The burden of these studies is to provide scriptural support for the claims in our doctrinal statement and to respond to contrary claims.
We have seen in Part 1 of the Israel series, Who Is Israel? Who Are the Hebrews? Who Are the Jews?, that literal Israel and the literal church are not one and the same, that the church has not been joined to Israel, and that neither Jews nor Gentiles ever forfeit or lose their national identities for any reason. We have also seen that the overwhelming Bible-based definition of "Jew" is one who is a bloodline descendant of the Israeli patriarchs, and that that is the meaning of "Jew" that we will retain in this series - the meaning that Jesus held to when He used the term. In Part 2, The Chosenness of Israel, we have seen that, among the nations of the Earth, God has chosen Israel for divinely ordained purposes and privileges, and that her chosenness remains until the end of time. The materials contained in Parts 1 and 2 constitute an essential foundation for consideration of the material in our present study, and it is respectfully urged that they be studied or reviewed before proceeding.
Part 3, which we are now engaged in, is of an apologetic nature, a defense against contrary claims. The chief arbiter will be the Word of God and, when called for, documented extra-biblical facts.
We believe Israel is God's special people, distinct from the body of Messiah, chosen by Him to be a holy nation and a Kingdom of priests. The election of Israel is irrevocable. . . . We believe the Abrahamic Covenant is an irrevocable, unconditional covenant God made with Jewish people. This covenant provides title to the land of Israel for the Jewish people and promises a descendant (the Messiah) who would come to redeem Israel and bless the entire world. The spiritual blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant overflow to all the nations. God will ultimately fulfill every aspect of the covenant in the Messianic Kingdom, both physical and spiritual. . . .
*(Full AMC Statement)
We will be addressing two classes of claims. The first is found perhaps exclusively in non-messianic Christian circles and has to do with Israel's being replaced by the church, or the church being Israel in some sense, and comes under the heading of Replacement Theology or Supersessionism, the latter of which means that the church has superseded Israel. The second is found perhaps exclusively in messianic circles and has to do with the claim that all believers are actually descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob whether they know it or not, and comes under the heading of the The Two-House or Ephraimite Doctrine.
The biblical identity of a Jew has been examined in Who Is Israel? Who Are the Hebreews? Who Are the Jews?, and the fact that God has not rejected Israel as His covenant nation has been addressed in The Chosenness of Israel; yet, the claims of Replacement Theology and Two-House need to be responded to directly. We will address Replacement Theology in this study, and The Two-House or Ephraimite Doctrine in an accompanying study.
The meaning of this doctrine is that the church superseded or replaced Israel as God's covenant people. The three claims presented under this heading are:
If God has rejected Israel, then that clears the way for a replacement people; and if that people is the church, then the church may be considered spiritual Israel. It is also conceivable that some who believe that Israel is still God's covenant people would consider the church spiritual Israel because it is composed of people whose spirits have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit. We will now hold the light of Scripture to these claims and possibilities.
The meaning of this claim is that God rejected Israel as His covenant people when they rejected Jesus as their Messiah and delivered Him up to Pilate to be
a. "May It Never Be!"
Has God rejected Israel? Paul responded to this question four times by declaring emphatically, May it never be! Did he mean, "I hope that it will never happen!"? If he did, then that would mean that Israel had not been rejected when he said it. But what exactly did he mean?
The first two times are in Romans 3:4,6:
1. Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2. Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3. What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4. May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, "THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED." 5. But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 6. May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?
The point that Paul was making was that, despite the fact that some Jews didn't believe in God, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God in the matter of keeping the promises He made with Israel that are contained in the unconditional covenants that He made with them. The unbelief of some Israelites will not nullify the faithfulness of God. May it never be! In plain English, "Absolutely not!" God is not unrighteous so as to break His word, is He? May it never be! Absolutely not!
The next two times it was used are in Romans 11:1,11:
Romans 11:1: I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be!
