The Church and Israel – Part 6 (Five Theses)

In light of these five previous posts, I have five theses on the Church and Israel. (1) The church does not replace Israel, but is the representative of Israel in messianic age. Ethnic or empirical Israel is not so much replaced as expanded in scope to become a renewed messianic Israel. God is not finished with national Israel and salvation will yet avail for them. However, the locus of God’s covenanting and electing activity is clearly the church made up of believing Jews and Gentiles. (2) The church must be Israel because outside of Israel there is no salvation. Augustine, in response to the Donatist controversy, wrote extra ecclesia nulla salus, “outside of the church there is not salvation”. The point is quite correct, God saves in, by, and for a community, and this community is called the church. However, this community is in unity with the Israel who received the covenants, law, and prophetic promises. Outside of those covenants, laws, and promises it is impossible to attain salvation. Savlation came to Israel so that salvation would move through Israel to the world. Israel was called to be a “light to the Gentiles” (Isa 42:6; 49:6) and church is called to fulfil that very role. According to Paul, the Gentiles are saved only by being grafted into Israel like a wild branch grafted into an olive tree (Rom 11:13-31), or like foreigners gaining citizenship in a commonwealth to which they did not naturally belong (Eph 2:11-22). Thus, we might say extra Israel nulla salus “outside of Israel there is no salvation.” The church carries forth the mission to be Israel-for-the-sake-of-the-world by bringing the Gentiles into the family of the Messiah. As such: “The Israel to whom the gospel comes and through whom the mission to the world is accomplished is the same Israel to whom the promise had been given.”[1] (3) The story of the church is the continuation of the story of Israel. There is no abrupt break between the history of Israel and the beginnings of the church in the Book of Acts. The hope for the “consolation of Israel” (Luke 2:25), to “redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21), “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6), the “times of refreshing” for Israel (Acts 3:19), and the reason why Paul was imprisoned for preaching about “the hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20), is because Jesus fulfils this hopes and they have a present fulfillment in the community created by the gospel. According to Acts, the church is not a new Israel, created ex nihilo, but a renewed Israel, living out the promises of the new covenant, comprising of a multi-ethnic people just as God promised Abraham. If that is the case, then, the analogy between the church and Israel becomes a way of coordinating two stories, not two separate entities. The epic story of creation, the patriarchs, and Israel, is completely integrated with the newer story of Jesus and his followers.[2] (4) The unity of the people of God is secured by the unity of God’s plan. The covenantal unity of salvation, both its macro-unity in the covenant of grace and its empirical unity in redemptive-history, shows that God has one purpose, one plan, one Messiah, and one people. Thus, the church is not a “parentheses” or “digression” in God’s plan as per Dispensationalism, but the formation of the church, the renewed Israel, is one of the penultimate steps before the inauguration of a new creation. (5) There remains an outstanding hope for Israel to one day respond to the gospel. That is Paul’s hope in Romans 10 and 11. Luke grieves at Israel’s disbelief in the gospel, but holds out hope for the remnant of believing Jews to grow at the end of Acts 28. The church inherits all the promises given to Israel, but not in such a way that means ethnic Israel is written off by God. What we have here is not two parallel covenants, two ways of salvation, but a tale of two Israels. There is an elect line that runs through the scriptures including Adam, Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, post-exodus Hebrews, post-exilic Judeans, and Jesus. John the Baptist warned his audience that ethnic descent from Abraham was no gurantee of salvation (Matt 3:9/Luke 3:8). Paul taught that “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Rom 9:6) implying a national election of the people and a special election of individuals within the nation. As Calvin wrote: “Yet, despite the great obstinacy with which they continue to wage war against the gospel, we must not despise them, while we consider that, for the sake of the promise, God’s blessing still rests among them.”[3]


[1] Minear, Images of the Church, 72.

[2] Minear, Images of the Church, 77.

[3] Calvin, Institutes IV.16.15.

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  • James K.

    Mike, thanks for this great series. It’s been a great summary on this exceedingly important topic. One question, as a point of clarification. In your point 5, would it be helpful to read “There remains an outstanding hope for ethnic Israel to one day respond to the gospel,” adding the word ethnic. It may needlessly complicate things, or encourage an unhelpful distinction, but I was reflecting as I got to that point that you’ve just argued the church as the renewed Israel, and thus Israel is already in a sense responding to the gospel. But your point (and Paul’s point in Rom 10 and 11) still stands. So maybe that would be helpful, maybe not. Just a suggestion.

  • James K.

    Mike, thanks for this great series. It’s been a great summary on this exceedingly important topic. One question, as a point of clarification. In your point 5, would it be helpful to read “There remains an outstanding hope for ethnic Israel to one day respond to the gospel,” adding the word ethnic, or some other descriptor? It may needlessly complicate things, or encourage an unhelpful distinction, but I was reflecting as I got to that point that you’ve just argued the church as renewed Israel, and thus Israel is already in a sense responding to the gospel. But your point (and Paul’s point in Rom 10 and 11) still stands. So maybe that would be helpful, maybe not. Just a suggestion, especially if this piece is on the road toward publication (in your Systematic Theology, perhaps).

  • Dannii Willis

    What Biblical support is there for the Covenant of Grace, as opposed to God’s modus operandi being grace?

  • Dannii Willis

    What Biblical support is there for the Covenant of Grace, as opposed to God’s modus operandi being grace?

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  • David D. Flowers

    Michael, could you elaborate on “national Israel” as you mentioned in 1 of your 5 theses? Is this a universal salvation for ethnic Jews and a restoration of a nation-state (military, temple, etc.)? Please clarify. Thanks.

  • David D. Flowers

    Michael, could you elaborate on “national Israel” as you mentioned in 1 of your 5 theses? Is this a universal salvation for ethnic Jews and a restoration of a nation-state (military, temple, etc.)? Please clarify. Thanks.


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