Saturday, 7 May 2011

Did Jesus reinterpret the Old Testament?

A colleague just showed me an article he has written addressing the issue of anti-Zionism in the Christian Church and the claim that the Old Testament promises of land made by God to to the Jewish people were “reinterpreted” by Jesus and the Apostles. In the article, he asks where that leaves 2 Timothy 3:16, which says “All Scripture [by which Paul means the Old Testament scriptures] is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”

That set me thinking.

What I’m expressing here are my embryonic thoughts and I need to think more deeply about them but, for what they are worth, here are my first observations.

What do Colin Chapman, Stephen Sizer and other anti-Zionists mean when they tell us that Jesus and the Apostles “reinterpreted” the land promises found in the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures? The implications of such a claim are very serious.

If we can understand the Old Testament only through the lens of Jesus and the Apostles, as Chapman and Sizer claim, in what way can the Hebrew Scriptures be said to be “profitable … for teaching” in their own right? Why bother to read them at all? Why not just read the New Testament?

The claim that Jesus and the apostles reinterpreted the Old Testament Scriptures implies the promises of a land for Abraham’s physical descendant had one meaning before Christ (i.e. a literal meaning) but now they mean the opposite (i.e. they have a spiritual meaning). Either the promises always had a spiritual meaning (which no one, not even Moses understood) or they continue to mean what they always meant.

If the promise of land to Israel no longer means a promise of land, the implication is that we can no longer take the Old Testament at its face value.

If, however, we still read those “God-breathed” Scriptures at face value, we cannot do so with “profit” because although the promise of “land” may have meant what it said on the tin to the original readers, it no longer has the same meaning because Jesus and the apostles supposedly “reinterpreted” the promise.

The anti-Zionist claim also presents us with another problem. If the reinterpretation of the land promises by Jesus and the apostles is true, the new interpretation must have always been the way to understand them. So we are faced with a problem of God promising material blessing to Israel when, in fact, he is really talking about spiritual promises to “the Church”.

We cannot therefore use the term “reinterpretation” without doing damage to the New Testament doctrine of Scripture.

We can talk about Jesus and the apostles exposing “deeper meanings” to the land promises. We can say the New Testament uncovers “fresh layers” or draws out previously unknown “implications” to Old Testament texts but we cannot talk about reinterpretation.

The New Testament itself recognises that the meaning of some Scriptures was previously unknown or misunderstood until the coming of Christ but that is not the same as saying Christ “reinterpreted” the meanings.

And nowhere does Jesus imply the land promises did not really mean the promise of land.

The safest and most common sense approach to the promises God made to Abraham and his descendants of land is to accept that although there may be deeper layers to the promises and greater implications behind the texts, the basic face-value meaning of the “land” passages remains inviolate.

19 comments:

  1. Mike - I think the issue is to try and interpret the OT correctly, that is as Jesus and the apostles interpreted it. One question is this that might help unlock the problem. What if God divided Judah in the time of Christ, and that fulfillment of the promises to Abraham about land were to only the faithful remnant of Jews who were then the continuity of Israel?

    Zechariah 13
    7 “Awake, sword, against my shepherd,
    against the man who is close to me!”
    declares the LORD Almighty.
    “Strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep will be scattered,
    and I will turn my hand against the little ones.
    8 In the whole land,” declares the LORD,
    “two-thirds will be struck down and perish;
    yet one-third will be left in it.
    9 This third I will put into the fire;
    I will refine them like silver
    and test them like gold.
    They will call on my name
    and I will answer them;
    I will say, ‘They are my people,’
    and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’”
    (see also Jeremiah 24 - Judah divided)

    And compare with Acts 3 where Peter says that all the prophets spoke of the coming of Christ and that their words are now fulfilled in, and only through, Christ.

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  2. Thanks Andrew.

    I presume the verse you are referring to in Acts 3 is verse 24: "And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days [i.e. the days of Messiah]".

    However, in the next verse (3:25), Peter tells the crown of unbelieving, impenitent Christ-rejecters: "You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, 'And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.' God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness."

    Peter can address a crowd of people whom he accuses of killing Christ and regard them as children of the prophets and the offspring of Abraham.

    Peter may be interpreting Scripture but he is not reinterpreting it.

    Best wishes.

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  3. Mike - I find when studying the New Testament writers that they were often expounding the OT, even Paul who some think had a new revelation was more usually preaching from the prophets such as Isaiah and Hosea. Perhaps Paul's vision led him to see the OT in a new light. The point arises though whether the Scribes and Pharisees were mis-interpreting the OT and Jesus and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit led the apostles to interpret it in a different, but correct way.
    I think the land promises do include the Holy Land in a literal manner, but Peter's comments need to be read in light of Deuteronomy 18:15-18 - the passage he was expounding in Acts 3:22-23 "For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from their people." Kind regards

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  4. Thanks Andrew.

    I agree with you that Jesus and the apostles interpreted the Scriptures correctly. That is a much better expression that saying,as do Stephen Sizer and Colin Chapman, that they "re-interpreted" them. That view, I think, casts doubt on the inspiration of the Old Testament.

