No “Christian Seders,” Please!

155Sicut Locutus Est blogged this: No “Christian Seders,” Please!

There is much to commend in this essay, not least its warning against supersessionism in over-eager Christian attempts to claim the Seder for Jesus and the Church whilst implicitly writing the Jewish people out of the story. Messianic Jews must remember that even in a Messianic seder, the primary memorial is deliverance from Egyptian slavery even if most Messianic Jewish seders will include mention of Messianic aspects and note where Yeshua would have introduced the Lord’s Super.

So why is a Messianic seder different from all other seders? Well they shouldn’t really be that different if the Exodus is remembered the way the Almighty commanded.

Numbers 9:1: 1The Lord spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt. He said, 2“Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time. 3Celebrate it at the appointed time, at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month, in accordance with all its rules and regulations.”

Here is the article:

No “Christian Seders,” Please!

With Holy Week on the horizon,  many Christian congregations have started announcing Seder dinners to observe Maundy Thursday. People of good will recognize this as a devout and well-intentioned attempt to honor the Jewishness of Jesus, and the Jewish roots of the Christian communion meal which was, Christians say, “instituted” by Jesus on the night he was handed over–a night that fell, according to the gospel accounts, during the annual Passover observance. It is understandable, therefore, that Christians would desire to commemorate this institution with a nod to its original context.

There are many difficulties with the practice of a Seder meal by Christians, however (the biggest being that a Seder is simply not for Christians, but we’ll get to that later). The other biggie is that we really do not know for sure what the “original context” of Jesus’ ‘last supper’ was.  We think we do: since Sunday School we’ve been taught it was a Passover meal, or Seder; but scholars continue to debate the precise character of the meal Jesus shared with his disciples that night. One thing we know for sure, however, is that, although it may have been a Passover meal of some sort, it was not a Seder in the modern sense. We know this because the introduction into Jewish ritual life of the Seder we know today came after the time of Jesus.

Modern day Jewish celebrations of the Passover are a melding of traditions that arose shortly after the destruction of the Temple (70 CE), through Late Antiquity and into Middle Ages. It is a developing tradition, too, with additions being made to the haggadah even to this day. Ironically, some scholars believe that the modern Seder developed in part at least as a reaction and resistance to the growing influence of the Christian church and its sacred meal. If that is true, Christians celebrating a Seder (as Jews celebrate Seders today) are celebrating, at least in part, a meal that was meant to criticize them and establish the distinctiveness of Jewish rites over against Christian ones. This anti-Christian critique is no longer prominent in contemporary Seders, but this curious history of the Seder still makes for a polemical mish-mash that, if known by the organizers of “Christian Seders,” might take away some of the romance of the night!

So… to hold a Seder as a way to commemorate the “background” meal Jesus shared with his disciples and which he “turned into” a Communion meal (as I have heard some Christians say) is anachronistic—it is a tradition Jesus did not know. More precisely and significantly, however (as I said above), it is a tradition that developed into its present forms after Jews and Christians had taken separate religious paths—a tradition, therefore, that Jews and those who became Christian never shared in the first place. It belongs to Jews only and distinguishes them as Jews in ways that make any Christian usage of it seem presumptuous, especially given the fraught and violent history of Christian usurpation and replacement of all things Jewish that we call “supersessionism.”  Given this history and this ongoing supplanting of the Jewish covenant, I wonder if we would do better to spend our time reflecting on what often befell Jews in Holy Week in many places in medieval Western and Eastern Europe—the pogrom—than to spend time appropriating one of their characteristic rituals and making it our own.

Holding a Seder in a Christian church as a Christian event during Christian Holy Week is dicey, then. Dicier still is  celebrating a Eucharist in the course of the Seder or finishing the Seder with Communion. This  sends an unintentional but real message that the important thing about this Seder is what (we suppose erroneously) Jesus did to transform it and make it into something else. In other words, what we imply is that the Seder’s real value is to point towards or usher in communion– that communion is really what it’s all about, when all else is said and done. This is to write Jews out of their own story. We have already succeeded in writing them out by the way we often use Old Testament texts in preaching and teaching—let’s not turn their meal into our meal for our devotional agendas, just because it feels more authentic or rootsy for us to do so.

To avoid “writing Jews out of their own story” when we engage in a “Christian” reading of the Old Testament, then, we need to operate on two levels at once: on the level of the text as an expression of a particular people’s religious experience, which is not ours; and on the level of the text as the Church hears it in the context of its its particular experience of Christ.

