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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Monday, November 17, 2008

MacArthur's Millennial Manifesto - Rejoinder #4

... for they are not all Israel who are of Israel

Continuing with another rejoinder to Sam Waldron's book,
MacArthur's Millennial Manifesto: A Friendly Response


Sam's book is his critique of John MacArthur's 2007 Shepherd's Conference message, Why Every Self-Respecting Calvinist is a Premillennialist. In his message, John made the case that when the NT writers employed the term Israel, they meant the Jewish people as a distinct, ethnic group apart from the NT church. Never did the NT writers use the term Israel interchangeably with the term "church," so that the NT church is now identified as a "New Israel" that has fulfilled the OT promises of a restored Israel.

Sam spends a good portion of his written rebuttal explaining why John is mistaken about his view on Israel. Rather than understanding the word Israel strictly as a description of a literal, ethnic group distinct from the church, Sam believes there is ample biblical evidence to believe the word Israel, in specific contexts, yields a spiritual interpretation that clearly indicates a description of the NT church as a "new Israel."

Two specific NT passages Sam believes justifies his re-definition of the term Israel are Galatians 6:16 and Romans 9:6. I interacted with Galatians 6:16 in my last rejoinder, I will deal with Romans 9:6 with this one.

Romans 9:6 states, But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect, For they are not all Israel who are of Israel.

Sam takes Paul's use of Israel here to mean Christ believing Jews who are truly Jews by faith. By implication, that means those Christ believing gentiles are, by their faith, also true Jews and thus the true Israel.

Now, before offering my remarks in response to Sam's arguments, it may be helpful to have a brief summary of these three chapters. One of the better outlines is Harold Hoehner's chapter, Israel in Romans 9-11, found in the book Israel: The Land and The People, p. 145-168.

Paul's argument in Romans 9-11 is important to grasp. Hoehner writes,

Up to this point, Paul has argued cogently that one has a right standing before God by simply trusting God's work in Jesus Christ on the cross at Calvary. As God's covenant nation, why has Israel rejected God's messiah ... while many gentiles accepted this messiah ... ? [Israel: The Land and the People, p. 146]

These three chapters explain this dilemma. Romans 9:1-29 considers the reason for Israel's rejection of Christ. That is due to God's electing purposes. In Romans 9:30-10:21, Paul explains why Israel is still culpable for their rejection of Christ. And then finally, in Romans 11:1-32, Paul explains why Israel's rejection is not complete nor final and points out that their rejection is in God's purposes for the salvation of the gentiles, but they will be saved when the fullness of the gentiles comes in.

Coming back to Sam's rebuttal.

When John gave his message he stated that in scripture all the references to Israel do not mean anything else but ethnic Israel. The term is never used as another way of describing the NT church. He then mentions Galatians 6:16 and Romans 9:6 as the two passages amillennialists like Sam appeal to in order to try and convince us that the word "Israel" can be re-interpreted to identify the NT church. Sam is obviously of the persuasion that the term Israel in Romans 9:6 is spiritual code word for the NT church comprised of both believing Jews and gentiles. He argues his conviction along four points: the immediate context, the near context, the further context in Romans, and the wider context in the NT.

Under his first point, the immediate context, Sam concludes after considering Romans 9:1-8, 11-13, that God's children are not merely born of the flesh, an ethnic identification by birth, but are born of the spirit, a spiritual identification by faith. That is because, as Paul notes, not all of Abraham's children were his seed. Hence, gentiles being born of the spirit are by implication included in God's Israel.

With the near context, Sam points out how in Romans 9:23-26, Paul quotes from Hosea in which the OT prophet proclaimed there will one day be a people who were never called God's people who will be called His people. Paul's application of this prophecy is obviously toward the gentiles who are now, on account of their faith in Christ, considered God's people. Sam objects to the idea that there are two peoples of God: a Jewish people of God and a gentile people of God. There has only been one people of God and in the OT that "people" were called Israel.

Sam then argues for the further context in Romans 2:25-29 where Paul had earlier explained how there was no one, neither Jews nor gentiles, who could do anything to earn righteousness with God. Paul writes that it does not matter if a person is circumcised, a Jew outwardly as it were. What matters is the conformity to the law of God. Hence, those who obey the law whether circumcised or uncircumcised are truly Jews and that would include gentiles.

Then finally, Sam expands his argument out to entail the wider context of the NT and cites Galatians 4:26-29 which reads similarly to Romans 9:7 where Paul speaks of Abraham's true children by faith. He then boldly proclaims how John's view of Israel is explicitly refuted because Paul's use of the title "children of promise" include both Jews and gentiles.

With that summary in mind, let me back up and offer a response to his argumentation.

