Conversion of the Jews
The widespread conversion of the Jews to Christianity is a future event predicted by many Christians, often as an end time event. Some Christian groups consider the conversion of the Jews to be imperative and pressing and make it their mission to bring this about. However, efforts to convert Jews to Christianity are sometimes regarded as antisemitic. A number of Progressive Christian denominations have publicly declared that they will no longer proselytize Jews. Other mainline Christian and conservative Christian churches have said they will continue their efforts to evangelize among Jews, claiming that this is not anti-semitic.
In the New Testament
The biblical basis for this expectation is found in Romans 11:25-26a:
- I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved... (NIV).
The meaning of Romans 11:25-26a has been a source of dispute. Douglas J. Moo calls Romans 11:26a "the storm center in the interpretation of Romans 9-11 and of New Testament teaching about the Jews and their future." Moo himself interprets the passage as predicting a "large-scale conversion of Jewish people at the end of this age" through "faith in the gospel of Jesus their Messiah".
Pope Benedict XVI in his book Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week (2011) has suggested that the church should not be targeting Jews for conversion efforts, since "Israel is in the hands of God, who will save it ‘as a whole’ at the proper time."
In church history
Throughout the history of the Christian church, there have been times when people predicted or expected the conversion of the Jews as an imminent event. Most famous among these is Martin Luther's early enthusiasm that the event would occur through Protestant gospel preaching. When this did not occur, Luther changed his attitude and wrote his infamous work On the Jews and Their Lies, in which he appears to reject the possibility of Jewish conversion.
Other Protestant Reformers accepted the idea of a conversion of the Jews, including Martin Bucer, Peter Martyr and Theodore Beza. It was a popular idea among the Puritans. Puritan works on the subject included The Calling of the Jews (William Gouge, 1621), Some Discourses upon the Point of the Conversion of the Jews (Moses Wall, 1650) and The Mystery of Israel's Salvation Explained and Applied (Increase Mather, 1669). There was disagreement over when this conversion would take place – a significant minority, beginning with Thomas Brightman (1607) and Elnathan Parr (1620) predicted a Jewish conversion before the end of time, one that would inaugurate an era of worldwide blessing. The view of an era of blessing preceding the return of Christ became known as postmillennialism.
The conversion of the Jews continued to be the hope of British evangelicals in the 18th and 19th centuries. Iain Murray says of Charles Simeon that "the conversion of the Jews was perhaps the warmest interest in his life", and that he would choose the conversion of 6 million Jews over the conversion of 600 million Gentiles, since the former would lead to the latter. It was also a key concern of the Church of Scotland, which in 1839 sent Robert Murray M'Cheyne and Andrew Bonar to Palestine on a "Mission of Inquiry into the state of the Jews".
The conversion of the Jews plays a part in some, but not all, premillennial dispensationalist thinking. Hal Lindsey, one of the most popular American promoters of dispensationalism, has written in The Late Great Planet Earth that per Ezekiel (39:6-8), after Jews fight off a "Russian" invasion, Jews will see this as a miracle and convert to Christianity.
On occasions people have predicted a specific date for this event to occur. Henry Archer, for example, in his 1642 work The Personall Reigne of Christ Upon Earth, predicted the conversion of the Jews to occur in the 1650s, 1290 years (a number derived from Daniel 12:11) after Julian the Apostate.
In Christian liturgy
A prayer of the conversion of the Jews is found in the Good Friday prayer for the Jews in Catholic liturgy. Although the specific hope of a mass conversion is not envisaged in this prayer, the 2008 version of this prayer makes reference to Romans 11:26: propitiously grant that even as the fullness of the peoples enters Thy Church, all Israel be saved...
The conversion of the Jews is occasionally used in literature as a symbol of the far distant future. In Andrew Marvell's poem To His Coy Mistress, it says, "And you should, if you please, refuse / Till the conversion of the Jews."
- US group denounces call by evangelical alliance for conversion of European Jews (Archive). European Jewish Press. Published September 5, 2008.
- Ecumenical Considerations on Jewish-Christian Dialogue (World Council of Churches)
- Policies of mainline and liberal Christians towards proselytizing Jews (religioustolerance.org)
- Why Evangelize the Jews? By Stan Guthrie. Christianity Today. Published March 25, 2008.
- Moo, Douglas J. (1996). The Epistle to the Romans. Eerdmans. p. 719.
- Moo, p. 724.
- Moo, p. 726.
- Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week. Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor. 2011. ISBN 978-1-58617-500-9.
- Allen, John L. (10 March 2011). "Church should not pursue conversion of Jews, pope says". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
- Graham Noble, "Martin Luther and German anti-Semitism," History Review (2002) No. 42:1-2.
- Robert Michael, "Christian racism, part 2", H-Net Discussions Networks, 2 Mar 2000.
- Murray, Iain (1971). The Puritan Hope. Banner of Truth Trust. p. 41.
- Murray, The Puritan Hope, 44-45.
- Murray, The Puritan Hope, 45-46.
- Murray, The Puritan Hope, 155.
- Hal Lindsey, Carole C. Carlson, The Late Great Planet Earth, Zondervan, 1970, p. 167, ISBN 0-310-27771-X, 9780310277712
- See Paris Review (Spring 1958, No. 18). The story was also published a year later in Philip Roth, Goodbye, Columbus, and Five Short Stories (1959)
Confessional Lutheran perspective