Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Israel of God (Galatians 6:16) Two Churches?

 The Israel of God
(Galatians 6:16)




'The Israel of God
                                      (Galatians 6:16)

14 ἐμοὶ δὲ μὴ γένοιτο καυχᾶσθαι εἰ μὴ ἐν τῷ σταυρῷ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, δι᾽ οὗ ἐμοὶ κόσμος ἐσταύρωται κἀγὼ κόσμῳ. 15 οὔτε γὰρ περιτομή τί ἐστιν οὔτε ἀκροβυστία, ἀλλὰ καινὴ κτίσις. 16 καὶ ὅσοι τῷ κανόνι τούτῳ στοιχήσουσιν, εἰρήνη ἐπ᾽ αὐτοὺς καὶ ἔλεος, καὶ ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰσραὴλ τοῦ θεοῦ.

14 But far be it from me to boast, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world. 15 For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as many as shall walk by this rule, peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.

The proper interpretation and translation of the last phrase in Galatians 6:16 has become a matter of controversy in the past century or so. Formerly it was not a matter of controversy. With few exceptions, "The Israel of God" was understood as a name for the Church here.

 [1] The καὶ ("and") which precedes the phrase ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰσραὴλ τοῦ θεοῦ ("upon the Israel of God") was understood as an explicative καὶ. This understanding of the grammar is reflected in the Revised Standard Version's "Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God," and in the New International Version's "even to the Israel of God." It is not necessary, however, to understand the καὶ as an explicative in order to get substantially the same sense. If it be regarded as an ordinary connective καὶ, as most Greek scholars say, "The ὅσοι ['as many as'] will refer to the individual Christians, Jewish and Gentile, and Israel of God to the same Christians, regarded collectively, and forming the true messianic community." (Word Studies in the New Testament vol. 4, p. 180). So the rendering "and upon the Israel of God" (KJV and others) is acceptable enough, if it is not misunderstood. In any case, it seems clear that in this verse Paul cannot be pronouncing a benediction upon persons who are not included in the phrase "as many as shall walk by this rule" (the rule of boasting only in the cross). The entire argument of the epistle prevents any idea that here in 6:16 he would give a blessing to those who are not included in this group.

The phrase has become controversial because the traditional interpretation conflicts with principles of interpretation associated with Dispensationalism. Dispensationalists are interested in maintaining a sharp distinction between "Israel" and "the Church" across a whole range of theological matters pertaining to prophecy, ecclesiology, and soteriology. They are not comfortable with the idea that here Paul is using the phrase "Israel of God" in a sense that includes Gentiles, because this undermines their contention that "the Church" is always carefully distinguished from "Israel" in Scripture. This is a major tenet of dispensationalist hermeneutics. C.I. Scofield in his tract, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (New York, Loizeaux Brothers, 1888) wrote, "Comparing, then, what is said in Scripture concerning Israel and the Church, [a careful Bible student ] finds that in origin, calling, promise, worship, principles of conduct, and future destiny--all is contrast." 

Likewise Charles Ryrie in his book Dispensationalism Today (Chicago, 1965) explained that the "basic premise of Dispensationalism is two purposes of God expressed in the formation of two peoples who maintain their distinction throughout eternity." (pp. 44-45).

The traditional Protestant and Catholic approach to this matter is quite different, however, because in these traditions "Israel" is often interpreted typologically. The Church is understood to be a "Spiritual Israel," so that many things said in connection with Israel in Scripture are applied to the Church. For instance, the words of Psalm 122, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee," are understood as in Matthew Henry's commentary: "The peace and welfare of the gospel church ... is to be earnestly desired and prayed for." This is in keeping with the method of the apostles, as for instance in Galatians 4:26, where the apostle Paul speaks of "the Jerusalem that is above." Therefore when Paul speaks of "the Israel of God" in 6:16, the meaning of this expression is readily grasped. Rather than seeing a contrast, a deeply meaningful typological relationship is perceived.

 [2] There does not seem to be any reason for this interpretation aside from the desire of dispensationalists to exclude all typological interpretations and to defend their contention that "the Church is never called Israel."

