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Scott Hahn and God's Covenant with Israel

Covenants - Robert Sungenis, Ph.D. May 16, 2012

with Israel Covenants - Robert Sungenis, Ph.D. May 16, 2012 The other day I was doing

The other day I was doing some research on the Old Covenant and came across the book written by Roy Schoeman titled Honey from the Rock, published in 2007 by Ignatius Press.

I was taken aback to find this statement by Dr. Scott Hahn on the back cover as a blurb to promote Schoeman’s book:

“God’s covenant with Israel was neither revoked nor abolished. It was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and Honey from the Rock is a powerful proof of that fulfillment.”

This is similar to another statement Hahn made on the covenant five years earlier. In an article in the U.S. News Post-Gazette of August 14, 2002, Ann Rodgers-Melnick, Post-Gazette Staff Writer, quotes Hahn as saying:

The covenant God made with the Jews “is still binding. Yes it is not revoked, and yes, the Jewish people are witnesses of the kingdom…”[1]

When I was previously dealing with the Old Covenant issue back in 2007-2008 when my efforts to educate Catholics on the superseding of the Old Covenant led to the USCCB finally removing the heretical sentence from page 131 of its 2006 US Catholic Catechism for Adults, and when I was being attacked relentlessly by Leon Suprenant of Catholics United for the Faith and other people associated with them, I apparently missed one of the most important links in the chain that led to the erroneous view of Israel presently having a covenant with God. The above quotes seem to lead back to Scott Hahn himself.

Over the last 16 years I have dealt with Dr. Hahn on a variety of subjects. Although Dr. Hahn, at my request, wrote the Foreword to my 1997 book Not By Faith Alone, that was about as close as I would be able to coalesce with him theologically. Even at the writing of NBFA we had problems. One of the theological issues that brought Hahn into the Catholic Church was his belief that the “works of the law” (Romans 3:28) referred only to the ceremonial law of Israel, not the moral or civil laws. He believed he had the perfect answer to Martin Luther who said that the “works of the law” refers to the whole law, not just the ceremonial law. I told Hahn he was wrong to go in that direction. The Catholic Church has always taught that the “works of the law” referred to the whole Mosaic law, not just its ceremonial provisions. Although Dr. Hahn claimed he had evidence for his view from the Church Fathers, each one that I examined out of the half dozen he amassed did not teach what Hahn was claiming. In particular, one quote Dr. Hahn had heavily relied upon from Jerome, to this very day, has never been produced. It took about seven years, but Hahn finally admitted he was not seeing the issue clearly when he stated in his Romans commentary published by Ignatius in 2003 that we can also understand “works of the law” as referring to the whole law. I commend him for at least coming half-way on the


But Dr. Hahn’s dealing with the “works of the law” issue revealed a fundamental flaw in his thinking about the Mosaic covenant. When Dr. Hahn claimed that the “works of the law” referred only to the ceremonial law and not the whole law of Moses, he was making an artificial bifurcation of the Mosaic law which permitted the ceremonial portion to be abolished but not the civil or moral laws. This confusion led, in part, to the error we see above, namely, Hahn declaring that the “God’s covenant with Israel was neither abolished or abrogated.”

The error is caused by Dr. Hahn’s failure to recognize the difference between the legal abrogation of the Mosaic law and the continued practical application of the Mosaic law under the jurisdiction of the New Covenant. Before I address that fundamental issue, I will show that the Church has always taught that the Mosaic law, in toto, has been abolished, and, for the sake of argument, I am referring to the legal abolition of the Mosaic Law.

Official Magisterial Statements

Pope Piux XII, Mystici Corporis Christi, 29-30: “…the New Testament took the place of the Old Law which had been abolished…but on the gibbet of His death Jesus made void the Law with its decrees fastened the handwriting of the Old Testament to the Cross. On the Cross then the Old Law died, soon to be buried and to be a bearer of death, in order to give way to the New Testament of which Christ had chosen the Apostles as qualified ministers.”