This double-vision may oblige us, for example, to refrain from a too-easy juxtaposition in liturgy of certain texts, OT and NT, that suggests that the NT text explains or fulfills the OT text in a way that exhausts all other possibilities of interpretation (this happens way too frequently in some lectionary pairings).

It may oblige us to speak of certain figures and events in the Hebrew Scriptures less as archetypes, allegories, or foreshadowing of Christ and his ministry, and more as evidence of the consistent pattern of God’s activity throughout ”salvation history,” with which our Christian experience of God in Christ is wholly consistent .

Full article can be read here

Gary Burge: Not Sent by Heaven

burge1Malcolm Lowe writes on the Gatestone Institute - Gary Burge: Not Sent by Heaven

 

While most Evangelical Protestants are generally friendly to the Jewish people and the State of Israel, there is a small band of Evangelical pastors and professors who want to line up all Evangelicals unilaterally on the Palestinian side. The most egregious example may be Anglican vicar Stephen Sizer, whose has chummed up with the likes of Naturei Karta and Iranian President Ahmadinejad. But Gary Burge probably wields the greater influence.

As “Professor of New Testament” at Wheaton College, where he has taught since 1992, Burge has taken whole generations of Evangelical students to such places as the Bethlehem Bible College for one-sided indoctrination in the Palestinian “narrative.” That is, the students are bombarded with typical Palestinian complaints about Israel. Encouragement to investigate the veracity of those complaints is lacking, let alone the history of Palestinian aggression against Israelis and the corruption and misrule of the Palestinian Authority.

Will those unfortunate students be able to cause Israel much harm? Maybe not. The harm done to impressionable young minds is another question. One wonders whether Wheaton College believes that such programs befit a respectable Christian teaching institution.

In March 2012, Burge was back at the Bethlehem Bible College to lecture at the so-called “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference. The very title of the conference betrays its misleading agenda. The idea was to underline that today if Mary and Joseph tried to visit Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus, Israeli security would stop them at a checkpoint. All this ignores, of course, the fact that they were a family of Jews committed to observance of the Jewish religion.

Today, indeed, if a young couple called Miriam and Yosef from Upper Nazareth tried to go to Bethlehem for the birth of Miriam’s child, they would be turned back at the checkpoint. This is because Israel forbids its Jewish citizens from entering Area A of the Palestinian authority, lest they be killed or kidnapped.

But let us suppose that the Jewish couple managed to pass or evade the checkpoint. They would certainly be given “no room at the inn” by the Palestinians, while all the world’s foreign ministries would denounce those “Jewish settlers” for their attempt to set up residence in Bethlehem. Such elementary verities, of course, surpass the mental capacity of the partisans of “Christ at the Checkpoint.”

Burge’s lecture is available on Internet as a video; there is also an excellent written summary by one of the participants in the conference. The official title was “Theology of the Land in the New Testament,” but about a third of it was chit-chat about Burge’s encounters with Jews in Israel. Recalling those encounters, Burge emphasized time and again the “fun” that he got from subjecting his Jewish counterparts to ridicule. At the end of the presentation, Burge whipped himself into a fervor about how, the next time he goes to Jerusalem, he could preach his version of Christianity in the Jewish quarter of the Old City.

Now, one might sympathize with Burge when he meets Jews who want to transfer the Dome of the Rock to some other site in order to rebuild the Temple. That is, if he has reported them correctly. There is, for instance, a Jewish group that has used ancient Jewish sources to reconstruct the implements used in Temple worship. Generally, however, such groups maintain that building the Temple itself must await the coming of the Messiah; in the meantime, one can only make such preparations for that event.

But let us consider an example that shows Burge’s failure to understand either Judaism or the New Testament accounts themselves. Burge was in the Western Wall plaza and intent on taking photographs on a Sabbath, when some Jews warned him that it was forbidden.

“So I had my camera in my hand and they thought it was a good moment to come over and teach me a lesson about why you shouldn’t take photos on the Sabbath. This sounded like fun, so after their sermon I asked them, well, what is really wrong theologically with using a camera on Sabbath? Honestly, debating details of Sabbath observance on the Sabbath sounded very biblical, especially one hundred yards from the Temple. So they argued that pushing the button on the shutter release was doing work. I told them climbing all these stairs all over Jerusalem was more work and on it went for about a half hour. This could have been a scene right out of the Gospel. I said I was celebrating the beauty of God’s creation by taking a picture, they said I was breaking the Law. I was having a great time.”

