Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

Mormons, Christians, Jews

Posted by joespencer on April 26, 2007

Reading recently through a very broad (and wonderfully aware) summary of the past five centuries of Old Testament theology, I was struck by how vital the question of supersessionism is for Christian and Jewish interpreters of the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament. I suppose the reason this struck me at all is because Mormonism pays no attention to it, really (though was it Signature Books who published a whole volume dedicated to the interrelations between Mormons and Jews?). And that led me to ask why it is that we pay no attention to this question. I suppose I see several possible reasons. I’d like to summarize them briefly, and then to ask some questions about what role this “ought” to play in Mormon thought–but more especially in the LDS classroom.

(Supersessionism: The belief that Christianity supersedes Judaism in one way or another. And note the political ramifications of this question, especially in the 20th century….)

Possibility #1 – Mormons pay no attention to supersessionism because they are (now, at any rate) generally politically oriented by conservative thought, which does not discuss supersessionism (especially in fundamentalist Christian circles, where supersessionism could be said to reign supreme–and Mormons are often lumped in with fundamentalists in a lot of ways).

Possibility #2 – Mormons do pay attention to supersessionism, but the larger Mormon writing establishment does not because it is relatively unsophisticated (Deseret Book does not pay attention to supersessionism?).

Possibility #3 – Mormons do not pay attention to supersessionism because the LDS scriptures uniquely diffuse the very question.

Possibility #4 – Mormons do not pay attention to what is usually called supersessionism because Mormons are more concerned with the question of whether/how Mormonism is a supersession of Christianity than they are with the question of whether/how Christianity superseded Judaism.

Of these three, let me state that I am most fascinated by the third, mostly because I’m about the least politically interested person you will ever meet, nor am I interested in what might be called “Mormon politics.” At the same time, I recognize that Mormonism is a complex, ultimately composite beast, and that means that we have inherited many supersessionist assumptions (which simply appear in our writings and teachings–teachings in the classroom sense, not institutional sense–unacknowledged), even as there are many members of the Church who are probably very aware of these issues.

At any rate, I’d like to raise a couple of questions in response to this ambiguity:

First, what is the relationship between Mormonism and supersessionism? And this question is really two: on the one hand, where does Mormonism now stand with regard to supersessionism?; and on the other hand, where do our scriptures and the teachings of the Brethren place us with regard to the same?

Second, what role does supersessionism play in our classrooms (perhaps in both its manifestations), and how would things change if we were to overcome that?

Third–and this is the real difficult question, I think: Is Mormonism a “Quest for Refuge,” a flight from pluralism; or is it possible for Mormonism to dwell quite peaceably in a pluralist society?

(Reading back through this post, I’m realizing how much of a preliminary brainstorm it is. I apologize for that. Feel free to harangue me for its contents, but please recognize that I’m simply more lazy than offensive/ignorant/unthoughtful/supersessionist.)

19 Responses to “Mormons, Christians, Jews”

  1. Nitsav said

    I suspect another option accounts for the lack of discussion- Most Mormons are simply (I say this in a non-pejorative way) ignorant of this and other issues, like textual criticism.

    But I suspect #3 really has something to it. Supersessionism, in my superficial understanding of it, says that Gods covenant with Abraham is no longer in effect.

    Relevant to the issue of the covenant with the Abrahamic descendants, then, is 2 Nephi 30:2.

    “I say unto you that as many of the Gentiles as will repent are the covenant people of the Lord; and as many of the Jews as will not repent shall be cast off; for the Lord covenanteth with none save it be with them that repent and believe in his Son, who is the Holy One of Israel.”

  2. nhilton said

    Joe, Interesting post. Thank you.

    You may think this question is unaddressed by Mormons, but I believe it is inherent in our thinking–those who think. Not the “them then” & “us now” mentality, but rather an evolution of the covenanent and gospel progression. I believe that any student of history, especially a Mormon, sees the flow of religious authority and revelation, noting the essentialness of Judiasm coming to bloom in Christianity. The lack of discussion seems to me due to a lack of necessity, your Possibility #3.

    #4 may be at play here, too.

    As LDS I feel very “secretly” connected to the Jews. I feel a “hands-off” policy in their regard…like we’re all holding our breath for them to evolve into Mormons. On the other hand, I feel a sibling rivalry between LDS & other Christians as we compete for converts and supremacy.