Romans 11:11: I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be!
These two verses will be examined more closely; but for now, note that in all four instances Paul worded his question in such a way as to call for a negative response.
Paul used the expression in other contexts that show exactly what he meant. Some examples:
Romans 6:15: What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Absolutely not!
Romans 7:7: What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! [Absolutely not!] On the contrary. . . .
Romans 9:14: What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! Absolutely not!
Galatians 2:17: Is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! Absolutely not!
In these examples, also, Paul's question is rhetorical and calls for a negative answer; but just in case his readers would have any doubt, he supplies the answer: May it never be! Absolutely not!
Paul follows his May it never be! in Romans 11:1 with, for I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. . . . What is his point? His answer is in verses 2-5, which begins, God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. God did not reject Israel as His covenant people even during the terrible time of Israel's idolatry in the days of Elijah, which God knew about ahead of time; and the proof of it is the fact that God saved seven thousand Israelites who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Similarly, even after Israel's rejection of Messiah, which God also foreknew, God did not reject Israel as His covenant people, and the proof of it is the fact that God had reserved a faithful remnant unto Himself in Paul's day, of which Paul presents himself as an example.
To sum up, we have noticed two proofs that God has not rejected Israel as His covenant people:
Nevertheless, we'll address several passages that need clarification.
1. I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3. "Lord, THEY HAVE KILLED YOUR PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN YOUR ALTARS, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE." 4. But what is the divine response to him? "I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL." 5. In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice.
Paul is comparing the situation of his day with that of Elijah's. Just as God had reserved seven thousand men to be faithful to Him in Elijah's day, so He reserved for Himself a remnant, a minority of Israelites in Paul's day, of which Paul identifies himself as a member. Paul's logic is thus: If Israel was not rejected in Elijah's day though believers among them were in the minority, so she is not rejected in Paul's day though believers among them were in the minority. Paul's conclusion applies today, as well, for both Paul and we are in the same Church Age.
c. Romans 11:11-15
11. I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12. Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be! 13. But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14. if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. 15. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?
If Israel has not been rejected, then what is meant by Israel's stumbling in verse 11,
fall in verse 11, and their rejection in verse 15?
Just preceding this passage, it is recorded, David says, "LET THEIR TABLE BECOME A SNARE AND A TRAP, AND A STUMBLING BLOCK AND A RETRIBUTION TO THEM (verse 9), and the nature of the stumbling block can be determined from 9:31-33:
31. but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law.32. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33. just as it is written, "BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED."
The stumbling block that was laid in Zion, that is, Israel, was Jesus. Israelites generally attempted to attain righteousness through the works of the Law and, on a national level, stumbled over the message that what was required for righteousness was faith in Jesus. They stumbled over the message of faith in Him, but they did not fall: They did not become rejected by God.
But what of their rejection in verse 15? They were rejected from seeing the Messianic Kingdom established in their day. This cleared the way for the Church Age during which God is taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name (Acts 15:14). As Paul said of Israel in 11:12, their transgression is riches for the world.
Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!
What will their fulfillment be based on? Their
acceptance by God: 15. For if their rejection is the
reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? Their acceptance by God will be based on their national reception of Jesus
as their Messiah, as Jesus Himself said, For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say,
"BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!" (Matthew 23:39). Israel will receive Him as their Messiah, all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:26), and He will then return and establish the Kingdom.
To restate it in sequence, Israel stumbled over the fact that faith in Messiah was required for righteousness, not the works of the Law. Her rejection of Christ led to their rejection from seeing the Kingdom established at that time, not to their being rejected as God's covenant people. This cleared the way for the Church Age after which they will receive Christ and be accepted by God. On the basis of their salvation Christ will return and establish His Kingdom on Earth.
They did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! Absolutely not! This is further developed just ten verses later: 25. For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery - so that you will not be wise in your own estimation - that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26. and so all Israel will be saved.
