A Land without a People for a People without a Land? – Zionism, Jesus, & Israel/Palestine

I’m writing this article from Israel/Palestine. I’ve partnered with The Global Immersion Project to learn from peacemakers in the region in order to apply their vision of peace both at home and abroad. As you can imagine, visiting this place is life-changing. Even prior to this trip, my heart broke for the people of this land. Before I get into my broken heart, let me rewind about 10 years or so.

In some ways the old me and the new me are the same. Still in love with Jesus. Still committed to historical, orthodox Christianity. Still loving people with a  deep desire to see everyone that I come into contact with flourish with God.

My framework for understand the answer to “why” all of that stuff matters shifted drastically. Part of my story involves how a highly “conservative” Bible teacher actually influenced me to embrace elements of theology that might actually be labeled “progressive” by some.

For a couple of years, every time that I would drive in the afternoon around 3pm, my radio would be tuned into “The Bible Answer Man with Hank Hanegraaff.” This show’s host takes callers questions about the Scriptures and attempt to solve their mysteries. Common themes such include: charismatic gifts, free will/predestination, creation/evolution, religions/cults, and many more. All of these issues peaked my interest, but one theme that caused me to return to the show was that of the “end times.” Mr. Hanegraaff had embraced a perspective called “partial preterism” which called into question everything that I understood about the book of Revelation and related passages.

Although I disagree with Hank in some nuanced ways now (i.e. dating Revelation [he holds to an early date in the 60s whereas I now hold to a late-date in the 90s], influence of empire, etc.), one of the most important things that he offered was a critique of Dispensationalism and its cousin Zionism. In such a system of theology, God is said to have two distinct peoples – modern Israel and Christians. What Hank pointed out is how often this sort of theology fuels a uniquely American (and Israeli) political agenda that nearly unconditionally supports the modern State of Israel – even to the harm of Palestinian Christians. By believing that God has two “peoples” in the impending “end times” future, evangelical Christianity often blindly supports oppression.

Two Peoples or One?

By answering the question of peoplehood, we can then take the next step and ask: Who has the rightful ownership of the Land from biblical perspective?

Although we won’t take the time to make a thorough argument about whether or not God’s people are divided into two groups or not, I want to highlight a few passages that give some of the basics. Paul states: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3.29). The same kind of logic is put forward in Ephesians chapter 2 as well, where the division between the Jews and Gentiles has been done away with by the peace of the cross.  Out of the two groups God through Christ is forming a “new humanity.”

These two texts make clear that it is not nationality that determines Abraham’s family any longer, but all who “belong to Christ” are “Abraham’s seed.” The church is in direct continuity with all of the faithful Israelites throughout history, and all the promises in the Hebrew Scriptures, are now the Church’s (for Christians).  Except, since Jesus’ resurrection the land is expanded to the whole earth!  Therefore, to blindly support Israel because they are “God’s people” who have ownership to “God’s land” actually can harm the cause of Christ and is based on a theological system (contrived in the 1800’s) that has been consistently demonstrated to have little support in Christian theology. We should be pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian and ultimately pro-human flourishing.

A Land without a People for a People without a Land?

After the Holocaust, which is arguably the worst example of human evil in history, Jewish survivors were refugees. With energy for a Zionist (Christian and non-Christian alike) cause having emerged alongside secularist ideologies and Dispensationalism, the U.N. invited the Jewish survivors to inhabit the ancient land of Palestine. Arguably, this was in part due to the lack of hospitality from other nations who didn’t want a “refugee problem.” By 1948 (shortly after the end of WWII) the U.N. formally recognized the State of Israel – which many Christians still believe to be the fulfillment of prophecy. My view, is that it was a pragmatic solution that didn’t take into consideration that other peoples, specifically Arab peoples (Christian and Muslim), already had cared for Palestine for over 1500 years (and even earlier).

When this happened, villages were pillaged and Zionist soldiers murdered many Palestinians. Yesterday I was told that hundreds of Palestinian villages were destroyed. Just as the Jews found themselves refugees just a few years prior, now Zionists were causing a similar situation for the inhabitants of Palestine in 1948. Many fled to other Arab countries with the sincere belief that it would only be temporary. Others eventually found ways to remain in the land, but would never see their homes again. In fact, many families still have their keys to their homes which are passed down generationally as a reminder – as hope.

In the years that followed, the constant subjugation and marginalization of these folks created conditions that one can only compare to the Jews under the oppressive arm of the Roman Empire during the days of Jesus. A great personal account of the history of the early and emerging occupation can be read in Blood Brothers: The Dramatic Story of a Palestinian Christian Working for Peace in Israel (Elias Chacour). Every Christian should read this book. To this day, occupation continues.

An American Christian Reflecting in Context

Sitting in a village that was taken over by Zionists (and ultimately the Nation State of Israel) broke my heart yesterday. One of the people on my trip said that he sensed that the village of Lufta (see image) was more spiritual than where we had just been at the Wailing Wall. I couldn’t agree more.

To be clear: this isn’t about “taking sides” or saying Palestine is good and Israel is bad. Rather, as followers of Jesus, we are invited to humanize both sides and partner together to create a shared future of forgiveness, equality, and human flourishing.

How we see this issue reflects our theology and ultimately how we see Jesus. Jesus is in the business of humanizing people – all people. In Jesus, the “land” is holy in Jerusalem, but also in the whole world. Every square inch of the cosmos is holy and it takes God’s holy people to join in God’s mission to reconcile all of it to God’s way of shalom or salaam.

I don’t yet know what this experience (which is still taking place) will mean for my own future. I know that I will never be the same. I also realize that I’m invited to never forget the struggle for justice and peace. This, I suspect, will have profound implications for my home church’s call to just-peacemaking both in our neighborhoods and in Israel/Palestine.


Follow our trip on Storify!