    Your third question seems well addressed by President Hinckley as he invites those from other churches to bring what they have and let us add to it the fulness of the gospel.

  3. TT said

    I agree with Nitzav that Mormons don’t discuss this issue primarily because they are ignorant about it. However, I disagree that this means that they are not supersessionists! We are not only supersessionists, but super-dupersessionists. We think that our new revelation supersedes everything that came before.

  4. robf said

    Wow Joe, lots to chew on here. What do you see as the relationship between Mormon dispensationalism and supersessionalism? Is the difference between restoration and supersession important?

  5. Ben McGuire said

    One thing I think which may cloud the issue is that Mormonism in general tends to think of itself as an expression of true religion. It sees Adam as having true religion and perhaps every prophet including Moses as being a part of this true religion. So there isn’t a strong sense of replacing anything so much as being a true restoration movement. This point of view doesn’t see itself replacing Jewish faith so much as being (or becoming) the Jewish faith that ought to have been, and so on.

  6. Kevin Barney said

    The Book you are thinking of is Steven Epperson’s Mormons and Jews: Early Mormon Theologies of Israel (SLC: Signature, 1992). It has long been out of print, so Signature very helpfully has placed the entire text online:

    http://www.signaturebookslibrary.org/Jews/jewsch1.htm

    On your question re: supersessionism, I think there are different strands of thought. Most Mormons came out of a Protestant background, and brought their supersessionist assumptions with them. The Law has been fulfilled and was a schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, etc.

    On the other hand, we also have a strand that stresses Christ’s eternal gospel, which was taught even to Adam in the beginning. So we tend to be more OT-centric than other Christians and feel free(r) to draw from that source for legitimate religious institutions (see priesthood, temples, polygamy, etc.).

    I liked the Epperson book, and he actually talks about the different strains of thought that existed side by side in Mormonism (the more conventional Protestant thinking in the case of Oliver Cowdery, Brigham Young and others, and the more radical embrace of Judaistic ideas by Joseph Smith and others). There are some problems with the book; in some respects he is describing an ideal rather than the full reality of the religion on the ground. But it is an appealing ideal, and I would recommend the book.

  7. BrianJ said

    Joe: Thanks for the interesting post, but I wish you would stop making up many-syllabled words just to confuse me. {smile} Along those lines, I think it is very possible that some of the Mormons that seem ignorant/haven’t thought about this issue are actually just ignorant of the technical terms.

    I don’t mean to sound doubtful of Nitsav, but could anyone verify this statement: “Supersessionism…says that God’s covenant with Abraham is no longer in effect.” I realize that there may be many different versions of supersessionism, but please include that info (if possible) in your response. If true, then that alone is the end of Mormonism and Supersessionism (in my mind).

  8. Kevin Barney said

    Oops, I mischaracterized Brigham Young, who is in the same camp as Joseph Smith and Orson Hyde. The more conventional supersessionist camp would include Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery, Orson Pratt and John Taylor.

  9. Interesting responses (one learns a lot about what one posts by reading the responses)….

    Several things have got me thinking about all of this, but most important is probably my work on typology. See, typology was a hot topic in Germany about fifty years ago, but it has again, for the most part, disappeared from OT theological discourse, precisely because it implies a supersessionist program (it appears plenty in fundamentalist publications). Brueggemann offers up the contours, I think, of typology (with profuse apologies), but I’m not sure really to what extent his model of it is different from von Rad’s or Zimmerli’s of fifty years ago (if they were supersessionist…). But see this question forces Mormons who hold to the Book of Mormon with its explicit discussion of typology to weigh in on this question, doesn’t it? I mean, we believe in a typological relationship between Jesus (in all His historical particularity) and the Mosaic Law, so aren’t we supersessionist by definition? But then 3 Nephi 15 encloses that typological relationship within a larger framework of the Abrahamic covenant (so, by the way, does the title page of the Book of Mormon: the book is primarily to teach the children of the promises made to the fathers, and also to show that Jesus is the Christ). So does that mean that we do not affirm a supersession of Judaism, but only of the Law? Yet cf. Chadwick’s recent articles on the Law and pharisaism, etc.

