BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU READ: Does the Church teach that we should not seek to convert the Jews?

I was involved this last week in a bit of controversy over a statement in the press about how the Church does not have to convert Jews. As with all the reports that try to cast doubt on Christ and the Church, this one is subtle and seems to state that the Church teaches conflicting ideas (a favorite pastime of nonbelievers who don’t have enough to do with their time).

Peeling back the onion layers, I looked to actual documents and some articles I trust over the secular press. The issue dates from 2015-to 2016, so it is not relevant to today’s issues, yet, the fact that it surfaced and caused a ripple in the minds of some people, is to be taken seriously. This is my take (who else would it be?)

The article I received that started all this commotion is from National Public Radio. I will add a commentary on it from another article, followed by what I consider a balanced approach to how other beliefs and faiths need to be seen in the light of The Christ Principle. You be the judge.


Catholics Should Not Try To Convert Jews, Vatican Commission Says

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Flipboard
  • Email

December 10, 20151:26 PM ET


Pope Francis, seen here listening to music in St. Peter’s Square Wednesday, has said “a rich complementarity” exists between Jews and Catholics.

Gregorio Borgia/AP

Furthering a thaw in relations that began 50 years ago, the Vatican has released a new document about Catholics’ historic ties with Jews, whom Pope Benedict once called the church’s “fathers in faith.” Among the panel’s conclusions: Jews don’t need to be converted to find salvation.

“While affirming salvation through an explicit or even implicit faith in Christ,” the Vatican document reads, “the Church does not question the continued love of God for the chosen people of Israel.”

Titled “The Gifts and Calling of God are irrevocable,” the 10,000-word document calls for Jews and Christians to work together to make the world a better place by combating poverty and human suffering.

NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli reports:

“The new document states that owing to the Jewish roots of Christianity, Catholic dialogue with Judaism cannot in any way be compared with dialogue with other world religions. It says Jesus can only be understood in the Jewish context of his time.

“The document was drafted by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations With Jews; the commission was created following the release half a century ago of the groundbreaking document called Nostra Aetate — ‘In Our Times.’

“That document repudiated the idea of collective Jewish guilt for Jesus’ death.

“The new document says that from a detached coexistence, Catholics and Jews have arrived at a deep friendship. And it says Catholics must refrain from active attempts to convert Jews.”

The Vatican commission includes the work of Cardinal Kurt Koch and the Rev. Norbert Hofmann. They presented the results of their work Thursday alongside Edward Kessler, founder of the Woolf Institute in Cambridge, U.K., and Rabbi David Rosen, the American Jewish Committee’s International Director of Interreligious Affairs.

While it seeks to deal with hundreds of years of history, the Vatican document also quotes the current pope:

“Pope Francis states that ‘while it is true that certain Christian beliefs are unacceptable to Judaism, and that the Church cannot refrain from proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah, there exists as well a rich complementarity which allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another to mine the riches of God’s word. We can also share many ethical convictions and a common concern for justice and the development of peoples’ (‘Evangelii gaudium,’ 249).”

Discussing the document today, Rosen said, “the very fact that we can talk about complementarity is itself a powerful demonstration of how far we have come along this remarkable journey of transformation and reconciliation between Catholics and Jews over the last half century.”

The commission’s document also cites Francis’ immediate predecessors:

“Judaism is not to be considered simply as another religion; the Jews are instead our ‘elder brothers’ (Saint Pope John Paul II), our ‘fathers in faith’ (Benedict XVI). Jesus was a Jew, was at home in the Jewish tradition of his time, and was decisively shaped by this religious milieu (cf. ‘Ecclesia in Medio Oriente,’ 20). His first disciples gathered around him had the same heritage and were defined by the same Jewish tradition in their everyday life.”

Having had some red flags go up on this topic, I decided to look for an article that comments on the above article. Here it is. Note that both of these articles are from 2015 and 2016, respectively.

“Conversion” of Jews: What Does the New Vatican Statement Say?

17/01/2016 Rome, Italy. Pope Francis' visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome. Pope Francis' speech to the Jewish Community of Rome.

Pope Francis’ visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome. Pope Francis’ speech to the Jewish Community of Rome.

An American Catholic offers a reflection on the recent statement on Catholic-Jewish relations from the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity.

Initial news headlines on the recent document issued by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews were somewhat misleading (such as: “New Vatican document: Catholics should not seek to convert Jews”). The term “convert” in this context is usually used to describe the acceptance of Jesus Christ by Jews, a process that the headline seems to dismiss. But in fact, the document insists that Christians are still to bear witness to the fulfillment of Judaism in Christ.

