Tuesday, December 16, 2008


(Part 3: "Dispensationalism, Israel, and Scripture")
by Ken Gentry, Th.D., Director, NiceneCouncil.com


In this third installment of a series on "Dispensationalism, Israel, and Scripture" I will give attention to the progressive dispensational view of Israel especially in light of the foundational new covenant. In the preceding two issues I focused more on problems in dispensationalism regarding Israel and on the revised dispensationalist viewpoint of Ryrie and Walvoord.

As I have indicated on a number of occasions, progressive dispensationalists have undertaken a wholesale overhaul of dispensationalism. The effects of relentless covenantal critiques from as far back as David Brown ("Christ’s Second Come: Will It Be Premillennial?," 1891) in the nineteenth century, through O. T. Allis ("Prophecy and the Church," 1945) in the mid-twentieth century to the present have had their effect. Much within progressive dispensationalism is acceptable to reformed and covenantal theologians. But problems remain.

In this issue I will provide a summary of the progressive dispensational understanding of the new covenant, which covenant has generated so much confusion -- and absurdity -- in older versions of dispensationalism. I will use as my reference point an excellent chapter by Bruce A. Ware in edited by Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock (1992, hereinafter: DIC). Ware’s chapter is (cleverly) titled: "The New Covenant and the People(s) of God." The parenthetical "s" alerts the reader to the fundamental issue. Ware is professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Ware is aware (no pun intended) both of the large role the new covenant plays in evangelical theology -- and of the difficulties that arise in the interpretation of the new covenant: "Evangelical biblical scholars and theologians uniformly affirm that the new covenant constitutes a high point in God’s redemptive and restorative program" (DIC, p. 68).

Of special interest to our study, he notes (in part) that "despite this recognition, however, several questions remain. For example, what is the nature of this new covenant?... How will this new covenant be implemented? With whom is the new covenant made? Do Israel and the church both participate in the new covenant?" (DIC, p. 68).

These are but a few of the questions that I lift from his fuller discussion. They are crucial in the ongoing dialogue and debate between dispensationalists and non-dispensationalist evangelical and reformed theologians. He has put his finger on the very pulse of the problem -- and done an admirable job of defending dispensationalism.

(As an aside, I am impressed with the quality and character of the writings of progressive dispensationalists. I seriously doubt if one of the progressive dispensational theologians will ever publish a book like Ryrie’s apocalyptic writings: (1976) and (1982). Of course, academic credibility comes at a cost. I also doubt if progressive dispensationalists will ever be worth the millions of Ryrie either!)

Ware’s important chapter has as its purpose "to devote particular attention to the new covenant as it relates to Israel and the church, and to do so by focusing most directly on (1) the nature of the new covenant, as given to Israel, and (2) its fulfillment or realization in relation both to Israel and the church." This is so that "we can think responsibly about the continuity and discontinuity between Israel and the church as both entities relate within the one people of God" (DIC, pp. 68-69).

Continuity and discontinuity between the Testaments and the people(s) of God is a fundamental dividing point between reformed and dispensational theologians. For an excellent debate over issues revolving around this question, see: John S. Feinberg, ed., (Crossway, 1988). This was one of the first books generated from the public appearance of progressive dispensationalism.

Ware’s purpose should immediately give rise to concern among the classic and revised dispensationalists: As I noted last month, how could this prophecy, which is literally directed to "the house of Israel and the house of Judah," have ANY realization in the church at all? Remember Ryrie’s "incontrovertible evidence" for TWO new covenants? Remember his vigorous, death-defying argument: "If the Church does not have a new covenant then she is fulfilling Israel’s promises, for it has been shown that the Old Testament teaches that the new covenant is for Israel alone. If the Church is fulfilling Israel’s promises as contained in the new covenant or anywhere in Scripture, then premillennialism is weakened. One might well ask why there are not two aspects to one new covenant. This may be the case, and it is the position held by many premillennialists [perhaps even by Ryrie now, according to Ware!], but we agree that the amillennialist has every right to say of this view that it is ‘a practical admission that the new covenant is fulfilled in and to the Church.’ However, since the New Testament will support two new covenants, is it not more consistent premillennialism to consider that Israel and the Church each has a new covenant?" (BPF, p. 118). He goes so far as to charge "that the one covenant, two aspects interpretation absolutely contradicts the entire premillennial system" (BPF, p. 108).

Also, I ask regarding the new covenant: How can dispensationalism tolerate the notion of "one people of God" in history? Yet this is the direction of the New Kids on the Block, the progressive dispensationalists.

Let us consider Ware’s exegesis, much of which I find quite helpful. This portion of my newsletter will basically function as a book review of those portions of his article directly relevant to the dispensational debate. It is very important, however, to have some of Ware’s observations before us if we are to accurately expose the deficiencies in the progressive dispensational position and show where they go astray.


The heart of the new covenant is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (a passage I had to memorize when enrolled in Dr. Dennis Wisdom’s course on "Premillennialism" at Tennessee Temple College back in 1972). Jeremiah 31-34 reads as follows:

"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah-- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."

Ware shows that though Jeremiah 31 is the key passage of the Old Testament regarding the new covenant, and the only passage specifically calling it the "new covenant," it is not the only mention of this gracious covenant. Other passages referring to the new covenant -- or some effect resulting from it -- include: Isaiah 24:5; 49:8; 55:3; 54:10; 59:21; 61:8; Jeremiah 32:39-40; 50:5; Ezekiel 11:19; 16:60; 18:31; 34:25; 36:26; 37:26; Hosea 2:18-20.

According to Ware, the national implications of this "new" covenant cannot be far from Jeremiah’s mind. The division in Israel (Judah and Israel) which lead ultimately to both their exiles from the land are key historical-contextual matters, as is the reference to the prior covenant with Moses (v. 32). "The breach within Israel began as the people increasingly distanced themselves from their covenant God.... As is clear from Israel’s history, it was their sinfulness of heart producing a breach of covenant with their God that led, in due time, to the breach in their national union. But if the breach of national union results from a breach of covenant, then the remedy becomes clear. In order for God once again to unite his people, they must exhibit covenant faithfulness and so keep from the sin that resulted in their division" (Ware, DIC, p. 71).

Ware notes on this basis "serious questions" are raised about the application of this covenant from this context to the Church of the New Testament: "Jeremiah 31:31-34 is extended to Israel and Judah, not to any other nation or group. Other new-covenant passages, inside and outside of Jeremiah, also direct this new covenant to the people of Israel in a similar manner" (DIC, p. 72). This would seem to pose trouble for the non-dispensationalist who would find fulfillment of the new covenant in the Church, and to the standard dispensationalist view of an "application" of the new covenant to the Church. (But, of course, the problems do not end there: this would seem to cause trouble for Jesus, Paul, and the writer of Hebrews who apply the new covenant beyond the borders of Israel!)

Ware (DIC, p. 72) makes an important observation, though, that "one new-covenant text" that suggests extension "beyond Israel to the nations" is Isaiah 55:3-5, which reads:

"Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you-- The sure mercies of David. Indeed I have given him as a witness to the people, a leader and commander for the people. Surely you shall call a nation you do not know, And nations who do not know you shall run to you, Because of the LORD your God, And the Holy One of Israel; For He has glorified you."

He concludes from this verse, then, that "the new covenant made with Israel includes a host of Gentile participants, not directly addressed as God’s covenant partners" (DIC, p. 73). This, of course, comports well with our experience of the new covenant in the New Testament! But it sure causes some complications for classic and revised dispensationalists who do not so easily apply Israel’s promises to the Church. Especially since the new covenant is "literally" directed to Israel and Judah.

(As an aside: a refreshing aspect of Ware’s exposition of Jeremiah 31 is his treatment of the law of God. Though certainly not endorsing the theonomic ethic, Ware comments: "Notice that neither in Jeremiah 31 nor in Ezekiel 36 do we find a denunciation of the law as somehow defective, requiring a new law to replace the old. Instead we find, amazingly, that the same law is carried over or maintained. The problem with the old covenant, then, is not the law; the problem, rather, is with the nature of those persons who are called to covenant faithfulness but instead transgress the law" [DIC, p. 76]. If this statement were cited without bibliographic reference, one might think it was uttered by Greg L. Bahnsen, author of , rather than a dispensationalist. But this probably doesn’t matter that much: Progressive dispensationalists are as vigorously skewered by revised dispensationalists as is Bahnsen: see Ryrie’s [1995] and Wesley R. Willis and John R. Master, eds., [1994]. For my full review of Willis and Master see: [September, 1996].)

Having visited the house of covenant theology, Ware returns to his dispensational roots when he begins speaking of the ultimate fulfillment of the new covenant: "It seems clear that the promised new age, in which the new covenant would finally be realized, would come only when God’s king would liberate Israel from its oppressors and when God’s Spirit would inhabit the whole company of the people of God.... [God’s favor then] would also be accompanied by the promised physical, national, and geographic blessings" (DIC, p. 84). This, of course, is the key to a dispensational premillennial conception of the new covenant -- whether for classic, revised, or progressive dispensationalism.

Over the next several pages of his argument, Ware shows how the New Testament demands an application of the new covenant upon the Church (pp. 84-91). Then in his final section, "The New Covenant and Its Relation to the People of God," he raises the question toward which his chapter has been moving: "Should the New Testament application of the new covenant lead us to see an identity of Israel and the church? ... Or is there a way of conceiving of the one new covenant in relation both to Israel and the church that, on the one hand, distinguishes them from one another while, on the other hand, unites them as one people of God?" (DIC, p. 91).