First off, I believe it is rather plain that Sam is interpreting Romans 9:6 with a set of theological presuppositions already in place. As much as Sam mentions exegesis in his study, I don't really see genuine exegesis taking place here. What I see is a Reformed Baptist who adheres to covenant theology reading his theology into the text. Sam may think his four main points of the immediate context, near context, wider context, etc. is exegesis, but it truly isn't.

What has to be established by Sam, or anyone who may hold to his particular view of Israel and the church, is whether or not there is exegetical and grammatical warrant to conclude Paul's use of Israel in Romans 9:6 is to be understood as being synonymous with the NT church. The question under scrutiny is whether or not the grammatical and exegetical data exists which provides the necessary information for the reader of Romans 9-11 to believe Paul is using OT Israel interchangeably with the NT church. I personally don't believe an honest reader of the text could confidently conclude what Sam does about Roman 9:6, 7.

With that in mind, then, are Sam's four observations exegetically sustainable?

He first appeals to the immediate context of Romans 9:1-13 where Paul argues that not all of Abraham's descendants received the promises given to him by God to make Abraham and his progeny a great nation. In other words, he had physical offspring who did not participate in the covenant God initiated with Abraham in Genesis 15. Paul names two examples, Ishmael, who was Abraham's son by Hagar, and Esau, who was Abraham's grandson by Isaac, who did not receive the covenant promise God made with Abraham to make his name great on the earth. This is because of God's electing grace in sovereignly choosing whom He will bless.

The reader will note that nothing Paul writes even suggests we can re-interpret the word Israel to now mean the NT church. Interestingly, Sam even concedes this point, yet attempts to defend his position in light of no evidence. He writes,

It must, therefore, be acknowledged that it is not Paul's main point here to prove that Gentiles are now included in God's Israel. ... Paul's main point is not that Gentile Christians are part of God's Israel, but rather that there is a remnant among ethnic Israelites in which God's promise is fulfilled. Yet, this is not quite the same as proving that the inclusion of Gentile Christians in God's Israel is not implied. Even though something may not be the main point of a given statement, it may still be implied. [MMM, p. 51 (emphasis his)]

The word implied in that last sentence causes me to think "reading into the text." Sam claims his implication is justified because the concept of God's electing grace of Isaac and Jacob at least opens up the idea that gentiles elected by grace are included in the Israel of God, and the mighty promises of God brings forth the true seed of Abraham by a new birth. Though it certainly is true God's election and supernatural grace begets salvation with a remnant of Israel and the gentiles, it is quite a stretch to now say we can re-read the word Israel as being equated with the NT church.

Sam then moves to the near context of Romans 9:23-26 where Paul quotes Hosea the prophet who proclaimed how God will one day call those people who were not His people "my people." The prophecy speaks of the gentiles who will be brought to salvation and into a relationship with God. Sam concludes Hosea's prophecy strongly suggests that because gentiles are now said to be the people of God, this title is another way of saying the Israel of God [MMM, 53].

He disparages John's view as fallacious. That view being, Paul is simply saying on account of Christ's work, the gentiles share in the blessings of the covenant with Israel without becoming a part of Israel. The problem with Sam's dogmatic pronouncement against John's "dispensationalism" as being fallacious is that he doesn't really explain why John is wrong for holding the position he does. He just declares John is wrong for allegedly thinking there is a gentile people of God and an Jewish people of God, and that John's view divides God's people into camps. Again, I see his take on Paul's use of Hosea's prophecy as reading his theology into the text, for nothing in Hosea's prophecy or Paul's citation of it suggests I can redefine the term Israel in 9:6 as being the "new Israel," the NT church.

With his last two points, the further context in Romans and the wider context of the NT, Sam draws us to Romans 2:25-29 and Galatians 4:26-29. In these two passages, Paul argues similarly as he did in Romans 9:6,7. In Romans 2:25-29 he speaks of true Jews who have been more than just physically circumcised, but circumcised in heart, implying that a true Jew is one who is one inwardly, rather than just physically. This of course means if a gentile is circumcised of heart this makes him a true Jew also. With Galatians 4:26-29, Sam notes how Paul describes the Galatian Christians as being like Isaac, children of promise. This means they are, as gentiles, part of the true Israel born according to spirit. He proclaims these two passages serve to strengthen his assertion that Israel in Romans 9:6 can be used to describe the church.

In response, let me just mention the highly unusual appeal to passages way outside the context of the passage under discussion. When arguing for other important doctrines, like the doctrines of Grace, Reformed Baptists like Sam tend to jump on their opponents when they run from the plain teaching of a particular text and go to a verse or two outside the context of the passage being debated, perhaps in a far away, non-related epistle, so they can find support for their particular interpretation of that original passage. I sort of see Sam doing this here.