A somewhat more accurate but far less interesting, the headline might have read something like this: “New Vatican document: Catholics must honor Jewish faith in Old Covenant but a witness to Christ as its fulfillment.” Nonetheless, I’ve used the term “conversion” in my title because it draws attention to the difference between what the document says and what many might guess that it says.

The document in question is The Gifts and the Calling of God are Irrevocable (Rom 11:29). Perhaps the first thing that wary readers need to know is that this was not intended to be an exercise of the Magisterium. To quote its own Preface: “The text is not a magisterial document or doctrinal teaching of the Catholic Church, but is a reflection prepared by the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews on current theological questions that have developed since the Second Vatican Council. It is intended to be a starting point for further theological thought with a view to enriching and intensifying the theological dimension of Jewish-Catholic dialogue.”

The Problem

The problem with the relationship between Christians and Jews is that it is a deep mystery. In the first couple of centuries, many Christians would have had a natural instinct to exclaim: “Come on, old friends. You are so close! All of God’s promises to you are true, so true that they have now been fulfilled in Christ!”

As the centuries passed, however, the Jewish roots of Christianity tended to be undervalued in an overwhelmingly Gentile Church, and Christians too often viewed Jews as a stiff-necked people who had been rejected by God.

It took the post-Christian, semi-pagan horrors of the Holocaust in the 20th century to bring Catholics to the defense of Jews and to fuel a rethinking of the Christian-Jewish relationship. This rethinking went back to Scripture, particularly the Revelation we have received in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans — most notably in chapters 9-11.

The recovery of a deep respect for the mystery of the Old Covenant was moved to the forefront of Jewish-Christian relations by the Second Vatican Council’s “Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” (Nostra Aetate). Again, it is the purpose of this new text from the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews to reflect on the relevant theological questions as they have emerged and clarified themselves since the Council.

It was, after all, St. Paul who said of the Jewish people that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rm 11:29).

Key Points

This new document tells the history of Catholic dialogue with Jews since the Council, underscoring that it has a “special theological status”:

In spite of the historical breach and the painful conflicts arising from it, the Church remains conscious of its enduring continuity with Israel. Judaism is not to be considered simply another religion; the Jews are instead our “elder brothers” (Saint Pope John Paul II), our “fathers in faith” (Benedict XVI). Jesus was a Jew, was at home in the Jewish tradition of his time, and was decisively shaped by this religious milieu. [14]

This has important implications:

Fully and completely human, a Jew of his time, descendant of Abraham, son of David, shaped by the whole tradition of Israel, heir of the prophets, Jesus stands in continuity with his people and its history. On the other hand he is, in the light of the Christian faith, himself God—the Son—and he transcends time, history, and every earthly reality. The community of those who believe in him confesses his divinity (cf. Phil 2:6-11). In this sense he is perceived to be in discontinuity with the history that prepared his coming. From the perspective of the Christian faith, he fulfills the mission and expectations of Israel in a perfect way. [14]

For these reasons, dialogue between Jews and Christians cannot proceed as if these are two fundamentally diverse religions that developed independently or without mutual influence.

Moreover, while it is certainly true that 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” (23, quoted from Nostra Aetate, 4). Ultimately, God does not lie and He is always faithful. The covenant that God offered Israel is irrevocable and God’s elective fidelity is never repudiated.

In this light, any Christian effort to separate the two covenants, rejecting the Old Testament while retaining only the New, is a grave error. This is why Marcion was excommunicated in AD 144. Again, there is a deep mystery in the relationship between the covenants, in the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, and in the relationship between Jews and Gentiles. As St. Paul wrote, “Just as you [Gentile Christians] were once disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy” (Rm 11:30-31).

17/01/2016 Rome, Italy. Pope Francis' visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome.

Pope Francis’ visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome

Avoiding Errors

But the text also cautions against two key errors. First, there are not two different but parallel ways of salvation for Christians and Jews: “The Church and Judaism cannot be represented as ‘two parallel ways to salvation,’ but…the Church must ‘witness to Christ as the Redeemer for all.’ The Christian faith confesses that God wants to lead all people to salvation, that Jesus Christ is the universal mediator of salvation, and that there is no ‘other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved’ (Acts 4:12).”(35)

Second, Jews are in fact called to membership in the Church: “The people of God attains a new dimension through Jesus, who calls his Church from both Jews and Gentiles (cf. Eph 2:11-22) on the basis of faith in Christ and by means of baptism, through which there is incorporation into his Body which is the Church” (41). And, “It is and remains a qualitative definition of the Church of the New Covenant that it consists of Jews and Gentiles, even if the quantitative proportions of Jewish and Gentile Christians may initially give a different impression” (42).