The Catechism of the Council of Trent: Part III: The Decalogue: “With regard to the exposition of this Commandment, the faithful are carefully to be taught how it agrees with, and how it differs from the others, in order that they may understand why we observe and keep holy not Saturday but Sunday. The point of difference is evident. The other Commandments of the Decalogue are precepts of the natural law, obligatory at all times and unalterable. Hence, after the abrogation of the Law of Moses, all the Commandments contained in the two tables are observed by Christians, not indeed because their observance is commanded by Moses, but because they are in conformity with nature which dictates obedience to them.”[3]

Council of Florence: “that the matter pertaining to the law of the Old Testament, of the Mosaic law…although they were suited to the divine worship at that time, after our Lord’s coming had been signified by them, ceased, and the sacraments of the New Testament began.”[4]

Pope Urban VIII, Profession of Orthodox Faith, 1642: “Similarly, we profess that the legalities of the Old Testament, the ceremonies of the Mosaic Law, the rites, sacrifices, and sacraments have ceased at the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ; they cannot be observed without sin after the promulgation of the Gospel. The distinction of clean and unclean foods found in the old Law pertains to the ceremonies which have passed away with the rise of the Gospel. The Apostles' prohibition on food offered to idols, blood, and the meat of strangled animals was suitable at that time to remove cause for disagreement between Jews and Gentiles; but since the reason for this prohibition has ceased to be, the prohibition too has come to an end.”

Pope Benedict XV, Ex Quo, 63: “The second consideration is that although the ceremonial precepts of the old Law have come to an end with the promulgation of the Gospel, and the new Law does not contain any precept which distinguishes between clean and unclean foods, nevertheless the Church of Christ has the power of renewing the obligation to observe some of the old precepts for just and serious reasons, despite their abrogation by the new


The Fathers (representative sample of their consensus):

St. John Chrysostom: “Yet surely Paul’s object everywhere is to annul this Law….And with much reason; for it was through a fear and a horror of this that the Jews obstinately opposed grace” (Homily on Romans, 6:12); “And so while no one annuls a man’s covenant, the covenant of God after four hundred and thirty years is annulled; for if not that covenant but another instead of it bestows what is promised, then is it set aside, which is most unreasonable” (Homily on Galatians, Ch 3);

St. Augustine: “Instead of the grace of the law which has passed away, we have received the grace of the gospel which is abiding; and instead of the shadows

and types of the old dispensation, the truth has come by Jesus Christ. Jeremiah also prophesied thus in God’s name: ‘Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of ’


partakers in any former covenant, but to the Jewish nation. He who has given them the law by Moses, promises in place of it the New Covenant of the gospel, that they might no longer live in the oldness of the letter, but in the newness of the spirit” (Letters, 74, 4);

Justin Martyr: Now, law placed against law has abrogated that which is before it, and a covenant which comes after in like manner has put an end to the previous one; and an eternal and final law – namely, Christ – has been given to us, and the covenant is trustworthy…Have you not read…by Jeremiah, concerning this same new covenant, He thus speaks: ‘Behold, the days come,’ says the Lord, ‘that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…’” (Dialogue with Trypho, Ch 11).

Scripture’s Testimony:

Hebrews 7:18: “On the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (RSV)”

In context, the Mosaic law is being addressed. The words “set aside” is the Greek word athetesis. On this word, the following Greek lexicons give its meaning:

Observe what the prophet says, not to Gentiles, who had not been

• The Friberg Analytical Lexicon: “as a legal technical term annulment, setting aside as being no longer in force.”

• The Louw-Nida Greek English Lexicon: “to refuse to recognize the validity of something; to reject; to regard as invalid; annulment.”

• Thayer’s Greek English lexicon: “abolition.”

• Moulton-Milligan’s Vocabulary of the New Testament: “The force of athetesis in Heb 7:18; 9:26 is well brought out by Deismann’s reference (BS p. 228f.) to the technical legal formula in the papyri…”

• Gingrich’s Greek NT lexicon: “annulment technical legal term Hb 7:18; removal 9:26.”

