Dr. Robert L. Saucy on The Distinction of Israel and the Church




Much discussion has centered around the relationship of the church and Israel. Some biblical interpreters, emphasizing their similarity, view them essentially as one people of God (Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p. 571; cf. also the Roman Catholic position stated in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, ed., The Documents of Vatican II, pp. 24-37). The term Israel represents not a national people but the spiritual people of God. Therefore, the members of the church are considered to be New Israel. Spiritual Israel was related to national Israel in the Old Testament but it has now been enlarged to become a universal spiritual work in the church. The Israel of the Old Testament is thus superseded by the church, and the prophecies concerning the nation of Israel are, for the most part, no longer literally applied to the nation but rather to the church now and in the future.

A preferable position sees Israel and the church as distinct phases of God’s program; not so distinct as to preclude relationship in the historical plan and purpose of God, but having a distinction which recognizes the calling and election of Israel as a nation among nations (cf. Deu 7:6-8; 10:15-17; Num 23:9) to be “without repentance” (cf. Ro 11:27-29). This does not deny the spiritual qualifications necessary for Israel to enter into the fulfillment of her promises. Physical descent alone is not sufficient to reap God’s blessings. This was already true of Israel in the Old Testament. There has always been a true Israel within national Israel, but this true Israel is a part of the nation (Compare the concept of the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah, where in many places the Servant is identified merely with Israel [e.g., 41:8; 43:10; 44:21], but in other instances it is clear that only the true Israel is involved [51:1,7]). This interpretation allows for the natural understanding of the Old Testament prophecies portraying a future for Israel as a nation. It is also consistent with the New Testament teaching of the church as distinct from Israel and yet sharing in God’s salvation program.


The New Testament never confuses Israel and the church. As opposed to the church, which is a religious body composed of individuals from all nations, the term Israel retains its reference to that people which came physically from the loins of Abraham. After the beginning of the church, Israel is still addressed as a national entity. When on the day of Pentecost Peter addresses his audience as “you men of Israel” (Ac 2:22), he is obviously referring to those of the physical nation and not the church. Similar uses of the term “Israel” are found throughout Acts, demonstrating the fact that the church had not taken this term for itself (Ac 3:12; 4:10; 5:21, 31, 35; 21:28). Paul’s prayer for “Israel” (Ro 10:1; cf. 11:1) and his references to Israel throughout the discussion of God’s program in Romans 9—11 concern his “kinsmen according to the flesh” (9:3). If “Israel” were a reference to the church, the reference to Israel’s “blindness in part … until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in” (11:25) would be meaningless.

Two references are often used against this consistent use of Israel for the nation in an attempt to substantiate that the church is New Israel. One is Paul’s statement: “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” [Ro 9:6] (Louis Berkhof, The Kingdom of God, p. 161; Arndt and Gingrich also define Israel in this passage as “a figurative sense of the Christians as the true nation of Israel” – W.F. Arndt and F.W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, p. 382). An examination of the context reveals, however, that Paul is speaking only of a division within Israel. He has introduced the subject concerning his “brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” who are identified as “Israelites” (vv. 3-4). The subsequent discussion concerns God’s elective purpose within the physical seed of Israel as illustrated in the choice of Isaac over Ishmael and the other children of Abraham and Jacob over Esau (vv. 7-13). Verse 6 then also has reference to Israel. “Those ‘of Israel’ are the physical seed, the natural descendants of the patriarchs” while in the other expression ‘they are not all Israel,” obviously the denotation is much more limited and the thought is that there is an ‘Israel’ within ethnic Israel” (John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, 2:9). Gutbrod, linking this pasage with Romans 2:28-29, where a similar Jewish context is often overlooked, states forthrightly, “We are not told here that gentile Christians are the true Israel. The distinction at Romans 9:6, does not go beyond what is presupposed at John 1:47, and it corresponds to the distinction between Ioudaios en to krupto [a Jew inwardly] and loudaios en to phanero [a Jew outwardly] at Romans 2:28f., which does not imply that Paul is calling Gentiles true Jews” (Walter Gutbrod, “Israel” in TDNT, 3:387).

Perhaps the words most often cited for the identity of the church as Israel are those of the apostle to the Galatians: “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). The meaning of “Israel of God” in this verse rests upon its relationship to the previous expression, “as many as walk according to this rule,” and this relationship depends upon one’s understanding of the “and” (Greek, kai) which connects them. Three different interpretations have been suggested. Lenski, expressing the view which sees the church as the Israel of God, understands kai in the explicative sense of “even.” “As many as will keep in line with the rule,’ constitute ‘the Israel of God'” (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul’s Epistles to the Galatians, to the Ephesians and to the Philippians, p. 321; cf. J.B. Lightfoot, The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians, pp. 224-25). A second view clearly separating the two phrases as distinct groups is that of Walvoord, who states, “God’s blessing is declared on those who walk according to this rule (among the Galatians who were Gentiles), and also ‘upon the Israel of God'” (John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, p. 170). According to this interpretation the kai (“and”) is used as simple copula joining two separate entities.