The fact that God has not rejected Israel cuts the legs out from under the claim that the church has replaced Israel. Replacement Theology, then, really does not have a leg to stand on.
Supersessionism or Replacement Theology holds that God rejected Israel because of their rejection of Christ and then received the church as His covenant people in place of Israel because of its reception of Christ. As God's sole covenant people, the church is now the sole possessor of the covenant promises that God transferred over to it from Israel.
This matter has been dealt with at length in The Chosenness of Israel, and will be dealt with only summarily here:
Because of these things, the church could not possibly have replaced Israel as God's covenant people.
The church is a people of God, but it has not replaced Israel, which is also a people of God. Since the Day of Pentecost God has been orchestrating an interplay between the two for the benefit of both, the outworking of His divine purposes, and the glorification of His Name. All of this is explained in The Chosenness of Israel.
1. It misrepresents God as one who breaks His promises. If God breaks His promises, then how is one to know his salvation is secure (which is the whole point of
Romans 9-11)? How may the church know that God will not find a people to replace it for the great sins it has committed?
2. Interpretation of Scripture based on bias. Notwithstanding those who honestly misunderstand passages of Scripture, huge portions of Scripture have been consciously misinterpreted by some who cannot countenance the thought of the Jews still being God's chosen people among the nations.
3. From at least as early as the second century, anti-Semitic statement have been made by church leaders, and virulent anti-Semitic policies and campaigns have been
launched on the basis of the claim that God had rejected Israel because of her rejection of Jesus. Even today, major denominations that hold to this belief promote economic divestiture from
Israel and find fault with her every move despite the fact that she is surrounded by implacable and voracious wolves.
4. Instead of provoking Israel to jealousy for the Messiah that the church is meant to do (cf. Romans 11:11), the anti-Semitism that has resulted from Replacement Theology has provoked Israel to revulsion at the thought of Jesus being their Messiah.
5. Because of the anti-Semitism that this doctrine has engendered through the centuries, only a very small number of Jews have joined the church. This has resulted in a lack of understanding or misunderstanding of much of Scripture because Jews, who are generally more familiar with the Hebrew language, Mosaic and rabbinic law and Jewish culture than are Gentiles, were not present to explain.
6. Two Covenant theology was formulated by Franz Rosenzweig after World War I, but Replacement Theology prepared the way for its broad adoption after World War II:
[Two Covenant theology] was put forward by "Christian" theologians, Protestant and Catholic, in place of and as a critique of the traditional
supersessionism in the post-Holocaust era. In their view, supersessionist thinking contributed to the Holocaust and two covenant theology was a necessary adjustment. . . . [T]hey
adopted the concept and promoted it in the post Holocaust era.1
The key feature is the belief that Jews and Christians are related to God separately by distinct covenants. Christianity offers a covenant relationship to God for Gentiles through Jesus The Christ. Judaism offers a covenant relationship to God for Jewish people through Torah. . . . Quite consistent with this, those who take this dual-covenant view of Judaism and Christianity have repudiated Christian evangelism and mission to Jewish people not just as an affront, but as a theological violation of God's covenant with Israel.2
Here is a classic case of error begetting error with the offspring being more insidious than the parent. Contrary to Replacement Theology, Two Covenant holds that Israel is in a favored relationship with God and therefore repudiates the evangelism of Jews!3
There are perhaps a dozen key passages that are used to support the various claims of Replacement Theology. We will examine them one at a time in the sequence in which they appear in Scripture, and then draw conclusions. The nature of the issues at hand compel me as a Jew to declare to you that I continually appeal to God to empower me in such a way that my analysis of Scripture will never be driven by an outcome that would be favorable to Jews, but on the basis of fair and reasonable analysis applied in an objective manner. I humbly appeal to my readers - Jew and Gentile alike - to take the same approach.