After an excellent citation from dispensationalist Homer Kent exploding Ryrie’s two new covenants construct, Ware asks: "Having rejected the view of the two new covenants, are we then left solely with the option of understanding Israel and the church as so strictly identified under new covenant as to compose undifferentiated people of God? This conclusion is premature" (DIC, p. 92). This is where progressive dispensationalists part company with revised dispensationalists and reformed covenantalists. This is where the battle lies!


Ware defends the progressive dispensational argument for a future millennial exaltation of Israel on the basis of two principles:

First, "What do we make of the territorial and political aspects of the new-covenant promise that clearly states that God will restore Israel to its land in prosperity and productivity and unite it again as one nation (Israel and Judah) whose center of rulership is Jerusalem?" (DIC, p. 93) In other words, the land aspect of the new covenant suggests a literal earthly-political fulfillment in a millennium.

Second, "is the ‘already-not yet’ eschatological framework correct in which promises of God are understood to be realized first in preliminary (inaugurated) and then in final (future) stages?" (DIC, p. 93) This allows progressive dispensationalism to take the middle road between revised dispensationalism (iron-clad, sealed-for-your protection dispensations) and covenantalism, with its one-people, developmental maturation framework.

I will deal with the second matter (already/not yet) in a later issue of our newsletter. But first we will need to begin responding to the very important question of the land promise to geo-political Israel. As Ware (and others) notes, this is where the debate lies. We must recognize the "problem" and then resolve it within a biblical-covenantal framework.


Regarding the first question Ware makes two observations:

(1) He is dispensationally insistent that "there can be no question that the prophets meant to communicate the promise of a national return of Israel to its land," which requires a "literal rendering" of God’s promise to Israel (DIC, p. 93).

(2) The New Testament "does not permit a spiritual absorption of the literal promises to Israel by the church" (ibid.).

What are we to make of the territorial reality of the land promise found in the new covenant? Especially in light of the verses following Jeremiah’s new covenant revelation? Jeremiah 31, including not only the famous verses 31-34 but also the dispensationally significant conclusion in verses 35-40, reads:

"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah-- [32] not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. [33] But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. [34] No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more. [35] Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar The LORD of hosts is His name): [36] If those ordinances depart From before Me, says the LORD, Then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever. [37] Thus says the LORD: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, says the LORD. [38] Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, that the city shall be built for the LORD from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. [39] The surveyor’s line shall again extend straight forward over the hill Gareb; then it shall turn toward Goath. [40] And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the Brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the LORD. It shall not be plucked up or thrown down anymore forever."

The progressive dispensational argument seems to be quite persuasive. And on the surface it is. But like Gary North once observed about surface appearances: A duck appears to glide peacefully upon the surface of the water, but below the surface there is a lot of fancy footwork going on. In our next newsletter we will begin a covenantal response to the geo-political aspects of the new covenant promise. Sorry! You will have to tune in next month!


DIC: Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, eds., Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Israel and Scripture - Part Two

(Part 2 of "Dispensationalism, Israel and Scripture")

Having introduced our series in the previous post, I will now begin analyzing the role of Israel in dispensationalism. Few issues rival this one as a leading theme for critiquing dispensationalism in all of its varieties. Let’s get to work!

Though Israel is "the key to prophecy" in all varieties of dispensationalism, it is also the key to some embarrassing errors among older dispensational schools. As Frank Gaebelein admits in the Foreword to Ryrie’s 1965 watershed work (which Foreword is reprinted in Ryrie’s revised update ): "Dispensationalism has at times been the victim of its adherents who have pressed unwisely certain of its features" (D, p. 7). What he did not confess, though, was that these errors often revolved around Israel and were only spit-shined among newer dispensationalists. Eventually, these errors necessitated the revision of dispensationalism.

The necessity of revision, however, did not end with the publication of Ryrie’s and the correctives of the early 1960s. Eventually internal pressures created by continuing external critiques gave rise in the 1980s to the latest version of dispensationalism, the more palatable "progressive dispensationalism."

Unfortunately, the key to dispensationalism (Israel) very early broke off in the lock to the dispensational house. Much locksmithing down-time has resulted from the problem for dispensationalists. Israel, the definitional distinctive of dispensationalism, has been as sticky a problem for dispensational popularizes as for their favorite henchmen, the political leaders of Israel dealing with the West Bank in the modern state of Israel. I illustrated this in the February, 1997, edition of this newsletter. The major developments within dispensationalism revolve around the role of Israel (as Bock argues in PD, pp. 23ff). Allow me to employ about a dozen sentences to refresh your memory regarding these system-restructuring overhauls associated with Israel.

Classic dispensationalism (e.g., C. I. Scofield, L. S. Chafer) maintained a metaphysical distinction between Israel and the Church. It held that Israel and the Church would be forever distinguished in eternity, with Israel inhabiting the new earth and the Church heaven. Thus, an eternal separation will prevail between Israel and the Church in this system.

Revised dispensationalism (e.g., C. C. Ryrie, J. F. Walvoord, J. D. Pentecost) jettisoned the eternal metaphysical distinction, allowing only a temporal earthly distinction rooted in a difference between two redemptive-historical purposes, rather than in two different plans stretching out to eternity. Revised dispensationalists held two forms of one redeemed humanity existing in and confined to history. The Church exists presently to the glory of God in its own, distinct dispensation, with its own principles and purposes differing from those of Israel. Israel’s ultimate historical purpose will be realized in the future, literal, earthly millennium. After the millennium, though, the eternal order will realize the union of the two people in one redeemed mass forever.

Progressive dispensationalists have moved in a more covenantal direction, while maintaining their premillennial orientation and emended dispensational distinctives. They are "progressive" in that they view each successive dispensation as building upon and developing the principles of the preceding one. This progresses the one plan of God for his one redeemed people, rather than distinguishing two separate plans and peoples. This allows that the one divine purpose for redeemed humanity will ultimately be realized in the earthly, literal millennium. The millennial phase of the redemptive historical plan of God is necessary to bring to fulfillment the Old Testament prophecies for Israel.


Perhaps there is no better means of illustrating and critiquing dispensationalism than by analyzing the biblical revelation of the new covenant. Revised dispensationalists affirm its centrality. Ryrie states that "the new covenant is one of the major covenants of Scripture" (BPF, p. 107). Walvoord holds that "it is one of the great prophecies in the Old Testament" and is the "strongest prophecy in the Old Testament for the continuance of Israel" (PKH, p. 140). Pentecost lists this covenant as one of "the four great determinative covenants" (TC, p. 116).

Progressive dispensationalist Bruce A. Ware observes: "Evangelical biblical scholars and theologians uniformly affirm that the new covenant constitutes a high point in God’s redemptive and restorative program" (DIC, p. 68) and "Regarding the territorial and political aspects of the new-covenant promise, it seems incorrect to disregard these or to say they are fulfilled in some spiritual manner in the church. There can be no question that the prophets meant to communicate the promise of a national return of Israel to its land" (DIC, p. 93). "We must conclude that God will yet fulfill the new covenant with the nation of Israel, precisely in the manner prophesied by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel" (DIC, p. 94).

Elsewhere and more recently Pentecost notes the importance of the new covenant for Israel’s distinctive future: "This New Covenant, then -- which is an unconditional, eternal covenant based on the shedding of blood -- guarantees the preservation of Israel as a nation and her ultimate restoration to the land originally given by God to Abraham and Abraham’s descendants.... As a result of this covenant, the blessings Israel never found through the Law will at last be experienced" (TKC, p. 171).

Walvoord brings the new covenant into the present-day apocalyptic context: "This remarkable prophecy, given by Jeremiah almost 2,500 years ago, has seen modern fulfillment in the recapture of Jerusalem.... This prophecy is one of the signs that the coming of the Lord may be near" (PKH, p. 141).

Though the new covenant is a cornerstone for dispensationalism, Ryrie, oddly enough, laments dispensational confusion with reference to Israel and the new covenant: "Premillennialists have not always dealt with questions about the new covenant uniformly. Some have taught that the church has no relation to the new covenant, only Israel does. Others see two new covenants, one with Israel and another with the church. Others acknowledge that the church receives some of the blessings (or similar blessings) promised in the Old Testament revelation of the new covenant but not all of them. Progressives make these similar blessings evidence that the new covenant has been inaugurated. All premillennialists agree that there will be a future fulfillment of the covenant for Israel at the second coming of Christ" (D, p. 172).

In light of all of this, we see here in one biblical theme -- the new covenant -- both a pre-eminent proof of dispensationalism AND a source of dispensational stumbling, failure, and hem-hawing. Thus, the new covenant of Scripture will be an excellent theme on which to focus for exposure of past and present errors within the system loved by untold millions of American Christians -- and profit-conscious dispensationalist publishers.

In the remainder of this newsletter I will lay out the shifting sands approach of classic and revised dispensationalism on the question of the new covenant. Then in the next newsletter I will focus on the progressive dispensational argument. Being aware of these differing approaches to the new covenant -- a foundational proof for dispensationalism -- is a crucial first step in analyzing, critiquing, and dismissing dispensationalism as a viable theological option.


The basic new covenant revelation is found in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Its contextual setting is crucial to the debate, as well. Jeremiah 31:31-40 reads:

"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah-- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more. Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for a light by day, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (the LORD of hosts is His name): If those ordinances depart from before Me, says the LORD, then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever. Thus says the LORD: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, says the LORD. Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, that the city shall be built for the LORD from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The surveyor’s line shall again extend straight forward over the hill Gareb; then it shall turn toward Goath. And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the Brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the LORD. It shall not be plucked up or thrown down anymore forever. Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, that the city shall be built for the LORD from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The surveyor’s line shall again extend straight forward over the hill Gareb; then it shall turn toward Goath. And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the Brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the LORD. It shall not be plucked up or thrown down anymore forever."