The third interpretation, which seems preferable, understands the use of the kai (“and”) as adding a specially important part of the whole in the sense of “and especially” (For this use of kai, see Arndt and Gingrich, p. 392). Ellicott interprets the passage according to this use as well as refuting the position of identity when he says,

Still, as it is doubtful whether kai is ever used by St. Paul in so marked explicative force as must be assigned…and as it seems still more doubtful whether Christians generally could be called “the Israel of God”…the simple copulative meaning seems most probable…St. Paul includes all in his blessing, of whatever stock and kindred; and then with his thought turning [as it ever did] to his own brethren after the flesh [Romans ix. 3], he pauses to specify those who were once Israelites according to the flesh [1 Cor. x. 18], but now are the Israel of God…true spiritual children of Abraham (Charles J. Ellicott, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, p. 139; Eadie comments, “The simple copulative meaning is not to be departed from, save on very strong grounds; and there is not ground for such departure here, so that the Israel of God are a party included in, and yet distinct from the hosoi [as many as]” – John Eadie, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Galatians, p. 470).

The truth of Burton’s statement that “there is, in fact, no instance of his [Paul’s] using Israel except of the Jewish nation or a part thereof” (Ernest DeWitt Burton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, p. 358), renders the possibility of that use in this verse highly doubtful (Although the term Israel is used 38 times and Israelite occurs 8 times in Acts-Revelation, the absence of a clear reference to the church in any of these instances makes one suspect the validity of this popular theological equation. The statement of R.T. Stamm almost incredibly admits to theological deduction unrelated to the evidence: “But although he {Paul] did believe that Christians constituted the true Israel, he never called the church the Israel of God, but used the word ‘Israel’ to designate the Jewish nation” [The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. Geirge A. Buttrick. New York: Abingdon, 1953, 10:590-91]. If the New Testament writers actually do make the theological equation of the terms church and Israel, it is difficult to explain their reticence to make such an equation verbally).

The context of Galatians supports the inclusion of the Israel of God among those that “walk according to this rule.” The apostle wrote to ward off the threat of those Judaizers who insisted upon mingling law with the grace of the gospel, demanding that Christians be circumcised as well as have faith in Christ. It would seem logical to pronounce peace and mercy not only upon the Gentiles who rcognize that “neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15), but also upon those Jewish Christians who likewise recognize this rule of grace. The special mention of Jewish believers who rejected the error of the Judaizers is logical, as it would be these among the Galatians who would be most likely to succumb.

A further motive might be also suggested for their special mention. Paul’s attack upon the Judaizers might incite antagonism on the part of the Gentile believers against all Jews. Perhaps the special mention of the Israel of God was also designed to quell any such animostiy. Additional evidence for this interpretation is found in the similarity of this statement with the conclusion of Jewish prayers: “Shew mercy and peace upon us, and Thy people Israel” (Gutbrod, p. 388, n. 135; F.F. Bruce suggests that it is “perhaps an echo of Psalm 125:5, ‘Peace be upon Israel'” [The Letters of Paul: An Expanded Paraphrase, p. 39]).

The consistent witness of Scripture is to the distinctiveness of Israel and the church. Israel is an elect nation called to witness to the glory of God as a nation among nations and serve a distinct phase in the kingdom program. The prophecies declare that she will yet fulfill this calling. The church, on the other hand, is a people called out from every nation as “a people for his name” (Acts 15:14). She also bears witness to the glory of God and serves His kingdom program along with the nation of Israel.

Having noted this distinction, it is necessary to guard against a dichotomy which fails to see the place of the church as an integral part of God’s program along with Israel and thus a coheir of the promises (Gal. 3:29). This close relationship of Israel and the church is seen in the concepts of the seed of Abraham and the new covenant.


In the call of Abraham and the covenant promises made to him, God laid the basis of His program of redemption and the ultimate establishment of His rule on earth. It was in fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises that Christ came bringing salvation and will ultimately reign as King over the earth (Lk. 1:69-79′ Gal. 3:14; Acts 3:25-26). The believers in the church as the seed of Abraham share in this promise with Israel.

The biblical use and meaning of “seed of Abraham.” The expression “seed of Abraham” has three applications in Scripture. it is used first for the natural descendants of Abraham through Jacob. “But you, Israel, are my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend” (Is. 41:8; cf. 2 Ch. 20:7; Ps. 105:6; Rom. 11:1). Jesus likewise made reference to literal descendants when He said, “I know that you are Abraham’s seed” (John 8:37; cf. Luke 13:16; 19:9). He quickly denies, however, that physical lineage is the decisive factor when He says to the same individuals, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” (John 8:39b). As there is a true Israel within ethnic Israel, so there is a genuine seed within the physical seed. The true seed are those “not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of…father Abraham” (Romans 4:12). However, the fact that the true seed includes spiritual characteristics does not negate the reality of the physical relationship in this use of the concept. It is hardly conceivable that Abraham understood it otherwise when God made reference to “your seed after you in their generations” (Gen. 17:7) and to his son Isaac “and…his seed after him” (v. 19b; cf. 28:13-14). A second use of this terminology is for Christ Himself. “Now to Abraham and his seed were promises made and to his offspring. It does not say ‘And to offsprings,’ referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ” (Gal. 3:16). The true posterity of Abraham is ultimately embodied in Christ. He is its summation and Head, for the promise was received through Him. All who inherit the promises inherit them through Christ.

