The merging of right-wing geopolitics and a literalist/fundamentalist end-time teaching scheme, make for a very questionable biblical worldview. The President’s recent comments regarding the situation in the Mideast has set the blogosphere aflame with apocalyptic denouncements of judgment against him personally, and America nationally for “not siding with Israel,” as if arguing for basic human rights for all people (Israel included) is somehow violating an eternal principle of God. The spirit of vitriol, venom, anger, and hatred manifested by so-called “Christians,” is disgusting and disheartening. The blind devotion to geopolitical Israel out of a misunderstanding of some Old Covenant scriptures, borders on mania. We can support Israel politically as an ally and a democracy. We can stand for her right to exist. We can despise Antisemitism in all forms, but we do not have to wrap it all around a “proof text bible verse.”
Failing to understand the implications of the change from the Old Covenant to the New-the inauguration of the new creation at Pentecost-sets up believers for difficulties. The whole point of the new creation order is that ethnic distinctions no longer have any significance in the plan of God. There are only two nations that matter for anything: the old creation nation, or the new creation nation; the old man, or the NEW MAN; in-Christ, or not-in-Christ. There is not a third class of special people. All of humanity in Christ is the apple of His eye, including Israel! God cares about all nations, not just Israel! That was the whole point for there being an Israel! That the blessing that was upon them singularly, would extend to all nations through Messiah! That is a key element of the basic Christian message! It was offensive in Paul’s day, and it is still offensive today.
The first issue to confront the apostles after Christ’s resurrection, particularly in their interaction with the Jews, was how to relate to the Old Testament Scriptures. The first century squabbles with the Jews were all hermeneutical[i] fights. The apostles had the unenviable task of trying to claim continuity with the old order and differentiation from it at the same time. It wasn’t easy then, it’s not easy now.
The Jews took strong objection to how the apostles (who were themselves Jewish and understood Jewish things!) went about this with non-literal interpretations and applications. This issue was controversial then, and remains so now. There was and is, a wide spectrum of passionate opinion on this topic. Much depends on how it’s answered. Indeed, everything depends on the answer to this question: “How do we interpret and apply the Old Covenant Scriptures in the New Covenant era?”
For example, in Acts 13:32-33, Paul states that the promise made to the fathers has been fulfilled by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This is a spiritual and non-literal interpretation of the Old Covenant promises. We either accept that, or we don’t, but whatever we decide will have far reaching consequences one way or the other. God does not “owe” geopolitical Israel anything any more than any other geopolitical nation.
It’s a fact that neither the angels from heaven, nor John the Baptist, nor Jesus, nor any of the apostles handled Old Covenant prophetic Scriptures literally. Psalm 2, Psalm 110,[ii] Isaiah 7, Isaiah 9, Isaiah 53, Joel 2, Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36, Malachi 4, etc., were all handled non-literally. It should be noted, that the people who crucified Jesus, did interpret prophetic scripture literally.
The entire legitimacy of Christianity depends on accepting a non-literal interpretive perspective on Old Testament prophetic Scripture. Those who were the most committed to conservative literalism regarding prophetic Scripture were the opponents of the apostles. The apostles’ hermeneutics nearly got them killed. We either accept that the apostles were functioning under a unique revelatory grace, or we do not. We either accept that the apostolic revelation and application of Old Covenant Scripture takes interpretive precedence over biblical literalism, or we do not. It’s impossible to be a Christian (with understanding) and be an inflexible prophetic literalist at the same time. It cannot be done. Attempts to do so will result in strange and confused mixtures of beliefs and practices.[iii]
Paul hung the whole future of Christianity on a hermeneutical point of grammar: the letter “s.” If the “seed” of Galatians 3:14-18 is “seeds” (plural/many), then we all should be Jewish. If it’s singular, than our faith is legitimate. This is one highly nuanced interpretation! It’s a spiritual and non-literal interpretation of the Abrahamic promise. Paul said the promise was not given to Abraham, but to Christ “in” Abraham. He was saying that the promise wasn’t theirs through their biological relationship to Abraham. The fulfillment of the promise to Abraham is the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is also spiritual and non-literal. Paul’s non-literal hermeneutics got him lowered over a wall in a basket trying to escape a “hit” that had been ordered on him by the passionate defenders of a literal hermeneutic! It might get us slandered by hyper-literalists. Actually believing the book of Galatians will get you slandered on the internet today.