    I'm glad to agree with you also that the land promises should be understood as "literal", even literalistically. All Scripture should be read literally, if reading it "literally" means Scripture means what it says (even if what it says is in poetic or symbol).

    So what happens when Jews who reject the authority of the prophet of Dt 18:18ff are cut off? We would imagine, as you suggest, that they no longer have a part in the land promises.

    However, we should never resort to leaps of false logic. In Romans 11, Paul maintains that although branches (Jewish people) have been broken off from the Olive tree (Israel), God has not rejected the nation. Israel, as a nation, remains the people of God (vv 1,2), even if within that nation there are Messiah-rejecters.

    Which is also why Peter, in Acts 3, can address Jews who rejected Christ as children of the prophets and the offspring of Abraham.

    This what grace is all about.

    Best wishes.

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  5. Mike - this is where we disagree I think. You wrote; "However, we should never resort to leaps of false logic. In Romans 11, Paul maintains that although branches (Jewish people) have been broken off from the Olive tree (Israel), God has not rejected the nation. Israel, as a nation, remains the people of God (vv 1,2), even if within that nation there are Messiah-rejecters."

    If the olive tree of Romans 11 is Israel, as I believe it is, but also the Jewish-Messiah rooted Church, how can a true separate nation of Israel appear once again in our day?

    Scripture speaks of Jews and Israelites being grafted into the olive tree again, that is in the Messiah. Hosea 2:14-23 speaks of God's ongoing love for the Jews that wishes to bring them into a new covenant. (Paul is speaking of this day in Romans 8 as well as 9-11).

    Hos 2: 14 “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
    I will lead her into the wilderness
    and speak tenderly to her.
    15 There I will give her back her vineyards,
    and will make the Valley of Achor[b] a door of hope.
    There she will respond[c] as in the days of her youth,
    as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

    16 “In that day,” declares the LORD,
    “you will call me ‘my husband’;
    you will no longer call me ‘my master.[d]’
    17 I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
    no longer will their names be invoked.
    18 In that day I will make a covenant for them
    with the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
    and the creatures that move along the ground.
    Bow and sword and battle
    I will abolish from the land,
    so that all may lie down in safety.
    19 I will betroth you to me forever;
    I will betroth you in[e] righteousness and justice,
    in[f] love and compassion.
    20 I will betroth you in[g] faithfulness,
    and you will acknowledge the LORD.

    21 “In that day I will respond,”
    declares the LORD—
    “I will respond to the skies,
    and they will respond to the earth;
    22 and the earth will respond to the grain,
    the new wine and the olive oil,
    and they will respond to Jezreel.[h]
    23 I will plant her for myself in the land;
    I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.[i]’
    I will say to those called ‘Not my people,[j]’ ‘You are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”

    Kind regards

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  6. Sorry Andrew but I don't get the point you're trying to make there?

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  7. Hi James, I don't think CZs do grasp it easily. I have written about it more in my book, Zion's New Name. Kind regards

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  8. Thanks Andrew.

    Like James, I find it hard to understand your argument. But let's take your statement, "If the olive tree of Romans 11 is Israel, as I believe it is, but also the Jewish-Messiah rooted Church, how can a true separate nation of Israel appear once again in our day?"

    Here is what is confusing. You say you believe "the olive tree of Romans 11 is Israel" and that it is also "the Jewish-Messiah rooted Church". I have no problem with that but you then go on to ask how "a true separate nation of Israel [can] appear once again in our day."

    If the olive tree is truly Israel, "a true separate nation of Israel" cannot appear "once again in our day". This is a self contradiction.

    I have read your book and I get the distinct impression (though your argument is not easy to follow) that Israel "the Jewish-Messiah rooted Church" is distinct from Israel the nation. You still hold to a form of Replacement Theology, even though you deny it.

    Israel the nation, in the Old Covenant era was God's "qahal". In the LXX, "qahal" becomes "ekklesia". You can't separate Israel "the nation" from Israel "the Jewish-Messiah rooted Church."

    I'll try to post a blog on this soon.

    Best wishes.

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  9. What Mike said - oh and by the way Andrew, I'm not CZ!

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  10. Mike - I don't believe my argument is replacement theology. I maintain that the Church is Israel in a literal sense, and that it needs to recover its Israelite identity in Christ, unlike those Christians who have rejected that identity historically. Replacement theology maintains that God rejected the Jews and accepted the Gentiles - I believe the church is founded as a legitimate expression of Israel in Christ and founded upon the teachings of the Jewish apostles. I believe the land remains Holy unto the Lord and the promises of Abraham about land continue through the Church as Israel, including those Palestinian Christians who are the descendents of Jews, and now Messianic Jews. I don't seek to spiritualise away the literal promise of land, but believe now the whole 'earth is the Lord's and everything in it.' I hope and pray there will be an end time revival amongst Jews so that they come into relationship with Jesus Christ and fellow-grafted-in-gentiles in the Church as Israel. But I don't believe that the State of Israel can bear the fruit that God requires outside of Christ (i.e. John 15). Kind regards

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  11. 1."Palestinian Christians who are the descendants of Jews"

    Huh? Are you being serious? Have you asked (say) Naim Ateek or Eluas Chacour whether they see themselves as descendants of Jews?