Check out The Global Immersion Project

Resources for Understanding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – Today and Yesterday
We Can Be So Right and Still Be So Wrong: My Theological Journey from Certainty to Discovery
If Shane Claiborne had a Jewish Brother: gardens, reconciliation, & hope
8 Signs That You Might Be An Evangelical Reject
  • Colin Austin Barnes

    “When this happened, villages were pillaged and Zionist soldiers murdered many Palestinians… To be clear: this isn’t about “taking sides” or saying Palestine is good and Israel is bad.”
    Hi, I must confess it sure sounds like you are taking sides, and saying Israel is bad and Palestine is good! Kurt, you seem like a sincere Christian who has just had an intense and emotional experience, but you have not even been given one side of this question, you have been given misleading falsehoods. A somewhat dated, secular and very readable book is O Jerusalem by Collins and Lapierre. It might be a good place to start.
    The Jewish community in Palestine accepted every compromise offered, the Peel commission in 1937, Partition in 48, even the Red Cross cease fire in 48. Every compromise was also rejected by the Palestinian leadership, who initiated violence at each point.
    The 1936 Arab Revolt was aimed at stopping all Jewish refugees fleeing Hitler’s Germany from finding a home in Palestine. Hardly a moral position!
    Had their leadership accepted any compromise, there would have been no fighting, no Palestinian refugees in 48. In 1947/8, the Palestinian leadership and military cut all water food and electricity to the 100,000 Jews of Jerusalem, almost starving these civilians. The first expulsions of Palestinians were from the villages which were carrying out these attacks, in order to get food to the Jews of Jerusalem.
    The leader of the Palestinians was Amin al-Husaini, who, as said, rejected every compromise and opted for war. He was a personal friend of Hitler, and indeed, in 1942, Hitler formally agreed to his request to gas all the Jews of Palestine when he conquered Palestine, a plan thwarted when the German army was defeated at Alamein, 70 kms from Cairo.
    “Zionist soldiers” did not respond to the UN Partition by murdering Palestinians. Palestinian fighters responded to the UN partition by murdering Palestinian Jews, and a wider war resulted.
    Again, you seem like a nice guy who really cares, please visit the Israelis, read both sides, and above all, read your Bible.
    God bless,

    • Zed

      Love keeps no record of wrongs. — the Bible. God bless, Zed.

    • Thomas Zell

      Are you trying to imply that Palestinan people who had nothing to do with these crimes should be punished, due to the fact that they are Palestinians? Do you have any idea how idiotic you sound? How would you like it, if someone decided to make innocent jewish people suffer, as punishment for the actions of a small group of greedy international criminals?

  • Colin Austin Barnes

    hi again,

    I must confess I had not realized you were a pastor when I posted my first response, 2 hrs ago! re the theological issues surrounding the restoration of the Jewish people, see Romans 15:8; For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs. This clearly links with Psalm 105 (where some of those promises are recorded) O descendants of Abraham his servant, O sons of Jacob, his chosen ones. He is the LORD our God; his judgments are in all the earth. He remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations, the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac. He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant: “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit.” Did Jesus come to confirm this promise? Do all God’s promises find their YES in Jesus? Will God give him the throne of his father David?

    Yes, because God does not fail, and all his promises are true.

    Re the theology of this,here is something I wrote on another thread; Clearly, Romans 9-11 leads from Romans 8 – “what can separate us from the love of God?” Paul then immediately thinks of Israel, they were in God’s love, if they are rejected, then Romans 8 is false. He begins with his own love for them, and it is not merely human love, the Holy Spirit bears him witness. equally, the reasons he gives are Godly, not earthly, he doesnt say they have great food and jokes, rather shows God’s love to them. Romans 10:1 affirms they need salvation. Romans 11 then looks to the future restoration of Israel (as per Acts 3:21) as a vital part of God’s redemption. The natural branches have been broken off, but will be grafted back in, because God’s love is greater than our sin, and because the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable, and as final proof that indeed Romans 8 is true, and nothing can separate us from the love of God. In a real sense, Israel are the final test of Romans 8, the worst case one could bring against it. They were in God’s love, yet they killed Jesus – surely they are now rejected, but Paul shows how they do not represent the limit of God’s love, but show its wonder. The Jewish people will yet be saved, and will say “God blessed us with so much, yet we killed Jesus (Acts 3:15), but he never stopped loving us (Acts 3:26), in every generation where were a remnant saved by grace, and finally, all Israel have been saved! (as per Zech 12) We are monuments to His grace!” This is the glory of Romans 9-11, no wonder it ends in praises!

  • Ryan Hite

    I feel like this phrase is the justification for any invasion that ever happened. It was used in every major war since the 1600′s. When I mean major, I am talking about a war that encompasses all world powers (World Wars, Napoleonic Wars, etc. ) It is certainly not a new phenomenon. Zionism should not exist as a concept, unfortunately, it does and is being fueled by the United States. The Jewish people do not deserve an entitlement, but they should have a homeland. There is no justification for the genocide of the Palestinians though.

  • Sam

    “To be clear: this isn’t about “taking sides” or saying Palestine is good and Israel is bad.” Sorry Kurt but you can’t write that sentence after accusing Israel of being “occupyers” and using “Zionist” pejoratively throughout your blog!

    I really want to give you the benefit of the doubt as it sounds like you’re new to the political situation in the Middle East. But I’d agree with other commenters here about the need to understand what the Bible says.

    If you add up the many scriptures about the Jews returning to the Land, the only sensible conclusion is that 1948 was indeed a fulfilment of prophecy. I’m absolutely convinced of it. I think what holds more Christians back from recognising that is the messy political situation which many want to steer clear of altogether. There’s this fear that if you own up and admit that Ezekiel 37 (for example) does mean that the Jews would return to their homeland, you somehow don’t care about the Palestinians! This is a terrible caricature of what has been known as Christian Zionism.

