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Showing posts with label spiritual Israel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label spiritual Israel. Show all posts

Sunday 1 August 2021

The Church as Spiritual Israel (4): Israel, Not-Israel, and the Olive Tree

In the first article of this series, we called attention to a statement that early Christian apologist Justin Martyr made to a Jewish interlocutor in which he described the Church as "the true, spiritual Israel." We undertook to investigate whether the idea of the Church as Israel in a spiritual sense goes back to the New Testament, with particular attention to the Apostle Paul. We recognised the sensitivity of this matter in view of the subsequent painful history of Christian persecution of Jews, but nonetheless sought to take the New Testament evidence at face value and not engage in a fallacious appeal to consequences. In the second article, we studied three passages from Galatians (3:6-29; 4:21-31; 6:16), finding that this early Pauline letter does indeed lay the foundation for an ecclesiology that identifies the Church, spiritually speaking, with Israel. In the third article, we went further afield and found evidence of a Pauline "spiritual Israel" concept in 1 Corinthians 10:18, Philippians 3:3, and Romans 2:28-29.

In this final article, we turn our attention to the only passage in Paul's letters—indeed, in the entire New Testament—that treats at length the subject of where Israel fits into God's purpose in the wake of the Messiah's founding of a new eschatological community. This passage is Romans 9-11, and is far too rich and complex for a single blog article to do it justice. However, by looking at a few texts within this great section of Paul's greatest letter, we hope to offer some insight into Paul's spiritualisation of Israel and where this leaves ethnic Israel in his theology.

Romans 9:1-8

While Paul does not explicitly give the reason for the "great sorrow and unceasing anguish" that he refers to (Rom. 9:2 NRSV), it is clear from the context that he is acknowledging that—already by the late 50s C.E.—the Christian message has been largely rejected by the Jewish people. He seeks to show, therefore, that rather than God's failure (9:6), this sad reality is part of God's ingenious and merciful plan of salvation—a plan that will have him extolling God's wisdom by the end of the section (11:33).

In Romans 9:3, Paul describes the Jews as his "kindred according to the flesh," using the phrase kata sarka that we have seen previously to stand in implicit contrast with kata pneuma, "according to the spirit." Given that Paul frequently calls his Roman addressees "brothers," goes without saying that he thinks of believers in Christ (regardless of ethnicity) as his kindred kata pneuma. In 9:4-5, Paul lists the privileges that had been granted to the Jewish people, and he begins simply with, "They are Israelites." This reinforces the inference we drew previously from 1 Corinthians 10:18: while the Church may be spiritual Israel, this does not mean ethnic Israel is now nothing. All ethnic Jews are Israelites kata sarka.

Yet, in Romans 9:6, we have this remarkable statement: "not all who are of Israel are Israel" (NABRE). This sounds self-contradictory, until we realise that Paul is using the term "Israel" in two different ways. It could be glossed, "not all who are of Israel according to the flesh belong to Israel according to the spirit."1 This basic sense is confirmed by Paul's synonymous parallelism: "nor are they all children of Abraham because they are his descendants". Paul then quotes Genesis 21:12 to prove this point, and explains the nature of the distinction he has introduced: there are "children of the flesh" and "children of the promise," i.e. "children of God" (language already discussed under Galatians 3-4).

Most scholars agree that Paul is making a distinction within ethnic Israel, between those who are Israelites kata sarka only and those who are Israelites kata sarka and kata pneuma.2 Strictly speaking, Gentiles are not in view in Romans 9:1-13. Yet, as Jason A. Staples observes, he does not restrict the meaning of "Israel" to Jews here,3 and we have seen clear evidence from elsewhere in Paul's writings that he does consider Gentile Christians to be part of Israel kata pneuma. Michael J. Cook therefore infers the following unstated corollary from Romans 9:6b:
many ethnically descended from Israel now happen not to belong to the Israel of God's promise, while many others not ethnically descended from Abraham do indeed belong!4
Romans 9:23-26

What is implicit in Romans 9:1-13 becomes explicit later in the chapter. The Gentiles are introduced into the argument in v. 24, where he describes the objects of God's mercy as "us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles" (NRSV). Paul again explicitly refers to the Gentiles in v. 30: "What then are we to say? Gentiles, who did not strive for righteousness, have attained it, that is, righteousness through faith..." (NRSV) In the intervening verses, he quotes several biblical texts with minimal commentary. Especially intriguing for our purposes are the quotations from Hosea 2 in Romans 9:25-26. Immediately after the statement about the called-ones being "not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles," Paul introduces the quotation with the words, "As indeed he says in Hosea..." This suggests that the quotation from Hosea is cited as scriptural proof of the statement that the objects of mercy—the aforementioned children of God or spiritual Israel—include Gentiles.

Paul's quotation from Hosea is made up of a paraphrase of Hosea 2:23 and a nearly verbatim quotation from Hosea 1:10:
As indeed he says in Hosea, 'Those who were not my people I will call "my people," and her who was not beloved I will call "beloved." And in the very place where it was said to them, "You are not my people," there they shall be called children of the living God.' (Romans 9:25-26 NRSV)
Battle notes that there is near-universal scholarly agreement that, in its original context, the oracle of Hosea 1-2 "has literal, national Israel in view—particularly, the ten northern tribes."5 The oracle foretells how God will have mercy on the disobedient northern kingdom and reunify his people. Pablo T. Gadenz notes that there are three scholarly positions on how Paul has understood these lines from Hosea: (1) Paul applies the oracle to the disobedient Israelites of his own day; (2) Paul applies the oracle to Christian believers, both Jewish and Gentile; (3) Paul applies the oracle to Gentile Christians.6 In my view, the Gentiles are definitely in view: the statement about the call of the Gentiles in v. 24 requires biblical substantiation, and the phrase hōs kai at the beginning of v. 25 can be understood as linking the statement to its biblical proof.

However, it seems unlikely that Paul would have spiritualised the ethnic language of Hosea 1-2 in its entirety and simply equated references to "Israel" here as Gentiles who are spiritual Israelites. As D. A. Carson notes, Hosea depicts Israel as disowned by God ("not my people") only to be restored to his favour. If God is prepared to restore disowned Israelites to the status of "my people,", what is to stop him from granting this status to Gentiles?7 Gadenz agrees that the phrase "not-people" "enables Paul to associate the salvation of the nations with the restoration of Israel."8 In Paul's understanding, the eschatological restoration and reunification of Israel prophesied by Hosea includes not only the re-inclusion of previously disowned portions of Israel, but also the inclusion of the nations.9

Romans 11:16-32

Constraints of space require us to skip to the latter part of Paul's argument, where he uses his famous olive tree metaphor. Three important details of this passage will be considered: firstly, the identity of the "root" in vv. 16-18; secondly, the significance of the grafting metaphor in vv. 17-24; and thirdly, the meaning of "all Israel" in v. 26.

At least four interpretations of the "root" can be found in the literature: (1) Israel, (2) the remnant consisting of Jewish believers in Christ (including the apostles), (3) Abraham/the patriarchs, or (4) Christ.10 Arguments can be made in favour of all four options. For instance, Christ is referred to as "the root of Jesse" in Romans 15:12 and as "firstfruits" in 1 Corinthians 15:20-23 (note equivalence of "firstfruits" and "root" in the parallelism of Rom. 11:16). Abraham features prominently in Romans 4 and 9 as ancestor and archetype of God's children, and it is on the patriarchs' account that disobedient Israel remains beloved (Rom. 11:28). However, these two individualising interpretations are difficult to reconcile v. 18, since the reminder "that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you" would then be too obvious to require emphasis. That the root is Israel seems to conflict with the apparent correspondence between the olive tree and Israel in the verses that follow. Hence, the "believing Jewish remnant" view is most plausible, with the nourishment provided by the root corresponding to the preaching of the (Jewish) apostles (cf., e.g., 1 Cor. 3:5-6). The term "firstfruits" is used of individual (presumably Jewish) believers in Romans 16:5 and 1 Corinthians 16:15.

As for the olive tree itself, Israel is depicted as God's olive tree or plant in the Jewish Scriptures (e.g., Ps. 80:9; Jer. 11:16; Hos. 14:6). Given Paul's earlier distinction between Israel kata sarka and Israel kata pneuma, we should clarify that the tree represents not ethnic Israel but Israel kata pneuma. Ethnicity is denoted by the the natural/wild duality of the branches. Hence, the breaking off of natural branches refers to ethnic Israelites who are cut off from spiritual Israel due to unbelief in Christ, while the grafting in of wild branches refers to ethnic Gentiles who become part of spiritual Israel by faith in Christ.11

This is all seemingly very good news for Gentile Christians and very bad news for non-Christian Jews. However, the matter is not so simple: the former group are warned against complacency while the latter are provided with hope. Philip F. Esler notes that the olive tree allegory is actually "most unflattering" in its depiction of Gentile believers, since Paul has reversed the normal horticultural practice of grafting cultivated olive branches onto a wild olive tree. In this case, wild branches are attached "contrary to nature" (v. 24) to the cultivated olive tree, where they "will not produce fruit, but...are actually parasitic upon its richness."12 They should therefore "not become proud, but stand in awe" (v. 20).13 There also remains hope for the natural branches to be grafted in again (vv. 23-24).

In vv. 25-27 Paul reveals a "mystery," supported with scriptural quotations: 
a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, 'Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob.' 'And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.' (NRSV)
 Once again, there are several distinct scholarly views on what "all Israel" means: (1) the church (both Jews and Gentiles saved during the present age); (2) the remnant of believing Jews (saved during the present age); (3) ethnic Israel (to be saved at the end of the present age). The prevailing view in modern scholarship is (3).14 I follow the majority view, but with a twist. 

Verses 28-31 continue to refer by verbs and pronouns to the referents of vv. 25-27: "they are enemies of God for your sake...they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors...they have now been disobedient, in order that...they too may now receive mercy." It is thus clear that the people group referred to in vv. 25-27 are ethnic Israelites (descendants of the patriarchs) who are currently disobedient. Paul thus envisions some climactic expression of divine mercy upon ethnic Israel at the eschaton. This demonstrates conclusively that, while Paul does spiritualise "Israel" so as to include Gentiles, he also retains a place for ethnic Israel qua Israel in God's plan.

It is therefore evident that "all Israel" in v. 26a includes disobedient ethnic Israel. But does this group exhaust its meaning? In my view, this phrase refers to the totality of "the Israel of God," Israel kata pneuma, the Israel of promise. It is inclusive of disobedient ethnic Israel—those who are the focus of vv. 26-31—but also of the full number of Gentiles who are "coming in," and the remnant of Israel who were not hardened (v. 25). "All Israel" finally encompasses both Israel kata pneuma and Israel kata sarka.15 It should not, however, be universalised in an individual sense, as though to include every ethnic or spiritual Jew who ever lived. In the Hebrew Bible, the phrase "all Israel" is often used with the sense "representatives of all parts of Israel" (e.g., Joshua "summoned all Israel, including their elders, leaders, judges, and officers," Josh. 23:2).16


Our first major conclusion from this four-part study is that the letters of Paul do indeed reflect a concept like that described by Justin Martyr to Trypho: the Church, consisting of believing Jews and Gentiles alike, are "spiritual Israel." Yet Gentile believers are part of God's Israel not because the Church has swept ethnic Israel aside and supplanted her, but because the Church is the eschatological continuation of what already existed within ethnic Israel. Gentile believers are spiritual Israelites by adoption. Our second major conclusion follows from this first one: Gentile Christians should not look down on ethnic Jews (including non-Christian ones), as they often have. Rather, they should regard them as kin, and look forward to their eschatological redemption by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the King of Israel.

  • 1 In fact, it is possible that "of Israel" (ex Israēl) here refers to Israel personally, i.e. the patriarch Jacob (cf. Num. 24:17 LXX). In that case, the sense would be, "Not all who are descended from Israel belong to the spiritual Israel."
  • 2 See, e.g., Charles M. Horne,  "The Meaning of the Phrase 'And thus all Israel will be saved' (Romans 11:26)," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21 (1978): 329; Michael Cranford, "Election and Ethnicity: Paul's View of Israel in Romans 9.1-13," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 15 (1993) :31.
  • 3 "What Do the Gentiles Have to Do with 'All Israel'? A Fresh Look at Romans 11:25-27," Journal of Biblical Literature 130 (2011): 378. Notice also how the term "children of God," used in Romans 9:8 of elect Israelites, is used of all believers in Romans 8:14-17.
  • 4 "Paul's Argument in Romans 9-11," Review & Expositor 103 (2006): 96, emphasis added.
  • 5 John A. Battle, Jr., "Paul's Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9:25-26," Grace Theological Journal 2 (1981): 117.
  • 6 Called from the Jews and from the Gentiles: Pauline Ecclesiology in Romans 9-11 (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 102-103.
  • 7 "1 Peter," in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 1032.
  • 8 Gadenz, Called from the Jews and from the Gentiles, 108-109.
  • 9 Notice how, in a similar way, Paul appears to interpret Isaiah 65:1-2 in Romans 10:20-21 as a positive statement about the Gentiles and a negative statement about Israel, whereas in the Isaianic context, both verses are negative statements about Israel.
  • 10 See survey of views and their proponents in Svetlana Khobnya, "'The Root' in Paul's Olive Tree Metaphor (Romans 11:16-24)," Tyndale Bulletin 64 (2013): 259-61.
  • 11 J. C. T. Havemann, "Cultivated Olive - Wild Olive: The Olive Tree Metaphor in Romans 11:16-24," Neotestamentica 31 (1997): 87-106.
  • 12 "Ancient Oleiculture and Ethnic Differentiation: The Meaning of the Olive-Tree Image in Romans 11," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 26 (2003): 122-24.
  • 13 Paul, in fact, seems to be opposing some Gentile Christians who seem to believe that the Church has simply replaced Israel without remainder as the people of God (Douglas J. Moo, The Epistle to the Romans [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996], 704).
  • 14 So Christopher Zoccali, "'And so all Israel will be saved': Competing Interpretations of Romans 11.26 in Pauline Scholarship," Journal for the Study of the New Testament 30 (2008): 290.
  • 15 cf. Staples, "Fresh Look at Romans 11:25-27," 376-387.
  • 16 See, similarly, Judg. 20:34; 1 Sam. 3:20; 25:1; 2 Sam. 17:11; 1 Kgs 4:7; 1 Chr. 13:5.

Saturday 3 April 2021

The Church as Spiritual Israel (3): Israel kata sarka, Spiritual Circumcision, and Inward Jewishness

The previous article looked at Paul's Letter to the Galatians, which deals with the interface between the Church and Judaism as its primary focus. By contrast, Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth does not deal with matters pertaining to the Jews or the Jewish laws at any length. Nevertheless, there is a passage within the letter that uses a phrase—albeit only in passing—that is highly significant for the subject of "The Church as Spiritual Israel."

1 Corinthians 10:18: Israel kata sarka

In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul alludes to some of the events that befell ancient Israel as recorded in the Pentateuch, citing them as moral examples: "These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come" (v. 11).1 In verse 18, having moved on from the historical examples to the subject of idolatry, Paul poses a question: "Consider Israel according to the flesh (kata sarka); are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar?"2 That Paul uses the present tense here (in contrast to past tense in the biblical allusions in the preceding verses) suggests that he may be referring to the current sacrificial system practiced in Jerusalem.3 What then does he mean by "Israel according to the flesh"? 

The Greek expression kata sarka occurs twenty times in the New Testament, all in the Pauline corpus.4 In some instances the phrase has a negative moral connotation, as in Romans 8:4-13, where Paul warns his readers not to live kata sarka. In other cases, the phrase has no negative connotation, as in Romans 1:3, where Paul declares that God's Son is of David's seed kata sarka. However, in virtually every case, there is an explicit or implicit contrast between that which is kata sarka and that which is kata pneuma ("according to the S/spirit").5 The common denominator of meaning is that kata sarka refers to carnal, earthly ways of being and acting, while kata sarka refers to spiritual, heavenly ways of being and acting.6 Thus, "Israel according to the flesh" in 1 Corinthians 10:18 denotes those who belong to Israel merely in a carnal, earthly sense. Paul's implication—albeit unstated—is that there is also an "Israel according to the S/spirit," consisting of those who belong to Israel in a spiritual, heavenly sense—namely, believers in Christ.

Just as Paul considers Israelites to be his "kin according to the flesh" (Rom. 9:5), so believers in Christ—whether Jewish or Gentile—are his spiritual kin. In Christ they are all, as we saw in the previous article, spiritual children of Abraham. As Jewish scholar Daniel Boyarin writes, "Paul at one stroke was saying that the genealogical Israel, ‘according to the flesh,’ is not the ultimate Israel; there is an ‘Israel in the spirit.’"7

While Paul never explicitly refers to the Church as Israel in the Corinthian letters, there are hints that he understands the predominantly Gentile church at Corinth to be part of Israel in some sense.8 For instance, in 1 Corinthians 12:2, Paul reminds the readers of "when [they] were Gentiles" (ethnē). Some translations render the word as "pagans" here, but while the idolatry and unbelief of the nations is certainly in view, "Gentiles" is still the literal sense. In 1 Corinthians 10:1, Paul introduces the discussion of Israelite history as concerning "our ancestors," implicitly including the Corinthians among the Israelite progeny. In 1 Corinthians 5:1, Paul describes the immorality "among you" as of a kind "not even found among the Gentiles (ethnē)." It appears, then, that in Paul's thought, Gentile believers are no longer ontologically Gentile except "according to the flesh." At a higher ontological level—kata pneuma—they are Israelites.9 

Philippians 3:3: "We are the Circumcision"

The ancient rite of circumcision is so integral to Jewish identity that Paul can use the terms "the circumcision" and "the uncircumcision" to denote Jews and Gentiles respectively (see, e.g., Romans 3:30; 4:9-12; 15:8; Gal. 2:7-12; Eph. 2:11; Col. 4:11). In Philippians 3:2-3, however, Paul writes the following bold words:
2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh (NRSV)
It appears that Paul is taking this identifying label for Jews, "the circumcision," and applying it to believers in Christ, including Gentiles. If so, there is little doubt that Paul thinks of Gentile believers as spiritual Jews. Circumcision is spiritualised in Romans 2:28-29 (to be discussed below) as well as in Colossians 2:11-12, where baptism is described as "the circumcision of Christ." Moreover, some Pauline references to physical circumcision seem to be pejorative about the practice seen as an end in itself, such as Galatians 5:11-12 (where Paul suggests that circumcision advocates ought to castrate themselves) and Ephesians 2:11 (where the writer emphasises that circumcision "is done in the flesh with hands").10 In Philippians, too, circumcision is described in terms of "mutilation" of the flesh and putting confidence in the flesh, in contrast to "worship in the Spirit of God" (note, once again, the sarka/pneuma contrast).

While most scholars take the "we" in the expression "We are the circumcision" (hēmeis... esmen hē peritomē) to be the Church,11 there are exceptions. Lionel J. Windsor, for instance, argues that "we" refers not to "Paul along with all of his Philippian addressees," but to "Paul and Timothy, as Jewish teachers of Gentiles."12 In support of Windsor's interpretation, a first-person plural pronoun does occur in Philippians 3:17 that appears to refer to Paul and Timothy ("the example you have in us"). However, a collective noun like hē peritomē is unlikely to be used of just two people. Timothy is a co-addressor of the letter (Phil. 1:1) and is favourably described in 2:19-24. However, between 2:19-24 and 3:2-3, Paul discusses another minister, Epaphroditus, who was probably a Gentile (given that his name derives from the Greek goddess Aphrodite). Thus, the immediate context gives no indication that the words "We are the circumcision" are confined to Paul and Timothy. Like the first-person plural constructions later in the chapter (3:15-16, 3:20), Paul uses "we" in v. 3 to bring his audience onto equal footing with himself, despite his own impressive Jewish pedigree (3:5-6).

Since Paul's fairly harsh words in Philippians 3:2-3 could easily be misapplied in an anti-Semitic way, Stephen E. Fowl offers an important reminder:
Paul’s claim, ‘we are the circumcision,’ is not designed to contrast a true circumcision, associated with Christianity, with a now superseded Judaism, a false circumcision. Rather, Paul’s claim situates the Philippian believers already within the Abrahamic covenant apart from physical circumcision… In a sense, then, Paul’s claim might be recast as ‘we are already the circumcision – there is nothing else we need to do.’13
Romans 2:28-29: The Inward Jew

The third text to be discussed in this article in connection with Paul's spiritualisation of Israel is Romans 2:28-29. Whereas 1 Corinthians 10:18 (implicitly) spiritualises the term "Israel," and Philippians 3:3 spiritualises the term "the Circumcision," Romans 2:28-29 spiritualises the term "Jew." As in Philippians 3, Paul does so by spiritualising circumcision, that fundamental identity marker of Jewish males. 

The paragraph from Romans 2:17-29 opens with Paul addressing one who calls himself a Jew. Most commentators believe that Paul is interacting with a hypothetical Jewish interlocutor to demonstrate that physical circumcision and instruction in Torah cannot save him and that true Jewishness is defined in terms of the heart, not the foreskin.14 This interpretation is reflected in most translations of Romans 2:28-29, such as the NRSV:
28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. 29 Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.
The consensus view has been challenged, however, by scholars such as Matthew Thiessen and Rafael Rodriguez. Thiessen argues that Paul's interlocutor in this passage is not a Jew but a proselyte, a "so-called Jew,"15 and that Paul disagrees with him "not because he has redefined Jewishness, but because he does not believe that a gentile can actually become a Jew."16 He notes that the usual translation requires one to add important words that are not present in the Greek and, following Arneson, he offers the following alternative translation:
28 For it is not the outward Jew, nor the outward circumcision in the flesh, 29 but the hidden Jew, and the circumcision of the heart in spirit and not in letter, whose praise [is] not from humans but from God.17 
If this translation is correct, the focus of the text shifts from Jewishness and circumcision to divine approval. One point in favour of the latter reading is that in Paul's questions that immediately follow, "What advantage is there then in being a Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?" he appears to revert back to the standard ethnic definition of "Jew," which would be odd if he has just redefined the term so as to deny the label "Jew" to the physically circumcised who do not obey God from the heart. Thus, I think that Arneson's translation is preferable to the NRSV.18 Paul is not saying that a circumcised, Torah-observant Israelite is not a Jew; he is introducing a new kind of Jewishness, an internal, spiritual kind, that he contrasts with a (merely) external Jewishness.19 This then coincides with the Abraham's children kata pneuma vs. kata sarka and the Jerusalem above vs. the present Jerusalem in Galatians 3-4, and with the implied Israel kata pneuma vs. "Israel kata sarka" in 1 Corinthians 10. Contra Thiessen, Paul clearly does assert in Romans 2:29 that a Gentile can become a Jew, albeit a "hidden" or "inward" one.


In the previous article and the present one, we have seen abundant evidence from four of Paul's letters (Galatians, 1 Corinthians, Philippians, and Romans) that Paul spiritualised the concept of Israel, the elect people of God, and so understood the Church—Gentiles included—to be Israel according to the Spirit (though he never explicitly uses this term). Importantly, in spiritualising Israel, Paul was not abandoning or denigrating Israel according to the flesh, the ethnic group to which he himself belonged. The spiritualisation of Israel does, however, raise the question of where ethnic Israel, the children of Abraham kata sarka, the outward Jews, fit into the purpose of God. This is a question to which Paul turns in one long and rich passage—Romans 9-11—that will be the subject of the fourth and final article in this series.
  • 1 Bible translations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NRSV.
  • 2 This translation follows the NRSV except that the words Israēl kata sarka are translated literally here as "Israel according to the flesh," whereas the NRSV translates "the people of Israel." The NRSV translators are seeking dynamic rather than formal equivalence here, but as Bruce Hansen points out, the NRSV translation "obscures Paul’s rhetorical move in calling [the Corinthian believers] ‘Israel according to the flesh’, a move that implicitly interjects the question of whether there might be another way of viewing Israel" ('All of You are One': The Social Vision of Gal 3.28, 1 Cor 12.13 and Col 3.11 [London: T&T Clark, 2010], 116 n. 26).
  • 3 1 Corinthians was certainly written well before the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D., probably in the late 50s.
  • 4 Rom. 1:3, 4:1, 8:4, 8:5, 8:12, 8:13, 9:3, 9:5, 1 Cor. 1:26, 10:18, 2 Cor. 1:17, 5:16 (twice), 10:2, 10:3, 11:18, Gal. 4:23, 4:29, Eph. 6:5, Col. 3:22.
  • 5 This contrast is explicit in Romans 1:3-4, 8:4-5, 12-13, and Galatians 4:29 (the latter of which was discussed in the previous article).
  • 6 An interesting observation can be made about the occurrence of kata sarka in Romans 4:1. Most translations render this verse along the lines of the NRSV ("What then are we to say was gained by Abraham, our ancestor according to the flesh?"). Richard B. Hays, however, offers a persuasive argument that this text would be better understood as, "What shall we say then? Have we found Abraham to be our forefather according to the flesh?" ('"Have we found Abraham to be our forefather according to the flesh?" A Reconsideration of Rom 4:1,' Novum Testamentum 27 (1985): 76-98.) It would then be understood as a rhetorical question that expects the answer "No!" Abraham is the father of all who are faithful, including the uncircumcised, according to promise (Rom. 4:11-18).
  • 7 'Paul and the Genealogy of Gender,' Representations 41 (1993): 8.
  • 8 For evidence that the Corinthian church was largely Gentile in composition, see Paul Kariuki Njiru, Charisms and the Holy Spirit's Activity in the Body of Christ: An Exegetical-Theological Study of 1 Corinthians 12,4-11 and Romans 12,6-8 (Roma: Editrice Pontificia Università Gregoriana, 2002), 27-28.
  • 9 Andy Cheung asserts that "There does not seem to be any linguistic or exegetical reason for inferring the existence of an 'Israel according to the Spirit'" from 1 Corinthians 10:18 ('Who is the "Israel" of Romans 11:26?' in The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supersessionism, ed. Calvin L. Smith [rev. ed.; Broadstairs: King's Divinity Press, 2013], 129). However, Cheung's brief analysis of this passage does not take into account the broader "Israelisation" of the Corinthian believers in 1 Corinthians, or the wider use of the phrase kata sarka and its contrast with kata pneuma, particularly in Galatians 4:23-29.
  • 10 Of course, I am not suggesting that Paul was against physical circumcision; he was against regarding it as an end in itself, or something that should be imposed on Gentiles.
  • 11 For example, Mikael Tellbe, 'The Sociological Factors behind Philippians 3.1-11 and the Conflict at Philippi,' Journal for the Study of the New Testament 55 (1994): 101; Darrell J. Doughty, 'Citizens of Heaven: Philippians 3.2-21,' New Testament Studies 41 (1995): 109-110; Andries H. Snyman, 'A Rhetorical Analysis of Philippians 3:1-11,' Neotestamentica 40 (2006): 270; and most commentators
  • 12 Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul's Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014), 53-55; italics original.
  • 13 Philippians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 147-48.
  • 14 "It is clear that in these verses Paul is in some sense denying the name of Jew to those who are only outwardly Jews and not also secretly and inwardly... Paul is using 'Jew' in a special limited sense to denote the man who in his concrete human existence stands by virtue of his faith in a positive relation to the on-going purpose of God in history... [but this] should not be taken as implying that those who are Jews only outwardly are excluded from the promises" (C. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [2 vols.; London: T&T Clark, 1975], 1:175-76); Romans 2 "emerges as a continual diatribal accusation against the Jew who defines himself or herself in terms of possession of the law and (falsely in Paul's eyes) rests confidence therein. By the end of the passage (v 29), Paul will have totally redefined the 'true Jew'" (Brendan Byrne, Romans [Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1996], 96); "The chapter climaxes with the assertion that being an ethnic Jew and physically circumcised is insignificant (2:28-29). What matters is being a Jew internally and experiencing the circumcision of the heart" (Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998], 148); "Paul here redefines membership in God's people in terms of religious commitment and not in terms of physical descent or ethnic ethos... It follows from this that Gentiles who keep the law (even unwittingly) are inwardly true Jews (2:26). Paul locates membership in the people not in external ritual but in the orientation of the heart and the actions that flow from that orientation" (Luke Timothy Johnson, Reading Romans: A Literary and Theological Commentary [Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2001], 43).
  • 15 Rodriguez states that "The choice between an actually Jewish interlocutor in Rom 2:17-29 and an ethnically-gentile-religiously-Jewish interlocutor will prove to be the fork in the road for our reading of Romans as a whole" (If You Call Yourself a Jew: Reappraising Paul's Letter to the Romans [Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2014], 51. He summarises Romans 1:18-2:29 as "Paul's comments for (or to) three types of gentiles: (i) the depraved immoral pagan (1:18-32); (ii) the elitist moralizing pagan (2:1-16); and (iii) the gentile proselyte to Judaism (2:17-29)... In contrast to these stock gentile personae, Paul will instruct his Roman readers to be gentiles who worship the Creator God of Israel without assuming Israel's obligations under Torah. To this point, Paul has not said anything negative about Jews" (If You Call Yourself a Jew, 61). I am not persuaded that Paul's interlocutor in 2:17-29 is a proselyte rather than an actual Jew. For instance, in Romans 2:24, Paul paraphrases Isaiah 52:5 as, "Because of you the name of God is reviled among the Gentiles"; but Isaiah 52:4-5 is clearly talking about Israel, so this source would not apply to a proselyte who (according to this interpretation of Paul's argument) merely calls himself a Jew and is not really one. Moreover, in Romans 3:9, Paul asserts, "we have already brought the charge against Jews and Greeks alike that they are all under the domination of sin." Yet, if (as Rodriguez claims) the addressee in 2:17-29 is a Gentile proselyte, then Paul has not yet brought any charge against Jews placing them under the domination of sin. Another problem is that Rodriguez's interpretation hinges on the assumption (unstated in the text) that the clincher in Paul's argument against the proselyte is that he has violated the Torah by not being circumcised on the eighth day, as the Torah prescribes, and thus—like Ishmael—his circumcision is of no benefit. However, this argument overlooks that Abraham himself was not circumcised on the eighth day, but at age 99 (Gen. 17:23-24)! Moreover, if Paul regarded adult circumcision as a transgression of Torah, why would he have circumcised Timothy, as Acts 16:3 states he did?
  • 16 'Paul's Argument against Gentile Circumcision in Romans 2:17-29,' Novum Testamentum 56 (2014): 390.
  • 17 Quoted in Thiessen, 'Paul's Argument,' 377.
  • 18 A literal rendering of the Greek text (following NA28) would be: "Not for the one outwardly a Jew is nor outwardly-in-the-flesh circumcision, but the one secretly a Jew, and circumcision of heart in spirit not letter, of whom the praise is not of men but of God." A key syntactic question is what the verb estin ("is") modifies in v. 28. According to the NRSV translation, it modifies Ioudaios; thus something like "For the outward one is not a Jew..." However, the alternate translation understands estin to modify the last part of v. 29: "For it is not the one outwardly a Jew... of whom the praise is not of men but of God." The word order of the Greek is not determinative; this syntactic ambiguity can only be resolved by close attention to the context.
  • 19 Andy Cheung argues that it is erroneous to infer from Romans 2:28-29 that "anybody, Gentile or Jew, who finds faith in Christ is therefore a Jew inwardly"; rather, Paul "is restricting the traditional definition of a Jew to an ethnic Israelite who has faith in Christ" ('Who is the "Israel" of Romans 11:26?', 132). However, the notion that Romans 2:28-29 is exclusively concerned with ethnic Israelites runs afoul of the context. In the preceding verses, Paul is clearly concerned with the physically uncircumcised, i.e. Gentiles (vv. 26-27). It follows that the category of inward Jews, whose circumcision is of the heart, includes Gentiles.

Saturday 30 January 2021

The Church as Spiritual Israel (2): Abraham's Seed, Jerusalem Above, and the Israel of God in Galatians

Paul the Apostle was the first great Christian theologian. A Jew schooled in his ancestral traditions (Gal. 1:14; Phil. 3:5) and "the apostle to the Gentiles" (Rom. 11:13), his work played a crucial role in defining Christian identity in relation to its Jewish roots. Unsurprisingly, therefore, most of the key New Testament texts relevant to the question raised in the first part of this series—whether the Church can be thought of as "spiritual Israel"—occur in his letters. In this article, we begin our study of these texts with the Letter to the Galatians. This is generally regarded as the second earliest of Paul's letters and thus one of the earliest extant Christian texts.1 The letter seeks to combat an idea that certain "disturbers" were spreading in the Galatian churches (Gal. 1:7), according to which Gentile Christians needed to live according to the Jewish law (including circumcision) to gain the full status in the elect community of Israel, the seed of Abraham. Although Paul clearly presupposes the ethnic distinction between the "Jews"/"circumcised" and the "Gentiles"/"uncircumcised" (Gal. 2:7-8, 12-15), and describes himself and Cephas (Simon Peter) as "by nature Jews" (phusei Ioudaioi), he asserts that in Christ, "There is neither Jew nor Greek"(Gal. 3:28). 

The Seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:6-29)

Paul begins his main argument by asking the Galatians on what basis they had received the Spirit from God: on the basis of "works of the law," or faith (Gal. 3:2-5)? At this point Paul introduces Abraham into the argument, quoting Genesis 15:6 and inferring that "those who believe are the descendants of Abraham" (3:7 NRSV). He adduces Genesis 12:3 ("All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you") as direct evidence for the extension of the "blessing of Abraham" to the Gentiles (Gal. 3:8-9, 14). However, his claim is not merely that Gentile believers are blessed alongside Abraham's children or seed, but that they are blessed as Abraham's children or seed: "And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring [sperma, literally "seed"], heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29). This is a very bold assertion, since "seed of Abraham" is, in the Jewish Scriptures, a term synonymous with Israel's status as God's chosen people.2 We do not have space here to analyse the elaborate biblical argument by which Paul defends this claim, which is primarily Christological.3 However, we have in this chapter a clear spiritualisation of the term "seed of Abraham" to include all Gentile believers in Christ.4 Thus, while the term "Israel" does not occur, there does seem to be an implicit spiritualisation of the concept.

Running parallel to "seed of Abraham" is the notion that Christ-followers (Gentiles included) are "sons of God" (Gal. 3:26; 4:4-7).5 This term is not used frequently of humans in the Jewish Scriptures, but what is fascinating is that two passages where the term "sons" is used conspicuously of God's people—Isaiah 54 and Hosea 2—are quoted by Paul precisely in connection with the spiritualisation of "Israel."6

The Two Jerusalems (Galatians 4:21-31)

A second passage within Galatians that demands our attention is Paul's allegorical commentary on Sarah and Hagar (cf. Genesis 16, 21) in 4:21-31. This passage is deeply interesting for its approach to biblical interpretation, given that such allegorical readings would become a mainstay of patristic exegesis. However, our concern here is with the the further spiritualisation of "Abraham's sons" that occurs here. It is possible that Paul's opponents had used this passage allegorically to paint non-Torah observing Gentile Christians as children of Hagar the slave woman rather than of Sarah (and thus as second-class citizens in the divine economy).7 If so, Paul turns the argument on its head. In any case, he does assert that the story of Abraham's two sons is an allegory. One (Ishmael) was born of a slave woman, Hagar, "according to the flesh" (kata sarka), while the other (Isaac) was born of a free woman, Sarah, "through a promise." The flesh/promise contrast is not strictly antithetical, of course, since Isaac—though his birth required divine intervention—was a natural born son of Abraham and Sarah. Paul asserts that "These woman are two covenants" (4:24). Hagar corresponds to the covenant from Mount Sinai, and furthermore "corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children" (4:25). By contrast, "the other woman [i.e. Sarah] corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother." Paul continues,

28 Now you, my friends, are children of the promise, like Isaac. 29 But just as at that time the child who was born according to the flesh [Greek: kata sarka] persecuted the child who was born according to the Spirit [Greek: kata pneuma], so it is now also. 30 But what does the scripture say? “Drive out the slave and her child; for the child of the slave will not share the inheritance with the child of the free woman.” 31 So then, friends, we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman. 1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Gal. 4:28-5:1, NRSV)

Paul's allegorical interpretation does not merely entail the two women as two covenants, but also as two Jerusalems. There is a combined temporal/spatial contrast between them: "the present Jerusalem" (a temporal term) is contrasted with "the Jerusalem above" (a spatial term).8 The point is that the first Jerusalem belongs merely to the "present evil age" (Gal. 1:4). The second Jerusalem is not called "the Jerusalem to come," because it already exists ("she is free and is our mother"); it is instead called "the Jerusalem above" to emphasise its transcendence. Commentators note that, in antiquity, to call a city one's mother was to describe oneself as a citizen of that city; thus Paul describes himself as a citizen of Jerusalem above (compare Phil. 3:20: "But our citizenship is in heaven").9 The allegory has thus progressed beyond "two covenants" to encompass two orders of things. The present Jerusalem, where the Temple still stood in Paul's lifetime, was the locus of the Sinaitic covenant, one of "slavery," while the new covenant of promise, of the Spirit, of freedom, had heaven itself as its locus.

The allegory is not limited to the two women, however, but extends to their respective children. Paul makes it clear that he and his predominantly Gentile addressees are the allegorical equivalent of Isaac: "children of promise," "[the son] according to the Spirit," "children of the freeborn woman," in contrast to another group that are the allegorical equivalent of Ishmael: "the son of the slave woman...according to the flesh," children of "the present Jerusalem." If the first group refers to those whose identity comes from the faith of Christ and not from Torah-observance, who are the second group? Their association with "the present Jerusalem" makes clear that they are Torah-observant Jews. But are they Paul's Jewish Christian opponents specifically, or (non-Christ-believing) Jews more generally? The decisive clue to their identity is given in v. 29, which indicates that the second group "now" persecutes the Church.10 While it is conceivable that Paul might have thought of the disturbance his Galatian charges faced from Torahizing Jewish Christians as "persecution," he never says as much. By contrast, the letter's two prior references to persecution of the Church are to Paul's own persecuting activity before he came to Christ (1:13, 23). Moreover, near the end of the letter Paul insinuates that the false teachers' motive in compelling Gentile believers to be circumcised is to avoid persecution "for the cross of Christ" (6:12; cf. 5:11). Thus, the children according to the flesh who now persecute the children according to the Spirit are Jewish adherents of the Mosaic covenant in general.11 This assertion runs parallel to that in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16, which states that "the Jews" have persecuted the churches in Judaea.12

We have, then, in Galatians the idea that the Christian faithful—Gentiles included—are Abraham's seed "according to the Spirit" or "through the promise" in Christ, adopted children of God, and free citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem. This is a "spiritual Israel" concept in all but name. Not only that, but there is a foil standing in contrast to this group, Abraham's seed "according to the flesh," living in slavery and belonging only to "the present Jerusalem." Paul therefore not only moves to include Gentiles in his concept of the true Israel, but also demotes Jews who put their trust in Torah rather than Christ to a secondary status.

The Israel of God (Galatians 6:16)

There remains one more passage in Galatians to discuss: the only occurrence of the word "Israel" in the letter.
15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16 As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. (Galatians 6:15-16 NRSV)
What Paul means by "the Israel of God" here has been a subject of intense debate among biblical scholars, and there are three main views.13 The most popular view is that "the Israel of God" refers to the Church.14 In this case the passage provides ample basis for viewing the Church as "spiritual Israel," with the qualifier of God meaning something similar to "according to the Spirit." The second view understands "the Israel of God" to refer to Jewish Christians. In this case, of God identifies a subset of Israel who belong to God, because they have believed in his Son. The third view identifies "the Israel of God" as ethnic Israel—in other words, "the Israel of God" is simply Israel in the ordinary use of the term.15 The qualifier of God then merely emphasises Israel's special elect status.
Arguments for the second and/or third meanings include the following: (i) the conjunction kai usually has a copulative meaning ("and") and only rarely has an explicative meaning ("even"). The statistically more likely reading "and upon the Israel of God" would thus suggest that "the Israel of God" is a different entity than "those who follow this rule" (i.e., those obedient to Paul's gospel). (ii) "Israel" consistently refers to the ethnic/national entity, throughout the Jewish Scriptures and the rest of the New Testament. (iii) A blessing upon Israel parallel to this one occurs in the Babylonian recension of the Shemoneh Esreh (the central prayer of the Jewish liturgy). (iv) The appeal to divine mercy, which is unparalleled in other Pauline benedictions, makes sense if "the Israel of God" is an entity currently under divine displeasure for disobedience. (v) This interpretation fits the wider Galatian context, which highlights that Christianity has a Jewish nucleus before ever broaching the issue of the Gentiles inclusion (Gal. 2:9-10).

These arguments are, however, not convincing. (i) The conjunction kai may have a copulative sense most frequently, but it can also have an explicative sense, and it is context rather than a general appeal to statistical frequency that must be decisive. Beale points out a close parallel to this text in Psalm 84:9(85:8) LXX:16
I will hear what the Lord God will speak with me,
because he will speak peace to his people
and to his devout
and to those who turn to him their heart. (NETS)
In this text, "his people," "his devout," and "those who turn to him their heart" are separated by the conjunction kai but are obviously three ways of describing the same group. Thus, "the Israel of God" may be an additional way that Paul wants to describe those who follow his rule.

Argument (ii) is also not persuasive, because we have seen striking cases earlier in the letter where Paul takes terminology normally reserved for ethnic Israel—"seed of Abraham" and citizenship of Jerusalem—and applies it to the Church, inclusive of uncircumcised Gentiles. It would be consistent with this earlier exceptional usage of terms for Paul to apply the term "Israel" to the Church inclusive of Gentiles here. (In subsequent installments in this series, we will look at other passages where Paul implies that the term "Israel" conveys more than ethnicity, such as 1 Corinthians 10:18 and Romans 9:6). Moreover, the exact term "Israel of God" never occurs in the Jewish Scriptures, which may signal that Paul means something different than what the term "Israel" ordinarily means. (iii) The Palestinian recension of the Shemoneh Esreh, which is regarded as earlier than the Babylonian, lacks the crucial word "mercy," which ruins the parallel with Galatians 6:16.17 (iv) The call for mercy on the Church would be unique in Paul's letters,18 but Paul's tone toward his addressees is also more severe than in any other letter. He believes the Galatians are "foolish[ly]" "deserting the one who called you" (1:6; 3:1), so a prayer for mercy is warranted. (v) The thrust of Paul's argument in Galatians has been that Gentiles who believe in Christ enjoy the same privileged status before God as Jewish believers. To make this point, he has included them among "the seed of Abraham," "the sons of God," and [citizens of] "the Jerusalem above." It would be very odd, therefore, at the conclusion of the letter for Paul to use the lofty term "Israel of God" to refer to a group that excludes his Gentile addressees.

One final point is that, elsewhere in Paul's letters, when the genitive theou ("of God") is attached to a noun referring to a group of people, it is always an ecclesiological term that explicitly or implicitly includes Gentile believers ("church of God," 1 Cor. 1:12, etc.; "elect of God," Rom. 8:33; "sons/heirs/children of God," Gal. 3:26, Rom. 8:14-21; "temple of God," 1 Cor. 3:16-17, 2 Cor. 6:16; "field/building of God," 1 Cor. 3:9). Thus, the theou attached to "Israel" in Galatians 6:16 implies that this too is an ecclesiological term inclusive of Gentile believers. All things considered, the arguments for the "Israel of God = Church" reading are decisive.


Already in one of his earliest letters, Paul lays the foundation for an ecclesiology that identifies the Church with "spiritual Israel." If the Church can legitimately be called "spiritual Israel," however, where does that leave the Jews, particularly non-Christian Jews? Paul's contrast between the Abraham's children kata sarka and Abraham's children kata pneuma seems to paint ethnic Israel in an unfavourable light, as related to Abraham merely by carnal descent and "enslaved" by a devotion to law-observance rather than to Christ. It might appear, therefore, from Galatians that Paul is proposing a doctrine of supersessionism (as that term was defined in the previous article). However, we must bear in mind that in Galatians Paul is reacting against a "Judaizing" heresy and defending the status of uncircumcised Gentile believers in Christ. It would suit his rhetorical purposes to emphasise the privileged status of the Church (inclusive of Gentiles) vis-à-vis Israel. If we want to gain a fuller, more nuanced picture of how the Church and ethnic Israel relate to God and to each other, we will need to look at Paul's other writings that have a less polemical purpose. Above all, this will take us to Romans 9-11. However, before we go there, the next article will look at some other passages in Paul's letters that suggest a "spiritual Israel" concept—namely, 1 Corinthians 10:18, Philippians 3:3, and Romans 2:28-29.

  • 1 "[T]he consensus view of Pauline chronology places 1 Thessalonians as Paul's first letter written in the late 40s and Galatians as the second written around 49 or 50" (Robert James Mason, "Galatians 3:28: An Aspect of Eschatological Asceticism in Paul," in David Lertis Matson & K.C. Richardson (eds.), One in Christ Jesus: Essays on Early Christianity and "All That Jazz," in Honor of S. Scott Bartchy [Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2014], 234). This would make these two letters the earliest extant Christian texts unless, as some scholars believe, the Letter of James was written earlier.
  • 2 "Remember the wonderful things which he did, his miracles and the judgments of his mouth, O offspring [sperma] of Abraam, his slaves, sons of Iakob, his chosen" (Ps. 104[105]:6 LXX); "Are you not the Lord who utterly destroyed the inhabitants of this land from before your people Israel and gave it forever to the seed [sperma] of Abraham, your beloved?" (2 Chr. 20:7 LXX); "But you, Israel, my servant, Iakob, whom I have chosen, the offspring [sperma] of Abraam, whom I have loved... do not fear, for I am with you; do not wander off, for I am your God who has strengthened you, and I have helped you, and I have made you secure with my righteous right hand." (Isa. 41:8-10 LXX); cf. Ex. 3:15-16. Translations from the LXX herein are, unless otherwise indicated, taken from the New English Translation of the Septuagint.
  • 3 Paul asserts that the singular word "seed" referred to in the promises to Abraham (e.g., Gen. 12:7) is not a collective noun (as it appears to be) but is a literal singular noun referring to Christ personally. Those who become associated with "faith of Christ Jesus" in baptism (Gal. 3:22, 26-27) become heirs, sharers in the promise made to him (Gal. 3:29-4:7).
  • 4 Of course, Jews in Paul's day also had a proselytisation process by which Gentiles could enter the covenant and become part of Abraham's seed, and a similar process (including circumcision and Torah observance) seems to be what Paul's opponents had in mind. Thus, it is not the extension of "seed of Abraham" to include non-physical descendants that makes Pauline Christianity distinctive. It is the Christocentric rather than Torah-centric focus of the procedure, its relative ease (no physical pain required for males), and its eventual popularity such that the Church became predominantly Gentile.
  • 5 I am translating the Greek term literally, while recognising that it should be interpreted as gender-inclusive in contemporary application.
  • 6 Isaiah 54:1 (which, admittedly, does not use the term "sons of God") is quoted by Paul in Galatians 4:27 within the Sarah-Hagar allegory to be discussed below. Hosea 2:1 (1:10 LXX) foretells that the sons of Israel would be called "sons of a living God." This text is quoted by Paul in Romans 9:25-26, to be discussed in a subsequent article. The same passage (albeit without the "sons of the living God" part) is quoted in 1 Peter 2:10. Both writers appear to apply Hosea's oracle at least partly to Gentile believers. Other places where God's people Israel are referred to as God's son(s) include Psalm 28(29):1 LXX and Hosea 11:1, the latter of which is cited Christologically in Matthew 2:15.
  • 7 So Frank J. Matera, Galatians (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1992), 177.
  • 8 "What [Paul] has actually done, however, is to mingle the two forms, the temporal and the spatial, in such a way as to indicate that the Jerusalem that is to come has already arrived (note the twice-repeated 'is') in the form of a heavenly, spiritual Jerusalem" (Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians [2nd edn; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988], 210).
  • 9 "Claiming a city as a mother is a declaration of citizenship, as Paul expresses more explicitly in Philippians: 'Our citizenship is in heaven' (Phil 3:20). This is the land that the spiritual descendants of Abraham will inherit (cf. Gal 5:21) in line with God's promise that he would provide them with territory" (David A. deSilva, The Letter to the Galatians [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018], 400).
  • 10 The verse also implies that Ishmael persecuted Isaac. This is not explicitly stated in Genesis, but the idea arose in later Jewish tradition that is here assumed by Paul.
  • 11 "L'apôtre fait-il allusion à une persécution des chrétiens par les légalistes (Sieffert, Zahn, Burton, Lagrange) ou par les juifs (Schlier, Oepke, etc)? Il faut peut-être préférer cette seconde interprétation" (Pierre Bonard, L'Épître de Saint Paul aux Galates [2nd edn; Neuchâtel: Delachaux & Niestlé, 1972], 99); "Paul regards certain Jewish-Christian parties as particularly hostile to himself (Gal 2:3-5) and might even have begun to regard their activity as persecution. However, the other four explicit references to persecution in Galatians point more directly toward non-Christian Jewish opposition to the Christian movement. Paul twice refers to his own former activity as persecuting the church while still 'in bondage' himself (Gal 1:13, 23). He also refers to the persecution that he alleges the rival teachers to be avoiding by promoting circumcision, which Paul could have hoped to avoid were he to do likewise, but does not (Gal 5:11). Such persecution is more likely to be coming from the moderately empowered non-Christian Jewish community, which had a certain authority over its own and used this authority to restrain deviance (see Acts 9:1-2; 2 Cor 11:24; 1 Thess 2:13-16). This persecution targets most directly the Jewish Christians who appear to go beyond the pale of Torah or speak against the central pillars of the Mosaic covenant, but makes itself felt among gentile Christians as well" (deSilva, Letter to the Galatians, 403).
  • 12 "For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved" (NRSV). Incidentally, the anti-Jewish rhetoric of this passage is so strong that some scholars have proposed that it is a non-Pauline interpolation! See Markus Bockmuehl, "1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 and the Church in Jerusalem," Tyndale Bulletin, 52(1) (2001): 1-31. Frank D. Gilliard describes the comma used after "Jews" in most translations of v. 14 as anti-Semitic: note the difference between "the Jews, who killed" and "the Jews who killed." ("The Problem of the Antisemitic Comma between 1 Thessalonians 2.14 and 15," New Testament Studies, 35(4) [1989]: 481-502).
  • 13 For a description of these three interpretations, see S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., "Paul and ‘The Israel of God’: An Exegetical and Eschatological Case-Study," The Master’s Seminary Journal, 20(1) (2009): 44-47.
  • 14 "in Gal 6.16, Israel, qualified importantly as ‘the Israel of God’, usually is identified as the church as a whole, or as some portion thereof" (Susan Grove Eastman, "Israel and the Mercy of God: A Re-reading of Galatians 6.16 and Romans 9-11," New Testament Studies 56(3) [2010]: 367-95, here 369). For arguments in favour of the ecclesiological interpretation, see G. K. Beale, "Peace and Mercy upon the Israel of God: The Old Testament Background of Galatians 6,16b," Biblica 80(2) (1999): 204-223; Andreas J. Köstenberger, "The Identity of the ἸΣΡΑΗΛ ΤΟΥ ΘΕΟΥ (Israel of God) in Galatians 6:16," Faith and Mission 19(1) (2001): 1-16; Matera, Galatians; Richard H. Bell, The Irrevocable Call of God: An Inquiry into Paul’s Theology of Israel (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2005); Christopher W. Cowan, "Context is everything: ‘The Israel of God’ in Galatians 6.16," Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, 14(3) (2010): 78-85; G. Walter Hansen, Abraham in Galatians: Epistolary and Rhetorical Contexts (London: Bloomsbury, 2015).
  • 15 For arguments in support of the second and/or third views (which have some overlap), see Peter Richardson, Israel in the Apostolic Church (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969); Johnson, "Paul and 'The Israel of God'"; Michael Bachmann, Anti-Judaism in Galatians? Exegetical Studies on a Polemical Letter and on Paul’s Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009); Eastman, "Israel and the Mercy of God"; Andy Cheung, "Who is the ‘Israel’ of Romans 11:26?" in The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supersessionism, ed. Calvin L. Smith (rev. ed.; Broadstairs: King's Divinity Press, 2013), 119-138; Lionel J. Windsor, Paul and the Vocation of Israel: How Paul's Jewish Identity Informs his Apostolic Ministry, with Special Reference to Romans (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2014).
  • 16 Beale, "Peace and Mercy upon the Israel of God," 209-210.
  • 17 So Beale, "Peace and Mercy upon the Israel of God," 207-208.
  • 18 The only other occurrences of the word eleos ("mercy") in the letters undisputedly attributed to Paul are in Romans 9:23, 11:30-31, and 15:9. In 9:23, those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, are referred to as "the vessels of mercy." In 11:30-31, Paul relates how both Gentiles and Jews disobeyed in turn, "For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all." In 15:9, Paul describes Christ as a "minister of the circumcised" to the end "that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy."