CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Christians and Israel

Jun 3, 2010

How should Christians think about the modern state of Israel? Numerous book-length treatments of this topic have appeared, so it may be foolhardy of me to try to adequately cover this topic in a short article. But I can at least make some introductory remarks here.

To make this a manageable topic it must be pointed out that there are at least two separate but related issues that need to be addressed. One has to do with political and geo-political concerns, while the other has to do with biblical, theological and eschatological issues.

israel 1The Christian should seek to address both issues. As to the political debate, a number of questions would need to be dealt with, including whether Israel has a right to exist; how and if it should defend itself; why there is so much hatred of Israel; what is the truth about the Palestinian situation; and so on.

I have tried to discuss such concerns in various places, including these:
billmuehlenberg.com/2006/08/14/why-israel-must-act/
billmuehlenberg.com/2009/01/03/on-israel%E2%80%99s-right-to-self-defence/
billmuehlenberg.com/2009/01/06/israel-hamas-and-moral-equivalence/
billmuehlenberg.com/2007/06/19/another-thorn-in-israel%E2%80%99s-side/

At the very least, it must be said that these political and geo-political matters are complex and not easily sorted out. Indeed, the entire Middle East quandary is one involving numerous difficult layers, and it seems that no mere human can readily untangle the mess that is the Middle East.

So that is one set of questions, and Christians can and do differ on many issues here. Some always support Israel, some always support the enemies of Israel, some see truth and justice – as well as lies and injustice – on all sides of the conflict; some have no clue where they stand; and some would rather not even think about all this at all!

As should be clear by now to readers of this site, I tend to side with Israel on a number of occasions. It is far from perfect and makes many mistakes. But unlike almost every other nation in the world, it is fighting for its very existence. It is surrounded by enemies which have vowed to drive Israel into the sea, and which claim Israel has no right to exist.

Indeed, Israel has many enemies, ranging from the secular left, to the entire Islamic world, to most of the mainstream media. I find it hard to get fair and even-handed commentary on Israel from most of the MSM, so I often have to rely on the alternative media for more balanced treatments.

The other set of questions are equally complex, multi-faceted, and far from unanimously agreed upon by Christians. In fact, there are numerous positions believers have held on a number of theological and biblical aspects, not least of which are the many options involved concerning biblical prophecy and the end-times.

As just one issue that needs to be determined: is the modern nation of Israel which came into being in 1948 to be equated with God’s particular people, and with God’s prophetic program? Bear in mind that the majority of Jews living in Israel today are not even religious, but are secular, and some even atheistic.

Thus can it be said that everything a basically secular Jewish state does today is part of God’s will, and part of God’s plan for the nation? The truth is, believers are all over the place on the question of whether God even has any further purposes for the Jews.

Many hold to a replacement theology which says that the church is now God’s people, and Israel no longer has any future place in God’s overall plans. There are plenty of New Testament passages which can be appealed to in this regard.

Consider just one passage, which can go either way on this issue, depending on how we translate one very minor Greek word. I refer to Gal. 6:16: “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God”. Now all translators have to be interpreters to some extent, and that certainly is the case here.

Here the NIV interpreted the Greek word kai to mean ‘even’. That is quite legitimate, but the word can also mean ‘and’ as the KJV, ASV, and the NASB for example translate it. But there is a world of difference to this passage depending on how we understand kai.

If we translate it ‘even’, it seems then that Paul is equating Israel with the church, and this would then be one more part of an overall argument for replacement theology. But if Paul really meant ‘and’, then it seems he is trying to make a clear demarcation between Israel and the church, and that God then may well have further purposes for Israel.

So if one little Greek word can cause so much hermeneutical ambiguity, then we must realise that we are in the middle of one big complex debate! And this gets compounded many times over when we consider all the other texts which deal with these issues.

Of course a major problem for those who claim that Israel is no longer part of God’s purposes is not only the many Old Testament passages that seem yet to be fulfilled regarding a glorious future for Israel – passages which can be argued both for and against – but a key NT passage, namely Romans 9-11.

In this major text of Paul’s we find what seems to be a clear pronouncement that God is by no means finished with Israel yet, and one day there will be a great restoration of Israel. Indeed, we even find quite strong passages such as Rom 11:26 which says that “all Israel will be saved”.

Needless to say, that particular verse, along with the three chapters, has been debated ad nauseam, ad infinitum. All kinds of ink has been spilled trying to sort out exactly what Paul is arguing for in that verse and in these three crucial chapters. But these chapters need to be seriously considered along with a batch of other texts before we can get a clear handle on how we understand Israel and the future.

Thus I am afraid I may have simply complicated matters here, instead of providing my readers with clear and easy answers on all this. There is in fact far more that needs to be said on a host of related issues here. But to summarise, at least by way of where I stand, let me say this:

I do support Israel and think it is under assault from all sides. I think it gets a bum rap in the media and in many other quarters. It deserves support and protection. Having said that, I realise that many times Israel makes mistakes and often can compound matters, even making them worse.

