Monday, February 20, 2012

Israel is the Church is Israel

One of the enduring influences of Dispensationalism is the belief in a radical discontinuity between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament Church. Some people even believe that Jews are saved in a way different, i.e., by obeying the Law, from Gentile Christians.

However, this is not the historic Protestant view. In sermons, confessions, and commentaries from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries one will often see references to the "Church of the Jews" when referring to Old Testament believers. In his comments on Isaiah 54:10, John Wesley said, "God will not cast off His Christian church, as He cast off the church of the Jews..." What may shock many American evangelicals is that such usage is actually quite biblical!

In the original Hebrew of the Old Testament, "congregation" was the word "qahal." In the Septuagint, the early Greek translation of the Old Testament, a Jewish translation, "qahal" was translated by "ekklesia," the exact word used in the Greek New Testament for "church." Some of the verses where "qahal" is found include Num. 20:6, 10, Dt. 5:22, 9:10, 10:4, 18:16, 31:30, Josh. 8:35, Judg. 20:2, 21:5, 8, I Sam. 17:47, I Kgs. 8:14, 22, 55, 65. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

In the New Testament, we have two verses which strongly identify the people of God under the two testaments. In Acts 7:38, Stephen refers to Moses and Israel in the desert as the "congregation in the wilderness." "Congregation" here is the Greek word "ekklesia," and is translated "church" in this verse in the KJV and ASV. And looking at it from the New Testament perspective, the Apostle refers to the church, in Galatians 6:16, as "the Israel of God."

How did this come about? The key is in Romans 11. Verses 8 through 10 tell us that God has hardened ethnic Israel. This is their judgment for rejecting their Messiah and cooperating with the Romans in His murder (refer back to 9:33). Then verses 17-21 tell us that the natural branches of the olive tree, representing ethnic Israel, were cut off, and wild branches, representing Gentile Christians, were grafted in. Notice that these are two sets of branches, but of one tree.

The dispensationalists overlook the words of Paul in Galatians 3:7, that it is faith, not blood descent, that makes one a "son of Abraham." Also, in Romans 2:29, "a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart." As he explains in I Corinthians 7:19, "For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God." And Philippians 3:3, "For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh."

Of course, I cannot deny that there are differences between the people of God under the two testaments. I simply believe that the differences are matters of administration, not nature.

But there is more: Paul doesn't end with the wild branches grafted in, as if ethnic Israel no longer had any place in the purposes of God. Just as He pruned them out for unbelief, a day will come when their hardness will abate, and they will return to their God. Romans 11:24, "For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree." And that thought continues through the next several verses.

This was also an Old Testament promise. Zechariah 12:10, "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on Me, on Him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over Him, as one weeps over a firstborn."



How do you deal with 1 Cor. 10:32?

Chris Cole said...

This doesn't seem very complicated to me. The verse reads, "Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God..." That is, unbelievers among ethnic Jews or among Gentiles, or believers of either derivation.


Indeed, but aren't unbelieving Jews called Israel by Paul in Romans 11:25?


Chris Cole said...

No. In that verse, Israel refers to ethnic Israel as a whole. In general, ethnic Israel has been hardened, in the judicial sense, though there have been individual Jews who have believed, down through history. Ethnic Israel, as a whole, has been excommunicated from the covenant, as per verses 8 through 10, until their time of hardening has passed, verse 24. Verse 25 is a recapitulation of that entire line of reasoning.


So Peter preached to "Men of Israel" (Acts 2:22) at Pentecost and the Lord added some of them to the church (Acts 2:47) and you say they are back part of Israel?

Do you consider the abomination of desolation (Matt. 24:15; cf. Daniel 9:27) future?