Yes friends, hermeneutics matters. Or, as Gordon Fee says: “It’s all hermeneutics.”[iv]
I can feel the hands reaching for the stones at this moment, while shouting at me: “Replacement Theologian!”[v] It is not Replacement Theology to interpret and apply the Scriptures consistently with the apostles. Taking the kingdom from the nation of Israel and giving it to another nation[vi] is not anti-Semitic Replacement Theology. It’s the gospel. The other nation is not the Gentile church. It is the One New Man nation, Jew and Gentile in Messiah.
I have no doubt God will be faithful to the literal, blood-line, descendants of Abraham and graft them into the tree of faith (JEWISH RESTORATIONISTS NOTE: Natural Israel is a BRANCH not the ROOT! – read Romans!). However, I would much rather leave the future in the hands of The One who knows all. Whether I am right or wrong will have no impact on how the future unfolds, and it is the same for those who disagree with me. It won’t make any difference! I have no interest in end time speculations over which I have no control, and much rather get on with the things I can control, like laying down my life for my neighbor, ;eaving all the end time mechanics to the One who holds the end of time in His hands.
God cares for all the nations, including Arab nations. I know of Muslim Arabs in Syria who took in and protected, hundreds of refugee Christians fleeing from Saddam Hussein. To all the Christian Zionists out there, here’s my question: Is God going to give a pass to Israelis who persecute and hinder the gospel in Jerusalem, but judge the Arabs who protect the New Covenant apple of His eye, simply because they are Arabs and not Jews? Will God, “wipe out” Syria just because at a geopolitical level it is an enemy of political Israel, destroying these Arabs, and His own, in the process, simply for being “against Israel”? Think about it.
Christianity has been corrupted by state politics from the days of Constantine. We need to keep our politics out of the gospel, keep Jesus crucified and risen in it, and live in the new creation order regardless of all ethnicity, including Jewish ethnicity. Celebrate your ethnicity if you want to, but keep politics out of the gospel.
[i] The science and art of interpretation.
[ii] These two passages are the most quoted Old Covenant Scriptures in the New Testament used by the apostles to justify the legitimacy of faith in Christ as Messiah. They are the scriptural foundation of the New Testament.
[iii] There are some voices within the so-called “Jewish Roots” movement that teach the New Covenant promise was not given to the Gentiles, but the Jews, and the way the Gentiles must access the promise it to come back into a Messianic form of Judaism. This is based on a strictly literal reading of Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36. The only problem is, the apostles did not handle those passages that way . . . neither should we. Some in an extreme form of Dispensationalism have gone so far as to teach that there are two plans of salvation, one for the obedient Jew, and one for the Gentile church. It is as logically honest as it is misinformed.
[iv] Gordon Fee. Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics. Peabody: Hendrickson. 1991. 24.
[v] The teaching that the Gentile church has “replaced” the Jews in God’s covenant, the remedy of which is a form of Jewish Roots theology. This is the belief that the church has been horribly Hellenized and must return to its Jewish roots and practices to make God happy. I cannot unpack all that issue here except to say read Romans 9-11 carefully. The church does not have its “roots” in Judaism. Both Israel and the Gentiles are branches. The root for both is faith in Messiah. The One New Man is not made up of Gentiles trying to live like Jews, observing Jewish laws and practices as if the councils in Acts 11 and 15 never took place.
[vi] Matt. 21:43 – clearly, some privilege is being “moved” from one “people” to another. There is another “nation.”
Parts of this article are excerpted from our book: Praise, Worship, and the Presence of God, available at www.stevecrosby.com.