• Bauer’s Greek-English lexicon: “1. Annulment legal…a former commandment is annulled Hb 7:18.

• Schaff points out that Chrysostom, a Greek father who knew Greek very well, used “athetesis” in his commentary on Heb 7:18. Hebrews 10:9: “He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. (RSV)

With the Mosaic covenant still in context, St. Paul refers to it as being “abolished,” which is the Greek word “anairei.” The above lexicons reveal the following:

• The Friberg Analytical Lexicon: “take away; do away with; destroy; of persons kill, murder, usually in a violent way.

• The Louw-Nida Greek English Lexicon: “to kill; do away with; to remove or withdraw the validation of something; to abolish; to invalidate; to do away with.”

• Thayer’s Greek English lexicon: “to take away; abolish.”

• Moulton-Milligan’s Vocabulary of the New Testament: “kill; destroy.”

• Gingrich’s Greek NT lexicon: “take away; abolish; do away with; kill.”

• Bauer’s Greek-English lexicon: “take away, do away with, destroy.”

Hebrews 8:13: “In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (RSV)

Here St. Paul is quoting from the time of Jeremiah when the Mosaic covenant was still in force but slowly waning as the Jews went off into the Babylonian captivity, says: “When he says New, he has made old the first, and that which is made old and growing aged is near vanishing away.” This coincides perfectly with Hebrews 7:18 and 10:9 which state that when Christ came the annulment of the Mosaic covenant was complete.

Let’s look at how the English language defines the words in question:

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary:

Revoke : To bring or call back; to annul by recalling or taking back; rescind, cancel, repeal, retract; 2. revoke indicates an annulling or abrogating.

• Abrogate: to abolish by authoritative, official or fermal action; annul, repeal; to put an end to; do away with; set aside.

Abolish: to do away with wholly; annul; to destroy completely. The World Book Dictionary:

Revoke: to take back; repeal; cancel; withdraw

• Supersede: to take the place of; cause to be set aside; displace; replace;

So we can easily see that the Magisterium, the Tradition and the Scripture all testify to the fact that the Mosaic Law has been completely abolished. Although at times the Church focused on the abolition of the ceremonial law due to certain issues it was confronting, at all other times the Church stated that the entire Mosaic law was abolished.

So why does Dr. Hahn insist above that the Mosaic Law, or, as he calls it, “God’s Covenant with Israel,” has not been abolished and is still binding? There are two reasons:

1. 1)A fundamental misunderstanding of the legal nature of covenants

2. 2)A misapplication of the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:17-18

Let’s deal with the first problem. When the Magisterium, Tradition and Scripture state that the Mosaic covenant has been “abolished,” they are referring to the

legal dimension of the Mosaic covenant, not its practical application for today. The problem is that most Catholic apologists today have not been educated to this distinction and thus confusion reigns regarding the Old Covenant.

The best way to explain the difference is to give an example. When one is around 17 years old, one can obtain a driver’s license. The driver’s license is the legal document that authorizes one to drive on US roads. Prior to obtaining a driver’s license, the US does not recognize you as being able to drive, even though you might be quite capable of doing so. If one’s driver’s license is revoked (or annulled, abolished, abrogated, canceled, etc.), then one is not permitted to drive on US roads. When the license is revoked, the person still has the knowledge and ability to drive, but he is not permitted to do so. He might drive his car in his backyard, but he cannot drive it on US roads. This explains the difference between having the knowledge and ability to do something, but not being legally permitted to use it.

Let’s take another example – marriage. Marriage is the legal union of a man and a woman. Once married, they are legally permitted to live together and produce children. In fact, they must obtain a marriage license in order to get married. After the marriage, the society recognizes that this man and woman are legally bound to each other such that only another legal act would be able to annul or abolish the marriage. If they fall out of love with each, it makes no difference as to the legality of the marriage. The marriage is not established at the time the couple fell in love. They loved each other many months or even years before they got married. Likewise, the couple may still have a personal relationship after they become divorced even though, legally speaking, they are no longer married. The personal relationship becomes very important and practical when dealing with the children of a divorce. In other words, the divorced parents can draw from their personal relationship the things needed to care for the children even though the marriage is dissolved. In the same way, the Church can draw from the principles of the Mosaic covenant for use in the New Covenant even though the Mosaic covenant, legally, no longer has any power.

