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Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Si Fractus Fortis

I've always wondered about this and never been able to find the answer: what proportion of the Jewish people accepted Jesus as Messiah in the days of the early church?

We always talk as if the Jews as a whole "rejected Christ", but a large proportion of the people written to by Paul were presumably Jewish in origin.

Ed Peters

Exactly, Mark.

Chris Burgwald

Very well said, Mark.


Well, you see, the Jews rejected Christ the way bachelors reject marriage: those who accept Him cease to be called Jews.

Mark Brumley

I am not sure that I agree with your bachelor/husband analogy, Mary. Consider: why would accepting Jesus as the Messiah necessarily entail a Jew ceasing to be called a Jew? If anything, it would seem that those Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah are, from the Christian perspective, more Jewish for having done so, not less. If being Jewish entails fidelity to the covenant with God, and if the fulfillment of that covenant occurred in Jesus Christ, then it would seem to follow that entering into the fulfillment of the covenant is a Jewish thing for a Jew to do. How then can it entail ceasing to be called a Jew, at least from the Christian point of view?

To be sure, Jews who reject Jesus would, of course, regard being a Christian and being called a Jew as fundamentally at odds, because they regard the general rejection of Jesus by the Jews as appropriate (even though most Jews today would not see the death of Jesus as warranted by that rejection). But that's their point of view in the matter, not the Christian perspective. Why should a Christian see being a Christian and being a Jew as a contradiction?

I grant that "observant Jews" would reject the claim that they would become more Jewish and not less Jewish by accepting Jesus as the Messiah. I am saddened by the fact that there is disagreement on this matter between Christians and "observant Jews". Nevertheless, it seems an implication of what it means to profess Jesus as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, a profession inextricably tied to professing the Christian faith in Jesus. We can avoid being unduly provocative but we cannot, without betraying a fundamental and constitutive element of our faith, avoid saying that Jesus is Lord, with all that that involves concerning Jews and Judaism.


Conversion comes from grace. Grace comes from God. So we need to pray to ask for the grace of conversion. And that applies to all of us, Jew and Gentile. It was good to remove the part about "blindness," because we don't know where that blindness comes from.

But conversion is impeded by the long history of tensions and conflicts between Christians and Jews--actually, the Bible even records the disagreements between Jewish Christians and non-Jewish Christians! So there's a lot of baggage to deal with. It's tough to dialogue objectively when there's a lot of strong emotion.

The healing that Pope John Paul II greatly advanced has to continue. That's how we can cooperate with the Holy Spirit in bringing the grace of conversion. Healing doesn't mean compromise. It means mutual respect and continuing prayer.


Si Fractus Fortis:
FWIW I am not sure of my sources but I remember reading some time ago that a first century census counted between 5-6 million Jews in the Roman Empire and that a census in the fourth century counted only 1 million Jews in the Empire.
Now obviously you have the war of A.D.70 and the Bar Kochba revolt of A.D.120 and you would have to account for some absorption into the surrounding pagan populations, but still, if these numbers are accurate then perhaps a surprising number of Jews DID respond and accept Jesus as the promised Messiah.
If anyone has better numbers or a source for this let me know.

Sandra Miesel

I think it's Rodney Stark who made that observation. Jews were a sizable minority throughout the Roman Empire, the only ethnic group with a growing population since they didn't practice contraception, abortion, or exposure of unwanted infants. (The rare cases where they aborted are statistically irrelevant.)

John B

While I think the Church has gone too far out of its way to be politically correct (witness the prayer for the Jews on Good Friday in the Ordinary Form), I am personally glad that the adjective "perfidious" was removed from the Extraordinary Form by John XXIII in 1960. That, in my opinion, was a bit much. I think, however, that the 1962 Missal's Good Friday prayer for the Jews is not by its nature unneccessarily inflammatory. Let's be honest...all those who reject Christ have a veil over their hearts to some extent and are blind. The fact that the Jews were historically the first to reject Christ is simply a matter of history and is in no way a unique characteristic of the Jews. I have no problem with the Pope's revision of 1962 prayer for the Jews since it leaves the idea intact that we have to pray for the Jews and for their conversion. I agree with Mark and hope that the Ordinary Form will be revised to make more explicit this idea, not couched in some implied manner, but
forthrightly declared.


Here are Stark's numbers from the Rise of Christianity:

Christian Growth at a rate of 40%/Decade (60 million)
40 AD/1,000 Christians/.0017% of population
50 AD/1,400 Christians/.0023% of population
100 AD/7,530 Christians/.0126% of population
150 AD/40,496 Christians/.07% of population
200 AD/217,795 Christians/.36% of population
250 AD/1,171356 Christians/1.9% of population
300 AD/6,299,832 Christians/10.5% of population
350 AD/33,882,008 Christians/56.5% of population


40 AD/1,000 Christians/.0017% of population

hmmm ... So when Jesus fed the 5,000, where did most of them go?
Just wondering.


Good question, just because he fed 5,000 doesn't mean they all became his followers. Doesn't Luke point to around 80+ disciples in Acts around the time of the Resurrection?


great initial post.

Mike F.

The removal of the phrases referring to the "blindness" and the "veil over their hearts" actually removes verses from the apostle Paul's own words about the people of Israel in 2 Corinthians 3-4. (And his remarks about blindness in 2 Cor. 4:4, of course, apply to all types of unbelief and rejection of Christ, not simply that of Jews who reject Jesus as Messiah).

So it appears that the Vatican has decided that it is inappropriate for the church to pray the very language of Scripture. Is it now also inappropriate to read those verses from 2 Cor. 3-4? If those verses are read, will the priest need to give a disclaimer that the church no longer thinks that these verses are true, or at least that the church is embarrassed to speak in such a forthright manner and that the Holy Spirit should have spoken more "sensitively"? Or maybe these verses aren't inspired by the Spirit after all? And if those verses are inappropriate due to their "insensitivity," then how about the other things that the apostle Paul and Jesus and Stephen said about Jews who knowingly reject the gospel of Jesus when it is proclaimed and explained to them at length (e.g., Acts 13:46; Matthew 23; Acts 7:51)?

Mark Brumley

So it appears that the Vatican has decided that it is inappropriate for the church to pray the very language of Scripture.

With all due respect to the writer, this is a classic example of a false generalization. The Vatican has done no such thing. The Pope decided that because a particular phrase in a particular prayer in the Good Friday liturgy was being misunderstood and in fact making it more difficult for Jews to understand Christians, he removed it. There was no moral or spiritual obligation to include that phrase in the Good Friday Prayers and its removal contradicts no essential point in the prayer. The fact that other people (such as St. Stephen in Acts 7:51 cited above), in other circumstances, made blunt critical statements of their fellow Jews, doesn't mean every Christian, Gentile as well as Jew, in whatever circumstances, is justified or prudent to make the same or other blunt statements.

Bosco Peters

There's a history here:

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