The third application follows logically upon the second. All those in Christ are also Abraham’s seed. “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29). This includes all, whether Jew and Gentile, who are in Christ, and therefore in His body, the church. According to its usage, “seed of Abraham” thus has two basic significations in Scripture. It refers to a spiritual seed which is justified through Christ’s work by faith after the pattern of Abraham. It also denotes Abraham’s physical posterity through Isaac and Jacob which formed the nation of Israel. While all Israelites can be called Abraham’s seed, only those of faith are Abraham’s true seed who will inherit the promises. The primary significance is thus spiritual, and this spiritual seed is made up of true Israel as well as those outside Israel.

Both the church and Israel are therefore Abraham’s seed and heirs of the promise. But this does not therefore equate the church and Israel. Rather, Abraham is the father of both. Writing to the Romans, Paul states that Abraham is “the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised…And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised” (Rom. 4:11-12). Thus, as Godet explains, “There was a time in Abraham’s life when by his uncircumcision he represented the Gentiles, as later after his circumcision he became the representative of Israel” (F. Godet, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, p. 295). Children of Abraham may belong to one category or another, but “”children of Abraham’ are not necessarily ‘children of Israel’, for Israel is not the the only seed of Abraham” (D.W.B. Robinson, “The Salvation of Israel in Romans 9-11,” The Reformed Theological Review 26 [Sept-Dec. 1967]: 89). The members of the church are also Abraham’s seed as individuals out of all the families of the earth, while Israel is his seed as the great nation among nations “through whom the promise would eventually be held out to the rest of the nations” (Ibid).

Church participation in the Abrahamic promises. As seed of Abraham the members of the church participate in the Abraham covenant; they are “heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29). The original promise to Abraham included this blessing upon those outside of Israel: “In you shall all the families of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12:3), and the outworking of this promise is the subject of many of the Old Testament prophecies. The vast majority of these relate to that time when converted Israel will be a channel of blessing to all nations during the kingdom reign of Christ on earth (Is. 2:2-4; 60:1 ff.; 62:2; Zech. 8:22-23). However, with the institution of the mystery phase of the kingdom, the New Testament teaches that this blessing has already come to the Gentiles during the church age. This present blessing does not supersede or cancel the fulfillment of millennial blessings, but is rather part of that program of God which was not clearly revealed in prophecy. There are, in fact, indications of God’s turning from Israel to bring salvation to others even during this time before the restoration of Israel. He promises to provoke Israel to jealousy “with those which are not a people” (Deut. 32:21b). The apostle Paul sees this promise fulfilled in the salvation of the church (Rom. 11:11; 10:19). The participation of the church in the covenant promises made to Abraham rests, as we have seen, on the fact that these promises included blessing for all families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). When the apostle speaks of the blessing of Abraham coming on the church, he makes reference specifically  to this universal promise and not to the the national  promises of Israel. “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal. 3:7-9).

The grafting in the Gentiles onto the root of the olive tree in Paul’s figure of Romans 11 represents the fulfillment of this universal promise. The root represents the foundation of God’s redemptive program in His covenant promises to Abraham, or perhaps Abraham himself as the father of all those sharing in the promise (It is possible also to understand the root as Christ, “the seed of Abraham to whom the promise was made” [see Galatians 3:16 ff.], and in whom it is fulfilled. Cf. H.L. Ellison, The Mystery of Israel, pp. 86-87; cf. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 2, 2, 285 ff.). The natural branches represent Israel, while the wild branches which are grafted in are the Gentile believers. As branches, both partake of “the root and fatness of the olive tree” (v. 17b). In that Israel is the natural branches, the tree can be said to be “their own olive tree” (v. 24). They had received the promises and covenants and growth from the root as God formed the nation of Israel as His people. But now the Gentiles in the church, as wild branches with whom God had made no covenants, are grafted in to partake of the same root. The Gentiles which were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenant of promise, having not hope, and without God in the world…now…are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:12-13). They do not now assume Israel’s promises to become a new Israel, but they have become “fellow heirs…and partakers of his [God’s] promise in Christ by the gospel” (Eph. 3:6). “The Gentiles have been made partakers of their [Israel’s] spiritual things” (Rom. 15:27b).

As seed of Abraham in Christ, the church “participates in all He does to bring the covenant to completion” (J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, p. 90). The present blessings of salvation in Christ, as well as the future glory with Him, are all the realization of the promises made to Abraham. Members of the church are “joint-heirs with Christ” of the promise (Rom. 8:17; cf. Gal. 3:29). Although this participation is not in the place of Israel in the fulfillment of her national promises, the church nevertheless participates even in these through her relationship to Christ, the fulfillment of all promises.


The participation of the church in the promises is seen especially in the blessings of the new covenant which are applied to it. Paul as a minister of the gospel of grace which brings the life-giving Spirit describes himself as one whom God has made adequate as a minister of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6). Similarly, the writer of Hebrews cites the new covenant (Heb. 8:8 ff.; 10:15 ff.) in seeking to persuade his hearers of the superiority of Christ over the old covenant. These applications of the new covenant to the church have been variously interpreted. Some see them as evidence that the church is indeed the New Israel fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies addressed to Israel. “For the gospel age in which the living is that day foretold by the prophets when the law of God shall be written in the hearts of men (Jer. 31:33) and when the Spirit of God abiding in their hearts will enable them to keep it (Ez. 11:19, 36:26f). The gospel age is the age of the new covenant” (Oswald T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church, p. 42).

