The Future of Israel [Hermeneutical Principles]

Last time, we introduced the discussion of Israel’s future as explained in Romans 9–11. Before we get into the text itself, we need to talk about two primary hermeneutical principles that must be employed. “Hermeneutics” refers to the process of seeking to accurately interpret what the author of a text originally meant to communicate to his readers. As such, hermeneutics is essential in the study of God’s Word because, as Duvall and Hays explain in their book, Grasping God’s Word, the reader’s goal should always be to accurately understand the original author’s intended message—and this is all the more important when the author is God [1]. However, because of the great distance between the historical, linguistic, and cultural contexts of the ancient writer and the modern reader [2], it becomes necessary when reading Scripture to intentionally employ what is often called grammatical-historical exegesis.

Kaiser and Silva, in their book, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics, explain that grammatical-historical exegesis simply means that one’s interpretation of the text “must pay attention both to the language in which the original text was written and to the specific cultural context that gave rise to the text” [3]. Bernard Ramm emphasizes that not only is there a linguistic context and a historical context, but also a literary context [4]. Without an understanding of the literary context (the surrounding verses, book, author’s writings, etc.), the meaning of a text will be difficult or impossible to determine. As Duvall and Hays put it, “the most important principle of biblical interpretation is that context determines meaning” [5]. Grammatical-historical exegesis then seeks to accurately interpret the meaning of the text, as intended by the author, by examining the historical setting of the writing, the original language of the text, and the literary context of the particular passage.

Two key hermeneutical principles of grammatical-historical exegesis will be of especial significance for this particular study. First, a lexical analysis of Paul’s use of the term “Israel” will illustrate that Paul never intends to define Israel as anything other than “the ‘national’ covenant people of the OT” [6]. Second, a contextual analysis will argue that, first, the immediate context leading up to Romans 9–11 makes sense of Paul’s discussion in these chapters, giving warrant to the view that “Israel” simply refers to ethnic Israel, and secondly, that the broader context of the teachings of Scripture suggests that a normal reading of the text should be consistently followed, which supports the view that “Israel” means just what it has always meant—national Israel—and that national Israel still has a future as a nation in the promised land.


Notes:

1] J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible. 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 194.

2] Ibid, 40.

3] Walter C. Kaiser and Moisés Silva, An Introduction to Biblical Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 19.

4] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation. 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1970), 19.

5] Duvall and Hays, 149. Italics original.

6] Robert L. Saucy, “Israel and the Church,” in Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments: Essays in Honor of S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. ed John S. Feinberg, (Westchester: Crossway Books, 1988). 245.

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The Future of Israel in Romans 9–11

In Romans 9–11, Paul expounds on the covenant-keeping righteousness of God in light of God’s setting aside of the nation of Israel. Considering God’s many blessings and promises given to the nation of Israel as a nation (Rom 9:4–5), the question arises: how can a righteous, covenant-keeping God reject his chosen people? (Romans 11:1 sums up the discussion of chapters 9-11 with the question: “Has God rejected His people?”). Paul begins his defense of God’s righteous actions in verse six by stating that “it is not as though the Word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.”

Romans 9–11 has led to countless disagreements and debates on a number of theological issues [1]. However, for the sake of this series, a slightly more focused discussion will be attempted. In answer to the question “has God rejected His people,” Paul answers “absolutely not!” However, does Paul mean to say that God will fulfill His promise literally to restore national Israel to live in peace in the land God gave them? Or does Paul mean to redefine the term “Israel” to refer to the Church as the “spiritual Israel?” [2]

Over the next several weeks, we are going to see that there is a sure future for national Israel as a restored, prominent people in the land promised them by God. Paul defends God’s righteousness by arguing that God has not, in fact, rejected His people Israel entirely, but is preserving a remnant of believing Jews who will receive the covenant blessings in the future. I believe a faithful, consistently plain-sense interpretation of the text will lead the honest student of the Bible to this conclusion.

Supersessionism [3] understands Romans 9 as teaching that the identification of “Israel” is no longer meant to be ethnic Jews. When Paul says that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel,” Paul is teaching that the Church (those saved through faith since the Cross [4]), has replaced national Israel in the plans and purposes of God, or at least that Paul specifically expands the reference of “Israel” to include Gentiles [5]. Thus, supersessionism holds that ethnic Israel has no future role in the Kingdom as a nation [6].

A Dispensational understanding of Romans 9 holds that Paul is speaking of ethnic Jews. Paul argues that although national Israel has been currently set aside in their having a primary role in the plan of God, He has not rejected Israel wholesale, in the sense that the promises will not be literally fulfilled to ethnic Jews. Rather, Israel will be restored to their former prominence and established in the Land by Christ upon His return, thus enjoying the blessings and the fulfillment of the promises [7] of the Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants [8].

