John 2

rsbell's picture

Israel and God's promises

1. I reject replacement theology, because I think it suffers also from the confusion that I tried to clear up. Replacement theology, as it is described to me, contends that God has forsaken "Israel" and that "the Church" has replaced "Israel" as God's chosen people and heirs of the promises. Replacement theologians and their detractors alike understand the terms "Israel" and "the Church" as referring to sociological entities and they also believe that membership in one of these entities is sufficient to bring one within the elect. That is a misunderstanding, and the debate arising from it is therefore ridiculous. Of course, the terms "Israel" and "the Church" are sometimes used very properly to refer to sociological entities, and these two do not contain exactly the same people. But what Paul called true Israel is just what the Reformers called the Church Invisible or the Holy Catholic Church; if we correctly apply the terms "Israel" and "the Church" with theologically significant reference, we identify exactly the same persons. I do not deny that that the senses of the two terms differ, but their references are identical; or, to put the point in other terms, familiar to linguistics, although the extension of the two terms is identical, their intensions are different. So, use of one or the other term may be more appropriate for a specific purpose. But replacement theologians and their detractors are debating something other than which term, because of its special sense, is better in a specific context, and many confused people have felt the need to choose sides in this debate (when instead they should be attacking the false assumption that has provoked it).
2. You seem to presume that God made promises to Abraham's natural, physical, descendants, and that these are just ethnic Jews. As for God's promises to Abraham and his seed, I agree with Paul that these promises were not made to descendants of Abraham in the natural line. Rom. 9:8. God's promises were made to those (whether or not in the natural line) who share Abraham's faith. Rom. 4:13. So, "the seed of Abraham", in its theologically significant reference, is equivalent to true Israel and the Church Invisible. One who assumes that God's promises were made to all Abraham's natural descendants is subject to the very confusion that underlies the debate I discussed above. As for Abraham's natural, physical, descendants, by the way, we can be certain, as a matter of empirical fact, that almost every person with an ancestor who lived between Tibet and Iceland and the Arctic Circle and the Equator within the last 2000 years is a physical descendant of Abraham. Of course, nearly every ethnic Jew is a physical descendant of Abraham. But so is nearly everyone else, believer or unbeliever. Being a physical descendant of Abraham implies nothing about one's relations to God. One's relations to God are spiritual consequences.