Not every action of Israel can be fully supported or justified, whether on Christian grounds or other grounds. But for the most part I think the nation warrants a lot more support and assistance. And a great amount of misinformation and propaganda concerning the nation needs to be challenged and cleared up as well.

As to the biblical understanding of Israel, simply going by Romans 9-11 alone, I find it hard to argue that God no longer has any future plans for the Jews. I think they are still very much in his heart, and he is not finished with them yet.

Whether the modern nation of Israel is part of God’s eschatological purposes for the Jews is not fully clear to me. It may well be. But even if not, we need to keep praying for our Jewish friends, and bear in mind the word given to Abram, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse” (Gen 12:3).

To conclude, let me say that I have barely begun to even scratch the surface of a very nuanced, complex and multi-layered discussion. Thus don’t rush to judgment, throwing all your barbs at me. Much more needs to be said on this vital topic, and all I have done here is offered the lightest of outlines. Your comments can and will help tease this discussion out further.

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47 Responses to Christians and Israel

  • Thanks, Bill. I agree with what you say in this article.

    Israel is important to consider. I believe this is a complex issue.

    It’s clear from the fact there’s a lot of conflict in the Middle East that this area is of importance and I believe it’s no accident that there is a modern state of Israel.

    I would like to recommend some reading of what David Pawson has to say on this topic. He’s a firm believer that God is not finished with Israel yet and has much to say on this important topic.

    He has visited the land of Israel several times and goes there each year for the Feast of the Tabernacles.

    His recent book “Israel in the New Testament” based on his DVD series by the same name (filmed at the Feast of the Tabernacles) I found quite illuminating. So often those who believe God has a future for Israel get accused of being stuck in the Old Testament.

    David mounts a clear case from Matthew, Acts, Romans (Romans 9-11 is on the DVD), Hebrews and Revelation in a way that is intellectually stimulating and yet simple to understand. You don’t need to be a scholar to be able to follow what he has to say.

    His book and DVDs are available in Australia at http://davidpawson.com.au/

    Matt Vinay

  • Hi Matt

    A house mate of mine just purchased Pawson’s full dvd set and we started a weekly watching group (his excitement about it persuaded most of us to purchase the book version of “Unlocking the Bible” as well!)- after only one session on Matthew as one of the gospels, it seems like quite mindblowing teachings and I would at this stage join in your recommendation of Pawson’s work.

    Regards
    Servaas Hofmeyr, South Africa

  • A very balanced treatment, Bill. Would you regard, as does Chuck Missler, that a few litmus tests in the future may make it clearer: eg, an invasion led by Turkey and the “north”, etc (as in Ezekiel), the destruction of Damascus, and so on? Certainly everything that has occurred to modern Israel was incapable of happening before 1948, and prior to that date what was driving prophetic commentators – only the scriptural predictions themselves. Just a few random thoughts.
    Lindsay Smail

  • Hi Bill – hope I don’t put my foot in it again. Isn’t the original group of sons, named Israel made up of the twelve sons of Jacob that became twelve tribes & eventually individual nations (Gen 49) whose identities today are obscure and diffused throughout all nations? If I understand this correctly, then the people today inhabiting the created state of Israel are possibly Jews – maybe from the tribe of Judah, one of the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel. If this is so, then when we speak of Israel receiving special blessings from God etc. etc. the meaning goes way beyond only the Jewish tribe. What is your understanding of this?
    Grant Squelch

  • I think one very telling fact, Bill, is that there are still Jews in the world, where so many ancient races have long since died out; that, to my mind is a hint that, indeed, God still has plans for them. (Also revealing, I think, is the unholy alliance between the secular Left and militant Islamism (producing such oddities as Feminist support for burkas/Female Genital Mutilation)). Sadly, the knee-jerk anti-Israelism found in the MSM/secular Left is also present among some “Liberal” Christians.
    John Thomas, UK

  • Thanks Grant

    Your comment also leads to a number of complex questions, which again are hard to do justice to in a short comment. Questions include: establishing just who a Jew is (one born to a Jewish mother, eg?); what happened to the Jews after the initial exile and the various diasporas (what about theories of the so-called lost tribes of Israel – British-Israelism, etc); along with questions of aligning ancient prophecies (esp. OT prophecies) to modern situations, and so on. And then of course Jesus could speak about true and false Jews, as in John 8 and Revelation 2:9. So it gets complex indeed!

    So one cannot fully answer your question until some of these other issues are carefully tended to. Sorry for no short and easy answer here!