Aside from typological considerations, this dispensationalist explanation of the meaning of "The Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16 seems contrary to the tenor of the epistle, in which it is said that "in Christ Jesus ... there is neither Jew nor Greek." This is the central idea of the epistle, as expressed in the third chapter: "you are all one in Christ Jesus ... if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring" (3:26-29). Scofield himself acknowledged this when he wrote, "In the Church the distinction of Jew and Gentile disappears."

 This raises several questions. If "in the Church the distinction of Jew and Gentile disappears," as Scofield says, then why would Paul make such a distinction in 6:16? And if it is true that the Church is never called Israel in Scripture, and "all is contrast" between the two, then in what sense can Christians of Jewish background be called "Israel" any longer, if they are in the Church? If someone in the Church is being called "Israel," then the all-important distinction between Israel and the Church has been breached. 

If it is said that people of Jewish background may still be called "Israel" after they have become Christians, then it must be admitted that the strict terminological distinction between "Israel" and "the Church" has broken down at this point. Further, if it is said that only persons of Jewish backgound can be so called, then we may rightly ask what has become of the teaching that "In the Church the distinction of Jew and Gentile disappears"? Do we have a separate class of "Jewish Christians" who alone are entitled to the name "Israel of God"? If so, what is the significance of this? Are there two types of Christianity, two Churches?

 My experience of dispensationalist teaching suggests to me that in fact this is the view held by many dispensationalists today: the idea is that there is a "Jewish" Christianity and a "Gentile" Christianity, and in some sense the "Jewish" Christians are thought to be more important and especially favored by God. 

[3]
The older dispensationalist writers, such as Darby, Scofield, and Chafer, avoided some of these embarrassing questions and implications because their distinction between Israel and the Church was more consistent and more radical. Scofield believed that the Jews of the end times were to be saved according to the Law of Moses, with renewed animal sacrifices. His scheme of interpretation envisioned a time when the parenthetical "Church age" has ended and the Law of Moses is reinstituted for salvific purposes. After this change of "dispensations" people will be saved according to a different gospel, the "Gospel of the Kingdom." 

Paul's doctrine (called the "Gospel of the Grace of God") was no longer in effect. Paul's teaching on the unity of the Church did not apply because the Church has been "raptured" and is no longer in the earth, and God is no longer dealing with the Church. In this manner the distinction between "Israel" and "the Church" was upheld without denying the unity of the body of Christ. But it is difficult to speak of Scofield's "Israel" of the end-times as consisting of "Jewish Christians," because they are not in the Church, and they are not dealt with on the same terms as the Christians who are of the Church.

 Because of Trinitarian error, who see Jehovah a separate person from Jesus, they are "God's earthly people," according to Scofield, as distinguished from the Church, who are God's "heavenly people." They are the "wife of Jehovah" and not the "bride of Christ," and so forth. Such teachings of the classic dispensationalist theology rigorously maintained the distinction between "Israel" and "the Church." If this distinction is to be upheld in Galatians 6:16 then presumably the "Israel of God" must be taken as a reference to the eschatological Israel who are to be saved by a different gospel, after Paul's own gospel dispensation has ended. [4] But one rarely hears this kind of pure and radical dispensationalist teaching now.

 Today dispensationalists seem to be in a fog, having moved away from consistency in distinguishing Israel and the Church. Israel may now be spoken of as a part of the Church, and so there is a special and privileged class of "Jewish Christians" within the body of Christ. away from consistency in distinguishing Israel and the Church. Israel may now be spoken of as a part of the Church, and so there is a special and privileged class of "Jewish Christians" within the body of Christ.

In conclusion, attempting to limit the meaning of "Israel of God" to the carnal sons of Judah betrays a fundamentally wrong approach to biblical interpretation, and to New Testament theology in particular. I give below some excerpts from writers whom I believe to be more in touch with the meaning of Paul's expression. Even in these authors I find, however, an insufficient appreciation of Paul's expression. "Peace be ... upon the Israel of God" is not so much a polemical or ironic usage directed against the Judaizers (Luther and Calvin) as a positive blessing and affirmation of the Church as the true spiritual Israel. It is a mistake to see covert hostility in this blessing.
                                                              

The recognition of a distinctive people who are the recipients of God’s redemptive blessings and yet who have a separate existence apart from the church of Jesus Christ creates insuperable theological problems. 

Jesus Christ has only one body and only one bride, one people that he claims as his own, which is the true Israel of God. This one people is made up of Jews and Gentiles who believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah.'




