In an attempt to clearly distinguish the prophecies for Israel from those for the church, the position of two new covenants, one for Israel and another for the church, has been espoused. “There remains to be recognized a heavenly covenant for the heavenly people, which is also styled like the preceding one for Israel a ‘new covenant’…To suppose that these two covenants–one for Israel and one for the Church–are the same is to assume that there is a latitude of common interest between God’s purpose for Israel and His purpose for the Church” (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 7:98-99).

The Scriptures, however, do not reveal a separate new covenant. The blessings for the church of the indwelling Spirit and the inward law (2 Cor. 3:3-6) are the same as those promised to Israel (Jer. 31:33-34). Moreover, as has been indicated, Jeremiah’s prophecy is directly applied to believers in the book of Hebrews. The fact of only one new covenant does not, however, necessitate that the church is fulfilling Israel’s prophecy in her place. Rather, both Israel and the church share in this covenant, as in the Abrahamic covenant, for the new covenant is the realization of the salvation of the Abrahamic promise.

The promise of the new covenant. Against the background of the impeding judgment through Babylon because of the failure to keep the Mosaic covenant, God promised to “make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah” (Jer. 31:31). The essence of this new covenant was in reality nothing but the renewal of the relationship promised in the old covenant: “I will…be their God, and they shall be my people” (v. 33b; cf. Lev. 26:12; Ex. 29:45). The newness, apart from its futurity, lay in its subjective reality. Whereas the old covenant could only command response, the new covenant contained provisions to effect it. The key provisions were the gracious forgiveness of sins (Jer. 31:34) and the writing of the law in the heart through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit (v. 33). The result of this latter provision would be the universal knowledge of God (v. 34a). Provisions of the new covenant to Ezekiel further elaborate these covenant promises: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ez. 36:25-28; cf. 11:19 ff.; 34:25-29; 37:26 ff.). The new covenant is also the subject of Isaiah’s prophecies concerning Messianic salvation (Is. 59:20-21). As the result of these spiritual provisions, Israel will also enjoy physical blessing.

In the contexts of the new covenant are promises of restoration to the land, which would continue forever, and multiplied prosperity (Jer. 31:36; Ex. 36:28-38). As the Abrahamic covenant looked forward to the same conditions, it is evident that the new covenant is in reality the gracious provisions for the fulfillment of the original promises given to Abraham. To him was promised a seed which would be a great nation inheriting the promised land as an everlasting possession (Gen. 12:2; 17:6-8). This connection is especially seen in the word of God spoken to Abraham concerning Israel: “I will be their God” (Gen. 17:8). As we have seen, this is, in fact, the culmination of the new covenant.

The new covenant is also related to the Davidic promises which are an amplification of the promises to Abraham (cf. Jer. 33:14-16; 20-26; Eze. 37:21-28). This same relationship is evident in the New Testament as well (Leon Morris, The Apostolic preaching of the Cross, pp. 93-94). Christ came as the fulfillment of God’s word “to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant: the oath which he swore to our father Abraham to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high” (Luke 1:72-78). The forgiveness of sins through Christ and the coming of the Spirit are likewise connected to the fulfillment of Abraham’s covenant in the teaching of Peter (Acts 3:25-26) and Paul (Gal. 3:6 ff.). In summary, the new covenant contained the provisions for the realization of the Messianic promises which find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the Seed of Abraham.

Inauguration of the new covenant. The Old Testament prophecy of the new covenant connected the time of the new covenant with a coming Person. This one whom Isaiah saw as Servant of the Lord would be given “for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles” who would open blind eyes and free those who were in prisons of darkness (42:6-7; cf. 49:8). The same one is “the messenger of the covenant” in Malachi 3:1.

Christ clearly revealed Himself as that Person when in the upper room He linked His death with the new covenant. Taking the cup, He said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, even that which is poured out for you” (Lk. 22:20, ASV; cf. Mt. 26:28; Mk. 14:24; 1 Cor. 11:25). In this statement Christ was telling the disciples that His death would effect the final eschatological promise of the new covenant for the remission of sins [Mt. 26:28] (It is historically inconceivable that the Jewish disciples to whom these words were spoken could have thought of a new covenant other than that of Old Testament prophecy). The writer of Hebrews later expressly stated that with the death of Christ the covenant was in force (Heb. 9:15-18). He is the “mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises” (8:6).

Thus, from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ the new covenant stands open to all who receive it. The finished work of Christ at Calvary once and for all provides the basis for all new covenant blessings. To be sure, Israel as a nation has not entered into the provisions of Jeremiah 31 and therefore the specific national fulfillment of the covenant to the “house of Israel” and the “house of Judah” awaits their future conversion. But the “messenger of the covenant” has come, and those who receive Him receive the salvation of the new covenant.

Participation of the church in the new covenant. Although the Old Testament references to the new covenant were for the nation of Israel, the members of the church also share in its provisions. Like the Abrahamic covenant which was ratified with Abraham and his national seed and yet contained blessing for Gentiles, so the new covenant as an amplification of the salvation of the Abrahamic covenant can also be applied to Gentiles.

Old Testament prophecies looked forward to the salvation of the new covenant extending also to the Gentiles. The Servant of God not only restores Israel, but God says, “I will make you as light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Is. 49:b; cf. 42:1, 6; 60:3). This prophecy looked forward to the establishment of the Messianic kingdom at the coming of Christ when salvation would flow through converted Israel to all nations. But this salvation has now come to the church during the time of the mysteries of the kingdom between Christ’s first and second comings as an earnest or guarantee of the final fulfillment. The enlargement of the new covenant to those outside of Israel is indicated in the words of Christ Himself when at the inauguration of the Lord’s supper He gave His disciples the cup, saying, “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many” (Mt. 26:28; Mk. 14:24). In using the word “many” in the Semitic sense of “all,” Christ for “the many” or “all” was already the subject of Isaiah’s prophecy (53:10-12) and was certainly the background for the Lord’s words at the inauguration of the memorial feast of the new covenant (Although in Greek there is a difference in polloi [“many”] and pontes [“all”], the Hebrew and Aramaic have no word for all in the sense of the sum as well as the totality. As a result, the Hebrew ha-rabbim [“the many”] is also used inclusively for “all.” Cr. Joachim Jeremias, “polloi” in TDNT, 6:536, 543-45).

The church thus enjoys the eschatological salvation of the new covenant. Full and final remission of sins is a reality for those in Christ (Eph. 1:7). The life-giving Spirit has come to indwell (2 Cor. 3:3-6) and work out the righteousness of the law in every believer (Rom. 8:2-4). No longer is the knowledge of God connected with the mediation of priests and prophets, but all are taught of the Spirit (1 John 2:27).


This brief study of the church and Israel reveals that the two are distinct, and yet both have a part in the outworking of God’s program. Prior to the launching of the church, God began His kingdom program through the elect nation of Israel. During this time of the mysteries of that kingdom, when Israel has temporarily been set aside and with her the full blessing of the world, God is calling out a people for His name from all the nations, and He is building the church. The church has therefore been grafted into the great promises of blessing which are foundational to God’s total salvation program which had prior to this time been covenanted only to Abraham and Israel. This engrafting is not to replace Israel nor to fulfill her specifically national prophecies. In this regard it is interesting to note that none of the physical blessings attendant upon the realizations of the new covenant for Israel are cited in the New Testament with regard to the church (cf. 2 Cor. 3:6-7; Heb. 8:8-13 with Jer. 31:31-40; Ezek. 36:24-38). Rather, both Israel and the church share in their distinctive phase in God’s program as the people of God through whom He will be glorified.


Robert Saucy

ROBERT LLOYD SAUCY (B.A., Westmont College; Th. D., Th. M., Dallas Theological Seminary) is a distinguished professor of systematic theology at Talbot Theological Seminary. He previously served as president of the Evangelical Theological Society and addresses that group frequently. He is author of numerous books, including The Church in God’s Program, The Bible: Breathed from God and The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, and is the editor of Women and Men in Ministry: A Complementary Perspective. He also wrote the “Open But Cautious View” in Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? Four Views, edited by Dr. Wayne Grudem. His shorter works have appeared in many journals including Bibliotheca Sacra, Grace Theological Journal, andJournal of the Evangelical Theological Society. He also was one of only three scholars who worked both on the original 1971 translation of the New American Standard Bible as well as the 1995 update. Dr. Saucy resides in Anaheim, California.


(As someone who is both an Augustinian and a Premillennialist in the ilk of S. Lewis Johnson, John Hannah, John MacArthur, Steven Lawson, Erwin Lutzer, John Feinberg, Robert Saucy, James Montgomery Boice, Donald Grey Barnhouse, C.I. Scofield, J.N. Darby, Thomas Ice, Eric Raymond, and several others – I highly enjoyed and unflinchingly endorse Barry Horner’s book “Future Israel” and his response to it below…I certainly hope that those of a Pelagian persuasion will continue to move into the Augustinian camp in their soteriology, and those in the replacement theology camp will move into the pre-millennial realm in their eschatology – May Barry Horner’s Tribe increase! – DPC)

I. Introduction

To begin with, let me supply some brief background material concerning myself. Over the years as a pastor, my area of specialty has been that of John Bunyan and his setting in the turbulent seventeenth century (Refer to www.bunyanministries.org). I am an Australian, Sovereign Grace in doctrine, and premillennial in my eschatology. This is important since a large part of those with Reformed and Sovereign Grace convictions, with whom I am well acquainted, are quite strenuously amillennial. As a result they have tended to be a- Judaic or anti-Judaic in their eschatology, which is merely indifferent or militantly opposed to the Jews and modern Israel. Specifically I am premillennial, sympathetic with dispensationalism, and restorationist regarding the divine destiny of the Jews and Israel, that is concerning their eschatological return to the land as a nation. Then will follow their climactic conversion to Jesus as their Messiah at His return, when “they will look upon Him whom they have pierced” (Zech. 12:10). At the same time, Christ’s church having been raptured and gathered together, there will follow His messianic, millennial reign from Jerusalem over a renewed earth. At that time Israel will be gloriously elevated from its humiliation. Israel does indeed have a glorious future (Refer to www.futureisraelministries.org)

II. The challenge of two questions concerning Israel during the church age.

Over ten years ago, while a pastor in North Brunswick, New Jersey, and having access to the fine library of Princeton Theological Seminary, two questions challenged me in expounding through Ezekiel, Hosea, Zechariah, and Romans.

