By Greg Bahnsen
Where does the blame lie for the mess that our culture is in? Are the “bleeding-heart liberals” or the government schools to blame? Not according to the Apostle’s Peter and Paul. Why? Because judgment begins with the church, “For the time has come for the judgment to begin from the house of God. And if it first begins from us, what will be the end of those disobeying the Gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17). God will not demand the obedience of the nations until we, the church, are brought into obedience – “…bring[ing] into captivity every thought into the obedience of Christ; and having readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.” (2 Cor. 10:5-6).
So what does all this have to do with the subject matter? It is the endeavor of this writer to demonstrate from Scripture that we, the church, have departed from the orthodox view of Biblical Christianity for a view of theology that has broken continuity with history as well as the Word of God. In this article we will examine that view which I believe has made the church impotent in this latter half of the twentieth century – the view known as dispensationalism – and its teaching concerning the church and Israel. It is this author’s intention to show from Scripture that the church (ekklesia) is, has and always will be the true Israel of God. And by our misunderstanding of that truth, we have brought the curses of the covenant upon our nation and our children’s’ children.
A PROPER HERMENEUTIC
Scholarship is a word that brings jeers from most pew-sitters and clergy alike. Even the so-called evangelical or conservative churches seem to passionately despise the very word. It is implied that to be involved with scholarship is to be locked in an “ivory tower” – thereby ignoring your job as a “soul-winner”. There are some who even referred to that institution where Christians would seek to further their understanding of the Word of God, seminaries, with the supposedly amusing term “cemeteries”, thereby implying that those who go to theological schools have a dead or non-emotional faith. Everything has become touchy-feel good. Scholarship as well as systematics, is viewed as being unprofitable. The great Princeton theologian, Dr. Charles Hodge, solidly rebuked these modern day Gnostics with this rebuttal, “Mysticism (i.e. experiential) in its application to theology has assumed two principal forms, the supernatural and the natural. According to the former, God, or the Spirit of God, holds direct communion with the soul; and by the excitement of its religious feelings gives it intuitions of truth, and enables it to attain a kind, a degree, and an extent of knowledge, unattainable in any other way. [They] assume that God by his immediate intercourse with the soul, reveals through the feeling and by means, or in the way of intuitions, divine truth independently of the outward teaching of His Word; and that it is this inward light, and not the Scriptures, which we are to follow”.1
God gave us His Word or Scripture ‘for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16-17). And knowing how to properly handle His Word is paramount to our understanding of our responsibility to Him. Because God’s Word is our final rule of life and faith, one must know how to interpret it properly. As you read this article, you are employing the laws of hermeneutics, even though you may not be aware of it. Hermeneutics are simply the rules of interpretation. These rules teach us how to understand what is/was being said in the historical as well as the grammatical context.
Most rules of interpretation are similar, but with the advent of dispensationalism a new hermeneutic was introduced. In his popular book on interpretation, dispensational author J. Edwin Hartwill defines this new principle as the “first mention principle”. He defines this methodology as “That principle by which God indicates in the first mention of a subject, the truth with which that subject stands connected in the mind of God. The first time a thing is mentioned in Scripture it carries with it a meaning that will be carried all through the Word of God” (Principles of Biblical Hermeneutics, pg. 70). An easy Scriptural demonstration will show the fallacy of this principle. In the fourth chapter of Malachi, verse 6 predicts the return of Elijah before the “great and terrible day of the Lord”. If one applies this new hermeneutic to the passage, he would miss this sign of the advent of Christ. A so-called “literal” reading of the passage using this new principle would seem to indicate that Elijah himself would return. This is the mistake the Pharisees made.
One can see how detrimental this hermeneutic can be when one tries to define Israel. When Jesus began His earthly ministry, he interpreted Malachi 4 as being fulfilled in John the Baptist. (Matt 11:14; 16:14; Luke 1:17; 9:8,19; John 1:12). That which stands in contradistinction to the “first mention principle” is what is called “apostolic hermeneutics.” Basically stated, who better to interpret the Old Testament than Christ and His Apostles? The answer is obvious. This principle can be explained in the adage, “the New Testament is in the Old Testament contained, and the Old Testament is in the New Testament explained”. It is with this understanding, allowing the New Testament to explain and define the Old Testament that we shall use to identify who is and is not Israel.
Who is NOT Israel?
One of the most convincing passages for defining who is NOT Israel comes to us from Paul in Romans 2:28, “For he is not a Jew (Israel) who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that of the flesh…;” Paul, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us that being a Jew has nothing to do with outward appearances or ceremonies.
A.W. Pink comments on this passage, “What could be plainer than that? In the light of such a Scripture, is it not passing strange that there are today those-boasting loudly of their orthodoxy and bitterly condemning all who differ-who insist that the name ‘Jew’ belongs only to the natural descendants of Jacob…” 2 The great Presbyterian commentator Matthew Poole states, “He is not a Jew; a right or true Jew, who is heir of the promise made to the fathers, that is one outwardly…” 3
In fact, this passage shines light on the statement in the gospel of John, chapter 1 vs. 12-13. One must understand that the title “children of God” was a name given to the saints of old (i.e. Old Testament Israel, Ex. 4:22; Deut. 14:1; Is. 1:2-4; 63:8; Jer. 31:9; Hos 11:1). In this passage, John declares, “But as many as received Him, He gave to them the right to become children of God, to those who believe on His name-who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but were born of God”.
Jamieson, Fausset, & Brown comment that this statement does away with the arrogance of the Jews of Christ’s day by informing them that to be a child of God had nothing to do with natural descent, nor of supposed “superior human descent,” not of man in any way. To be a true “Jew” or “Israelite” never meant that you were such because of where you were born or to whom you were born, save God Himself. 4
In Romans 9:6, Paul records these revealing words, “…for not all those of Israel are Israel; nor because they are the seed of Abraham (natural descendants) are they all children (of Abraham or God).”
Dr. Charles Hodge in his commentary states, “…the promise was not addressed to the mere natural descendants of Abraham. For they are not all Israel which are of Israel, i.e. all the natural descendants of the patriarch are not the true people of God…, All descendants from the patriarch Jacob called Israel, are not the true people of God; (in the same way) all who are in the visible church (who are members of a local congregation) do not belong to the true invisible church.” 5
Who is Natural Israel?
This may be the hardest section for some to swallow. Jesus stated something vitally important to the Jews of his day in their dialogue with Him found in the eighth chapter of John, verses 33-44 (please read the whole section).
Starting at verse 33, the Jews declared they were the seed of Abraham. Jesus responded by saying that He knew they were the (natural) seed of Abraham and then stated, “but ye seek to kill me, because my word has no place in you”. He then adds why His word has no place with them, “I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and you do that which ye have seen with your father”. Then, again, the Jews declared, “Abraham is our father”. Jesus rebuked their false view of what it means to be a child of Abraham by stating, “IF ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham”, and proceeds to state that Abraham would not seek to kill Him. In fact, he stated that Abraham rejoiced to see His (Christ’s) day, (John 8:56). Jesus explained “IF” you were the children of Abraham, you would rejoice to see my day, henceforth, since you do not rejoice to see my day, you are NOT the Children of Abraham. In fact, Jesus concluded by telling the Jews that the true living God was not their Father and tells them who was. In verse 44 He declares, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lust of your father ye will do”.
The understanding of this passage sheds light on Christ’s statement in Revelation 3:9, “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie”. Here Jesus identified the leading Jewish religious institution of the day and referred to it as the synagogue of Satan. He further stated that these people who claimed to be Jews (by birth), were not and that they were lying. Now go back to John 8:44 and you find the motivation for this lie!
Matthew Poole comments on this passage,” …the synagogue of Satan; so He calls all (natural) Jews that opposed Christianity…which say they are Jews and are not, but do lie. For he is not a Jew which is one outwardly, neither is circumcision that of the flesh, but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, &c., Rom. 2:28-29.” 6
Dr. David Chilton, in his exhaustive commentary on Revelations writes, “…the apostate Jews are revealed in their true identity the synagogue of Satan. Again, there is no such thing as ‘orthodox’ Judaism; there is no such thing as a genuine belief in the Old Testament that is consistent with a rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord and God. Those who do not believe in Christ do not believe in the Old Testament either. The god of Judaism is the devil…. when Christ-rejecting Jews claim to follow in the footsteps of Abraham, Jesus says, they lie.” 7
Who is True Israel?
Paul answers the above question in Romans 2:29, “But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but God”
Matthew Henry comments, “Assemblies that worship God in spirit and in truth, are the Israel of God” 8 Matthew Poole states.” He is a right and true Jew, an Israelite indeed…that worships God in Spirit, rejoices in Christ Jesus…Such are the (true) circumcision and Jew. 9 A true Jew is one who has been circumcised in his heart, i.e. born-again, John 3:6, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
In God’s covenantal promise to Abram he asked God to give him a seed to be heir to his estate. God responded by not only promising Abram a child, but also adding “…look toward heaven, and count the stars, if thou be able to number them: and He (God) said unto him, so shall they seed be. And he (Abram) believed in the Lord; and He counted it to him for righteousness”, 10
Paul, in the Epistle to the Galatians chapter three explains, “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same ARE the children of Abraham.” 11 He elaborates, “So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.” 12 Verse sixteen Paul continues, “Now to Abraham and his SEED were the promises (of the covenant) made.” Verse twenty-six adds, “For ye are all the children of God by faith.” The chapter ends with this statement, “There is neither Jew (natural) nor Greek (natural) there is neither bond nor free, their is neither male nor female: for ye are all one (not two) in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then ARE ye Abraham’s SEED, and heirs according to the promise (covenant).” i.e., the true children of Abraham.