1. "SPIRITUAL ISRAEL," "SPIRITUAL JEW"
Following on the heels of believing that the church has replaced Israel as God's covenant people are the beliefs that the church is spiritual Israel and its members are spiritual Jews. The reasoning is thus: Since Israel is a people by natural generation, then the church, which is a people by regeneration of human spirits by the Holy Spirit, it may validly be referred to as spiritual Israel, the true Israel, the New Israel, the Israel of God, or some similar title, and its members as inward Jews, spiritual Jews, Israelites of God, or some similar title.
Since, according to Paul, the church has absolutely not replaced Israel, then none of these designations are valid. Nevertheless, scriptures that are used to support this contrary claim must be examined.
As a preliminary concern, let us see whether or not Scripture uses the word "spiritual" in reference to a believing Gentile being a spiritual Jew.
We will examine all the phrases in the entire Bible in which "spiritual" is used, and then draw some observations: spiritual gift or spiritual gifts (Romans 1:11; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Corinthians 14:1,12; 1 Timothy 4:14); the Law is spiritual (Romans 7:14); spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1); spiritual things (Romans 15:27; 1 Corinthians 19:11); spiritual thoughts (1 Corinthians 2:13); spiritual words (1 Corinthians 2:13); he who is spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:15); spiritual men (1 Corinthians 3:1); spiritual food (1 Corinthians 10:3); spiritual rock, spiritual drink (1 Corinthians 10:4); if anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual (1 Corinthians 14:37); spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44); the spiritual [body] is not first (1 Corinthians 15:46); you who are spiritual (Galatians 6:1); every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3); spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16); spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:12); spiritual wisdom (Colossians 1:9); spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5).
According to scriptural usage, even a believing Jew whose walk is not mature should be not called a spiritual Jew. How then can the church be called spiritual Israel and all of its members spiritual Jews?
We are dealing with terms here, but the concepts underlying the terms will be examined further.
2. ROMANS 2:23-29:
23. You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? 24. For "THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU," just as it is written. 25. For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26. So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27. And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? 28. For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
29. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly. Does the passage indicate that a believing Gentile is an inward Jew?
There are three keys to understanding verses 23-29:
Verses 25-27 is a refutation of that Pharisaic belief. What Paul is saying is that Jews and Gentiles who conform to God's requirements will enter the Kingdom, and Jews as well as Gentiles who do not conform to God's requirements will not, because it is inner circumcision, the circumcision of the heart, that determines entry, not outward.
What he is saying in verses 28 and 29 is, "Jews were called out by God to be a people circumcised in heart; but though you are Jews by birth, you are not Jews who are true to your calling because you are not circumcised in heart. To be a true Jew, you must be one inwardly, that is, circumcised in heart via the new birth.
Verses 23-29 may be summed up as follows:
There is no reference in the passage to Gentile believers being inward Jews. The circumcision of the heart renders one inwardly righteous, not inwardly Jewish. This is consistent with what we've already seen in Part 1: Nicolas, who was a proselyte to Judaism and was outwardly circumcised, and had come to believe and was inwardly circumcised, was still not called a Jew in any sense, but a proselyte (Acts 6:5).
As has been shown, it was the covenant that God made with Abraham that laid the foundation for the New Covenant, which is applicable today and by which all who have faith in Christ are counted righteous before God: So then they that are of faith are blessed with the faithful Abraham (Galatians 3:9). In this sense Abraham is the father of all Jews and Gentiles who have faith in Christ; but verse 12 says that Abraham was the father of circumcision to both Jews and Gentiles who follow in the steps of Abraham's faith, and also contains the phrase our father Abraham. This again raises the question: Does a Gentile's faith make him an inward Jew?
The passage is addressing the matter of Abraham's being the father of all who have faith, an inward matter, and is summed up by the quote, "A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU." Now, if Paul was concerned about a matter of the heart, why did he refer to MANY NATIONS if he was trying to convey that all who are of faith are inward Jews: one nation? Well, he wasn't trying to convey that all who are of faith are inward Jews. The only way his reference could make sense is if he meant that Abraham was the father of faithful Jews, Arabs, Chinese, etc. He was not even thinking of a believing Gentile being an inward Jew.
