Friday, October 21, 2005

The Meaning of “Israel”

On Euangelion, in the comments section of Michael Bird’s post, I mentioned the importance of distinguishing Galatians, where Paul refers to the Christ-movement as “Israel” (Gal. 6:16), from Romans, where he does anything but. In Rom 9:1-11:36, Israel is Israel, every step of the way. J.B. Hood responded to me as follows:

It's at least possible [in Romans] that Israel becomes something new with the grafting in of Gentiles [Rom 11:17-24]... True, he's still talking about the Israel tree that was "pruned" -- but he has just added the "grafting in" of the unnatural branches...and mentions the possibility of other natural branches being grafted in again. That's one funny looking tree, that is! Isn't it possible that he is using Israel to label all believers, regardless of race? As he says earlier, Israel isn't always ISRAEL. [Rom 9:6]

Let’s go through this carefully. Paul statement that “not all Israelites truly belong to Israel” (Rom 9:6) means simply that “not all Israelites are presently faithful”. Thomas Tobin cautions that the passage shouldn’t be pressed beyond this loose meaning (Paul’s Rhetoric in its Contexts, p 327). It does not mean, literally, that unbelieving Jews are no longer part of Israel anymore than it means that the Christ-movement (i.e. believing Jews and Gentiles) has become Israel (ibid).

Philip Esler argues similarly: “Despite the inclusive message of Rom 9:6-13, Paul does not identify the Christ-movement with Israel. He comes perilously close, but avoids taking that final step.” (Conflict and Identity in Romans, p 279.) Likewise, in Rom. 9:14-29, Paul refrains from calling the remnant of faithful Christians “Israel”. He may have done so years before, in Galatians, but he’s not willing to do this now.

Rom 9:30-11:14 actually makes clear that “Israel” refers to ethnic Israel rather than a spiritualized (Christian) Israel. Paul contrasts Israel with the Gentiles (Rom 9:30-10:4), that is, the Jewish people as a whole with the Gentile nations, and then insists that despite all appearances, God has really not abandoned his ethnic chosen people (Rom 11:1-12).

He then develops his famous olive tree metaphor in Rom 11:17-24, returning to the view of faithful Jews and Gentiles (9:6-29), the remnant who have turned to Christ. But again, he does not refer to this group as Israel. In fact, this new Christian entity is distinguished from what immediately follows in Rom 11:25-27: “All Israel” will be saved after the Gentiles have been evangelized and joined the faithful Jewish remnant. The Jewish people as a whole, in other words, can count on an apocalyptic miracle in the end to save them from the consequences of unbelief.

Esler and Tobin each come to terms with the differences between Galatians and Romans in different ways. Esler believes the Roman church was locked in ethnic conflict, and Paul needed to play fair ball with Jews as much as Gentiles. Tobin thinks Paul’s reputation had become so bad by the time of Romans, that he was desperately trying to exonerate himself by revising his theology. I think both are correct.


Blogger Anders Branderud said...

Regarding "grafted in":

I want to comment on that.
A logical analysis (found in ( is the website of the only legitimate Netzarim-group)) (including the logical implications of the research by Ben-Gurion Univ. Prof. of Linguistics Elisha Qimron of Dead Sea Scroll 4Q MMT) of all extant source documents of “the gospel of Matthew” and archeology proves that the historical Ribi Yehosuha ha-Mashiakh (the Messiah) from Nazareth and his talmidim (apprentice-students), called the Netzarim, taught and lived Torah all of their lives; and that Netzarim and Christianity were always antithetical.

The origins of the “Noakhide laws” are the Netzarim Jews. It was the beit din ha-Netzarim that decided about these. But those mitzwot wereonly a starting point not the end. The end point was non-selectively Torah-observance. Read more in the “Benei Noakh”-section in the “History Museum” in the above Netzarim-website.

Thos whom believed that Ribi Yehoshua was the Mashiakh, and whom wanted to be grafted in to Israel was in the first century required to first practise some of the basic mitzwot (outlined in the above section I referred to), then come before the beit din ha-Netzarim and obligate themselves to do their utmost to learn and to keep all of the mitzwot for geirim (see “Glossaries” in the website I referred to) non-selectively; and the beit din ha-Netzarim would grant the title geir toshav. This was and still is the Halakhah established by the beit-din ha-Netzarim.

Anders Branderud


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