The controversy over God’s continuation of Israel as a viable nation despite their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah looms large in the Christian church.
Most followers of Jesus are not even aware of the various Christian theologies regarding the Jewish nation. Yet when uninformed evangelicals are exposed to such anti-Israel beliefs such as Replacement Theology (the view that Israel is no longer God’s elect people but replaced by the Church), these Christians are conflicted over what they are hearing and what the Bible teaches.
As a representative of Replacement Theology (though he prefers the term “Fulfillment Theology”) Gary Burge, New Testament professor at Wheaton College, in his book Whose Land? Whose Promises? the author states, “Abraham can become the father of many nations because when Gentiles share in Abraham’s faith, he becomes their father too (Romans 4:16). Physical lineage, therefore, has been spiritualized into a lineage based on faith (emphasis mine). The ‘land of Israel’ is likewise spirtualized now to include the entire world” (pg. 182).
The key concept to focus on from Burge’s theology is, “physical lineage . . . has been spiritualized into a lineage based on faith.” Israel is no longer a physical nation, according to the Wheaton professor, but has become a spiritual entity that one enters into by faith in Christ not by physical heritage through Abraham. If the physical seed has been “spiritualized” then the “physical” is no longer relevant, hence the physical nation of Israel is moot to God’s spiritual program.
The glaring mistake Burge makes is twofold: first, the physical lineage of a member of the nation of Israel never implied the individual within the nation has a relationship with God, and second, within the physical nation of Israel there has always existed a spiritual remnant of Israelites who remained faithful to God. These two truths do not redefined the nation of Israel, but describe the reality of a spiritual remnant within the physical Jewish nation.
In contrast to Gary Burge’s fulfillment theology which pushes aside God’s plan for the physical nation the Apostle Paul teaches that Israel still exists as a nation even after the first coming of the Messiah. In Romans 9:3-4a Paul pleads, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” To Paul, “those of his own race” are “the people of Israel” quite alive and not replaced by or fulfilled in the New Testament church.
Paul continues his affirmation of Israel as a viable nation in verse four, “the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship . . . . .” T. R. Schreiner, in his commentary on Romans observes, “The present tense (eisin, ‘they are’) indicates that the Jews still “are Israelites” and all the blessings named [in verses 4-5] still belong to them.” (Quoted from Future Israel, Barry Horner, pg. 79). Therefore, whatever Paul says about Israel in Romans 9-11, the Bible student can not forget that these chapters start with a clear declaration that Israel exists as a present nation and has not been replaced by the Church.
Having provided this background, we return to our study of Romans 9:6-8.
Distinguishing Another Israel Existing within the Nation of Israel
To the surprise of many who follow the Apostle’s line of thinking, Paul throws out a real doozie in Romans 9:6, “they are not all Israel who are of Israel.” If we are honest, we observe Paul contrasting one Israel with another Israel.
Replacement theologian John Murray in his massive commentary on Romans agrees, “Those who are ‘of Israel’ are the physical seed, the natural descendants of the patriarchs. The idea that ‘they are not all Israel’ is stating ‘there is an Israel within the ethnic Israel'” (Murray).
What then are these two Israels?
Paul, as a Jewish person, accepted Jesus as the Messiah of Israel. So did Matthew, John, and many more. The first followers of Jesus were primarily Jewish and formed the spiritual remnant of Israel. Yet a majority of the Jewish nation did not accept Jesus and continued the larger nation of Israel within which the spiritual remnant abides.
Despite all the spiritual privileges Israel has been given, many members of the nation failed to place their trust in the word of God regarding the Messiah. They are Jewish and members of the nation of Israel, but they are only members of the physical nation; they are not part of the spiritual remnant within the nation.
Paul says nothing about Gentiles here. To bring up the subject of the Gentile’s standing in the Church using this verse is to raise an issue that is foreign to the immediate context.
As the elect nation of God, Israel is still blessed by God’s grace with the national promises which include the expansion of the people of Israel and inhabitation of the land of Israel as stated in the covenant God made with Abraham in Genesis 13:14-16:
The Lord said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.
God has not broken His commitment to fulfill the national promises to the nation Israel because a majority of Jewish people have not accepted Jesus as Messiah. Paul clarifies this truth in Romans 11:28-29, “but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” If Israel forfeited the election of God and the promises of God, according to replacement theologians, Paul had every chance to make the clear. Instead, the Apostle says the opposite. God has not taken back His promises from the nation Israel because the people have not yet embraced Yeshua as Messiah.
Confusion takes place when replacement theologians fail to make a distinctive between the covenant God made with Abraham regarding Israel and the New Covenant Yeshua instituted when He died for our sins.