Next time, we’ll look at the hermeneutical principles that must undergird our study of the Word of God, and then launch into an examination of Romans 9–11.

virtus et honos


Notes:

1] For example, Romans 9, specifically, is also a key proof text for the Calvinist view of Unconditional Election (e.g. John Piper, The Justification of God, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983. 89).

2] Michael G. Vanlaningham, “The Jewish People According to the Book of Romans,” in The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God, ed. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014), 123.

3] A term for the view commonly held most notably within Covenant theology that the Church has replaced Israel. The terms supersessionism and Covenant theology may be used interchangeably in the course of this series. When this is done, Covenant theology is not meant to refer to all that is included under that title, but rather simply refers to that system of theology which holds to the supersessionist view.

4] When the capitalized term, “Church,” is used in this series, it speaks collectively of all born-again believers in Christ of this dispensation—the New Covenant community; the “universal church,” as opposed to a local church.

5] Michael J. Vlach, Has the Church Replaced Israel?: A Theological Evaluation. (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010).

6] Representatively: C. K. Barrett, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (New York: Harper & Row, 1957); C. H. Dodd, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (New York: Harper & Row, 1932); Herman N. Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, trans. John R. Witt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975); N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992).

7] Though different scholars have different specific lists, the physical blessings irrevocably promised in the covenants which God gave to Israel, and which dispensationalists believe will be fulfilled literally to physical, ethnic Israel in the future, include: that Israel will be established as a nation forever (Gen 12:2; Ex 19:6; 2 Sam 7:8; Jer 31:35-37); that the Jews as a people will never be annihilated (Gen 15:5; 2 Sam 7:12, 16; Jer 31:27, 36); that national Israel will be established permanently in the land of Palestine (Gen 15:18; Ex 20:12; 2 Sam 7:10; Jer 31:38, 40); that Israel will have a triumphant kingdom forever, the Messiah establishing peace and justice on all the earth (Gen 22:17; Ex 19:6; 2 Sam 7:16; Ps. 2:8–10; Ps. 72:4; Isa. 2:2–4; Isa. 9:7; Isa. 65:21–22; Amos 9:11-12; Micah 4:3–4; cf. Luke 1:32-33).

8] Representatively: Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002); Harold W. Hoehner, “Israel in Romans 9-11,” in Israel: The Land and the People, ed. H. Wayne House (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1998); H. Wayne. House, “The Future of National Israel,” BSac, 166:664; Steve Lewis, “’Some’ vs. ‘All’ — The Doctrine of the Remnant and the Salvation of Israel in Romans 9-11,” CTJ 09:26; Michael G. Vanlaningham, “The Jewish People According to the Book of Romans,” in The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel: Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God, ed. Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014); Michael J. Vlach, Has the Church Replaced Israel?: A Theological Evaluation (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2010); John F. Walvoord, “Millennial Series: Part 14: The Abrahamic Covenant and Premillennialism.” BSac. 1609:434.

Paul’s Epistle to the Romans

The following is a very brief digest/outline of the book of Romans. The goal is to provide a condensed summary of the book–a cursory introduction to get started in personal study.


 

The Epistle of Righteousness

In the epistle to the Romans, Paul expounds on the righteous character of God, explaining how a righteous and holy God can declare a sinful soul to be righteous, how a righteous, covenant-keeping God can set aside Israel for a time, and the implications for our every-day lives.

Outline:

(1:1-15) Greetings and Introduction

(1:16-17) Statement of Purpose/Theme

(1:18–3:20) God’s righteous wrath against sin, and the need for God’s Righteousness

(3:21–5:21) The provision of God’s righteousness – God’s plan of salvation

(6:1–8:39) Demonstrating God’s Righteousness

(9:1–11:36) God’s righteous dealings with Israel

(12:1–15:13) Living out God’s Righteousness

(15:14-33) Concluding information and Future Plans

(16:1-16) Personal greetings

(16:17-27) Final warning, encouragement, and farewell

 

Primary Characters:

  • Paul: the author of the epistle (1:1)
  • Pheobe: possibly the bearer of the epistle to the Roman church (16:1-2)

 

Background Considerations:

Authorship:

  • Paul is clearly stated to be the author (1:1), and this is virtually unchallenged amongst scholars.

Date and Setting:

  • Roman’s was most likely written from Corinth during Paul’s third missionary journey, on his way to Jerusalem with a collection for the poor (16:1,23).
  • The epistle was most likely written toward the end of the winter of AD 57/58, possibly in February (see 15:25).

 

Special Features:

  • Unlike some of Paul’s other writings, his letter to the Romans was not for the purpose of correcting false doctrine or misunderstanding.

 

Interpretive Issues:

  • Regarding the unity of the epistle, were the last two chapters a part of the original letter? Was only the last chapter an interpolation? Was the letter delivered in portions? Was it originally in the form we have it today?
  • Who were the Roman Christians, and what was the origin of the church?