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks John

    Yes you are quite right in all that you say.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Hi Bill, Forgive me for I have mentioned this before, but no one seems to have done so much work in this area as the beloved (to many) theologian Reggie Kelly, Art Katz and the saints that used to attend The annual Ben Israel prophetic conferences in the USA. Conversant with all the great Hebrew Jewish scholars of the past, including Kiel and Delitzsch and their unsurpassed old testament commentary.
    Their view of Israel (right or wrong) certainly is a challenge to all to consider and comment on. Before they finished up one of the last gatherings had Prof Marvin R Wilson from Gordon College, leading scholar on Jewish Christians relations sharing.
    Personally, though I am no scholar by any means, found they have painted a picture that for the first time I could really make sense of as it all came together over some years, and yet also in an instant, one of the greatest blessings I have ever received and I may add one that brought me to my knees in complete awe and amazement at the wisdom and love of God, all revealed in his dealings with Israel
    Some of Reggies illuminating excerpts I find pure gold. Here is the most recent one.
    “IF we set our hearts…to “understand”… not only through close exegesis, but a deep dependency on the mercy that alone grants the Spirit’s illumination, THEN.

    http://the.mysteryofisrael.org/

    Rob Withall

  • This is such an exciting and perplexing subject Bill and although not directly related to the winning of souls has an important place in God’s plans. Christians major on the spiritual aspects so much that we miss the dealings of God in the natural world. I believe that God has never stopped dealing with nations and certainly not the “Apple of His Eye” Israel and Jerusalem his throne. According to certain scriptures Jesus in Person will set up a 1000 year reign in Jerusalem as the King of kings from where He will rule the nations with a rod of iron. Why else does Islam want to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. The president of Iran believes he is the one to start the holy war that will result in the destruction of Israel. Hence the push towards nuclear warfare. So we need to keep Israel in our prayers. We are still in a fierce spiritual warfare. Not so much for our salvation as Jesus has won that battle for us. But the battle is for God’s will to be done here on earth is it is in Heaven and Israel plays a big role in His will.
    Keith Lewis

  • The founding Principal of MELBOURNE BIBLE INSTITUTE – Rev CH Nash – in his book AS IN THE DAYS OF NOAH, quotes a German theologian ,either Schliermacher or von Ranke, who was asked by Frederic the Great why they believed in the Bible Prophecy. They replied “Sire ,The Jews”.
    Wayne Pelling

  • Thanks Wayne

    It seems to have been Voltaire who said it. When Frederick the Great asked Voltaire to point out a clear miracle, he replied, “Sire, the Jews.”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Several years back I read a book by Philip Mauro called The Hope of Israel: What is it?. It has completely changed my view on the subject.

    Regardless of what you believe about Israel, it’s a book worth examining. It’s fairly short and reads well.

    Doriel Josic

  • Thanks for the correction Bill. I shall have to tell CH NASH when we meet in heaven that his 1935 book contained a quote citing the wrong person. However 13 years before the founding of the State of Israel, and against the background of totalitarianism and persecution of the Jews, Nash conveyed in this book his fervent belief in the Power and Majesty of God and in the restoration of Israel.
    Wayne Pelling

  • I don’t think there is much significance any more to the physical land of Israel/Palestine, but the Bible is quite clear that God is not yet finished with the Jews as a people and as a nation.

    The middle east situation is ridiculous. I think it would be best if the West does not meddle with either side… let them sort it out amongst themselves. They’re all grown ups!

    Jereth Kok

  • To Jereth Kok, what you’re suggesting is quite a logical and common sense approach, unfortunately people who have been taken captive by the devil to do his will jettison all manner of reason, logic and common sense! What is left is only confusion, uncertainty and chaos!
    Steve Davis

  • If I may, I would like to post the words of Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary concerning the issue of Israel and God’s Covenant with them.

    The Gentiles cautioned against pride and unbelief, The Jews shall be called as a nation, and brought into God’s visible covenant again.

    Of all judgments, spiritual judgments are the sorest; of these the apostle is here speaking. The restoration of the Jews is, in the course of things, far less improbable than the call of the Gentiles to be the children of Abraham; and though others now possess these privileges, it will not hinder their being admitted again. By rejecting the gospel, and by their indignation at its being preached to the Gentiles, the Jews were become enemies to God; yet they are still to be favoured for the sake of their pious fathers. Though at present they are enemies to the gospel, for their hatred to the Gentiles; yet, when God’s time is come, that will no longer exist, and God’s love to their fathers will be remembered. True grace seeks not to confine God’s favour. Those who find mercy themselves, should endeavour that through their mercy others also may obtain mercy. Not that the Jews will be restored to have their priesthood, and temple, and ceremonies again; an end is put to all these; but they are to be brought to believe in Christ, the true become one sheep-fold with the Gentiles, under Christ the Great Shepherd. The captivities of Israel, their dispersion, and their being shut out from the church, are emblems of the believer’s corrections for doing wrong; and the continued care of the Lord towards that people, and the final mercy and blessed restoration intended for them, show the patience and love of God. (Ro 11:33-36)

    Bennett Donelly

  • In regard to the question about the true identity of Israel. Not all descendants of Israel (the man) are Israel. Neither are all of Abraham’s children Israel. Romans 9:6-9.
    That is, just because you are a ethnic Jew, it doesn’t mean you belong to God’s Israel. So obviously something more is required, as implied in Galatians 6:15-16. “The Israel of God”
    There is some commentary on this in Chapter 3 of this online Book based on Romans 9 Thru 11, called, The Mystery Of Israel And The Church.
    http://web.archive.org/web/19960101000000-20091206073803/http://www.benisrael.org/writings/online_books/mystery_of_israel_and_the_church/mic_contents.html
    Rob Withall

  • Indeed this is a complex issue.