Paul explained that Abraham's outward circumcision was a sign and a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised. He didn't say that it changed Abraham's race inwardly or outwardly. To be the father of circumcision, then, means to be the fountainhead of those who bear the sign and seal of the righteousness of. . . faith, which is the circumcision of the heart, which Paul didn't say changes one's race inwardly or outwardly. Americans say, "George Washington is the father of our country" - but I'm an American and my name is not Washington. As Americans are recipients of the heritage of which Washington is considered the fountainhead, so all those who are of the faith of Abraham are recipients of the heritage of the faith of which Abraham, humanly speaking, is considered the fountainhead. This is the sense in which the passage uses father, and it is still a commonly used expression in the Hebrew language today. There is therefore no basis in the passage for referring to a believing Gentile as an inward Jew.
Again we'll draw a parallel from the natural realm: Abraham was the father of eight sons (Genesis 16:1-16; 21:1-3; 25:1-2), but only one, Isaac, was in the covenant line. Furthermore, Isaac fathered two sons, Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25:19-26), but only one was in the covenant line: Jacob, whose name became Israel; and none of the sons of Abraham's other seven sons were in the covenant line. It's plain to see, then, that not all whom Abraham fathered physically are Israelites or Jews. In a parallel manner, not all whom Abraham fathered by virtue of the faith of Abraham are inward Jews. Paul makes just this kind of comparison in Romans 9:7, as we'll see right now.
4. ROMANS 9:1-8:
1. I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2. that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4. who are Israelites. . . . 6. But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7. nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: "THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED." 8. That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
Such translations as For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel (New American Standard) and For they are not all Israel, that are of Israel (American Standard Version) seem to say that those who are of the nation of Israel do not constitute the entire nation, but that there are those who are not of the nation who are also part of the nation. But consider these literal translations: all the [ones] of Israel, these [are] not Israel (Analytical-Literal Translation); not all those of Israel are Israel (Literal Translation of the Holy Bible); not all who are of Israel are these Israel (Young's Literal Translation). They start out with the entire nation then eliminate some. They speak of subtraction, not of addition or replacement. Well, is Paul saying that Israel is added to, or subtracted from? If one needed to judge on the basis of translations, he should lean toward literal ones; yet, this is not conclusive. Another thing that needs to be considered is this: Is the statement speaking of people being added or subtracted physically or inwardly?
Paul's dissertation begins with verse 1, and verses 1-5 show that Paul's focus is on the salvation of literal Israelites. His dissertation continues on through the end of the chapter where he reiterates the same concern, and then carries it over to chapter 10. Paul's overriding concern in 9:1-8 is the salvation of Israelites.
In verse 7, Paul tells us that not all of Abraham's physical descendants will be in the covenant line, and uses that as a parallel to the situation within Israel,
that not all Israelites are children of God by means of salvation (verse 8). The point is strengthened by verse 31-33:
31. but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. 32. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33. just as it is written, "BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED."
In verse 31, Paul is speaking of literal Israel, which Mt. Zion in Jerusalem represents. HE in Israel WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED, and he in Israel who does not believe in Him will be disappointed. Again, he is distinguishing between Jews who believe and Jews who do not. They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel means that not all who are physical Israelites are true to the nation's call to have faith in God.
The unbroken focus since verse 1 has been on Israelites, and it continues unbroken through verse 13. Gentiles who are saved are not brought into the picture until verse 23. They are called MY PEOPLE in verse 25, but no mention is made of their being Israelites in any sense. We know that the church is a people of God: for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). They are MY PEOPLE as members of the church, not as members of Israel.
There is no support in the passage for thinking that believing Gentiles are inward Jews or that the church is the new Israel.
