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.

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Composing a Doctrinal Statement [section 7 — on the Church]

Composing a doctrinal statement (or any other essential documents) can be one of the most arduous (but crucial) projects undertaken by a church. In this series, I’m sharing my own doctrinal statement, a section at a time, in an attempt to provide a helpful example of a detailed statement that is worded positively, but articulated precisely enough to exclude certain theological positions for the protection and unity of the church.


Section 7 — The Church

We believe that God’s plan for this dispensation is that the people of God regularly assemble and associate themselves in local communities by establishing churches under the authority of God’s Word and for the purpose of edifying and equipping disciples of Christ to better know Him, love Him, live in obedience to Him, and disciple others toward a deeper relationship with Him.

A church is a local congregation of Christians who, by mutual commitment, regularly assemble together in Christ’s name to declare, uphold, and proclaim the Word and worth of God, and to officially affirm, equip, and oversee one another’s faith in Christ through discipleship, corporate worship, the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, and the observance of the ordinances. [1]

The church is governed by the teachings of God’s Word through delegated leadership, and is to obey Christ’s commission to make disciples [2] by evangelizing the lost, and training, equipping, and developing believers to better know Christ, become more like Him, live in obedience to Him, and be used by Him for His glory.

Membership: We believe that every believer should formally identify with the believing community by becoming a member of a local church [3]. Church membership is a formal relationship between a local church and a Christian characterized by the church’s affirmation and oversight of a Christian’s discipleship, and the Christian’s submission to living out his or her discipleship under the authority and in the care of that church [4].

Leadership: We believe that the one, supreme authority for the church is Christ, and that church leadership, order, discipline, and worship are all appointed through His sovereignty as found in the Scriptures. We believe that Jesus authorized the local assembly to exercise the authority of the keys of the kingdom [5]. The church is to exercise this authority under the oversight and leadership of biblically qualified elders (also called pastors and overseers). The congregation is to be led by elders and served by deacons, whose qualifications and duties are defined in the New Testament. Though the church utilizes these two offices, all believers have equal access to God and are gifted and called to serve Him as ministers. We believe that the elders lead as servants of Christ and are commissioned by Him to bear the responsibility of teaching, leading, protecting, and caring for the local church. The church’s leaders are to model the servant-leadership of Jesus Christ. The congregation is to recognize, support, and submit to their leadership within scriptural guidelines.

Universal Church: The family of God as it exists in this dispensation, the worldwide New Covenant community, is often collectively called the Church [6] — made up of all who have been redeemed by God since the cross of Christ, both Jew and Gentile. [7]

(Matthew 16:15–19; 18:15–20; 28:19–20; Acts 2:37–47; 14:23, 27; 15:13–21; 20:17–28; 1 Corinthians 5:9–13; 11:17–34; 12:12–27; 14:12, 26; 2 Corinthians 2:6; 5:14–21; Galatians 1:6–9; Ephesians 1:22–23; 3:1–6, 21; 4:11–16; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:13, 18; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; 1 Timothy 2:12; 3:1–15; 5:3–9, 17–22; 2 Timothy 2:2, 15; 3:16–17; 4:3; Titus 1:5–9; Hebrews 10:22–25; 13:7, 17; 1 Peter 5:1–5; 1 John 1:3)


Notes

1) For an explanation and discussion of my definition of the local church, go to this post.

2) For a study in biblical discipleship, see: Defining Discipleship; Knowing vs. Loving Christ; The Requirement of a Disciple; The Commission and Means of Disciple-Making; and The Resemblance and Mark of a Disciple

3) Jonathan Leeman is probably the go-to resource on church membership. I suggest this, this, and this. Also, Grace to You has some helpful posts here, here, here, here, and here.

4) What is Church Membership? (Leeman); The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love: Reintroducing the Doctrines of Church Membership and Discipline (Leeman)

5) Understanding the Congregation’s Authority (Leeman); Don’t Fire Your Church Members (Leeman)

6) For a study of the ekklesia (church; assembly) in the New Testament, see here.