Dr. Stephen R. Crosby www.stevecrosby.org. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact email@example.com.
As usual Steve, very well put. I so appreciate your ability to articulate matters succinctly!
Thank you for, once again, providing the tools for articulate and timely discussion on the topic of handling Old Testament verses in the New Testament era. So much of what I am hearing from Christians in my community is rendering me speechless, leaving me shaking my head in disbelief. “It’s impossible to be a Christian (with understanding) and be an inflexible prophetic literalist at the same time. It cannot be done. Attempts to do so will result in strange and confused mixtures of beliefs and practices.” Amen to that. It seems to get crazier by the day!
Crazier by the day . . . . for sure.
This is so excellent that I was going exuberantly crazy and happy reading it. I had just come in from my garden and listening to two hours of freaky, totally theologically un-informed. Glen Beck while gardening and I really needed this well of total truth. You are awesome dude. Any time that you want to move to the Raleigh suberbs and pastor a fellowship, I am with you!
HA! Jim . . . why would you want to wish that misery upon me!!!! HA!!
I have never understood Christian Zionism…or the idea that the Jews as a race or people are distinctly “special” to God. I’m reminded that “He is a Jew who is one inwardly having received the circumcision of the heart.”
My dad used to point out that (racially) there is not a “Jew” today who could prove the purity of his lineage (back to Abraham) since all the lineage records we destroyed with the sacking of Jerusalem (I believe?).
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.”
There is so much mingling of old and new covenants. thanks for providing clarity and drawing a line of demarcation.
You know I have no problem with realizing the Jews are not a favored nation in the eyes of God. But what amazes me is the very Arab world that wants to see the state of Israel end…………….they are more oppressive than Israel or lets just say on the same level of them. I live in Saudi Arabia. I’m a believer from America. I hear and see just as horrible hardship put on people here and in all these Arab nations. The way they treat their own people. I have sat and watched for months now Arabs killing Arabs in this so called Arab Awakening? So if your going to condemn one nation over here………….lets also realize Human Rights in this whole regions is just atrocious and we should not support none of it as Christians. I sit and watch these Nations that surround Israel point their finger at them and accuse them at how horrible……………but could care less about their own actions themselves. So much hypocrisy in this land it is unbelievable. And that is not counting how I hear people over here talk about Israel. America is Clueless at how much they want to see the destruction of Israel………..easier to keep our eyes covered for that one! It is only a matter of time. Their will be no Israel. So all this talk will be for nothing when they kill and slaughter them. But that is the nature of the beast in the Middle East. And after they kill Israel there will be no peace because they will just turn on themselves to finish the job.
That’s politics and fine. There are no “righteous” nations. Sin is sin, regardless of the geopolitical boundaries it is contained in.
Praise God for the truth you are speaking, Steve. May you continue to unfold the mystery Paul speaks about in Ephesians 3 :1-7 and explains in Ephesians 2:14-18.
There is only one body and until we all walk in Kingdom truth we cannot understand the one new man Jesus has created. It will be this new man which will bring peace to the world.
May you keep bringing revelation to the body of Christ. Jean
Reuven Doron wrote a book about the “One New Man. He talks about the contrast between the nation of Israel and the Jews and compares the happenings in Israel with the happenings in the Body of Christ. He makes the point that whenever something takes place with Israel and the Jews at the same time something happens within the Church. He makes the point that there is a spiritual connection between the two.
Steve, I agree with you that everything changed at the death and resurrection of Jesus when the NT Covenant started. That there is a purpose for every nation not just Israel. Do you think it is right to compare the happenings within Israel and with the Jews to what is taking place in the church. Reuven makes the point that there are numerous events that have taken place among the Jews and at the same time, a move of God has taken place within the Body of Christ. Do you think this comparision is valid?
Hi John Marcus,
There is a particular interpretive perspective along the lines of “Israel is God’s prophetic time clock.” At its root is still a fundamental belief system that there are two plans in God: one for Israel and one for everyone else. Even Romans 9-11 makes it plain. There is one plan: in or out of Messiah, for Jew and Gentile. It is staggering to me that so many seem so intent in reconstructing the wall that went down in the creation of the One New Man.