    Look into what Colin is saying because he’s 100% correct on the recent politics. And look at the scriptures too because they have so much to say on this issue.

    I’m not a dispensationalist. I do believe that the Abrahamic covenant is still in place. Why? Because while the Mosaic Covenant was fulfilled in Jesus, the others still stand (including, thank God, the covenant with Noah!).

    • Colin Austin Barnes

      Hi Sam,

      thanks for what you wrote! Yes, the Abraham covenant is still in force, indeed Hebrews 6:15-19 call the Abrahamic covenant the anchor of our souls! There is a beautiful graciousness in God’s plan. His love for the Jewish people was never an odd quirk, it was always the first expression of his love for all of us. It was always generous. That is why Paul continues Romans 15:8 (For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs) so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.” Again, it says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” Likewise Acts 15: 16-17. 16 ” ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the remnant of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things.’
      Paul magnifies his ministry to the Gentiles in order to save Jews, just as God will restore Israel so that the Gentiles might praise him. Jesus is indeed the light of the gentiles and the glory of his people Israel. These two are not in opposition! As we bless, we are blessed.
      On that happy note,
      God bless,

  • LaurenElizabeth

    This is great! I used to work for an organization called the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (or HCEF) that does work for Palestinian Christians. It’s a topic that we don’t hear too much about in mainstream media, and I’m glad to see it here on Patheos. I also found it interesting that you mentioned “Blood Brothers,” we had a bunch of copies of that book in the HCEF office when I was working there!

  • BT

    “I saw the tears of the oppressed, and they have no comforter. Power was on the side of the oppressor, and they have no comforter.” It’s the cycle Jesus came to break. Jesus is the intention of Torah (fulfillment of the law). God’s word will never pass away, not one letter. You have to ask yourself, “What is God’s word? Law?” The oppressed and the oppressor all throughout history seem to exchange places. How and when will this be replaced with the lion and the lamb (both names of Jesus) lying down with one another, with weapons turned to ploughs? Maybe it has already begun (two thousand years ago). Perhaps we are slow learners. Perhaps we are admirers and not followers. Perhaps we hold on too tightly and surrender too reluctantly. First, last. Lead, serve. Greatest, least. . .Perhaps.

  • stephenparker

    Thank you for this article, Kurt. I was afraid that when you went to “Israel” you’d fall prey to those “Jewish fables” about which Paul warned Titus (Titus 1:14)! I’m glad to see I was wrong. :smile:

    That vicious Jewish Zionist slogan you quoted in your title (” a land without a people for a people without a land”) says it all as regards the Jewish attitude toward Gentiles in general and Palestinians in particular. It is either an outright lie that Palestine was uninhabited prior to the Zionist invasion; or it is the hideous assertion that the Palestinians do not count as people! The latter is the most probable, as that is in fact the Jewish Talmudic belief about all non-Jews. “Goyim” are not “adam” or “sons of adam” (men or sons of men). Only Jews count as “men”.

    Obviously, unlike you I do not even claim that I don’t take sides. I side with the Palestinians, and absolutely repudiate all “Israeli” claims.

    I dare say you won’t find any place in the Christian scriptures (the “New Testament”) where the Jewish fable about a piece of real estate given to them by God is acknowledged – except in a place or two where the “real estate” is taken as metaphorical or allegorical, and “spiritualized”. For instance, in Hebrews where it says the land promised to Abraham, for which he sought but died without having received – a “city whose builder and maker is God” – is in reality “a heavenly country” (not an earthly piece of land lying between the Nile and the Euphrates).

    I could go on and on, but I won’t. (You are allowed to give a huge sigh of relief! :lol: )

    • Colin

      hi Stephen,

      you write a very concerning comment! All the Bible, Old and New, is the Word of God! Jesus came, according to the New Testament, “to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham:, … He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, even as he said to our fathers.” Likewise, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,” Indeed, Jesus “must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.”

      None of this makes sense without the Old Testament! “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs.”

      “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”

      We gentiles are grafted in to the commonwealth of Israel, a tree that poisons its own roots does not have long to live. Just as Pharaoh was delighted when Joseph’s brothers of the flesh showed up, so we should love the people of Israel and care for them today! They need the gospel (Romans 10:1), and we should love and honor them.
      What you wrote was wrong.
      God bless,

      • stephenparker

        Colin: Thank you for your friendly – though concerned – reply. I must say, though, that my ‘theology’ concerning the Bible is not the same as yours. I do not believe that the whole Bible is “the Word of God”. I believe “the Word of God” can be found within those Biblical writings – more so in the New Testament than the Old – but sometimes (particularly in the Old Testament) one has to search rather hard to find “God’s Word”. The Prophet Jeremiah put it bluntly when he said (Jer. 8:8): “How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us,’ when, in fact, THE FALSE PEN OF THE SCRIBES HAS MADE IT INTO A LIE?” Of course, Isaiah said much the same thing when he said that the Jewish leaders were teaching the doctrines/commandments of men as ‘the Law’ – and Jesus referred to this statement of Isaiah to repudiate Judaism.

        Jesus Christ showed the difficulty of finding the true “Word of God” in the Old Testament Scriptures in his famous “Sermon on the Mount”. In Matthew 5 he contrasted his teachings – the true “Law of God” – with what the Scribes and Pharisees (“those who sit in Moses’ seat”) taught. In verse 43 he said: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” It is sometimes stated that “hate your enemy” is not to be found in the Old Testament. That is no doubt technically true – you won’t find that precise statement – but the thought is there frequently when over and over the Jews were told to totally destroy their enemies (men, women, old and young, and everything which breathes) and show them no mercy. Instances are given in that atrocious literature when the Jews ‘commendably’ obeyed those instructions; and others are given where people and leaders were (supposedly) severely punished by God for failing to follow those awful instructions to the letter. Those are certainly examples where “hate your enemy” is taught, even though those particular words are not found.