Here Burge shows a fundamental ignorance that might be forgiven the average Christian layperson, but is inexcusable in anyone who purports to be a professor of Bible. The meaning of “doing no work” in regard to the Sabbath has nothing whatever to do with physical effort. Doing no work means refraining from creation, just as God spent the seventh day without creating anything. Making a photograph, of course, is an act of creation. So the proper way to “celebrate the beauty of God’s creation” on the Sabbath is precisely not to take a picture of it. Or, if Burge had been more inventive, he could have sung the hymn “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation.”

Had he put away his camera and sung that well-known verse, he might have given his Jewish interlocutors an unexpected favorable impression of Christianity. Instead, he wilfully confirmed any prejudices that they had about Christian stupidity. That, for Burge, is “having a great time.”

As for calling this episode “a scene right out of the Gospel,” Burge showed his incomprehension in the field that he teaches. The reference is to various incidents in which Jesus was criticized for healing on the Sabbath. There has been a great deal of insightful scholarship on this topic. That includes an article of mine with David Flusser inNew Testament Studies, a journal that all “professors of the New Testament” are assumed to read, as long ago as 1983. The main conclusions are the following:

First of all, both Jesus and his critics were agreed that the Sabbath should be observed scrupulously, but that it could be violated in cases of dire need. Rather, they differed on what counted as dire need. The later Jewish consensus was that only the need to save a human life could justify – and would indeed require – violating the Sabbath, if that life would be lost by not acting before the end of the Sabbath. But earlier on there were less stringent views, such as that of Jesus: his healings concerned lifelong severe handicaps, such as blindness or paralysis.

Moreover, some of the reported healings on the Sabbath do not truly violate it. For instance, when Jesus told a man to stretch out his paralysed hand and the man was able to do it, the hand was found to be healed, but neither Jesus nor the man had done anything that violated the Sabbath.

Both Jesus and his critics would have been astounded to hear of Burge’s “dire need” to take a snapshot on the Sabbath, as if it ranked with healing the blind. Burge’s comparison of himself with Jesus is preposterous and absurd.

For the sake of Burge’s students, I shall relate a different Christian-Jewish encounter. Many Christians in Israel could tell a similar story, but this just happened to me. It took place not far from the scenes of Burge’s exploits and only a few weeks later. His students might ask themselves whether this was not a more Christian form of behavior toward Jews. Perhaps it will save them from marching down the “broad way” (Matthew 7.13) behind him.

One Friday evening, just around the beginning of the Sabbath, during a walk around a Jewish neighborhood in the dimming light, I sat down for a while in the deserted street. It was at this point that an elderly lady approached from the other side of the road and interrogated me about “Filipinas.” There are many women, and some men, from the Philippines who work as carers for the aged and infirm in Israel, where they are greatly appreciated. The following conversation ensued (in Hebrew).

“Do you know a Filipina?”she asked. “There are many Filipinas,” I responded.

“I need a Filipina to do something.” Immediately, I understood. Observant Jews are forbidden to turn electricity on or off during the Sabbath. Some have an automatic timer that switches the whole electric system on in the evening, including lights and heating, then switches it off for the night. Maybe her whole flat was in darkness.

“I can do it,” I said. “Are you not a Jew?” “I am not a Jew.” “A hundred percent not?” she insisted. “A hundred percent.” “Are you a Christian?” “Yes.”

“Perhaps you were sent by Heaven!” she exclaimed. Reassured, she led me back across the street and up some flights of stairs. In her modest flat there was one light on, in the kitchen, where an older man – presumably her husband – was sitting.

Here was the problem. She had laid a row of little dishes of food on a hotplate, but it was unplugged. All her careful plans for the Sabbath were faced with ruin. I took up the plug and inserted it into a socket. Mission accomplished.

That single light also had to illuminate their sitting room and, more dimly, further rooms down a corridor. I asked if I could do anything else, but no.

At this point a second woman emerged from the corridor. “That’s mother,” said the first woman, “she’s a hundred years old!” “To a hundred and twenty,” I responded, wishing her a life as long as Moses. There was nothing more needed, so I retraced my steps down the stairs and left them to their simple Sabbath celebration.

Now let us imagine that she had come across Gary Burge, sitting there in the street. Sent by Heaven? Hardly. It would be another chance to have “fun” at the expense of pious Jews. “Walking up those stairs is much more work than inserting a plug,” he would have admonished her. “Do it yourself.” “Free yourself from the Law, learn from the Gospel.” And he would have walked off, treasuring a new exploit to recount at the next “Christ at the Checkpoint.” Burge playing (his understanding of) Jesus again.