Here we note that the prophecy expressly associates the new covenant with "the house of Israel and the house of Judah." Revised dispensationalists created the (strained and unattainable) notion of literalism in an attempt to sustain their system. We can see why this passage has had such a strong impact on dispensationalists. Jeremiah 31 also speaks of phenomena that seem to suggest a regathering of Israel into the promised land. Surely this is the passage upon which dispensationalism should be able to make its stand (much like General Custer). Yet dispensationalists have even struggled over how to understand this foundational passage!


Of this "determinative" covenant, the new covenant, Ryrie lists three pre-millennial views that have been generated by dispensationalists. Many of the following quotations are from Ryrie’s published in 1953. This contains more detail of Ryrie’s view on this "determinative" covenant than does his 1995 work (D, pp. 173-174). Therefore, it provides an excellent historical specimen of the dispensational confusion over the matter. Ryrie’s summation of the three dispensational views of the new covenant are as follows:

(1) The Jews Only View. This is "the view that the new covenant directly concerns Israel and has no relationship to the Church" (BPF, p. 107). This was the earliest dispensational view, held by John Nelson Darby (for documentation see: TC, 121-122). But though Darby’s name is still revered by dispensationalists, his teaching on this foundational covenant is not usually accepted by premillenarians today -- despite its consistency with the dispensational hermeneutic of literalism (IP, p. 54). Unfortunately, this untenable position flies directly in the very face of New Testament evidence to the contrary. Jesus, Paul, and the writer of Hebrews expressly associates the "new covenant" with the Church in Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 8:8; 9:15; 12:24. Numerous other allusions to the new covenant appear elsewhere in the New Testament, as I will note in later issues.

(2) The One Covenant/Two Aspects View. Ryrie summarizes this position: "The one new covenant has two aspects, one which applies to Israel, and one which applies to the church" (BPF, 107). This is the view held by Walvoord: "This can best be explained as one New Covenant of grace made possible by the death of Christ, whether applied to Israel or the church as in the New Testament" (PKH, 140). Although Pentecost was ambiguous while earning his doctorate at Dallas Seminary’s, later (after securing tenure?) he settled on this view (TKC, p. 175).

(3) The Two New Covenants View. This is Ryrie’s view. (Ware claims Ryrie has abandoned it, DIC, p. 91, n. 40. If that is true, the following presentation will be all the more remarkable in that Ryrie would be condemning himself for fidelity to the system principles of dispensationalism!) Ryrie notes that this view actually "distinguishes the new covenant with Israel from the new covenant with the Church. This view finds two new covenants in which the promises to Israel and the promises to the Church are more sharply distinguished even though both new covenants are based on the one sacrifice of Christ" (BPF, p. 107).

Ryrie states vigorously that: "If the Church does not have a new covenant then she is fulfilling Israel’s promises, for it has been shown that the Old Testament teaches that the new covenant is for Israel alone. If the Church is fulfilling Israel’s promises as contained in the new covenant or anywhere in Scripture, then premillennialism is weakened. One might well ask why there are not two aspects to one new covenant. This may be the case, and it is the position held by many premillennialists [perhaps even by Ryrie now, according to Ware!], but we agree that the amillennialist has every right to say of this view that it is ‘a practical admission that the new covenant is fulfilled in and to the Church.’ However, since the New Testament will support two new covenants, is it not more consistent premillennialism to consider that Israel and the Church each has a new covenant?" (BPF, p. 118). He goes so far as to charge "that the one covenant, two aspects interpretation absolutely contradicts the entire premillennial system" (BPF, p. 108).

Strangely, this view was a "corrective" to the earlier view of a Jews-only new covenant. As I will show in a later newsletter, this position necessitates all sorts of hermeneutical gymnastics. Ryrie continues this bizarre (though logically necessitated) view in his 1995 work, where he tentatively holds that the lack of the definite article with "new covenant" in 2 Corinthians 3 and Hebrews 9:15 and 12:24 "may indicate that Paul is focusing on a new covenant made with the church" (D, pp. 173-174).

Since the two new covenants view is so vigorously argued by Ryrie and, therefore, shows so clearly how absurd old-line dispensationalism is, it might be helpful for our purposes of expose’ to provide a little more detail to the argument from Ryrie. This will also serve to illustrate the marked difference between Ryrie’s revised dispensationalism, and the current progressive dispensationalism. And if Ryrie has indeed abandoned this position, this will show the internal contradictions within the system (when we note how vigorously Ryrie argued as a dispensational systematician for this view).

The New Covenant prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31ff, says Ryrie, is necessarily limited to the Jews on the basis of "three incontrovertible reasons." Notice this argument is "incontrovertible." Ryrie’s argument goes as follows:

(1) The argument from specific reference (BPF, p. 108). Verses 31 and 33 clearly specify God’s making the new covenant with "the house of Israel and the house of Judah." And in the revised dispensational hermeneutic "Israel means Israel" (BPF, p. 125). This is like "seed of Abraham" means "seed of Abraham." (Oops! I forgot about the spiritual seed of Abraham in Gal. 3.) This is just like "bread" means "bread." (Oops! I forgot about the "bread of life" in John 6.)

(2) The argument from legal contrast. This is "also seen by the fact of its very name which is contrasted with the Mosaic covenant" in Jeremiah 31:32 (BPF, p. 108). A "new" covenant contrasted with a former covenant made when Israel departed Egypt necessitates a sole relationship to the people specifically under the previous covenant.

(3) The argument from historic effect (BPF, p. 109). "In its establishment, the perpetuity of the nation Israel and her restoration to the land is vitally linked with it (Jer 31:35-40)" (BPF, p. 109). The context clearly assumes an historical regathering to the Land (or at least, so dispensationalists think!).

Despite Ryrie’s literalistic argument from specific reference, we should note that the New Covenant is specifically applied through the Lord’s Supper to the Church in Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25. Apparently literalism was not the method of Jesus and Paul! Note the following:

(1) Pentecost is quite correct, when he writes of the establishment of the Lord’s Supper: "In its historical setting, the disciples who heard the Lord refer to the new covenant. . . would certainly have understood Him to be referring to the new covenant of Jeremiah 31" (TKC, p. 172).

(2) In fact, the sudden appearance of the "new covenant" in the New Testament record, without qualification or explanation, demands that it refer to the well known new covenant of Jeremiah. See: Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25.

(3) Hebrews 8, on everyone’s view, cites Jeremiah’s new covenant in a context speaking to New Testament Christians. In addition, this new covenant sacrament is specifically for the "Church" in the "Church Age" (1 Cor. 11:23ff). Yet Ryrie argues that "the writer of the Epistle has referred to both new covenants" (BPF, p. 121). This is pure desperation. Walvoord is driven to admit of the crucial Hebrews 8 reference: "it is, in fact, the only passage which provides any difficulty to the premillennial view" (MK, p. 215). And: "There are problems that remain in the premillennial understanding of this passage" (IP, p. 54).

(4) The Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, even promotes the New Covenant as an important aspect of his ministry (2 Cor 3:6). He does not say he is a minister of a second new Covenant" or "another new covenant." Paul writes that God "also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor. 3:6).

Ryrie’s bravely defends the indefensible, reminding me of the preacher who promised that if you come to church Sunday, he would "unscrew the inscrutable." Reviewing dispensationalism’s history like this, we can see how important the new covenant issue is to the debate.


In my next issue, I will begin presenting and analyzing the role of the new covenant in progressive dispensationalism. Though far superior to its predecessors, progressive dispensationalism falls short of the biblical reality, as well. And the presentation and analysis ought to be helpful to our growth in understanding the theology of Scripture.


BPF: Charles C. Ryrie, (Neptune, N.J.: Loizeaux, 1953), 107.

D: Charles C. Ryrie, (2d. ed.: Chicago: Moody, 1995).

DIC: Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, eds., Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church: The Search for Definition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992).

IP: John F. Walvoord, , (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962).

MK: John F. Walvoord, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974).

PD: Craig A. Blaising and Darrell L. Bock, (Wheaton, Ill.: Bridgepoint, 1993).

PKH: John F. Walvoord, (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1990).

TC: J. Dwight Pentecost, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1958).

TKC: J. Dwight Pentecost, (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor, 1990).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Israel and Scripture - Part One

by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Th.D.


In this and the next several issues of our newsletter, I will consider the biblical role of Israel in Scripture and prophecy. Few theological and eschatological issues parallel in significance that of Israel. This is especially of interest to us in our "Dispensationalism in Transition" newsletter because Israel is the key to the outworking of dispensational theology -- whether of the progressive (Bock, Blaising, Saucy) type or the revised (Ryrie, Walvoord, Pentecost) type. In fact, the role of Israel is THE constant in the evolving system of dispensationalism which is, as we say, "in transition."


In this series I will seek to accomplish three tasks that should be of interest to our readers:

(1) As we study the matter of Israel and Scripture we will learn something of the serious internal difficulties rupturing (not "rapturing"!) the dispensational camp. This, then, will accomplish an important historical purpose. Dispensationalism is the leading evangelical theology today in terms of market presence -- though most of it is due to its unsightly offspring, Lindseyesque apocalyptic dispensationalism, from which academic progressives (wisely) demur: "It is not correct simply to identify the popular apocalypticism of Hal Lindsey with dispensationalism" (Blaising, DIC, 15n).