A. First, does God have a covenantal interest in the unbelieving Jewish people today, along with the nation and the land, which is as distinct from the believing Jewish remnant. The answer, which I now believe to be beyond serious challenge, came with a strong impression in my study of Romans 11, but especially v. 28. “From the standpoint of the gospel they [the unbelieving Jews] are enemies for your [the Gentiles’] sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice [the election, τν κλογν, tēn ekloēn – Most commentators believe that here “the election,” especially in the light of the logic of vs. 26-28, is concerned with the elect nation, according to the sovereign calling and promise of God. Though Lenski, true to his amillennialism, believes that here Paul writes about the remnant of v. 5] they [unbelieving Jews] are beloved for the sake of the fathers.” Unbelieving Jews today remain God’s “beloved enemies.” For a sample of this contemporary unbelief, consider Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who I greatly respect and certainly esteem way beyond the preceding Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. Nevertheless he writes in his enlightening volume, A Durable Peace: Israel and its Place among the Nations:

The final guarantor of the viability of a small nation in such times of turbulence is its capacity to direct its own destiny, something that has eluded the Jewish people during its long centuries of exile. Restoring that capacity is the central task of the Jewish people today (Benjamin Netanyahu, A Durable Peace, p. xxiii).

However, in spite of all of the Jews’ carnality today, they remain God’s elect people. And this being the case, for the Christian they should also be “beloved,” even if they remain militantly opposed to Jesus as the Christ.

B. The second question that challenged me was how Christianity in general, over the centuries, had treated the Jewish people. The answer came to me as if being hit over the head with a mallet of truth. Various authors, whether liberal, conservative evangelical, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Reform or Orthodox Jewish, even secular, came up with the same basic assessment. The church, especially after the Bar Cochbar rebellion of 135-136 AD and the influence of Marcionism, then the united patristic voice from Justin onward, but especially the authoritative formulation of Augustine, led to centuries of humiliation toward the Jew, and right on through the Reformation up to today. So having read and heard of many amillennialists who boasted in their Augustinian eschatology, it suddenly became shamefully clear that they had nothing to boast in. Indeed, their trumpeted belief in replacement theology and supercessionism, via centuries of vaunted proclamation that the church is the new Israel, was something that they ought to weep about! Hence, a vital principle came as a result, and it is this. A good eschatology cannot produce unethical fruit of the magnitude that has come about by means of replacement theology. This blot upon Christianity in general is the result of bad eschatology that has made the Jews fear, and not be jealous, as Paul exhorts should be the case. It is at this point that historic amillennialism is proven to be fundamentally flawed.

Some have attempted to avoid the painful truth of history in this regard by declaring that they would only discuss the issues, with regard to the Jews, by considering the exegesis of Scripture. Yes, we regard what God means by what He says as of vital, fundamental importance. However church history is the response, the lifestyle of Christianity that is derived from biblical truth, and cannot be disregarded, especially in terms of broad movements. We sense that some, in knowing the truth, would prefer to avoid it. We also believe that the right embrace of biblical truth ought consistently to result in biblical virtue. However ungodliness evident in a professing Christian is recognized as hypocrisy. Orthodoxy cannot be divorced from orthopraxy. Hence centuries of church history up to today, the disgraceful record of it all, should cause us to blush in reflecting upon an eschatology that is so terribly stained and so inconsistent with practical righteousness, especially as Paul exhorts us in Romans 11.

III. The publication of Future Israel, October, 2007.

Initially Future Israel was accepted for publication by Paternoster Press in England.

However I became unhappy about the editing process and asked for a release from the contract. Among other things, an editor suggested that one comment be taken out because Colin Chapman, a leading supercessionist who lived nearby, would not like it. However I am particularly grateful to David Brickner of Jews for Jesus who, at this stage, suggested approaching Broadman & Holman. How grateful I am for this new arrangement that worked out so well. They proved to be in sympathy with the basic thesis. Certainly the commendation of John MacArthur was helpful, though there was no collusion. He was preaching on this very matter while the manuscript was being edited. Then, through a friend, we had mutually sympathetic communication.

Certain other thrusts within Future Israel worth mentioning.

A. The importance of a Judeo-centric eschatology. The early church was Jewish. According to Eusebius, the first fifteen bishops at Jerusalem up to 135 AD were Jewish, and surely restorationist in their eschatology. They all proclaimed the gospel from Jewish Scriptures concerning a Jewish Savior, who will return while still being Jewish. As an example refer to Matthew 5:5 – Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth [τν γν, ten gen],” which should more likely read, “the land.” Of course, by way of application, “the earth” is appropriate. A helpful booklet would be David Stern’s Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel. Also consider the prophetic revelation of the reversal of roles when the humiliation of the Jewish people will be followed by their exaltation after their conversion and participation in the millennium (Isa. 60:14; Zech. 8:22-23; 14:1). It seems that the Gentile Christian ought to joyfully accept this, but in fact many may not like this prospect.

