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The True Seed of Abraham: Jesus or Israel?

I was enjoying a friendly discussion with a Christian at a local coffee hangout.  This well-learned and articulate believer quickly let me know that she holds ot the Reformed position – another way of telling me she believes the Church has replaced Israel. We engaged in a friendly conversation for a brief period. One statement she shared has stuck with me when I asked, “What do you do with all the prophecies made concerning Israel in the millennial kingdom after the Second Coming?” and she replied, “All those prophecies are fulfilled in Christ.”

Galatians 3:16-17 is one of the major passages that is used by replacement theologians to support the idea Jesus has become the “greater Israel” and all those who follow Jesus are now the true Israel.  Some Christians might call themselves “spiritual Jews.” I usually cringe when I hear my fellow Gentile believers make this statement and beg them not to tell any Jewish people.

Imagine if God chose to work with Africa as His chosen nation and in the New Testament age, Africa was replaced by the Church.  Then we would experience Christians telling others, “We are the new Africa.  We are ‘spiritual blacks.'” That is how ridiculous it sounds when Christians make statements that have no roots in the Word of God but are based on misguided theology or by people who have not dealt in depth with the passages they use to broadcast their beliefs.

Galatians 3:16-17  says:

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.

From  Galatians 3:16-17 we are to conclude, according to replacement theologians, that the Abrahamic promises were not spoken to the nation of Israel, but God’s commitment to Israel find their fulfillment in the one true seed of Abraham – the Messiah Jesus – rather than the nation.

Seed of Abraham

Since believers belong to Jesus, then Christians are the true seed of Abraham through the one true seed-Jesus of Nazareth.  If one reads this passage without asking questions or checking out the surrounding context of Galatians 3, I can understand this conclusion.  However, upon deeper investigation, the student of the Bible discovers Paul’s intention was not to teach that the Church has replaced Israel or that Jesus is the true Israel.

Several observations are in order in looking at this most important passage;

First, the word “seed” though singular is used collectively throughout the Scriptures.

A few examples will suffice to demonstrate the collective usage of “seed” in the Bible.

Genesis 15:5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars —if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Genesis 16:10  The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

Genesis 22: 17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies

Paul  knew “seed” is collective since he uses the word that way in Galatians 3:29,  “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs [plural] according to the promise.”  “Seed” and “heirs” are parallel and refer to a Christians as a group not one Christian as a person. Paul knew that the promise to Abraham was that Abraham’s descendants would be “as the stars in the sky” and not minimized to one person.  So in the surrounding context of Galatians 3:16-17 Paul uses “seed” in a collective sense.

 Second, the word “seed” in the Bible can refer to one person (Genesis 4:25 [Seth]; 21:13 [Ishmael]; I Samuel 1:11 (Samuel].

Third, God never promised salvation to Abraham’s physical descendants just because they are his descendants.

God did promise salvation to the remnant of Abraham’s physical descendants who believed the promises and the progressive revelation of God. However, the spiritual blessing to all peoples comes through one specific seed of Abraham – Jesus.   It is in Him alone that beleiving Jews and Gentile are blessed.  In Roman 9:4-5 Paul makes this point very clear:

the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

In Romans 9:4-5 Paul begins his argument referring to Israel collectively.  It is to the collective seed of Abraham that sonship, divine glory, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises are given.  However, it is also through the collective seed that the the human ancestry of the one singular seed of the Messiah is traced. This is the plain sense of this passage and helps shed light on Galatians 3:16-17.

Fourth, the spiritual blessings through the one Abrahamic seed – the Messiah – does not knock out the promises of God to the collective seed.

One would have to prove that all the blessings promised to Israel mentioned in Romans 9:4b-5 are over and done away with. Yes, to the Abraham’s physical descendants is promised the land of Israel (Genesis 12:6; 13;15; 15:18; 17:8; 24:7).

Yet the land promises were not the only goal God had in His dealings with Israel. The Lord also wanted to bring forth the Messiah through Israel and for Israel to embrace the promised one – the Messiah.  When the nation of Israel refused to crown Jesus as the Messiah King, then the only true spiritual collective seed within Israel were Jewish followers of Jesus. When gentiles started accepting Jesus, they became joint heirs of the spiritual blessings with messianic Jews as stated in Romans 8:17:

Now if we are children, then we are heirs [plural or collective seed of Abraham] —heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ [the one seed of Abraham through whom the promises come] , if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Burge in his Christ at the Checkpoint speech ridicules God’s promises of the land  to the Jewish people. He recalls a conversation he had with a group of Orthodo Jews who believe they had property rights to the land of Israel. According to the mocking Burge, “they believed a DNA connection to a 4000 year old man gave them property rights. If you are a child of Abraham you get to inherit promises and you win the holy land. It is because Jews have a connection to Abraham. This is what Christians Zionists believe. It’s based on DNA connection to Abraham. They appeal their property rights to a man who died 4000 years ago. Those who believe this are dead serious.”

