Professor Gerald McDermott’s persuasive biblical reading and its application to modern Israel is challenging and timely. His personal story is moving. As a Roman Catholic theologian, I must testify to something like Gerry’s falling off his supersessionist horse - and slowly seeing things afresh. I was challenged by three pope’s consistent teaching that the ‘gifts and the promises’ made to God’s Jewish covenanted people is ‘irrevocable’. That pushed me to read the bible again. Gerry’s own work has been instrumental in helping me reflect further on these issues.

The comments below are more in support of his project than calling it into question, more a request for clarification than a fundamental challenge, and more in gratitude for the pioneering work than opening different trajectories on the basic questions. I believe, with him, the Bible does not underwrite supersessionism. I believe, with him, that modern Israel 1948 onwards can and should be regarded as part of God’s plan for his people in the light of the bible. But working out the precise trajectories regarding questions of the land in the modern period is deeply problematic. It is the task facing an entire generation of slowly emerging post-supersessionist Christians.

My first question to Gerry is simple. It steps back from the specific question of the land and tries to place the post-supersessionist project in a wider Christological context. In the long run, this is crucial to understanding the dynamics of post-supersessionist theology. Is Gerry proposing a dual covenant thesis or a single covenant thesis? By dual covenant I mean, does God employ two saving covenants, one for Jews (Judaism) and one for Gentiles (Christianity)? Nothing in Gerry’s article indicates that he is not a dual covenanter. Nothing in his article implies he is. However, without knowing the Christological undergirding in his position it is difficult to know whether to support or criticise it.

I have problems with the dual covenant position, not least because my church thinks it is off the rails as it denies the absolute salvific efficacy of the Lord Jesus Christ. The dual covenant claim would run against the gospel and would be akin to liberal pluralism where all religions are seen to be paths to God. Even if one accepts that Judaism is not like the “religions,” but is sui generis due to the Old Testament, the Christological question remains. In saying this ancient covenant with the Jews is still valid, what does this mean about the salvific efficacy of Jesus Christ?

At present, Catholicism has a semi-official position on this question. I say semi-official because it has not become a matter of formal definition. It is held that while God operates graciously and salvifically through Judaism, this salvation is causally related to, springs from, Jesus Christ. This view operates because there can be no salvation apart from Christ.

However, this position on Judaism, is not without its own difficulties, for it does not attend to a crucial issue. Does a Jewish person, if we treat the matter as a question of individual salvation, at some point have to confess Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, the hope of Israel, for their complete fulfilment? Collectively, will Israel as a people, also have to confess Christ as a final condition of salvation?  If the answer is no, then it would appear there is a problematic dual covenant position in place, even if that seems to be coherent with the new post-supersessionist insights. If the answer is yes, explicit confession of Christ is the New Testament definition of salvation for the adult, then one has to defend this theology against the charge of being crypto-supersessionist.

This is a charge made by some Christian and Jewish thinkers. They argue that “fulfilment” still means there is an inadequacy in Judaism and inadequacy inevitably leads to an insistence on adequacy: becoming Christian. Post-supersessionist Christians should be clear about this matter. We must not mislead our Jewish friends by suggesting that the question of the fulfilment of truth is resolved between us. It is not. But this irresolution should not lead to the vicious cycles involved in supersessionist theology. Differences can be understood as convictions arising out of good faith not bad faith. In positing the question with only two answers (dual or single covenant) I may be missing an alternative in Gerry’s work.

A second question follows from the first. If the Jewish people are special and chosen, what is the role of Jewish followers of Jesus? There are two aspects to this question. Clearly a dual covenant theology runs into difficulties here as it would imply that such folk might have made the wrong step in converting to Christianity. It is rare for dual covenanters to argue this, but that would be the implication of their position. Further, what of the Jewish people who do follow Jesus? Does their ecclesia remain visibly united with the gentile churches as is the case with Hebrew Catholics who want to be Jews and fully members of the Roman Catholic Church? Or do such Jewish followers of Jesus remain independent of such gentile churches as is the case with many messianic congregations?

The point I’m making is that once supersessionism has been overcome, it raises complex questions for the shape of Christian discipleship when we address Jewish Christian discipleship. The old position under supersessionism is that such Jews who become Christians lose their Jewish religious identity. The new post-supersessionist position recognises the deep defamation at work in such an assumption. This has further repercussions when discussing Jewish Christians and the land of Israel.