To conclude, let us locate Burge in the Evangelical and the broader Christian spectrum. It is widely perceived that Evangelicals are peculiarly attached to the State of Israel, but a 2011 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has shown that the issue is not so simple.

The survey was addressed to “Evangelical Protestant Leaders” and asked three relevant questions (besides covering many other issues). Asked “Which side do you sympathize with more?” 34% answered “with Israel,” 11% “with the Palestinians,” 39% “with both equally” and 13% “with neither.” Note, however, that this was – strictly speaking – not a theological question. The other two questions were unambiguously theological.

Responding to “Is the State of Israel a fulfillment of biblical prophecy?” 48% said yes and 42% said no. With regard to “God’s covenant with the Jewish people,” 73% said “it continues today” and 22% that it “no longer applies.”

On this last question, that great majority of Evangelical Protestant leaders is aligned with what has been Roman Catholic teaching since the famous declaration Nostra Aetate of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Many of the so-called “mainline” Protestant churches have issued similar declarations in the meantime.

All those declarations, Protestant as well as Roman Catholic, draw upon decades of scholarship on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, which should be familiar to any “professor of New Testament.” Thus Nostra Aetate asserts: “The Church keeps ever in mind the words of the Apostle about his kinsmen: ‘theirs is the sonship and the glory and the covenants and the law and the worship and the promises; theirs are the fathers and from them is the Christ according to the flesh’ (Rom. 9:4-5)…” It adds that “God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues” (echoing Rom. 11.28-29) and that “the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures.”

Now, the declarations of both the Vatican and Protestant churches have been wary of ascribing a theological significance to the State of Israel. Rather, they often distinguish between that state, as a political institution to be evaluated like any other state, and the return of the Jews to their biblical homeland, which is interpreted positively in terms of God’s faithfulness toward the Jewish people. More details can be found in an article of 1989 to which I contributed.

We may imagine that many of the 42% of Evangelical Protestant leaders who declined to endorse the State of Israel as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy did so because they make a similar distinction. After all, many of them must be among the 73% who asserted that God’s covenant with the Jewish people “continues today.”

Burge, however, is resolutely opposed to that majority Christian teaching. Toward the end of an interview with Hank Hanegraaff in July 2012, Burge claimed that all the promises made by God to Israel in the Old Testament are “Jewish theology” that the New Testament “turns inside out.” Yes, admits Burge, Paul does envisage a continuing existence of the Jewish people, but God is now equally concerned with all peoples and God’s interest has turned away from the Land of Israel.

Burge then described the State of Israel as a “highly secular” state that is “sharply disinterested in any of the covenant obligations that you have in the Old Testament,” so “the strings attached to the land no longer pertain.” This pejorative description is false: one need only recall the many decisions of Israel’s Supreme Court in favor of non-Jewish minorities, fulfilling a frequent biblical demand. Israel’s Declaration of Independence contains deliberate echoes of Judaism’s covenantal commitments.

More fundamentally, Burge disregards a distinction familiar to biblical theologians: God may punish deviations from the covenant, but He never abolishes the covenant itself; His covenantal partner need only repent in order to benefit from the covenant again. But maybe Burge belongs to those Christian theologians who hold that all the day-long repentance of Jews on Yom Kippur is a waste of time because they have not acknowledged Jesus,

In that interview, Burge was practicing what is commonly called “replacement theology,” that is, treating the Christian Church as the authentic continuation of Old Testament religion to the exclusion of Judaism. Curiously enough, earlier in the interview he had deprecated the replacement theology of early Christian writers.

So also at “Christ at the Checkpoint,” he strove to distinguish his view from earlier replacement theology. What is the difference? Old-time replacement theology, he said, claimed that Judaism had been replaced permanently by Christianity. His own view is that Judaism lost its validity with the coming of Jesus Christ two thousand years ago; so Judaism is just hanging around until Jesus returns in glory and the Jews recognize him as their Messiah. Not just Jews but many Christian theologians today would regard Burge’s distinction as nit-picking.

Thus Burge is far out on a theological fringe, isolated not just from fellow Evangelicals but from Protestant and Roman Catholic teaching in general. It would not be far-fetched to call Burgism a contemporary heresy. But accusations of heresy are too easily thrown around, not least by Burge’s friends at Christian Zionists. So let’s think it enough to call him a marginal theologian.

