“Israel” as a Technical Term

31 Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved (1 Corinthians 10.31-33).

The Categories of Man

The passage above indicates God has categorized man into three groups: Jews, Greeks, i.e., Gentiles, and the Church. Each has a separate and distinct purpose and administration in God’s plan. Before God called Abraham, He dealt with mankind as a whole. Or, we might say that the world was all of one category, i.e., Gentile. With His call of Abraham, God created and divided the world into two peoples: Gentile and Jew. As a result, God created a unique relationship with the Jews. He gave them His covenants, entrusted them with the Word of God, and governed and guided them with the Mosaic Law and the prophets. The grand revelation God gave Israel through his prophets and covenants was that He would establish a kingdom with them, that they would be preeminent among all the earth’s nations, and that a Messiah-King would rule this kingdom.

The distinct entities of Jew and Gentile continued until Paul. Through Paul, God revealed a third entity–the Church, the Body of Christ. The Church was a new creation which was unknown until the time of Paul. God did not reveal it to His prophets nor did Jesus reveal it to his disciples in His ministry on earth. Paul declared that the Church, the Body of Christ was a “secret” (μυστήριον) God had hid until He revealed it to Paul (Ephesians 2.11-22; 3.3-9; Colossians 1.26-27; Romans 16.25-27).

“Israel” a Technical Term

The term “Israel” in Scripture is technical. It is always used for the physical descendants of Jacob. In the same way, the term “Gentile” is a technical term. It always refers to a non-Jew. This fact is obvious and undisputed (except for some bizarre arguments) in the Old Testament. In New Testament studies, however, the meaning of the term “Israel” is a point of contention. The reason for the contention is a result of theology, not philology.

When the nation split after Solomon, ten of the tribes became known as “Israel.” The other tribes were called “Judah.” So Israel sometimes meant the northern tribes. At other times, Israel referred to the entire nation (Acts 2.36).

The lexical evidence that the word “Israel” means only the physical offspring of Jacob is overwhelming. No lexical evidence exists that “Israel” means anything other than ethnic Jews. In the New Testament, the term “Israel” occurs 71 times and the term “Israelite” 4 times. In every case, the terms refer to ethnic Jews. A simple word study of the term reveals this fact. As noted in Paul’s passage above, the Scriptures keep the entities of Israel, Gentiles, and the Church separate and distinct.1

Despite the fact that the term “Israel” always refers to ethnic Jews, most of Christendom views the Church as “Israel.” Why? The answer is because an aberrant method of interpretation (hermeneutic) has been thrust upon the Scriptures–particularly those which deal with eschatology (future things) and ecclesiology (church doctrine). This methodology, the allegorizing of texts, is a result of eisegesis “reading into a text.” It is the opposite of exegesis in which interpretation is drawn from the text. A world of difference results from these two methods. One yields sound doctrine; the other error.

To understand why this issue exists requires some historical background. In the 2nd century A.D., a poisonous theory arose that promoted the idea that when and because the nation of Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God ended His plan with them.2 Advocates of this theory also rejected the idea that God’s promises to Israel were literal. Their theory overturned two thousand years of orthodox theology.

Throughout Israel’s history God’s prophets had prophesied a coming kingdom. Familiar passages include those of the wolf and lamb lying down together, the lion eating straw, and swords beaten into plowshares (Isaiah 2.1-4, 11.6-10; 65.25; 2.4). John the Baptizer and Jesus proclaimed this kingdom. They declared that after hundreds of years of prophecy the kingdom was “near” (Matthew 3.2; 4.17; 10.7; Mark 1.15; Luke 10.9-11). Even after the Lord’s resurrection and ascension, Peter continued to proclaim this kingdom to Israel and declared that if the nation repented (i.e., accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah) Jesus would return and set up his kingdom (Acts 3.18-21). But Israel refused to repent. As a result, the promised kingdom did not come. Rather than accept a normal reading of the passage many maintain that God’s promises were not literal but figurative or typical 3.

