Thursday, September 06, 2007
Israel and Evangelicals?
I have provisionally set for my Exploring other Faiths students the following essay topic: "Are Christians theologically obligated to support the present state of Israel?"
Of relevance to that question is the recent article that appeared in Christianity Today entitled: "What it Means to Love Israel". The article makes this statement:
But we cannot read the New Testament without seeing that the Jews continue to have a place in God's economy. Gentile Christians do not replace the Jews, but are joint heirs and wild branches grafted onto the Jewish olive tree. God's ultimate purpose in saving Gentile Christians is to save the Jews (Rom. 11).
I think it is necessary to make a few points: (1) Supersession, that is the belief that a sub-group within Israel was the true and authentic expression of Israel, can be found in several Jewish documents such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Pseudepigrapha. So it is not inherently anti-Jewish. (2) If we believe that the story of Israel is continued in the story of the church, then we have to accept some form of supersessionism. (3) That does not mean that God has written-off national Israel, as there remains a hope that those of the race from which the Messiah is descended will one day embrace the Messiah themselves (I've argued for as much in my recent RTR article).
Anyone interested in supersessionism and Israel-Church relationships MUST read Bruce Longenecker's excellent piece: "On Israel's God and God's Israel: Assessing Supersessionism in Paul," JTS 58 (2007): 26-44. The abstract reads:
Contemporary interpretation of Paul continues to be enthralled by and entrenched within a debate about Paul and Judaism. Within that debate, the issue of supersessionism is of critical significance, lurking under every exegetical stone, whether or not it rises to the fore of any given scholar's work. Does the church replace ethnic Israel in Paul's thinking (as so many have imagined throughout the history of the Christian church)? Or is ethnic Israel on a separate salvific path by way of her covenant election (as many are currently advocating)? Or are there other dimensions to be considered? This essay outlines basic interpretative options on the issue of supersessionism in Paul, assessing the exegetical merits of ‘two ways’ and replacement scenarios, and offering reflections on the debate in its contemporary setting.