Friday, May 02, 2008

On Israel and Promise

Reading Elliot Johnson's Expository Hermeneutics reminded me of of an old truth (as if there is any other kind) by means of a particularly clear statement.

In [Paul's] later affirmation "not all who are descended from Israel are Israel (Rom. 9:6), Paul emphasizes that "physical is not sufficient"—which is quite different from saying "physical is not necessary or essential" (p. 48).

Too many people are saying the latter. We should be affirming the former.


Anonymous said...

That doesn't seem to be what Paul taught to the Galatians:

"If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Galatians 3:29

(Sorry, couldn't resist)


Larry said...

I am inclined to think that Paul's teaching is consistent in both places, and I think study of the text bears that out.

The context of Galatians 3 is the church, whereas the context of Romans 9 is national Israel.

So in differing contexts, differing understandings are to be expected.

Anonymous said...

Yes the teaching is consistent. And, yes Galatians is talking about the church. And, it is saying that the members of the church are Abraham's "seed" (descendants) and heirs of the promise which was made to Israel.

Peace. I'll see you in the new Jerusalem -- even though you don't think so.


Larry said...

He does not make them heirs of the entire promise since that would 1) contradict the OT teaching and 2) contradict what Paul himself says in Galatians 3. He simply points out that people of faith share the same characteristics as Abraham. They are his spiritual seed.

All of which ignores the fact that Romans 9 is pretty insurmountable, as the quote indicates. The context there indicates that the comparison is between believing Israelites and unbelieving Israelites, not between Israelites and non-Israelites.

And yes, I will see you in the New Jerusalem, after Christ sets up his kingdom on this earth and destroys all his enemies.

Anonymous said...

Contradict Galatians 3?

Galatians 3:7 "They which are of faith, THE SAME are the children of Abraham."

Galatians 3:16 "Now to Abrhaham and his seed were the promises made. He saith NOT, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is CHRIST."

Galatians 3:27 "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (we have put on the seed of Abraham).

Galatians 3:28 "There is neither Jew nor Greek . . . for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (who is Abrahams seed).

And Romans 9 does not add the interpretation given by Johnson. That is merely his assertion. Many, many Christians before and after the invention of dispensationalism, see Romans 9 and Galatians 3 working in complete and obvious harmony.

Anonymous said...

Oh, one more questoin. Exactly which Old Testament teaching would be contradicted by making all of those who are in Christ heirs to ALL the promises made to Abraham's seed?

James sure didn't seem to see this absolute and perpetual distinction in the Old Testament:

Acts 15: "Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things. known unto God are all his words from the beginning of the world."

Larry said...

With respect to Galatians 3, Paul plainly says that the promise has not been annulled by disobedience to the Law. Therefore the promise—land, seed, and blessing—are still good for those to whom the promise was made. In the OT, that promise was made to the genetic descendants of Abraham. The fact that Gentiles by faith are considered as Abraham’s children by faith does not annul the promises made to his genetic descendants.

I am not sure what you mean by “Romans 9 does not add the interpretation given by Johnson.” Johnson did not add anything. He said what the passage says.

With respect to the OT promises contradicted, there are far too many occasions to list here. But they all deal with the various covenants, such as the Abrahamic covenant which is repeated over and over and over again. If you are correct, then the Abrahamic covenant has been broken since the genetic descendants of Abraham will not inherit the land as promised (creating a new land will not fulfill the promise to inherit the old land). The notion that God simply creates a new land in the new Jerusalem cannot, IMO, be taken as a serious attempt to exegete the Scriptures. It arises from a precommitment that the land promise will not be fulfilled, which exists, not because of Scripture but because of a theological construct. There is no scriptural reason to reject a future kingdom and restoration of Israel to the promised land. There is only a theological reason. But Gen 15 is clear that the land considered the land from the River Euphrates to the River of Egypt, and that it will be given to Abraham’s descendants through Isaac. That is not a new Jerusalem promise.

You cite James as support, but when you read James, he says no such thing as you suggest. This is another passage that is, IMO, lacking serious interaction and exegesis by many. James says that the current situation (salvation of Gentiles) agrees with the prophets, and quotes Amos as support. But if you have ever compared the citations, James has a few key differences, perhaps the major of which is “in that day” (Amos) becomes “after these things” (Acts). In other words, James is saying that “after these things,” meaning the present calling out of the Gentiles in the church, “I will return” meaning to set up his kingdom and call Gentiles to himself.

