Logos and the New Covenant
It is time for my annual “Christmas sermon.” Instead of sidestepping the holiday, I see the Shabbat nearest Christmas as an opportunity for us to study aspects of Christianity, especially the Jewish origins of Christianity and the development of Christian thought rooted in Jewish thought.
Many people bring their Christian family and friends to these talks. If you plan to do so, let me first share with you my approach.
I approach the New Testament in a similar way I approach the Hebrew Bible: not the very word of God, but rather written by people touched by God – a decidedly non-Orthodox and non-Evangelical reading of the texts. Second, I believe in covenantal pluralism – that just as God covenants Gods-self with the people of Israel, God may establish covenants with other peoples, as well.
Third, I believe that religious language is rooted in non-linguistic experiences deep within the soul. For theological statements to be meaningful, they have to be rooted in the realm of our inner lives where the Divine is present. I am more interested in the experiences of the soul than I am in theological articulations of the experience of the soul.
For this Shabbat, I want to discuss again the idea of the Logos. There is an ancient belief found in Greco-Roman thought and in Rabbinic thought as well, that the mind of God is the organizing principle of both the universe and the spirits of human beings. This organizing principle descends into this realm as reason and truth, in, for example, the Stoic tradition. In the Jewish tradition, the upper wisdom is expressed as Torah in this realm. Torah is the path into the inner life of God, where one finds the path to the love of God, and to God’s love for Israel. In similar fashion, in the Gospel of John, the Logos becomes flesh in Jesus, and Jesus’ teachings and his death are seen as an expression of God’s love and forgiveness.
For the second study session, I will focus on the idea of the “new covenant.” In Jeremiah 31:30-34 we find the following:
31 Behold, the days are coming, declares Adonai, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they transgressed, though I was their master, declares the Adonai. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel at the end of days, declares Adonai: I will put my Torah within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know Adonai,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares Adonai. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.
Christian theologians took this prophecy of Jeremiah as a foretelling of the new covenant that God is establishing with the Church, effectively superseding the covenant with Israel.
Even if in the Jewish tradition we interpret these verses differently from Christian theologians, the idea of a “new covenant” is compelling. What is God saying through Jeremiah? In order to understand these verses, we have to take a look at some of larger themes in the book of Jeremiah. His prophecy of the New Covenant is part of a larger set of ideas that characterize Jeremiah’s thought.
We will study the two concepts of “New Covenant” and see how they can shed light on each other.
As always, we will have time for questions on the topic of the relation between Christianity and Judaism, so come with your unsatisfied curiosity about this topic.
Happy Holidays and Shabbat Shalom!