Egypt, the USA and Israel

It’s as good a time as any to ponder the implications of the Bible for the political tensions in the Middle East, and to ponder what the Bible says about the future of Israel and the Land, and to do so right now because the situation in Egypt is volatile enough to make many of us wonder what will become of Israel if changes are too drastic.

To examine this question, I turn to the four theses of John Goldingay in his new book: Key Questions about Christian Faith: Old Testament Answers. Here are his four theses:

Which of these do you agree with? which not? What role does your view of the Bible play in your positions when it comes to politics in the Middle East?

1. The Jewish people is still God’s people but is destined to come to recognize Jesus. Here he argues that the church does not replace Israel; there is a place for the Jewish people; but they will find that place in Jesus Christ. Not a two-covenant approach. Here are his words:

In heaven I expect to meet Jews who have not recognized Jesus: not only Jews from First Testament times but also Jews who have lived since Jesus’ day, people who have perhaps been prevented from recognizing him by the church’s failure to reflect him. They will be there by God’s electing grace, as I will be, and they will be there because Jesus lived, died, and rose for them, as he did for me (even if it is only then that they recognize that this was so), and they will be there because they have put their trust in God and God’s grace, as I will be be (not because they have done their best; no one will be there on that basis). [p. 194]

2. The Jewish people still has a claim to a homeland in Palestine (I prefer to call it “the Land”.)

3. Commitment to the Jewish people does not imply commitment to the State of Israel.

4. Israel’s destiny is secure, but its present is dependent on its decisions — it’s moral fidelity to the Torah and Covenant.


About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Paul

    I would love to hear more about #2…especially in light of #3.

    What did Goldingay mean that they have a claim to the land, especially when it is occupied by others?

  • Lee

    Most people who make pronouncements on these issues seem to either be working from a dispensational view of God working with two separate peoples, or from the more traditional view that all promises to the Jewish people (including the promise of land) have been fulfilled in Jesus and Gentile believers have been grafted in to them to form one people. I don’t know all the views out there, but Goldingay’s perspective doesn’t seem to fit into either of these two camps. It seems to be a third way.

    Are these four theses held by others than Goldingay? If so, I would like to know more about this kind of thinking.

    I would also like to know if anyone out there finds flaws in his conclusions.

  • http://gcjeffers.wordpress.com Greg Jeffers

    I’m also curious about number 2. A claim to land already occupied? And how much of the Land are we talking about? Are we talking about the height of the Kingdom under Solomon, or what present day Israel lays claim to? Is Goldingay prepared to say that the same sort of Holy War with which Israel justified the conquering of the Land in the first place is appropriate now? I hope not.

  • http://www.worshiptheologically.com(ComingSoon) Anthony Parrott

    I’m confused by exactly what distinguishes this from a two-covenant approach. John the Baptism seemed to have no affinity to “sons of Abraham” (Matthew 3:7). It would seem in this pre-resurrection story that repentance was still necessary in order for election to matter.

    Secondly, if “the land” is still something that matters, then it would seem that 1st century Jews weren’t completely wrong when they expected a Messiah that would liberate them merely physically. And seems to negate the message of the New Testament.

  • Paul

    Greg,

    I imagine this land claim does not mean that Israel today is justified. He states we don’t have to support the modern nation state (#3) & that their present situation is tied to their decisions, which are required to follow the Torah (#4). This makes me think he does not approve/rubber stamp all that Israel is doing in the land today.

    Which makes me wonder, how does he understand the claim to the land in the modern context, etc.

  • Susan N.

    Interesting. To my thinking, if it is true that all Jews will ultimately be saved, then it must also be true that ALL of humanity will be saved (universalism)…in God’s perfect timing.

    I tend to reject the idea that land and national restoration is God’s plan for the state of Israel. That kind of thinking is what gets us into trouble with our self-identification as a “Christian nation”.

    True restoration, “Ubuntu” as you (Scot) and Brian McLaren and Desmond Tutu have used the term in recent published works, is a wholeness and peace achieved when ALL people are made whole and can live together without killing each other… What about the Arabs and their peace? The Palestinian people have suffered wrongs at the hands of the Israeli gov’t.

    If the U.S. gov’t. is going to hold itself out as a fair mediator, justice and mercy needs to be shown to both sides, not just Israel, yes?

  • http://prodigalthought.net ScottL

    I would say Jesus is the great fulfilment of Israel. Therefore all those in Christ (Jew and Gentile) are the Israel of God because they are in THE Israel of God, Jesus.

