Has God really said …
that the Church is to be viewed as "spiritual Israel"?
Here are some Bible passages that provide an answer for this question (click on the chapter heading to jump there):
11 Therefore, remember your former state: you Gentiles by birth—called the Uncircumcised by those who, merely because of an operation on their flesh, are called the Circumcised—
12 at that time had no Messiah. You were estranged from the national life of Israel. You were foreigners to the covenants embodying God’s promise. You were in this world without hope and without God.
13 But now, you who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of the Messiah’s blood.
14 For he himself is our shalom—he has made us both one and has broken down the m'chitzah which divided us
15 by destroying in his own body the enmity occasioned by the Torah, with its commands set forth in the form of ordinances. He did this in order to create In union with himself from the two groups a single new humanity and thus make shalom,
16 and in order to reconcile to God both in a single body by being executed on a stake as a criminal and thus killing in himself that enmity. (1)
Here is an '''excerpt from the Jewish New Testament Commentary:
''' These verses, often misused by Christians against Messianic Jews, are actually part of the charter for Messianic Judaism. They are fundamental to understanding the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic Community (Eph 1:22
Sha'ul (Paul) is speaking here to Gentiles, not Jews. The word "Gentiles," Greek "ethnæ", is equivalent to Hebrew "goyim", meaning the nations other than the Jews, the nations who were not given the yoke of the Mosaic Torah.
Some Christians base on 1 Cor 10:32 "Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God" (NAS), a false doctrine that once a Gentile comes to faith he is no longer a Gentile but a Christian. But Ro 11:13a "For I am speaking to you who are Gentiles" refutes that contention by calling Gentile Christians "Gentiles." Ga 2:13 "and the rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy," by calling Messianic Jews "Jews," also contradicts the notion that a Jew who trusts in Yeshua is no longer Jewish.
In Eph 2: 11-22, Sha'ul teaches two facts about Gentiles.
- First, being a Gentile is a matter of birth-you Gentiles by birth, literally, "you the Gentiles in flesh"-and is therefore not changed when a Gentile comes to believe the Gospel, although it does change if he becomes a Jewish proselyte (see Mt 23:15; Ga 5:2-4; Ac 16:1-3).
- Second, even though there is a real spiritual difference between Jews and Gentiles based on God's having dealt with them differently (as summarized in Eph 2:12), the distinction popularly made was not based on this. NOR WAS IT BASED ON INNATE DIFFERENCES-THERE ARE NONE, (our capitals) "since all have sinned and come short of earning God's praise" (Ro 3:23). Rather, the Judaizers and their Gentile clients made external, artificial, "fleshly" distinctions. They used the fact that Gentiles were called the Uncircumcised by those who, merely because of an operation on their flesh, are called the Circumcised as an excuse for holding uncircumcised Gentiles in contempt, even though a godly believer is to refrain from boasting (Eph. 2:9; Mt 3:9; Ro 2:17-23; 3:27-31; 1Cor 1:31).
The Messiah has ended any imaginable ground for such invidious comparisons, as explained in vv. Eph 2: 13-16:
You Gentiles were at that time
-"in your former state" (v. 11-12), when you were "dead because of your sins" (vv. Eph 2: 1-10
) - lacking in five respects:
- You were without any relationship to the Messiah, since "Messiah" is entirely a Jewish concept. The word "Christ" has such a Gentile ring to Jews that they sometimes forget that the very idea of "Christ" is not Gentile but Jewish. The relationship to the Messiah is mentioned first because it is the direct means through which the other four deficiencies are remedied.
- You were estranged, excluded, alienated, from the national life of Israel. The Greek word translated "national life" is "politeia," which gives us English words like "polity" and "politics." Arndt and Gingrich's A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament offers as possible meanings "citizenship; commonwealth, state; way of life, conduct." But Gerhard Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament points out that in the Septuagint, "politeia" "does not mean civil rights, constitution, or state, [but] rather the pious order of life which, ordained by the Law of Moses, is inherited from the fathers. [With one exception it] is a religious and moral concept rather than a political concept; it denotes the 'walk' determined by the Mosaic Law." (Volume 6, p. 526)
The same article states that in the present verse "politea" means "civil rights" and is "used in the figurative sense of the privileged religious position of Israel as the recipient of the promise" which excludes the nations. But this conclusion strikes me as capricious, tendentious and antisemitic. Why should "politea" be deprived of its normal meaning, with its implication that Gentile Christians are joined to and obligated with the Jewish people to observe a godly way of life that has its origin in God's relationship with the Jewish people. Gentiles should not think of their union with Israel as only a matter of rights and privileges. More than that, it implies an obligation to relate as family to the Jewish community to whom their faith has joined them (Ro 11:17-24; Ro 15:27
When Ruth joined Israel, she said, "Your people shall be my people," even before she said, "Your God shall be my God" (Ruth 1:16
). Gentile Christians should remember that being "no longer foreigners and strangers" but "fellow-citizens with God's people" (Ruth 1:19
) means being fellows as well as citizens, i.e., being involved with the Jewish people, both Messianic and non-Messianic. Gentile Christians who regard Jewish Christians as the strangers and themselves as the rightful possessors, and those who accept Jewish believers but reject non-believing Jews, are not submitting to the message of these verses. Sha'ul does not say that Israel was estranged from the communal life of Gentiles, but the opposite, implying that Israel constitutes the norm and the center of gravity, not the Gentiles. In Ro 11:16-26
, he portrays Gentiles as wild olive branches grafted into the cultivated olive tree which is Israel, the Jewish people, and cautions Gentile Christians against pride.