7) Every doctrinal statement I have ever seen places the universal church first, and the local church second. Doctrinal statements usually launch into an in-depth discussion of the concept of the universal church (which, frankly, is not an overly helpful or productive concept exegetically or hermeneutically), and then have a brief statement tagged on the end about how “the local/physical expression of this universal body is in the establishment of local churches.” These doctrinal statements reflect the common attitude of evangelicalism today, which unabashedly places priority on the universal church, while devaluing the local church to nigh nonexistence. I do not believe this is the biblical viewpoint. Scripture has so much more to say about the local church than it does about the universal church. (And, functionally, the local church is the only assembly that actually regularly assembles). In fact, I would say that, ontologically, the local church actually has precedence and primacy, and the universal church exists only as a derivative category that conceptually engulfs all believers around the world and throughout time. I suppose I need to write a paper on this sometime — I know this is an uncommon and unpopular viewpoint — but regardless, that is why I place the local church first here.

What is the Church [4: Jesus’ use of ekklesia]

The majority of uses of ekklesia (“church”) in the New Testament are clearly references to local churches. However, there are some passages that will shed extra light on whether we are to understand the church in the New Testament as referring to a purely local assembly, or something more universal. We will very briefly look at a few of those passages now.

The question that will structure how we will discuss these passages is this: “Is there anything about this passage that forces me to compromise or abandon what the cultural conceptual antecedent would have made me expect the hearer to understand?” If there is nothing to absolutely require this, then we will maintain the original cultural concept of a local assembly.

In Matthew 16:18, Christ says He will build His church. This is the first mention of the church in the New Testament, and is likely the first time Jesus mentioned it to His disciples. As such, we must bring to it the connotation that the original hearers would have understood. This does not mean that Christ could not have meant something somewhat different or expanded than what His disciples understood, but it does mean they would not have taken it that way naturally.

Roy Bowen Ward argues that Christ did not use the word ekklesia at all, but rather used an Aramaic word for assembly, not having the technical application of ekklesia that would exclude it from being used to refer to the whole people of God. Then, by the time Matthew penned his gospel, the word ekklesia had expanded to be used in this universal sense, which is why Matthew then used ekklesia to translate whatever word Jesus really used.

However, if Jesus used a word that in Aramaic meant something that could be translated to ekklesia, the disciples may have still carried over the cultural connotations of ekklesia. Also, later in Matthew 18:17, Jesus is discussing “church discipline” and says to “tell it to the church.” This fits precisely with the cultural contextual usage of the assembly; thus, if the disciples suspected they were to understand something different/new about Jesus’ church in 16:18, this certainly would have dissuaded any such suspicion, and relegated them to understanding the church as a local assembly of citizens in the original sense.

Next time, we will look at the development of the ekklesia in the rest of the New Testament.

What is the Church? [3: Occurrences in the New Testament]

Following is a list of the occurrences of ekklesia, the Greek word for “church,” in the New Testament (depending on the textual tradition you follow of course). Just skim over this list to get an idea of the frequency with which it occurs. We will then focus on a few key passages that play a role in determining the meaning of the concept of ekklesia in the New Testament.

The progress of revelation recorded in the very early church: Acts 1-12; James

Matthew 16:18; Matthew 18:17; Acts 5:11; Acts 7:38; Acts 8:1; Acts 8:3; Acts 9:31; Acts 11:22; Acts 11:26; Acts 12:1; Acts 12:5; James 5:14

The progress of revelation recorded in the years of Paul’s first journey and the “Jerusalem Council”: Acts 13-15; Galatians

Acts 13:1; Acts 14:23; Acts 14:27; Acts 15:3; Acts 15:4; Acts 15:2; Acts 15:41; Galatians 1:2; Galatians 1:13; Galatians 1:22

In the years of Paul’s second journey: Acts 16:1–18:22; 1, 2 Thessalonians

Acts 16:5; Acts 18:22; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Thessalonians 2:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:4

In the years of Paul’s third journey, arrest in Jerusalem, detainment in Caesarea Maritima, and voyage to Rome: Acts 18:23–28:16; 1, 2 Corinthians; Romans