    There is a famous passage in John 8 referring to the true descendants of Abraham being like their forefather. This clearly indicates that not all who are called Israel are Israel.

    Much in regards to Israel hangs on this. Being part of Israel is not guaranteed by birth. Just like the son of a Christian is not necessarily a Christian.

    However the Bible never states that the Church has replaced Israel and I don’t believe it has. It’s too complex to go into in depth into it here, but the book I referred to in my comment above goes into this in detail.

    Some important things to note are:
    Jesus is a Jew.
    He is the king of the Jews, from the royal line of David.
    The twelve disciples are all Jews.
    Probably all of the writers of the Bible were Jews (there a few books where there is some doubt).
    The Bible says that through Israel all nations will be blessed.
    God has used the Jewish people time and time again to bless the world.
    Romans 11 is quite clear that Israel is not the Church or replaced by the Church. Consider even just Romans 11:15 (NIV) “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”.

    The Jews rejecting Jesus must have been very painful for him, his people rejecting him. It is exciting to think about this. The Jews rejected Christ and this lead to the gospel being spread. Indeed most of us reading this blog may not be believers today if it wasn’t for that. But here’s a thought, what if Jews in large numbers were to accept Christ and spread the gospel throughout the earth?

    Romans 9-11 is a complex passage and a lot of warped theology has come out of just picking and choosing different bits. So I do encourage you if you do watch the DVDs I referred to previously to watch the lot, if any.

    Something that will inevitably come up in a discussion of Israel is the Holocaust.

    Whether or not you see Israel as important, I believe the devil does. Why else would Hitler have strived to kill all Jews. That wickedness was the result of more than a mere grudge or madness or some psychological disorder. It is reminiscient of the hardness of Pharaoh, the hatred Haman had for the Jews, not to mention Herod.

    The Devil knows his time is short and wants to do everything he can to delay the Second Coming. He knows he can’t stop it, but he’s trying to anyway.

    If Israel was not important to God’s end time purposes, then it would be difficult to try to explain how there could be so much evidence to the contrary, before our very eyes to this very day.

    Matt Vinay

  • The opposition to Israel and the Jews is so irrational that it can only be explained by reference to a supernatural (demonic) origin. This being the case it’s hard to hold to the view that Israel is no longer of special significance to God’s plans for this world. If Israel is of no more consequence than any other nation then somebody forgot to tell Satan so that he might stop wasting his time inciting so many disparate groups into seeking Israel’s destruction!

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Re Gal. 6:16, the normal meaning of ??? (kai) is “and”. The epexegetical translation of the NIV needs much more justification than an apparent motive to support replacement theology. Greek scholar S. Lewis Johnson pointed out in relation to this passage:

    ‘a basic, but often neglected hermeneutical principle. It is this: in the absence of compelling exegetical and theological considerations, we should avoid the rarer grammatical usages when the common ones make sense.’ [in: Stanley D. Toussaint and Charles H. Dyer, Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost, Moody Press, Chicago, p. 187, 1986.]

    Jonathan Sarfati, USA

  • In response to Grant Squelch, words change meaning over time, even in the time between the different books of the Bible. From my article A brief history of the Jews :

    Jews: this word derives from Judah (Hebrew Yehudah), one of Jacob’s 12 sons, and the one who was the ancestor of Jesus Christ (Mat. 1:3, Luke 3:33). Thus Jesus is Jewish, and the Hebrew version of His name is Yeshua Hamashiach = Jesus the Messiah. However the term ‘Jew’ became used for all descendants of Israel. So the term ‘Jew’ was used interchangeably with ‘Hebrew’ and ‘Israelite’. Thus a Jew is biblically defined as a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    For example, ‘Jew’ is used synonymously with ‘Hebrew’ in Jeremiah 34:9. Mordecai was called a ‘Jew’ although he was from the tribe of Benjamin (Esther 2:5). Christ’s apostle Paul/Saul (Hebrew Sha’ul) calls himself a ‘Jew’ (Acts 21:39), and he also calls himself an ‘Israelite’ from the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1, Philippians 3:4–5).

    Another usage in the NT of the word ???????? (Ioudaios), usually translated ‘Jew’, should be noted. It probably mainly means ‘Jew’ in the widest sense (descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) when used by or to gentiles. When used among Jews, it was probably mainly a sectional term meaning ‘Judean’. This reflected the mutual dislike between Judeans and Galileans. The latter included Christ and his disciples who were most strongly opposed by Judeans. To illustrate the difference, the Roman Pontius Pilate had Jesus labeled: ‘King of the Jews’ (Mat. 27:37) while the Jewish leaders said: ‘If He be the King of Israel …’ [including Galilee and the Diaspora] (Mat. 27:42).