(2) As we study the matter of Israel and Scripture we will highlight a foundational problem endangering all brands of dispensationalism. This, then, will serve as an important apologetic tool. The ongoing debate between dispensationalism and covenantalism is important for both the development of the theological systems and, ultimately, the integrity of the Christian faith. "Iron sharpens iron."

(3) And as we study the matter of Israel and Scripture we will grow in our understanding of the redemptive-historical nature of Scripture. This, as I say above, is an important theological matter. If we are to live in terms of a Bible-based Christian worldview, big questions such as this are extremely important. Paul’s method of epistolary instruction was to lay down the theological principles, then build the practical and exhortational on that basis (see Paul’s famous "therefore" clauses, e.g., Eph. 4:1; Rom. 12:1).

This newsletter will be introductory to the series. I am a big believer in laying foundations before building a case.


As I begin this introductory issue, I would like to recommend two very important and extremely helpful books. I highly recommend these to those interested in this issue (and surely anyone downloading this newsletter will be interested!). Theology students should be building a personal research library. Of course, you can borrow ANY book you want for free by simply calling your public library and asking for the "Inter-library Loan" department. They can secure hard-to-find works and bring them right to your library. But the diligent theologue will want to build his own library with purchases of important works. Don’t be like Ring Lardner’s friend, of whom Larnder once commented: "He took me into his library and showed me his books, of which he had a complete set."

This book purchase idea may not be a good idea for revised dispensationalists, though: Who would want to buy "1980s: Countdown to Armageddon" now? Or: "88 Reasons Why the Lord Could Return in 1988?" And you know what’s going to happen to Lindsey’s latest: "Planet Earth 2000: Will Mankind Survive?" These quickly become dated and embarrassing. Why waste money on them? (As H. L. Mencken once said: "There are two kinds of books: those that no one reads and those that no one ought to read." Of course, many do buy these books, after all: When a book and a head collide and there is a hollow sound, is it always from the book?)

I consider the books I will be recommending below so essential to the question of the theological and eschatological significance of Israel that I will begin requiring them for courses I teach at Bahnsen Theological Seminary (714-572-9846 or INTERNET: BahnsenSeminary @compuserve.com). These have been extremely helpful for bolstering my understanding of the issues and in preparing this present series. The books are:

Peter W. L. Walker, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996).

David E. Holwerda, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995).

Any Christian with an interest in biblical theology and eschatology must face the question of the role of Israel in the plan of God. All evangelicals agree: God’s redemptive purpose in the Old Testament focuses on Israel as his special people. But all evangelicals do not agree on the answer to the questions: What is Israel’s PRESENT role in the new covenant era? What is God’s prophetic purpose for Israel in the FUTURE? These are important issues, which, if unresolved, wholly undermine one’s understanding of Scripture. These are issues separating dispensationalism from all other forms of evangelical theology.

Walker’s work is a post-doctoral treatise written under a fellowship at Tyndale House, Cambridge. He was urged to pursue this work after some lectures he gave on the New Testament and Jerusalem in 1984. As far as I can remember from reading his book, he never mentions dispensationalism (only in America do you have to mention dispensationalism). But the utility of the book for dispensational analysis is unsurpassed. The work strikes hard and deep at the root of all dispensationalism: the role and identity of Israel. And in addition it sprays Roundup in the hole from which revised dispensationalism is dug.

Questions broached in include: What is the biblical significance of Jerusalem? What was Jesus’ attitude toward the city and its temple? Did the New Testament writers see Jerusalem as being affected by the coming of Jesus? How should Christian view Jerusalem today?

Though the theme of the book focuses on Jerusalem, Walker necessarily deals with the three-fold realia of Israel: its city, land, and temple. Each chapter analyzes the biblical-theological perspectives of select New Testament writers on these three issues. And anyone who knows anything of the dispensational debate will instantly recognize the significance of these issues. With careful precision and clarity of expression Holwerda’s shows that Christ is the fulfillment of Israel. His chapters study Jesus in relation to Israel, the Land, the Temple, and the Law. His sixth chapter then considers the question: "A Future for Jewish Israel?" He holds a very postmillennial-like view as found in Murray’s commentary on Romans. In his final chapter he inquires whether Israel as a nation with a temple-centered worship will arise again in fulfillment of the plan of God.

By careful theological analysis Holwerda shows us the remarkable correspondences between the history of Israel and the life of Christ. These are not accidents of history, but are indications of Jesus’s functioning as God’s true Israel. Page after page of the Gospel record exhibit Jesus as the fulfillment of Israel. For instance, the Old Testament promises of the regathering of Israel to the Land are fulfilled in the gathering of the Jews in Christ, i.e., in salvation. With a wealth of biblical research we are brought to a greater appreciation of the depth and glory of the Scriptural story of Christ, as well as to the meaning and purpose of Israel.

Now, alas, we live in the nineties. Consequently, Political Correctness with its Siamese twin Religious Correctness move me to issue:


If Fuzzy Zoeller can be castigated for the light-hearted remarks he made about his friend Tiger Woods winning the Masters golf tournament, I suppose I had better brace myself for potential feedback regarding my understanding of Israel. With some apocalyptic dispensationalists like Lindsey out there, my views (as the views of Holwerda and Walker) will undoubtedly be used to discredit me. (See Lindsey’s incredible , 1989. Better yet: Don’t see it.)

In the course of our study I will be showing that God has fulfilled the Israel-hope in Christ and the Church. Racial Israel has lost its distinctive status and special privilege: They will no longer be exalted over the gentiles and given special treatment by God. Although, as mentioned above, Israel does have a glorious future wherein they will return to the favor of God and rejoin the historical people of God -- but this is only by conversion to Jesus Christ through the same means as anyone else.

Lindsey () and Thomas Ice ( newsletter, Jan.-Feb., 1992) charge that "supersessionism" is morally reprehensible, being anti-Semitic. Supersessionism is the theological perspective that sees the Church as replacing Israel in the plan of God. Lindsey, Ice, Dave Hunt, and others cry out in alarm that supersessionism leads to the persecution of Jews, and charge non-dispensationalists with a moral perversity that threatens historical danger paralleling that of Hitler’s Third Reich (Lindsey’s first reference in his book was a citation from the writings of Adolf Hitler).

However, supersessionism (which I will be presenting and defending in this series) in no way implies that Jews should be either verbally taunted, socially ostracized, economically deprived, or physically persecuted. Indeed, the evangelical supersessionist believes they should be treated with respect ("love your neighbor as yourself") and should be evangelized ("Go, disciple all nations, baptizing them") -- like every other non-believing person.

Perhaps one of the most helpful books exposing the error of the dispensational charge is one intended to do the opposite. Dan Cohn-Sherbok, a Jew who teaches Jewish theology at the University of Kent, Canterbury, England, has written (Eerdmans, 1992). He argues that "the seeds of anti-Semitism were sown in Christian sources and nurtured throughout the history of the Church" (p. xiv). To this Lindsey and Ice would give a hearty "Amen." And certainly many Christians have been guilty over the years of treating the Jews in a less than Christian manner -- much like the Jews treated the Christians in the New Testament (Acts 8:1ff).

Unfortunately for Lindsey and Ice, a closer reading of Cohn-Sherbok shows his complaint is not against reformed theology and for dispensationalism. The "sources" which he charges with anti-Semitism are non-other than the New Testament itself! Note the following citations:

"In Chapter 2 the development of Christian anti-Jewish attitudes is traced in detail. According to the writers of the Gospels, Jesus attached the leaders of the Jewish nation for their hypocrisy... In proclaiming this Christian message Paul stressed that the Jewish nation had been rejected by God, and the new covenant had superseded the old.... In these various ways the New Testament laid the foundations for later Christian hostility to the Jewish nation. The New Testament tradition served as the basis for the early Church’s vilification of the Jews...." (CJ, p. xv).

"Matthew referred to these unbelievers [Jews] as hypocrites, blind fools, and serpents.... Such a view of the Church — in opposition to the official leaders of the nation — was a starting point for the tragic history of Christian anti-Jewish vilification and attack" (CJ, pp. 14-15).

"Thus the Jewish leaders are depicted as rejecting and killing Jesus, whereas the first believer was a Roman centurion (Mark 15:39). The Good Samaritan is contrasted wit the faithless Jew (Luke 10:33). The gentiles will come from all places to sit at the Messianic banquet while the sons of the Kingdom will be cast into outer darkness" (p. 18).

What is the horrendous immorality that led Christians to persecute Jews? The declaration that Christianity is the true religion that alone can promise salvation: "In common with other groups at this time, the early Christians believed themselves to be the true Israel in opposition to official Judaism, and such a conception provided the basis for the subsequent repudiation of Judaism and the vilification of the Jews.... [T]he Jewish faith was seen as a stage on the way to Christianity rather than as an authentic religious experience with its own inherent validity" (p. 8).

Supersessionism "sin," therefore, is claiming the Jews were responsible for crucifying Christ, then having the nerve to preach that salvation only comes through (the Jew) Jesus Christ. If that is anti-Semitism, then I am guilty. And I urge you to guilty, as well. This is simply liberalism in racial dress. Or, from Lindsey and Ice’s perspective, it is blatant error due to simplistic analysis. (One thing that bothers me about apocalyptic dispensationalism is that so many of its adherent went to college. Unfortunately, some people go to college to drink deeply from the well of knowledge; some go only to sip; and too many go there only to gargle.)


So then, we will be analyzing the dispensational view of Israel, showing it to be erroneous. We will learn something of the distinctive principle of all brands of dispensationalism, the debate over Israel between progressive dispensationalists and revised dispensationalists, and the biblical conception of Israel and the people of God. Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Who Really Owns the 'Holy Land'?

