what would the apostle Paul think about evangelicals and the conflict in Palestine?

what would the apostle Paul think about evangelicals and the conflict in Palestine? November 19, 2014

It is for this reason that Paul would have scratched his head over the current Evangelical fascination with the modern secular state of Israel and its supposedly Bible-mandated right to do what it pleases with Palestine and its inhabitants. This way of reading the Bible misses the whole point of the story; it robs the biblical narrative of its climax.

Stephen Taylor, associate professor of New Testament at Biblical Theological Seminary, has written a very thoughtful piece on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that models what I feel is a truly “biblical” approach–not one that rests on proof texting or resurrecting ancient tribal conflicts, but that places the gospel at the center of transcending and redefining our expectations of what God is doing in the world.  [To read the rest of this article–and you really should–click here.]

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  • The bipolarity of the evangelical right with Israel is interesting. On the one hand, they are seen God’s chosen nation with a special purpose in His plan, so America should support her in all that she does (maybe because this is also how evangelicals see America).

    On the other hand, they are viewed as a nation of people who rather actively and passionately rejected and continue to reject the Lord Jesus and whose members go straight to Hell when they die. Some of the further right even have an active mistrust toward Jewish people and are anti-Semitic to varying degrees.

    I don’t really understand how someone could think of the exact same people group in both of these categories, but they do.

    • Mike Ward

      It’s rare for any one person to hold both views your describe. The majority of evangelicals probably don’t hold either view though many or even most may hold views somewhat related to one or the other.

      • (This is an honest question – not trying to make a point) Why do you think this is rare?

        Even today, popular evangelists hold pro-Israel rallies. The widespread popularity of dispensationalism teaches a special destiny for the nation of Israel, and every time someone hiccups over there, it’s a sign of the end times. The strong overlap of evangelicalism and Republicanism leads to strong support for the nation of Israel coming from the pulpit. The Palestinians are evil terrorists (according to them), and Israel is the favored nation of God defending itself from the infidels.

        However, these exact same people attending these rallies and blanching at the thought of America not supporting Israel also speak of “the Jews” as the people who opposed and killed Christ, and if Israel died tonight, they would not go to Heaven. I could pull quotes from Pat Robertson and a fleet of televangelists who have terrible things to say about the Jews. Yet, these are the exact same people having pro-Israel rallies.

        How do we explain this?

        • Tim

          Very good questions!

        • Mike Ward

          I don’t know want to tell you. You make a whole lot of statements about what evangelicals supposedly believe some of which are probably at least partially true, but which taken at as a whole do not in any way represent the general opinion of evangelicals. Your view of evangelicals is just a parody.

          • Well, I am an evangelical, so it’s possible I don’t understand my own subculture, but I don’t just see it on TV. I see it in our churches.

          • Pixie5

            Pat Robertson scares the hell out of me (no pun intended). He looks like every kid’s sweet gran-papa…but says it is a shame that we can’t kill gay people in this country and thinks that schools should be run by the church. Sounds like a Dominionist to me. And the Repub party honored him not long ago with a Lifetime Achievement Award. This relationship is a little too cozy for me…

        • Pixie5

          Quite frankly I think you can simply explain it by that fact that the evangelical culture just doesn’t teach people to think things through. You are one of the rare ones that does. That is pretty much the reason why I hate conservative Christianity. It is like having a mental straight jacket on all of the time. No offense, but I wonder why you stick with it if you don’t agree with these people?

    • I don’t really understand how someone could think of the exact same people group in both of these categories, but they do.

      Even with Mike Ward’s critique taken into account, I think the reason is simple: people despise Eccl 7:15–18 and wish to avoid the consequences of a position that isn’t at one of the extremes. I say ‘simple’ knowing full well what it entails, but some things are pretty spiritually simple. I think this is one of them, and I’ve thought about it pretty extensively, applying it to many situations.

    • Hi Phil,

      I think Paul thought of Israel in both categories. Romans 11:

      “25 Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, 26 and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written,

      “The Deliverer will come from Zion,
      he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
      27 “and this will be my covenant with them
      when I take away their sins.”
      28 As regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. 29 For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. 30 Just as you were once disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may[b] receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all.”

      • All Israel will be saved via the full number of Gentiles coming in. In Romans, Paul maintains a distinction between faithful Israel and unfaithful Israel (Rom. 9:6-8). I don’t think he thought of unfaithful Israel as enjoying a favored status with God that all the nations ought to respect, even though they’re Christ-killers who are not to be trusted. It’s that particularly vicious bi-polarity I see in the evangelical right.

        • “Christ-killers”? Interesting term. So you don’t think your sins killed Christ?

          Meanwhile, the passage makes clear that unfaithful Israel is “beloved by God for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.”

          • Hey Bilbo,

            I would never, ever refer to the Jewish people that way. I am saying that Paul is not holding two, contradictory estimations of the Jewish people in tension: 1) They are God’s elect nation and to be supported in whatever they do, 2) They are terrible people who killed Jesus, are generally suspect, and are going to Hell.

            We, like others have for years before us, could debate Paul’s theology of Israel in Romans, but whatever he is saying about them in Romans, it is not that.

            My claim is that many in the evangelical right hold both of those positions simultaneously – we should unequivocally support the geopolitical nation of Israel, and their inhabitants are Hell-bound miscreants who killed Jesus and continue to actively reject him, today.

            No, I do not believe my sins killed Jesus Christ. That statement does not make historical sense, although it might make sense in a context of long chain of theological abstraction.

            I hope that clears up what I was trying to say.

          • I’m glad that you are not calling Jewish people “Christ-killers.” What it doesn’t clear up is what you think our attitude toward the state of Israel should be. I would say that God is fulfilling His promise to bring the Jewish people back to the land that He promised to them. That does not mean that I agree with how Palestinians are being treated. On the other hand, if they had accepted the UN resolution in 1948, Israel would have had much less land. If they had accepted the UN armistice agreement in 1949, the Palestinians would have had the West Bank and Gaza. If, immediately after the Six Day War, they would have recognized the right of the State of Israel to exist, before there were any Israeli settlements in the West Bank, they still wold have had the entire West Bank and Gaza. Instead they waited until 25 years later to recognize Israel. At that point, to demand that Israel return the entire West Bank is not quite as reasonable. I pray for the peace of Jerusalem, Israel, and the Palestinians everyday. But at this point, even though I think a two-state solution is best, I don’t see it happening.

          • I don’t think our attitude toward the nation-state of Israel should be anything different than our attitude toward any other country.

          • Pixie5

            I am not a Christian myself but I find this conversation interesting. Yes I know that many Christians believe that this is a fulfillment of prophecy. However do you feel that this prophecy can only be fulfilled by Christians giving military aid to them? And does this prophecy mean that this support should continue if Israel is committing immoral actions?

            Keep in mind that the innocent Palestinian people that are being mistreated are not the ones who turned down the UN. And Israel has had plenty of opportunities to make peace as well and has refused to do so.

            Oh and by the way, Dr. Enns screens all the comments so don’t be alarmed that your comment is put on hold.

          • Pixie5

            I get what you are saying about the odd attitude of many evangelicals towards Jews. It is a love/hate relationship. But one factor that I think plays into it is the prophecy angle. The formation of the Jewish state supposedly is to herald the end times. So they have a vested interest in keeping Israel afloat.

        • Hi Phil,

          Are you calling Jewish people “Christ-killers,” or are you saying that the evangelical right are calling them that? If the latter, who?

          Meanwhile, Paul is specifically talking about unfaithful Israel when he says in Romans 11:28-29 that they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers, and that the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.

        • Hi Phil,

          Are you calling Jewish people “Christ-killers,” or are you saying that the evangelical right are calling them that? If the latter, who?

          Paul is specifically referring to unfaithful Israel in Romans 11:28-29, when he says they are beloved because of their forefathers and that the gifts and call of God are irrevocable.

          And Peter, why aren’t you posting my comment?

  • Ross

    Generally speaking I am probably more favourable toward the State of Israel than most people I know, who tend to be a bit more swayed by the general “anti Israel” bias of much of the media.