5. ROMANS 11:15-29
We've covered the relevant points of Romans 11:1-5 and 11-15, and we'll begin with verse 15 here so we can see the flow of Paul's thoughts in an unbroken
15. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16. If the first piece of dough is holy, the lump is also; and if the root is holy, the branches are too. 17. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18. do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19. You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." 20. Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21. for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. 22. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. 23. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? 25. For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery--so that you will not be wise in your own estimation--that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26. and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, "THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB." 27. "THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS." 28. From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God's choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29. for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
Many hold that believing Gentiles, being the wild olive branches, are grafted into Israel, being the olive tree. Based on that premise, they also hold that
believing Gentiles are joined to Israel on the basis of their faith and are therefore inward Jews; and extrapolated to the church, the church is Israel inwardly, the New Israel, etc. Can
these claims validly be derived from the passage?
The key question we need to answer is, Is the tree Israel?
Let us consider:
Is the tree Israel?
It cannot be for the simple reason that Israel owns the tree, and Israel is not owned by itself in any sense:
a. If Israel is taken to be physical Israel as the passage calls for it to be taken, Israel does not own physical Israel; God owns physical Israel: My people and My inheritance, Israel (Joel 3:2).
b. If Israel is taken to represent believers as some take it, Israel does not own believers; God owns believers: 1 Peter 1:18-19. 18. knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19. but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (Also 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 7:22-23.)
Since the tree is not Israel in any sense, the passage does not state or imply that believing Gentiles are grafted into Israel in any sense, and it cannot be said on the basis of the passage that they have been added to Israel in any sense, or that they are physical or inward Jews, or that the church is Israel physically or inwardly, or the New Israel, or some similar entity, or that it has replaced Israel.
Not only can the tree not be Israel, it cannot be Christ, the Gospel, or the church either, because Israel does not own any of them either. What, then, is the
cultivated olive tree?
It is something that Israel owns that can bring great blessing to Jews and Gentiles alike. Now, Israel owns the unconditional covenants that God has made with them: to whom belongs. . . the covenants (Romans 9:4); yet, it cannot be the covenants per se because Israelites cannot be broken off from the covenants as the covenants are unconditional. God's covenants with Israel as a nation are still in effect though blessings are presently withheld from the nation as a whole until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and. . . all Israel will be saved (verses 25-26). What can be derived from the passage without contradicting any Bible fact is that the cultivated olive tree is the place of spiritual blessing of which both Jewish and Gentile believers are partaker on the basis of their faith (Ephesians 3:6), and which is rooted in the unconditional covenants that God has made with Israel.
Another element in the passage also refutes the idea that the church has replaced Israel. Consider verse 26, All Israel will be saved. If Israel is taken literally as context calls for it to be taken, then God has not rejected Israel and the church could not have replaced her; but if Israel is taken as the church, then the statement could read, "All the church will be saved," which would be an absurdity because the church is composed solely of people who are already saved, and Paul had gotten writer's cramp over a three chapter span to climax with an absurdity.
6. GALATIANS 3:6-9,29:
And if you belong to Messiah, then you are Abraham's descendants. With this passage, Replacement theologians visit a line of thinking that we have addressed before, that believing Gentiles are inward Jews by virtue of their faith; but as we have pointed out,
In light of these observations, it cannot rationally be concluded that the passage supports the idea that all who are Abraham's descendants by virtue of faith are inward Jews.
7. GALATIANS 6:15-16:
The claim that we are addressing here is that the believing church is the Israel of God, which claim is based on the presupposition that them and the Israel of God refer to the same group, the church. Is the claim valid?
A reading of the letter shows that the issue that Paul was addressing is that some Galatian Gentiles were being influenced by certain Jewish teachers who taught that placing oneself under the Law of Moses, which was accomplished by the rite of circumcision, was a necessary prerequisite for salvation by faith in Jesus. Paul's response in verse 15 may therefore be paraphrased, "Whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, or whether or not you put yourself under the Law, is irrelevant. What counts for salvation is being made a new creation" which, he says repeatedly in the same letter, is by faith apart from the Law (2:16; 3:2,5,11, etc.). 2:16: knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus. He then follows 6:15 by saying, 16. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and [kai] upon the Israel of God.
