Anyone who has read my series on why the *obsession* with eschatology is a waste of time will recall that one of the big issues is what “Israel” means in the epistles — and especially Paul’s works. This issue is central to any view of eschatology. One perspective (the one from which a rapture derives) says that Israel and the Church are distinct entities. Others say that Israel (this side of the cross) refers to anyone who believes in Christ, Jew or Gentile.1
This issue is one of the more difficult interpretive problems in biblical studies in my opinion, and so any view of eschatology (read: any popular novelist, preacher, or non-scholarly writer who thinks their view of eschatology is self-evidently “biblical” ought to be ignored). This truly is a thorny issue for exegesis.
Prof. Larry Hurtado (retired, Edinburgh) has posted a couple of times recently on this issue in relation to his review of N.T. Wright’s past work and his new book Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Here are links to his thoughts (he is at odds with Wright) in their order of appearance:
Paul and the Faithfulness of God, Part 1 (Hurtado reviewed an advance copy of the work)
I’m with Hurtado on this one (which does not mean I’m with people like John Hagee and Joel Rosenberg). While there is a lot in the NT to suggest that the Church has displaced Israel (and I’m not even sure that’s the right word), I can’t help doubt that the “replacement theologians” have taken that data too far and pressed it beyond what it can sustain. In short, can we really say that none of Paul’s references to “Israel” that have some sort of eschatological flavor ever refer to (or include) national/ethnic Israel? Hurtado puts it this way:
But my problems with Wright’s particular view stem in part from his accompanying notion that this one family/people of Abraham/God must be homogenous, and that for Paul the historic special significance of ethnic “Israel” as a people is now dissolved in God’s plans.
- This is now the domain of “replacement” theologians, a term which, to me, smacks of leftist politics. Yes, I know that’s an over-reaction, but why not just call them what we used to: amillennialists? And please don’t post comments telling me about dispensationalism. I taught the subject, along with covenant theology, a dozen semesters on the college level. ↩