Are Christians/Gentile believers “spiritual Jews” or “Israelites?” – Part II
In the book of Galatians we see apostle Shaul (Paul) writing to Gentile believers in that locale, and he was describing certain Jews (or possibly Gentile Judaizers) who were trying to force the Gentiles to be circumcised. Shaul said that circumcision has no value for them, and then he pronounced a blessing of peace and kindness on all who follow this rule of not becoming circumcised. Shaul was specifically speaking to Gentiles, and in fact only the Gentiles could follow this rule of not becoming circumcised because the Jewish male followers of Yeshua had already been circumcised on the eighth day of life according to the Jewish law (Leviticus 12:2-3, Luke 1:59, 2:21, and Philippians 3:2-5, for example). Notice that in Galatians 6:16 (below), Shaul was speaking a blessing of peace and kindness upon two groups of people:
“neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, … and as many as by this rule do walk– peace upon them, and kindness” (Galatians 6:15-16a, YLT)
In the above verse Shaul pronounced a blessing on Gentile believers who follow this rule by not becoming circumcised.
“and on the Israel of G-d” (Galatians 6:16b, YLT)
And so Shaul pronounced that same blessing on Jewish believers (i.e. “the Israel of G-d”, as we have already seen in several other passages).
In Galatians 6:16, Shaul pronounced a blessing of peace and kindness on two groups of people in the Body of Messiah: Gentiles and Jews. It is the faithful Gentiles who are told to obey this rule of not trying to follow the Torah in the manner of Jews (since it was not given to them nor is required of them), and it is the faithful Jews who are “the Israel of G-d” who were expected to remain Jews in every respect, including in their obedience to Torah.
What this all boils down to is that the New Testament does not teach that the Gentile believers have replaced Israel or have become Israel, spiritual or otherwise. In fact, the New Testament often makes a distinction between the nation and people of Israel and the believers from all nations (the Ekklesia), as in the following examples:
“For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Messiah for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” (Romans 9:3-4)
The apostle Shaul was a follower of Messiah, and therefore he was a member of the Ekklesia. Yet he described the people of Israel, those of his own race, as largely blinded to Yeshua. Since the word “Israel” is referring to the people of Israel, Shaul’s own people, then there is obviously a distinction between “Israel” and “the Ekklesia.”
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to G-d for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10:1)
Shaul ‘s desire was for Israel to be saved. The word “Israelites” is referring to the people of Israel, Shaul’s own people, so once again we can see that there is a clear distinction between “Israel” and “the Ekklesia.”
“But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “L-rd, who has believed our message?”" (Romans 10:16)
Shaul implied that some Israelites had accepted the Good News (and were therefore members of the Body of Messiah), but not all of the Israelites had accepted the Good News. The word “Israelites” is partially referring to those in Israel who have not accepted Messiah, so once again we can see that there is a clear distinction between “Israel” and “the Ekklesia.”
“Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.” (Romans 11:11)
Shaul said that salvation has come to the Gentiles in order to make Israel envious. Why? Because the majority of the people of Israel have not embraced Yeshua as Messiah. Once again, the word “Israel” is referring to the people of Israel, so there is obviously a distinction between “Israel” and “the Ekklesia.”
“I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.” (Romans 11:13-14)
Shaul was talking to saved Gentiles (who were therefore in the Ekklesia), and he was distinguishing them from his own people (the people of Israel) whom he hoped would receive Messiah. Once again, Shaul was referring to those among Israel who have not embraced Yeshua as Israel’s Messiah, so there is a clear distinction between “Israel” and “the Ekklesia (the Church).”
“Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the Ekklesia of G-d” (1 Corinthians 10:32)
The above passages are examples where the New Testament distinguishes between Israel and the Ekklesia, the overall Body of believers from all nations. In addition, the New Testament also provides a number of examples where saved Jews are distinguished from saved Gentiles within the Ekklesia:
“I ask then: Did G-d reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. G-d did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” (Romans 11:1-2)
The apostle Shaul was a follower of Messiah, and therefore he was in the Ekklesia. But he was also an Israelite. As a faithful Israelite, Shaul was a member of “the Israel of G-d” (see Galatians 6:16, above). Shaul said that G-d did not reject Israel, so once again he was making a distinction between Israel and the Ekklesia. The Ekklesia (Church) has not “replaced” Israel.
“They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jewsto share with them their material blessings.” (Romans 15:27)
Shaul specifically pointed out that Gentiles share in the Jews’ spiritual blessings. The Gentile believers (Christians) have inherited the spiritual promises of Abraham by faith, but they have not inherited the physical, material, or national promises that G-d made to Abraham and his physical descendants (the Jews) in the line of Isaac and Jacob.
“Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Yeshua the Messiah. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.” (Romans 16:3-4)
Shaul made a specific mention of “the churches (communities) of the Gentiles.” Again we can see that Shaul made distinctions between Gentiles and Jews within the body of Messiah. He never referred to Gentile believers as “spiritual Jews,” and he never referred to the Ekklesia (Church) as the “new Israel,” or the “continuation” of Israel, or the “replacement” of Israel, etc.
“When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” (Galatians 2:11-14)
The apostle Peter, a Jewish believer, used to eat with Gentile believers. But he began to draw away from them so that he wouldn’t receive criticism from other Jews for associating with Gentiles. Notice that Peter did not defend himself by making the argument that saved Gentiles are “spiritual Jews” (meaning that he should be free to associate with his fellow “Jews”). Notice that he also did not make the argument that saved Gentiles are part of the “new Israel” (so he should be free to associate with his fellow “Israelites”). Instead, in the minds of the apostles and the early believers there was a clear distinction between Jews and Gentiles, even within the body of Messiah. Peter was wrong to separate himself from Gentile believers in order to appease certain Jews, but it shows that he did not try to argue that the Gentile believers had become Jews in any way, whether spiritual or otherwise.
“This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Yeshua the Messiah.” (Ephesians 3:6)
This passage says that Christians/Gentiles believers are heirs together with Israel and sharers together with Israel in the promise in Yeshua. It does not say that Gentiles become Israel.
Over and over we can see that the Apostolic Writings distinguished between Gentiles and Jews within the body of Messiah . Yes, Israel is one part of the Community of G-d (Ekklesia), and the saved Gentiles are the other part of the Ekklesia. We are all part of the same Body. Jews and Gentiles are sharers together in the promise in Messiah, which shows that the Ekklesia (Church) has not “replaced” Israel or “taken over” the promises from Israel.
Some scripture quotes used are from YLT and NIV. Some content is based on works of D. Root.