So James is simply saying that the calling out of Gentiles in the church should not be a surprise. God has already pointed to a time when he would do it in the kingdom, and so to see it now is not out of character with God’s plan.

Furthermore, James does not say that the words of the prophets are being fulfilled, but merely that they agree. That means that there is nothing in the prophets that disagrees with what is going on.

Amos 9:11-15 is a passage that creates great problems for you view. Your position can only be maintained by serious recharacterization of the text.

Consider this: Amos talks of restoring the fallen booth of David so that Gentiles will seek God. That can’t be fulfilled in the New Jerusalem because everyone there will have already sought God, and will not need to. And it cannot be taking place now because James said it would be “after these things.”

So it has to be “after these things” yet before the new Jerusalem. When will that happen? There is only room for it in a premillennial understanding.

Anonymous said...

I'll try to interact more fully later. But for now, I'll just say that IF I have recharacterized Amos, I've done it on the authoritative teaching from the mouth of James recorded in Acts. Either he is inspired or he is not.

Oh, and also. My view does not exclude those who are genetically Jewish. And, it does not anul the promise. It points out that the promise was made to the SEED of Abraham and those who are in him -- not the seedS of abraham.

Larry said...

Feel free to interact but I am not sure there is much that will be gained because we disagree on how to handle Scripture.

I will say that James does not say what you say he said. I could (and have) written much more on that. James simply says that what is going on (the incoming of the Gentiles) is not in contradiction to the OT teaching (and quotes Amos as a place where the Gentiles are seen coming to Christ).

But James makes the important distinction that Amos 9:11-15 takes places "after these things" meaning the things that were currently going on. James does not say that the events of Acts are fulfilling Amos 9; he says that they are the precursor to the fulfillment of Amos 9.

So James' authoritative teaching is much more in keeping with what I have said and presents what seem to be insurmountable problems for what you have said.

As for the promise and annulment, if you believe that the genetic descendants of Abraham as a nation will not inherit the land described in Genesis 15, then you have an annulled promise.

Anonymous said...

Been out all day and only have a few minutes now.

Earlier you wrote: "In the OT, that promise was made to the genetic descendants of Abraham."

Could you point out to me where the Bible says "genetic descendants." I don't think I've ever seen those two words together in Scripture. I have also never seen any portion of Scripture which suggests that "genetic descendants", and them only, will receive the promise.

No one disputes that the promise is to Abraham, Abraham's seed, and those who are in Abraham's seed. The question is, who is Abraham's seed and who is in him? The New Testament explanations of the Old Testament promise seem to teach plainly that Jesus is Abraham's seed and all who trust Christ are in Him. Are the New Testament interpretations of the Old Testament not inerrant?

You then wrote: "Johnson did not add anything. He said what the passage says."

But, I believe the following are Johnson's not Scripture's words: "which is quite different from saying 'physical is not necessary or essential.'" Romans never says that explicitly, that is Johnson's interpretation of the text, and in this discussion, his interpretation begs the question.

Next, you stated: "If you are correct, then the Abrahamic covenant has been broken since the genetic descendants of Abraham will not inherit the land as promised (creating a new land will not fulfill the promise to inherit the old land)."

Well, again, where is this "genetic descendant" only thing taught in Scriture? And, no one says that the genetic descendants will not inherit the land. They just say (as Paul in Romans 9) that not all of the genetic descendants will inheret the land. I would also like to see the text which specifies that Abraham's descendants will inherit the "old land." Yes, they will inherit the land, and yes it will be Jerusalem (otherwise God would have called it something other than the new JERUSALEM). How on earth could it be breaking the promise for them to receive a restored land? If my father told me he was going to give me his '65 Mustang Convertible someday, which convertible at the time was rusty and beat up, I would not think his promise unfulfilled should he restore the car before giving it to me. I would think he fulfilled the promise and then some! How much more generous is God the Father.

You continue to assume that those who disagree with you do so because of some extra-biblical precomittment and that you are somehow void of precomittment. You really ought to give serious consideration to the possibility that everyone comes to a text and a discussion with a multitude of precomittments. These precommitments make it difficult to see things the way those with diferent precommitments see them. Nevertheless, it is possible to try.