I do not share that particular time clock perspective, 1948 and the return, not withstanding. If someone wants to be a strict literalist there are some things that must be honestly faced. The promise was made to the genetic/biological seed of Abraham, not a nation drawn with arbitrary geopolitical lines and populated by a mixed race. Also, in biblical times, a “nation” (ethnos/people group) was defined racially/tribally, and by geographic boundaries (Rivers, mountains, the range of the race), not imaginary lines drawn on a map. The latter is a thoroughly modern phenomenon. This idea of “nation” is offensive to modern sensibilities, but that is how the term was understood in Abraham’s day.
So, if one wants to be strictly biblical and strictly literal about “nations” you need to define them the way the scriptures do, not the way moderns do.
This causes problems for some schemes of interpretation, and reason among many, why I do not adhere to them. One can believe the “prophetic time clock” thing if one wants to. My issue is with those who think that those who do not share that perspective are heretics, anti-Israel etc., and post flame-throwing, hysterical blogs.
The problem is . . . no one is “strictly” literal. Every one makes exceptions when it suits them to fit their schemes, but are frequently in denial about it.
Keep politics out of the gospel.
I have many friends that desire and believe in the present day kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven , but at the same time believe that there will be a present day restoration of Israel , Jerusalem and even the temple. They believe much of the prophecy of the OT is yet to be fulfilled and believe there is still a legitimate covenant with the Jews. My question is ‘ What is the Biblical truth of how these two beliefs conflict with one another?’ Can you believe both at the same time and not bring great confusion to one or the other? Thanks , John Your atricle on Christian Zionism was excellent.
Hi John, it is a long and complicated subject. I simply do not believe in two covenant/two plan theology. Such thinking was unheard of until 1830 when John Nelson Darby introduced it. The article n this blog “Kiss the Son” might help you in this regard. I believe the implication of a restored temple with restored sacrifices is an abomination, an insult to the Person and work of Christ. Folks need to read and believe the book written to the Hebrews . . . the blood and bulls and goats will never atone for sin again . . . NEVER . . . not even for “millennial Jews.”
Steve, you actually are 100% right on on this subject. This is something Mike and I have studied for years. There are some that have written great historical accounts of who most of those people really are in that land. If one is to be literal, most would not qualify for the promises. Thank you Jesus that you made us all qualify. We are now joint heirs with Christ and you can not improve on that. Why or Why do people want to go back to the Old Cov.? Have they not ever really tasted of the GREATER GLORY? Much love to you and Rita.
Thanks Ruth, love to you guys.
Steve, do not mistake me for a dispensationalist, but I think from scripture there are two great shocks in human history:
First, to the Jews, that Jesus really is the Messiah God; and
Second, to rest of the world, that Jesus really is Jewish.
Regards. Fob James
Hi Fob. I just disagree. Jesus WAS Jewish. He WAS Jesus of Nazareth. In resurrection, He is no longer Jesus of Nazareth. He is the resurrected God-Man, transcending all earth bound definitions. He is the first of the new order of humanity, that is not defined by temporalness and blood-line ethnicity. Ethnicity is in the blood/dna. In the resurrection, Jesus was flesh and bone, not blood. Blood is not carried into the resurrection order/existence. If you mean in “physical resemblance,” in the form of human, he “looks” Semitic/Jewish (in the sense of physical features), I agree. If you mean that Jesus was incarnate as a Jew with all the Semiticness and worldview that constitutes being fully human, and fully of the “seed of David.” I agree. But in the sense of maintaining an earth bound, blood defined, ethnicity, in resurrection/glory, I don’t agree. He is the first of the New Man, neither Jew nor Gentile. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead, has forever redefined what it means to be fully human in glory, starting with Him who was the First Fruits from the dead. In heaven there are not Jews and Gentiles, there is only the one new man. In heaven we will not know each other “after the flesh/natural.”