John T. Pawlikowski, O.S.M., "Single or Double Covenant? Contemporary Perspectives," in Zev Garber and Richard Libowitz, eds., Peace, In Deed: Essays in Honor of Harry James Cargas, Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1998, pp. 147-162


Abstract by Jerry Darring


For most of its history, the church in its relations with Jews has been guided by a 'displacement theology' in which Christians replace Jews in the covenantal relationship with God. When Vatican II's Nostra Aetate undercut that theology, theologians searched for a new approach, and at first they fell back on Paul's contention that the compatibility of Christianity and Judaism remains a 'mystery.' Subsequently, theologians have begun to gather around two major models, generally referred to as the single and double covenant theories.

According to the single covenant theory, Jews and Christians belong to one covenantal tradition. Pope John Paul II has espoused this theory, as have the theologians Monika Hellwig, Paul van Buren, and Norbert Lohfink, although each presents a different twist to the model. The double covenant theory begins in the same place, affirming the continuing bonds between Jews and Christians, but it places more emphasis on Judaism and Christians as distinctive traditions and communities. Proponents of this theory include the Anglican, James Parkes, the University of Chicago biblical scholar J. Coert Rylaarsdam, as well as Clemens Thoma and Franz Mussner.

Pawlikowski prefers the double covenant perspective because it is a more faithful representation of the historical and theological relationship between Christians and Jews. He stresses, however, "that there do exist connections between this Christian sense of a new divine intimacy and developments in Second Temple Judaism" (p. 159). He concludes with reminders that all theologizing on covenant must be filtered through the experience of the Holocaust; the single vs. double covenant issue should not be overemphasized; and we should drop the seriously inadequate language of "old covenant/new covenant."