Posts Tagged ‘Romans’

The Church & Israel — How Much Does Romans Say?

Friday, August 14th, 2009

I’m still discussing Romans 9-11 with Bob in the comment section of the last entry.  I may take some of that and make a new entry.  In the meantime, I had already written out this fourth post in the series.  Just a quick thought on how much Romans 9-11 actually addresses.

I think it’s pretty clear that Paul is pointing forward to a future spiritual renewal of ethnic Israel, in which many many Jews will find the Messiah.

But I don’t think Romans 9-11 says anything else about the end times.  It doesn’t say anything about the role of Israel in the end times.  If you only read these chapters, you don’t find anything about Israel’s role in the kingdom of God.  You don’t find anything about the millenium.  You don’t even find anything about the land of Israel.

Not directly, anyway.  Paul does say, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (v. 29).  And he does seem to think that the bloodlines still matter for something.  But we have to read other parts of the Bible in order to find out what exactly are “the gifts and calling of God”.

It might still turn out that some of the promises & prophecies were typological, or “spiritual” in some sense.  Not face value.  (When they’re fulfilled, it might not turn out like you would think at first glance.)  But like I said in the last entry, we have to be careful with that.  If you want to claim that’s what will happen, you should have good exegetical reason for doing it.  (Just because you can think of some way that “This promise about Israel is fulfilled in Christ & the Church”, doesn’t mean you’re reading it the way it was intended.)  Especially the further you move away from taking it at “face value”.

The Church & Israel — Thinking About Rom. 9-11

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Continuing from the last entry, where I put Romans 7-12 in my own words, here are some observations.

Observations

1.) When Paul says that God’s promise hasn’t failed, his emphasis is not, “Because the Church is the true Israel.”  (That’s what Replacement theologians tend to say.)  Instead, his emphasis is, “Because the remnant of the Jews has come to Christ.”   Even if you think the Church is Israel–even if you think Paul says so–it should be clear that Paul doesn’t depend on that idea here.  His response is based on the remnant.

2.) Paul makes a big point of the fact that God did have a faithful remnant of some Jews.  Apparently, if all the Jews had rejected the Messiah, God’s promise would have failed.  So in some way, the bloodlines do still matter.   It does matter for ethnic Jews to follow Christ.

3.) Paul does talk about including the Gentiles as God’s children, as beloveds, as his people.  God brings “vessels of mercy” from out of the Gentiles, as well as from out of the Jews.  But Paul doesn’t directly say anything here like, “Therefore we can call the whole body of Christ ‘Israel’.”  (The arguable place is 11:25-26, which I’ll get to in a moment.  Also, Gal. 6:16 or Rom. 2:29 might say so–but that would be a different argument.  What does this passage mean?)

4.) In some places in the passage, “Israel” can only mean ethnic Israel, not “believing Jews + the Gentiles”.

As an exercise, try walking through all three chapters, and replace “Israel” with either “ethnic Israel” or “true Israel”.  Try it both ways in each case.  See which ones are clearly “ethnic Israel”.  See which ones are arguable.

Especially, let’s try that in 11:25-26.

5.) “Israel” shows up twice in 11:25-26.  The first time is clear, but the second time is arguable.

a partial hardening has come upon [ethnic] Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel [???] will be saved, as it is written,

On the one hand, maybe it means “a vast majority of Jews will come to Christ”.  (“All Israel” doesn’t necessarily mean “every individual”, even though that might sound more natural.)

On the other hand, maybe it means, “every individual from true Israel (whether Jew or Gentile) will find mercy”.

That makes more sense out of “all Israel”.  And the basic idea of “true Israel” makes sense with the earlier stuff about including the Gentiles.  And it makes sense with some other passages.  But–I can’t make sense of it in the context.

Paul had talked about making the unbelieving Jews jealous in order to save them, and desiring them to be grafted back in.  Then he talks about a temporary partial hardening.  It seems to go, “Partial hardening on the Jews until the fullness of the Gentiles comes in, and then the hardening will be released, and more Jews will be saved.”