By. Dr. Robert L. Reymond

Editor’s note: This essay is an address delivered by Dr. Robert L. Reymond, former Professor Emeritus at Knox Theological Seminary, to “Advancing Reformation Truth and Spirituality” (ARTS) on April 21, 2006, at DeVos Chapel, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The Challenge Facing Covenant Theology

A gigantic effort is underway today to convince the evangelical citizenry of the United States of America that the political state of Israel rightfully owns in perpetuity the so-called “Holy Land”1 at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea by virtue of God’s bequeathing it to Abraham and his descendants in the Old Testament. This effort is being made not so much today by the secular leadership of the state of Israel as by self-acclaimed Christian scholars and televan-gelists who claim to speak for over seventy million evangelical Christians. These men, including Assemblies of God preacher and televangelist John Hagee, founder and pastor of the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas;2 Kenneth Copeland, televangelist; Paul and Matt Crouch of the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN); Jack Hayford, founder and pastor of the Church on the Way in Van Nuys, California, and president of the Foursquare Gospel Church; Benny Hinn, pastor of the yet-to-be-built World Healing Center in Dallas, Texas; Rod Parsley, pastor of the World Harvest Church in Columbus, Ohio; Pat Robertson, founder and chief executive officer of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and the Bible teacher on the 700 Club;3 and Jerry Falwell, founder and pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church and founder of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, are all purveyors of that system of hermeneutics known as Dispensationalism.

Apparently convinced by this propaganda effort, President Clinton, after citing the words of his desperately ill Baptist pastor to him: “If you abandon Israel, God will never forgive you,” declared before the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem on October 27, 1994: “…it is God’s will that Israel, the Biblical home of the people of Israel, continue forever and ever,”4 a statement that enters deeply into Biblical hermeneutics concerning the nature of the church and the kingdom of God, not to mention Biblical eschatology (note his “forever and ever”). President Clinton concluded his speech by saying: “Your journey is our journey, and America will stand with you now and always,” a statement that illustrates this nation’s deep involvement in both Middle East politics in general and its specific political commitment to Israel in the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict in particular in a way that cannot but affect the course of world politics for the foreseeable future.

In my opinion, President Clinton’s statement is bad politics based on equally bad theology. I say this because, as I shall argue in this paper, all of God’s land promises to Israel in the Old Testament are to be viewed in terms of shadow, type, and prophecy, in contrast to the reality, substance, and fulfillment of which the New Testament speaks. Consequently, contrary to John Hagee who insists that “Israel has a Bible mandate to the land, a divine covenant for the land of Israel, forever…[and] Christians have a Bible mandate to be supportive of Israel,”5 I will argue that it is we Christians, as members of Christ’s Messianic kingdom, who are the real heirs to the land promises of Holy Scripture, but only in their fulfilled paradisical character.6 Hagee terms this view “replacement theology” because, he says, it “replaces” in the economy of God the Jewish people who are, he says, “God’s centerpiece” and “the apple of his eye” (Zechariah 2:8) with the church of Jesus Christ. Of course, Hagee’s perception of ethnic Israel is in error, because ethnic Israel per se was never the center-piece of God’s covenant program since, according to Paul, God’s promises always applied only to the true spiritual Israel (that is, elect Israel) within ethnic Israel (Romans 9:6-13); and the land promises of the Old Testament, as we will show, were always to be viewed typologically. Nevertheless, Hagee has thrown down the Dispensational gauntlet; and it is high time that covenant theologians picked it up and responded to him Biblically. This is what I propose to do now. But I offer a word of caution, and it is this: Reflect carefully upon what I say before you accept or reject it. With that caveat I will now begin with a discussion of

Eden and the Abrahamic Covenant

O. Palmer Robertson begins his treatise on the significance of the land as a theological idea by stating:

The concept of a land that belongs to God’s people originated in Paradise. This simple fact, so often overlooked, plays a critical role in evaluating the significance of the land throughout redemptive history and its consummate fulfillment. Land did not begin to be theologically significant with the promise given to Abraham. Instead, the patriarch’s hope of possessing a land arose out of the concept of restoration to the original state from which man had fallen. The original idea of land as paradise significantly shaped the expectations associated with redemption. As the place of blessedness arising from unbroken fellowship and communion with God, the land of paradise became the goal toward which redeemed humanity was returning.7

In the Edenic paradise of Genesis 2 we see God, whose garden it was (Ezekiel 28:13; 31:8), and which garden was employed later as the prototypical ideal (Genesis 13:10) and type of the eschatological paradise of God (Isaiah 51:3; Revelation 2:7), placing the original pair he had created within it to tend and to keep it and to enjoy communion with him. But the paradisical nature of Eden was lost in and by Adam’s fall, and our first parents were expelled from this land of blessing. But the idea of paradise was renewed by God’s inaugurating with the guilty pair a second covenant — the covenant of grace of Genesis 3:15 — and later by his covenant with Abraham of Genesis 12:1-3 to redeem a people from their fallen condition and to transform the cosmos. Just as Adam and Eve had known God’s blessing in Eden, so also God would bless his redeemed people in a new Eden, a land flowing with milk and honey, that lay somewhere ahead of them in the future.

With the call of Abraham in Genesis 12 the covenant of grace established in Genesis 3:15 underwent a remarkable advance. The instrument of that advance is the covenant that God made with Abraham that guaranteed and secured soteric blessing for “all the families of the Earth” (Genesis 12:3). So significant are the promises of grace in the Abrahamic covenant, found in Genesis 12:1-3; 13:14-16; 15:18-21; 17:116; and 22:16-18, that it is not an overstatement to declare these verses, from the covenantal perspective, the most important verses in the Bible. The fact that the Bible sweeps across thousands of years between the creation of man and the call of Abraham in only eleven chapters, with the call of Abraham coming in Genesis 12, suggests that God intended the information given in Genesis 1-11 to be preparatory “background” to the revelation of the Abrahamic covenant. Revelation subsequent to it discloses that all that God has done savingly in grace since the revelation of the Abrahamic covenant is the result and product of it. In other words, once the covenant of grace came to expression in the salvific promises of the Abrahamic covenant — that God would be the God of Abraham and his spiritual descendants (Genesis 17:7) and that in Abraham all the families of the Earth would be blessed — everything that God has done since that time, he has done in order to fulfill his covenant promises to Abraham (and thereby the eternal plan of redemption).

If this representation of the salvific significance of the Abrahamic covenant seems to be an overstatement, the following declarations from later revelation should suffice to justify it:

1. It is the Abrahamic covenant and none other that God later confirmed with Isaac (Genesis 17:19; 26:3-4) and with Jacob (Genesis 28:13-15; 35:12).

2. The Scriptures state that God redeemed Jacob’s descendants from Egypt in order to keep his covenant promise to the patriarchs: “God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Exodus 2:24: see 4:5).

3. Again and again throughout Israel’s history the inspired authors of Scripture trace God’s continuing extension of grace and mercy to Israel directly to his fidelity to his covenant promises to Abraham (Exodus 32:12-14; 33:1; Leviticus 26:42; Deuteronomy 1:8; 4:31; 7:8; 9:27; 29:12-13; Joshua 21:44; 24:3-4; Psalm 105:8-10, 42-43; 2 Kings 13:23; 1 Chronicles 16:15-17; Micah 7:20; Nehemiah 9:7-8).

4. When we come to the New Testament it is no different. Both Mary and Zechariah declared the first coming of Jesus Christ, including the very act of Incarnation, to be a vital part of the fulfillment of God’s gracious covenant promise to Abraham. Mary in Luke 1:54-55 said: “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” Zechariah in Luke 1:68-71 said: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come…to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham.”

I may note in passing that, whereas Christians today mainly celebrate only the Incarnation of God’s Son at Christmas time, Mary and Zechariah, placing this event in the covenantal context of Scripture, saw reason in Christ’s coming to celebrate the covenant fidelity of God to his people. In their awareness of the broader significance of the event and the words of praise that this awareness evoked from them we see Biblical theology at its best being worked out and expressed.

5. Jesus, himself the Seed of Abraham (Matthew 1:1; Galatians 3:16), declared that Abraham “rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).

6. Peter declared that God sent Jesus to bless the Jewish nation in keeping with the promise he gave to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, in turning them away from their iniquities (Acts 3:25-26).

7. Paul declared that God, when he promised Abraham that “all peoples on Earth will be blessed through you” (Genesis 12:3), was declaring that he was going to justify the Gentiles by faith and was announcing the Gospel in advance to Abraham (Galatians 3:8). Accordingly, he stated that all believers in Christ “are blessed [with justification through faith] along with Abraham” (Galatians 3:9).

8. Paul also declared: “Christ became a Servant of the circumcision…in order to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy” (Romans 15:8-9).

9. Paul further declared that Christ died on the cross, bearing the law’s curse, “in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, in order that we [both Jews and Gentiles] might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:13-14).

10. Paul expressly declared that the Mosaic covenant and law, introduced several centuries after God gave his covenant promises to Abraham and to his Seed (Christ), “does not set aside the covenant previously established by God [with Abraham] and thus do away with the promise” (Galatians 3:16-17).

11. Paul also declared (1) that Abraham is the “father of all who believe” among both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 4:11-12); and (2) that all who belong to Christ “are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” that God gave to Abraham (Galatians 3:29).

12. Finally, Christ described the future state of glory in terms of the redeemed “taking their place at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 8:11).