I will readily admit that I see Scripture from a certain vantage point. And, that from this vantage point the arguments I am making seem exceedingly strong -- if not flawless. Nevertheless, I am aware that they do not seem that strong to those looking from a different vantage point. Therefore, in discussions with those folks, it becomes my responsibilit to try and explain my vantage point.

You keep referring to things that are never mentioned in Scripture (genetic descendants, old land, etc.) as if they are in there as sure as there's a nose on your face. Could it be because of precommitments? Could it be that an examination of your vantage point could open up the view?

I'll try to interact with some of your other points later -- if at all possible.

Peace, Keith

Larry said...

The teaching on genetic descendants is clear from Gen 15 where Eleazar is ruled out as a descendant and it is explicit that the seed will come from Abraham’s own body. You are correct that “genetic descendant” is not in Scripture, but neither are a lot of theological phrases. That’s just not a good argument. However, the teaching about genetic descendants is exceedingly clearing Scripture.

With respect to the “old land,” when you read Genesis 17:8, you see that God promised, "I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God." It is extremely hard (to put it gently) to make “the land of your sojournings, the land of Canaan” to be the New Jerusalem. Language simply will not stretch that far. Abraham did not sojourn in the New Jerusalem.

The NT interpretations of the OT are inerrant, and I agree with the NT interpretation. I do not see any place where the OT is being used as you suggest. But then I don’t share your need to get that interpretation out of the text. As many of these examples are pointing out, you are required to change stuff like “the land of your sojournings” to be a land that Abram never sojourned in, and the land of Canaan inhabited by multiple nations of pagans into New Jerusalem where there will be no pagans. There is absolutely no biblical warrant to do this. The only warrant is a theological one.

The point of Romans 9 is about genetic descendants and that is explicit from the text: my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh,

All of those things are references to the genetic descendants of Abraham, and the very next verse is that “not all Israel is Israel.” The point there is that not all of physical Israel is spiritual Israel. The point cannot be construed to mean that some of spiritual Israel is not also physical Israel. So Johnson’s comment is quite correct.

As I said, I am not void of a precommitment. My precommitment is to the text of Scripture, not to a theological conclusion. I believe that Israel will be restored to the land because that is what the text says, and I believe the text is always right. I am sure you would say the same thing, and so I am not trying to disrespect your position. But as I said, I think we have a very divergent view on how to handle Scripture, and that is the ultimate disagreement.

Anonymous said...

You say: "My precommitment is to the text of Scripture, not to a theological conclusion."

But you are reading the text of Scripture in light of a theological conclusion -- a conclusion that did not occur to anyone until the 19th century. That doesn't mean your conclusion is wrong, but it does mean that the text is not as obviously clear as you continue to assert.

For the record, the precomittment I had for most of my life would have been to a mild form of dispensationalism -- something like you seem to espouse. I came to the position for which I've been arguing here BECAUSE I began to see it in the text when I put aside certain presuppositions that I had to admit were nowhere spelled out in the text. I also discovered that many, many learned Christians throughout history saw this position in the text. Again, that does not mean that this position is correct, but it does mean that the theological construct of covenantal amillenialism and postmillenialism were not pulled out of thin air and then superimposed upon the Scripture for disingenuous reasons.

I'd be glad to continue trying to explain why those of my position see what we see IN THE TEXT (why the new Jerusalem is Jerusalem, why Gentile believers are a part of true Israel, etc.) AND to listen to why you see what you see in the text. However, you seem unwilling to consider that there is anything causing this debate other than that one side takes the Scripture at its obvious meaning and the other tries to explain away the obvious meaning of scripture for some inexplicable reason. Therefore, you are probably correct that not much more will be gained by continuing this discussion.

I know that you mean no disrespect. Please know that I don't either.


Anonymous said...

You quote Romans 9: "my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh," Yes "genetic Israel" is paramount in the history of Redemption because Jesus Himself must be the True Israel, which is why Matthew painstakingly paralleled Jesus life with the life of the OT Israelites, thereby through faith in Jesus, all who believe in Him (ethnic Israel AND Gentile) are Abraham's heirs by faith (Galatians 3:7-14). So we must remember that the promises were to the ethnic Israelites who believed! Not just ethnic Israel. It is always to those who believed- including Gentiles. Always.