B. The importance of a Judeo-centric hermeneutic. Over the centuries, a Gentile- focused hermeneutic has predominated within Christendom. However a Judeo- centric hermeneutic is the answer to the problem that we Gentiles have had when attempting to understand, disparate in meaning, quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament (e.g. Matt. 2:14-15; cf. Hos. 11:1). This difficulty caused George Eldon Ladd to suggest the need of “re-interpretation” of Old Testament prophetic passages by means of a Christo-centric hermeneutic. However the Hebrew writer of the New Testament can quote the Old Testament, giving it an applicatory, nuanced shade of meaning, as with Midrash, without at all nullifying the literal meaning of the original Old Testament passage (David Stern, Restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel, pp. 31-33). This principle will also help in our understanding of such passages as Acts 2:16-21, cf. Joel 2:28-32 in context, and John 19:37, cf. Rev. 1:7; Zech. 12:10 in context.

C. The importance of the continuity of replacement theology before and after the Reformation. Modern replacement theology is not a recent phenomenon (Refer to R.E. Deprose. Israel and the Church. Waynesboro, GA: Authentic Media, 2000; Michael J. Vlach, The Church as a Replacement of Israel: An Analysis of Supercessionism. Ph.D. diss., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2004). It goes back as far as the second century, especially after Gentile bishops took the ascendency after 135-136 AD, the result being development of Gentile dominance that ignored the exhortations of Paul in Romans 11. So the Reformation, in general, perpetuated replacement theology according to the authoritative legacy of Augustine. Thus Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, John Calvin, Francis Turretin, Patrick Fairbairn, Herman Bavinck, and Geerhardus Vos, to name but a few of this eschatological lineage, exercised tremendous influence over Protestantism. They perpetuated the eschatology of Augustine, and thus at best the indifference of a-Semitism.

D. The importance of not confusing the bilateral Mosaic covenant with the unilateral Abrahamic covenant. It is astonishing to find that leading scholars promoting replacement theology are so confused at this point. An example would be from W. D. Davies, Emeritus Professor, Duke University, who is widely quoted by scholars in support of Replacement Theology.

In this way [of universalizing in Christ the covenant made with Abraham], “the territory” promised was transformed into and fulfilled by the life “in Christ.” All this is not made explicit, because Paul did not directly apply himself to the question of the land, but it is implied. In the Christological logic of Paul, the land, like the Law, particular and provisional, had become irrelevant (W.D. Davies, The Gospel and the Land, p. 179).

The unilateral nature of the Abrahamic covenant, in which the land is such an intrinsic component, is simply ignored or incorporated within the bilateral Mosaic covenant. Yes, the Jew and the Gentile only have hope of salvation, through Jesus Christ since He is the promised seed of Abraham, which promise is one of pure sovereign grace. Yet this same promise upholds the distinction between Jew and Gentile within the one people of God (Romans 11).

E. The importance of diversity within unity. It is astonishing that while there is diversity within the unity of the Godhead, diversity with the twelve tribes of Israel within one nation, diversity according to spiritual gifts within the one body of Christ, yet Augustinianism is so adamant that there cannot be diversity with Israel and the church distinctively comprising the one people of God. Scripture knows nothing of a future clone-like homogeneity, and especially within the economy of the Millennium. There, Moses and David and Elijah and Paul will still be their own individual selves. This is one of the great strengths of Premillennial and Dispensational eschatology.

F. The importance of Romans 11. It is written by a highly educated Messianic Jew.

1. Paul declares himself to be “an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin,” v. 1. He really means it, and not with some tongue in cheek attitude. He also confirms it, again using the present tense, in Acts 21:39; 22:3. As a Benjamite he asserts both demographic and territorial association. Consequently he upholds Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and territory.

2. The remnant according to God’s gracious choice is Israel’s guarantee of a future, v. 5. But God is not ultimately satisfied with a remnant, as the climactic development indicates in vs. 12, and v. 15 which surely alludes to Ezekiel 37. So v. 26 is also climactic. It is not, “And so/in this manner Israel is being saved,” through the accumulation of relatively small additions to the remnant over the centuries; rather it is, “And so/in this manner all Israel will be saved [future tense of σζω, sozo], in a consummate sense.” It is this climactic grandeur of the saving power of the gospel, especially the final triumph of mercy toward Israel, that so excites Paul. However the Augustinian suppresses this because of centuries of a misplaced eschatology.

3. The Christian church is built upon the Jewish remnant. This is something to ponder in the light of the arrogance of the mainly Gentile church over the centuries. Paul seems to suggest this very point in v. 18. The New Covenant was anticipated in the upper room before Jewish disciples (Luke 22:19-20). Then it was cut, according to Jeremiah 31:27, before “the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” that is a large number of Jews gathered in Jerusalem. So the initial, believing remnant branches that sprouted from the cultivated olive tree were wholly Jewish. The Gentiles were later grafted in according to pure grace. For this reason they have no reason for “conceit,” v. 20.

