An Early Reformed Document on the Mission to the Jews -- By: Robert White

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 53:1 (Spring 1991)
Article: An Early Reformed Document on the Mission to the Jews
Author: Robert White

An Early Reformed Document on the Mission to the Jews

Robert White

Studies of Christian-Jewish relations in the Reformation era have tended to concentrate either on the scholarly concerns of Protestant Hebraists such as Munster and Pellikan, or on the overtly polemical attitudes of Luther and his circle. It is generally argued that, despite diversities of approach, humanists and theologians reach substantially the same conclusions: both are held to present the Jew in a profoundly ambiguous light—as the privileged possessor of a language and culture rooted in holy history, and as the willful captive of human traditions which through the ages have blinded him to the true light of revelation. In this respect, it is claimed, the Reformation of the sixteenth century substantially restates the position of medieval Catholicism, and any divergences among individual Reformers are to be regarded as differences of degree, not of kind.1

Our purpose in this paper is not to question the general accuracy of the above argument, which in its main lines is doubtless correct, but to draw attention to a largely overlooked sixteenth-century document which exhibits important differences of emphasis and which, appearing under the aegis of the French-speaking Reformation and within Calvin’s entourage, offers by implication a significant Reformed approach to the problem of Jewish mission.


The document in question is a closely-printed three-page letter signed “V.F.C.” and addressed in French to “Our ally and confederate, the people of the covenant of Sinai.” It appeared as one of several prefaces to the first French Protestant Bible,

translated by Calvin’s kinsman, Pierre Robert (better known as Olivetan), and published at Neuchâtel in western Switzerland in June 1535.2 Largely neglected by critics until resurrected in 1865 by the Strasbourg scholar, Edouard Reuss,3 the text, cast in the form of an evangelistic appeal to the Jews, has been variously assigned to Olivetan and to Calvin, working either singly or in concert with other colleagues. On the basis of content and orthography, Reuss conjectures that while the initials “V.F.C.” appear to designate Viret, Farel, and Calvin, these are probably no more than “patrons or sponsors” of a work composed by Olivetan himself.4 Gottfried Locher agrees that the text is Olivetan’s, but views it as a composite work, the product of teamwork between all four men.5 More recently, Eug...

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