What this all means is that the promise of God, covenantally given to Abraham, that he would be the God of Abraham and of his spiritual descendants after him forever (Genesis 17:7-8) extends temporally to the farthest reaches of the future and encompasses the entire community of the redeemed and the renewed cosmos. This is just to say that the Abrahamic covenant, in the specific prospect it holds forth of the salvation of the entire church of God, is identical with the soteric program of the covenant of grace. It also means that the blessings of the covenant of grace that believers in Christ enjoy today under the New Testament economy are founded upon the covenant that God made with Abraham. Said another way, the “new covenant” whose Mediator is Jesus Christ is simply the administrative “extension and unfolding of the Abrahamic covenant”9 in redemptive history. The church of Jesus Christ, then, not ethnic Israel, is the present-day expression of the one people of God whose roots go back to Abraham.

These passages also highlight the unity of the one covenant of grace and the oneness of God’s people in all ages over against the discontinuities injected into redemptive history by the Dispensational heresy that lies at the root of all the bad “land theology” being espoused today concerning Israel’s so-called “perpetual divine right” to the land of Palestine.9 That is to say, God’s redemptive purpose, first disclosed in Genesis 3:15, once it had come to expression in the terms of the Abrahamic covenant, was continuously advanced thereafter by the successive covenants with Israel, David, and finally the new covenant. Accordingly, in his letter to the Gentile churches in Galatia Paul described those who repudiate Judaistic legalism and who “never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” that is, Christ’s church, as “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:12-16). In his Ephesian letter Paul told those Gentile believers that God had in Christ made them citizens of Israel and beneficiaries of the covenants of the promise (Ephesians 2:11-13). And in his letter to the Philippians Paul declared that those “who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh” are “the [true] circumcision” (Philippians 3:3). Clearly, the church of Jesus Christ is the present-day true Israel of God.

The Typological Nature of the Land Promises

Undoubtedly, temporal, earthly promises of land were given to Abraham and his descendants in the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 12: 7; 13:15, 17; 15:18; 17:8). But the land promises were never primary and central to the covenant’s intention, and God never envisioned literal fulfillment of these promises under Old Testament conditions as primary. Rather, the fulfillment of the land promises must be viewed as arising from the more basic and essential redemptive promises, and for their fulfillment they await the final and complete salvation of God’s elect and the recreation of the universe in the Eschaton (Romans 8:19-23). I say this because the Bible declares that Abraham dwelt in Palestine “as in a foreign country” (Hebrews 11:9), and he never inherited any land during his lifetime (Acts 7:5), which is just to say that Abraham believed that the fulfillment of God’s land promises lay antitypically in the eschatological future.

Was this really Abraham’s understanding of God’s land promise? Or did he think that God’s promise merely entailed the small portion of land bounded on the west and the east by the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan Valley and generally on the north and the south by the Sea of Galilee and the southern tip of the Dead Sea? Hardly. Was his faith such that he would have been satisfied in knowing that someday his offspring would inherit the land “from the river of Egypt [not the Nile River but the Wadi el Arish] to the great river, the River Euphrates” (Genesis 15: 18)?10 Again we must respond, hardly. His entire life experience of walking by faith and not by sight (see the recurring phrase “by faith Abraham” in Hebrews 11:8, 9, 17) taught him to look beyond the temporal circumstances in which he lived. To understand Abraham’s concept of God’s land promise to him, we must give special heed to the divinely revealed insights of the writers of the New Testament. Just as Paul declared that the events of Israel’s redemptive history were “types” for believers during this age (1 Corinthians 10:6), just as Paul said the religious festivals of the old covenant were “a shadow of the things to come” (Colossians 2:17), just as the author of Hebrews stated that the administration of redemption under the old covenant was “but a shadow of the good things to come” (Hebrews 10:1), so also he taught, in Hebrews 11:8-16, that Abraham knew that God’s land promises in their fulfillment entailed something far more glorious, namely, a better and heavenly homeland whose designer and builder is God, than the land of Palestine per se that served only as the type of their fulfillment:

By faith Abraham…went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God….

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised,11 but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and have acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the Earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland…a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city..

Quite plainly, Abraham understood that the land promised to him actually had both its origin and its antitypical fulfillment in the heavenly, eternal reality that lay still in the future. Possession of a particular tract of land in ancient times might have significance from a number of perspectives with respect to God’s redemptive working in the world, but clearly the land promise under the Abrahamic covenant served simply as a type, anticipating the future reality of the coming of the Messianic kingdom with the Messiah himself assuming the throne of David in Heaven, and ruling the universe after his resurrection and ascension, and reigning until all his enemies have been put under his feet.

How was it possible for Abraham to have the view of the land promise that the New Testament ascribed to him? What led him to “spiritualize” the promise to make it entail future heavenly, kingdom realities? The answer lies in the fact that he took seriously God’s promise to him that “in [him] all the families of the Earth would be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).12 Therefore, he perceived that the promise to him and his offspring, who is Christ (Galatians 3:16), entailed that in Christ “he would be heir [not of Palestine but] of the [glorified] world [kosmou]” (Romans 4:13). Plainly, Abraham under-stood that God’s land promise meant that God would restore the entire cosmos to its former paradisical glory and in that he placed his hope and patiently waited for it. His faith and understanding would have been satisfied with nothing less!

Moses too, and his contemporaries, wandered in the wilderness of Sinai for forty years, and died in faith, not having received the promise (Hebrews 11:39).

Under Joshua’s leadership the Israelites conquered the land, receiving in a limited fashion the paradise God had promised. But it quickly became obvious that this territory could not be the ultimate paradise. Undefeated Canaanites remained in the land as “hornets.” And because of Israel’s sin throughout the united and divided kingdom periods, finally the land was devastated by the Neo-Babylonians; the indwelling Glory departed from the Solomonic Temple (Ezekiel 9:3; 10:1-22), which Temple was then destroyed; and the people were banished and came to be known as lo-ammi, meaning “not-my people” (Hosea 1:9). The once fruitful land took on the appearance of a desert, a dwelling place of jackals, owls, and scorpions. Paradise, even in its old covenant shadow form, was taken from them.

Even the restoration after the Babylonian captivity, under Ezra and Nehemiah, designated by Biblical scholars as the Second Temple Period, could not be paradise. But the return to the land and the rebuilding of the Temple pointed the way to it. The glory of that tiny Temple, Haggai prophesied, would someday be greater than the glory of the Solomonic Temple. What did this hyperbolic language mean? It meant that God had something better for them than a temporal land and a material temple. The promise of the land would be fulfilled by nothing less than a restored paradise on a cosmic scale! As Isaiah predicted, someday the wolf would lie down with the lamb, the leopard would lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion would live in peace, and a little child would lead them. The nursing child would play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child would place his hand on the adder’s den, and the Earth would be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the places of the sea (Isaiah 11:6-9). No more would sin and sorrow reign nor thorns infest the ground. Then, writes Paul in Romans 9:25-26:

Those who were not [God’s] people [not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles, Romans 9:24] [he] will call “my people,” and her who was not beloved [he] will call “beloved.” And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” there they will be called “sons of the living God.”

Jesus’ Teaching About the Land and the Future of Ethnic Israel

When Christ came two thousand years ago, the Biblical doctrine of the land experienced a radical advance. By inaugurating his public ministry in Galilee of the Gentiles along the public trade route (Isaiah 9:1, cited in Matthew 4:12-16), Jesus was making a statement. That land would serve as the springboard to all nations. The kingdom of God — the central theme of Jesus’ teaching — would encompass a realm that extended well beyond the borders of ancient Israel. As Paul so pointedly indicated, God’s promise to Abraham meant that he would become heir of the whole world (Romans 4:13). Jesus’ pointing his ministry toward the whole of the world rather than confining it to the land of Canaan cleared the way for the old covenant “type” to be replaced by the new covenant “antitype.” Teaching that the kingdom of God had appeared in its grace modality with his first coming and that it would appear in its power modality at his second coming, he transformed the imagery of a land flowing with milk and honey into a rejuvenation of the whole of God’s created order. It was not Canaan as such that would benefit in the establishment of Messiah’s kingdom: The whole cosmos would rejoice in the renewal.13

Now what did Jesus teach about the future of ethnic Israel? In his parable of the wicked farmers (Matthew 21:33-45, Mark 12:1-12, Luke 20:9-19), Jesus tells the story of a landowner who leased his vineyard to some farmers and then went into another country. When the time arrived for him to receive his rental fee in the form of the fruit of the vineyard, the landowner sent servant after servant to his tenants, only to have each one of them beaten or stoned or killed. Last of all he sent his son — Luke says his “beloved son”; Mark says “yet one [other], a beloved son” — saying: “They will respect my son.” But when the tenants saw the landowner’s son, they said: “This is the heir; come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” This they did, throwing his body out of the vineyard. When the landowner came, he destroyed the tenants and leased his vineyard to others. The interpretive intentions of the parable are obvious on the face of it: The landowner is God the Father; the vineyard, the nation of Israel (Isaiah 5:7); the farmers, Israel’s leaders; the servants, the prophets of the theocracy (Matthew 23:37a); and the son Jesus himself.

The central teaching of the parable is obvious — as indeed it was to its original audience (Matthew 21:45): After having sent his servants the prophets repeatedly in Old Testament times to the nation of Israel to call the nation back to him from its sin and unbelief, only to have them rebuffed, persecuted, and often killed, God, the Owner of Israel, had, in sending Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Godhead, moved beyond merely sending another servant. Listen once again to the pertinent verses in this connection: Matthew 21:37: “Then last of all he sent his son.” Mark 12:6: “…having one son, his beloved, he also sent him to them last.”

