Who is “the Israel of God?”

In the vein of our recent discussions regarding the church, kingdom, and dispensationalism, I’ve been doing some interesting reading. A particularly fascinating question in the Covenantal/Dispensational discussion is: who is the “Israel of God” that Paul refers to in Galatians 6:16? — the Church? Believing Jews? Something else?

On that question, I’ve been slowly trudging through this paper from S. Lewis Johnson on the meaning of Galatians 6:16, and thought I would point you to it in case you’re interested in having it as a reference. It’s lengthy, but certainly worth the read. — http://www.tms.edu/tmsj/tmsj20c.pdf

To give an idea of the conclusion he comes to, he says this on page 54 (pg 14 of his article):

The present study illustrates this. If there is an interpretation that totters on a tenuous foundation, it is the view that Paul equates the term “the Israel of God” with the believing church of Jews and Gentiles. To support it, the general usage of the term Israel in Paul, in the NT, and in the Scriptures as a whole is ignored. The grammatical and syntactical usage of the conjunction kai is strained and distorted—and the rare and uncommon sense accepted when the usual sense is unsatisfactory—only because it does not harmonize with the presuppositions of the exegete. And to compound matters, in the special context of Galatians and the general context of the Pauline teaching, especially as highlighted in Romans 11, Paul’s primary passages on God’s dealings with Israel and the Gentiles, are downplayed. If, as LaRondelle asserts, “Paul’s benediction in Galatians 6:16 becomes, then, the chief witness in the NT in declaring that the universal church of Christ is the Israel of God, the seed of Abraham, the heir to Israel’s covenant promise (cf. Gal. 3:29; 6:16),” then the doctrine that the church of Gentiles and Jews is the Israel of God rests on an illusion. It is a classic case of tendentious exegesis.

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