Acts 19:32; Acts 19:39; Acts 19:41; Acts 20:17; Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Corinthians 6:4; 1 Corinthians 7:17; 1 Corinthians 10:32; 1 Corinthians 11:16; 1 Corinthians 11:18; 1 Corinthians 11:22; 1 Corinthians 12:28; 1 Corinthians 14:4; 1 Corinthians 14:5; 1 Corinthians 14:12; 1 Corinthians 14:19; 1 Corinthians 14:23; 1 Corinthians 14:28; 1 Corinthians 14:33; 1 Corinthians 14:34; 1 Corinthians 14:35; 1 Corinthians 15:9; 1 Corinthians 16:1; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 8:1; 2 Corinthians 8:18; 2 Corinthians 8:19; 2 Corinthians 8:23; 2 Corinthians 8:24; 2 Corinthians 11:8; 2 Corinthians 11:28; 2 Corinthians 12:13; Romans 16:1; Romans 16:4; Romans 16:5; Romans 16:16; Romans 16:23

In the years of Paul’s imprisonment in Rome: Acts 28:17-31; Colossians; Ephesians; Philemon; Philippians; 1 Peter

Colossians 1:18; Colossians 1:24; Colossians 4:15; Colossians 4:16; Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 3:21; Ephesians 5:23; Ephesians 5:24; Ephesians 5:25; Ephesians 5:27; Ephesians 5:29; Ephesians 5:32; Philemon 1:2; Philippians 3:6; Philippians 4:15

In the period of Paul’s post-Acts (4th) journey: 1 Timothy; Titus

1 Timothy 3:5; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Timothy 5:16

In the period of the Neronian persecution: 2 Peter; Jude; Hebrews; 2 Timothy

Hebrews 2:12; Hebrews 12:23

In the period toward the close of the apostolic age: 1/2/3 John; Revelation

3 John 1:6; 3 John 1:9; 3 John 1:10; Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:11; Revelation 1:20; Revelation 1:20 (2 references); Revelation 2:1; Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:8; Revelation 2:11; Revelation 2:12; Revelation 2:17; Revelation 2:18; Revelation 2:23; Revelation 2:29; Revelation 3:1; Revelation 3:6; Revelation 3:7; Revelation 3:13; Revelation 3:14; Revelation 3:22; Revelation 22:16


The majority of uses of ekklesia in the New Testament are clearly references to local churches, such as the epistles addressed to churches “at” a specific city. The seven churches of Asia in Revelation are also explicitly local assemblies. Philippians 4:15 also points to an explicitly local assembly in that Paul says that the church of Philippi supported him but no other church did. However, there are some passages that will shed extra light on whether we have any justification in bringing into the text a meaning even somewhat foreign to that which the people in that culture would have understood. I will look very briefly at a few of those passages next time.

The question that will structure how we will discuss these passages is this: “Is there anything about this passage that forces me to compromise or abandon what the cultural conceptual antecedent would have made me expect the hearer to understand?” If there is nothing to absolutely require this, then we will maintain the original cultural concept of a local assembly.

What is the Church? [2: the Greco-Roman ekklesia]

In the first post on the church, I laid out some basic hermeneutical principles to guide the study of the church. In today’s post, we’ll look at the cultural contextual usage of the word “church” in the time of the New Testament.

The New Testament word translated as “church” is the Greek “ekklesia.” In the Greco-roman world of the New Testament, ekklesia had a specific meaning. The ekklesia was an Assembly of voting citizens which would meet to discuss affairs of the state (or city), very much like a city council. The very nature of the Assembly was that it was local. It was a function of geographic locality.

I will also note that I do not think that the etymology of ekklesia plays a major role in the interpretation of its meaning. I do not think it is legitimate to point out the etymology as meaning to “call out,” and arrive at the conclusion that the word simply means Christian are to be called out or separate from the world. Others think it refers to salvation, as God calls people out of the world to save them. Thus, anyone who is saved is part of the church. However, this ignores the historical context in which the word was used to mean the assembling of a specific group of people – full citizens – in a specific location, for a specific purpose (dealing with public affairs, commissioning the military, etc.).

Nor do I think however, that it would be legitimate to say that the etymology plays no part in the establishing of the meaning, and that one should only look at the usage in the historical context. To me, it seems the usage in the historical context, and the etymology, are not mutually exclusive. If ekklesia refers to an assembly of citizens to vote on decision and discuss governmental affairs etc., then when the assembly was to be convened, the citizens would be “called out” from the people to the meeting. Before people assemble, there is a summons. Therefore, I do see the etymology playing a role in the meaning, but not in the sense of Christian separation from the world, but rather simply that we are speaking of a summoned, called together assembly. Craig Blomberg comments on this in his commentary on Matthew:

“The popular view that the church is somehow to separate itself from society, based on the derivation of ekklesia from ekkaleo (to call out) affords a classic example of what linguists call the etymological fallacy. Words often develop meanings over time that differ from their roots. The only sense in which the word church in New Testament times means those who are called out is that believers routinely gather together by leaving their separate places of residence or work.”

