25. May 10 - 30. May 10

International Colloquium on The People of God in Bible and Tradition. Semantic Implications and Modern Relevance

Balamand, Lebanon


Basing themselves on the hermeneutical premise that in Jesus of Nazareth, the Scriptures, or what came to be called the writings of the Old Testament, were fulfilled, the authors of the New Testament used extensively scriptural terminology to underline this belief. Words such as Israel, the People, the vineyard, the kingdom of God, etc. were adopted by the new community which held the belief in Jesus as the Christ of the Lord.


The Christian tradition as it crystallized in the writings of the Church Fathers did not depart from this premise, which also found its way into the worship of the Church and the liturgical texts. Thus, it has never been put into question that the Church was also the New Israel, the People of God. Far from expressing a mere “theology of substitution”, such terminology was considered inherent to the nature of the Church as a locus where the long awaited salvation of God is to be implemented in the crucifixion of Jesus. Even the continuing presence of the Jewish community which did not adhere to the apostolic faith did not even slightly undermine the importance of such expressions.


However, the twentieth century has witnessed, in the West, the emergence of theologies which aimed at harmonizing between the principles of the Christian faith and the need to incorporate the Jewish community within a plan of salvation, such as the theology justifying two covenants and two ways of salvation for Israel (meaning the Jews) and the Church.  These theologies were clearly a reaction to the crimes perpetrated against the European Jewry before and during World War II.

On the other hand, the rise of the State of Israel in 1948 triggered, among its political opponents in the East, an increasing sensitivity vis-à-vis the use of such words and notions as Israel, the people of God, the land and the promise, the children of Abraham, which reached, in large Christian circles, the level of “refusing” to use such terminology for the Church, and a clear denial of the Old Testament as an integral part of the Christian Bible. Yet, liturgical texts as well as Biblical and Patristic Theology remain unchangeably consistent with the afore-mentioned premise.


The aim of this colloquium is to attempt an objective reading of a set of key-texts, biblical, patristic and liturgical pertaining to the issue of the People of God, trying to discover a way to translate these traditions in adequate terms addressing the believers today. It also aims at finding a way to reduce the confusion resulting from the use of the term "People of God" and parallel terms in different semantic fields. The main question of the colloquium’s problematic is: if a Biblical term used in Liturgy and Theology comes to have a different, ambiguous, meaning in culture, would that term need to be changed, substituted, avoided, or redefined?


Thus, the colloquium takes up an important aspect of the Bern Conference, which was organized by the WCC in September 2008, to tackle the issue of the “Promised Land” from different theological perspectives.


The colloquium will revolve around the following axes:

1- The People of God: Biblical implications. This axis shall try to re-consider the issue of the people of God from biblical perspective by trying to define words, such as People and Israel, and notions related to them such as land and heritage, by elaborating a semantic approach to these words and notions.


2- The People of God in the Christian Tradition. This axis revolves around an analysis of the understanding of the issue of the People of God in the Fathers of the Church and the liturgical texts, with an attempt at elaborating a contextual approach applicable to the Church of today.


3- Political History and the Emergence of a new semantic field. This axis discusses how and why the rise of the state of Israel in 1948 led to the creation of a new semantic approach to biblical terminology and how the understanding as well as the acceptance of this terminology was affected, and the consequences of this new semantic field on the theological understanding of the Biblical message.


4- Towards a re-adjustment of linguistic ambiguities. This final axis shall suggest ways to overcome ambiguities in the use of words related to the issue of the “people of God”, and shall also suggest ways to understand and live this notion, taking into consideration the biblical premises and today’s world of notions.