    In the Bible, Jewishness was determined through the father’s line, as is clear from the genealogies. Modern Orthodox Judaism, which dates from about AD 70, and is not the same as biblical Judaism, has declared from about the time of the Crusades that Jewishness is determined through the mother’s line, but the scriptural teaching is all that matters. After all, King David himself had both a gentile great grandmother and great-great grandmother (Matthew 1:5, Ruth 4:21–22).

    Jonathan Sarfati, USA

  • I think Wayne Pelling and Bill quoted the most important issue (Voltaire’s quote).
    What other people group has survived over 1900 years dispersed from its homeland yet retaining its ethnic and religious identity.
    Whilst some other people groups are suffered great persecution, at times, which other people group has suffered such continued bouts of hatred and terror – the fulfilment of Deuteronomy 28:15-68. Arbiet Macht Frei was the last epitaph for Slavs and Gypsies as well, but mostly for the trains bearing the Jews of Europe. Before that the pogroms, the Inqusition, Hadrians campaign, Titus’s campaign etc etc.
    After surrounding Arab nations rejected the 1948 UN formation of the state of Israel, and sent their armies forward to push all Jews in Palestine into the sea, western nations gave the new Israel very little chance of survival, against Arab forces equipped well by their former colonial powers. But against all odds Israel survived – read the balanced account in the book Oh Jerusalem.
    If we cannot see God’s hand in the preservation of the Jews for 1900 years through such improbable circumstances – then I think we are blind to history.
    But yes – as Romans 11:28 says they (most Jews) remain enemies of the Gospel, and will do so until they will look on the One they have pierced – Zech 12:10.
    Stephen White

  • You are right on Ewan. The principalities and powers know where the real issue lies. The rulership over the earth
    And remember it is the same principalities and powers at work today as it was in Nazi Germany with the very same goal.
    It is Gods kingdom with Jesus ruling from Davids throne in a literal Jerusalem, the law going forth out of Zion
    If these principalities and powers can wipe the Jews (God chosen people for leadership off the face of the earth they have wiped out God haven’t they?
    Replacement theology has done a lot of damage!
    Rob Withall

  • Stephen White said:”But yes – as Romans 11:28 says they (most Jews) remain enemies of the Gospel, and will do so until they will look on the One they have pierced – Zech 12:10.”

    That’s true and clear, but there are lots of Jews. A minority of Jews can still be quite a large number (I guess I should have said a large number or crowd, but still a small minority of Jews – 144,000 is a large number in my book, but still pretty small). The spreading of the gospel throughout the earth by Jews is an interpretation of the 144,000 in Revelation, I heard from a talk by Derek Prince (see the free Outline here: http://www.derekprince.org/lib/pdfs/outlines/4382ol.pdf)

    I did hear it a while ago, so I can only vaguely remember what he had to say, so if interested in what he had to say I guess I’d suggest listening to the talk for yourself.

    I believe it’s important to remember that prophecy is not entirely clear regarding future events and thus we must be careful as to what we state as fact. I do see this interpretation as credible.

    Matt Vinay

  • Yesterday morning, (Friday) in our 8:30 devotions at work, we were looking at John chapter 4, the story of Jesus and the Samaritan women at the well. We somehow got to talking about the nation of Israel and the dangers of replacement theology. I work at a Mission founded by the Presbyterians but taken over by Morris Zeidman, a Polish Jew, who came to Canada early last century, and who was converted to Christ through this ministry. Though he died in the sixties, his Jewish heritage is still a strong part of our Christian testimony. Imagine my surprise when later in the day I checked your site and read this article. It’s not difficult to find communities of Messianic believers in Yeshua, (Jesus), in many parts of the world including Toronto and Israel. Christians and Jews share a common heritage and our destinies are interwoven. To God be all the Glory!
    Richard Bunn, Toronto

  • Matt they are the enemy’s of the gospel,”for our sake”
    One could also say they are the test of our gospel in that we are called to provoke them to jealousy. That is They are supposed to see in us the gift of the Spirit that was originally meant for them and want it.
    So far they are not impressed.

    And an excerpt from an email received today from Reggie Kelly, about the move by Turkey away from westernization towards radical Islam to consider, regarding the blessing they were supposed to be to all the people of the earth.

    “It is a rule belonging to the very nature of covenant that the greater the opportunity for blessing, the greater the severity when that privilege is slighted. God will employ the bitter hatred of the enemy to minister corrective discipline or final judgment where the divine pleading is fatally resisted”.

    Rob Withall

  • Bill,

    You entered a bit of a minefield in your thoughtful survey….but you knew that!

    Belief in a general conversion of the Jewish people has a very long tradition in the history of the church. You find it in writers of the 2nd century and they based it on Romans 11 etc.

    Protestant interpreters were mostly pretty optimistic too. Calvin took “all Israel shall be saved” as spiritual Israel (both Jews and Gentiles) but is not in fact denying a general conversion throughout history. Many (most perhaps) placed this at the very end or close to it, eg the Geneva Bible of 1560.

    The historical interpretation of Revelation (ie history beforehand) was common among Protestants supplanting Augustine’s legacy of a more allegorical approach, but led to date setting in the 17th century and then on to futurism.
    Whether the Jews would be restored to Palestine was not terribly widespread. Most were cautious.

