When we have guests visiting Israel, we take them to a store in Jerusalem owned by two Orthodox Jewish men who have become authoritative spokesmen in Jewish apologetics and welcome conversation regarding the Jewish perception of Christianity. Most of our guests are staggered to discover that Judaism views Christianity as hostile to it; believing that it has replaced Israel as the blessed Nation of God.
This perception is not new and is not limited to those who do not follow Jesus. David Baron was a Judeo-Christian Bible teacher, expositor, author, and missionary to his people. He lived in the latter half of the 19th into the 20th Century. In one of his essays, he wrote that Christians, "when reading in the Scriptures about exceeding great and precious promises which God made to Israel, say…now Israel means no longer Israel but the Church which has entered into their inheritance.1"
My wife, Shoshona, and I have encountered similar statements from modern Christians that substantiate this view that the Church considers itself to be the new Israel; a spiritual Israel, the perfected Israel that God has always envisioned.
Who is Israel?
Those who follow this course claim to represent the historic position. Indeed, this has been the majority opinion of Christendom for most of its almost 2000 years on earth. They base their view on the allegoric or spiritual method of interpretation which they apply to the Scriptures. In this way the literal meaning is the least important while a deeper, hidden, and spiritual meaning is sought.
Those espousing this belief state that Israel has rejected God, which resulted in Him having divorced them. In their place He married the Church, which is non-Jewish and was always present, prefigured in and represented by the faithful of Israel until the time it was fully revealed. The chief failing of Israel that led to her being cast aside was her attempt to perfect the flesh, which is impossible, while the Church having crucified the flesh is perfected in the spirit.
Foundational to this position is the conviction that the physical realm is lower in order while the spiritual realm is the highest. So, the people of Israel, a physical ethnicity are lower in rank than the Church, which is a spiritual body. Another factor is the belief that as more revelation is given, the newer becomes the interpreter of the older.
Furthermore, it is understood that the relationship between these two, Israel and the Church, is explained as the deeper spiritual meaning of Jacob and Esau of whom it is stated, the older would serve the younger (Genesis 25:23-26). Bible history notes Jacob, who is Israel, as the younger and the son of blessing. However, in this case, Israel which is older than the Church is equated with Esau, the elder brother, and the Church with Jacob. Israel, as Esau, is to serve the younger, the Church, which is spiritual. It is the Church that continues in the place of Jacob and inherits all the blessings of the Father, while Israel becomes the enemy of the Church and of God.
Accordingly, Israel’s rejection of God resulted in a perpetual state of denunciation and chastisement in which they are under the control of the Devil and in league with him against God and the Church. Some, claiming the words of Jesus (John 8:44), say that this has always been the case with Jewish people who were not part of the faithful remnant; the Church. Although some of this belief system has been adapted to best fit acceptable modern world thinking, there still remains a strong rhetoric that espouses God’s curses upon the Jewish people, whom many still consider as the earthly children of the Devil.
Moreover, as a spiritual body higher in rank than carnal Israel, Jewish people are relegated to perpetual subservience to Christians. Some do not believe that Jewish people can enter the redemption; others believe that this debilitating physical condition can be escaped only when Jewish people are transformed into the Israel of God, the Church. Among the latter are those who with compassion seek to convert Jewish people to Christianity and also those who do not believe in reaching the Jewish people at this time with the Gospel, citing a future mass conversion of Israel to Christianity at the beginning of the Kingdom of God; a Christian Kingdom.
A minority of Christians dispute this claim and volumes have been passionately written by both sides applying Scripture to prove their point. The issue cannot be resolved by force of debate but by examining the foundations on which these claims are based. If the foundation is solid then what is built upon it will stand; if not then it must be discarded as faulty and as leading people astray.
What was the foundation of interpretation used by the Apostles?
According to the Apostles, the Bible was revealed over time as God chose a number of different men to pen His composition (Hebrews 1:1) under the inspiration and oversight of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21). It was written in a known human language conveying thoughts, concepts, and emotions. The words that make up sentences and books are to be understood in their normal grammatical manner as they capture and express the intent of God, whether it is in words of prophecy, history, or poetry.
In order to insure our proper understanding of the words of the Bible, we are instructed not to take a verse out of context (2 Peter 1:20). Nor are we to take a word or a phrase on its own, but rather in conjunction with the same and consistent usage of that word or phrase throughout the chapter, book, other books penned by the same human author, and then the entire Bible (1 Corinthians 2:13).