    Hope that made sense.

  • Lee

    I am still trying to figure out the implications of putting theses number 2, 3 and 4 together.

    It is rather clear that the kind of repentant return to God that multiple Old Testament passages say is a necessary condition for God to restore the people to the land has not occurred. Most of the Jews currently in the land are not seeking to follow God at all.

    It is also rather clear that the Jewish nation currently occupying that land has continued for decades to disobey the multiple Old Testament commandments to treat the foreigner favorably, as they would treat their own.

    Goldingay is obviously aware of these things, as we all are.

    So, if theses 2, 3 and 4 are to be held together, I feel inclined to say that Goldingay must conclude that:

    - Although the Jewish people has a claim to the land (number 1), the current State of Israel has no Biblical claim to the land (number 2).
    - Because Israel’s destiny is secure but dependent on its decisions (number 3), a Jewish state would have a legitimate claim to rule the land only if they met Old Testament requirements for them to do so, namely a true, corporate return to God and a nation seeking to follow God’s law from day to day?

    Wouldn’t these be logical conclusions of what Goldingay says?

  • Jeremy

    ScottL, Goldingay disagrees…sorta. It’s in one of his OT books (Faith or Gospel, can’t remember which). He basically asserts that Christians are grafted in, but that there is no scriptural backing to support an end of the first covenant for Israel as a people. YHWH is still in covenant with the Jewish people, and Jesus provides a second covenant that can be entered into voluntarily. The standard views are too tidy to work as they imply that God has abandoned his original covenant, and Jesus only “fulfills the law” rather than abrogates Israel’s original covenant relationship with God.

    At least, that’s how I remember it anyway. I’m trying to find the actual text.

  • http://prodigalthought.net ScottL

    Jeremy -

    I don’t see two covenants. I don’t see two olive trees. I don’t see two brides. Thus, I don’t see two peoples.

    Jesus is the fulfilment of Israel. He did everything Israel was not able to. And so, those in Christ are God’s Israel.

    No different/separate covenant. No replacement. Here we find fulfilment. Messiah fulfils. Those joined to Messiah are God’s people.

  • Richard

    I think I would line up with ScottL on this. I’d also assert that there’s a shift from emphasis on “the Land” to “the Cosmos” from Old Covenant to New.

  • dopderbeck

    Fascinating. Now I have to read this book. Recently I read Carl Braaten’s edited volume, “Jews and Christians: People of God” and appreciated it very much. Robert Jenson’s approach seems compelling to me in many ways, though it seems Jenson does opt for two different plans of redemption for Jews and Christians. Goldingay seems to appropriately leave room for the mystery of how it can be that many Jews will ultimately find Christ outside the Church, but it seems more needs to be said here.

    I’m not comfortable with the point about claims to the land, however. It seems that Jesus expansion of the Kingdom subsumes the notion of kingdom tied to land.

  • AndyH

    Another issue worth considering is: what is the relationship (if any) between the people of Israel and the modern State of Israel? Is there any Biblical mandate for a secular state that runs its affairs, effectively without any reference to God? And if not, can that state make any claim on God’s covenant promises to His people?

  • EricW

    Another issue worth considering is: what is the relationship (if any) between the people of Israel and the modern State of Israel?

    Many of the ultra-Orthodox and/or Chasidic Jews in Israel reject the validity of their own government since it wasn’t established by the Messiah, but by a political and secular animal called Zionism. Read THE ISRAELIS by Donna Rosenthal.

  • http://www.chadelliott.wordpress.com Chad

    I’m going to weigh in on this, but in the interest of full disclosure will admit to some bias on the subject of this post since I am a Jewish believer in Jesus.

    #1 – I would concur with the thesis as stated, since it is clearly taking a stance against both supersessionism (replacement theology) and two-covenant theologies – both serious errors. However, I am disturbed by the actual quote from Goldingay, as it implies that salvation is possible for Jews who have lived and died since Jesus’ time without implicitly putting their faith in Him. Salvation is possible for anyone – Jew or Gentile – only through Jesus, which Christ himself made clear in John 14:6.

    #2 – I would agree that the Jewish people have a claim to a homeland in Ha Eretz, the Land, one which goes back far further in history than the name “Palestine” does. As to whether subsequent claims to the right to a home in Israel have any legitimacy is something that remains to be seen – one would hope without bloodshed, but recent history doesn’t give much hope for that. Personally, my belief is that the only thing that will bring peace to the Land – for Jews, Arabs, or anyone else – is Jesus Christ.