    So here is what is, then, behind my possibility #3: might our scriptures ultimately teach that the atonement is not an end but a means? And might that be the real distance between Mormonism and Christianity broadly speaking? We are profoundly Christian in that we worship Christ, but we are profoundly Judaic in that we see the Christian dispensation as revitalizing and renewing the promises made to the fathers. Would such a view diffuse the very question of supersessionism (on both accounts)? That is, we could not regard Christianity as a supersession of Judaism, nor could we understand Mormonism as a supersession of Judaism, because we take Mormonism to be a full embracing of both in a previously unarticulated interrelation.

    Which brings me to Rob’s mention of dispensationalism. What do we mean by the term?

  10. Robert C. said

    Joe, I’m not sure I buy your assumption that Mormons pay no attention to this issue of supersessionism. Here is wikipedia’s summary of different supersessionist views, and I think most Mormons would agree with many of the views described there (based largely on Bruce R. McConkie’s writings, I would guess). Now, if you mean that Mormons haven’t entered into interfaith dialogue on this issue, then I think this is just a manifestation of a much larger phenomenon (i.e. the lack of Mormon interfaith dialogue in general).

    In support of your Possibility #3, I think the very explicit predictions in the BOM about the coming of Christ and the “temporary” (i.e. to-be-fulfilled) nature of the Law of Moses indeed make for a distinct Mormon view, but a view that has much in common with other superssessionist views, not radically different. Similarly, I think the Mormon scriptural passages which mention the Abrahamic Covenant are presented in such a way that makes Christ part of the fulfilment of that covenant (both as the mortal Messiah and the millenial Messiah—I’m using McConkie terms here b/c I think he’s written the most on these topics amongst Mormon authors, though I’m only alluding to McConkie here, not saying I agree with him…), so again I think it’s wrong to say we don’t have supersessionist views, we just haven’t entered into the inter-faith dialogue on this issue (esp. scholarly inter-faith dialogue—that is, it seems to me we have seen, with only a few notable exceptions, the beginnings of Mormon scholarship come about only in the last couple decades, and this has been overwhelmingly focused on Mormon history, not theology or scriptural interpretation…).

  11. Robert C. said

    (Sorry, I got distracted after I started my comment above and didn’t refresh so I missed several other posts saying similar things….)

    I’d like to reiterate BrianJ’s point in comment #7, that I think many members actually have surprisingly sophisticated views on these matters, they just don’t bother writing them down. Since I began studying scholarly writings on scripture, over and over I’ve been very impressed with how carefully and thoughtfully many members actually do read scripture and think about theological issues such as this.

    Joe, I see only a small distance between my comment above, that Christ is part of the fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant, and your comment, that the Atonement is a means rather than an end—would you agree or am I misreading you?

  12. Gilgamesh said

    I think it is #3

    I would argue that we are not ignorant, but the prphets have noted that the covenant with the Jews is still in effect – it cannot be superceded if it is still recognized. The church is mainly God’s interaction with 1 tribe of Israel – Judaism is God’s interaction with another tribe of Israel. Different covenants, but it will all come together in the end when the Messiah comes/returns.

    According to Epperson, Joseph Smith had a clear “hands off” policy toward evangelizing the Jews. This was due to their covenant still being in effect until the return of Christ. – In fact, if we are waiting for the sons of Levio to sacrifice again, we may be the tribe that is superceded by the old Jewish rituals.

  13. nhilton said

    I don’t think this is an issue of tribes, tho the “hands off” policy might sway us to think in these terms. This is an issue of who God’s people are. Who are they? That, I believe, is the question EVERYONE is asking and trying to answer, almost like the question posed by the disciples in Matt. 18:1 (Maybe that was what instigated Joe’s post?): “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” With the answer to that question in mind, it’s those who COME TO JESUS who are part of this covenant or who are labeled as “the house of Israel,” Jew & ethnically Gentile. This “coming” is a process, tho many LDS view themselves as having “come.” Knowing that it isn’t over “until the fat lady sings” puts EVERYTHING in a better perspective, basically making the superceded issue irrelevant, once again, in support of Joe’s #3 hypothesis. This view also makes living side by side with our Christian neighbors equally comfortable and void of contending over “who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” I absolutely love Matt.17:27 as the God of the universe goes out of his way to avoid giving offense and pays tribute to an earthly king by paying a TEMPLE tax–ironic! This is a model, along with the following chapter, of how we should interact with the other inhabitants on this planet, instead of contending for any kind of supremacy.

