Tuesday, July 22, 2014

He Said What?! More on the Identity of "Israel"

The opening line to my previous post, Christians Love Them Some Israel! Why?, reads, "Biblical Israel is comprised of all individuals who are in Christ."

A reader on Google+ was not very impressed with this statement and replied: "I'll confess that I did not get past the first sentence without having a question to ask. So I'm not making any assumptions about your terminology, are you saying that you believe any truly redeemed, born-again Christian is now considered Israel?  If so, you do realize that's not the normative doctrine in evangelical circles, right?"

What struck me about the comment, "you do realize that's not the normative doctrine in evangelical circles, right?" is that my view is in line with that of Andreas J. Köstenberger, the present editor of JETS, The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (of which I am a member). I am very confident that the view I am espousing is not only normative in evangelical circles but also the Christian tradition as a whole. 

The reason I can say, "Biblical Israel is comprised of all individuals who are in Christ" is based on Christ's status as the true Israel of God. Everyone who is "united to" or "in" Christ is, therefore, also the true Israel of God. I can also make this statement based on Paul's "Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16.

In support of the conclusion that "the Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16 refers to all Christians in Galatia, whether Jewish or Christian, professor and commentator G.K. Beale explains,

"Even according to the LXX interpretative translation, however, the believing Gentiles enjoy eschatological blessings only as they confess and identify with the 'God of Israel' and only as they identify with his people Israel by converting and becoming 'proselytes' to the faith of Israel. From the Septuagintal translator’s perspective, the Gentiles cannot enjoy these blessings separately from Israel but only by becoming a part of national, theocratic Israel. Paul also likely does not see that Gentiles can enjoy end-time blessings separately from Jews because the only way that either can participate in such blessing is by identifying with Christ, the true Israel, the true 'seed of Abraham' (Gal 3,16.29). Gentiles no longer need to move to geographical Israel and find "refuge" there in order to convert to the faith of that theocratic nation and they no longer need to adopt the national signs of Israel (e.g., circumcision) to be considered true Israelites. Rather, now, in the new redemptive-historical epoch launched by Christ’s death and resurrection, Gentiles merely need to move spiritually to Christ, find "refuge" in him, and convert to faith in him in order to become true Israelites" [emphasis mine].

G.K. Beale, "Peace and Mercy Upon the Israel of God. The Old Testament Background of Galatians 6,16b," Biblica 80 (1999) 204-223, http://www.bsw.org/biblica/vol-80-1999/peace-and-mercy-upon-the-israel-of-god-the-old-testament-background-of-galatians-6-16b/320/article-p204.html (accessed July 22, 2014).

In his article, "The Israel of God (Galatians 6:16)," Michael Marlowe opens with the statement, "The proper interpretation and translation of the last phrase in Galatians 6:16 has become a matter of controversy in the past century or so. Formerly it was not a matter of controversy. With few exceptions, 'The Israel of God' was understood as a name for the Church here."

In an explanatory footnote, Marlowe expands upon his claim, "H.A.W. Meyer in his Critical and Exegetical Hand-book to the Epistle to the Galatians (5th German edition, 1870), lists the following commentators as supporting this view: Chrysostom, Theodoret, Luther, Calvin, Pareus, Cornelius a Lipide, Calovius, Baumgarten, Koppe, Rosenmüller, Borger, Winer, Paulus, Olhausen, Baumgarten-Crusius, and Wieseler. Meyer himself favors this view. To these names, the American editor of the English translation of his commentary (1884) adds Alford and Lightfoot. Andreas J. Köstenberger (who favors this view in "The Identity of the Israel tou theou (Israel of God) in Galatians 6:16," Faith & Mission 19/1 [2001]: 3–24) adds the names of Justin Martyr, Beale, Dahl, D. Guthrie, Lietzmann, Luz, Longenecker, Ray, Ridderbos, and Stott. But not all of these are commentators. For commentators favoring the view that the phrase refers to Jewish Christians, Meyer lists Ambrosiaster, Beza, Grotius, Estius, Schoettgen, Bengel, Räckert, Matthies, Schott, de Wette, Ewald, and Reithmayr; and the American editor adds Ellicott and Eadie. G. Schrenk (who favors this view in "Was bedeutet 'Israel Gottes'?" Judaica 5 [1949]: 81–94) adds to these Pelagius, B. Weiss, Hofmann, Zahn, Schlatter, Bousset, and Burton. Köstenberger lists also Schrenk, Robinson, Mussner, Bruce, Davies, Richardson, Betz, Walvoord, S. L. Johnson, and "other dispensationalists" as favoring this view. For a survey of commentators and an argument in favor of the latter view see S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., "Paul and 'The Israel of God': An Exegetical and Eschatological Case-Study," in Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost (ed. Stan Toussaint and Charles Dyer; Chicago: Moody, 1986), pp. 183–94. These lists of names, which include some little-known and some non-Christian scholars, do not in themselves convey an accurate impression of the extent to which the first view has predominated. The combined influence of Chrysostom, Luther, and Calvin far outweighs all the others. Prior to the twentieth century the first view alone was mentioned in commentaries intended for laymen and preachers. See, for example, Matthew Henry's Exposition of All the Books of the Old and New Testament (1721), and the Explanatory Notes of Thomas Scott (1822). The interpretation was taken for granted in theological writings generally" [emphasis mine].

Michael Marlow, "The Israel of God (Galatians 6:16)," Bible Research Dec. 2004, http://www.bible-researcher.com/gal6-16.html (accessed July 22, 2014). 