From Matthew’s “last of all” and Mark’s “last” it is clear that Jesus represented himself as God’s last, his final ambassador, after whose sending none higher can come and nothing more can be done.14 The Son of God is the highest messenger of God conceivable. In sum, God had in Jesus finally (Matthew: hysteron; Mark: eschaton) sent his own beloved Son whom the nation would reject. But the rejection of his Son, unlike the rejections of those before him, was to entail neither God’s continuance of dealing with the recalcitrant nation nor a mere change of politico-religious administration. Rather, his rejection, Jesus taught, would eventuate in “the complete overthrow of the theocracy, and the rearing from the foundation up of a new structure [Christ’s church] in which the Son would receive full vindication and supreme honor.”15 His very words are as follows:

I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruit [Matthew 21:43].

What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others [Mark 12:9; Luke 20:16].

Here is a Biblical “replacement theology,” and it is Jesus himself who enunciated it: National Israel, except for its elect remnant, would be judged, and the special standing that it had enjoyed during the old dispensation would be given to the already emerging international church of Jesus Christ made up of both the elect Jewish remnant and elect Gentiles. So as Jesus predicted, Israel’s rulers rejected him and incited Rome to execute him; the Temple was soon destroyed (see Matthew 24:1-35); the people dispersed; and Israel ceased to exist as a political entity, as Moses had predicted in Deuteronomy 28:15-68 (see Deuteronomy 31:24-29). Paul declared in 1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 that the Jews who “killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets…displease God and oppose all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved — so as always to fill up the measure of their sins. But God’s wrath has come upon them at last [eis telos16].” Since Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians in A. D. 50 or 51 it is unlikely that he intended by his phrase, “God’s wrath has come upon them” the destruction of Jerusalem that occurred in A. D. 70. More likely, he was referring to the divine rejection of national Israel that Jesus referred to in his parable of the wicked farmers and elsewhere (Matthew 23:38; 24:15-28), a rejection that Paul declared in Romans 11 has come to expression in God’s hardening the mass of Israel, save for an elect Jewish remnant. So once again Israel as an ethnic entity has become lo-ammi, “not my people,” only now with a finality about it save for an elect remnant (Romans 9:27-29).17 Accordingly, Paul writes in Romans 11:7-10:

Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking [that is, a righteousness before God, Romans 9:31]. The elect [remnant] obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written: “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” And David says: “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever [dia pantos 18].”

But because God has by no means rejected every Jew, choosing in grace a Jewish remnant (Romans 11:5), today elect Jews continue to be saved by being “provoked to jealousy” (Romans 11:11, 14) by the multitudes of saved Gentiles who are enjoying the spiritual blessings originally offered to their fathers, and who accordingly through faith in Jesus Christ, their Messiah, are being grafted back into their own “olive tree” (Romans 11:23-24). The justification of Gentiles is then the primary avenue to the justification of the Jewish elect; indeed, in this way (houtÿs) “all Israel” will be saved (Romans 11:26).19

Five Propositions

In light of these Biblical data we are now in a position to affirm the following five propositions:20

1.The modern Jewish state is not a part of the Messianic kingdom of Jesus Christ. Even though this particular political state came into being on May 14, 1948, it would be a denial of Jesus’ affirmation that his kingdom is “not of this world order” (John 18:36) to assert that modern Israel is a part of his Messianic kingdom. To put it bluntly, modern Israel is not true Israel at all, but is rather “the spiritual son of Hagar” (Romans 9:6-8; Galatians 4:24-25) and thus is “Ishmaelitish” to the core, does not necessarily intend a small, insignificant number but simply that which is “left.” But when Isaiah declares: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sands of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved,” the implication is that God will harden the mass of ethnic Israel. It has accordingly forsaken any legitimate Biblical claim to Palestine.

2. The land promise of the Old Testament served as a type of the consummate realization of the purposes of God for his redeemed people that encompasses “all the nations” (Genesis 12:3) and the entire cosmos (Romans 4:13). Christians as members of the Messianic kingdom of God are the real heirs, along with Abraham, of the land promise in its antitypical, consummated character.

3. Because of the inherently limited scope of the land promised in the Old Testament, it cannot be regarded as having continuing significance in the realm of redemption other than in its function as a model to teach that obedience and divine blessing go hand in hand while disobedience and divine retribution also go hand in hand.

4. The Old Testament predictions about the “return” of “Israel” to the “land” in terms of a geo-political reestablishment of the state of Israel are more properly interpreted as having fulfillment at the “restoration of all things” that will accompany the resurrection of believers at the return of Christ (Acts 3:21; Romans 8:22-23). To interpret these predictions literally would be a retrograde elevation of type over antitype.

5. The future Messianic kingdom will embrace the whole of the recreated cosmos and will not experience a special manifestation that could be regarded in any sense as “Jewish” in the so-called “holy land” or anywhere else. Peter, the apostle to the circumcision (who surely would have had his ear tuned to any and every future privilege Jews might enjoy), when he wrote of future things in 2 Peter 3, said nothing about a Jewish millennium or about a restoration of a Jewish kingdom in Palestine but rather divided the whole of Earth history into three periods: the first period — “the world of that time” — extending from the beginning of creation to the Genesis flood (2 Peter 3:5-6); the second period — “the heavens and Earth that now exist” (2 Peter 3:7) — extending from the flood to the final Day of the Lord, at which time the Earth will be destroyed by fire (2 Peter 3:7) and the present heavens “will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved” (2 Peter 3:10); and the third period — “new heavens and a new Earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13) — extending throughout

eternity future. If he had believed in a Jewish millennium following this present age 2 Peter 3 would have been the appropriate place to mention it, but he makes no mention of a millennium, much less a Jewish millennium, placing the entirety of Earth history within the three time frames.


What should we conclude from all this? The twin facts of ethnic Israel’s unbelief and God’s wrath exhibited toward ethnic Israel (1 Thessalonians 2:15-16) pose a problem for Christians today. On the one hand, should not our attitude toward these people through whom came not only our Old Testament Scriptures but also our Messiah and Savior according to the flesh (Romans 9:5), indeed, our very salvation (John 4:22) be one of gratitude, and should Christians not do everything in their power to treat the Jewish people as they themselves would wish to be treated? On the other hand, were not the Jewish people complicit in the crucifixion of Christ, notwithstanding Roman Catholicism’s absolution of world Jewry in that event, and has not world Jewry rejected the Savior of the world, declaring him to be one in a long line of false messiahs, and do not these same Jews, when pressed, acknowledge that they regard Christians as idolaters, worshiping as they do a “mere man”?

In response to this problem, I would first say that no Christian should advocate anything evenly remotely resembling legal discrimination against Jews because of their ethnicity or religion. At the same time, in light of the fact that the only hope of salvation for the Jewish people resides in the provisions of the Christian Gospel, it would be wrong, indeed, unloving and un-Christian, for Christians to encourage or to support Israel in the establishment and maintenance of its ethnic or religious “Jewishness” that is the ground of its hope of approbation before God. This is simply to take seriously the uniqueness and finality of Jesus Christ as the only Savior and the only hope not only of ethnic Israel but also of every race and every nation. The Bible denounces every hope for approbation before God that is not grounded in the person and work of Christ. Such approbation pursued through ethnicity or through good works is futile (Galatians 2:16). Therefore, the Jew, if he is ever to know genuine forgiveness by God, must forsake the notion that his racial connection to the patriarchs and/or his allegiance to Torah make him acceptable to God (Romans 2:17-29; Galatians 5:3-4).

It is a strange twist of thinking, if not downright disloyalty to the Gospel, for Christians to aid and abet Israel in the retention of its ethnic/religious distinctives that provide the ground of its hope for divine approbation, the holding on to which only solidifies Israel in its unbelief. And yet, in order that the blessing of Genesis 12:3 might be theirs, and in order to escape the threatened curse enunciated in the same verse, many Christians fervently believe that they must support Zionist causes whatever the cost and must rejoice with every “Israeli advance” in the world. They fail to realize, as they do so (1) that as long as they encourage the Jew to continue to hold his un-Biblical perception of what constitutes “Jewishness,”22 and (2) the that as long as he continues to hold to Judaism as his religion, just so long will he continue to reject Jesus Christ who is Israel’s only hope and thus be eternally condemned. The Roman Catholic Church, in its modern efforts at aggiornamento, has not helped here either, declaring in its 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church that because the faith of the Jewish people — catechetically described as the “the first to hear the Word of God” — “unlike other non-Christian religions, is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant” (paragraph 839),23 because to the Jews belong all the privileges outlined in Romans 9:4-5 (paragraph 839), and because with Christians they “await the coming of the Messiah” (!) (paragraph 840), the People of God include the Jewish people. Never mind that the Jewish people for the most part deny the deity of Jesus Christ and thus the doctrine of the Trinity; never mind that they for the most part rejected their Messiah, the first time he came, as a misguided prophet at best and a blasphemer at worst, and had him crucified, and accordingly believe today that Christians are idolaters because we worship him whom they contend was simply a man; never mind that they see no need for Christ’s substitutionary atonement. According to Rome’s teaching they are still related salvifically to the people of God and may go to Heaven!