Dr. Fruchtenbaum writes:4
Covenant Theologians1 must ignore the primary meaning of kai which separates the two groups in the verse in order to make them both the same group. . . .
In a recent work, Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, former professor of Greek and New Testament Exegesis at Dallas Theological Seminary, . . . makes the
following observation: "[T]he least likely view among several alternatives is the view that the Israel of God
is the church."2
Johnson rejects [that view] on three grounds. The first is for grammatical and syntactical reasons for which there are two.3 The first is that this view must resort to a secondary or lesser meaning of kai. . . .
Second, Johnson points out that if Paul’s intention was to identify the them as
being the Israel of God, then the best way of showing this was to eliminate the kai altogether. . . .
The very presence of the kai argues against the them being the Israel of God. As Johnson notes, “Paul, however, did not eliminate the kai.”5
As for context, Johnson observes:
Johnson’s summary concerning the rejection of the view [that the Israel of God is the church] is:
1. Covenant theologians. "The Covenant theory does retain Israel as such to the time of Christ's death. The church is thought to be a spiritual remnant within Israel to whom all Old Testament blessings are granted and the nation as such is allowed to inherit the cursings." (Chafer, Dr. Lewis Sperry, Systematic Theology, [Kregel Publications, 1976], 4:311.)
2. Toussaint and Dyer, Pentecost Essays, "Paul and 'The Israel of God': An Exegetical and
Eschatological Case-Study" by S. Lewis Johnson, pp. 181-182. Quoting William Hendriksen, Exposition of Galatians, New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker,
1868), p. 247, and D. W. B. Robinson, "The Distinction Between Jewish and Gentile Believers in Galatians," Australian Biblical Review 13 (1965): 29-48.
Another significant point: In Galatians 2:7-9, the circumcision and the uncircumcision are twice identified as the Jews and the Gentiles respectively, and verse 15 of Galatians 6 uses exactly the same terms, providing rather
strong evidence that the blessing pronounced is upon two groups: them, being believing Gentiles, and the Israel of God, being believing Jews.
Here again we are faced with the question: Since the circumcision refers to the Jews (Romans
15:8, Galatians 2:12, etc.), and the true circumcision is said to glory in Messiah, can we not conclude that, since the church glories in Messiah, she is the true
As always, we need to look at the verse in context:
2. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3. for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh,
A reading of the chapter shows that the evil workers are the same group that troubled the
Galatians: Judaizers, Jewish teachers who taught that adherence to the Law was a necessary prerequisite to salvation. They are the false circumcision, which does not mean that they are not Jews, but means "mutilators,"5
whose end is destruction (v. 19).
Writing to Gentiles, Paul says, we are the true circumcision. All Jews and Gentiles who have undergone that circumcision. . . which is of the heart (Romans 2:29), a circumcision made without hands (Colossians 2:11), that is, have been crucified with Messiah (Galatians 2:20), regenerated, are the true circumcision.
Consistent with what we have seen in part 1 of Part 3, being circumcised in heart does not render a Gentile an inward Jew, nor the church the new Israel. It renders such individuals and the church inwardly righteous, that is, in standing before God, as it says in Colossians 1:30: But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption.
Philippians 3:3 lends no support to the idea that the true circumcision refers to the church.
9. HEBREWS 12:22-24:
22. But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, 23. to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24. and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.
By equating Mount Zion with the church
in verse 23, this passage has been used by at least one influential theologian6 to conclude that the church is Israel. In other words,
you = Mount Zion = Israel = the church.
Is his conclusion valid? Both context and syntax demand that it is not.