        “Love your neighbor” certainly is to be found in those very words in Leviticus 19:18; and Jesus sometimes referred to it as the second greatest commandment. However, he repudiated the meaning of “neighbor” as it is found in the context of Leviticus, and redefined it (the “Good Samaritan” story for instance). In Leviticus, the meaning of “neighbor” is “any of your kin” and “any of your people”. The Jews (correctly) understood this to refer only to their fellow Jews; those awful Gentile ‘dogs’ and ‘swine’ were certainly not meant by “neighbor”! Jesus in Matthew 5 rejected the “love your neighbor” command AS IT STANDS IN LEVITICUS by saying “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have”; and “If you greet ONLY YOUR BROTHERS [your kin and your people] what more are you doing than others?” Jesus expands the meaning of “neighbor” way beyond the exclusive meaning of “the [so-called] Law” to mean anyone you meet – even those whom you consider to be enemies.

        The way the New Testament (the truly Christian scripture) uses the “Old Testament” is, generally speaking at least, to treat it as allegorical and to ‘spiritualize’ it (those places which the N.T. writers didn’t believe fell into the category of “commandments of men” and scribal lies). This had to be done in order to bring the Gentiles in as ‘inheritors of the promises and covenants’ from which they were [supposedly] formerly excluded (see Ephesians 2, for instance). Unless you believe that the non-Jewish “children of Abraham” have equal right to call the earthly land of Palestine their own and ‘return’ to it (since they are “now” fellow-heirs of the covenants), you can’t view the promise of “the land” literally. You will be compelled to agree with the author of Hebrews that is is a “heavenly country”.

        Certainly the New Testament leaves no room for the idea that non-Christian Jews ‘still’ have their own special ‘covenant’ with God and are God’s “chosen earthly people”. There is a “remnant according to the election of grace” who inherit (together with Gentile believers) the promises made to “the fathers”; the rest of the Jews have no claim to be “God’s chosen people”, and don’t have a claim to any promise of God.

        God has, according to Paul, forever broken down the “wall of partition” between Jew and Gentile; and He certainly won’t “make Himself a transgressor” by building again what He has destroyed (see Galatians 2:18).

        • Colin

          Hi again Stephen,

          we sadly do disagree. For me, every word of the Lord is true, not one brush stroke is uninspired. Interestingly, the word ger, neighbor, is quite vague in its Hebrew definition, which is precisely why Jesus was asked to give his definition of it. (note that the Talmud, (Sabbath 150a) mentions the possibility of a gentile neighbor.)

          re your comment; “Certainly the New Testament leaves no room for the idea that non-Christian Jews ‘still’ have their own special ‘covenant’ with God”

          how would you read Romans 11; 25-29 I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.”

          Here, Israel has experienced a hardening in part, and then, after the fullness of the gentiles has come in, all Israel will be saved. Israel is again then immediately defined, as far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account, but as far as election is concerned they are loved on account of the patriarchs.” That is, this cannot refer to Christians, Jewish or gentile, for they are enemies of the gospel at present, but yet they remain loved due to election and God still loves them because of the patriarchs. This Scripture clearly shows that all Israel, not just the remnant saved by grace, remain in covenant with God. They all need salvation!!, but God’s special calling remains to yet be fulfilled.

          • stephenparker

            Colin, thank you once again for another polite reply. Here’s my response.

            You said: ” For me, every word of the Lord is true, not one brush stroke is uninspired.” I am quite sure that every word of the LORD is indeed true; and by definition, if it’s the word of the LORD, it is “inspired” (every ‘brushstroke’ of that “word”). My position though, is that not all of the Bible is “the word of the LORD” – and consequently it’s not “inspired” in “every brushstroke”. Since I have Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Jesus Christ (peace to them all) agreeing that much of the Bible (the “Old Testament” anyway) is in fact the commandments and doctrines of men, and lies coming from “the false pen of the scribes”, I stand in good company in making that affirmation.

            Regarding the story of the “Good Samaritan”, it should be pointed out that the lawyer who questioned Jesus was not doing so out of genuine and legitimate interest; he was testing or challenging Jesus. He was one of those lawyers who was continually trying to entrap Jesus. (Luke 10:25 – “And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and TESTED him…”) When he asked “and who is my neighbor”, this again was not genuine interest in having Jesus clear up an ambiguity; he was seeking to “justify himself”, and was still in “entrapment mode”. He knew full well what “neighbor” meant in the context of Leviticus (19:18) – “your kin” and “your people” – and he also knew full well what the general teaching of “the traditions of the elders” was – only your fellow Jews. I can almost hear this lawyer thinking “Gotcha!” when he asked “who is my neighbor”. Jesus did not get into a rabbinical argument with the lawyer; he just gave the famous parable, which led the lawyer himself to acknowledge a much wider definition of “neighbor” than Leviticus and “tradition” acknowledged.

            Regarding your argument from Romans 11, there are 2 or 3 points to be made. First, Romans 11:28 says: “As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching THE ELECTION, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.” What does “the election” mean? Paul himself answers that in 11:7 – “What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but THE ELECTION hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.” The word in both cases is ‘ekloge’ (“election”). I used the KJV because every other English version I have consulted obscured this fact by translating ‘ekloge’ in verse 7 as “elect” (or an equivalent term or phrase) rather than “election”; in other words, as if the word in verse 7 were “eklektos” rather than “ekloge”. Bu the word is actually the same in both verses, and the meaning is the same. It seems obvious to me that Paul uses “election” as equivalent to “elect”; but it has that meaning in both verses. So verse 28 means that concerning the Gospel the Jews are your enemies (just as “Israel hath not obtained what he seeketh for” in verse 7); but the elect are beloved “for the fathers’ sake” (just as “the elect[ion] hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded” in verse 7).