As a result, those who hold to this errant theology argue that the Church is a “new’ or “replacement” Israel and that the promises God made to Israel in the covenants were transferred to the Church and are being fulfilled “figuratively” by the Church.4 Among theologians, this view is known as supersessionism. They claim the promises God made to the nation in the covenants and proclaimed by the prophets were not meant to be understood literally. They argue Israel was a “type” of the Church and that the promises are being fulfilled by the Church. For this theological theory to work requires the following: 1) The prophets misunderstood the covenants and especially the kingdom; 2) Jesus misunderstood the covenants and the kingdom; and 3) “Israel” does not mean the physical offspring of Jacob.

Perverting Texts

Luke wrote in his Gospel, in chapter 1 verses 30-33:

30 “The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.'”

The angel told Mary she would give birth to a son whom she would name Jesus and that God would give him the prophesied throne of his father David. God had made a covenant with David in which he had promised him that He would establish his throne forever (2 Samuel 7). Under this covenant, Jesus, as King, would reign over the house of Jacob, i.e., Israel, forever.

A normal reading of the passage means that Mary was to have a literal, physical son by means of a literal, physical pregnancy and birth. God promised that he would give this son the throne of David. Where was David’s throne? From where had David ruled? One only has to read the Old Testament accounts in 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, etc. to answer this: Jerusalem. The angel declared that Mary’s son would have the throne of his father David. Like David, He would rule the house of Jacob, that is, Israel. But, unlike the limited reign David had enjoyed, His reign and kingdom will have no end (Zechariah 14.9).

What did Mary make of this? The fact of her pregnancy was certainly confusing to her since she was a virgin. But the fact of the Messiah reigning over the earth, and in particular as King of the Jews, was not. That had been prophesied and anticipated for hundreds of years. What kind of hermeneutical legerdemain would lead one to conclude that Mary’s pregnancy and son were literal but that Jesus’ kingship and kingdom were not, i.e., that His reign would not be in Jerusalem over the Jews? Tragically, most of Christendom teaches that Jesus presently occupies David’s throne “in heaven” and is ruling over “spiritual” Israel, i.e., the Church. The problem is that no Scripture teaches this. The Scriptures teach Jesus is seated at the right hand of his Father’s throne and that He is awaiting His Father’s will in the fulfillment of His prophesied and covenanted rule over the nation of Israel (Psalm 110.1; Matthew 22.44; 26.64; Mark 12.36; 14.62; 16.19; Luke 22.69; Acts 2.33-34; 5.31; Romans 8.34; Ephesians 1.20; Colossians 3.1; Hebrews 1.3, 13; 8.1; 10.12; 12.2; 1 Peter 3.22).

Let us continue to analyze the passage in Luke following the logic and method of an allegorical hermeneutic by examining the verses which immediately follow those above. Luke recorded in Luke 1.34-37,

34 “Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35 The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. 36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.'”

If we are consistent with a hermeneutic that leads to the conclusion that Jesus is reigning “spiritually” over a “spiritual” Israel (the Church), we are obligated to conclude Mary was not a literal virgin but a “figurative” virgin, i.e., a woman of pure character and motives. If we move ahead in time with this interpretive method, it is not a long step to conclude Jesus did not rise literally (physically) from the dead but “spiritually” in the hearts of his followers. At this point, Christianity is destroyed. How did it happen? Without the discipline of a normal, consistent hermeneutic any interpretation becomes possible. Tragically, this interpretative poison is rampant throughout Christendom.

Children of Abraham

In Romans 4 (cf. Galatians 3), Paul wrote that those who believe in Christ are the children of Abraham. Does this mean that Paul taught that Gentiles or the Church was Israel? Quite the contrary. Throughout his writings, Paul kept Jew, Gentile, and the Church distinct. Paul’s argument with respect to Abraham was soteriological. Paul never taught that Gentiles or the Church were “Israel.” Paul’s argument was that Abraham obtained righteousness by faith alone and that all who believe in Christ in the Church age become children of Abraham because they obtain righteousness in the same way as Abraham. Paul used Abraham as his example to teach that salvation was now by faith alone or faith plus 0. Abraham was not saved by obeying the Mosaic Law (it did not exist), by works, or by a combination of faith plus works. Abraham was saved solely on the basis of his faith apart from works.