Though the Abrahamic Covenant includes spiritual blessings for all people through the messianic seed as explained in Galatians 3:16 “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,”meaning one person, who is Christ.” Yet in this verse Paul is only referring to the spiritual blessings described in Genesis 12:3, which Gentiles and Jews partake of in the New Covenant. No where does Paul say that the fulfillment of Genesis 12:3 in the New Covenant wipes out the national promises God made to Israel in Genesis 12: 7, “The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.”
Dividing between the Children of Promise and the Natural Seed of Abraham
In Romans 9:7 Paul continues with the same point he was making in verse 6. But this time, according to Arnold Fruchtenbaum in his classic work Israelology (pg. 728), “Paul then uses history to show that Jews are not heirs of [spiritual blessing, my interpretation] just because they are the natural seed of Abraham. While certain blessings come because of the natural seed, there are other blessings of God that are conditioned upon other matters.”
If we follow Paul’s argument, from verse 6 he drives it home that there is an ethnic Israel that only experiences the national covenant promises of God. Yet upon deeper examination, we learn there is a spiritual Israel that inherits the spiritual blessings which are conditioned upon making a choice to receive Yeshua as Messiah. In this case, it is not enough to be only the physical seed of Abraham, but one must exercise faith in Messiah to experience the blessings of salvation.
Now in verse 7 Paul states the same truth another way, using an example from history, “Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”
Like verse 6 where Paul distinguishes between Jewish believe who believers who embrace Yeshua and Jews who do not believe, in verse 7 Paul inserts an illustration from Jewish biblical history. regarding Ishmael and Isaac.
Once again Fruchtenbaum aptly explains this illustration, “The purpose of this first illustration is to point out that physical descendants who believe are Abraham’s real children . . . . Salvation to those of natural descent was limited by divine grace” (pg. 729).
One can be a member of Abraham’s physical family but not a member of his spiritual family. Ishmael is a descendant of Abraham, but he was not the promised child (part of the spiritual remnant) or a spiritual child of Abraham according to the promise.
Yet Ishmael was still a physical descendant of Abraham. Both Isaac and Ishmael were physical children of Abraham. However, only Isaac was the child of promise as contained within the Abrahamic covenant.
Only Isaac was given the Abrahamic Covenant which includes the promise of the land of Israel. Genesis 21: 12 states,
But God said to him [Abraham], “Do not be so distressed about the boy [Ishmael] and your slave woman [Hagar]. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son [Ishmael] of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.
God has promises for Ishmael but those promises do not include being members of the nation of Israel nor do they include the possession of the land of Israel.
Once again, as in verse 7 Paul states that it is not enough to be a physical descendant of Abraham. The spiritual blessings do not come to Jewish people based on entitlement but based on those who believe in God’s promises Messiah. ” Although, both Isaac and Ishmael were children of Abraham physically, Isaac was the son of promise. Isaac was the spiritual seed as well as the physical seed” (Fruchtenbaum, pg. 729).
A Jewish person who does not know Yeshua is still recipient of the national promises contained in the Abrahamic Covenant.
In fact, Romans 9:4 describes the Jewish nation’s relationship to God as one of “sonship.” However, this sonship pertains to Israel’s “national sonship” not spiritual sonship which comes through faith in Yeshua. The blessing or privilege of national sonship does not guarantee the enjoyment of the spiritual blessings which come only by placing one’s faith in Abraham’s promised messianic seed- Jesus.
The Destination of God’s Promise of the Messiah Reached in the Lives of Jewish Believers.
Paul continues in Romans 9: 8-9: “In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God’s spiritual children, but it is the children who have believed the promises of God who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring” (paraphrase mine).
Once again Paul makes it clear Isaac was the promised seed not Ishmael. The promises were fulfilled in Isaac. In the same way, the covenant promises regarding salvation through Messiah are fulfilled in those Jewish people who are part of spiritual Israel by embracing Jesus as Messiah.
What good is it to possess the promises of God regarding the coming Messiah if one fails to put his faith in that Messiah when He comes?
It cannot be emphasized enough that though a majority of the people of Israel have not become spiritual sons of God by accepting Yeshua, they are still national sons of the God of Israel and recipients of His national promises.
Read the Scriptures where Israel is called “God’s children” as in Deuteronomy 14:1; Joshua 7:18-20; 10:42; Hosea 1:10; Isaiah 17:6; 21:10; 54:5; Jeremiah 3:21, 23.
A Jewish person is a national child of God by being a member of the chosen nation. This membership entitles that person to all the blessings contained in the covenants God made with Israel: a great nation; a Jewish homeland and being a channel through which God blesses the world ultimately fulfilled in the Messiah.
However, on this last promise, one can only become a channel to bless the world with the gospel message of salvation when one places his faith in Yeshua as Redeemer.