            This is in fact what Paul’s argument in Romans 9-11 was all about. The Jews were showing themselves to be enemies of the gospel of Jesus Christ; so what did that mean for the promises and covenants of God? Had they failed? Paul’s answer was that indeed they had not failed – not because he foresaw a day in which all the Jews (and every Jew) would be converted, but because “they are not all ‘Israel’ who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham”. According to Paul, God had from the beginning of his “promise making” established that He was free to choose from among the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – saving some and hardening others. Calvinists and Arminians can argue ’til they’re blue in the face about the basis for “election”. The fact remains that “the elect” and “believers” are one and the same group, whether they’re elect because they believe or they believe because they’re elect. And according to Paul, it is only the elect/believers who inherit the promises of God; the rest are not even truly “Israel”; the promises don’t belong to them.

            This is why he made the statements in 11:7 and 28 that the “election” received the promises and were beloved of God; the rest are hardened. That is also why Paul said in 11:23, “And they also, IF THEY DO NOT CONTINUE IN UNBELIEF, will be grafted in…” Paul certainly does not envision a future situation – following “the fullness of the Gentiles” – when unbelieving Jews will become inheritors of God’s blessings because all Jews (and every Jew) are part of “the election” and therefore beloved. Such an idea is flat contrary to the whole of Paul’s argument. Nor does he envision a future when the Jews exclusively will be “branches” on the “good olive tree”, receiving material promises as opposed to the present spiritual promises inherited by both believing Gentiles and believing Jews.

            Next there’s the phrase “the fullness of the Gentiles”, which the version you used interprets as “the full number of the Gentiles”. The phrase is a bit ambiguous, and is quite capable of meaning “the fullness of blessing of the Gentiles” rather than “the full number of the Gentiles”. Postmillenialist Christians have interpreted this as referring to a “golden age” when the gospel of Jesus Christ has triumphed throughout the earth. When all nations, and the vast majority of individuals within the nations, have become Christians and “branches” on that “good olive tree”, then the fullness of blessing will also extend to the Jews. The vast majority of Jews will also lay down their hatred of Christ and his gospel and be grafted in again as CHRISTIANS. Thus Paul writes (11:31 and 32) “even so these also have now been disobedient, that through the mercy shown you they also may obtain mercy. For God has committed them all [Gentiles and Jews] to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all [Gentiles and Jews].” A book I read more than 30 years ago does a good job of presenting this viewpoint. It is called “The Puritan Hope”, written by Ian Murray.

            So to conclude, Paul began in chapter 9 by asking if the enmity of the Jews toward Christ and his gospel indicated that the promises of God to “Israel” had failed. He answered by saying that they are not all are “Israel” just because they are “of” Israel. Only the elect are “children of promise”. So he brings the argument to a conclusion in chapter 11 by saying (verses 26, 28, 29): “And so [in this way] all ‘Israel’ will be saved… Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake; but concerning the elect(ion), they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.”

            The promises and covenants of God are not for “Israel according to the flesh”; they are for, and are fulfilled in, the Church of God’s elect – who are believers from both Gentiles and Jews. This is the teaching of the Christian New Testament, at any rate.

          • Colin

            Hi Stephen, sorry for the delay, my internet connection was down!

            I do not believe that either Jeremiah or Isaiah considered the Old Testament as they had it to be anything other than the word of God. Isaiah 8:16, 20, Jeremiah 26:4.

            Re neighbors, Leviticus 18 has just mentioned being kind to aliens. Luke 10:37 has no hint of a gotcha moment, indeed, if this was a trap for Jesus and he fell into it, why
            is there no gotcha moment? Saying you can almost hear him thinking it does not make it so, rather it highlights that it is not in the text.

            Concerning the main discussion, Romans 8 declares that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Paul then immediately addresses the question of Israel, why?Because they
            are the worst possible case against what he has just said in Romans 8. They were in the love of God (Deut 7: 7-8, Isaiah 63: 9-10) yet they failed, to the point of killing his own son, sent to bless them. Surely they prove that we can be separated from the love of god, that our sin is stronger than his love. That our sin can force him to break his promises (see Jeremiah 31). But what does
            Paul say? Firstly, that he loves them with God’s love. All the reasons he is broken over their present disobedience are God’s reasons and proofs of love. Secondly, that they need to be saved (10:1), and finally, that the natural
            branches will be grafted back in, that all Israel will be saved, because the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. Israel do not show the limit of God’s love, rather they show its triumph. On that day, they will say, of ourselves, we sinned, given every blessing we sinned to the point of killing God’s dear son, yet he never stopped loving us, in every generation there was a remnant
            saved by grace, and finally, all Israel have been saved. Of ourselves, we are nothing, we are monuments to his grace, Praise his name forever!

            How will all Israel be saved? Look at Zechariah 12-14. When Jesus returns to the Mt of Olives (as per
            Acts 1:11) they will look on him whom they have pierced, mourn for him and a fountain will be opened to cleanse them from their sin. That is, they are saved
            just as you and I were, by conviction of sin (they shall look on him whom they have pierced), deep repentance (they shall mourn for him) and finally, baptism (and a fountain shall be opened for them, to cleanse them from sin. Israel were initially called to be a nation of priests, to show God’s ways to the world, and here in the sight of all the nations, they show the way of salvation. Not by works, but by looking to Jesus. For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. God has determined to save them, and because he does not change, they are not destroyed. See Hosea etc.

            Or look at Joseph, rejected by his own brothers, he then rules over Gentiles who are blessed, until drought forces the brothers to go to Egypt, because they need what the
            people ruled by Joseph have (Romans 11:13-14). Finally, when they confess (Gen
            42:22) and show they would not do the same again, (Gen 45:30-34) Joseph reveals himself as their brother who has saved them. And Pharaoh hears of it and what??? Does he say, no Joseph is ours, if he still loves his brothers of the flesh, then maybe he will stop caring for us?? No, he is delighted, and all Egypt with him. If only the Gentile church had such grace today!!