Matthew Poole comments on this last passage, “Lest these Galatians should be discouraged, because the promise was made to Abraham and his seed, since they were not the seed (natural) of Abraham; Paul tells them, if they were Christ’s, then they ARE the seed of Abraham, that seed to which the promise was made; and though they were not heirs of Abraham’s according to the flesh, yet heirs according to the promise.” 13 Needless to say, the third chapter of Galatians is pretty self explanatory, yet there are those who still want to insist that God has two separate people: Old Testament Israel and the Church.
Let us look at one more passage. Jesus provoked the chief priest and Pharisees, those who represented national Israel with this statement in Matthew twenty-one verse 43, “Therefore I say the Kingdom of God shall be taken from, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.”
David Chilton comments, “The (prophesied) destruction of apostate Israel and the Temple (Matt Twenty-four) reveal[s] that God had created a new nation, a new temple…” 14 Matthew Henry states, “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you. To the Jews had long pertained the adoption and glory, to them were committee the oracles of God, and the sacred trust of revealed religion, but now it shall be no longer. They were not only unfruitful in the use of their privileges, but, under pretenses of them, opposed the Gospel of Christ, and so [He] forfeited them.” 15
Dr. Curtis Crenshaw, a former student of Dallas Seminary replies, “Who is this nation that was given the Kingdom of God? The answer is the church, which elsewhere is designated a nation 1 Peter 2:9.” 16 John A. Broadus, the great Southern Baptist theologian of whom Broadman Press was the namesake states, “The Kingdom of God, the Messianic reign, with its privileges and benefits shall be taken from you. This was fulfilled [with the] destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish State (70 A.D.), and in the fact that most Jews through their unbelief failed of the Messianic salvation and given to a nation shows distinctly that it was to be taken away not merely from the Jewish rulers, but from the Jewish people in general”. 17
“Racial Israelites” who disobeyed God, by rejecting Christ, have had the light removed from them. They are not Jews in the true sense of the word. Whatever former blessing they may have had by natural descent has been given to the church. In other words, those who are “Jews” by race are not true Jews at all in God’s eyes.
The Church of Jesus Christ (by no means does this imply a denomination) is/was and always shall be the Israel of God! This group consists of both believing natural Jews and Gentiles; both Old and New Testament saints.
The Church is Israel. This does not mean that the Church replaced Israel, nor does it mean that a natural Jew cannot be grafted back into the true Israel. They can, but only by bending a knee to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. God established Abraham and promised to bless his seed and all those who believe like Abraham. God reckons their faith as righteousness. They become children of the promise given to Abraham, the children of God.
The covenant carries with it a series of blessings and curses. Because dispensationalism does not acknowledge the covenant that God made with (true) Israel, the church is reaping the curses of the covenant found throughout the Word of God, (Hosea 4:6 cross reference with Deut 6:4). Let us understand that those who believe are Israel, then let us seek out God’s Word concerning what He expects of a covenant people and obey with all our hearts, with all our souls and with all our strength. Then maybe we can find true revival and reformation again!
1. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979 vol. 1, page 7
2. A.W. Pink, The Divine Covenants, Baker Book House, 1973 page 272
3. Matthew Poole, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, vol. 3, pg. 486
4. Jamieson, Faucet & Brown, A Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Old and New Testaments, volumes I & II, Zondervan, 1953, Volume II page 128.
5. Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993, page 305
6. Matthew Poole, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, vol. 3, page 958
7. David Chilton, Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the book of Revelation, Dominion Press, 1987, page 127-128
8. Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Royal Publishers, 1979, vol. 3, page 456
9. Matthew Poole, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, vol. 3, pg. 486
10. Genesis 15:5-6
11. Galatians 3 verse 7
12. Galatians 3 verse 9
13. Matthew Poole, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, vol. 3, page 652
14. David Chilton, Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the book of Revelation, Dominion Press, 1987, page 278
15. Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Royal Publishers, 1979, vol. 3, page 109
16. Crenshaw, Curtis and Grover Gunn, Dispensationalism: Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow, Footstool Publications, fifth printing 1995, page 126
17. John A. Broadus, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, American Baptist Publication Society, 1886, page 443