    Much of thesis due to my impressions of the “plight” of “Jewish” people and their persecution over much of the past couple of thousand years (much of which was at the hands of “Christians”), leading to the strong desire for a place of safety, which, at least in theory, gives a lot of sense to the creation of the modern political state of Israel. Added to this I also realise that the non-Jewish population of “Palestine” have had, in a generalised way, a very raw deal (to say the least) from both the events of the past 60 plus years within Palestine/Israel and who have also been the victims of external pressures and manipulation, particularly from those who surround them. Overlaid onto this I am also influenced by my experience of my faith, particularly relating to the biblical “nation of Israel” and the scriptural references to the land of promise etc and the prophetic “future” climaxes of these.

    For the life of me I can’t come up with any solid ideas on what will or should be happening there, whether from a biblical or secular viewpoint. Nor can see any reason biblically, or otherwise why “Israel” should be given Carte Blanche to do whatever it wants, particularly if this is oppression of those who are not “of Israel”.

    I think what underlies the current “Pro Israeli” standpoint of much of modern “Evanglicalism” is a guilty backlash against the inherent “antisemitism” of historical Protestantism/Christianism combined with the more superficial reading of scripture Evangelicalism brings, by its focus on “plain meaning”, over and above metaphor and other more complex interpretations of text. Additionally, much of the West and particularly American Evangelicalism (or certain vocal strains of it) are caught up in a powerful demonisation of Islam and Muslims.

    Ultimately we tend to seek simple answers to often complex situations and most of what we read about, or hope for, in relation to Israel/Palestine and the wider “Middle Eastern” strife and complexity, is about trying to impose simple solutions to very difficult problems.

    There is no reason to demonise Israel and I can see lots of reasons to be somewhat supportive of it’s existence, particularly in respect of the very real threats which are weighed against it. At the same time there is also great reason to look toward the welfare and aspirations of those in Gaza and the West Bank and the non-Jews within Eretz Israel. Holding Israel to account for its faults is enshrined within its own constitution even if it imperfectly follows this, so anyone, Evangelical or not should recognise it is imperfect so shouldn’t blindly support all and every act it carries out.

    Maybe, if all of us outside of the borders of “Israel/Palestine”, kept our noses a bit further out of what is going on there, then maybe what happens inside those borders could become a bit more favourable for all of those within those borders.

    • Pixie5

      I think you express the ambivalent nature of the situation very well. Yes we all feel bad about how Christians have treated them in the past and certainly the horror of the Holocaust is something that should never be forgotten. It is difficult to even know how to approach the situation without feeling a bit guilty of perhaps being anti-Semitic. And yes there are also fanatical Muslims involved as well.

      I for one am not old enough to know exactly how all this started. I have heard that the Muslims started it. But at what point do you have to wonder whether it even matters who started it anymore? I see intolerance and hatred on both sides, and no willingness to compromise. There have been decades of “peace talks” but nothing changes, And I have heard that all the Jews have ever wanted is to have a space for themselves and yet they are making incursions into Palestine and expanding their territory. The fact is that they feel they have an ancestral right to the land, but in this day and age that is condemned by the West when other countries try to do that, but somehow it is okay for Israel to do that.

      Ultimately I think that we are only enabling both sides to continue their destructive paths by being involved. And by taking sides we antagonize Muslim factions. I am afraid of what will happen to Israel if we let them go, but at that same time a long drawn out never-ending conflict is no solution either. Perhaps peace may come when the need to compromise is forced upon them. And if they are forced to leave, should we somehow feel guilty about that? Are we obligated to take care of them forever?

      At any rate no Christian should feel obligated to support all of Israel’s actions. whether out of guilt for the past or because of a particular biblical interpretation..

  • Didn’t Paul declare that the wall between Jews and Gentiles was gone and that now we are one in Christ?

  • Daniel Fisher

    Good article – the basic point about Abraham (and his seed) inheriting the “world” I ran into recently in a sermon by John Piper (Israel, Palestine, and the Middle East). While he didn’t draw the idea from Romans 4 (he drew from 1 Cor 3) he similarly emphasizes the observation about the inheritance being the entire world, drawn partly from 1 Cor 3:

    ‘we will inherit the world which includes the Land. Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians will not quibble over the real estate of the Promised Land because the entire new heavens and the new earth will be ours. 1 Corinthians 3:21-23, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” All followers of Christ, and only followers of Christ, will inherit the earth, including the Land.’