    Only in the early 19th century did we have the literalism that produced a restoration of Israel including rebuilt temple, even renewed sacrifices etc in a millennial period. Unhappily there are far too many Christians who think that ethnic Israel is the apple of God’s eye so that they are virtually beyond criticism and even saved apart from Christ. Happily you are not in that camp!

    Gal 6:16 in context really has to be a reference to the church since otherwise Paul’s argument falls. Still, we should not think of the church as replacing Israel but be more nuanced and speak of the church as the expanded Israel consisting of true believers descended from Abraham and true Gentile believers. “If you are Christ’s then are you Abraham children and heirs according to the promise.” (I think Calvin was right on Rom 11:26.)

    In the present incident Israel fell into the trap laid for them. They should have been a whole lot smarter. A bit like the Scopes try they’ve lost the public relations war.

    Rowland Ward

  • This Koine Greek word ‘kai’ occurs some 830 times in the KJV and is translated into our English equivalent ‘also’ some 540 of those times, opposed to ‘even’ translated some 108 times. Obviously it is the discretion of the translators to adequately introduce the correct english equivalent that does the most justifice to the essence of the statement made by Paul, though not always easy, but ‘also’ (and) is the dominant equivalent for the word ‘kai’ not ‘even’. But if I may say also, I always like to appeal to 2 Cor 11:3 ‘simplicity’ when I run into what looks to be a theological knot. In consulting the context of this verse we find Paul arguing strongly about Judaist practices of many of these things that appeal to anything other than fleshly boasting, but it is a ‘new creature’ (being in Christ) which avails and the emphasis of the writing. Paul ends this argument with the beginning of the verse in question with ‘and as many as walk according to this rule’ (my paraphrase: its being a new creature in Christ which avails, not these outward symbols). He then, in my opinion, simply ends his statement with ‘and upon the Israel of God’ thus giving honour and respect to those to whom the oracles of God were first given, acknowledging the Gospel has come to them first, respecting such good workings of the law but arguing respectfully that many are past and served to bring us to Christ, hence fulfilling something that he always strived to do, proclaim Christ to Jews: 1Co 10:32a Give none offence, neither to the Jews….

    What I am saying is, I really dont believe the Apostle ever forsaw people straining at his last comment and twisting our theological antenna’s over such a shady last remark that seems to denote respect rather than separation or inclusion. It simply seems to be a comment of balance and respect to Judaist Jews who had converted to Christ and those who would hopefully follow after. In establishing one’s doctrine to be sound on such a serious and valid topic as this one should try to seek more direct references, not attempt radical reformations of thinking on passages such as this………my two cents worth anyway, good article Bill.

    Dorian Ballard

  • For Christians to think about: “And after the Jews, the Christians”.
    Greg Brien

  • All the above has been very interesting and informative for me and I thank all the scholars among you. My own belief/understanding is that salvation history has always had strong links to that one little part of our planet and I believe the last chapters will unfold there too. When the Jews were resettled in Palestine in 1948 the Pope is quoted as saying, “Now is the beginning of the end” I do see that resettlement as the fulfilment of prophecy and, as Ewan McDonald points out, the hatred of the devil for any group or project is always a significant indicator. I also liked Jonathan Sarfati’s information about the nature of Jewish descent. No disrespect to Matthew but he does quote a patrilineal line of descent for Jesus when, in fact Our Lord got His humanity, His Jewishness and all His DNA from His Mother!
    Anna Cook

  • Another wonderful read on this subject is O. Palmer Robertson’s “The Israel of God.” I studied this issue through alongside his comments some years ago and while it is not all fresh in my mind, two things stand out in my memory.

    We can’t divorce Romans 9 – 11 from the context of the whole book of Romans, and on a close reading of chapters 1-3, it appears that Paul is redefining what a Jew is – in a way that I would not call replacement theology but rather, expansion theology (my term, not Robertson’s). Paul expands it to include more than the nation. If we read chapters 9 – 11 in this light it is quite interesting as Paul elaborates on how all Israel will be saved with grafting in of the unnatural branches (Gentiles) and breaking off of natural ones (born Jews). He seems to be implying that there is more to being a Jew than natural birth – see Rom 2:28, 29 – ‘A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.’

    A lot hinges on verse 11;26 where ‘kai houtos’ is interpreted as ‘and then.’ Robertson’s argument is that ‘houtos’ nowhere else in the NT is translated in a temporal sense – why did he not say ‘kai tote’ instead? Robertson says it means ‘In this manner…’ Robertson concludes that what Paul has just outlined in chapters 9 – 11 is the manner in which all Israel will be saved.

    A big and meaty topic indeed.

    Robertson also wrote another great read – The Christ of the Covenants. Both books are ones I would highly recommend.

    Kerry Letheby

  • Thanks Kerry

    Yes both those books are very good indeed.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Wow, good discussion! Your initial comments Bill, were fair and just enough.