    #3 – Again, I agree with this thesis. I love and am committed to my own Jewish people. That does not mean that I 100% endorse all the actions of an Israeli government, anymore than I 100% endorse all the actions of my own government here in the United States. I wonder if one reason that this thesis might even need to be stated in such a way is because of a lack of perception of distinction between being Jewish and practicing Judaism? What I mean by this is that commitment to the Jewish people does not necessarily imply commitment to the religion that is Judaism.

    #4 – I find this troublesome as stated, and perhaps this because we’re dealing here with summaries of all four theses rather than reading them in full. When Goldingay says Israel’s destiny is secure, the thesis seems imply that this references their future, while their present status is not so secure. When he says Israel’s present depends on their “moral fidelity to the Torah and Covenant,” is he referring to the Mosaic covenant. As a Jew myself who follows Jesus, I believe Christ to have been the fulfillment of Torah and Covenant(s). Something about where Goldingay seems to be going with this is at odds with the first thesis – you can’t say that there are not two covenants and then say that Israel’s present is dependent on the Mosaic covenant.

  • http://augustiniandemocrat.blogspot.com/ John W Brandkamp

    Chad, you say much that was in my own heart about this matter. Though I’m not a Jewish Christian, I’m a Gentile one, I was nonetheless baptized through a Messianic Jewish congregation in NYC many years ago. So thank you Chad for saying so well, esp. #4, what was stirring in me.

    Now to an aspect of this issue that hasn’t really been dealt with yet. The modern state of Israel is a thoroughly secular government, and while Zionism may trace its historic roots to the biblical period, the early modern Zionists themselves were largely secular. Also we must take seriously the geopolitical context in which modern Israel came into existence. Post Shoah, the Jews of Europe and elsewhere needed a homeland or at least a place they could safely call home. While the US has been a comparatively safe place for Jews to live and flourish, clearly Europe was obviously not. And besides, the Jewish people have been a dispersed people for two millenia, and the only known “homeland” they or anyone else knew was in Israel. So the establishment of modern Israel is as much a human rights issue as it is a religious issue.

    They were a people that had nearly been exterminated during WWII and they had an historic affiliation with a land (Israel) known to all. But of course the tricky part in repatriating a people to an ancestral homeland so long separated from them is that other people, who we now know as Palestinians, have lived their, sometimes for centuries. Their human rights must be taken into account in this process.

    So for me, in looking at the situation, I see it in legal, secular terms of human rights and national sovereignty rights as well in tension with each other. The Jewish people, as an ethnos, with a heritage connected to Israel do have an historic claim to the land. But so do the Palestinian people who have lived there for centuries, both Muslim and Christian. In my mind, for this to have any sustainable future we should see through a legal and human rights framework and NOT through a primarily religious lens. But I’m afraid the die is caste, and we’re not likely to get that outcome any time soon, sad to say.

  • Rana

    One of the questions I often think about in terms of these issues is what is the definition of Jewish? And are the people in Israel today the Israelites of 2,000 plus years ago? I don’t understand how someone whose family went into exile over 2,000 years ago, ended up living in Europe, USA, etc. doesn’t even practice Judaism but were told on a free “Birthright” about their “connection” to the land can justify a religious claim to the land thus making Palestinians like my own family with 20 generations of family history recorded in the monastic archives now homeless and stateless? Does that make sense? That is why I ask to define Jewish, is it an ethnicity? A religion? A tribal group? Is it Political Zionism in Priestly clothes? For all I know, my family was Jewish and we converted over 20 generations, hence the limited history in the archives.

    I have spent a lot of time in Israel and Palestine, I am a Palestinian-American believer in Jesus. I have even been on settlements, ALL of which are illegal according to International Law and UN Resolutions the VERY United Nations that brought Israel into existence. *sigh*

    Contrary to popular belief there were/ are many Palestinian Christians, Ramallah the PA headquarters in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was an entirely Christian city until 1948. In 1948 when Israel was created and Palestinians from nearly 500 villages were ethnically cleansed (forced migration is a type of ethnic cleansing) by Israeli terrorist organizations, Stern Gang, Hagganah and Irgun (many of Israel’s current gov’t leaders are the children of members in Irgun, Hagganah and Stern Gang, Tzipi Livni is one) Ramallah became a mixed city. My own father, uncles, aunts, grandparents were forced from their home, businesses, properties, orchards because they were NOT Jewish. And even until today these forced home evacuations and demolitions still go on, just like in 1948 and with thriving Christian support from the West.