The “true Israel” really doesn’t fit well, if you keep going from v. 25 through to vs. 32.  You might think “true Israel” works in v. 26, but keep reading.  Pay attention to what happens when you hit v. 28, and especially v. 31:

so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy.

Who has been disobedient?  Ethnic Israel.  Who is Paul hoping will receive mercy?  Ethnic Israel.

If you read v. 26 by itself, maybe it can work.  But it stops working when you hit v. 28.

6.) Last comment: Paul definitely talks about the Gentiles being included as God’s people, and he says they are “children of the promise”.  Galatians also connects us with Abraham (Gal. 3:29).  But what about the later Mosaic covenant?  Maybe we’re included in Abraham, but not Moses.  What about all the later promises that God didn’t make to Abraham, but made to Israel and the people of Israel?  Do we have to be included in both?

I really don’t know.  But I don’t think Paul intended to answer that question in Rom. 9-11–he’s mainly addressing the promises of salvation.  (And in 9:3-5 and 11:28-29, he’s maybe pointing out some particular promises & blessings for ethnic Israel.  I’m not sure.)

So, I don’t think you should take your final answer from Rom. 9-11.  Even if it turns out that Gentile Christians do receive all the promises & covenants & prophecies to Israel, we would need to do more work to figure that out. We need to look at the various promises and prophecies, and look at what the New Testament says about them, and see what makes sense.  In particular, we need to look at the land promises, and see what God specifically promised.  And Jeremiah 31:35-37 is important.

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Back to “How do we interpret the Bible?” in general.

Covenant theologians are right–that we need to let the New Testament interpret the Old, where it does so. And Dispensationalists are right–that we need to be careful about over-allegorizing, where the Bible doesn’t justify doing it.  We should take it at face value unless we have good reason not to.

That’s where I’m at.  I need to study the Old Testament promises, and find out what the New Testament says about them.

I have just one more comment about Israel and the Church in the end-times.  But I’ll save that for another entry.  A brief one.  I promise.

The Church & Israel — Summarizing Romans 9-11

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Continuing my look at the Church, Israel, and Replacement Theology:

Romans 9-11 is one of the most important New Testament passages about the Church and Israel.  It’s interesting:  People on both sides argue, “My side has to be right–just look at Romans 9-11!”  There are other important passages–Galatians, Hebrews, & Revelation (particularly Gal. 6:16 and Rom. 2:29.) I know I haven’t studied them enough to come to really solid conclusions.  But on Romans 9-11, there are some things that I think are pretty clear.

The three chapters culminate in 11:25-32.  And that passage includes the key phrase, “in this way all Israel will be saved”.  What does Paul mean?  Is he talking about ethnic Israel?  Or is he talking about “true Israel”–all the children of God in Christ?

Dispensationalists (and some Replacement theologians) take “all Israel will be saved” to mean that there will be a future restoration of ethnic Israel:  Many Jews will turn to Christ.  (“See!”, they say, “Israel is still distinct from the Church in the plans of God!”)

Replacement theologians tend to take it this way:  Even though so much of Israel has rejected Christ, the promises of God will not fail–because true Israel is all those who believe in Christ, both Jew and Gentile.  And all of true Israel will be saved.  (“See!”, they say, “Everyone who knows Christ is now part of Israel!”)

I’m still trying to work some things out–there are pieces of this passage that aren’t clear to me.  I do think the Replacement crowd are at least partly right.  Ch. 9-11 is definitely about how the promises of God have not failed, and it definitely emphasizes unity between Jews and Gentiles in salvation.  The whole Church is definitely part of God’s family, and does inherit promises from the Old Testament.

But I’ve also concluded this:  Paul does point to future restoration & salvation for ethnic Israel, i.e. for currently unbelieving Jews.  And ultimately, this passage doesn’t say, “‘Israel’ now means the Church.” Replacement theologians are reading that in, they’re not getting it from here.  (Maybe you could build a case from other passages, but here, it’s not what Paul said.)