As a work of progressive revelation, any newer disclosure supplements older revelation (where older revelation on a subject exists); giving more information about it and giving us fuller understanding (Hebrews 1:1). The newer revelation does not replace the older revelation by its virtue of being the latest or newest. Just as the historical books of the Bible (including the Law) are factual, the nature of prophetic revelation is literal, since exactly fulfilled revelation is contained in the historical books as well as the Prophets and in almost all of the New Testament.
The overwhelming testimony of the New Testament writers, Jesus, and the Jewish Bible confirm that the plain understanding of the Scriptures is the correct approach.
Accordingly, the Church, which has no earthly homeland but looks for the New Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22-24; Revelation 21:1-3), is taken from every people and linguistic group (1 Peter 2:9-10; Revelation 5:9) and composed of born again Jewish and non-Jewish individuals (Ephesians 2:19; Galatians 6:16). Israel is the physical ethnicity descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to whom God has given distinct promises that include perpetual custodianship of the Land of Israel and a future earthly Kingdom; the Kingdom for Israel.
The New Testament confirms the words of the Prophets concerning the glorious future for the Jewish people, their continued relationship with the Father, and His love for them, even in this present age (Romans 11:25-29). Israel is still the source of God blessing all nations of the Earth, and those among the various ethnicities who recognize the exalted position of Israel will in turn be exalted by God (Romans 11:11-15; cf. Genesis 12:1-3).
In very broad terms, Israel and the Church share time and space on earth, and even similarities in purpose. Both are called upon to be a light to the Nations; Israel as a witness of the reality of God (Isaiah 43:10) and the Church as a witness to the reality that the Messiah of God has appeared (Acts 1:8). Both have a glorious future; the Church as inheritor of eternal spiritual promises having physical ramifications, and Israel as the inheritor of physical promises that will yield eternal spiritual blessings. Although in the Scriptures there appear to be similarities in how the Father regards them, they are uniquely different.
Using the interpretive tools by which the Bible validates itself, we discover that the Church is not the new Israel, not a spiritual form of Israel, and has not taken the place of Israel.
When and how did the majority of Christianity determine it was Israel?
The Scriptures teach us to build on Christ (1 Corinthians 10:3-15) who confirms the witness of the Prophets and has given authority to the Apostles. (Ephesians 2:20-22). This is the true foundation. This foundation was undermined with the absence of authoritative and centralized Jewish leadership in the Church, especially after the failed Second Jewish Revolt against Rome (A.D. 135). This interpretive and instructive void led to the rise of apologists not trained by the Apostolic Church nor understanding God’s unconditional love for the Jewish people.
The authoritative center of instruction shifted to Alexandria, Egypt where, while attempting to reach the non-Jewish Hellenistic Gentile population with the Gospel, the New Testament message was synthesized through Greek philosophic thought. To a lesser extent, this had already been done by a Jewish commentator named Philo in an effort to express certain Judaic theological concepts in a Hellenistic manner. However, the difference now was the interpretation of the entire Bible according to the rules of neo-Platonism and Aristotle, rather than those followed by the Apostles. The basis for this interpretive technique was to assume the writing to be an allegory. By doing so, the Bible was interpreted exactly like Greco-Roman mythological writing.
One of the leaders of the Alexandrian school was Origen (A.D. 185-254). Although Hellenistic Christian writers before him already interpreted the Scriptures using this method, which resulted in the Church replacing Israel as the blessed people of God, he is credited with developing the rules for allegorical interpretation. He surmised that each passage has three meanings; the fleshly, psychic, and spiritual. He instructed to avoid the lowest meaning, the normal reading, and seek guidance and inspiration to discern the highest meaning, the allegorical, "the spiritual." His instruction validated the violation of every rule of interpretation used by the Apostles, Jesus, and the Prophets.
Highly acclaimed, he set the basis for others such as Augustine and John Chrysostom, whose anti-Judaic bias was given credibility as theology under this false method of interpretation. Later Church leaders including those of the Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, Protestant Churches, as well as some Baptist and Evangelical Churches would persist in this error. By doing so, they have helped to polarize Israel and Church, contributed to the proliferation of anti-Judaic rhetoric, and unwittingly become a stumbling block between Israel and the Gospel message. Have you?
1. David Baron, Israel’s Inalienable Possessions, re-printed American Board of Missions to the Jews 1943