The Jew under the Law did not fit into this pattern. Under the Mosaic Law works were required for salvation in addition to faith. To understand this, let’s take an example of a Jew under the Law which had the Levitical sacrifices. Suppose a Jew said, “I believe an animal sacrifice will cover my sin but I’m not going to take an animal to the priest” (faith but no work). Or what if a Jew said, “I don’t believe an animal sacrifice will cover my sin but I’ll take an animal to the priest for a sacrifice nevertheless” (work but no faith). Would either of these Jews have been saved? No! Salvation under the Law required faith and works. A Jew had to believe an animal sacrifice would cover his sin and take an animal to the priest. Both were required. As long as the Mosaic Law was in operation faith and works were required.

But for the Church Age believer, to whom Paul was the apostle (Romans 11.13), works are not required. Salvation is faith in Christ plus 0. Paul’s point was that for this age, Abraham’s experience of salvation was the pattern. What did the Scripture say regarding Abraham? It said, “Abraham believed God and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4.3). Were works required? Not one. He believed what God had told him–that he was going to be the father of many nations, etc. (Genesis 15.3-6). An entirely different argument, one that requires an unscriptural leap, is the argument that those who believe are Abraham’s children and therefore Israel. Such an interpretation is to misunderstand Paul’s soteriological argument at its most basic level.

Paul revealed the Church, the body of Christ, was a new entity created by God and that prior to him the Church was a “secret” God had not revealed (Ephesians 2.11-22; 3.3-9; Colossians 1.26-27; Romans 16.25-27). Peter and the Twelve knew nothing of the Church until Paul revealed it to them. Not one of them mentions the body of Christ in their letters.

Paul’s great treatise on Israel in Romans 9-11 asserted the nation’s identity and affirmed God would fulfill his promises to the nation. He reiterated the covenantal relationship and promises God had made to Israel. Romans 9 deals with Israel’s past, Romans 10 with Israel’s present condition, and Romans 11 with Israel’s future. Paul stated that one day national Israel (ethnic Jews), cf. Romans 9.3-8 would return to the Lord and be saved (Romans 11.25-27). Jesus prophetically summed this up as he concluded his tirade against the Pharisees in Matthew 23.37-39:

37 “‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! 38 How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! 39 For I say to you, from now on you shall not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'”

In verse 37, Jesus recorded Israel’s past (Romans 9), verse 38 (Romans 10) recorded Israel’s status when Jesus was present, and in verse 39 (Romans 11) Jesus prophesied Israel’s future. Jesus awaits the day when the nation will repent and say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” When national Israel utters these words–a divine certainty–Jesus will return as Israel’s Savior and King. God will then fulfill his covenantal promises to the nation. Thus, Paul asserted God had not abolished his promises to ethnic Israel nor applied them in a “spiritual” manner to the Church.

A Problem Passage: Galatians 6.16–Grammatical and Lexical Evidence

The text of Galatians 6.16 reads:

And those who will walk by this rule,peace and mercy be upon them,and upon the Israel of God.
καὶ ὅσοι τῷ κανόνι τούτῳ στοιχήσουσιν,εἰρήνη ἐπ᾽ αὐτοὺς καὶ ἔλεος,καὶ ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰσραὴλ τοῦ θεοῦ.

Paul wrote to the Galatians to address and correct the error of Jewish teachers who were teaching that Gentiles had to be circumcised and keep the Mosaic Law to be saved. Some maintain Paul addressed one group in Galatians 6.16. For this argument to be valid καὶ in the phrase καὶ ἐπὶ τὸν Ἰσραὴλ τοῦ θεοῦ is interpreted in an ascensive sense of “even” rather than the usual connective sense of “and.” According to this sense, the passage would read, “and as many as who will walk by this rule, peace upon them and mercy, even upon the Israel of God”. Grammatically, such a translation is possible for καὶ can have an ascensive sense. The usual rendering for καὶ, however, is a simple connective sense, “and.” The grammatical evidence is greater or the simple connective sense for the following reasons:

  1. The normal rendering of καὶ is continuative. Thus the sense is that of “and” rather than “even.” This is the rendering found in the vast majority of the uses of καὶ. As such, it should be accepted unless strong evidence exists for an alternate reading. This is unlikely due to the grammatical structure of the sentence.
  2. Paul repeated ἐπὶ “upon”, i.e. “upon them” and “upon the Israel of God.” This repetition favors parallelism. Coupled with καὶ, it provides grammatical evidence Paul was addressing two groups of believers.
  3. “Israel” means ethnic Jews in every passage of Scripture. To overturn this sense and define “Israel” to mean “Church” is not possible lexically and thus defeats such an exegetical application.

