Friday, 15 July 2011
Are the Jews God’s Chosen People?
Not according to Rev Dr Stephen Sizer (pictured).
A few weeks ago, the vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water was in Malaysia participating in a lecture tour organised by Muslim organisation Viva Palestina Malaysia. Shahanaaz Habib of the Star Newspaper interviewed him and he was so impressed by her “rather provocative article” that he posted it on his blog:
“‘Absolute rubbish’, replies Reverend Dr Stephen Sizer when asked about the popular Christian view that Jews are the chosen people and that Israel is the Holy Land which gives them the right to return.
“The senior pastor of Christ Church in Surrey, England, who has a master’s in theology from Oxford University, stresses that the New Testament never once mentions that the Jews are the ‘chosen people’ nor does it say that the land belongs to the Jews.
“In fact, he adds, the Hebrew scripture doesn’t say that either.“‘God’s chosen people are not based on race but based on faith,’ he insists.”
So both Jews and Christians have been getting it wrong for thousands of years. We thought the Bible – both Old and New Testaments – taught that Israel was “the people of God”. But they’re not.
How does the claim that the New Testament “never once mentions that the Jews are the ‘chosen people’” stack up against the New Testament itself?
Well, in one sense Rev Sizer is correct; there is no verse that says “the Jews are the ‘chosen people’.”
But does it need to? If the Old Testament teaches the Jews are God’s chosen people, why should we assume that the silence of the New Testament means they no longer enjoy “favoured nation” status? Should we not, instead, expect to find – if Sizer is right – an announcement that the Jews are no longer persona grata with God?
But, says Sizer, even in the Tanakh we find no evidence that the Jewish people are God’s chosen. It’s all based on faith. Really? How about these verses?
Ex 3:10: “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
1Sam 9:16: “Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have seen my people, because their cry has come to me.”
2Sam 7:10: And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more.”
Ps 81:11: “But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me.”
Ezek 34:30: “And they shall know that I am the LORD their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people…”
It is possible, of course, that Stephen Sizer will say that the actual term “chosen people” does not appear in any of these verses. Well, try these verses for size…
Dt 7:6: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God." The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
Dt 14:2: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
1Chron 16:13: “O offspring of Israel his servant, sons of Jacob, his chosen ones!”
Ps 33:12: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!”
Ps 105:6: “O offspring of Abraham, his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones!”
Ps: 105:43: “So he brought his people out with joy, his chosen ones with singing.”
Is 43:20: “The wild beasts will honour me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people…”
“God’s chosen people are not based on race but based on faith”, insists Stephen Sizer, but the verses listed above are applied indiscriminately to all the Jews. If Sizer wants explicit statements, where does God ever say that only those Israelites who possess faith are his people?
In Amos 3:2, God warns Israel: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”
With privilege comes responsibility. Not every Israelite loved God with his whole heart but, because he was an Israelite and because he was chosen, his punishment would be more severe. To whom much is given, much is required.
But what about the New Testament? Is Sizer correct when he claims the New Testament is silent about the Jews being the “chosen people”?
The objection is a smoke screen. It’s similar to the one raised by those who deny the deity of Jesus: “Jesus never said he was God.” Well he may not have said “I am God” in so many words but if someone is accorded all the titles of God, and if he speaks like God and acts like God, the chances are pretty high that he is God. Jesus didn’t need to go around declaring his deity any more than the Queen of England or the President of the United States needs to constantly jog our memories about their status.
The New Testament, of course, never states explicitly that the Jewish people are “the chosen people” but the evidence is there.
Mt 2:6: “And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.”
Addressing a crowd of Christ-rejecting Jews, Peter states in Acts 3:25: “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.”
In Romans 9:3ff, Paul writes in the present tense about his “brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh”:
“They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.
In Romans 11:28f, he says of the Jews: “As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”
God called Israel because he chose to, and he will not revoke that call or the gifts he bestowed on them. That is why Paul could say in Romans 2:9: “There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first …”
He is repeating what Amos said centuries before: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.”
That is why the gospel, although it is “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes”, it is (present tense) and remains, “to the Jew first” (Rom 1:16).
Does the New Testament teach that Jewish people are still the chosen people? You bet!