The assertion I made that started this conversation was that the word “Israel” has not lost its meaning. “Israel” continues, even during the New Covenant era, to identify the particular descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The meaning of the word has not been broadened to encompass the Gentiles nor is it a New Covenant identification of all believers in Christ, i.e. the Church. When the New Testament authors (who were themselves primarily Israelites) used the word “Israel,” it was meant to identify the historic, national people of God who had always borne that title. If someone insists that the word “Israel” has gone through a redefinition or change in meaning, then I equally insist that they provide some clear and obvious proof from Scripture, not from inference or as the result of a system of theology.
Again, if such a dramatic paradigm shift has occurred, it seems to me that the New Testament authors would absolutely have to inform their readers that when they used the word “Israel” – which had a singular meaning for nearly two thousand years – it now meant something different. Failure on the part of the New Testament authors to provide such specific delineation would result in the very sort of confusion they were working so hard to avoid.
So, if the word “Israel” is used anywhere in Scripture to mean anything other than the historic, national people chosen by God, the primary focus of the whole Old Testament, then I do insist that we must find clear, irrefutable proof of such a change in meaning.
And that’s where we pick up the conversation:
Q – I guess Eph. 2 is probably what I was thinking of when I said Paul referred to Gentile believers as part of Israel. What that text tells me, when I let it say what it says, is that when a Gentile enters the Church by grace through faith in Christ, he is therefore:
· No longer dead in sin
· Raised not only to life but to a seat in the heavenlies with Christ
· A new, obedient creation
· Part of the Circumcision of the heart (by negative inference, a cut “not made with hands”)
· No longer an alien to the commonwealth of Israel – if he’s not an alien to the commonwealth, what is he?
· No longer a stranger from the covenant of promise – if not a stranger from it, what is his relationship to it?
· Brought “near,” as opposed to “far off” – Hebrew language not for proximity but for covenant relation
· Part of one new Man made up of Israel and Gentile believers
· No longer a stranger or foreigner, but a fellow citizen of the household of God – an interesting mixing of national and familial metaphors
· Built together with Israel upon the single foundation that is made up of both the OT prophets and the NT apostles, with Christ as the cornerstone, which building is growing up into one holy temple – a metaphor that perfectly complements his olive tree analogy in which Gentiles are added to the Israelite tree
Jim – Here is the primary part of Ephesians 2 that lays at the heart of our discussion, in two translations:
“Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh — who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands — that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” (NKJV Eph. 2:11-22)
“Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by the so-called Circumcision, which is performed in the flesh by human hands — remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” (NASU Eph. 2:11-22)
Now let’s take your conclusions one-by-one.
Q – “… when a Gentile enters the Church by grace through faith in Christ, he is therefore:
· No longer dead in sin
Jim – Agreed.
Q – · Raised not only to life but to a seat in the heavenlies with Christ
Jim – Yep.
Q –· A new, obedient creation
Jim – I’ll offer reserved agreement here, my only reservation being that the text does not say “obedient” specifically. Rather, it says that are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. So, I would put the emphasis on God’s creative power and irresistibility above our obedience — but, I think that’s what you actually mean, so I won’t pick at nits.
Q –· Part of the Circumcision of the heart (by negative inference, a cut “not made with hands”)
Jim – Actually, what this text does say is that Gentiles were called “uncircumcised” by the so-called “circumcised” – i.e. those who had the fleshly circumcision done by human hands. Yes, there is an inference of a spiritual circumcision, or a circumcision of the heart, but Paul does not develop that thought in this text. In fact, the reference to lack of circumcision is merely an interstitial thought at this point; it is identifying a particular group of people, the Gentiles. And, although they were formerly called “uncircumcised” by the Jews, Paul says nothing of their current state or being part of “the circumcision of the heart.” Paul does address the notion of circumcision of the heart in Romans 3:29, but he says nothing of the sort in his epistle to the Ephesians.
Yes, those are picky details; but the details count.
Q –· No longer an alien to the commonwealth of Israel – if he’s not an alien to the commonwealth, what is he?
Jim – Nope. Wrong conclusion. Follow Paul’s language because it is very specific.
Although it is true that Gentiles were called “uncircumcised” by those Jews who considered themselves to be “the circumcision,” Paul adjures them to remember that “at that time you were separate from Christ.” That’s the heart of the whole matter.
The evidence that they were historically separate from Christ is the fact they were strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. But, those historic realities are simply the undeniable evidence that they were “separate from Christ.”
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Eph. 2:13)
The key question then is: To what or whom were the Gentiles brought near? Were they brought close to Israel? No (as I’ll continue to show from the text). They were brought close to Christ, the Jewish Messiah in whom salvation rests. There is no spiritual value to being brought close to Israel or being made a citizen of that nation, since members of that nation also had to be renewed and brought near to Christ; as Paul will clearly demonstrate.
Starting at verse 14, Paul argues that Christ is our peace and has made the two people groups “one.” He accomplished that task by breaking down the partition that divided the two groups – “the law with its commandments and regulations.”
“…His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace,” (Eph. 2:15b)
Notice carefully what Paul is arguing. He is not saying that Gentiles were added to Israel. Rather, he is arguing that both Israelites and Gentiles are brought together into “one new man.” This “new man” is neither Jew nor Gentile.
This is consistent with what he wrote in Galatians 3:28 –
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The consistent Pauline theology is not that Gentiles were added to the commonwealth of Israel in order to be saved. They were brought to Christ and became part of “the one new man” — neither Jew nor Gentile. Paul’s statement concerning their distance from the nation of Israel (who had the covenants of promise) and the reality that they were therefore without hope or God in the world was supporting evidence of the fact that they were “separate from Christ;” which distance was no hindrance to Christ Jesus who brought “you who were far away” near to Him by the sacrifice of His blood.
Q – · No longer a stranger from the covenant of promise – if not a stranger from it, what is his relationship to it?
Jim – I think you can deduce my response from what’s written above, but the answer is inherent in the question. Gentiles who were historically separate from the covenants of promise were made near to Christ and the promises attendant to that new status. However, (sticking to what’s germane to the topic of this discussion) that says nothing about their being made citizens of national Israel.
Q – · Brought “near,” as opposed to “far off” – Hebrew language not for proximity but for covenant relation
Jim – At this point in his epistle, Paul was probably referencing Isaiah 57 in order to show that the outreach of the gospel to the Gentiles was in keeping with the Word of God.
“I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him, creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel, Peace, peace, to those far and near,” says the LORD. “And I will heal them.” (Isaiah 57:18-19)
Whether we think of this as physical proximity (which I’m prone to believe, considering how often Isaiah speaks of Isles afar off, etc.) or not, it says nothing about our current discussion. Those who were far from Christ were made near by His blood. That’s the thrust of Paul’s argument.
Q -· Part of one new Man made up of Israel and Gentile believers
Jim – Right. And this is why your email confused me. You recognize that Paul argues for both Israelites and Gentiles being made a new community of believers, yet you seem to think that this same passage argues for a widening of the concept of Israel or that Gentiles are brought near to Israel specifically as part and parcel of the method of salvation.
Q – · No longer a stranger or foreigner, but a fellow citizen of the household of God – an interesting mixing of national and familial metaphors
Jim – Yes, it’s interesting, but it does not prove your contention. It merely says that all believers are fellow citizens in the household of God. It says nothing of Gentiles becoming fellow citizens with Israelites in a newly-formed version of Israel.
Q –· Built together with Israel upon the single foundation that is made up of both the OT prophets and the NT apostles, with Christ as the cornerstone, which building is growing up into one holy temple – a metaphor that perfectly complements his olive tree analogy in which Gentiles are added to the Israelite tree
Jim – Contextually, Paul is not referring to Old Testament prophets. The “one new man” is built on the New Testament / New Covenant apostles and prophets. That’s made clear as Paul continues through this same epistle. The subject has not changed as he starts chapter three:
“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles — if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power.” (Eph. 3:1-8)
Just a couple quick things from this pericope:
First, Paul contrasts his present knowledge of “the mystery of Christ,” with those “in other generations” who did not know it. But, it has been specifically revealed to “His holy apostles and prophets.” So, it’s clear that Paul is referring to those contemporary prophets to whom the mystery was revealed. And, of course, in chapter four Paul will list the gifts that are given to the church, and he’ll include “some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists …”
So, I conclude that Paul was not referring to Old Testament prophets as the foundation on which the new man is built.
Second, notice what Paul says the mystery entails: “to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” That phrase clarifies what he wrote in chapter two. Gentiles are fellow heirs (along with Israelite believers) and fellow members of the body. But, nowhere does Paul contend that the believing Gentiles have now become Israel.
