This page is an excerpt from Hans Hermann Henrix in his essay entitled The covenant has never been revoked .  For full article, please click on  this link here .

Henrix article discusses the views of two covenants, one for Judaism and one for Christianity, and the dangers and oppositions this view holds for present day Christianity.


The concept of an old and a new covenant is still perceived by many Christians to mean two divine
covenants, where the old is succeeded and surpassed by the new. They still believe that with Jesus Christ
the old covenant has been abolished and cancelled. Accordingly, the Jewish people, Israel, God's partner in
the old covenant, is seen as a kind of fossil that belonged to an earlier period of salvation history, which
does not exist anymore. They believe that Israel should actually have entered the new covenant by receiving
Jesus of Nazareth as its Messiah. Because it did not do so, it is seen as living in a vacuum as far as the
covenant is concerned: the old covenant no longer exists, and the new covenant it did not acknowledge.(1)

This concept still has its advocates in Christian theology today in a variety of either crude or more
sophisticated versions. Nevertheless, today this theology is being severely tested. It is examined and
weighed in theological discussion, where the scholars in exegetics are more in front and those in systematics
seem to be holding back.

In the Christian-Jewish dialogue, on the other hand, there is no longer any doubt that the traditional thesis
about the invalidity of the old covenant has to be abandoned. Here it has become the Shibboleth or
prerequisite for participation in serious theological dialogue between Christians and Jews. However, this
does not render superfluous the need for argument and clarification. It is still necessary. What is the Jewish
position in regards to the covenant? Is there a possibility in Christian theology to react to Jewish
self-definition? What does the church officially teach about God's covenant with Israel? I will explore these
questions in two ways, where each is prefaced by a guiding proposition.
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First Proposition

The traditional Christian understanding of an old and a new covenant faces Jewish opposition. In his
classical dialogue with Karl Ludwig Schmidt two weeks before Hitler came to power, Martin Buber
stated succinctly: "We have not been rejected!" Buber's Christian dialogue partner was unable to
take up this Jewish challenge, nor was the official teaching of the church at that time able to give an
answer. Still, the traditional thesis that the old covenant has been abandoned and is now superseded
by the new covenant shows its effects even in present-day theologies. Very few theologians are
willing to listen to what Jews say about themselves and are trying to find a positive response on the
basis of a Christian theological position.

The story of a dialogue

Martin Buber, the great Jewish thinker, interpreter and educator (1878-1965), presented the Jewish
understanding of covenant in a simple classical form. He did this during the historical dialogue with the
Protestant New Testament scholar Karl Ludwig Schmidt, on January 14, 1933, in the Jewish "Lehrhaus"
(House of Teaching) in Stuttgart, Germany. The Ordinarius for the Interpretation of the New Testament at
the Protestant Theological Faculty in Bonn had agreed with Buber: the relationship between church and
Judaism had nothing to do with the ideologies of "Volk" (peoplehood) and race, which were wildly debated
at that time. Rather, it concerned God's covenant with God's people. However, Schmidt agreed with Buber
with this reservation that he would speak of an old and a new covenant quite differently than Buber. In
discerning between the two covenants Schmidt rejected the Jewish understanding of God's covenant with
the Jewish people. He believed that the Jews were meant to enter the church, which in turn sees itself as the
people called by God in Jesus Christ to be the true spiritual Israel. Martin Buber answered by telling a story,
the moving assertion of his certainty in Judaism and his Jewishness, which is worth reading and hearing over
and over again:

"I do not live live far from the city of Worms, to which I also feel bound through the tradition of my
forebears; and from time to time I go over there. And when I'm there, I first walk to the cathedral. There
you have the harmony of structural members become visible, there is a wholeness in which no part misses
the perfection of the whole. I am walking around, envisioning the cathedral in perfect joy. And then I walk
over to the Jewish cemetery. It consists of crooked, chopped, formless gravestones, without any direction. I
put myself there and then I look up from this confusion to the beautiful harmony, and I feel as if I looked up
from Israel to the church. Down here is not a bit of form; here one has only the stones and the ashes under
the stones. One has the ashes, even though they may have diminished very much... I stood there, was united
with the ashes and right across them with the ancestors. This is remembrance of the events with God, which
is given to all Jews. The perfection of the Christian space of God cannot take me away from this, nothing
can take me away from Israel's time with God (italics by transl.). I stood there and I experienced
everything myself, death has befallen me: all the ashes, all the chopping, all the soundless misery is mine; but
the covenant has not been revoked. I'm lying on the ground, tumbled like these stones. But I have not been
rejected. The cathedral is as it is. The cemetery is as it is. But we have not been rejected."(2)

There followed no answer from the Christian dialogue partner to Buber's opposing and confessing word,
"but the covenant has not been revoked." Considering his previously presented positions the answer could
only have been a denial of Buber's confession. It would have been based on New Testament statements -
perhaps on 2 Corinthians 3, where Paul speaks about the paleness and transitoriness of the service of the
covenant carved in stone (the Sinai covenant) and where he uses the term "old covenant" (verses 4-18),
which occurs only here in the New Testament. Accordingly, in the eighth chapter of the letter to the
Hebrews it states, "If that first covenant had been without a fault, there would have been no need for a
second one to replace it... By speaking of a new covenant, he implies that the first one is already old. Now
anything old only gets more antiquated until in the end it disappears," (verses 7 and 13).

It appears that the confession of Buber, "but the covenant has not been terminated," is in conflict with the
statements of the New Testament. The New Testament scholar, Karl Ludwig Schmidt, who only a short
time later came into conflict with the Nazi regime and had to immigrate to Switzerland, would probably have
argued in this fashion. But also the official Catholic position of the time would have been a rejection of
Buber's claim. This rejection can be explained by pointing to a long forgotten event.

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