Another Possible Interpretation

Another reasonable interpretation is possible, however, using some of the same grammatical logic of those who try and make the Church to be Israel. If καὶ is interpreted in its ascensive sense of “even,” Paul could have been addressing only the Judaizers. Thus, when he wrote, “and those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, even upon the Israel of God” he could have been addressing Jews (the Judaizers of Acts 15 and Galatians), who opposed him and wanted to bring Gentiles under the Law. In such a case, Paul was telling them if they ceased trying to bring Gentiles under the Law and perverting his gospel of grace, he wished them peace and mercy. This is a possible interpretation. Interpretively impossible, grammatically and theologically, is that Paul meant that the Church was Israel. Such a statement would contradict 2,000 years of theology: the theology of the prophets, Jesus, and Paul. That’s a lot to overturn to support such a translation. The NIV translators translated καὶ as “even” as opposed to the KJV and NASB “and.” I doubt they intended to indicate the group Paul addressed was legalistic, Jews. They were endorsing the theological error the Church is Israel.

Lastly, we must not lose sight of the forest for the trees. In Galatians 6, Paul came full circle and closed the argument he began in chapter 1. In Chapter 1, Paul stated that anyone who preached a gospel different from his was accursed (Galatians 1.6-9). Paul wrote these words after the great Council of Jerusalem. The issue at the Council was whether Gentiles could be saved apart from circumcision and keeping the Mosaic Law, i.e., faith plus works. After a great argument, Peter finally rose to defend Paul. He made an incredible statement and declared, “But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are” (Acts 15.11). Peter recognized Paul was right and they were wrong. Jews from this time forward had to be saved like Gentiles! This was unthinkable. For 2,000 years Gentiles had been saved like Jews. That was now reversed.

This is the context of Paul’s closing statement in Galatians 6.16. He stated in chapter 1 that those who preached a different gospel from him were to be accursed. Paul could not have written these words prior the the Council of Jerusalem. But now, by Peter’s statement, and formalized by James and the rest of the Council (Acts 15.13-20), he could. Thus, Paul closed his letter with the statement he wished “peace and mercy” to Gentiles to whom he ministered and to the Jews of Jerusalem who had opposed him at the Council (Galatians 6.12-13). But if they preached a gospel different from his gospel (Romans 2.16, 16.25), they were accursed. This was an extremely strong warning which Paul repeated twice. Furthermore, just to make sure they “got it” he declared, “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (Galatians 6.17). Paul’s testy statement was clear in its meaning: “I’ve had it. I’m willing to be at peace but I’m tired of your troubling me. I have wounds to show for my work–you don’t. Shut up. And stay out of my way.” (cf.  2 Corinthians 11.23).

Galatians 6.16–More Contextual Evidence

The choice of a translation or an interpretation is governed not only by grammatical or lexical evidence but its context. In the previous verse, Galatians 6.15, Paul wrote, “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” This is essentially what he wrote in 1 Corinthians 10.31-32. The circumcision was Jews; uncircumcision was Gentiles. The new creation was the Church. The two groups Paul had in mind were Gentile believers and Jewish believers. Earlier in the Epistle, in Galatians 2, Paul introduced these two groups in terms of ministry. According to Paul, he and the Twelve agreed on their missionary targets. Paul would go to Gentiles while Peter and the eleven would go to the Jews. Thus, Paul wrote:

7 But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised 8 (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), 9 and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised” (Galatians 2.7-9).

God commissioned Paul as the “apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11.13). Peter’s commission was to Israel (Acts 9.15-16; 14.26-28; 18.6; 22.21; 26.16-18; 28.28; Galatians 2.2; Romans 11.13; Ephesians 3.1, 8; 1 Timothy 2.7). These two ministries were distinct. Since Paul had not been part of Jesus’ earthly ministry he did not meet the qualifications to be one of the Twelve (Act 1.21-22). Peter and the eleven received their commission from Christ on earth. Paul received his commission from the risen, glorified Christ from heaven. These verses indicate a change of commission from how Jesus had instructed them earlier. In Matthew 28.18-20, the Scripture records,

18 “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.””

Now, instead of going to the nations, i.e., Gentiles, the Twelve agreed to limit their ministry to Jews. Clearly, a major shift had taken place from the commission Jesus had given them. The Twelve continued to preach the “gospel of the kingdom” to Jews (cf. Acts 2.22, 38; 3.12, etc.). This was the message they had preached during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Paul, on the other hand, according to his commission, preached the “gospel of the grace of God” not the “gospel of the kingdom.”

What about Paul’s teaching in Galatians 3.28-29? He wrote,

28 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise”.

Does this verse militate against the distinctiveness of Jew, Gentile, and Church? Paul maintained the distinction of each of these groups while also revealing that a new relationship had been created by being a member of the body of Christ. Paul did not write that functional differences between slave and free had been abolished. He told slaves to obey their masters (Ephesians 6.5-6). The same was true of gender differences. Man and woman remain unchanged. Did Paul teach that the Church is the “Israel of God” because if one belongs to Christ one is Abraham’s offspring in any ethnic sense? Not at all. Paul argued that those who trust in Christ are children of Abraham in a soteriological sense; they have come to God the same way Abraham did–by faith alone.

A Time of Transition

The lives of the apostles was a period of theological transition. Luke’s primary purpose in writing Acts was to explain the fall of the nation of Israel, not the birth of the Church, as most teach. His record is the history of the transition of the prophetic program of Israel following Jesus’ death and resurrection to the “secret” Church program.

In Galatians 6.16 Paul identified Jewish believers as the Israel of God. Paul had these believers in mind in Romans 9.6-8 when he stated, “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (cf. Romans 2.28-29). A true Jew was not merely a descendant of Jacob; a true Jew was a descendant of Jacob who believed in YHVH, or in Jesus’ day, one who believed that Jesus was the Messiah and had been baptized. These were the “Israel of God”. The phrase “Israel of God” expressed adjectivally is “godly Israel”. The transition period, which Luke partially recorded in Acts, ended with God’s judgment of national Israel in 70 A.D. After this judgment no “Israel of God” existed. The “gospel of the grace of God” fully supplanted “the gospel of the kingdom.” This had occurred largely by the close of Acts 28.26-28 when Paul declared:

26 “And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, ‘The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying, “GO TO THIS PEOPLE AND SAY, ‘YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND; AND YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE; 27 FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, AND WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES; OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT SEE WITH THEIR EYES, AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM.’ 28 “Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.”

Today, under the dispensation of the gospel of the grace of God (Acts 20.24), Jews and Gentiles who believe Paul’s gospel (1 Corinthians 15.1-4) become members of the Church, the body of Christ, and are equal “in Christ.” God is faithful and a future day remains in God’s program for Israel. Once reinitiated, national Israel will recognize Jesus as her Messiah-King and be saved (Romans 9.26-27).


The grammatical, lexical, and contextual evidence for the distinctiveness and differences of Jew, Gentile, and the Church is overwhelming. On the basis of this evidence, Paul either addressed two groups of believers or one group that was Jewish in Galatians 6.16. The term “Israel” is technical since it is always used for ethnic Jews. Those who teach that the Church is a “new” or “replacement” Israel” do so without Scriptural support. The Judaizers, whom Paul opposed, taught that Gentile believers had to be circumcised and keep the Mosaic Law to be saved. Paul issued a stern warning against them at the beginning of his letter (Galatians 1.6-10) and concluded his letter by wishing peace and mercy upon the Gentile believers who followed his teaching and upon the “true” or “godly Israel”, i.e., “the Israel of God.” For more exegetical analysis of Galatians 6.16 the reader is encouraged to read the paper by S. Lewis Johnson 5

The reader can verify that every occurrence of the term “Israel” in the New Testament refers to the physical offspring of Jacob by examining the below verses. Paul always used the term in this manner as did every other Scripture writer. No instance exists in which “Israel” means Church or Gentile. Every case refers to Jews (believing or unbelieving) or the land of the Jews. See: Matthew 2.6, 20, 21; 8.10; 9.33; 10.6, 23; 15.24, 31; 19.28; 27.9, 42 Mark 12.29; 15.32; Luke 1.16, 54, 68, 80; 2.25, 32, 34; 4.25, 27; 7.9; 22.30; 24.21; John 1.31, 1.47, 49; 3.10; 12.13; Acts 1.6; 2.22, 36; 3.12; 4.10, 4.27; 5.21, 31, 35; 7.23, 37, 42; 9.15; 10.36; 13.16, 17; 13.23, 24; 21.28; 28.20; Romans 9.4, 6, 27, 31; 10.19, 21; 11.1, 2, 7, 25, 26; 1 Corinthians 10.18; 2 Corinthians 3.7; 3.13; 11.22; Galatians 6.16; Ephesians 2.12; Philippians 3.5; Hebrews 8.8, 10; 11.22; Revelation 2.14; 7.4; 21.12.
Craig A. Blaising, “The Future of Israel as a Theological Question“, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 44/3 (September 2001), p. 435. This article discusses the theological theory of supersessionism from the writings of Justin Martyr, Melito of Sardis, and the Letter of Barnabas. The error of supersessionism began in the 2nd century and has poisoned theological thinking to such a degree that in our day it has become the predominate view of Christendom. While “replacement theology” began early in church history, many church fathers believed national Israel had a future and would be saved. See Michael J. Vlach, “Rejection Then Hope: The Church’s Doctrine of Israel in the Patristic Era“, The Master’s Seminary Journal, 19/1 (Spring 2008), p. 51-70.
The term “spiritual” is used by convention for figurative, non-literal, or non-normative language. Such terminology has nothing to do with the moral senses spirituality such as holiness, goodness, etc. Figurative language is legitimate in a number of contexts and is easy to spot: in poetry, parables, prophecy (cf. Isaiah, “all flesh is grass”; Jesus, “I am the door”). But figurative language is not the norm. Literal language is the norm for 99.9% of communication.
Most who maintain the unsound theory that the Church is the “new” Israel profess to believe in God’s sovereignty. This is surely wrong. According to their theory, God’s sovereign promises were abrogated by the disobedience and failure of one generation of Jews! But Paul declared, “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11.29). He presciently warned against the arrogance of supersessionism in Romans 11.18-21 and declared in Romans 11.25-26 that all Israel will be saved. The logic of replacement theology leads to the conclusion that God is not sovereign and His word cannot be trusted. If He broke His promises to Israel, how can He be trusted to keep His promises to the Church? The root problem of supersessionism, that the Church is the “new” Israel, is unbelief.
S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. “Paul and ‘The Israel of God’: An Exegetical and Eschatological Case-Study“, The Master’s Seminary Journal 20/1 (Spring 2009), p. 41-55.

©1998 Don Samdahl. Anyone is free to reproduce this material and distribute it, but it may not be sold.

Updated, 11/14/2014

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22 thoughts on ““Israel” as a Technical Term

  1. Jessica

    Great article, as usual!
    This is where I always get stumped, though… it even possible that there are any unassimilated Jews anymore? I’m assuming that this would be necessary for the 70th week.
    Also, what do you think of the Jews that are in Israel right now? I’ve been researching Zionism lately, and am beginning to wonder if we’re being “duped”.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      We do not know how God will determine this. All we know is that He will. God will identify 144,000 Jews from 12 tribes (Revelation 7). Most Jews do not know their tribe. But God does. Not a big deal when you’re omniscience.

  2. Joe

    Some 40 years ago it was this topic and the questions related to this that began my search for understanding. I was a babe in Christ and was grasping for understanding. It was the topic of the New Covenant and for whom, to whom it was directed. I knew in my heart it was for Israel but there was little evidence I could find to support my view. Most of what I read said it was basically the New Testament. I now believe there are blessings for the Church that flow from the New Covenant but the NC itself is almost entirely aimed at Israel…Jer. 31:31. I can understand the confusion if one believes the Church is Israel.

    Is there an essay on your site that addresses this subject?

    Great Job!!

    Thanks again.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      Thank you. Relatively little is said of the New Covenant by Paul (1 Corinthians 11.25; 2 Corinthians 3.6) or in the rest of the “New Testament.” Hebrews references it 4x, which makes sense, since it is a Jewish covenant. The NC was clearly made with Israel, not the Church. Having said that, we are affected because the New Covenant deals with blessing of the Holy Spirit, by Whom we are indwelt and filled. I do not have a specific article but do address it in Covenants of Israel.

  3. Bobbi

    Hi doctrine. The Olive tree article really addresses this well. Being raised in an allegorical congregation, even a preacher’s kid, this passage in Romans 11 was so murkey for me at first. Thank you for that article and sharing all your insight .
    I am having trouble with people believing the whole two different gospel subject which I am sorrowful about as if we don’t believe, we are lost. I know though that if we seek God and His Truth, not our own, He will fill us with His Truth.? is shocking how much people have been blind to the truth . To the point of thinking it’s heresy to not follow the gospel preached by Jesus on earth. They don’t realize that Paul’s gospel is Jesus still preaching only from heaven. This causes me grief so much. Thank you .

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      Thank you. Glad the article was helpful. As I have written, this problem began over 1,900 years ago. Paul wrote about it in 2 Timothy 1.15. The critical issue is the gospel. Until one recognizes Paul’s gospel (1 Corithians 15.1-4) was not proclaimed by Jesus in His earthly ministry nor by the Twelve, little hope exists for understanding Christianity. Reading Paul into the Gospels and vice-versa, creates so many contradictions, and leaves people (rightly) in a muddle. Separate Israel and the Church and order returns. Some people get so exercised when told that there has been more than one gospel that they cannot think or read what the Scriptures say. It caused Paul grief nearly 2,000 years ago and continues. Grace and peace.

  4. Bobbi

    This is one reason why there is division. We have to have faith (believe). Hebrews 11:6 says “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarded of them that diligently seek Him. ”
    A scary thing is Hebrews 3:15-19. vs 19: “so we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.”

  5. Dino J Zito


    This post is relating to your comment at the beginning of this page which reads
    “The passage above indicates God has categorized man into three groups…”.

    The below verbiage is cut and pasted from a complete article from another website. Thank you for your time sir Doctrine.

    1 Corinthians 10:32 – The Separators Proof ?
    Who are the Separators? Simply put they are the people who teach and/or believe that Israel is separated from the Body of Messiah for any other reason other than unbelief. These Separators always cite 1 Corinthians 10:32 as a proof text to teach that there are three distinct classes: Jews, Gentiles, and the Church. They say this to back up their teaching that Israel is the earthly people with an earthly kingdom and that the Church is the heavenly people with a heavenly kingdom. So by that rationale there MUST be three location in eternity; Heaven, Hell, and Earthly Israel. We will address the problems with the unbiblical concept of a third location call “Earthly Israel” existing in eternity at a later date, so for now let’s focus on 1 Corinthians 10:32 which states “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Gentiles or to the church of God”. The Jews and Gentiles mentioned in this verse must be unbelievers or they would be counted in the Church grouping. Allow me to rephrase the verse for clarity; “Give no offense to the unbelieving Jew or Greek and also give no offense to the believing Jew or Greek called the Church.” If we can agree that there are only two locations in eternity i.e. Heaven or Hell and the only two ways to enter them is by believing or not believing, then there can only be two groups i.e. unbelievers or believers mentioned in the above said verse. Again, the “Jews and the Gentiles” referenced in this verse must both be unbelievers because if they were believers then they would be part of the Church which is both Jews and Gentiles. There are only two groups stipulated in 1Cor10:32 when we use the lens of believers or unbelievers because when all is said and done that is all that really matters. So in closing we have learned that there are only TWO bodies taught in the Bible, the body of the living and the body of the dead and their destinies are Heaven and Hell respectfully.

    The Jew and the Gentile referenced in first Corinthians 10:32 exist as a single component under the constraints of unbelief and the Church mentioned in the above said verse are believers (being either Jew or Gentile) who clearly are a separate unit unto themselves. So if we add these categories together the result is unmistakably a sum of two and not three as is commonly taught using first Corinthians 10:32.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      This argument is nonsense. Believers and unbelievers existed before there were Jews or Gentiles. Paul is identifying categories of men based on His programs, not upon salvation.

  6. George

    Hello brother, i have a question for you : seeing that there is neither Jew or Greek in the body of Christ, what would happen if all Jews either got all saved in this dispensation of grace, or all intermarried either within the body if Christ or with other present nations before the rapture, then hypothetically there would be no more Jew genetically speaking to bring in the earthly kingdom, cant Satan use this tactic to frustrate God’s plan?