But be that as it may, I don't think anyone is disputing Paul's use of OT titles to describe the gentiles relationship with God by the work of Christ. Moreover, all would certainly agree Jews and gentiles are unified together in one body we call the church. However, it is a bit over reaching to claim Paul's usage of these descriptions are meant to erase all the distinctions that distinguish the uniqueness of God's people. There is a salvific, spiritual unity all of God's people, both male and female, masters and slaves, and Jews and gentiles share; yet at the same time men are still men, women are women, masters are masters, slaves are slaves, and I would say Jews are still Jews and gentiles, gentiles. A person's ethnicity no more supplies a salvific advantage as his or her sex or station in life. But, there is still a diversity in the unity of God's people as one body of Christ, and this is something Sam seems to want to over look.

As much as Sam want to think he has offered a solid refutation of John's initial assertion that no where in the NT do the writers of scripture mean anything other than Israel when they speak of Israel, I am unimpressed and remain unconvinced of his view. Nothing he has offered is compelling for the defense of his position, and in point of fact, what has been presented presupposes a lot of theological baggage a person has to bring to the book of Romans in order to agree with him.

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13 Comments:

Blogger DJP said...

God incarnate is called "Son."

Christians are called "sons."

Therefore, Christians are God incarnate.

Right? That's how my former cult "reasoned."

And that's how CTers "reason" — when it comes to explaining why it's OK for God to welsh on His promises to Israel.

6:04 AM, November 18, 2008  
Blogger donsands said...

What about where Peter says we are "an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices", and "a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people"; "which in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God".

Seems as though the Church becomes a holy nation, and we gentiles become God's chosen people as well.

Is there two holy nations, Israel, and the Church?

Just kicking it around a bit. My eschatology is very uncertain at this time.
I do believe the Bible does teach Christ only returns once though, not two times hence. But other than that i am listening to good posts such as this one.

10:55 AM, November 18, 2008  
Blogger thomas4881 said...

The CIA world fact book says -

Jewish 76.4% (of which Israel-born 67.1%, Europe/America-born 22.6%, Africa-born 5.9%, Asia-born 4.2%), non-Jewish 23.6% (mostly Arab) (2004)

When Christians say that we must support the current state of Israel do they know that 23.6% of those they'er calling God's people are Arabs living in Israel? Or what are we to think of this? What do you think Fred?

11:11 PM, November 18, 2008  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Don,
I don't think anyone denies the use of OT language to describe God's people as the church. I sort of touched on this in my main post. I think we can consider the church as a royal priesthood and a holy nation. I have two questions in mind:

1) whether or not there is exegetical warrant to assert the use of "Israel" by Paul in Romans 9-11 can be understood as him speaking of the NT church. I don't see that grammatical possibility at all.

And then 2) whether or not the promises to the nation of Israel to restore them in the land are only fulfilled spiritually in Christ, or is there a future promise still waiting? I do not see any sound exegetical reason, or theological reason for that matter, to read those OT promise of restoration as anything but a real, physical restoration as God said he would accomplish.

5:42 AM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Thomas,
Without getting into all the particulars to the Middle East conflict, I don't believe it is necessary for Christians to "support" the current state of Israel as some fulfillment of OT prophecy. I reject, for example, John Hagee's Zionist theology that brushes aside a lot of the political problems Israel engages in.

As far as I am concerned, the current state of Israel is a collection of apostates in rebellion against God. I only support them for being a free country set in amongst a group of tyrannical, thuggish Islamofacist nations. When it comes to human rights, personal freedom, standing against religious anti-Semitism, I support them.

My support of the Jews as a restored Israel I take from the Bible. The state of Israel as we know it could go out of existence, but I still believe God will fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah 11, 24, Zechariah 14, etc., of restoring Israel to the land of promise at the return of Christ.

5:50 AM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger donsands said...

"I don't see that grammatical possibility at all."

I agree.

As far as the land promises being fulfilled, they were stated to have been fulfilled in Joshua 21:43-45: "So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it...Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass."

God sent His Son, the Messiah to Israel, and they did not receive the One they were looking for, and so killed Him.

God then judged the nation in 70 AD, as Christ foretold. Jesus, when on His way to Golgotha was met with women weeping for Him, said, "Don't weep for me, but weep for yourselves".
Judgment was coming like Israel has never experienced.

However, in the midst of all this wickedness is God's mercy, and His salvation, for the Jew first, and also the gentile.

It seems there surely could be something about Israel being a nation again, but I'm just not sure.

i do believe God's ggod news of Christ is going forth throughout the whole world to all ethnic groups, and after the gospel has been preached in its fullness to the Gentiles, then the Jews, because they are provoked by envy, will embrace the Messiah, and if we are gather into the kingdom because of their fall, then how much more will the natural branch be grafted back in.

I would love to see a world wide revival in the Jewish people, especially in Israel, where they cry out to Jesus Christ for mercy, and as their King and Messiah!