Continuing with the passage you quoted: "But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but "Through Isaac shall your offspring be named." 8 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."

In other words, "But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from (ethnic) Israel belong to (spiritual) Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his (ethnic Israel/natural/physical) offspring, but 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.' 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh (i.e. physical/ethnic Israel) who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring." This fits better with the OT passages regarding Gentiles included as Israelites (see below).

But also, why would Paul say, "But it is not as though the Word of God has failed."? It doesn't make sense if Paul meant the promises were for ethnic Israel alone. And if Gentiles are not included in "True Israel" why does Paul say, "What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that (ethnic) Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written, 'Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.'

Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them (ethnic Israel) is that they (ethnic Israel) may be saved (is this a different salvation than the Gentiles?). 2 For I bear them (ethnic Israel) witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God (i.e. ignorant of Jesus), and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness (i.e. faith in Christ). 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." In other words, the law God gave the Israelites in the OT was meant to point them to Jesus. Further 1 Peter explains, "10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets (in the OT) who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them (the prophets) was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them (the prophets in the OT) that they (the prophets) were serving not themselves but you (the church), in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look."

Moving on, a question to ask is, is ancient Palestine THE land which Israel will be given when even Old Testament passages say otherwise?

Let's assume Israel always means ethnic Israel. Israel can never return to ancient Palestine because God promised a new place, 2 Samuel 7:10. Israel has become an 'innumerable' population, and could never again physically fit in the land of ancient Palestine. This is all a fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, Genesis 13:16. Israel is a nation 3250-3300 years old, and is formed of a people that remain dispersed throughout all the countries of the globe, a chosen people, within the Nations, Micah 5:8. Doesn't this sound like a description of the church? And even pointing to the New Heavens/Earth and Jerusalem? I realize that COULD be a stretch but it's not without possibility.

But then, are we positive that Scripture always refers to ethnic Israel ("genetic Israel" as you say) when it says Israel?

If all the promises were made to ethnic Israel alone, what about Ruth? Rahab? the Gentiles who became proselytes to the faith of Abraham (Genesis 12:5)? the mixed multitude who went out from Egypt with the Israelites (Exodus 12:38)? "the alien who is within your camps" (i.e., the Gentiles who joined themselves to Israel) and even with "those who are not with us here today." Some individuals who did not belong to that time, that place, or that people, were included in the covenant (Deuteronomy 29:10-15)? We can see even in the Old Testament God called Gentiles "Israelites" or at the very least were counted as an Israelite- included IN THE COVENANT COMMUNITY. Even these converted Gentiles receive all the blessings of the promises of God just like someone who is an ethnic Israelite.

So, does Israel always mean ethnic Israel? It can't be. It means the covenant people of God who are spiritual Israel who has always comprised of both ethnic Israelites and Gentiles in the midst of the ethnic Israel nation. This Israel/Church (ethnic Israel and Gentile Church) distinction is a false distinction. In other words, it's always been to all those who believed in the Messiah (i.e. Jesus) both ethnic Israel and Gentiles.

If God has included Gentiles in the Covenant(s) in the Old Testament (and they received the fulfillment of the Covenants), why is it different today (employing the Israel/Church distinction)?

But further, what do we do with passages like Joshua 23:14-16? Was not all of God's promises to His people absolutely fulfilled (or does the word "fulfilled" mean quasi-fulfilled/partially fulfilled)? And the issue is not that God has failed on His promises but that His people failed to possess the land? But if there is a double fulfillment (as some would claim) where is the explicit Scripture which explains this double fulfillment?

The issue overall is unless people of ethnic Israel believed in the Messiah (the Promised One in Whom all the promises are Yes and Amen- Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20)), they will perish. So not all Israel are heirs of promise unless they believed in the promised Messiah (Jesus the Christ).

I could never find in Scripture that the distinction of Israel/Church is mandated. In fact, I find the exact opposite. I ask this in earnest, can you please explain why there MUST be a distinction? From Scripture no less? I'm open for change in my thinking IF and only IF Scriptural basis is provided, and again, I have not found it. I've found the exact opposite.

I agree with Ketih - "I know that you mean no disrespect. Please know that I don't either."