The Israel of God
(Galatians 6:16)




14 ἐμοὶ δὲ μὴ γένοιτο καυχᾶσθαι εἰ μὴ ἐν τῷ σταυρῷ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ, δι᾽ οὗ ἐμοὶ κόσμος ἐσταύρωται κἀγὼ κόσμῳ. 15 οὔτε γὰρ περιτομή τί ἐστιν οὔτε ἀκροβυστία, ἀλλὰ καινὴ κτίσις. 16 καὶ ὅσοι τῷ κανόνι τούτῳ στοιχήσουσιν, εἰρήνη ἐπ᾽ αὐτοὺς καὶ ἔλεος, καὶ ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰσραὴλ τοῦ θεοῦ.
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14 But far be it from me to boast, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world. 15 For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as many as shall walk by this rule, peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------



The proper interpretation and translation of the last phrase in Galatians 6:16 has become a matter of controversy in the past century or so. Formerly it was not a matter of controversy. With few exceptions, "The Israel of God" was understood as a name for the Church here.
[1] The καὶ ("and") which precedes the phrase ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰσραὴλ τοῦ θεοῦ ("upon the Israel of God") was understood as an explicative καὶ. This understanding of the grammar is reflected in the Revised Standard Version's "Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God," and in the New International Version's "even to the Israel of God." It is not necessary, however, to understand the καὶ as an explicative in order to get substantially the same sense. If it be regarded as an ordinary connective καὶ, as most Greek scholars say, "The ὅσοι ['as many as'] will refer to the individual Christians, Jewish and Gentile, and Israel of God to the same Christians, regarded collectively, and forming the true messianic community." (Word Studies in the New Testament vol. 4, p. 180). So the rendering "and upon the Israel of God" (KJV and others) is acceptable enough, if it is not misunderstood. In any case, it seems clear that in this verse Paul cannot be pronouncing a benediction upon persons who are not included in the phrase "as many as shall walk by this rule" (the rule of boasting only in the cross). The entire argument of the epistle prevents any idea that here in 6:16 he would give a blessing to those who are not included in this group.
The phrase has become controversial because the traditional interpretation conflicts with principles of interpretation associated with Dispensationalism. Dispensationalists are interested in maintaining a sharp distinction between "Israel" and "the Church" across a whole range of theological matters pertaining to prophecy, ecclesiology, and soteriology. They are not comfortable with the idea that here Paul is using the phrase "Israel of God" in a sense that includes Gentiles, because this undermines their contention that "the Church" is always carefully distinguished from "Israel" in Scripture. This is a major tenet of dispensationalist hermeneutics. C.I. Scofield in his tract, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (New York, Loizeaux Brothers, 1888) wrote, "Comparing, then, what is said in Scripture concerning Israel and the Church, [a careful Bible student ] finds that in origin, calling, promise, worship, principles of conduct, and future destiny--all is contrast."
Likewise Charles Ryrie in his book Dispensationalism Today (Chicago, 1965) explained that the "basic premise of Dispensationalism is two purposes of God expressed in the formation of two peoples who maintain their distinction throughout eternity." (pp. 44-45).
The traditional Protestant and Catholic approach to this matter is quite different, however, because in these traditions "Israel" is often interpreted typologically. The Church is understood to be a "Spiritual Israel," so that many things said in connection with Israel in Scripture are applied to the Church. For instance, the words of Psalm 122, "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee," are understood as in Matthew Henry's commentary: "The peace and welfare of the gospel church ... is to be earnestly desired and prayed for." This is in keeping with the method of the apostles, as for instance in Galatians 4:26, where the apostle Paul speaks of "the Jerusalem that is above." Therefore when Paul speaks of "the Israel of God" in 6:16, the meaning of this expression is readily grasped. Rather than seeing a contrast, a deeply meaningful typological relationship is perceived.
[2] There does not seem to be any reason for this interpretation aside from the desire of dispensationalists to exclude all typological interpretations and to defend their contention that "the Church is never called Israel."
Aside from typological considerations, this dispensationalist explanation of the meaning of "The Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16 seems contrary to the tenor of the epistle, in which it is said that "in Christ Jesus ... there is neither Jew nor Greek." This is the central idea of the epistle, as expressed in the third chapter: "you are all one in Christ Jesus ... if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring" (3:26-29). Scofield himself acknowledged this when he wrote, "In the Church the distinction of Jew and Gentile disappears."