That being the case, whatever parallels may exist between this passage and Paul’s olive tree analogy in Romans 11, Paul simply never says that Gentiles are “added to the Israelite tree.” That’s an interpretation. What is much more likely is that the olive tree represents “the covenant of promise,” or the Abrahamic promise, which belonged to Israel historically, but into which Gentiles were grafted against their nature.
By the way, Paul’s argument in Romans 11 also declares that the cut off branches will be grafted in again because the promise is indeed theirs. “And so all Israel will be saved.” But, that’s another discussion for another day.
And with that, we move on to your second email.
Q – I should have started out in my last email by saying thank you for patiently explaining your position to me yesterday. My only goal in discussing it is that both of us will come to a fuller understanding of the issues. I certainly don’t consider myself to have all the answers, although I have built up some biases.
Jim – I appreciate these words and your recognition that we all have our biases. It’s very hard to stand toe-to-toe with the Bible and not let our suppositions guide our understanding. That’s why I argue so vehemently for the credibility of the words on the page and try to limit any “interpreting” to make sure that what I think and say does no (or at least minimal) damage to the context and the specific language employed by the authors.
Q – I woke up in the middle of the night and recognized that what I was remembering as a reference to “true Israel” was in Romans 2:26-29, where the term “Jew” is used. That’s the trouble with electronic searches. They’re so literal.
Jim – Well, first off, the terms “Jew” and “Israel” are not synonymous. Historically, only members of the Southern Kingdom — made up of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and the Levites serving in the temple — were ever called “Jews.” They were also known as “Jerusalem” and “Judah.” Meanwhile, the Northern Kingdom was called “Israel,” “Ephraim,” and occasionally “Samaria.” But, not a single member of the Northern Tribes was ever referred to as a Jew.
The terms “Israel” and “Jacob” are sometimes used to denote the entire twelve tribes, but never is the term “Jew” used of all twelve collectively. In other words, a Jew is indeed an Israelite. But, not all Israelites are Jews. Those distinctive names are well known to the Biblical authors and are never used in a confusing or conflicting fashion. The reason I bring this up is that, even if we could deduce terminology such as “true Jew” from Romans 2:26-29, it does nothing to support the idea of “true Israel.” And that’s vitally important.
Oh, and I like the fact that your electronic search was so literal because the biblical language is equally specific. 🙂
In my book “Is the Church Israel?” I deal with Romans 2:26-29. It is used like a fishing license by countless expositors to support unbiblical language like “spiritual Israel” or “true Israel,” despite the fact that no New Testament author ever employs such terminology or actually develops such an idea.
For clarity’s sake, here’s the passage:
“So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” (Rom. 2:26-29)
Q – I concede that it would be logically possible to take Paul’s words “he is a Jew who is one inwardly,” to mean either of two things. Since in the immediate context, he’s contrasting obedient Gentiles with disobedient Jews, he could mean that anyone, regardless of genetic descent, who has a circumcised heart is a Jew in the truest sense of the word. Or, since in the slightly broader context, his focus in on Jews in particular, he could mean that only those who are “Jews by nature” (Gal 2:15), who are circumcised in their hearts, are Jews in the fullest sense of the word. Either way, though, he’s teaching that identification with Israel is ultimately a spiritual matter.
Jim – The context is as plain and particular as any in Scripture. It is not “logically possible to take Paul’s words … to mean either of two things.” They only mean one thing. Paul was not vague in the slightest. While the Romans epistle is addressed to believing Jews and Gentiles, His focus in this passage is Jews. Here’s the contextual evidence:
· Verse 17 sets the stage: “Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God,”
· He then follows with his description of Jewish people: they approve excellent things; they are instructed out of the law; they are confident that they are a guide to the blind, light to those in darkness, instructors of the foolish, teachers of babes, having knowledge and the truth of the law; followed by particular commandments.
· Paul’s comments are directed at the circumcised in verses 25 and 26: “For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.”
· In that context, Paul says: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”
· Importantly, the same focus continues into Chapter 3:1-2: “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.”
So, short of forcing a predetermined system onto Paul’s language, the context is perfectly clear. He is addressing the Jews and advancing the idea that those Jews who are not only physically circumcised, but also circumcised in heart by the Spirit of God, not the letter of the law, are Jews in the fullest sense.
However, this passage says nothing whatsoever about spiritual identification with Israel. In fact, Paul hasn’t even mentioned the word. Paul’s contrast is between the circumcised Jews who made their boast in the law and believing Gentiles who, though uncircumcised, keep the righteous requirements of the law. Nowhere does Paul conclude that believing Gentiles are now Jews or Israelites. That’s a conclusion drawn from a system, not from the text.