  7. Percy

    Hi doctrine,so has a church(body of Christ)the is need to prayer for others teach that we must pray for Israel to have a peace.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      A prayer for Israel is a prayer for God’s prophetic plan and covenant promises to be accomplished. Praying for the peace of Jerusalem means praying for Christ’s return since He will be the one who establishes peace.

  8. Percy

    Thanks Don,your answers have been very helpful. I really appreciate.Bu I’M a little confused of the verses 1 cor 10:32why you sad Greeks means gentiles coz i think Greeks are person who are talking Greek language or who born in Greece.

  9. Joe

    The author, Michael Heiser, has been mentioned on this site. I’ve recently read 5 books by the author including 2 novels. I’m rereading The Unseen Realm. On page 158 the following is said:
    “Since the Church, the corporate body of believers, inherited the promises given to Abraham (Gal 3:26-29), believers are the ‘true Israel” the New Testament talks about. When we inherit rule of the nations with Jesus at the end of days (Rev 3:21), we will displace the corrupted divine sons of God presently ruling the nations, who are under judgement (Psa 82). We are already, but not yet, Yahweh’s new council on earth.

    I’ve always kept Israel and the Church separate. Heiser is a very educated man. Should I reconsider my life long belief in the separation of Israel and Church? Is the Church the ‘corporate body of believers?’ I thought the Church is the Body of Christ (believers of the Church Age).

    Heiser says on the same page using John 1:12 as support: “But as many as received him–to those who believe in his name–he gave to them authority to become children of God” . then adds 1 Jn 3:1. ‘See what sort of love the Father has given to us: that we should be called children of God, and we are!’

    thank you,

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      Heiser has done great work with the Divine Council and other subjects but like most of Christendom he does not understand Paul’s unique apostleship and that all Church doctrine comes from Paul. “True” Israel are believing Jews. Paul made this clear in Romans 9.6-7. The Church are “sons of Abraham.” These are NOT the same. The Church is never called Israel. Israel is a technical term for the progeny, physical and spiritual, of Jacob. Paul made it clear in Galatians 3.7-9 that we are children of Abraham in the sense that Abraham is our father because we are justified by faith as was Abraham. Heiser is brilliant and a great scholar but in this case, his scholarship is poor. He does not understand John wrote to believing Jews (in his gospel and letters), not to the Church and that the Church is nowhere present in Revelation. Revelation 3.21 concerns Jews, who are about the experience the Tribulation, not the Church. We know little about the Church’s future destiny. What we do know is from Romans 8.17 and 1 Corinthians 6.2-3. It is not clear in what sense we will rule the world.

    2. Vanessa

      Hi Don, I have to absolutely second you on Heiser and his take on Paul. I have chosen to stop listening to him. His understanding of Paul is lacking. Much discerment is required when listening. Joe tread carefully. There are many traps that the enemy sets for us and if our foundation is wonky we may very well fall into the traps. I for one would never suggest to any new believer to read any of his books. Take care.

  10. Joe

    Paul introduced what we call the Church. The Church represents believers in Paul’s gospel. Before Paul’s gospel there was the Kingdom Gospel. Is it possible that what Paul referred to as the “Israel of God” in Gal. is the collection of Kingdom gospel believers at the time….being associated with believers but segregated as to gospels?….the word ‘and’ in the verse has always interested me. If the world ‘and’ wasn’t there maybe I’d buy the theory that the Israel of God was the Church…..please let me know what you think.

    I really appreciate your work. God bless you.

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      The Israel of God was certainly Jews who had believed the gospel of the kingdom. The only grammatical question is whether Paul is speaking of two groups or one. Thus, And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. Did “them” refer to the Israel of God, Jewish believers, or to others and Jewish believers?

  11. Joe

    Presented just as a view as to what the secular TV thinks..This was on msnbc this a.m. (12-6-17) Chris Matthews talking about Trump officially making Jerusalem Israel’s capital:

    “Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” while discussing President Donald Trump’s expected announcement to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, “Hardball” host Chris Matthews said evangelical Christians have “crazy ideas” and “mythical” beliefs about Israel.”

    1. doctrinedoctrine Post author

      Chris Matthews has apparently never studied history. Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since 3,000 B.C. and God has promised it to the Jews forever. Those who reject the Scriptures have a destiny of humiliation and condemnation.

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