get into the details, and I hope that I have understood correctly, but the key issues were:
a) the election of Israel (for Campbell in the New Covenant Israel is a reconstituted continuity, and all Christians bear the image of a Jew – Jesus). This seemed problematic to Fredriksen – and I have to agree;
b) Fredriksen – in that case, what still needs to be done?
c) In a query to Fredriksen, what is πνευμα for Jews? Fredriksen asserted that there is a continued uniqueness in Jewish identity for Paul, who asserted to Peter (Gal 2:15) “we are not Gentile sinners”, asserting that Jews by nature are different. Jews do get the πνευμα, as Jews. This is what he means by “peace upon the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16) – he is talking to Jews who have the πνευμα.
d) a further argument was then, what about belief and unbelief? Doesn’t this have a distinguishing force for Paul? Francis Watson responded by pointing out that this is the source of Paul’s grief.

All in all, this was a profitable session. It both highlighted the progress that has been made in understanding Paul in non-supersessionist ways, and the distance still to be made up. There is much work to be done, much bad theology to be undone, and a great amount of disagreement on how all that is going to look. The participation of a significant number of Jewish scholars, largely but not exclusively Messianic Jews, points to the importance of this task for Jewish-Christian relations.

3 Responses

  1. Hello, Daniel. This is a test message. My post of yesterday has not appeared, but I know it was not lost entirely because an attempt to resubmit it evoked an error message about a duplicate submission. If this one should be displayed immediately, I will presume the other was automatically sequestered, probably due to its length. I hope you may be able to evaluate it for yourself and release it for posting. Thaks for your kind attention, in any case.

  2. I’m going to try again, Daniel — this time with a slightly edited version:

    Indeed, Daniel, I feel a similar frustration whenever I encounter such theological discussions. I have read a number of them in papers at “Academia.edu”, and I have responded to several of their authors. I have formed an impression that part of the difficulty is that most of these people do not think as engineers must do — that is, about how things must work if they are to work at all. I would pose to them a fundamental question about what they perceive as HaShem’s ultimate goal for humanity — which I would assert is a simple one: namely, redemption.

    Now, there are some other techniques needed for the sake of clarity, such as obtaining proper definitions of terms — like, for example, “pneuma”. In the case of the discussion that you have reported here, one might almost think that they were envisioning it as a sort of “token”, which once obtained could be considered a badge of acceptability to HaShem. Alternatively, they might claim it as a distinctive personality to be absorbed into one’s own psyche as a little piece of G-d. There’s a certain reflection of idolatry in such a notion — which, in any case, obscures the recognition of it in accordance with its original Hebrew model of “rua’h”, spirit, mood, feeling, attitude. In this case, the Spirit of G-d” is not a separate person of a “godhead”. It is an outlook that reflects the attitudes which are characteristic of HaShem, which He wishes humans to emulate. Then the “how-to” question is one regarding the role of belief, trust, faith and/or faithfulness relative to HaShem which opens the door to a human embracing such an outlook.

    From such a background, discussion about various scriptural passages may proceed much more profitably. Of course, such a background also reflects a position that is somewhat more advanced than mere post-supersessionism. It begins, not with the covenantal nomism of the NPP , nor the Radical Perspective of Paul Within Judaism, but the even more radical perspective that the Israeli master-rabbi haRav Yeshua ben-Yosef was teaching from a Pharisaic perspective and background that is still present in modern Rabbinic Orthodox Judaism despite all attempts of gentile Christianity to eliminate it. This is a background that gives serious weight to Rav Yeshua’s statement that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Only if one can learn what is is that he wished to communicate to them from within Judaism can one even begin to consider the challenge Rav Shaul faced in trying to translate some applicable subset of it to would-be gentile disciples among the remainder of humanity.

    One must begin with a foundation reflected in his statement to a Jewish audience in Mt.5:17 that his purpose was to fulfill the Torah, that is, to obey and enact all of it; and not to diminish it in any way or to concentrate only on some presumed messianic subset of it — which he then elaborated with a kingdom of heaven statement emphasizing that those entering that kingdom and becoming great therein would be those who likewise performed and taught the Torah even better than the scribes and Pharisees did. Discussions must seek to embrace an understanding of how the sacrificial system of the Torah operated successfully in a repeated fashion to accomplish forgiveness, atonement and redemption, in order to extrapolate the mechanism to a perennial symbolic sacrifice reflected in Rav Yeshua’s martyrdom.

    Part of any post-supersessionist mindset must be a deliberate effort to scrub itself clean of any view that denigrates the validity and effectiveness of Judaism, which did not require any manner of “replacement” as such. All that was needed was for individual Jews to be redeemed in accordance with its precepts; which meant that they needed to repent and return to the ways of the Torah covenant and its concomitant relationship with HaShem. Key elements of this process then could have been extracted, adapted, and applied to the rest of humanity. The process was presented to Jews that they might in turn enlighten these others. That is the essential meaning of Gen.22:18. Supersession turned this entirely upside down; and reversing it requires just as radical an overturning. Rav Shaul undoubtedly understood this, and those who would understand him must do likewise.

  3. Shalom,
    I don’t know where your previous post went, but I am grateful for your thoughtful and insightful response. I recently read Kendall Soulden’s book “The G-d of Israel and Christian Theology”, which has a strongly worded and encouraging first section that touches on some of the points you have made. However, as a Christian theologian, cataloguing where Christianity has gone wrong in its charactarisation of the Biblical Redemption narrative (he would agree with you, I think, that redemption is key) that scrubs Israel from the Biblical account, I did find that he had his work cut out for him in struggling to articulate where Christian theology should go from here. Having little interest in the contortions of Christian theologians through the centuries, I appreciate your articulation of the shortcomings of the NPP (good as far as it went) and the Paul within Judaism school, and the call for a thorough root and branch (a great phrase I learned in England) reassessment of Christian theology.
    I think it is fair to say that the impression left on me after the SPOSTS session this year truly was that yes, there is a massive amount of work that needs to be done. Surely, undoing and reworking all the theology of the past may be necessary, but equally surely, we do have the tools to fundamentally reassess and reconstruct what the Besorah truly is in the light of its basis in the people and religion of Israel,

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