Should Christians be speaking out against messianic Jews’ “discrimination” in Israel? They along with Hebrew Catholics have been denied the right to Aliyah by the secular high court in Israel. It has been deemed that such Jews have committed apostasy, as defined by the Rabbinic tradition, and thus while they are still Jews, they have lost some of their rights and privileges. There is a question facing the brave and prophetic Jewish authors of Dabru Emet (2002), cited by Gerry. If they now accept the legitimacy of Christianity in God’s plan, then will they also argue that Hebrew Catholics and messianic Jews are legitimate followers of God and not apostates? There is no easy answer, but this question must be pressed.

Further, should Christians be supporting these Jewish Christian claims to have a special relationship with the land? Mark Kinzer, a messianic Jew, makes out an excellent case for this special relationship in his challenging book: Jerusalem Crucified. Jerusalem Risen. Kinzer’s position walks a very delicate line: it affirms the Jewish case and the messianic Jewish case for claims on the land. My question to Gerry regards the role and meaning of Jewish Christians in the post-supersessionist view.

My third question revolves around the word “polity” in Gerry’s proposals. He is surely right that when we talk about 1948 Israel, “a people” without a “polity,” makes no sense. Christians who support Jewish people but divorce them from the land and the state of Israel are in danger of dematerialising these “people.” However, whenever Christians have given theological justification to a nation state in recent times, as in South Africa and Nazi Germany, there has been the converse problem of divinizing the political - and eventually justifying evil practices in the name of God.

Gerry clearly does not take that step. What is less clear is how he avoids it. How does one distinguish “polity” from underwriting “nation state” which is precisely what happened in 1948? The Jewish people did in fact exist in that region for nearly three thousand years, but not always as a nation state, and presumably that too was God’s will. In this sense they existed as a people but not always with a sovereign polity. We need to be careful in tying a gordian knot between people and state/governance. Nation states are also fundamentally about borders and sovereignty. Both these aspects have significant hurdles embedded within them in developing the trajectory opened by post-supersessionism.

Regarding borders, one warning sign is that it is precisely Jewish religious settlers that have argued for Greater Israel, which includes biblical Judaea and Samaria, thus swallowing up disputed territories that under the 1947 UN Mandate were assigned to the Palestinians. Not all the settlers are religious, but many are. I also realise that Palestinian/Arab reactions to the 1947 UN Mandate must be taken into consideration in narrating this contested and tragic history. But in contrast to the UN Mandate, contemporary religious settlers quote Genesis 15:18-21 as their sole justification: God gave us this land. They are not disingenuous.

This raises the complex issue regarding the relation of theology to politics and legality. Some settlers disregard international law as theology trumps this form of polity. I can see their point. Christians are called to question the law when it is contrary to God’s Word. But this is precisely why the theology of Christians must be crystal clear on these decisive issues. Where will they stand in the settlers’ debate in a post-supersessionist Christianity? In Israel today there are forms of Christian Zionism that support a battle over the temple mount to precipitate a reaction that will bring in the end of the world. A responsible New (or Old) Christian Zionism cannot be developed without close attention to the differing biblical borders found in Deuteronomy 11.24, 1.7, Numbers 34.1-15 and Ezekiel 47.13-20. If God have the land, what are the borders of that land?

The issue of sovereignty also raises its head. Gerry applauds an invisible religiosity emerging in secular Israel. He may be right. I’m not able to judge. However, the visible Jewish religiosity in Israel indicates the emergence of a powerful caucus of right-wing religious parties (that currently have the highest fertility rates). They must be appeased by any secular leader of Israel if he or she is to keep power. Netanyahu’s present predicament is in part due to this fragile balancing act. In my view, many of these groups sow the seeds of conflict, not the seeds of peace, by pushing for more settlements and territorial expansion. Gerry’s position does not commit him to support these groups or this type of Jewish religiosity. But does his theology place him to offer a critique of them? I recall a Christian Palestinian asking me about the sovereignty of God when I was defending what I call a “minimalist Catholic Zionism.” Bitterly, he asked: if Catholic Zionism is God willed, are you saying that our God sanctions the loss of my homeland, the breaking up of my family, and the dejection of my people – so that another people, who call themselves ‘God’ people’ can flourish? Does God favour the sovereignty of the Jewish people over the freedom and liberty of all his peoples? I think these questions are answerable, but until they are answered clearly, it may be difficult for some Christians to be drawn into the truths of post-supersessionist theology that Gerry so ably expounds.

I close with thanks and appreciation of Gerry’s work and his great strides forward in this area.