            Think on this, I sin, I let God down. Will he abandon me? I look at the restored nation of Israel and know that his love never gives up, and that if I confess he will receive me
            back and still use and bless me. We do not worship a divorcee! Paul speaks of the “grace of apostleship” – I don’t deserve this, but you still stoop to use me, to give me value. And just as Paul, the chief of sinners was miraculously converted and sent to be the apostle to the Gentiles, so the miraculously converted Israel in Zech 8:23! For the gifts and calling are without repentance. Note finally that the gifts there do include possession of the land promised to them, for in Jesus all the promises of God find their yes! And God will give him the throne of his father David.

            Hope this shows you where I am coming from,
            God bless, Colin

          • stephenparker

            Colin – My late response is due to: (1) it was 4 days before I actually saw and read your latest comment; and (2) I had to decide how much of your comment to respond to. Since I don’t seem to know the meaning of ‘short and concise’ ( :grin: ), and I didn’t want to write a ‘book’ in response, I had to figure out what was most important.

            As a result, I will forego further comment on the meaning of “neighbor”, the laws concerning “the stranger within your gates”, and the Jewish attitude toward Gentiles outside of their “gates”.

            The main point is the New Testament view of the nature of the promises to “Israel”, and who are the “Israel” who are inheritors of those promises. You continue to advocate the idea that the promises are materialistic (involving the inheritance of a parcel or real estate), and that everyone descended from Jacob/Israel must be ‘saved’ and inherit that land, in order for the promises to be faithfully fulfilled.

            In doing so, you continue to ignore Paul’s clear and explicit – not implied or inferred – statements that they are NOT all “Israel” who are OF Israel, and they are not “children of Abraham” just because they are descended from Abraham. Only those individuals whom God chose are the true inheritors of the promises, and THE REST simply are not heirs of the promises and wind up being ‘hardened’. (Again, Calvinists and Arminians can argue all they want about the reasons behind God’s choosing and rejecting; the fact remains clear that in Paul’s theology that choosing and rejecting is a reality.) This definition of who are “Israel” is consistent with Paul’s statements elsewhere, such as Romans 2:28 and 29 _ “For he is NOT

          • stephenparker

            I hit “enter” unintentionally. To continue: (Romans 2:28 and 29) “For he is NOT a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one INWARDLY, and whose circumcision is that OF THE HEART, IN THE SPIRIT, and NOT in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”

            So far as Paul’s theology is concerned, only a very few Jews could wind up being ‘saved’, and God’s promises would have still been faithfully fulfilled. Those few who were ‘saved’ would constitute “all Israel” to whom the promises were made, and so “all Israel” would have been ‘saved’ even though only a few Jews ACCORDING TO THE FLESH wound up ‘saved’.

            Your reference to Romans 8 doesn’t help you out with regard to this question, because there also Paul qualifies and limits those who are loved by God and can’t be separated from that love. For instance, 8:28 and 29 – “And we know that all things work together for good TO THOSE WHO LOVE GOD, TO THOSE WHO ARE CALLED ACCORDING TO HIS PURPOSE. For whom He foreknew, He also predestinated to be conformed to the image of His son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren”. And verse 33 asks: “Who shall bring a charge against GOD’S ELECT?” So we see once again that God’s promises are faithfully fulfilled in GOD’S ELECT, not “the rest”. GOD’S ELECT cannot be separated from the love of God, but “the rest” can and are (at least according to Paul’s theology, and that of the other New Testament writers).

            Now what are the “promises” which God’s elect inherit, according to the NEW TESTAMENT writers? Well, as Romans 11 testifies, they are the promised blessings of the “good olive tree” which both elect Jew and elect Gentile (which is the same as saying believers from both Jews and Gentiles) can and do inherit. They never, in the NEW TESTAMENT, refer to special earthly blessings (land and earthly Temple) belonging to Jews only. As pointed out in a previous note, on the rare occasion when such earthly things are mentioned they are spiritualized to mean a “heavenly country” and a heavenly Temple (or the Temple of the body).

            I tell you that the NEW TESTAMENT spiritualizes the Old Testament earthly promises, yet you go back to Old Testament writers – literally interpreted – to defend your contention that a future earthly fulfillment still awaits “Israel” (or that’s it’s currently being fulfilled in an unbelieving and ungodly according-to-the-flesh “Israel”).

            You bring up Zechariah 12-14. Well Zechariah prophesied in chapter 12 that Israel would destroy its enemies (who are in fact “all the nations/Gentiles”). From the NEW TESTAMENT view, if we are not to regard Zechariah as one of those who falsely prophesied good things for Israel – that is , a false prophet – or if we are not to contend that “the false pen of the scribes” has falsified Zechariah’s prophecy and turned it into a lie – then we must find a way to interpret those prophecies in a ‘spiritual’ sense.

            That is, a way must be found to make Zechariah’s prophecy consistent with such verses as Ephesians 6:12 – “For WE DO NOT WRESTLE AGAINST FLESH AND BLOOD, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against SPIRITUAL hosts of wickedness in the HEAVENLY places”; or 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 – “For though we walk in the flesh, WE DO NOT WAR ACCORDING TO THE FLESH. FOR THE WEAPONS OF OUR WARFARE ARE NOT CARNAL but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, CASTING DOWN ARGUMENTS AND EVERY HIGH THING THAT EXALTS ITSELF AGAINST THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD, BRINGING EVERY THOUGHT INTO CAPTIVITY TO THE OBEDIENCE OF CHRIST.”