Source

Three Views on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

three viewsThis is a book that deals with issues that have pertinence to many of our discussions both in our blog posts and comments threads over the last four years. One of the authors is a Messianic Jewish scholar, Darrell Bock, who takes the middle position between the views of Kaiser and Enns.

This book in the Counterpoints: Exploring Theology series introduces three approaches presently employed in the study of the uses of the Old Testament in the New Testament, especially in those instances where the New Testament authors discern the fulfillment of a prophetic element in the Old Testament text. The foundational issue concerns the relationship between an Old Testament author’s meaning and the meaning of that same passage when it is used by a New Testament author.

To watch an introductory video from Zondervan publishers, click here.

Popular Christian Blog claims Paul Did Not Leave Judaism

patheos-logoDr. Joel Willitts (Ph.D. Cambridge University), Associate Professor in Biblical and Theological Studies at North Park University as well as College Pastor at Christ Community Church, writes in the popular Christian Patheos blog claiming Paul was a Messianic Jew who did not leave Judaism proper, but configured his Judaism around Messiah Yeshua.

This is a welcome statement from such as scholar. I do however think that Paul continued to identify himself as a Pharisee even after his “conversion”, so I don’t even think he left his “Pharisaic stream of Judaism”. I do agree he configured his faith around Messiah Yeshua.

On my reading of it, based on Galatians 1:13-14, Paul did leave something behind as a consequence of his heavenly vision. But it was not Judaism. Paul did have a conversion, but it was not from Judaism to something else, say Christianity.

What Paul turned from and rejected was his specific Pharisaic stream of Judaism. This Judaism was Torah centered, but configured around the traditions of the fathers, which made all the difference. In its place, Paul became a Messianic Jew, a Jew whose belief and practices are centered on a three-fold Torah (Moses, Prophets and Psalms – see Luke 24:44), but configured around the resurrected and reigning Messiah who has given his Spirit. And this made all the difference.

Read the full post here

Professor Craig A. Evans – The People, the Land and the Future of Israel According to the Book of Hebrews and the General Epistles

Prof Craig Evans

Prof Craig Evans

New Testament scholar, Craig Evans, is the Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College of Acadia University, in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, Canada. Author and editor of more than sixty books and hundreds of articles and reviews. Here is a link to his recent lecture  - The People, the Land and the Future of Israel According to the Book of Hebrews and the General Epistles.

Professor Craig A. Evans – The People, the Land and the Future of Israel According to the Book of Hebrews and the General Epistles.

Michael Horton asks Who Is Israel?

Michael Horton

Michael Horton

Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California. Horton writes in the Modern Reformation:

“Whatever conclusions can be drawn about Paul’s teaching on the current redemptive-historical status of Israel, a simple supercessionism or “replacement” theology is unsupported. The New Testament church does not replace Israel, says Paul.”

It seems as if traditional Replacement Theology/simple supersessionism in the Reformed World is beginning to loose its dominance. However is there a soft supersessionism here as found in N.T. Wright? Here is article.

Reacting against a perceived tendency to reduce Paul’s teaching to answering the question, How can I be saved?, the trend today is to say that the real question that concerns Paul (as it did all first-century Jews) was, Who are the people of God? In other words, it’s a question of ecclesiology (defining “Israel”), not soteriology (how one gets in). However, Paul’s arguments in Romans 9 to 11 especially demonstrate that he is interested in both questions and that,in fact, neither can be successfully answered in isolation from the other. Thus far in Romans, Paul has emphasized that since all people, Jew and Gentile alike, are “in Adam,” condemned by the law, under the sentence of death and divine wrath, the only way to be saved is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

Who Is Israel?

The problem is that the covenant that the people made with God at Sinai was being allowed to determine the answer to these questions. How are we saved? By fulfilling the law. Who is Israel? Those who fulfill the law. Paul held this view before his conversion, as a Pharisee and persecutor of the church, but on the Damascus Road everything was turned upside down when he encountered a vision of the very “cursed” one according to the law (“cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”) triumphantly seated at the Father’s right hand in glory. Now the questions receive different answers that are, in fact, perfectly consistent with the expectations of the prophets. How are we saved? We are saved in the same way that all of the saints in redemptive history were saved: by trusting in God’s promised Messiah. Who are the people of God? The children of promise-those who share Abraham’s faith. The heirs of the Sinai covenant (and thus of the earthly land) are those who are ethnic descendants of Abraham, circumcised in the flesh; the heirs of the Abrahamic covenant (fulfilled in the new covenant) are all people, Jew and Gentile, who are “in Christ” through faith alone, circumcised in heart.

Throughout his epistles, therefore, Paul labors the contrast between these “two covenants,” represented by two mothers (Sarah the free woman versus Hagar the slave), two mountains (Zion and Sinai), and two Jerusalems (heavenly and earthly) (see especially Gal. 4). Pulling together his teaching across these epistles, we can offer a list of contrasts (see chart below).

Paul has been unveiling the free grace of God in the Abrahamic covenant to all those who are “in Christ”: pre-destined, called, justified, glorified (8:30-31). He has stressed the un-conditional basis of this everlasting covenant. So now, especially for those who had confused the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants, the likely question is raised: So, Paul, is this election that you are talking about a new and different one from the election of Israel? Has God failed in his saving purposes for Israel, so that now he finds himself having to resort to “Plan B” (the church)?

To answer this question, the apostle does not invent a new theology of election. Rather, he shows that all along God has fulfilled his eternal electing purposes distinct from the election of Israel as a national theocracy designed to point all the nations to Christ. It was the Abrahamic covenant (made 430 years before the Sinai treaty) that promised blessing for the nations. It was Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and Isaac, who illustrate the prerogative of God’s sovereign grace in election. Although both were the fruit of his loins and outwardly members of the covenant of grace, circumcised in the flesh, God had already chosen Isaac and rejected Ishmael. “And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac (for the children not yet being born, nor having done anything good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him who calls), it was said to her, ‘The older shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated’” (Rom. 9:10-13). God is not unjust in electing apart from any foreseen virtues. Since the elect are chosen out of a mass of perdition, God would only have foreseen sin and resistance in any case. The point could not be any clearer: “So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (v. 16).

If this is the way God has always worked, then election and grace cannot be assimilated to the Sinai covenant. God’s eternal and unconditional election of individuals for salvation, hidden to us, cannot be confused with his conditional covenant with the nation of Israel. What remains unconditional in God’s promises to Israel is his utterly one-sided oath to bring the blessing of salvation to all nations through Abraham’s seed. The Sinai covenant, based on law, cannot annul the earlier Abrahamic covenant, based on promise (see Gal. 3:15-18).

So God is not unfaithful. His Word has not failed, even if we do not currently see the Jewish people embracing Christ en masse. The prophets consistently taught that Israel would be saved through a remnant, and that this Jewish remnant would also include a remnant from all the nations. Together, they would form “one flock with one shepherd,” in a “covenant of peace” (Ezek. 34:11-31). The people resulting from this unconditional election would constitute the true Israel. Paul is simply announcing that this remnant theology of the prophets has been finally realized in the history of redemption.

Many first-century sects saw themselves as this remnant (especially the Essenes); others regarded themselves and their party as a remnant that will purify the whole nation in preparation for Messiah (the Pharisees). Yet across the spectrum, the pattern is the renewal of the Sinaitic covenant. By contrast, with Hebrews 1:1-2, as Delbert Hillers describes, “Early Christians, even those of Jewish descent, did not look on themselves either as an unbroken continuation of the old Israel or as a group attempting to return to an ancient pattern of faith, like the Essenes. Instead, they stood over against the days ‘of old’ as men living in the ‘last days.’” Part of this “newness,” says Hebrews 1, is that the new covenant coalesces around a person-a Son, a “better covenant,” one “enacted on better promises.” Commenting on Jeremiah’s prophecy, the writer says, “In speaking of a new covenant, he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (8:13; cf. 9:11-23).

The Sinai covenant can become obsolete because it was a conditional treaty, intended by God to serve an important but temporary purpose of pointing forward to Christ. Once Christ (the reality) has come, the law covenant of Sinai (the shadows) becomes obsolete. If we don’t understand this covenantal background, we will either conclude that God has in fact reneged on his promises to Israel or we will build a whole theology around a future restoration of an earthly holy land, with a Davidic king, temple, priest, and sacrifices other than Christ (as in at least old-style dispensationalism).

Thus, the contrast between the Sinai covenant of law and the Abrahamic New Covenant of promise is drawn not merely by the Protestant reformers, nor even merely by Paul, but by the Hebrew prophets, Jesus, and his apostles. By justifying the wicked by faith apart from works of the law (how we are saved: soteriology), God will be able finally to realize the promise made to Abraham and heralded by the prophets (Isa. 9; 49; 60; 66; Jer. 4:2; Ezek. 39), that in him and his Seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed (who will be saved: ecclesiology).

Has God Failed?

Read full article here