  14. Robert,

    Your first statement (in #10) sounds like a weaving together of possibilities 1 and 2, which may well be.

    As for how close our interpretations of #3 are… I’m not sure. I think I’m reading the means as more means-ish and the end as more end-ish than you are, but I hardly want to get technical!

    I need to do some more thinking.

    By the way Brian, Robert, et al., I do agree that there are many in the Church who are very aware of these kinds of issues, but I suppose by “Mormonism” I am thinking of the public testimony the Church (through but also apart from its members) sets forth (I’m reading Brueggemann, and his way of dealing with testimony–relying to some extent on the work of Coady–is really appealing I think… and this is to some degree behind my caricature).

  15. cherylem said

    My friend Rabbi Mark Kinzer, in his book Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism, addresses supersessionism from a Jewish point of view. I thought you might find this interesting (I’d tell you what he says in the rest of his book but I’ve only just begun it):

    p. 12
    Despite its title, this is not mainly a book about Messianic Judaism. Instead, it is a book about the ekklesia – the community of those who believe in Yeshua the Messiah – and its relationship to the Jewish people. It is a book about supersessionism and the ecclesiological implications of its repudiation. Supersessionism teaches that the ekklesia replaces the Jewish people as the elect community in covenant with God, in whom the divine presence resides and through whom the divine purpose is realized in the world. According to this traditional Christian view, the church is the new and spiritual Israel, fulfilling the role formerly occupied by “carnal” Israel. In the decades since the Holocaust, many Christians have repudiated this teaching. However, it would appear that few have learned to read the New Testament in a non-supersessionist manner. . .

    p. 13
    First, postmissionary Messianic Judaism summons Messianic Jews to live an observant Jewish life as an act of covenant fidelity rather than missionary expediency.

    p. 14
    Second, postmissionary Messianic Judaism embraces the Jewish people and its religious tradition, and discovers God and the Messiah in the midst of Israel. Messianic Jews with this orientation discern the hidden sanctifying reality of Yeshua already residing at the center of Jewish life and religious tradition. They understand their inner mission as the call to be a visible sign of this hidden messianic presence . . . it testifies to a reality already internal to Jewish life . . .

    p. 15
    Third, postmissionary Messianic Judaism serves the (Gentile) Christian church by linking it to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, thereby confirming its identity as a multinational extension of the people of Israel.

    For more information regarding Rabbi Kinzer and Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism, see http://www.cza-annarbor.org/. There are plenty of links via this site to keep you reading for awhile.

  16. cherylem said

    One of the reasons I posted on Moses Maimonides (NT Lesson #14, comment #57), was to perhaps give us a link to the Tree of Life = Torah, as Maimonides believed. Indeed, I do believe the Torah is one aspect of the Tree of LIfe. I believe Kinzer speaks a spiritual truth (but not the only truth) when he brings us back full circle to Judaism as the original and still on-going revelation.

  17. nhilton said

    #16, what post are you referencing. There aren’t 57 comments on NT #14. I’m interested in what you’re speaking of here re: Torah=tree of life.

  18. Cherylem said

    Nhilton:

    It is NT lesson #14: Can Mercy Rob Justice?

  19. Robert C. said

    I got about 3/4 of the way through a very interesting 60 minute talk (+20 minute Q&aA) that is avaialbe on mp3 here. The first part discusses Karl Barth’s take on Romans 9-11 and the 2nd part is the speaker’s reflections on the implications for supercessionism, typology, etc. It’s not great quality audio, but I was able to understand most of it in my car.

    Very, very roughly, it seems Barth believed that the Church should be viewed as an integral part of Israel, and that the Gospel going to the Gentiles was a part of the original covenant with Israel (i.e. “bless many nations”), and that Jews will join the Church someday and that all of this is in accordance with a consistent doctrine of election and grace. These ideas are perhaps foreshadowed in his original book on Paul, but mostly developed in Church Dogmatics II.2. The Q&A after the talk focuses on the problem Barth poses for Jewish-Christian interfaith dialogue, issues that I think are also inherent in Mormonism….

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