    I have been troubled by a feeling that in some quarters that there is an expectation that the Romans 11 hope will manifest itself in a special treatment of the Jews. That is the Jews will be treated by God in some separate way that almost implies a mixture of the Old and New Covenants, maybe even a restoration of the Old Covenant temple rituals & etc.

    I am convinced that the restoration of the Jews as “the people of God” will only happen as they accept Jesus as the Messiah. i.e. ‘..until you say, “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord”‘. This also means that they will become part of Christianity and therefore also the Church. I believe that according to Rom 11 that there will be a substantial Christian “revival” amongst the Jews, or should I say Israel. Maybe my view gives some credence to some aspects of replacement theology, but my view has been frowned upon by some of those who hold to that theology.

    I am also troubled by a zealous attitude to modern Israel that equates it necessarily with the fulfilment of the covenant of the “land” or of end time prophecies. Don’t get me wrong! I am excited about modern Israel and I see God’s hand in its establishment and survival. Modern Israel is a huge mixture of all kinds of peoples, cultures, opinions and theologies. There is no evidence that God’s choice of modern Israel has anything to do with the faith of its peoples. Though perhaps there is a “remnant”.

    Bruce Knowling

  • I believe that the real problem of Israel and the Middle East is the Zionists conviction that (a) Israel is there by divine right, and (b) Israel is entitled to all the land from the wadi of Egypt to the Euphrates. Add to this the fact that Israel does not define (limit) her borders and you have an explosive mix. I heard a Muslim Syrian friend talking about these things 20 years ago. It is a recipe for disaster – it is virutally a committment to genocide or dhimmitude, one way or the other.
    By way of contrast, if it was clear that Israel just wanted the land they have as a homeland, then, even if the neighbours didn’t like it, I expect that could come to terms with it. The problem is not the existence of Israel as such, but the issue of ‘divine right’.

    If we as Christians are to support the ‘divine right’ angle then we need to be very sure of our doctrinal basis. Are we to believe that God wants, or that the gospel even leaves room for, a duplicate system of temple, priesthood, sacrifices and festivals; given that these all exist now in Christ (and therefore in all who are ‘in Him’)?

    Certainly all those things had glorious beginnings in Moses and a (sometimes) glorious history in the land and the nation of Israel. However, as 2 Corinthians 3:10 makes clear, any glory the law did have is overwhelmed by the surpassing glory of Christ.

    “Indeed, in view of this fact, what once had splendor [the glory of the Law in the face of Moses] has come to have no splendor at all, because of the overwhelming glory that exceeds and excels it [the glory of the Gospel in the face of Jesus Christ].” (Amplified Bible).

    Do we really expect Israel to be satisfied with a flickering candle while we have a brilliant halogen lamp. The ‘glory’ of a temple system is no glory at all when compared with the gospel which is in Christ.

    Ken Brookes

  • Join in the chorus

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOGG_osOoVg

    David Skinner, UK

  • About Galatians 6:16, if the usual meaning of kai, “and”, is the right one, as is likely, then Paul was commending two groups: the Galatian gentile branch of the Church who stood firm against the Judaizers, and the Israel of God which is the believing Jewish remnant within the Church. The “Israel of God” contrasts with the Jewish professing believers, the Judaizers, who are really “Israel after the flesh” (1 Corinthians 10:18).

    Of course, there could be peace at once in modern Israel, about a quarter of the size of Tasmania, if only “the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.” — Golda Meir (1957)

    Jonathan Sarfati, US

  • Hi Bill,

    I’ve recently been challenged in this area so i’m glad you are discussing it. The way i see it, if the Church has replaced Israel then God’s promises to Israel have failed. This seems to be exactly the opposite of what Paul argues in Rom 9-11. After all, if God abandoned the Jewish people, who saids he won’t abandon the Church. That is why i disgaree with replacement theology.

    Often we group Israel as one of the nations to evangelise, however the Bible never does this. The Bible has two boxes so to speak, ‘the Jews’ and ‘the nations’ (see Rom 1:16). There is and should be a theological priority to take the gospel “first to the Jew and then to the gentile”. However to extend this to dispensational pre-mill goes to far in my view, and thus why so much of American theology and politics are intertwined.

    Let’s remember as Gentiles, we have been grafted into the olive tree, we are NOT the olive tree- the Jewish people are (Rom 11:11-24)

    That’s my two cents worth!
    Mark Topping

  • I’m not sure that “replace” or its cognates is a very good way of describing Israel’s relationship with the church, or God’s relationship with both entities. It would seem to me what God promised through Abraham was eventually fulfilled in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He was the Messiah whose advent signaled the return of God to rescue and restore his people so they could indeed fulfill the promises made to Abraham. But we must remember that those promises included the blessing of all nations. Through Israel’s representative and king, Jesus Christ, God’s people fulfilled their divinely-authored vocation. But it was precisely in that fulfillment that the doors of salvation were, if you like, flung open, and the offer of salvation was extended to all people – regardless of ethnic or national origin. Thus, a new community was formed – one that flowed organically out of the climactic work of Israel’s Messiah (who himself was the summation of the nation’s vocation, longings, etc.) – but that differed from ethnic Israel as it did not count ethnic heritage, settlement in the Promised Land, or strict adherence to Torah as necessary for salvation. All that counted was faith in the Holy One of God.

