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, since the Middle Ages, the Christian Church has formally upheld Constitution pro Judæis (Formal Statement on the Jews), which stated:
We decree that no Christian shall use violence to force them [the Jews] to be baptized, so long as they are unwilling and refuse. ...
Despite such papal declarations, personal, economic and cultural pressure on the Jews to convert persisted, often stirred by clerics. Persecution and forcible displacements of Jews occurred for many centuries, and were regarded as not inconsistent with the papal bull because there was no "violence to force baptism". There were occasional gestures to reconciliation. Pogroms and forcible conversions were common throughout Christian Europe, including organized violence, restrictive land ownership and professional lives, forcible relocation and ghettoization, mandatory dress codes, and at times humiliating actions and torture. The object often was for the Jews to choose between conversion, migration or dying. The Church of England's Ministry Among Jewish People, founded in 1809, used non-coercive means in its outreach and missionary efforts.
Attempts by Christians to convert Jews to Christianity is an important issue in Christian-Jewish relations and Christian-Jewish reconciliation. Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League have described attempts to convert Jews to Christianity as antisemitic and have directly compared those efforts to the Holocaust. Pope Benedict XVI in 2011 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." A number of Progressive Christian denominations have publicly declared that they will no longer proselytize Jews, while other mainline Christian and conservative Christian churches have said they will continue their efforts to evangelize among Jews, saying that this is not antisemitic.
A 2008 survey of American Christians by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that over 60% of most denominations believe that Jews will receive eternal life after death alongside Christians.
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 disputed. 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 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 Catholic liturgy, a prayer for the conversion of the Jews is found in the Good Friday prayer for the Jews. The wording of the prayer has undergone numerous changes in wording, and although the specific hope of a mass conversion is not envisaged in the prayer, the 2008 version of the prayer makes reference to Romans 11:26 ("all Israel be saved"). The 2008 version of the prayer reads:
Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men... Almighty and eternal God, who want that all men be saved and come to the recognition of the truth, propitiously grant that even as the fullness of the peoples enters Thy Church, all Israel be saved. ...
A 2011 retranslation now reads:
Let us pray also for the Jewish people, to whom the Lord our God spoke first, that he may grant them to advance in love of his name and in faithfulness to his covenant... Almighty ever-living God, who bestowed your promises on Abraham and his descendants, hear graciously the prayers of your Church, that the people you first made your own may attain the fullness of redemption....
The Directory of Public Worship approved by the Westminster Assembly states that a prayer is to be made for the conversion of the Jews. The service of Vespers on Great Friday in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Byzantine Catholic churches uses the expression "impious and transgressing people", but the strongest expressions are in the Orthros of Great Friday, which includes the same phrase, but also speaks of "the murderers of God, the lawless nation of the Jews" and referring to "the assembly of the Jews", prays: "But give them, O Lord, their reward, for they devised vain things against Thee." As of 2015, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was still using the term "lawless synagogue" in their Great Friday Vespers.
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."
- Baskin, Judith R.; Seeskin, Kenneth (12 July 2010). The Cambridge Guide to Jewish History, Religion, and Culture. Cambridge University Press. p. 120. ISBN 9780521869607.
- US group denounces call by evangelical alliance for conversion of European Jews Archived July 28, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. European Jewish Press. Published September 5, 2008.
- Allen, John L. (10 March 2011). "Church should not pursue conversion of Jews, pope says". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
- 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.
- Many Americans Say Other Faiths Can Lead to Eternal Life. Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Published Dec. 18, 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.
- 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
- Oremus et pro Iudaeis: Ut Deus et Dominus noster illuminet corda eorum, ut agnoscant Iesum Christum salvatorem omnium hominum. (Oremus. Flectamus genua. Levate.) Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, qui vis ut omnes homines salvi fiant et ad agnitionem veritatis veniant, concede propitius, ut plenitudine gentium in Ecclesiam Tuam intrante omnis Israel salvus fiat. Per Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
- Second sticheron at Lord, I Have Cried. Mother Mary and Metropolitan Kallistos Ware. The Lenten Triodion. 2nd ed. South Canaan: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 2002. 612. Print.
- Second sticheron at the Aposticha. ibid, page 598.
- Third sticheron at the Beatitudes. ibid, page 589.
- Thirteenth antiphon. ibid, page 586. The phrase "plotted in vain" is drawn from Psalm 2:1.
- 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
- WELS Topical Q&A: Jews as the "chosen people", archived by Internet Archive
- WELS Topical Q&A: "All Israel will be saved" archived by Internet Archive
Jewish perspective on 2015 Vatican declaration concerning proselytization of Jews