Let’s take a third example: the European Magna Carta document of the 1200s and the United States Constitution of 1700s. The US Constitution is the legal document that adjudicates among the US’s three branches of government. The Magna Carta did something similar in the 1200s but it was later revoked in the 1800s. Even though revoked, the Magna Carta contained principles of law and government that were considered good. So, when the founding fathers wrote the US Constitution they incorporated many of the Magna Carta’s good principles. They did not appeal to the Magna Carta as having any legal authority but only that it contained good principles upon which the US Constitution could be based.

In this example, the Magna Carta is like the Mosaic covenant. The Mosaic covenant contained good laws, but the covenant itself was legally terminated

when Jesus died on the cross. When the Church established the New Covenant, it incorporated some of the good laws from the Mosaic covenant. This did not mean that the Mosaic covenant still had legal force. It only meant that the New Covenant, which now was the only covenant that had legal authority, could authorize the use of Mosaic laws as it saw fit, and, of course, reject others that it deemed unfit.

On this point concerning the legal abolishing but practical usage of the Mosaic law, the Church has made herself very clear. Along with all the statements in the Magisterium, Tradition and Scripture that the Mosaic law has been abolished, the Church has also stated that it has the authority to use some of those laws in the New Covenant. Pope Benedict XV said as much in Ex Quo Singulari when he stated:

“The second consideration is that although the ceremonial precepts of the old Law have come to an end with the promulgation of the Gospel, and the new Law does not contain any precept which distinguishes between clean and unclean foods, nevertheless the Church of Christ has the power of renewing the obligation to observe some of the old precepts for just and serious reasons, despite their abrogation by the new Law.”

No clearer words have been said to explain the relationship between the legal abrogation of the Mosaic law in contrast to its continued use in the New Covenant.

Other Catholic sources say much the same:

1566 Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part II, X, The Commandments of God:

His opening pronouncement, therefore, had a solemnity that he intended to be impressive. "Do not imagine," he said, "that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them" (Mt. 5:17). So far from abrogating the covenant demands of God from his people, Christ came to intensify the moral imperatives by bringing them to perfection, i.e., to reveal the full intention of the divine lawgiver.

1993, Pontifical Biblical Commission, Interpretation of the Bible, III, C

Although Christ established the New Covenant in his blood, the books of the First Covenant have not lost their value. Assumed into the proclamation of the Gospel, they acquire and display their full meaning in the "mystery of Christ" (Eph 3:4); they shed light upon multiple aspects of this mystery, while in

turn being illuminated by it themselves. These writings, in fact, served to prepare the people of God for his coming (cf Dei Verbum, 14-16).

This leads to the second error that Dr. Hahn made, namely, a misinterpretation of Matthew 5:17-18 in which Jesus said:

17 "Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. (RSV)

It is from this passage that Hahn makes two incorrect statements, namely:

1. 1)“God’s covenant with Israel was neither revoked nor abolished. It was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and Honey from the Rock is a powerful proof of that fulfillment.”

2. 2)The covenant God made with the Jews “is still binding. Yes it is not

revoked, and yes, the Jewish people are witnesses of the kingdom…” As we have seen from official Magisterial teaching, the Tradition, and Scripture, it is incorrect to say that “God’s covenant with Israel was neither revoked nor abolished.” Catholics faithful to the Church must maintain that the covenant with Israel, the Mosaic covenant, was revoked, abolished, annulled, abrogated, superseded, canceled, or whatever similar word one wants to signify that it no longer has legal power.

