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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol III:
Tertullian: Part I: Chapter I

Early Church Fathers  Index     

p. 151 VII.

An Answer to the Jews. 1126

[Translated by the Rev. S. Thelwall.]


Chapter I.—Occasion of Writing. Relative Position of Jews and Gentiles Illustrated.

It happened very recently a dispute was held between a Christian and a Jewish proselyte. Alternately with contentious cable they each spun out the day until evening. By the opposing din, moreover, of some partisans of the individuals, truth began to be overcast by a sort of cloud. It was therefore our pleasure that that which, owing to the confused noise of disputation, could be less fully elucidated point by point, should be more carefully looked into, and that the pen should determine, for reading purposes, the questions handled.

For the occasion, indeed, of claiming Divine grace even for the Gentiles derived a pre-eminent fitness from this fact, that the man who set up to vindicate God’s Law as his own was of the Gentiles, and not a Jew “of the stock of the Israelites.” 1127 For this fact—that Gentiles are admissible to God’s Law—is enough to prevent Israel from priding himself on the notion that “the Gentiles are accounted as a little drop of a bucket,” or else as “dust out of a threshing-floor:” 1128 although we have God Himself as an adequate engager and faithful promiser, in that He promised to Abraham that “in his seed should be blest all nations of the earth;” 1129 and that 1130 out of the womb of Rebecca “two peoples and two nations were about to proceed,” 1131 —of course those of the Jews, that is, of Israel; and of the Gentiles, that is ours. Each, then, was called a people and a nation; lest, from the nuncupative appellation, any should dare to claim for himself the privilege of grace.  For God ordained “two peoples and two nations” as about to proceed out of the womb of one woman: nor did grace 1132 make distinction in the nuncupative appellation, but in the order of birth; to the effect that, which ever was to be prior in proceeding from the womb, should be subjected to “the less,” that is, the posterior. For thus unto Rebecca did God speak: “Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be divided from thy bowels; and people shall overcome people, and the greater shall serve the less.” 1133 Accordingly, since the people or nation of the Jews is anterior in time, and “greater” through the grace of primary favour in the Law, whereas ours is understood to be “less” in the age of times, as having in the last era of the world 1134 attained the knowledge of divine mercy:  beyond doubt, through the edict of the divine utterance, the prior and “greater” people—that is, the Jewish—must necessarily serve the “less;” and the “less” people—that is, the Christian—overcome the “greater.” For, withal, according to the memorial records of the divine Scriptures, the people of the Jews—that is, the more ancient—quite forsook God, and did degrading service to idols, and, abandoning the Divinity, was surrendered to images; while “the people” said to Aaron, “Make us gods to go before us.” 1135 And when the gold out of the necklaces of the women and the rings of p. 152 the men had been wholly smelted by fire, and there had come forth a calf-like head, to this figment Israel with one consent (abandoning God) gave honour, saying, “These are the gods who brought us from the land of Egypt.” 1136 For thus, in the later times in which kings were governing them, did they again, in conjunction with Jeroboam, worship golden kine, and groves, and enslave themselves to Baal. 1137 Whence is proved that they have ever been depicted, out of the volume of the divine Scriptures, as guilty of the crime of idolatry; whereas our “less”—that is, posterior—people, quitting the idols which formerly it used slavishly to serve, has been converted to the same God from whom Israel, as we have above related, had departed. 1138 For thus has the “less”—that is, posterior—people overcome the “greater people,” while it attains the grace of divine favour, from which Israel has been divorced.



[This treatise was written while our author was a Catholic.  This seems to me the best supported of the theories concerning it. Let us accept Pamelius, for once and date it a.d. 198. Dr. Allix following Baronius, will have it as late as a.d. 208. Neander thinks the work, after the quotation from Isaiah in the beginning of chapter ninth, is not our author’s, but was finished by another hand, clumsily annexing what is said on the same chapter of Isaiah in the Third Book against Marcion. It is only slightly varied. Bp. Kaye admits the very striking facts instanced by Neander, in support of this theory, but demolishes, with a word any argument drawn from thence that the genuine work was written after the author’s lapse. This treatise is sufficiently annotated by Thelwall, and covers ground elsewhere gone over in this Series. My own notes are therefore very few.]


Comp. Phil. iii. 5.


See Isa. xl. 15: “dust of the balance,” Eng. Ver.; ῥοπὴ ζυγοῦ LXX. For the expression “dust out of a threshing-floor,” however, see Ps. 1:4, Dan. 2:35.


See Gen. xxii. 18; and comp. Gal. iii. 16, and the reference in both places.


This promise may be said to have been given “to Abraham,” because (of course) he was still living at the time; as we see by comparing Gen. 21:5, Gen. 25:7, 26, Heb. 11:9.


Or, “nor did He make, by grace, a distinction.”


Or, “nor did He make, by grace, a distinction.”


See Gen. xxv. 21-23, especially in the LXX.; and comp. Rom. ix. 10-13.




Exod. 32:1, 23, Acts 7:39, 40.


Ex. xxxii. 4: comp. Acts 7:38, 1 Cor. 10:7, Ps. 6:19.


Comp. 1 Kings 12:25, 2 Kings 17:7 (in LXX. 3 and 4 Kings). The Eng. ver. speaks of “calves;” the LXX. call them “heifers.”


Comp. 1 Thess. 1:9, 10.

Next: The Law Anterior to Moses.

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