Also, I would argue that Paul is not saying that “identification with Israel is ultimately a spiritual matter.” His point is that righteousness is ultimately a spiritual matter, not accomplished by fleshly circumcision or the letter of the law. That’s the spiritual element.
Q – There are several reasons I lean toward the former interpretation. One is, accounting for a yet broader context, he goes on to finish explaining that both Jews and Gentiles are, by nature, sinners; and that the only way either can escape the wrath of God is by faith in Christ; so that, spiritually, there is no distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers. We are united in one body in Christ.
Jim – You’re actually making my point. Both Jews and Gentiles are sinful. Therefore, spiritual identification with sinful Jews is of no actual value. Yes, in Christ both Jew and Gentile are made “one new man.” But, they do not become “spiritual Israel.” They become the Christian Church.
Among the people of Christ there is no distinction. But outside of Christ — physically, historically, racially, and in terms of nomenclature — the distinctions obviously continue.
Q – Now, you were saying yesterday (in a separate conversation) that OT believers are not part of the Bride of Christ. But if everyone from Adam to present is saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone – something I’m pretty sure you and I agree on – then all such believers are united in one body in Christ, no? If not, I respectfully submit that you are the one who has to explain why and when the paradigm shift tacitly occurred.
Jim – No problem. But, we must think historically and speak of Bible things using Bible language. I fully agree that every saint from Adam to the present is saved by the finished atoning work of Christ as a direct result of God’s grace. However, throughout the Old Testament, Israel is referred to God’s wife; not Christ’s betrothed bride. For instance, the first declaration of the New Covenant is found in Jeremiah 31, where God says —
“Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them. saith the LORD.” (Jer. 31:31-32)
According to Ezekiel, God saw Israel and Judah as two unfaithful sisters who committed whoredom against their husband soon after being brought out of Egypt.
“The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying, Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother: and they committed whoredoms in Egypt; they committed whoredoms in their youth: there were their breasts pressed, and there they bruised the teats of their virginity. And the names of them were Aholah the elder, and Aholibah her sister: and they were mine, and they bare sons and daughters. Thus were their names; Samaria is Aholah, and Jerusalem Aholibah.” (Ezek. 23:1-4)
Israel committed adultery against God (which only a wife can do). So, in his anger, God threatened to put Israel away and divorce her to show Judah His willingness to judge their transgressions.
“Thus saith the LORD, Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement, whom I have put away? Or which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves, and for your transgressions is your mother put away.” (Isa. 50:1)
“The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot. And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.” (Jer. 3:6-8)
Ezekiel 16 uses the unfaithful wife language to describe God’s anger over Israel and Judah’s idolatry. And, of course, the entire theme of the book of Hosea has to do with God’s relationship with unfaithful Israel.
Yet, despite all these passages of judgment and condemnation for Israel’s unfaithfulness, the Old Testament is equally replete with promises of restoration, re-gathering, and entrance into the New Covenant. So, God is going to restore His relationship with faithless Israel and Judah because of His character and reputation.
My point here is that Israel and Judah are spoken of as married to God. This is in direct contrast to New Testament believers; the Church composed of Jews and Gentiles, the bride of Christ. Paul prepared the Church, who he considered a virgin espoused, but not yet married.
“For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” (2 Cor. 11:2)
The actual marriage of the Church to Christ occurs once the whole body has been gathered.
“Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.” (Rev. 19:7-9)
So, the Old Testament language concerning Israel is decidedly different from the New Testament language concerning the Church. One is the erring wife of God while the other is promised to be married to Christ. That being the case, I don’t think we have the authority to mix-and-match those concepts.
Yes, all believers through all ages will be saved by Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice. But, that does not mean that they all constitute the bride of Christ. Only the New Testament church is referred to in that fashion. So, I think it is safer and more consistent to allow that language to stand.
Now, as I said yesterday, if we get to the marriage supper and Noah’s sitting right across from me, I’m fine with that! If every Old Testament saint is ultimately included in that number, that’s just dandy. As long as I’m in the number, I’m perfectly willing to let God create the guest list. But, there’s not sufficient evidence in Scripture to allow me to draw a didactic conclusion that every believer from all time is included in the Church, the bride, or the supper.
Or, in other words, no “paradigm shift tacitly occurred.”