Similarly, it is incorrect for Dr. Hahn to say that the covenant with Israel “is still binding.” It could only be “binding” if it had legal jurisdiction over the Jews or us. But the only covenant that has legal jurisdiction over Jews or Gentiles is the New Covenant. And, as we noted above, the New Covenant may incorporate some of the Mosaic laws if it so chooses, yet not because the Mosaic law itself is binding but because the laws it contained are divine laws, some of which are very useful in the New Covenant economy.

So when Jesus says, “I have not come to destroy the law or the prophets,” we must be very careful in our interpretation of these words. On the one hand, we know that the Mosaic law was abrogated; on the other hand we know that it still exists for our using in the New Covenant as the Church decides which laws it will use. As it so happens, the Church decided to eliminate all of Israel’s ceremonial laws and replace them with sacraments; but she also decided to keep the Ten Commandments, but turn the Third Commandment about worshipping on the Sabbath into a new commandment to worship on Sunday. Moreover, the Church has always had a vigilant eye on the “prophets,” many of whose messages have still not been completely fulfilled (e.g., Daniel 8-12; Ezekiel 40-48; Zech 12-14; Isaiah 65-66). Obviously, Jesus did not “destroy” their prophecies.

Logically, then, another mistake of Dr. Hahn’s was to juxtapose “revoked and abolished” with “fulfilled” (he stated: “God’s covenant with Israel was neither

revoked nor abolished. It was fulfilled in Jesus Christ”), giving the impression that the “fulfillment” of the Old Covenant means that the Old Covenant could not also be “revoked and abolished.” In this case, especially with the testimony of Hebrews 7:18; 8:13; 10:9 that assures us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that the Mosaic covenant was totally abolished, it is not an either/or but a both/and methodology of interpretation that must be employed. That is, we must affirm that the Mosaic covenant, in toto, was legally abolished at the cross of Christ, but that some provisions of the Mosaic law continue into the New Covenant by the Church’s choice. And we must equally affirm that they continue

in the New Covenant not because the Mosaic covenant has any legal or “binding”

power, but because the New Covenant incorporates them into the legal jurisdiction of the New Covenant.

We must also affirm that God no longer has a covenant with the Jews, and thus it is incorrect for Dr. Hahn to refer to “God’s covenant with Israel” or “God’s covenant with the Jews…is still binding,” as if the Jews, as an independent entity, have a covenant with God that is not available to the rest of the world or is only available to the rest of the world through God’s covenant with the Jews. The Jews, although as a group are still loved by God, still, they, as a group, have no separate legal relationship with God. Using our marriage analogy from above, the Jews, as a national and legal entity, were divorced from God and hence that marriage covenant no longer exists. It was totally abrogated at the Cross. The only thing that remains from that old covenant is God’s love for the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, et al) and it is from this love that God still offers Jews today a chance for salvation in the New Covenant (see Romans


In conclusion, the only covenant that exists today is the New Covenant in Christ,

a covenant in which both Jews and Gentiles are invited to come for salvation in

Jesus Christ. As such, any teaching today that asserts that the Old Covenant, the Mosaic covenant, has not been superseded by the New Covenant is heresy. Likewise, any teaching today that says the law and the prophets no longer have any usefulness or applicability in the New Covenant are equally wrong.

Robert Sungenis, Ph.D.

May 16, 2012

[1] The entire article is: “Catholics divided on statement against evangelization of Jews: A statement issued as a result of a Catholic-Jewish dialogue that calls for Catholics not to try to convert the Jewish people to Christianity is dividing some prominent Catholics. Scott Hahn, a theology professor at the Franciscan

University of Steubenville, said the statement went beyond recent Vatican affirmations of Judaism. Hahn says the most recent statement from the Pontifical Biblical Commission, for example, asserts that the New Testament views Jesus as the messiah who was awaited by Israel. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also says the Jewish people will recognize Jesus as the messiah, he said. The covenant God made with the Jews “is still binding. Yes it is not revoked, and yes, the Jewish people are witnesses of the kingdom. "But that does not lead us to conclude that their faithful witness to the kingdom calls for them not to recognize Jesus as the messiah and to respond in faith to the grace of conversion,” Hahn said.