    2. Just out of interest - you say you pray for end-time revival among Jews, but what are you doing NOW to support Jewish mission, Andrew? Because if the answer is "not much to be honest, I'm more concerned for the end-times so that my eschatology is vindicated" then (a) you're more similar to extreme CZs than you perhaps realise and (b) you might want to think again about the missiolofigal implications of your theology. I realise that I may be making unfair assumptions about you, in which case please put me right and I will gladly withdraw and apologise.

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  12. Ps Andrew - to preempt your possible reply on 1 - Calvin Smith rather demolished your assertion that Pal Christians are somehow of Jewish descent a few months ago

    http://www.calvinlsmith.com/2010/11/what-shoud-we-do-about-this.html

    So it does rather surprise me that you are going back to this red herring...

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  13. James is right Andrew. Your comments are welcome but you can't keep repeating arguments that were shot out of the water elsewhere.

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  14. Mike - if this is what James is referring to I think Calvin conceded the possibility of my point. Calvin wrote;
    "Concerning Jewish ancestry of Palestinians, it may be that some who can trace their ancestry back in the land well before the 19th century ... have Jewish blood. Not sure many would care to admit it, though. I understand some are rather embarrased by the suggestion. They certainly do not embrace a Jewish identity and remain firmly Palestinian."

    In AD135 the Roman Emperor Hadrian removed all Jews (including Christian Jews) from Jerusalem and planted Gentiles there instead. The first 15 Bishops of the Jerusalem Church were Jews, then gentile names appear. It is often thought by secular sources that these Jewish Christians lost their faith and assimilated with gentiles after being banned from Jerusalem. My contention is that instead they hid their Jewish identity and took up a Gentile identity assimilating with the Gentile church centred in Jerusalem. Other centres of Jewish Christian life in the Middle East we know about from Scripture were Antioch, Damascus, the Levant etc. My contention is that there is a Christian continuity in the Middle East and Holy Land from that time.

    What CZs struggle with is the idea that Palestinian Christians can be a legitimate expression of Israel, but even Hagee sees the church as spiritual Israel (presumably including Palestinian Christians). The scheme I am trying to develop is one that avoids a semi-gnosticism in both replacement theology and some forms of Christian Zionism that spiritualises the promises and blessings of God. So I am arguing that we should go beyond seeing Palestinian Christianity as only spiritual Israel. My contention is that not only is the church spiritual Israel, but ethnically grounded in a Jewish/Israelite root. And Messianic Jews who accept Jesus are included in that Jewish root also. Kind regards

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  15. Thanks Andrew.

    I'm not sure Calvin was qualified to comment on those who have Jewish blood.

    Also, you quote confuses me. You say Calvin said: Calvin wrote:

    "Concerning Jewish ancestry of Palestinians, it may be that some who can trace their ancestry back in the land well before the 19th century ... have Jewish blood. Not sure many would care to admit it, though. I understand some are rather embarrased by the suggestion. They certainly do not embrace a Jewish identity and remain firmly Palestinian."

    I'n not sure how someone in the sixteenth century could write about people in the ninetenth century.

    Best wishes

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  16. Hi Mike

    You are confusing John Calvin with Calvin Smith, whose blog Andrew and I are referring to.

    However, I don't think you are nearly as confused as Andrew himself, who (a) is pushing a variant of British Israelism/ two-house theology (Pal Christians are really Jews in disguise and therefore, if I understand Andrew correctly, have some sort of claim on the land) and (b) hasn't answered my question about Jewish mission.

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  17. James - I am not sure I have to justify myself to you in terms of my support for mission. But, I spent many hours writing a book and hundreds of pounds self publishing it encouraging Jews to see the church as the legitimate expression of Israel, and a place they might feel at home in. I am not sure where I have argued for British Israelism - my approach focuses upon the Middle East, although I have argued that the OT prophets required the gospel to go to the northern 10 tribes of Israel in the first century AD as well as to Jews living as far afield as Turkey and Iran. Two verses you might like to consider Gal. 3:14 "He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit."
    Epheasians 2: 12-14 "...remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
    14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one [Jews and Gentiles] and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility," Kind regards

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  18. suggesting that the Palestinian Christians are really Jews is a variant on British the only difference is that, the lost tribes reemerge as Palestinians rather than as Britons.

    You don't have to justify yourself to me, but you might want to evaluate the missiological implications of your theology - if, as I suspect, you ate doing very little to support Jewish mission then something has clearly gone off beam.

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  19. "I spent many hours writing a book and hundreds of pounds self publishing it encouraging Jews to see the church as the legitimate expression of Israel, and a place they might feel at home in."

    Really, so this was the only motivation to write your book? It was not to bash Israel as it seems that is what your book is about, but to tell them they are likely not to be Jews and in order for them to be sure that they become Jews they need to join the Church!

    Let me know how that works out because that sounds like it will have the reverse effect on Jewish people, this will be yet another unnecessary Christian imposed stumbling-block to Jewish people even considering the claims of Jesus.

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