Many Christians view the New Testament as teaching the concept of another type of ekklesia – a universal, or invisible church. Others argue though, that this entity would then only be an ekklesia in name, but not at all in function, as it cannot be assembled, cannot meet for worship, and cannot carry out certain obligations (take church discipline as a simple example). If the concept of the universal church exists, the fact that it is so radically different from what the New Testament world would have called an ekklesia demands that we accept this interpretation only if the New Testament demands it of us. That is the principle that will guide the examination of specific Scripture passages.

We’ll look at some specific passages of Scripture next time, to examine the development of the concept in the New Testament.

What is the Church? [1: Basic Principles]

What is the church? A purely local organization? A worldwide organism? Both?

In the next couple of posts, we are going to think through the cultural contextual meaning of the word “church,” and think about what role this plays in how we should understand the concept of the church, and what that means for us today.

Foundational to the discussion of the doctrine of the church is the question of authorial intent. Thus, it is important to note a hermeneutical viewpoint before we delve into the study of the church. The hermeneutical question is this: “is it legitimate for the New Testament writer to deliberately cite an Old Testament passage, and in so doing assign to those Old Testament words a meaning entirely different than what the normal process of grammatical/historical exegesis would demonstrate that Old Testament author to have meant?”

I do not believe that the New Testament authors could arbitrarily assign new meaning to the words of the Old Testament which would have been entirely foreign to the original readers. However, I do think that progressive revelation plays a significant role in how the New Testament authors use the Old Testament. We must remember that with both the Old and New Testament authors, the “authorial intent” does not only apply to the human authors – that is, we must keep in mind the Author’s intent.

In other words, I do believe it is possible for there to be a deeper, or perhaps better, fuller meaning imbedded in a text. This is not to say that the original writers or readers could not understand anything of what was said, for certainly the perspicuity of Scripture would suggest that what was meant for them to understand, they did understand. But rather, I would argue that while the original audience understood what was applicable to them in their time, there may have been a fuller understanding to be gained by later revelation.

For example, how do we interpret things such as Jesus’ use of the serpent on the pole in the wilderness, Paul’s argument on the basis of one word (seed) in Galatians 3:16, or our understanding of the promise of the seed in Genesis 3:15 as prophesying a virgin birth? Can we allow for a fuller understanding due to progressive revelation that would not have been clear to the original context? I believe so.

However, it is still vital to remember that this progression is never from falsehood to truth, but always from truth to greater truth.

This issue relates to the doctrine of the church because of the impact it will have on how we interpret the concept of the “assembly” throughout Scripture. If we do not allow for developing or fuller meanings for words, then we must tie ourselves to the original concept of “church” in the context of the New Testament believers. However, if we allow for a meaning to develop or have a deeper or fuller meaning underneath, this may cause us to allow for a development of the concept of the assembly beyond what the original audience may have understood, and beyond the context of the original New Testament believers.

So, some of the most basic hermeneutical principles which I believe to be essential to the current study (and the study of Scripture as a whole) are as follows.

_____________________________

1: The text being examined must be interpreted within the context and construct of its literary genre, historical context, clear authorial intent, and the amount of revelation revealed up to that time.

2: A meaning should not be ascribed to a text that would be totally foreign to the ability of the original audience to grasp.

3: A meaning should not be ascribed to a text that is unnatural to the plain reading of the text – in context of all revelation given up to the time of interpretation of said text.

4: New revelation (progressive revelation) does not nullify, transfer, or reinterpret older passages in a way that violate or cancels the original authorial intent of the writers as determined by a plain, historical-grammatical hermeneutic.

5: God may expand the meaning, or do more than what prior revelation revealed, but God does not do anything less than, or contrary to the original meaning of the author.

___________________________

With those simple yet essential principles in mind… Next time, we will begin looking at the historical context in which Jesus and the apostles used the word “church.” Specifically, we will start thinking through the cultural contextual meaning of the word “church,” and about what role this plays in how we should understand the concept of the church and what that means for us today.