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.

2 comments: said...

I cannot read the New Testament without thinking that the first Gentile Christians adopted a completely Jewish belief which rejected the law, particularly the temple cult related to animal sacrifices. In the early part of the first century, there were two Judaisms with different salvific doctrines. Judaism was divided by the philosophy of Judas who I believe called the Spirit Lord, not no man Lord according to the editors of Josephus's text.

According to an inscription found at Pompeii, Christians in a Gentile world were called CHRISTIANOS, to my mind anointed ones - those anointed by the Spirit, just like Jewish prophets. The editors of Acts 2:7 gave us the nonsense of 'Galileans'.

So if the first Christians adopted a completly Jewish religion, where does that place the post Pauline Christians?

Point (3) seems so condescending. Do the Jews believe that one day Christians will return to Judaism?

Doug said...

I think you're a very brave man to set that question! Thanks the references and your thoughts, which have stimulated me to think a bit more on this. I hope to post a longer reflection on my blog tomorrow