God’s intention was to bless the world through a spiritual nation of Israel that has placed their faith in Yeshua. Since the majority of the nation has not placed their trust in Yeshua, during this present age, the present body of believers in Yeshua [the Church] takes on this role temporarily.
This is why in I Peter 2:9 the Apostle says to both Jewish and Gentile followers of Yeshua, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” These original words come from Exodus 19:5-6,
Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
This was God’s stated goal for Israel, but since the nation turned its back on their Messiah, Jewish and gentile members of the Church temporarily fulfill this role. However, God makes it clear in Revelation 7 that the role of Israel as the voice of God to the nations shall return to the Jewish nation.
For those replacement theologians who claim the Church has replaced Israel based on I Peter 2:9, the response is twofold: First, an application of an Old Testament passage to a New Testament people does not mean replacement. In Hebrews 8:12 the writer quotes a lengthy section from Jeremiah 31:31-34 that describes the contents of the New Testament. The text in Jeremiah reads, ”
“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
Jeremiah’s prophecy is addressed to “the people of Israel and with the people of Jacob.” Replacement theologians assume because the author of Hebrews applies this verse to New Testament Christians that followers of Jesus are now the “new house of Israel.” However, these same theologians ignore other sections of Jeremiah 31 such as verses 8-9 that are not applied to the Church because it doesn’t fit their theology and they would be forced to spiritualize the text:
See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
expectant mothers and women in labor;
a great throng will return.
They will come with weeping;
they will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water
on a level path where they will not stumble,
because I am Israel’s father,
and Ephraim is my firstborn son.
When has this every happened with the church or when will it ever happen. When has the Lord brought followers of Jesus to the land of Israel, a piece of property God never promised to the church.
Second, the Church has not fulfilled Isaiah 2:2-4 which portrays the Isaiah’s vision for a time when the Word of the Lord will go forth from Jerusalem.
In the last days
the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
When has the Church been brought forth peace among the nations as described in verse 2. The early church started in Jerusalem but the result of their preaching was not world peace. In fact, in 70 A.D. the Romans attacked Jerusalem, and destroyed Herod’s Temple.
The nations of the world are still at war. The Church has not fulfilled this passage from Isaiah even though the Church is teaching the word of God to the nations. The end result of the preaching of the gospel is nowhere close to the picture drawn by Isaiah.
The nations are not coming to Jerusalem where the word of the Lord will go forth. Isaiah’s prophecy describes the messianic kingdom where Yeshua King Messiah will judge between the nations and will bring true peace on the earth.
Drawing Together the Biblical Dividing Lines
To wrap up this article, one needs to maintain the distinction between Jews who beleive and Jews who do not believe in Yeshua. Gentile believers are not part of the nation of Israel. It is unbiblical for a Gentile Christian to call himself a “spiritual Jew” or a member of the “true Israel.”
Christians are called “children of Abraham” because they have the same faith as Abraham. Nothing is said in the New Testament that the ethnic identity of Gentiles has changed because they believe in the Jewish Messiah.
Gentiles who believe in Jesus remain gentiles; yet now they have the same faith and trust in God as Abraham, which makes them spiritual children of Abraham but not ethnic children of Abraham.
Read the passage in Galatians 3:26-29, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”
Paul says Gentiles have become “children of Abraham” through faith not birth or ethnicity. On the spiritual level of coming to Mesaiah for salvation, there are no ethnic distinctives. We all come to Yeshua for salvation without any recognition of a ethnic identity. For a Gentile to says he is now a member of the “New Israel.” contradicts Paul’s argument in Galatians 3:26-39 because the gentile is adding an ethnic or national element to his salvation. Only the Jewish believer in Jesus can do that since he is already part of the nation of Israel.
The gentile can says, “I am a spiritual child of Abraham by faith but I have not become a member of the nation of Israel as a result. In the same case, I have not replaced Israel even though I accepted their Messiah.”
It has been made clear in this blog that Gary Burge’s theology is erroneous when he says, “physical lineage . . . has been spiritualized into a lineage based on faith.” Israel is no longer a physical nation, according to the Wheaton professor, but has become a spiritual entity known as the Church that one enters into by faith not by physical heritage.
Paul argues in Romans 9:1-8 the exact opposite of Gary Burge. The national people of Israel have not been spiritualized into the spiritual followers of Yeshua. This is a concept not supported by Scriptures and this view leaves out the promises of God to continue the nation of Israel as viable entity.
I close with the words of Paul in Romans 11:1, “I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.” In connection with Paul’s affirming words I include Jeremiah 31:37:
This is what the Lord says:
“Only if the heavens above can be measured
and the foundations of the earth below be searched out
will I reject all the descendants of Israel
because of all they have done,”
declares the Lord.