[2] Hahn states on page 21: “Paul uses this expression [“works of the law”] eight times in his writings, twice in Romans (3:20, 28) and six times in Galatians (Gal 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10). Christian scholarship, both ancient and modern, has understood it in different ways. (1) Some, like St. Augustine, take it to mean observance of the entire Law of Moses, whole and undivided. On this view, Paul contends that no act of obedience to the moral, ceremonial, or juridical commandments of the Torah can bring about the justification of the sinner. (2) Others, Like St. Jerome, understand the expression to mean the ceremonial laws of Moses, such as circumcision, dietary laws, feast days, and Sabbath observance. On this view, Paul charges that the ritual works of the Torah, which defined the Jewish way of life during the Mosaic age, have become obsolete in the New Covenant and thus have no bearing on justification. Both views are correct in their proper context.” If Hahn had stopped here, this explanation would have been at least a good compromise on his part, despite the fact that he has never shown where Jerome taught that the “works of the law” refer only to the ceremonial law. The problem, which shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue, comes in the next series of statements. Hahn states: “…initial justification in Baptism takes place apart from any observance of the Law whatever (Tit 3:4-7), whereas final justification at the Last Judgment takes place apart from the ceremonial works of the Law, but not apart from observing the moral commandments of the law (Rom 2:13; Mt 19:16-19; 1Cor 7:19; Jas 2:8-13).” The reason this is incorrect is that it fails to understand (1) that even initial justification does not take place without works (see Council of Trent, Session 6, chapter 7: “Hence man through Jesus Christ, into whom he is ingrafted, receives in the said justification together with the remission of sins all these gifts infused at the same time: faith, hope and charity. For faith, unless hope and charity be added to it, neither unites one perfectly with Christ, nor makes him a living member of his body”; (2) Hahn fails to see that obedience to the moral law is under the jurisdiction of the New Covenant not the Mosaic law. The New Covenant merely incorporates various moral precepts from the Mosaic covenant, but the legal power to legislate, enforce and judge them comes from the New Covenant alone.

[3] The Catechism continues with: “This Commandment about the observance of the Sabbath, on the other hand, considered as to the time appointed for its fulfillment, is not fixed and unalterable, but susceptible of change, and belongs not to the moral, but the ceremonial law. Neither is it a principle of the natural law; we are not instructed by nature to give external worship to God on that day, rather than on any other. And in fact the Sabbath was kept holy only from the time of the liberation of the people of Israel from the bondage of Pharaoh. The observance of the Sabbath was to be abrogated at the same time as the other Hebrew rites and ceremonies, that is, at the death of Christ. Having been, as it were, images which foreshadowed the light and the truth, these ceremonies were to disappear at the coming of that light and truth, which is Jesus Christ. Hence St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Galatians, when reproving the observers of the Mosaic rites, says: You observe days and months and times and years; I am afraid of you lest perhaps I have laboured in vain amongst you. And he writes to the same effect to the Colossians” (http://www.freecatholicebooks.com/books/ catechism_of_trent.pdf).

[4] It is very clear from Catholic authoritative sources that words very similar to “revoked” and “supersede” are used in regards to the cessation of the Mosaic Covenant. Words such as “annul, abolish, set aside, do away with, cancel, withdraw, terminate, rescind, invalidate, dissolve, eliminate, cease, eradicate” are commonly used in official and unofficial literature when dealing with the termination of the Mosaic covenant. These are all synonyms of “revoked” or “supersede.” The reason “supersede” has become a more precise word in recent times on this particular topic is that it not only means to annul or abolish but to replace what was abolished with something new. This fits perfectly with what the New Covenant did to the Mosaic covenant – it legally annulled it and then put itself in place of it.

[5] Although not officially magisterial, I will add Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement from his book: “Thus the Sinai [Mosaic] Covenant is indeed superseded” (Many Religions – One Covenant, p. 70).