Gavin D’Costa, Professor of Catholic Theology, University of Bristol, UK, advisor to the Vatican on interfaith matters and the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales. Author of Catholic Doctrines on the Jewish People after Vatican II, Oxford University Press, 2019

Next Conversation

Professor Gerald McDermott’s persuasive biblical reading and its application to modern Israel is challenging and timely. His personal story is moving. As a Roman Catholic theologian, I must testify to something like Gerry’s falling off his supersessionist horse - and slowly seeing things afresh. I was challenged by three pope’s consistent teaching that the ‘gifts and the promises’ made to God’s Jewish covenanted people is ‘irrevocable’. That pushed me to read the bible again. Gerry’s own work has been instrumental in helping me reflect further on these issues.

The comments below are more in support of his project than calling it into question, more a request for clarification than a fundamental challenge, and more in gratitude for the pioneering work than opening different trajectories on the basic questions. I believe, with him, the Bible does not underwrite supersessionism. I believe, with him, that modern Israel 1948 onwards can and should be regarded as part of God’s plan for his people in the light of the bible. But working out the precise trajectories regarding questions of the land in the modern period is deeply problematic. It is the task facing an entire generation of slowly emerging post-supersessionist Christians.

My first question to Gerry is simple. It steps back from the specific question of the land and tries to place the post-supersessionist project in a wider Christological context. In the long run, this is crucial to understanding the dynamics of post-supersessionist theology. Is Gerry proposing a dual covenant thesis or a single covenant thesis? By dual covenant I mean, does God employ two saving covenants, one for Jews (Judaism) and one for Gentiles (Christianity)? Nothing in Gerry’s article indicates that he is not a dual covenanter. Nothing in his article implies he is. However, without knowing the Christological undergirding in his position it is difficult to know whether to support or criticise it.

I have problems with the dual covenant position, not least because my church thinks it is off the rails as it denies the absolute salvific efficacy of the Lord Jesus Christ. The dual covenant claim would run against the gospel and would be akin to liberal pluralism where all religions are seen to be paths to God. Even if one accepts that Judaism is not like the “religions,” but is sui generis due to the Old Testament, the Christological question remains. In saying this ancient covenant with the Jews is still valid, what does this mean about the salvific efficacy of Jesus Christ?

At present, Catholicism has a semi-official position on this question. I say semi-official because it has not become a matter of formal definition. It is held that while God operates graciously and salvifically through Judaism, this salvation is causally related to, springs from, Jesus Christ. This view operates because there can be no salvation apart from Christ.

However, this position on Judaism, is not without its own difficulties, for it does not attend to a crucial issue. Does a Jewish person, if we treat the matter as a question of individual salvation, at some point have to confess Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ, the hope of Israel, for their complete fulfilment? Collectively, will Israel as a people, also have to confess Christ as a final condition of salvation?  If the answer is no, then it would appear there is a problematic dual covenant position in place, even if that seems to be coherent with the new post-supersessionist insights. If the answer is yes, explicit confession of Christ is the New Testament definition of salvation for the adult, then one has to defend this theology against the charge of being crypto-supersessionist.

This is a charge made by some Christian and Jewish thinkers. They argue that “fulfilment” still means there is an inadequacy in Judaism and inadequacy inevitably leads to an insistence on adequacy: becoming Christian. Post-supersessionist Christians should be clear about this matter. We must not mislead our Jewish friends by suggesting that the question of the fulfilment of truth is resolved between us. It is not. But this irresolution should not lead to the vicious cycles involved in supersessionist theology. Differences can be understood as convictions arising out of good faith not bad faith. In positing the question with only two answers (dual or single covenant) I may be missing an alternative in Gerry’s work.

A second question follows from the first. If the Jewish people are special and chosen, what is the role of Jewish followers of Jesus? There are two aspects to this question. Clearly a dual covenant theology runs into difficulties here as it would imply that such folk might have made the wrong step in converting to Christianity. It is rare for dual covenanters to argue this, but that would be the implication of their position. Further, what of the Jewish people who do follow Jesus? Does their ecclesia remain visibly united with the gentile churches as is the case with Hebrew Catholics who want to be Jews and fully members of the Roman Catholic Church? Or do such Jewish followers of Jesus remain independent of such gentile churches as is the case with many messianic congregations?

The point I’m making is that once supersessionism has been overcome, it raises complex questions for the shape of Christian discipleship when we address Jewish Christian discipleship. The old position under supersessionism is that such Jews who become Christians lose their Jewish religious identity. The new post-supersessionist position recognises the deep defamation at work in such an assumption. This has further repercussions when discussing Jewish Christians and the land of Israel.