            Can you seriously believe the Zechariah 13:3 – which proclaims that “in that day” parents will murder their own children who dare to prophesy – can bear any resemblance to the teachings of Jesus Christ (peace to him)? When did he ever advocate such a horrible thing??? The response of Jesus the son of Mary to such an idea would no doubt be the same as his response to James and John when they wanted to call down fire from heaven on some Samaritans: “But he turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the son of man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them” (Luke 9:55 and 56).

            That is the NEW TESTAMENT position. Any Old Testament statements and prophecies about ‘carnal’ blessings and destruction of “Israel’s” enemies must be: (1) open to spiritualization; (2) lying insertions and distortions by “the false pen of the scribes”; or (3) lying statements of false prophets. You take your choice; but don’t try to impose literalistic interpretations of the Old Testament onto the New Testament, because the New repudiates those literalistic and carnal viewpoints.

  • Lynn Thrush

    This is a wonderful article, with very helpful theology. I just returned in January 2014 from a Study Tour trip with the Brethren in Christ Church. Indeed, the whole earth is the Lord’s. What a privilege to participate in His lordship everywhere.
    Lynn Thrush, Senior Pastor
    Gateway Community Church, Chino, CA

  • David

    Great article Kurt!

    While the Holocaust is a historical tragedy, it may be noted that more First Nations people died in North and South America for the sake of European settlers and conquerors several times over than died in the Holocaust. This is not to minimize the Holocaust, it is merely to put it in perspective–i.e., I would probably take the other side of the “worst evil in history” argument. Really, all evil is detestable. Some evil is simply more widespread.

  • Adrian

    First, let me say right off the top that I am NOTanti-Palestinian people. If there is a real need somewhere, we – especially the church – need to find godly ways to meet that need. So let me just say that right off the top. This is not an “anti-Palestinian” people response.

    Having said that let me respond to the article by quoting certain sections of it (the parts below that are in quotes), and then respond directly to that quote:

    “…one of the most important things that he offered was a critique of Dispensationalism and its cousin Zionism.”

    The early dispensationalists were concerned with the Bible and theology. Modern Israel did not even exist when the early dispensationalists were defining their
    beliefs. They were not Zionists in the modern political sense of the word, so
    to brand Zionism as dispensationalism’s “cousin” is a misrepresentation and not
    a sound statement.

    “By believing that God has two “peoples” in the impending “end times” future, evangelical Christianity often blindly supports oppression.”

    The system of theology is not to be faulted for this. If there is blind oppression, it is a mis-use of a doctrine. This is not unique to dispensationalism. Certainly
    other doctrines have been misunderstood and mis-used for harm over the years. A true, Godly dispensationalist will never approve of oppression.

    “Paul states: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs
    according to the promise” (Galatians 3.29).”

    Yes, but what’s the context here? The context in the preceding verses concerns
    justification and being in Christ. These are universal blessings that are
    promised to both Jews and Gentiles. Nothing is said here of the specific
    promises made to ethnic Israel regarding the land. The land promises are
    uniquely “Jewish”.

    “The same kind of logic is put forward in Ephesians chapter 2 as well, where the division between the Jews and Gentiles has been done away with by the peace of the cross. Out of the two groups God through Christ is forming a “new humanity.””

    True, but the new humanity is the Church – that is, the equality between Jews and Gentiles is with respect to the present purpose of God to form a new body
    called the church. A distinction between ethnic Israel as a nation and the
    church as a whole certainly appears to still exist. Note that the Apostle Paul
    continues to identify ethnic Israel as a definite people distinct from the
    church, particularly in Romans 9 – 11.

    “all the promises in the Hebrew Scriptures, are now the Church’s (for Christians).
    Except, since Jesus’ resurrection the land is expanded to the whole earth!”

    This is not a sound statement, and no Scripture is offered to support this specific
    statement. Why do we never cease to want to disenfranchise Israel of her
    rightful God-given inheritance? Why do we exhibit the pride and arrogance that
    the Apostle Paul may have been warning against in Romans 11:18? The Church cannot fulfil the specific land promises made to Abraham (which are everlasting). While no Scriptural support for this specific statement is given, let me provide
    numerous Scriptures that reveal that the land of Israel still belongs, and will
    belong, UNIQUELY to the Jews: Isaiah 19:24 – 35; Genesis 13:14 – 15; 1
    Chronicles 16:13 – 18; Psalm 105:8 – 11; Isaiah 60:21; Amos 9:15; Romans 11:28 – 29. I’ve listed these Scriptures to illustrate that, while the whole earth is
    the Lord’s, and while Christ’s kingdom will extend to the whole world, the
    specific piece of land in the Eastern Mediterranean – the Land of Israel –
    always and forever belongs uniquely to the Jewish people. The Abrahamic
    covenant regarding the land does not extend to the whole earth so that all
    nations can claim an inheritance in the Land that disenfranchises Israel of her
    unique possession of that land. The gift of the land to the Jews is UNIQUELY
    Israel’s in a way that it is not of any other people.

    “Therefore, to blindly support Israel because they are “God’s people” who have ownership to “God’s land” actually can harm the cause of Christ and is based on a theological system (contrived in the 1800’s) that has been consistently
    demonstrated to have little support in Christian theology.”