So where does this leave us? The Church must view evangelization of the Jews “in a different manner from… people of other religions and world views” (40). The text notes that the Church “neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews” — and, in fact, it is instructive to reflect that the Church has never, over 2,000 years of history, done this. This is highly suggestive that such a stance is part of her DNA.

But the call to evangelization must not be denied: “While there is a principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission, Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews” (40) and “Christian mission means that all Christians, in community with the Church, confess and proclaim the historical realization of God’s universal will for salvation in Christ Jesus” (42).

The upshot is that the Church uses a more nuanced language in speaking of her relationship with the Jews. It is not a question of “conversion” away from the Old Covenant, the law and the promises. Still less is it a question of hostility and rejection. It is rather a question of fulfillment in Christ. The Church does not see Judaism as a foreign and false religion, but as the root of her own development — a root which, for a mysterious reason, has not yet realized its fulfillment in Christ.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and, where this article originally appeared.

“The Logic of Peace”

“The violence of man toward man is in contradiction with every religion worthy of this name, and in particular with the great monotheistic religions,” Pope Francis said in his talk at Rome’s Great Synagogue during a January 17 visit. “Life is sacred, a gift from God,” he said. “The Fifth Commandment of the Decalogue says, ‘Do not kill.’ God is the God of life and always seeks to promote and defend it; and we, created in his image and likeness, are required to do the same.” “Every human being, as a creature of God, is our brother, independent of his origin or religious practice,” he said, recalling that God “extends his merciful hand to all, independent of their faith and their origin,” and “cares for those who need him the most: the poor, the sick, the marginalized, the defenseless.” “We must pray to him insistently so that he helps us to practice in Europe, in the Holy Land, in the Middle East, in Africa, and in every other part of the world, the logic of peace, reconciliation, forgiveness and life.”—CNA


What the word “convert” means depends upon how you use it. The beauty of the Church is that we have twenty centuries of trying to get it right, and even now, some have a problem.

Evangelization is letting the light of Christ shine in your heart so that others might see it and glorify God; proselytizing means you got to believe what I believe as I believe it, or you are not saved.

We evangelize all humans, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and others, because we want to share the “Good News,” but we don’t force it, and we don’t deny it. Christ told us in John 17 words that should comfort us. Read this Chapter prayerfully and as though Christ is speaking straight to you. He is.

The Prayer of Jesus.*

1When Jesus had said this, he raised his eyes to heaven* and said, “Father, the hour has come. Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you,a

2* just as you gave him authority over all people,b so that he may give eternal life to all you gave him.

3* Now this is eternal life,c that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.

4I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do.

5Now glorify me, Father, with you, with the glory that I had with you before the world began.d

6“I revealed your name* to those whom you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

7Now they know that everything you gave me is from you,

8because the words you gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from you, and they have believed that you sent me.

9I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me, because they are yours,e

10and everything of mine is yours and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them.f

11And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are.

12When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me, and I guarded them, and none of them was lost except the son of destruction, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled.g

13But now I am coming to you. I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely.h

14I gave them your word, and the world hated them, because they do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.i

15* I do not ask that you take them out of the worldj but that you keep them from the evil one.

16They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.

17Consecrate them in the truth. Your word is truth.k

18As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world.l

19And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth.

20“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,

21so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.m

22And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one,

23I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.

24Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am* they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me, because you loved me before the foundation of the world.n

25Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me.o

26I made known to them your name and I will make it known,* that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.”

Read the encyclical Nostra Aetate. It gives a balanced approach to believing and not becoming God in how we treat others.

I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life says Christ. There is only one path to salvation, through, with, and in Christ. Scripture tells us, “Don’t you judge anyone in the Church, and let God judge anyone outside the Church.” 

Balance and trust that the heritage of the Church (guided by the Holy Spirit) won’t let us down, even when our clergy and laity sometimes do, is comforting.


All words have weight behind them. I use the saying: Whatever is received is received according to the disposition of the one who receives it. In the age where misinformation becomes an infallible truth (after all, the secular press would not knowingly deceive us with their own agenda), there is a need for critical examination measured against The Christ Principle.

%d bloggers like this: