Part of a week-long discussion of The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight
There is, for Scot, no gospel without Israel. It is the hinge on which the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus swing. Of course, there is ample scriptural support for this view, and Scot relies on it heavily. As do most evangelicals.
I didn’t grow up in a church or a version of Christianity that talked much about Israel, particularly modern Israel. As I recall, we learned just enough about ancient Israel — more accurately, about the Ancient Near East — to understand what was in our pew Bibles. That is to say, ancient Israel was the context in which our sacred text was written. But it was not seen as somehow imperative to the salvific work of God.
Sure, it was Israel that had a unique relationship with Yahweh, and it was into that people group that the Savior was born, but that seemed like a relatively arbitrary decision, historically speaking. It could have just as easily been another ancient tribe through which God saved the world.
It wasn’t until I got to college and entered an evangelical campus ministry that I came in contact with evangelicals’ near obsession with Israel. Much has been made of that of late, and I think most of us are aware how that obsession has steered U.S. foreign policy. There’s a rift today in American Protestantism between evangelicals who tend to myopically support Israel and mainline liberals who support the Palestinians and are quite disparaging of Israel.
Of course, Scot’s book isn’t about present-day politics. It’s about (re-)claiming the entirety of the gospel. But I mention all of this because it’s struck me in his telling how absolutely essential are Paul and Jesus’s Israelite identity to Scot. Not their Judaism so much, but their identity as Israelites.
To be sure, Jesus was both an Israelite and a Jew. But one can wonder that, apart from that being the context in which he was born and reared, how much did it matter to him?
For Paul, that question is settled. He was a Jew, an Israelite, and a Roman citizen, and each of these was extremely important to him. Although, one can argue that his Jewishness became less important during his missions to the Gentiles and his arguments with the Apostles in Jerusalem.
All that to say, Scot’s interpretation of the gospel leaves each of us to answer an important question: How important is it to your understanding of the gospel that the gospel came through Israel? Or, to put it another way, Could God have saved us through any people group?