    Israel calls itself a Jewish Democracy, which in my opinion is an oxymoron, ideologically democratic societies do NOT prefer one group of people over another. Ironically last night I watched a youtube video about Egypt where Alan Dershowitz (an American Jewish activist/ lawyer) was on CNN telling Egyptian Mona El Tahawwy that “Hamas Democracy is not a real democracy”. So Jewish Democracy with ethnic cleansing, swiss cheesed West Bank, Annexation/ APartheid Wall, War and Siege on Gaza 2008-2009, commandoes attacking and killing activists on AID ships in gaza 5/31/2010 and confiscating all media, computers, cameras, cell phones, PDAs, etc is an acceptable religious Democracy but a Hamas Democracy is not acceptable? Anyone see the hypocrisy and the problem here?

    The Middle East is acutely aware of this hypocrisy, people enjoy casual to deep conversations about politics, government, religion, etc. and Arabs are more than aware that American tax dollars fund Israeli terrorism against Palestinians, but people in the Middle East are always gracious and will say we like Americans, we just don’t like Bush or your gov’t.

    All the Arab world wants is to live freely (freedom of speech, free elections, freedom of movement) in peace and dignity, they want security and an end to American and Israeli Wars think of all the wars in the last decade: Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza.

  • EricW

    If one looks at the partition plan, making the Jewish State conform to where the Jewish population settlements were, plus the Negev, one can see that the future of such a country would be short-lived:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Partition_Plan_for_Palestine

    Three separate sections joined by threads and separated by large areas and populations of people with whom they have nothing in common, instead of a large contiguous and contained area. Crazy!

  • Rana

    what is really crazy is that supporters of political zionism had no problem with propaganda that called Palestine “a land without a people for a people without a land”. As someone whose people were and continue to reside there that is a blatant lie. when political zionists base a country’s existence on lies, sow violence and corruption, don’t be surprised that the neighborhood doesn’t embrace Israel.

    the bottom line is Israel is annexing Palestinian land, against International Law, against the laws of God, against all decency and humanity. the following image is a map showing Israel’s expansionism in the name of victimhood for over 60 years. what about the Palestinian victims, like my family???? we suffer EVERYDAY all the while we are demonized and Israel plays the part of the victim and hero. learn the history, have some humanity and please don’t be afraid to criticize Israel . It is not anti-semitic to criticize Israel, i am a semitic person telling you this. what is anti-semitic is Europeans, Americans, etc displacing and thus ethnically cleansing the semitic people of Palestine, whether Jewish, Muslim or Christian like me in the name of an ideology that is not universal, an ideology that prefers one over the other …

  • Rana
  • AHH

    When Goldingay says “Israel” in #4, does he mean the modern nation-state, or the Jewish people?
    That’s a pretty significant and necessary distinction and I hope he is not linking them too closely (#3 would suggest he isn’t).

  • AndyH

    Well said, Rana! Your posts may be a little emotional – which is understandable. But they contain essential truth which we as evangelical Christians (and dare I say it, especially American evangelical Christians) badly need to hear.

  • EricW

    @Rana 17: …One of the questions I often think about in terms of these issues is what is the definition of Jewish?

    As the saying goes, ask this question of two Jews and you’ll get three opinions.

    :)

    (I’m also a Jewish believer, FWIW.)

  • http://www.chadelliott.wordpress.com Chad

    @Rana: Obviously, you and I differ in our understanding and perspective of the more modern history in the Land. As I hope I indicated in my original comment, however, my belief is that Jesus is the ONLY hope for peace in the Middle East … or anywhere else in the world.

    I care deeply about the humanitarian cost of what we are talking about. I’m far more interested in matters of justice – such as who will provide for the injured, the homeless, the poor, and the orphaned, whether Palestinian or Israeli. My understanding of our God is that He cares deeply about matters of mercy and justice, and far less about the politics of men.

    Rana, in case it needs to be stated in so direct a fashion: as a Palestinian Christian, I embrace you as my brother in Jesus. I look forward to sitting down next to you at the Supper of the Lamb, and to spending all eternity with you.

  • Rana

    Chad, what is there to differ on? I have only spoken the truth, the truth from an evangelical (small e) Palestinian experience. Is there a variety of ways to understand/ explain away the fact that MY family was forced by Jewish terrorist organizations from their home/ properties in in what is now Israel because we are Christians? I want to drive home the irony of this given the history of Jewish persecution and suffering. Christian and Muslim Palestinians continue even today to be driven out of their homes because of zionist ideology.