To see that, I want to walk through the passage to see the major flow of thought.  Then I want to look at how is the word “Israel” is used–and at what exactly the Gentiles are included in.  (I’m not perfectly clear on the last part.) (more…)

Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 3: Hypocrisy, Stereotyping, and the Gospel

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

Pt 1:  Slogans & the Gospel

Pt 2: The Gospel in Romans

Paul said in Romans 2, “you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.“  He’s talking about hypocrisy–doing what you criticize in other people.

Recently I’ve become increasingly aware of how often and how easily we fall into that.  With the best of intentions, we can wind up being hypocritical in practically everything.  It just slips in under our radar.

Examples

1.) Charity Police

In a post from October, I said:

If you read many blogs on the internet, you will find people who speak very uncharitably–they’re constantly unnecessarily harsh in tone and unreasonable in how they interpret others.  You will also find people who are obsessed with accusing others of being uncharitable.  You can call them charity police.  And those guys can be some of the least charitable people around–accusing others of uncharity at the drop of a hat or the slightest hint of language that isn’t excessively polite.  Majorly unreasonable & oversensitive.

We should be gracious with each other in addressing their mistakes–including mistakes of style.  And we shouldn’t be too quick to assume the worst.

Charity police can be the least charitable people on the internet.

2.) Liberals & stereotyping.

(Note: Everyone does this kind of thing, but there’s an extra element of hypocrisy when self-professed liberal people do it.)

As a general simplification:  The Liberal Ideal includes being open-minded & tolerant.

So it’s particularly unfortunate when a self-described liberal broadbrushes conservatives–as narrow-minded, as selfish, as hateful, or as smug, Pharisaical, self-righteous  judgmental jerks.  When a liberal thinks in stereotypes, seeing us through the filter of their preconceived ideas about us–without engaging & exploring & knowing us.

It’s frustrating being pigeonholed by someone who tells you how open-minded they are.

(I think the Prop 8 Musical is a good example of this.  More about that in…Uh, I think it’ll be Pt 5.  And I think my next entry will discuss what our response should be to this kind of stereotyping.)

Underlying Problems & Solutions

In a general sense, this happens because we’re messed-up, sinful people.  Even in our attempts to be good or identify good, we get twisted around.  And the solution will involve prayer, and humility, and being graceful toward each other when we screw up like this.  But I want to try to be a little more specific.

Problem #1: A comfortable lack of introspection

We start to rest on our laurels.  To be comfortable.  We form an image of ourselves, and live in the image, unaware of whether we’re living up to it.  We stop examining ourselves for consistency.  We begin to live without integrity.

If you haven’t yet, listen to the mp3 of Carson talking about integrity–our struggle when we see that who we are on in the inside isn’t the same as who we try to be on the outside.  Here’s the mp3.  Go to 1:05:20, and listen for about 4.5 minutes.

So, accept that you’re going to be a hypocrite sometimes.  Commit to finding out where it’s happening.  Commit to the struggle.  Keep examining yourself against the principles you claim to follow.  Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, and commit to the humility of Christ.

Problem #2:  Keeping score vs. the Gospel

The more we compete & try to keep score—winning arguments, or proving our worth—the more likely we are to form lying images in our minds.  The more we think that our salvation depends on keeping the rules & being “good people”, the more likely we are to cling to a positive image of ourselves.  And the less likely we are to probe our own life & heart, to find the inconsistencies.

If we live in a place of freedom—knowing that our hope is based on what Christ did—then it becomes easier to admit the problems, to look for more failures, and ask for grace from God to help us change.

And our lives proceed from our hearts.  So when we pray for change, we have to pray for a change of heart.  It means looking more to the life of Jesus, and falling in love with what we see.  The change grows from the longing that God gives us to see his goodness, and taste it in our own lives.  The change grows from the belief that it will be worth it to change, even when it’s hard & involves sacrifice.  “He who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

And the change will come from God’s strength & goodness, not ours.  “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:13)  I started this series from Romans 1-2; when we get to Romans 7, we find Paul talking about this kind of struggle with inconsistency.  And in Romans 8, we find the words of blessed assurance that if we are in Christ, we will be made more like him–that he will be the firstborn of many brothers.  He searches our hearts, and knows what is there, which should be scary–but he is bending all of history, everything in our lives, to change us.

“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”  (Rom. 8:26-30)

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Update:
Here’s the entire series:
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 1: Slogans & the Gospel
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 2: The Gospel in Romans
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 3: Hypocrisy, Stereotyping, and the Gospel
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4: Dealing with Stereotypes
Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 4.5: P.S. On Dealing with Stereotypes

Homosexuality & Hypocrisy Pt 2: The Gospel in Romans

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

In the previous entry, I talked about how the Gospel should be at the center of anything we say about homosexuality–and this includes stressing the point that we are all sinners, and no one has the right to feel self-righteous. It’s interesting that Paul makes precisely that point when he talked about it.

Romans 1

Paul talks about homosexuality in Rom. 1:26-27, and then lists other sins in Rom. 1:28-32–like gossip and disobedience to parents.  So, I started pointing that out, when I wanted to show that–biblically–homosexuality is a sin among other sins. To show that everyone–including me–stands condemned in the same way. No one can be self-righteous.

It’s odd. For some reason, I didn’t notice that Paul seems to be making exactly that point. Then recently, it clicked.  When he lists “big” sins with “small” sins, he almost seems to bait a trap for the smugly self-righteous–letting the readers feel comfortable for a moment, before cutting them low.  (Though… See the P.S. at the end of the entry.)

(more…)

Law vs. Gospel

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

There’s an interesting discussion at the Internet Monk’s blog, based on a recent broadcast of the White Horse Inn. (Links further below.) It’s very meaty and edifying, and is related to some of what I said in my last entry. (OK, so practically everything in theology is connected. But the connection here seemed particularly strong.)

Note: The following intro is sprinkled with links to Scripture references. They’ll pop up in a new window, and I tried to keep them concise (just a couple or a few verses each), so I hope you’ll take the time to open them up as you read–and get the richness of God’s word from the source, rather than just from this faulty conduit.

In the last entry, I mentioned how the Spirit works in God’s children, teaching us that we are sinners, showing us our need, and pointing us to Christ and to what he did for us. When Paul taught about the way that God convicts us of our sin, he emphasized the role that the written Law plays. All of us (even we Gentiles) do have God’s Law written on our hearts, so that we have an instinctive understanding of morality–against which we sin. But Paul says that a function of the written Law is to increase our sin–when we see the written Law, it confronts us with our sin. And not only that, but our rebellious nature is such that when we hear a command, “Don’t do this,” we may be more likely to commit that very sin!

The Law points us to our need, and to our utter inability to satisfy its righteous requirements that are based in the very nature and character of God. So when Christ comes, we fall at his feet, and know that we can only be justified by faith. Apart from our working.

That’s part of the reason that Christians struggle with the awareness of our own sin. The Law teaches us sin more clearly. Sin abounds, so that grace may abound to those who believe. And those who believe are exhorted to present ourselves as slaves to righteousness. But…As his children whom he disciplines, with the Spirit in us moving us to delight in God and his law, we struggle with our sin even more. Realizing the need to assure us in our struggle, Paul wrote Romans 8. In this life, in this unredeemed flesh, the struggle makes us look ahead in hope to the promised renewal of our bodies and all creation. God is our adopted Poppa, he has given us the Spirit to guarantee our inheritance, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, God uses everything that happens to our good, and nothing will separate us from his love. (And notice: In our struggles–both against persecution & suffering and against our own weakness–God promises that he will bring us through. God is moving heaven and earth so that those whom he calls and justifies, he will also sanctify and glorify. And nothing can stop his determined effort! Our security and our perseverance stands in the strength of the Creator God.)

OK, so, that was the introduction. :)

On to the links, with a (much briefer) description of the broadcast and discussion. (more…)