Again, the Christian is often told today that in his witness to his modern Jewish friends he may assume that the Jew to whom he speaks already believes the Old Testament and that it only remains to show him that Jesus Christ is the one about whom the Old Testament prophets spoke. This is surely an inaccurate appraisal of the actual situation. The great mass of world Jewry today neither believes that the Old Testament is the inspired, inerrant Word of the living God nor does it have a clue about what the Old Testament teaches. We must think more carefully here, for can one truly believe the Old Testament and not acknowledge Jesus Christ to be the Messiah, Savior, and Lord revealed therein? No one who has heard of the Messiah and his atoning work and then rejects him believes the Old Testament. Jesus himself expressly declared: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me” (John 5:46). When the modern Jew claims that he believes and follows Torah, even though he may say that he sees grace taught therein, but who at the same time also believes that he must live a certain way if he is to remain a “son” or “daughter” of Torah, he does not believe the Old Testament and is denying the saving provision of which Torah actually speaks. The Levitical sacrificial system pointed to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who alone takes away the sin of the world.

Christians must realize that to bring any unbelievers, including ethnic/religious Israel, to the Christian faith, they must show them the futility of any and every hope for God’s approbation apart from faith in Jesus Christ. The fact that Jews have Abrahamic blood flowing in their veins (Matthew 3:9; John 1:13), or that they are physically circumcised (Romans 2:25-29; Galatians 5:2-4; 6:15), or that they are practicing “sons and daughters of Torah” (Romans 2:17-24; 3:9; Galatians 3:10; 4:21; 5:1) are all insufficient for salvation.

Thus we must conclude that just as for God “as far as the Gospel is concerned, [Jews] are [regarded as his] enemies [for the salvific sake of non-Jews]; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs” (Romans 11:28), so also for Christians they should love Jews in whose remnant God will fulfill his elective promises to the patriarchs. Christians must also do everything they can, without being arrogant toward them (Romans 11:28), to bring ethnic/religious Israel to the place where they will forsake any and every Jewish ethnic/religious distinctive in which they rest their hope for salvation. Christians must do this for the sake of Israel and out of loyalty to the cause of the Gospel.


Biblical prophecy says nothing about modern Israel. In fact, far from the formation of modern Israel being a fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, it is, if anything, a major instrumentality in the hand of God to sustain Israel in its divinely imposed hardening.

Christian Zionists claim that the establishment of Israel as a nation on May 14, 1948, fulfilled Biblical prophecies. The following Old Testament prophecies are samples from a larger group of passages that these Biblical interpreters say were fulfilled in 1948:

1. Jeremiah 29:14, it is said, predicted the founding of the modern state of Israel. But the context of Jeremiah 29 makes it clear that the predicted “restoration” after the completion of the seventy years of Babylonian exile (29:10), refers to the return from exile under Zerubbabel in 536 B.C.

2. Isaiah 11:11, it is said, speaks of a “second time” that God would restore the remnant to the land, the first being the return from Babylon in 536 B.C., the second being the establishment of modern Israel in 1948. But the context of Isaiah 11 makes it clear that Israel’s first deliverance was from Egypt under Moses (11:16) with its second restoration being from the nations into which the Jews of the Assyrian/Babylonian captivity had dispersed.

3. Zechariah 8:7, it is said, predicted that God “will save [his] people from the east country and the west country, and…bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem.” It is, however, a reach to see this prediction as referring to the modern state of Israel. In fact, the passage speaks of the faithfulness and righteousness of the inhabitants of Jerusalem in that day (8:8), something that is definitely not true of present Jerusalem. Much more likely is it that Zechariah was predicting the return of exiles during the days of Ezra, Nehemiah, and after (see Ezra 7:1-10; Nehemiah 11:1-2) that, again, pointed typically forward to the antitypical new Paradise of God.

4. Ezekiel 36:24-26, it is said, predicted that Israel would be restored to the land “in unbelief” which agrees with the situation in Israel today. But the passage does not speak of a restoration “in unbelief.” God does not reward disobedience. Verse 33 states: “On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited,” clearly implying that those who are “restored” have first been spiritually cleansed, thereby meeting the requirement of Leviticus 26:40-42: “…if they confess their iniquity…; if their uncircumcised heart is humbled…, then I will remember my covenant…and I will remember the land.”

5. Amos 9:14-15, it is said, declares that this condition of permanent national establishment that would someday prevail simply was not true of any Old Testament restoration. But given the fact that James in Acts 15:16-17 applied the prophecy immediately preceding these two verses to the church of this age, the restoration envisioned here most likely describes in pastoral terms the rejuvenated cosmos.


1 I say “so-called” because the phrase “holy land” occurs only twice in Scripture (Psalm 78:54; Zechariah 2:12) and in both instances the word “land” must be supplied. Apart from the holy God’s manifested presence in it, there is nothing holy about the “Holy Land.” But wherever God manifests his presence that place is holy, as God taught Moses at the burning bush in Sinai (Exodus 3:1-6).

2 According to Julia Duin, “San Antonio Fundamentalist Battles Anti-Semitism,” in The Houston Chronicle (April 30, 1988), 1, Hagee does not believe that Jews must trust Christ in order to go to Heaven: “The Jewish people have a relationship to God through the law as given through Moses. I believe that every Gentile person can only come to God through the cross of Christ. I believe that every Jewish person who lives in the light of the Torah…has a relationship with God and will come to redemption.” This radically Dispensational statement is heretical in its denial that faith in Christ is universally essential for salvation.

3 Pat Robertson stated on public television on January 5, 2006, that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel suffered his massive stroke at the hand of God because he was in the process of giving a portion of Israel’s land to the Palestinians in exchange for peace. He later apologized for his statement.

4 See Vital Speeches 61, no. 3 (November 15, 1994): 70, 3.

5 John Hagee, “Most evangelicals are seeing the error of ‘replacement theology,’” online edition of the Jerusalem Post, March 20, 2006.

6 I happily acknowledge my great debt to O. Palmer Robertson, The Israel of God: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Presbyterian and Reformed, 2000), 3-31, for many of the thoughts in this section of the paper.

7 Robertson, The Israel of God, 4.

8 John Murray, Christian Baptism (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1962), 46.

9 For the redemptive implications of this bad “land theology” see Knox Theological Seminary’s “An Open Letter to Evangelicals and Other Interested Parties: The People of God, the Land of Israel, and the Impartiality of the Gospel” posted on the Seminary’s website www.knoxseminary.edu under “Wittenberg Door.”

10 This particular divine promise has already been literally and explicitly fulfilled by the conquest of the land under Joshua and Solomon’s reign (Joshua 21:43-45; 23:14; 1 Kings 4:24). It does not require some future fulfillment in a Jewish millennium.

11 Abraham owned only the plot of ground, the field of Machpelah, that he purchased from the Hittites living in the land for a burial ground for Sarah his wife (Genesis 23).

12 Paul tells us in Galatians 3:8 that when God made this promise to Abraham he was in effect “preaching the Gospel beforehand to Abraham,” that is, he was declaring that he would justify the Gentiles by faith.

13 The thoughts expressed in the last four paragraphs I have adapted from O. Palmer Robertson, Understanding the Land of the Bible (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1966), 7-13.

14 This parable also carries implications concerning Muhammad’s claim to be the last and greatest of God’s prophets, even greater than Jesus. It shows him to be a false prophet.

15 Geerhardus Vos, The Self-Disclosure of Jesus (Presbyterian and Reformed [1926] 1978), 162.

16 BAGD, “eis telos", 812g, properly views this prepositional phrase as an adverbial expression and suggests it should be translated “forever, through all eternity” or “utterly.”

17 Robertson, The Israel of God, 174, fn. 3, rightly contends that the word “remnant” etymologically does not necessarily intend a small, insignificant number but simply that which is “left.” But when Isaiah declares: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sands of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved,” the implication is that God will harden the mass of ethnic Israel.

18 This phrase may also be translated “continually,” but “continually” conveys the same sense as “forever” in this context.

19 For my exposition of Romans 11 see my A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (second edition, Thomas Nelson, 2002), 1025-1030. There I show exegetically that just as God throughout this age is bringing the divinely determined full number (Romans 11:25) of elect Gentiles to faith in Christ, so throughout this age he is also bringing the divinely determined full number (Romans 11:12) of elect Jews (“the remnant”) to faith in Christ so that both “full numbers” are reached in this age. While Israel as a nation has no salvific covenant with God in this age, standing as it is under God’s wrath, the remnant of elect Jews, as they are saved, are grafted by faith in Christ into the “cultivated olive tree” (Romans 11:17-24), that is, the church.

20 I have adapted these with additions and alterations from Robertson, The Israel of God, 194.

21 Modern Israel must face the fact that to be the physical descendants of Abraham and to have Abrahamic blood flowing in their veins means nothing as far as acquiring God’s approbation is concerned. As John the Baptist warned: “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our Father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew 3:9). To the Jews who said, “Abraham is our Father,” but who were seeking to kill him, Jesus, said,: “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did [that is, you would rejoice to see my day].... You are of your father the devil” (John 8:39-44, 56). Ethnic Jews must recall that Abraham had two sons, which means that “not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring”; rather, “it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise who are counted as offspring” (Romans 9:7-8).

22 In no uncertain terms Paul declared that “no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, and not by the letter” (Romans 2:28-29). Moreover, he taught that “the present Jerusalem,” the enslaved and doomed city, is the “son of Hagar” bearing children for slavery, whereas Christians have “the Jerusalem above” for their mother (Galatians 4:25).

23 Theirs is indeed a response, a negative one, to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant. To suggest that the faith of Christ-rejecting Jews is in any sense a proper response to the Old Testament revelation is surely an inaccurate appraisal of the situation. In light of the fact that the only hope of salvation for Jews resides in the provisions of the Christian Gospel, it is simply gross wrongheadedness to encourage or to support them in their “Jewishness” or in their Zionist causes.