    I pray people here will REALLY study the history and seek understanding, not merely the headlines, sound bytes and agendas. It is vital, we still have ethnic cleansing taking place, and Huckabee a favored 2012 candidate of Evangelicals (big e) supports the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians/ their forced migration to Saudi Arabia, the same SA of waHHabi Islam, the same SA that criminal Arab dictators go home to roost. How would you like it if suddenly and after 2,000 yrs Muslims claimed that their holy book gave them claim to your homes, land, states, country?

    Please, we are talking real people, real families, real lives ruined for an ideology, zionism. Please don’t support an ideology that prefers one over another we are all one and the same in Christ.

  • Ana

    #1 is completely wrong in that NO Jewish person who hasn’t placed complete personal trust in Jesus as their savior can go to heaven. Read the book of Romans – or the whole Bible for that matter. ;)
    #2 I agree with.
    #3 I disagree with this statement in that, I believe I can be committed to the Jewish people and to the existence of a modern state of Israel. The State of Israel was and is a necessity to the Jewish people. This does not mean the government (like any other government) does not make mistakes. To be a zionist only means that you believe that the Jewish people deserve a homeland of their own within the boundaries of the Land promised to them. By the way, the definition of a Jew is, biblically, someone who is a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The term “Israel of God” that is used ONE TIME in the NT (Galatians 6:15) is speaking of Jewish believers in Jesus- not of the whole church in general. You can see this by comparing it with the people mentioned just prior “peace be on all those who follow this standard- and upon the Israel of God.”
    Saying that the church is the “Israel of God” IS replacement theology. (Believing that Jesus is the fulfillment of all of Israel’s promises is ridiculous too.)
    #4 is wrong because Biblical prophecy says that the Jewish people would FIRST dwell in the land and THEN be indwelt with the Holy Spirit. God’s hand has obviously been on them to preserve a remnant from them, before, during and after this church age. This faithful believing remnant is a testimony to God’s faithfulness to His people (Romans 9-11). He cannot reject them based on this fact and based upon His own promises- that He cannot reject His people and His promises for His own Name’s sake. (Ezekial 36:22-23, Jeremiah 16:4) God’s mosaic covenant with the Jewish people was temporary until Jesus’ 1st coming and the establishment (and yet not the complete fulfillment of) the New Covenant promised in Jeremiah 31: 31-34. But the Abrahamic covenant that promised LAND, SEED (Jesus) and blessing was a covenant made by God alone and based upon HIS own ability to fulfill it (thus only He walked through the carcasses of the animals by Himself- Abraham was fast asleep.). The Land promise and aspects of the blessing have yet to be fulfilled. The New Covenant is similar in that it was inaugurated with Jesus and partially fulfilled now, yet it still needs and necessitates future fulfillment to the complete House of Israel and Judah (the Jewish people).
    Since many of you got personal with family history and all, I guess I will indulge. :D
    My husband is the descendant of 6 generations of rabbis from Alexandria, Egypt. In 1952 (with persecutions starting before that with the rise of Arab Nationalism which predates and accompanies the formation of the modern state of Israel), his family was kicked out of Egypt by Nasser. They had to leave their house, their synagogue, their farm, everything they owned. This happened to over 6 million other Jewish people in other Arab nations as well. So where were they supposed to go? To Europe? A Holocaust of 6 million Jewish lives just happened there. To the US? HA! They would never have accepted a bunch of poor Jewish Arabic speaking people into their homeland. They were also the ones who turned away the St. Louis remember?
    Pakistan and India are good examples of two countries that live side by side- neither country has had its existence belittled and denied by its neighbors. Pakistan is mostly Muslim (and those Muslims were forced out of India) and India is mostly Hindu and non-Muslim (the Hindus were forced out of Pakistan upon its formation too). Every country has its problems. If you look at Israel, you can see major challenges but not really anymore than other nations in the Middle East.
    Just because we are one in the Messiah doesn’t mean that the distinction between Jews and Gentiles are gone. Did you stop being a male or female once you believed? No- not yet, not until we get our glorified bodies. Its the same with a Jewish person or Gentile person. If they believe in Jesus, this doesn’t obliterate distinctions or culture, or the right for that person to exist in their own entity within the safety of their own homeland. It is actually quite cruel and inhuman to do and believe such a thing. This applies to modern Palestinians and to the Jewish people too.
    God bless!


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