Is the Church of Jesus Christ the New Israel? (Part 3)

As we walk down the airport concourse to the departure gates, we note that the planes are fairly close together.  The plane at Gate 14 seems to be just a few yards away from the plane at Gate 15.  However, just because they appear to be close together, no traveler thinks that it really doesn’t make any difference which plane you board. Soon after take-off the difference would be apparent.  If you want some time at the beach, then the flight to San Diego at Gate 14 would be the better choice than the flight to Topeka at Gate 15.  It does indeed make a huge difference which plane you get on.

To many Christians in today’s church, it makes little difference if one boards the theological plane called Replacement Theology (RT) or if the other one which sees Israel and the Church as distinct is boarded.  They are, after all, so close together.  But, of course, they really are not.  And the theological plane you board will take you to very different prophetic destinations.

We have observed thus far that there are two basic approaches in the matter of Israel-Church; those that see a distinction between Israel and the Church in God’s program and those that don’t (RT).  In our last study, we saw that the unconditional, unfulfilled Abrahamic covenant is a formidable challenge to the legitimacy of RT.  We also noted that to prove their point that the Church has replaced Israel, RT must show that the NT scriptures teach that “church” and “Israel” are used interchangeably; or in the words of RT William Cox (in our previous study), “as a matter of scriptural fact, these terms are used interchangeably….”  The following is a brief discussion of the scriptures most often used by RT.

Galatians 6:16

Almost all in RT will reference Galatians 6:16 in their quest to show Israel and the Church are used interchangeably, and therefore, that the Church replaces Israel in God’s program.  The verse reads as follows:

“And those who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.”

 This verse is part of the conclusion to the Apostle Paul’s letter.  He has argued carefully that the Law cannot justify a person.  He has explained that both Jews and gentiles are justified by faith alone in Christ alone (Gal. 2:16). He then made it clear that we began our new life in Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit and we are sanctified by the same Holy Spirit’s work (3:2-3).  In other words, we are both justified and sanctified by faith.  When he speaks of “those who walk by this rule” he is speaking about believing Jews and believing gentiles who have come to understand this great truth.  He then pronounces a blessing on these believing Jews and believing gentiles.

The View of Replacement Theology.   RT holds that Paul has been emphasizing the unity of Jews and gentiles, and that it is, therefore, unlikely that he would end his letter with a statement that would separate them.  Their argument hinges on the word “and” (kai).  They state that this word can be used in explicative sense; in other words, it should be translated “even.”  Thus Paul would be pronouncing a blessing on “them” (gentile believers) “even upon the Israel of God.”  The explicative use of “kai” is like an equals sign; gentile believers = the Israel of God.

The View of Non-Replacement Theology.  The normal and usual use of “kai” is that of a copulative sense (“and”).  By far, this is the usual way the word is used in the NT.  The explicative sense (“even”), though possible, is unusual. So there should be something in the text which would compel one to this secondary usage. But there is nothing to lead the expositor away from the natural copulative sense. So, as a number of grammarians have noted, making “kai” to mean “even” is forced and unnatural. Blessing is pronounced on believing gentiles and on believing Jews.

As we noted, Galatians builds a strong case for justification and sanctification by faith.  But it also contains a harsh rebuttal of Judaizers who wanted to include Law keeping as part of the equation.  The Apostle commends Jews who have come to understand “this rule” (2:16), and singles them out for blessing.  Gentiles who did not struggle with keeping the Mosaic Law (though they had their own struggles) are also blessed because they have come to accept God’s righteousness on the basis of faith alone. But the believing Jews who “walk by this rule” are seen as the true Israel of God.

It is more than strange (if RT is correct) that Paul would introduce such as seismic theological shift (that the church is now the true/new Israel) in the conclusion to a letter with no explanation.  Surely, if he had wanted to reveal such a profound change, he would have detailed it in the body of this letter where theological analysis took place.  And it makes little sense that he would introduce such a major doctrinal change based on the secondary use of “kai” used in a rather casual way.

It must be noted that since this is the key verse to prove a “church = Israel” change, it reveals a very weak foundation.  The grammar and the context are resolutely against RT. And to compound the problem for RT, they have little else to work with.

Romans 9:6

The View of Replacement Theology.  This verse is used to try and demonstrate that Paul is using “Israel” in a way that goes beyond the normal ethnic boundaries.

“But it is not as though the Word of God has failed, for they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.”

The point made is that ethnic Israel is seen as distinct from “spiritual” Israel; implying that all who are believers are “Israel”, including the Church.  But a closer inspection shows that this verse offers no support for RT.

The View of Non-Replacement Theology.  In Romans 9:1-5, the Apostle is giving the eight prerogatives given to national Israel, who are Paul’s “kinsmen according to the flesh” in 9:3.  The term “Israel” is used ten times (in Romans 9-11) in this unique section of Romans devoted to the past, present and future of Israel.  It is used only of ethnic Israel.  Paul’s contrast in 9:6 is simply between believing Jews and unbelieving Jews.  There is no mention of the church or of gentiles in 9:1-6.  In fact, there is no doubt that “Israel” is defined by the statement that these are the Apostle’s “kinsmen according to the flesh.”

Romans 11:26-29

“and thus all Israel shall be saved; just as it is written, ‘the Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.’ And this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins. From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the Fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

The View of Replacement Theology.  Some RT believe that “all Israel” refers to the church, but the consistent use of “Israel” in Romans 9-11 as an ethnic group speaks loudly against this.  Other RT see this as a reference to Jews being saved throughout history, but this is unlikely since Romans 11 is looking into the future salvation at the end times.  Furthermore, the fact that a relatively few Jews have come to faith in each generation doesn’t fit with the great doxology at the end nor with the need for this inspired discussion. Still other RT concede that this is speaking of the national salvation of Israel in the future, but do not concede that the future restoration of national Israel is included.

The View of Non-Replacement Theology.  It is vital to see that Paul ties in Israel’s future redemption with God’s covenant promises to the “fathers.”  God is faithful to all His covenant promises. It will start with bringing Israel into the New Covenant.  And then, as Jesus observed in Matthew 23:39, a redeemed national Israel will then be ready for Messiah’s coming and ruling in His kingdom as well as Israel’s restoration to the Land that was given to them. Israel means Israel.

While our study has of necessity been brief, a deeper study of these verses will validate these conclusions.  These verses simply do not support the position of RT.  And, as we will see in our upcoming studies, there are important lines of evidence and important scriptures which show that national Israel does have a future in the plan of God. Israel will indeed be restored back to their former position because of the faithfulness and loyal love of their covenant keeping God. We need to board the right plane.