This raises several questions. If "in the Church the distinction of Jew and Gentile disappears," as Scofield says, then why would Paul make such a distinction in 6:16? And if it is true that the Church is never called Israel in Scripture, and "all is contrast" between the two, then in what sense can Christians of Jewish background be called "Israel" any longer, if they are in the Church? If someone in the Church is being called "Israel," then the all-important distinction between Israel and the Church has been breached.
If it is said that people of Jewish background may still be called "Israel" after they have become Christians, then it must be admitted that the strict terminological distinction between "Israel" and "the Church" has broken down at this point. Further, if it is said that only persons of Jewish backgound can be so called, then we may rightly ask what has become of the teaching that "In the Church the distinction of Jew and Gentile disappears"? Do we have a separate class of "Jewish Christians" who alone are entitled to the name "Israel of God"? If so, what is the significance of this? Are there two types of Christianity, two Churches?
My experience of dispensationalist teaching suggests to me that in fact this is the view held by many dispensationalists today: the idea is that there is a "Jewish" Christianity and a "Gentile" Christianity, and in some sense the "Jewish" Christians are thought to be more important and especially favored by God.
[3]
The older dispensationalist writers, such as Darby, Scofield, and Chafer, avoided some of these embarrassing questions and implications because their distinction between Israel and the Church was more consistent and more radical. Scofield believed that the Jews of the end times were to be saved according to the Law of Moses, with renewed animal sacrifices. His scheme of interpretation envisioned a time when the parenthetical "Church age" has ended and the Law of Moses is reinstituted for salvific purposes. After this change of "dispensations" people will be saved according to a different gospel, the "Gospel of the Kingdom."
Paul's doctrine (called the "Gospel of the Grace of God") was no longer in effect. Paul's teaching on the unity of the Church did not apply because the Church has been "raptured" and is no longer in the earth, and God is no longer dealing with the Church. In this manner the distinction between "Israel" and "the Church" was upheld without denying the unity of the body of Christ. But it is difficult to speak of Scofield's "Israel" of the end-times as consisting of "Jewish Christians," because they are not in the Church, and they are not dealt with on the same terms as the Christians who are of the Church.
Because of Trinitarian error, who see Jehovah a separate person from Jesus, they are "God's earthly people," according to Scofield, as distinguished from the Church, who are God's "heavenly people." They are the "wife of Jehovah" and not the "bride of Christ," and so forth. Such teachings of the classic dispensationalist theology rigorously maintained the distinction between "Israel" and "the Church." If this distinction is to be upheld in Galatians 6:16 then presumably the "Israel of God" must be taken as a reference to the eschatological Israel who are to be saved by a different gospel, after Paul's own gospel dispensation has ended. [4] But one rarely hears this kind of pure and radical dispensationalist teaching now.
Today dispensationalists seem to be in a fog, having moved away from consistency in distinguishing Israel and the Church. Israel may now be spoken of as a part of the Church, and so there is a special and privileged class of "Jewish Christians" within the body of Christ. away from consistency in distinguishing Israel and the Church. Israel may now be spoken of as a part of the Church, and so there is a special and privileged class of "Jewish Christians" within the body of Christ.
In conclusion, attempting to limit the meaning of "Israel of God" to the carnal sons of Judah betrays a fundamentally wrong approach to biblical interpretation, and to New Testament theology in particular. I give below some excerpts from writers whom I believe to be more in touch with the meaning of Paul's expression. Even in these authors I find, however, an insufficient appreciation of Paul's expression. "Peace be ... upon the Israel of God" is not so much a polemical or ironic usage directed against the Judaizers (Luther and Calvin) as a positive blessing and affirmation of the Church as the true spiritual Israel. It is a mistake to see covert hostility in this blessing.

The recognition of a distinctive people who are the recipients of God’s redemptive blessings and yet who have a separate existence apart from the church of Jesus Christ creates insuperable theological problems.
Jesus Christ has only one body and only one bride, one people that he claims as his own, which is the true Israel of God. This one people is made up of Jews and Gentiles who believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah.


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