    Israel’s possession of the land is a matter of God’s eternal, divine purpose. It may
    look messy now, but in the end all will make sense. The ultimate and final
    restoration of Israel is a theme throughout the Old Testament (e.g. Amos 9:15).
    Our “morality” and “humanism” – no matter how “good” and “loving” it appears,
    must never be valued above God’s eternal purpose. Interestingly, the early dispensationalists wrote about Israel’s restoration way before modern Israel was born. Even though in some cases they may have been speaking of Israel’s final restoration, it certainly looks like they were right – the Jews are returning home. History appears to be vindicating this theological position. Interestingly, the article
    alludes to dispensationalism having “little support” in Christian theology.
    Notice that it does not say “little support in Scripture”. A minority position
    in theology does not make it wrong. What makes it wrong is if it contradicts
    Scripture. Note as well (and this is important) that the restoration of Israel
    is NOT a doctrine unique to dispensationalism. Some non-dispensationalists have also maintained this. It is not a “dispensational doctrine”. It is a Scriptural

    “…the U.N. invited the Jewish survivors to inhabit the ancient land of Palestine “

    This statement does not tell the full picture. Jews began going back to Palestine even before there was a U.N. The British Mandate had also allowed Jews to go back to Palestine. Before Israel’s creation, there were two peoples in the land: Jewish and Arab. In 1947, the U.N. voted to partition Palestine into two states: one Jewish and one Arab. Where there was a Jewish majority, the Jews would self-govern themselves. Where there was an Arab majority, the Arabs would self-govern themselves. Can you think of a more fair way to deal with this? I can’t! The Jews accepted the plan, while the Arabs rejected it and ultimately – after
    Israel’s declaration of Independence – went to war. They rejected the very
    state they were being offered – and are now wanting!

    “My view, is that it was a pragmatic solution that didn’t take into consideration that other peoples, specifically Arab peoples (Christian and Muslim), already had cared for Palestine for over 1500 years (and even earlier).”

    This seems to be a neglect of history. All I’ll say here is this: U.N. Partition Plan of 1947! Also, some Jews were in the land continuously since Bible days.

    “When this happened, villages were pillaged and Zionist soldiers murdered many
    Palestinians. Yesterday I was told that hundreds of Palestinian villages were
    destroyed. Just as the Jews found themselves refugees just a few years prior,
    now Zionists were causing a similar situation for the inhabitants of Palestine
    in 1948.”

    Again, this does not appear to be good historical work. There is no mention of the Arab attack (5 Arab nations against 1 Jewish State) that precipitated the 1948 War. Israel did not start this war. The Arabs did (after rejecting the state that the U.N. offered them I might add). Also, it was the Arab nations that told the
    Palestinians to leave their homes, thinking that they would win the war.

    “In the years that followed, the constant subjugation and marginalization of these
    folks created conditions that one can only compare to the Jews under the
    oppressive arm of the Roman Empire during the days of Jesus.”

    This statement omits some important facts that would shed additional, critical light on this Middle East issue.

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/GaryFPatton GaryFPatton

    You disappoint me with this piece, Kurt.

    While I agree with your Biblical “one man” approach to the relationship between current-day Jesus Followers and Israel, I’m going to vote with others re your lack of objectivity above.

    I agree with Colin that this piece of yours is extremely biased.

    You say you don’t wish we Jesus Followers to take sides. I agree with you on that issue …provided we agree to stick with truth.

    As a Canadian, non-Jew with a Masters Degree in History, truth demands that I point out many of your statements regarding the conflict between Israel and the so-called Palestinians, are pure Islamic, revisionist history.

    Many of your statements above parrot what Islamists want the world to believe …not the reality of what actually happened.

    You do terrific research on Christian issues, Kurt, why have you not done so on this issue?

    For example, while there were atrocities by both some resident Arabs and resident Jews in 1948, the majority of Arabs who left the new State did so at the behest of every one of Israel’s Arab neighbours to prepare the way for their multi-directional attack.

    Contrary to what you say, most Arab residents who left Israel in 1948 were NOT “driven out”. They chose to leave their homes and immigrated.

    Those who stayed and their progeny still have Israeli citizens, with the right to vote and sit and the Knesset as many do.

    The above truths are well-documented history despite your denial of them by failing to mention them.

    What is also well-documented history is that those same Arab neighbours have kept those same immigrants in squalor, with little or no education, and without citizenship inside refugee camps.

    This disgusting Arab state behaviour is without precedent in history. They have continued this horror, with the world’s permission, and few complaints, as an anti-Israel festering sore.

    Those now millions of Arab immigrants, because of and with their 60+ years of progeny, are demanding unqualified “right of return” to Israel. They would swamp the Israeli Jewish population.

    Imbued with Koranic-based, Fatah plus Hamas antisemitic hatred, many of these immigrants, plus the Arabs living inside Gaza and the West Bank, now foment for the total destruction of all Jews. (Koran 5:59-78 as only one, hate-filled diatribe any disbelieving Christian can read online.)

    Hamas’ Charter calls for this genocide. Hamas’ leaders, who control all of Gaza, refuse to discuss peace because of their heartfelt desire. Diabolically, Gaza’s citizens have absorbed their leaders’ desire to eliminate Israel and all Jewd from the world.

    You failed to mention any of these truths, my Brother. Shame on you!

    BTW, I use the expression “the so-called Palestinians”, because such a separate people group has never existed in history until recently.

    Those who fled Israel in 1948, as well as those now living in Gaza and the West Bank (ancient, historical Judea & Samaria) are racially Arabs. Use of the term Palestians is an emtion-laden fiction promoted by Islamic apologists and bought-into by most Wesyern media.

    No honest scientist will agree the so-called Palestinians are descended from the Biblical Philistines, as some Islamic apologists lie.

    Because of world wide anti-Jewish attitudes, the so-called Palestinians “right of return” and related Arab-Israeli issues have become VERY complex in a world that believes in violence as a solution to most problems.

    Your ignorant dissimilitude, Kurt, intentional or not, is not helping true Jesus Followers to pray well.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/ Kurt Willems

      I’m sorry that you see history through lenses that are different than mine. Certainly there are truths within what you say, but the Palestinian story is ignored way too often. Have you been to the West Bank? Have you read books like “blood brothers” by Elias Chacour? All of that to say that I respect you even though I disagree with your particular analysis of history… Very Americanized version of the story… Even if you’re not necessarily living in the United States :-)
      Please read the book I recommend above, not so much for history but rather for narrative and context. The issues are complex, we need to stand with those who believe that peace is possible. That is the Jesus way.