A deeper understanding of the biblical, theological, and political issues surrounding the identity of Israel could have a dramatic affect upon the way a great many American evangelical Christians view the present war in Gaza. Christians may find reasons to stand in solidarity with the people of Israel and support their government's military campaign against Hamas in Gaza but they would have a difficult time finding a basis for such reasons in Christian theology. The doctrine of Christian nonviolence, on the other hand, enjoys a great deal biblical support. Adherence to Christian nonviolence would preclude the "Stand with Israel!" sentiment which is prevalent today. For two recent treatments of the subject of Christian nonviolence, see Preston Sprinkle's "Fight" and Brian Zahnd's "Farewell to Mars."

Christians Love Them Some Israel! Why?

Biblical Israel is comprised of all individuals who are in Christ.* These disciples of Christ are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. The welfare of this Israel ought to cause Christians to become passionately zealous rather than the modern secular nation-state called Israel. According to the New Testament, one is a Jew inwardly. Their heart has been circumcised. "It is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring." This "Israel" is very different from the state of Israel.

Christians know this. They confess this. Why, then, have we seen such vocal and enthusiastic support for the nation of Israel and such disgust for Gazans this week? This is, in fact, nothing new. It happens every time the violence escalates between Israel and the Palestinians.

Some might say, "Yes, we know the difference between 'spiritual' Israel and the state of Israel. But doesn't Paul admit that God has not rejected Israel in Romans chapter 11? That God is not through with Israel? This is why we care so deeply about what happens to Israel.

Yes, God has not rejected Israel. If ethnic Jews do not continue in their unbelief (Romans 11:23), they will be grafted back into their own olive tree. However, Paul makes clear in Romans 10:1-4, "Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes."

Paul's strong desire was for the salvation of his fellow countrymen. He wanted them to be "in Christ." If Christians are passionate about the nation of Israel, we ought to be passionate like Paul. We should be zealous for the salvation of the Jews just as we are zealous for the Gospel to be received by all people-groups of world, including the people of Gaza. This looks very different than vociferously cheering on a secular government entity as they drop bombs on an enemy.

Wedding party struck by U.S. drone. http://youtu.be/eaSxeQ7tISo
Yes, Hamas fires rockets into heavily-populated areas of Israel. Yes, Hamas has hidden weapons in schools and hospitals. They encourage people to become human shields. This is evil and reprehensible. In the meantime, "We the People" are drone-bombing civilians at weddings in foreign countries. What have American Christians done about these evil and reprehensible acts which are committed in our name? Nothing. And, yet, we are cheering on the death and destruction of Gazans because they sent missiles into civilian areas of Israel.

If Christians spent less time defending the actions of a political entity named Israel perhaps we could devote more energy toward the salvation of both Israelis and Palestinians. Like Paul, our heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.

*Edited to add: Although this article was intended for a general audience that is no excuse for a lack of clarity. The reason I can say, "Biblical Israel is comprised of all individuals who are in Christ" is based on Christ's status as the true Israel of God. Everyone who is "united to" or "in" Christ is, therefore, also the true Israel of God. I can also make this statement based on Paul's "Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16.

For more on this topic, read my post . 

Monday, July 21, 2014

How I "Stand With Israel!"

When Israel goes to war, the American evangelical rallying cry is, "Stand With Israel!"

I, too, stand with Israel but perhaps not in the same manner as most of my fellow evangelicals.

I stand with Israel in Palestinian areas as they are forced to flee their homes due to both persecution from other Palestinians and to avoid the bombs of the Israeli Defense Forces.

I stand with Israel in Mosul, Iraq as they must choose to become refugees or be executed at the hands of Islamic State (IS) fighters.

I stand with Israel in Texas as they have decided to enter another country illegally rather than stay home and die at the hands of violent gangs.

How could I say that Israel is trying to avoid the bombs of the Israeli Defense Forces? How is Israel fleeing from ISIS in Iraq? How could Israel possibly be entering Texas illegally?

I can say these things because the Israel of God is the people of God, those who are Jews inwardly. The people of God are not synonymous with any one nation-state even if this nation is called "Israel."

The apostle Paul explained that one is not a child of God due to ethnicity or religious rituals but by faith.
Romans 2:28-29: "For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God."

Romans 9:6-8: "For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.' This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring."

Galatians 3:24-29: "So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise."

Galatians 6:12-16: "It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God."

If you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise!

Those who are a new creation in Christ can be found all throughout the world. They represent a multitude of ethnicities and people-groups. In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek for all are one Christ Jesus.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ live in Iraq, Guatemala, and the United States. They can be found in both Palestinian areas and in the nation of Israel.

I stand with Israel: those who have been circumcised inwardly, Abraham's offspring in Christ, the sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ.

OK, but what about the current war in Gaza? How could I justify the fact that Palestinians (Hamas, really) are lobbing missiles into heavily-populated areas of Israel? I don't. Well, then how come you won't support Israel's right to defend itself by launching an offensive against Hamas in Gaza?

Galatians 6:10 reads, "So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith."

Everyone" means everyone: Arabs, Jews, Muslims, everyone. Bombing them is not doing good to them.

Paul also writes, "especially to those who are of the household of faith." Perhaps some of the people who are being killed in Gaza right now may be of the household of faith. Why would I support killing them? Paul says "especially" implying that we would give even greater effort to doing good to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and we have fellow Christians in both Israel and Palestinian areas.

I stand with Israel, Abraham's offspring in Christ, but I do not stand with Israel, the secular nation-state. I am allied with the uniquely beautiful kingdom of God so I stand with Christ and his kingdom which is advancing through the sons and daughters of God in both Israel and Gaza.