- Because you Gentiles were estranged from the communal life of Israel, you were foreigners to the covenants embodying God's promise; these include the covenant with Abraham (see Galatians 3-4; Romans 4), the covenant with Moshe, and the New Covenant with Yeshua (see Messianic Jews/Hebrews 8). The New Covenant was given not to Gentiles but to Israel; Gentiles are foreigners to it except through faith, which, as Sha'ul points out, makes them full participants.
- You were in this world, without hope and
- without God; for apart from God there is only the false hope offered by false religions and non-religions, which sooner or later reveal themselves as disappointing illusions. Otto Rank, the Jewish psychoanalyst who broke with his teacher Sigmund Freud, wrote that everyone needs and produces illusions to sustain himself in a world without purpose. He could write such a peculiar thing because he did not believe in the God of Israel. Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, as atheists who were also existentialists, bravely faced up to the hypocrisy and self-deception of depending on illusions but gave no satisfactory remedy for the resulting hopelessness, other than suggesting that it is more "hopeful" to face the reality of hopelessness than to retreat into fantasy. But hopelessness cannot be palmed off as hope, nor is it reality, except for people without God. Through the centuries many people whose intellectual capacity and integrity match those of Rank, Sartre and Camus have found that the Bible not only fits the real world but provides a spiritual reality that does offer hope in an otherwise hopeless world.
In conclusion, the difference between Gentiles and Jews prior to the Messiah's coming was not merely the external fact that the latter were circumcised, but the spiritual and ontological fact that God dealt with them differently. God chose the Jewish people to receive certain promises and called them to exemplify God's involvement in human life and history. Through making the Bible known to the world, through presenting an example of dedication to God even when apart from Yeshua, but most of all through Yeshua the Messiah himself and his Jewish followers, the Jews have in a measure fulfilled that calling. By being joined to Israel, as explained in the following verses, believing Gentiles have a share in both the promises and the calling.
"And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God." (1)
Excerpt from the Jewish New Testament Commentary: Gal 6:16 (1)
And upon the Israel of God. "And" is Greek kai, which could, in theory, be understood as epexegetical, to be translated, "that is" or "in other words." In this case the traditional Christian misunderstanding would be correct; the verse would say: "Peace and mercy upon those who order their lives by this standard, that is, upon the Israel of God," namely, the Church. English versions which say essentially this in their rendering include the Revised Standard Version, the Phillips Modern English Version, and the Jerusalem Bible.
The consequence of this wrong interpretation has been immeasurable pain for the Jews. The conclusion was reached that the Church is now the "New Israel" and the Jews, the so-called "Old Israel," are no longer God's people. If the Jews are no longer God's people, isn't it appropriate to persecute them?
There are four reasons why this antisemitic conclusion is false and is not taught by this verse or any other:
(1) the Greek grammar,
(2) the Jewish background,
(3) Sha'ul's purpose here, and
(4) Sha'ul's teaching elsewhere.
- Greek grammar. The Greek grammar mitigates against translating this kai by "that is," because earlier in the verse the word "kai" appears twice where the context allows only the translation "and." It is unlikely that Sha'ul would use "kai" twice to mean "and" and once to mean "that is." The King James Version, the New Jerusalem Bible and the New American Standard Version correctly have "and."
- Jewish background. The Jewish background is Sha'ul's allusion to the Amidah. In the Amidah the phrase corresponding to "and upon the Israel of God" is "and on all Israel." The Hebrew particle "ve-" in the Amidah can only mean "and." Sha'ul would not use in the position where "and" appears in the Hebrew of the Amidah a Greek word which has "and" as one of its possible meanings while expecting his readers to understand "that is" instead.
- Sha'ul's purpose here. Sha'ul's purpose in the book of Galatians is polemic, not didactic. He is destroying the arguments of the Judaizers, not teaching about the nature of Israel. This is clear from the fact that the word "Israel" appears only here in the whole book of Galatians. Thus whatever we learn in this verse about Israel is a byproduct, gleaned in passing and to be set alongside his reasoned discussion of the subject, which is found not in Galatians but in the book of Romans.