    I still think God’s plan for Israel (if by “Israel”, we mean descendants of Abraham) has not yet reached its conclusion (this seems to be the case, judging by Romans 9-11). Whether Israel as a nation-state is in any way special remains another issue. Hope that makes sense…I may have just muddied the waters a bit more!!

    Scott Buchanan

  • Regarding the situation in Gaza, if the Islamists put down their weapons there would be no more conflict. If the Jews put down their weapons there would be no more Israel.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Check the maps on this page to see the precarious situation Israel is in in relation to her many hostile neighbours. It’s also obvious to anyone how unreasonable it is to suggest Israel should give up territory.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Interesting and tangled subject. One point that dosen’t seem to have been mentioned is the Christians in that part of the world. I believe in Israel’s right to exist but our love for our brothers in Christ (Israelis or Arabs) is more our priority as Christians. They are being squeezed out by the conflict and by radical Islamist especially.
    I’ve also blogged on all this at http://www.jonknewton.com
    Jon Newton

  • Hi Bill, while I appreciate the arguments about the complexities of grammatical interpretation, I can’t believe that God would let such a major issue, as the present day existence of the land of Israel, hinge on such minor points as a translators interpretation of one or two words.

    Whether we legitimize Israel or not, Israel is still the elephant in the room. Athiests deny God, Evolutionists deny a Creator and Muslims and replacement theology proponents deny Israel. So….?

    Let God be found true though every man a liar. To equivocate on this point is to intellectualize and almost trivialize God’s ancient people, prophecy and His prototype which demonstrates to the world in graphic, historic detail what happens to a people when we put our trust in God and when we fail to do so. But what God begins, He will complete. If Satan can get us to air brush Israel out of our Scriptural interpretation, and the church dithers on this point, then all support for Israel will vaporize and fulfill that other ominous end time prophecy of all nations turning against Israel, which will in turn trigger the Triumphant return of Christ to the ancient land of His birth and His people. After all Salvation is of the Jews – John 4:22

    THE DELEGITIMIZING OF ISRAEL, IS THE EMASCULATING OF SCRIPTURE ANd PROBABLY SATAN’S MASTER STROKE AND ONE OF HIS MOST CHERISHED, LONG TERM AN SUBTLE PLOYS by sowing doubts into our minds,by getting us to question our Father’s intent for our elder brother if you like. If God cared and made provision for Ishmael his son NOT of promise even down to this day fulfilling his promise to make of him a mighty nation, how much more will he see his promises for the promised seed through Isaac be fulfilled?

    Isaiah in 66:8 asks Can a nation be born in a single day? Yes! Israel became a nation in May 1948, though dates differ, the modern state of Israel has a birth certificate signed by the United Nations. On this day I’m sure all hell howled, and Israel’s enemies still do, echoing down through the halls of Nazism, the Mosques of Islam and the deluded utterances of Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to throw Israel into the sea. This is the heart beat of our enemy and the exact opposite of the heart beat of our God. Jerusalem is the apple of God’s eye Zech 2:8. To deny Israel, is to poke God in the eye.

    Rather he would have us to ‘Rejoice with Jerusalem! Be glad with her all you who love her and mourn for her, Delight in Jerusalem’. Is 66:10,11

    Israel is no side issue and our enemy knows it. Israel is central to Scripture. ISRAEL IS TO SCRIPTURE AS WETNESS IS TO WATER – YOU CANNOT SEPARATE THEM. You cannot air lift out Israel, parachute in the Church and uphold the integrity of Scripture, it’s author and the future eternal security of those who put their trust in the God who declares He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

    Psa 137:5 If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
    Psa 137:6 If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

    If we don’t wish to become devoid of the use of our right hands, or become voiceless in the utterances of our mouths, we as Christians must speak up for Israel and delight in Jerusalem even though we be the last man standing.

    Pro 31:8 Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
    Pro 31:9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.

    Pro 24:11 If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain;
    Pro 24:12 If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?

    Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king’s house, more than all the Jews.
    Est 4:14 For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed: and who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

    Sorry if this has become so long, not a lot of time to edit – hope you can hear my heart, but more importantly the heart of God.

    Shalom.
    Michelle Shave

  • If the Church has replaced Israel, then perhaps Muhammad was right and Islam has replaced the Church!

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Great article Bill. Agree wholeheartedly with your sentiments. I grew up in a home that has always cherished Gods chosen people–his firstborn. I believe there is clear merit from Scripture itself that underscores the importance of the land. Replacement theology is bad (or no) theology. Scripture encourages us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” of course true peace will come when the Prince of Peace returns to reign. Shalom.
    Mihael McCoy, Perth

  • Amen and Amen, Michelle Shave, you have it in one. Praise God for Israel and her people. May they all hasten to the Land of Promise.

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