Is the Church an Enemy of the Gospel For Its Own Sake?

“Paul says in Romans 9:6 that ‘they are not all Israel, which are of Israel’ and in 11:19 that ‘The branches were broken off, that I might be graffed in.’ Therefore, the cut-off branches, the Jews, have no more right to claim to be Israel, as that title has passed to the Church.”

That’s not an exact quote, but it sums up a typical Replacement argument. However, it misses Sha’ul’s point entirely, as can be demonstrated by the closing arguments of this three chapter long section:

For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, “There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.” As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
(Romans 11:25-29)

Now, if we are to assume that in Sha’ul’s theology that “Israel” now means the Church, that would mean that the Church is partially blinded until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in, and that the Church is an enemy of the Gospel because of itself. That makes no sense at all. Therefore, it must follow that by “Israel” here, Sha’ul is speaking of the same Israel of which the majority were blinded in vv. 8-10, the same Israel that he starts chapter 9 by describing:

For I could wish that myself were accursed from the Messiah for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Torah, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Messiah came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. (vv. 3-5)

It is not we Gentile believers who are beloved of God because of the patriarchs–we are beloved solely because of our adoption in Yeshua–but Israel, who received the covenants that God gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is Israel who received the Torah, the service of God, and the promises. Sha’ul starts chapters 9-11 by defining Israel in such a way that nobody could mistake him for meaning the Ekklesia, and he ends his argument the same way. How then can some read Romans and suppose that God has forever rejected “Israel according to the flesh”?

Some have tried to get around the conclusion that the natural descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have a special promise that the Eternal One will fulfill in the future by positing that “all Israel” means instead all of the Jews who join Yeshua’s Ekklesia. However, this also fails to explain Sha’ul’s final argument. The Apostle, after all, had already acknowledged that there was “at this present time . . . a remnant according to the election of grace” (11:5), and implies that God has always kept and will always keep a remnant of Israel who are faithful to Him despite the lack of faith of the majority (vv. 2-4). So then, if this remnant is the “all Israel” spoken of in v. 29, then Sha’ul, using the future tense, didn’t know what he was talking about.

Moreover, we see in v. 12 that “if the fall of them [Israel] be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?” In other words, though Israel’s current blindness was necessary so that the Gospel could spread to the Gentiles, when “all Israel is saved” the “riches” that will come about will be even greater, even comparible to the Resurrection of the dead (v. 15)!

However, we are not to assume that “all Israel” means that every circumcised Jew is automatically saved–that would contradict Sha’ul’s clear teaching of chapters 2-3. Rather, “all Israel” should be understood as “Israel as a whole.” If I said, “When Yeshua returns, all America will be saved,” we wouldn’t suppose that to mean everyone born in America since her inception would be retroactively saved, but rather that the nation as a whole at the time of His Coming would be. Likewise Israel.

Sha’ul uses the imagery of an olive tree and her branches. Branches, in Biblical imagery, do not simply denote individuals, but family lines. Thus, the Messiah is repeatedly called the Branch which comes out of David; that is, David’s descendant, many times removed. Now, many of these branches were cut off, pruned, because they refused to put their trust in Yeshua HaMashiach. In turn, branches brought from wild trees were grafted into the cultivated tree of Israel. They become part of the tree, nourished by its sap.

Because we are the graftees, Sha’ul warns, “Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee” (v. 18). When the Church boasts against the Jews, we forget that it is not the Ekklesia to whom Israel must be grafted, it is we who must be grafted into Israel through her Messiah.

But those branches which are broken off have not simply been cast away.

And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be graffed in: for God is able to graff them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert graffed contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be graffed into their own olive tree? (vv. 23-24)

This is not simply saying that individual Jews who become Christians can be saved. This is saying that the whole nation can in fact be regrafted back into their rightful promises–and in fact, Sha’ul goes on to say that this is not merely a possibility, but a promise!

The problem is not in the claim that the Ekklesia, both Jew and Gentile, belong to Israel. We do, just as the Galatians belonged to Rome. The problem is the claim that we are Israel, to the exclusion of the Jewish people, and that therefore the present Jewish nation by that name has no claim to it.

Next: A Rift in God’s Kingdom

Shalom.

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