I find it hard to believe that a man who claims to be a New Testament professor in an evangelical institution would ridicule something he himself embraces in the New Testament.  In Roman 5:12 Paul makes it clear that sin came into this world through one man.  Because of one man’s sin tens of thousands of years ago, we are condemned by a holy God:

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man {Adam}, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned —

If God utters a promise to Abraham 4000 years ago that his descendants will inherit the land of Israel, why is such a concept so preposterous to Gary Burge who believes God condemns the entire human race throughout history because of the sin of one man?

Gary Burge has a major problem with the blessings God has given to the nation of Israel through Abraham. Of course, these promises do not entitle Jewish people to boast in the land promises and mistreat Palestinians or ignore their need for a homeland.  The promises of God to Abraham are not an entitlement given to Israel but a blessing of mercy that causes humility not arrogance or boasting. Yet even if Israel is not acting with justice in providing a homeland for the Palestinians, Israel’s actions do not jsutify Palestinian terrorism as a way to motivate Israel’s government to act on behalf of the Palestinian people.

Burge also maintains in his CATC 2012 speech that in reference fo first century Jewish people, their DNA connection to Abraham gave them a pass to behave anyway they liked and ignore the commandments of God.  He states that “ethnic attachment to Abraham could be annulled did you did live like Abraham. You had to be Abraham’s disciples . . . faithfulness was important not just DNA.”   Burge is both right and wrong.

Burge continues in his lecture at Christ at the Checkpoint as I paraphrase:  A Jewish person cannot rest on the laurels of being a descendant of Abraham and ignore the faith required by God.  John the Baptizer confronted the Jewish leaders and told them not to presume that since Abraham is their father, that they did not need to repent of their sins. After all, “God can raise up children of Abraham from the rocks.” Ethnicity by itself without faithfulness to God has little benefits. Romans 9:7 says not all physical descendants of Israel are part of the spiritual Israel – the true remnant.

Caution is needed when looking at these verses Burge uses and not to draw false conclusions:

1. the failure of Jewish people to embrace Jesus never annulled God’s promises as outlined in the Abrahamic covenant (Romans 11:28-29).

2. the failure of Jewish people to embrace Jesus never means Christians have replaced Israel. Christians now enjoy the spiritual blessings promised to Israel as partakers of the promises.  Christians are never told they are overtakers of the place of Israel in God’s economy.

Read Romans 11:17-21 and catch the drift of Paul’s admonishment to Gentile Christians who, like Gary Burge, are arrogant in their attitude towards the Jewish people who have not accepted Jesus:

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.” Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

In Burge’s reference to Orthodox Jews who traced their blessings back 4000 years to Abraham, the evangelical Burge was scoffing at their beliefs and boasting in the face of their unbelief in Jesus. Rather than appreciating their faith in the promises of God that were spoken over 4000 years ago, he used their faith as an opportunity to ridicule them. Shame on him. And shame on Christians who listen to Gary Burge and refuse to call him out on his anti-Jewish behavior.

Like many replacement theologians, Burge reveals his achilles heel with a weak understanding of the promises God made to the Jewish people through the Hebrew prophets.  It is time for Christians who want to comment about Israel in God’s purposes to become more familiar with the Jewish Scriptures.  Once a follower of Jesus starts to gain a deeper grasp of the Old Testament, their grip on replacement theology will begin to slip as they see the vastness of God’s promises to Israel both in light of His commitment to them and their failure to place their faith in their Messiah.

“Has God rejected Israel?”, Paul asks in Romans 11:1.  His answer resounds in today’s controversy between Christian Zionists and anti-Christian-Zionists. Paul’s answer is “No. By no means!”

 

Don’t forget to visit Amazon and check a new booklet  authored by Louis Lapides and published by ScriptureSolutions entitled, “Jesus or Yeshua: Exploring the Jewish Roots of Christianity”

2 Responses to “The True Seed of Abraham: Jesus or Israel?”

  1. zera promise says:

    Gal 4:28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.

    • Scripture Solutions says:

      zera promise: thanks for the scripture reference in response to my blog. Take a look at the preceding verses: Galatians 4:22, “For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23 His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.” Isaac is the son born as a result of a divine promise. Like Isaac, according to Galatians 4:28 we are born into the family of God by faith and we are the children of promise. In other words, we have become children of God through the promises of God. Yet Galatians 4:28 ays nothing about Christians being the “seed of Isaac”: the verse only says we are children of promise who are the fulfillment of God’s promises of redemption just like Isaac was the promised son through the promises given to Abraham. We cannot take the verse to mean anything more than that otherwise we would read somewhere in the NT that we are the “children of Isaac.” Abraham was the first person to be called a Jew by the pronouncement of God; he was a Mesopotamian by birth/ The same is true with Sarah. But with Isaac he was the first Hebrew by birth. So as not to place Christians in the category of being Jewish, we are never called children of Isaac. The national Jewish identity is never applied to Christian.

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