- Sha'ul's teaching elsewhere. In Romans, Sha'ul devotes three chapters to the subject of Israel (chapters Romans 9-11). There all eleven instances of the word "Israel" refer to the Jewish people, never to the Church. The climax of his teaching is that "all Israel"-the Jewish people as a whole-"will be saved" Ro 11:26a; the note there shows that "Israel" in that verse does not mean the Church). And his purpose in those chapters is to prove that God can be counted on to keep his promises, both to the Jewish people and to all believers in Yeshua-which is precisely the opposite of the theology that says the Jews are no longer God's people, no longer the people of promise.
Traditional Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism and Covenant theology (Presbyterianism) are among the branches of Christendom that have perpetuated the idea that the Christians have replaced the Jews as "the New Israel," "the True Israel," "the Israel of God." But in reaction, the branch of fundamentalist Protestantism known as Dispensationalism has erred in the opposite direction. Taking the "and" before "upon the Israel of God" to mean that "those who order their lives by this standard" are entirely distinct from "the Israel of God," they propose a schema in which "the Israel of God" refers to Jews, but the Church and the Jewish people are forever separate in their histories and destinies. The Jews are seen as having a physical, non-spiritual, earthly destiny, while the Church is seen as having a heavenly, spiritual, non-earthly destiny. Intended to restore the Jewish people to a place in God's plan, the "separate but equal" status accorded them tends here, as in interracial contexts, toward "separate and inferior."
(For the full version of the above comment see Main Bibliograpy)
Israel and the Church By Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum (2))
There is no biblical evidence that the Church began either with Adam or Abraham, or that it existed in the Old Testament or during the earthly life of Christ (Matt. 16:18).
The first evidence that the Church is distinct from Israel is the fact that the Church was born at Pentecost. This is based on the relationship of Spirit-baptism to the Church. According to Colossians 1:18, the Church is the body of Christ. First Corinthians (1Cor 12:13) teaches that entrance into this body is by Spirit-baptism. But Acts 11:15-16 teaches that Spirit-baptism was not instituted until the Holy Spirit came upon the Jewish believers in Acts 2:1-4.
The second evidence of distinction between the Church and Israel is that three specific events in the life of the Messiah were prerequisites to the establishment of the Church, and so the Church could not have come into being until these events had taken place:
- His death by which the atonement was provided. (Mt 16:18-21).
- The resurrection of Jesus (see Eph 1:20-23).
- The ascension of Jesus (Eph 4:7-11). The Holy Spirit was not provided until after Christ's ascension.
The third evidence that shows distinction between the Church and Israel is the "mystery" characteristics of the Church. In biblical terminology, the word "mystery" is often used to describe a New Testament truth not revealed in the Old Testament (Eph. 3:3-5, 9; Col. 1:26-27). Four features of the Church exist that were never revealed in the Old Testament:
- the concept of Jewish and Gentile believers united into one body (Eph. 3:1-12);
- the doctrine of Messiah indwelling every believer (Col. 1:24-27; 2:10-19; 3:4,11);
- the Church as the bride of Messiah (Eph. 5:22-32); and
- the Rapture, with its corollary events of the resurrection of the "dead in Christ" and the transition into heaven of the living believers (1 Cor. 15:50-58).
The fourth evidence that the Church is distinct from Israel is the concept of the "one new man" in Ephesians 2:15. This "one new man" is distinguished from both Israel and the Gentiles and is comprised of believing members from both, identified as the Church in Ephesians 2:16 ("the body") and Ephesians 3:6 ("same body").
The fifth evidence is that the same three groups are distinguished from each other in 1 Corinthians 10:32: "Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God." This verse is a contrast made well after the Church had been established.
The sixth evidence is the fact that the term Israel" is never used of the Church. In the New Testament it is either used of Jews in general or Jewish believers in particular. Galatians 6:16 speaks about the subject of Jewish believers. "Judaizers," or Jews who demanded adherence to the Law of Moses, were deceiving Gentiles to obtain salvation through the Law. To them, a Gentile had to convert to Judaism before he qualified for salvation through Christ. In verse 15, Paul states that the important thing for salvation is faith, resulting in the "new man" He also mentions two elements of the Church: circumcision and uncircumcision. These two elements refer to two groups of people: believing Jews and believing Gentiles. These two entities of the Church are also identified by these very same terms in Galatians 2:7-9.
Summary and Conclusion
||The Church both is and is not Israel. The believing remnant of Israel - Jews who accept the Messiah as their Savior - and the believing remnant of all nations within the remnant Church in all the churches of the world are both called to form "the One new Man," "a single new humanity," of Eph 2:15, within ONE Church, a reconciled Church that consists of both Jews and Non-Jews that belong to Jesus Christ, Yeshua HaMashiach.
(1) Dr. David H. Stern, The Jewish New Testament Commentary, (Clarksville, MD: Jewish New Testament Publications) 1996. Used with permission of Jewish New Testament Publications, Inc.; PO Box 615; Clarksville, MD 21029
(2) Tim LaHaye, The Prophecy Study Bible, AMG, 2000 [p. 1216]
(See our review of this Study Bible)
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