Q – A second reason is that, in other passages where Paul talks about people being circumcised inwardly, there’s no question that the people he’s talking about include Gentiles. This passage should be interpreted in light of those, and of all the Old Testament prophecies about Israel being given circumcised hearts, or hearts of flesh instead of stone, or that the sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite heart, and so forth. A true (i.e., spiritual) Jew, in that light, is anyone who is born again (implying regeneration, repentance, and obedience to the gospel).
Jim – There are several bits and pieces in this paragraph, so we’ll take them one-at-a-time.
First, the only other passage in the New Testament that addresses the idea of inward circumcision, as far I know, is Colossians 2:9-12:
“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.”
This is indeed addressed to Gentiles, but the context is a list of Jewish legal requirements that Paul is saying are fulfilled in Christ. It throws very little light on the question at hand: “When and where did the term ‘Israel’ take on a larger or different meaning?” All it does say is that bodily circumcision, the token of the Old Covenant, is not necessary among Gentiles because it is fulfilled in Christ.
Second, there are indeed passages that deal with circumcised hearts in the Old Testament, particularly Deuteronomy 10:16 where the Israelites are told to circumcise the foreskin of the their hearts; Deuteronomy 30:6 where God says that He will circumcise their hearts; and Jeremiah 4:4 where they equally are instructed to take away the foreskins of the hearts. But, all of these passages are addressed to Israel, who also had the command to continue circumcising their boys. These passages do nothing to support the contention that Israel would later include believing Gentiles. And the passages that speak of a heart of flesh and stone do speak of God granting a change of heart to His people, but there is nothing in those words that would drive one to conclude that the meaning of “Israel” had changed.
Finally, one of my “pet peeves” is the use of terminology such as “spiritual Jew,” “spiritual Israel,” “true Israel, “true Jew,” etc. The Bible never uses this language. It is drawn from inference and then used as if the concept is established. As often as not, those terms are used as a springboard to muddy the distinctions between Israel and the Church so that it’s only a short hop-skip-and-jump to declaring the Gentiles are now “spiritual Israel” or “spiritual Jews,” a conclusion never drawn anywhere in Scripture.
And again, such a change of language would be so cataclysmic that if indeed any New Testament writer did want to express this brand new paradigm, it would be necessary for him to spell it out to his readers, knowing that they would always read the word “Israel” in its historic sense. If no New Testament writer plainly says that “Israel” now embraces all believers, regardless of ethnicity or historic presence, then we certainly do not have the jurisdiction to impose that idea onto their writing.
Paul’s identification of believing Jews over against those who were striving to achieve praise through law-keeping does not in any way establish the notion that “anyone who is born again” is now “a true (i.e. spiritual) Jew.” It’s simply not in the text. It is the result of a system that started with a conclusion and went fishing for evidence to support the foregone assumptions.
Q – A third reason is that the whole thrust of New Testament teaching is in the direction of unity between Jew and Gentile. I’m not aware of any passage that would shed light on this one in such a way as to confirm the interpretation that true Jews are a subset of “Israel after the flesh” (1 Cor 10:18).
Jim – Yes, in Christ, there is unity between Jew and Gentile. That’s inarguable. But, outside of Christ there is no reason to assume that the historic, ethnic divisions were in any way blurred. At the same time, Paul never ceases to recognize that the gospel is to go “to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.” (Rom. 1:16) The divisions exist and remain.
But, to drive home the point, Paul never taught that Gentile believers became part of a new, better, spiritualized version of Israel. He taught that both believing Jews and Gentiles became “one new man,” they became “the Church,” they became “betrothed to one husband, even Christ.”
“Israel” did not change. Israelites changed when they came to Christ, just as Gentiles changed when they came to Christ. But, Israelites did not become Gentiles and Gentiles did not become Israelites. That’s simply not supportable by any clear text of Scripture.
As for the statement “I’m not aware of any passage that would shed light on this one in such a way as to confirm the interpretation that true Jews are a subset of ‘Israel after the flesh'” —
You don’t need any other passage. The context proves the point. Paul was addressing Jews. To read it any other way is to do purposeful violence to the text.
Alright … I’m sure that’s more than enough for now.
Sorry for being such a stickler for details, but I genuinely mourn over the confusion and damage that is done by all these systems and their failure to align themselves with the words on the page. Paul was a clear writer and a preeminent logician. If we just follow the course of his arguments (without feeling the constant necessity to grab some other out-of-context portion of his writing and impose it on completely different contexts) then we’re much more likely to come to a genuine unity of the faith.
Yours for His sake,