Thanks for your response.

6:59 AM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger fredsgirl said...

I will never tire of the thought of the Jewish people embracing their Messiah and declaring: "LORD Jesus Christ - my God and my King!" Thanks guys!

8:08 AM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

As far as the land promises being fulfilled, they were stated to have been fulfilled in Joshua 21:43-45: "So the Lord gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it...Not one of the good promises which the Lord had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass."

(Fred) Amills tend to only appeal to this passage when debating this subject, but Joshua's comments is merely saying they came into the land as God promised. I would agree with that. BUT, what is overlooked is later prophetic announcements that speak of Israel being displaced from the land because of covenant violation, but God in his mercy and grace restoring them to their land FOREVER. The operative word being forever. If God's revelation on the subject of Israel's possession of the land ended with Joshua 21, amills and others who reject a future, physical kingdom possessed by a renewed and restored Jewish people, would certainly have a clear argument. But we need to turn our attention toward the later prophets like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and most definitely Zechariah, and I would even add Christ's very words in Acts 1:3-9 in response to the apostles' question regarding Israel's restored kingdom. That is where Sam's and other amiller's spiritualized exegesis (which they attempt to claim is really the historical-grammatical hermeneutic) tends to fall apart and spiral into the absurd.

8:35 AM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger donsands said...

Zechariah speaks of the Messiah being betrayed 11:12. Then in 12:10 he speaks of Christ on the Cross, there will "be a great mourning in Jerusalem (ver. 11)."

13:1 speaks of the cleansing for sin, and then in verse 7 the prophet writes of the Messiah's death again.

But then comes 14. A difficult chapter to say the least.
And it seems that a portion of 14 lines up with Revelation 21 & 22. But I'm not sure. Need to study it a bit more.

Thanks for the dialog.

11:58 AM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger DJP said...

Isn't alluding to the Joshua passage, with the implication that the God fulfilled the promise so now that's over and done-with, kind of like a husband saying he kept his wedding vows in '97, so now he's free from them?

4:17 PM, November 19, 2008  
Blogger donsands said...

"Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass."

Let me go over this one more time.

God fulfilled His every word of promise, but he didn't fulfill it really, because Israel was rebellious, and God judged Israel, and then Judah. He then brought the captives back from Babylon, and 42,000 of His people served the Lord, and prospered through until God sent His Son, who they then killed, yet His death caused the Curtain of the Holy of Holies to be torn in half, and so Jesus did away with the sacrificial system forever.

God then judges Israel again in 70 AD, and even destroys the Temple, tearing down every stone.

But God is going to still restore Israel and Judah, because the prophets after He fulfilled His word, prophicy that God is going to, and He will bring all His people back to this land that He fulfilled giving them, and yet didn't fulfill yet.

I know this is clear as can be to you, and to millions of Christians really, and perhaps I'll grasp it one of these days.

Thanks for letting me kick this around with you..

4:56 AM, November 20, 2008  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I would say that it is not just because of unfulfilled promises, but because of the promise to not cast off his people and the prophecies of restoration the scriptures predict.

Romans 11 even notes this when Paul says that this hardening is for the purpose of bringing in the gentiles and the gentiles are not to become boastful or arrogant as if they are greater than Israel. It is for their sake Israel endures this hardening. But, as Romans 11:29 states, "for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." I take that to mean, as Paul noted in the previous verse, that Israel is elect for the father's sake. That is to say, for the promises God originally gave to Abraham, Isaac, and David.

6:10 AM, November 20, 2008  
Blogger donsands said...

I think we agree here.

Israel was cast off, or cut off (Rom 11:15), from the olive tree. But not all Jews, for Paul was not cut off, but grafted in as a natural branch.

But Israel was cut off, so that now all the other nations in the world, who are wild branches, can be grafted in, but it seems as the majority of Jews now are unbelievers, and Christ is an offense to them.
So, the fullness of the Gentiles will come, and the Lord will gather all His elect from every nation by the Gospel.
And then the Jews will be provoked to jealousy, and so the Gospel will go forth and there will be a world wide revival of Jews coming to the Messiah.
And so all Israel will be saved.

If all the Jews in the world all move back to Israel, then it will happen there.
However, if most of the Jews in the world live all over, (there are in fact, I think 250,000 Jews in Iran, decendents from the time of Daniel), then the revival will be world wide.

That will be how it happens I'm thinking, but it will happen from God's power, and His power to save is the Gospel.

The Gospel is what God is all about, and it is what the Church, the people of God needs to be all about as well.

God destroyed the shadow of things, so that the Gospel, the good news of His Son, Jesus Christ shines bright and crystal clear in a dark and evil generation.

6:36 AM, November 20, 2008  

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