The Church and Israel – Part 2

A first factor we have to consider is how the name “Israel” functioned in Judaism and early Christianity. The name “Israel” denoted ancestry from “Jacob” (Gen 32:28), it came to signify the northern kingdom of the Hebrew people (e.g., 1 Kgs 12:20-21), and the name can refer to the people apart from the priesthood (e.g., Deut 27:9). For the most part, “Israel” simply means a people, coram Deo, a people who are addressed by God.[1] Furthermore, “Israel” was not just a term for an ethnic or national entity, it was also an honorific title, indicating a people in special relationship to God. Israel are the recipients of God’s blessings, promises, and redemption (see 2 Sam 7:23; 1 Chron 17:21; Ps 25:22; Rom 9:4-5). Philo refers to “Israel who sees God” as a philosophical category. With the exception of Legatio, Philo is careful to distinguish the Jewish people from Israel, so that “Israel” becomes a philosophical elite, those who discern the divine being.[2]The Qumran sectarians appear to have regarded themselves as standing in continuity with the Babylonian remnant. As the Qumranites were the “congregation of Israel” of the last days, they saw themselves either as Israel, or as its purest and holiest part.[3] Coming to Paul, the designations “Israel” and “Israelite” were evidently positive for Paul as they denoted continuity with God purposes announced to the Patriarchs and fulfilled in the economy of God’s action in Jesus Christ (Rom 11:1; Phil 3:5). Paul considers Israelite history the ancestry of Jewish and Gentile Christians (1 Cor 10:1). Paradoxically Paul knows that not everyone descended from ethnic Israel are part of the Israel given the promises (Rom 9:6), and yet he still looks forward to the salvation of national Israel in the eschatological future (Rom 11:26).

[1] Graham Harvey, The True Israel: The Use of the Names Jew, Hebrew, and Israel in Ancient Jewish and Early Christian Literature (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 267-73.

[2] Bird, Crossing Over Sea and Land, 107-8.

[3] Sigurd Grindheim, The Crux of Election (Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2005), 67-69.

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