As to context:
As to syntax: Note how the passage is cleanly divided between place names and persons or groups of persons. The first division contains place names only: Mount Zion, the city of the living God, and the heavenly Jerusalem, and they are one and the same: the holy city, new Jerusalem, which will come down out of heaven from God to rest upon the new Earth (Revelation 21:1-22:5). Then comes the second division, which contains the names of persons or groups of persons only: the church, God, the spirits of the righteous made perfect (the Old Testament saints), and Jesus.
The first division names the place, the second division names the persons or groups of persons who will dwell in the place. This makes three things clear:
The notion that the church has become Israel cannot be squeezed out of the passage.
10. 1 PETER 2:9-10:
Many who read this passage conclude that Peter is saying that the church is now Israel. Their conclusion is based on this line of thinking:
Is this line of thinking valid?
To begin with, there is overwhelming evidence that Peters letters are not addressed to the church, but to Jewish believers:
Peter was the apostle to the Jews, not the Gentiles (Galatians 2:8), who were Paul's field of ministry (Romans 11:13).
He wrote to the dispersion (1 Peter 1:1. Young's Literal Translation). Israel was
scattered into the Gentile world. The Greek term for the dispersion is diaspora, "the Diaspora" being the
technical term for the Jews outside the Land that is still in common use today.
In 1 Peter 2:12 and 4:3-4, he contrasts the recipients of the letter with the Gentiles.
1 Peter 2:9 addresses a nation. Many other passages call Israel a nation, but no passage refers to the church is a nation. The church is a people
called out from many nations.
Peter quotes the Old Testament copiously as in the passage at hand, which contains references to Exodus 19:6; Deuteronomy 7:6, 10:15; Isaiah 42:16,
43:20, and 61:6. Matthew and the author of Hebrews did the same because they wrote specifically to Jews.
1 Peter was written in 63 AD, just before the Roman siege of Jerusalem. 4:17-18 is consistent with the Book of Hebrews, which warns Jewish believers to get out of Jerusalem and be physically saved.
1 Peter was not written to the church as a whole, but to Jewish believers within the church. Therefore, the passage does not teach that the church is Israel in any sense.
Of the fourteen key passages that we have examined that are used by many to conclude that the church has replaced Israel as God's covenant people, or is Israel in some sense, or that all believers are Jews in some sense, we have not found one that passes the test of careful scrutiny. None provide any justification for believing that God has rejected Israel as His covenant nation, or that the church has replaced or been added to Israel in any sense. Therefore, the church cannot validly be called inward Israel, spiritual Israel, New Israel or any such entity, nor can its members be considered inward Jews or some similar entity. Nor can any of its members be called a spiritual Jew unless that member is a physical Jew who has a mature walk in the Lord.
A pastor asked me that question. It is not uncommon for such suspicions or accusations to be cast at Jewish believers who hold to such distinctions as are outlined
in this study. To assuage such suspicions, let it be noted that there are many highly credentialed true blue Gentiles who also believe it, such as:
Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer, former president of Dallas Theological Seminary:
A vital distinction is drawn by the Apostle between Israel after the flesh and that portion of Israel within Israel who are saved. Those who are saved are styled "the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16), and the statement that "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel" (Rom. 9:6) is a reference to the same distinction. The use of these passages to prove Israel and the Church to be the same is deplored in the light of the truth which these Scriptures declare.7
Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, whose credentials are noted above: "In spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there remains persistent support for the contention that the term Israel may refer properly to Gentile believers in the present age. . . ."8
May "Israel" be used poetically of the church in the writing of a song, the fashioning of a colorful sermon, or the like, as has often been the case? Linguistically, anything may be used metaphorically for anything else. Someone may refer to me as a tube of toothpaste: Squeeze me hard enough, and everything that's inside will come out. But when one is dealing with biblical terminology, one must be extremely careful to not inadvertently undermine Bible truth. Speaking or singing of the church as Israel will do exactly that.
Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me,