Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Israel of God:
Galatians 6:15-16 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. 16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
This passage has been used erroneously to attempt to prove that the Church is now Israel and all of the promises given to that nation now belong to the Church.  The theme of the book of Galatians is to refute the teachings of Judaizers who were promoting the addition of circumcision to Christianity.  According to Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible, “To a Christian under the New Covenant, following the Abrahamic sign of circumcision does not mean anything in terms of spirituality.  What really matters is being a new creation in Christ.”[1]  The phrase that makes this passage difficult is “Israel of God.”  This is a reference to believing Jews that are Israel both in flesh and spirit.  Some believe that “Israel of God” is the Church[2]; the evidence does not support such a conclusion. 
First, the repetition of the preposition (“upon” or “to”) indicates two groups are in view.  Second, all the 65 other occurrences of the term “Israel” in the New Testament refer to Jews.  It would thus be strange for Paul to use “Israel” here to mean Gentile Christians.  Third, Paul elsewhere referred to two kinds of Israelites-believing Jews and unbelieving Jews (cf. Romans 9:6).  Lest it be thought that Paul is anti-Semitic, he demonstrated by means of this benediction his deep love and concern for true Israel, that is, Jews who had come to Christ.[3]  Ryrie explains this passage brilliantly. He wrote,
The question is, Who composes the Israel of God?  The Amillennialist insists that these verses equate the Israel of God with the entire Church.  The premillennialist says that Paul is simply singling out Christians Jews for special recognition in the benediction.
Grammar in this instance does not decide the matter for us.  The “and” in the phrase ‘and upon the Israel of God’ can be understood in three ways.
First, it could be explicative; that is, it can mean “even,” in which case the phrase “Israel of God” would be a synonym for the “new creation” and would thus make the Church the Israel of God.

On the other hand, if the “and” is understood in an emphatic sense, it has the meaning of “adding a (especially important) part to the whole” and is translated “and especially” (cf Mark 16:7; Acts 1:14).  Third, the “and” might be a simple connective, which would also distinguish the Israel of God as Jewish Christians but not identify them as the whole Church.  The connective force would be less emphatic than the “especially” meaning, but both interpretations would distinguish Jewish and Gentile believers.
Although the grammar cannot of itself decide the question, the argument of the book of Galatians does favor the connective or emphatic meaning of “and.” Paul had strongly attacked the Jewish legalists; therefore, it would be natural for him to remember with a special blessing those Jews who had forsaken this legalism and followed Christ and the rule of the new creation.  One might also ask why, if the New Testament writers meant to equate clearly Israel and the Church, they did not do so plainly in the many other places in their writings where they had convenient opportunity to do so.  Historically, the word “Israel” is applied to the Christian Church for the first time by Justin Martyr in his Dialogue with Trypho, where the Church is equated with the ‘true Israel’ (not labeled the Israel of God).[4]
Thematically, this passage is most likely emphasizing a blessing upon Paul’s brothers in the flesh who are Jews but now are part of the Church.  This line of reasoning is supported by the theology of many of the first and second century Church leaders and Theologians.  As is seen in 1 Corinthians 10:32 there are three groups of humanity: Jews, Gentiles, and believers in Jesus Christ (the Church).  But in the early Church the Jewish believers were often designated separately from the Gentiles.  This type of distinction can be found in the writings of Justin Martyr among others.[5]  And as Charles Ray notes, “Scholars of every stripe agree that the vast majority of occurrences of ‘Israel’ in the New Testament refer to ethnic Israel, yet some want to make an exception to Galatians 6:16, with no compelling reason for doing so.”[6]  This “exception” serves as a prime illustration of the inconsistent hermeneutics of the covenant theologian that is used to support their supposition regardless of the Biblical facts.  Arnold Fruchtenbaum sums up the issue by writing,
… like all Covenant Theologians, [LaSor] ignores that there are two groups mentioned in the passage: the them and the Israel of God.  … there is no textual or contextual reason to depart from the primary meaning of kai, which means “and,” or to resort to a secondary meaning of “even.”  The them refers to the Gentile believers to and of whom Paul had been writing throughout the epistle.  The Israel of God refers to Jewish believers specifically and not to the Church at large.  There is no exegetical reason to make the Israel here a reference to the Church.[7]
The term “Israel of God” can only refer to the Church “at large” if an unnatural hermeneutic is employed.  The context of the passage, especially the more specific reference to the Church at large demands that the phrase “Israel of God” is a specific reference to a segment of the Church: Jewish believers.
Romans chapter eleven is, of course, one of the key passages in which Paul addresses the future of national Israel right after doing his own comparison of the three groups of humanity (Gentiles, Jews, and the Church) in chapter nine and ten. 




[1] Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible.  Thomas Nelson Publishers.  Nashville TN. 1997, 1980.
[2] Riddlebarger, 122-123.
[3] Walvoord, John F. and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, An Exposition of Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty, Old Testament (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Cook Communications Ministries, 2004), 611.
[4] Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 149-150.
[5] Crutchfield 261-262.
[6] Ray, Charles, Basic Distinctives of Dispensational Systematic Theology, Dispensationalism Tomorrow & Beyond: A Theological Collection in Honor of Charles C. Ryrie (Fort Worth TX: Tyndale Seminary Press. 2008), 56.
[7] Fruchtenbaum, Arnold G.  Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 1996), 314.