Should Christians be speaking out against messianic Jews’ “discrimination” in Israel? They along with Hebrew Catholics have been denied the right to Aliyah by the secular high court in Israel. It has been deemed that such Jews have committed apostasy, as defined by the Rabbinic tradition, and thus while they are still Jews, they have lost some of their rights and privileges. There is a question facing the brave and prophetic Jewish authors of Dabru Emet (2002), cited by Gerry. If they now accept the legitimacy of Christianity in God’s plan, then will they also argue that Hebrew Catholics and messianic Jews are legitimate followers of God and not apostates? There is no easy answer, but this question must be pressed.

Further, should Christians be supporting these Jewish Christian claims to have a special relationship with the land? Mark Kinzer, a messianic Jew, makes out an excellent case for this special relationship in his challenging book: Jerusalem Crucified. Jerusalem Risen. Kinzer’s position walks a very delicate line: it affirms the Jewish case and the messianic Jewish case for claims on the land. My question to Gerry regards the role and meaning of Jewish Christians in the post-supersessionist view.

My third question revolves around the word “polity” in Gerry’s proposals. He is surely right that when we talk about 1948 Israel, “a people” without a “polity,” makes no sense. Christians who support Jewish people but divorce them from the land and the state of Israel are in danger of dematerialising these “people.” However, whenever Christians have given theological justification to a nation state in recent times, as in South Africa and Nazi Germany, there has been the converse problem of divinizing the political - and eventually justifying evil practices in the name of God.

Gerry clearly does not take that step. What is less clear is how he avoids it. How does one distinguish “polity” from underwriting “nation state” which is precisely what happened in 1948? The Jewish people did in fact exist in that region for nearly three thousand years, but not always as a nation state, and presumably that too was God’s will. In this sense they existed as a people but not always with a sovereign polity. We need to be careful in tying a gordian knot between people and state/governance. Nation states are also fundamentally about borders and sovereignty. Both these aspects have significant hurdles embedded within them in developing the trajectory opened by post-supersessionism.

Regarding borders, one warning sign is that it is precisely Jewish religious settlers that have argued for Greater Israel, which includes biblical Judaea and Samaria, thus swallowing up disputed territories that under the 1947 UN Mandate were assigned to the Palestinians. Not all the settlers are religious, but many are. I also realise that Palestinian/Arab reactions to the 1947 UN Mandate must be taken into consideration in narrating this contested and tragic history. But in contrast to the UN Mandate, contemporary religious settlers quote Genesis 15:18-21 as their sole justification: God gave us this land. They are not disingenuous.

This raises the complex issue regarding the relation of theology to politics and legality. Some settlers disregard international law as theology trumps this form of polity. I can see their point. Christians are called to question the law when it is contrary to God’s Word. But this is precisely why the theology of Christians must be crystal clear on these decisive issues. Where will they stand in the settlers’ debate in a post-supersessionist Christianity? In Israel today there are forms of Christian Zionism that support a battle over the temple mount to precipitate a reaction that will bring in the end of the world. A responsible New (or Old) Christian Zionism cannot be developed without close attention to the differing biblical borders found in Deuteronomy 11.24, 1.7, Numbers 34.1-15 and Ezekiel 47.13-20. If God have the land, what are the borders of that land?

The issue of sovereignty also raises its head. Gerry applauds an invisible religiosity emerging in secular Israel. He may be right. I’m not able to judge. However, the visible Jewish religiosity in Israel indicates the emergence of a powerful caucus of right-wing religious parties (that currently have the highest fertility rates). They must be appeased by any secular leader of Israel if he or she is to keep power. Netanyahu’s present predicament is in part due to this fragile balancing act. In my view, many of these groups sow the seeds of conflict, not the seeds of peace, by pushing for more settlements and territorial expansion. Gerry’s position does not commit him to support these groups or this type of Jewish religiosity. But does his theology place him to offer a critique of them? I recall a Christian Palestinian asking me about the sovereignty of God when I was defending what I call a “minimalist Catholic Zionism.” Bitterly, he asked: if Catholic Zionism is God willed, are you saying that our God sanctions the loss of my homeland, the breaking up of my family, and the dejection of my people – so that another people, who call themselves ‘God’ people’ can flourish? Does God favour the sovereignty of the Jewish people over the freedom and liberty of all his peoples? I think these questions are answerable, but until they are answered clearly, it may be difficult for some Christians to be drawn into the truths of post-supersessionist theology that Gerry so ably expounds.

I close with thanks and appreciation of Gerry’s work and his great strides forward in this area.


Gavin D’Costa, Professor of Catholic Theology, University of Bristol, UK, advisor to the Vatican on interfaith matters and the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales. Author of Catholic Doctrines on the Jewish People after Vatican II, Oxford University Press, 2019

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