4. So Paul is primarily addressing Gentile Christians who need exhortation about a bad attitude toward the Jews. Rather they ought to make them jealous, vs. 11, 14. Yet over the centuries the Christian church has pompously ignored this exhortation while claiming to be the new spiritual Israel. Paul’s stern warning in vs. 17-20, concerning arrogance, has been largely ignored. Perhaps during the last of the last days a gentle and sympathetic spirit will come to the fore from repentant Gentiles; if it does, evangelistic outreach toward the Jewish people is certain to accelerate and flourish.

5. The significance of v. 28 that indicates God’s covenantal interest in unbelieving national Israel, and its related connection with v. 26. Here is clinching proof that God continues to have unfailing interest in unbelieving Israel today that is comprised of His “beloved enemies.” Further, working back from v. 28 to v. 27, then v. 27 to v. 26, it becomes virtually incontestable that “all Israel” refers to the eschatological saving of the nation of Israel (Matt Weymeyer has well exegeted this point in, “The Dual Status of Israel in Romans 11:28,” The Master’s Seminary Journal. Spring 2005, pp. 57-71). And all of this is because of “the sake of the fathers,” Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which promises are irrevocable, v. 29.

6. The significance of vs. 30-32 concerning the mercy of God being poured out upon Gentile and Jew. There is surely Gentile arrogance in the suggestion that Israel has lost its covenant relationship with God on account of disobedience concerning the old Mosaic covenant, while the New Testament church boasts in the sovereignty of grace through faith alone. But here: “God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all,” v. 32. The “these” of v. 31 cannot refer merely to the remnant, but to the unbelieving nation.

IV. Responses:

A. The response to Future Israel has been overwhelmingly favorable. None of those who have responded unfavorably have attempted to deal with the essential arguments. In England, Steven Sizer, a rabid supercessionist, reluctantly agreed in March of this year to provide a review for Evangelicals Now. He wrote: “O dear. I really don’t want to have to review this unpleasant little book but those nice people at Evangelicals Now have asked me to, so I will, eventually” (Refer to the Stephen Sizer web site: http://www.stephensizer.com/2009/03/christian-zionism-achronological-and-annotated-bibliography/Referenced, November, 2009). As of today, no review has been forthcoming.

B. There have been many blog responses such as from Dr. Sam Waldron, Professor of Systematic Theology at Midwest Center for Theological Studies. Staunchly Reformed Baptist and amillennial, he commented: “I had to pray for grace and patience not to fire it across the room. . . . [I] had over three weeks [during a trip overseas] to calm down and regain my sanctification.” A month later, because I had upheld God’s distinctive, contemporary covenantal regard for unbelieving national Israel, and at the same time am critical of Gentile bias, therefore I was said to be guilty of “a kind of reverse racism. . . .This kind of language seems to be somewhat ‘racist’ in its own way. It conveys prejudice against Gentiles. It is like Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s rantings against ‘White America’ which have been all over the news lately (Refer to the Mid-Western Center for Theological Studies web site. http://www.mctsowensboro.org/- blog/?-p=307 Not currently accessible). Is Paul guilty of “reverse racism” in Romans 1:16?

C. However what a delight it was to receive an email from Jeroen Bol, the Netherlands (Holland). He has bought fifty copies of Future Israel and distributed them to Christian leaders in Europe. More recently he has described some of the positive effects of this outreach, specifically some who have been persuaded to embrace a Judeo-centric eschatology.

V. Reflections.

A. The importance of Judeo-centric ministry. In Horatius Bonar’s significant book, Prophetical Landmarks, he makes the vital introductory comment:

The prophecies concerning Israel are the key to all the rest. True principles of interpretation, in regard to them, will aid us in disentangling and illustrating all prophecy together. False principles as to them will most thoroughly perplex and over cloud the whole Word of God (Horatius Bonar, Prophetical Landmarks: Concerning Christ’s Premillennial Advent, p. 228. Also go to http://www.futureisraelministries.org/horatius_bonar.html.).

By way of illustration, only a month ago I conducted a seminar on the issues raised by Future Israel at Twin Cities Bible Church, St. Paul. A week before, my daughter in San Jose told me of a forthcoming gathering at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, titled An Evening of Eschatology. Dr. John Piper chaired the meeting which included three other participants. They were, Jim Hamilton (professor of New Testament at Southern Seminary in Louisville), premillennial, Sam Storms (pastor of Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City), amillennial, and Doug Wilson (pastor of Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho), postmillennial. Having arrived at St. Paul, the pastor told me that he attended the meeting. He concluded, that to be quite frank, those who attended would probably have left more confused upon leaving than when they first arrived. However there appears to be a reason for this. I watched the whole two hour session on the internet and was surprised to note that in all of it, there was not so much as one mention of Israel or the Jews, whether with regard to Scripture, history or the present. Horatius Bonar was right! Israel is central to eschatology.

B. The importance of Judeo-centric godliness. While being critical of the ethics of amillennial Augustinianism, we also need to consider the ethics of restorationist premillennialism and dispensationalism. We are by no means blameless, even if more eschatologically biblical. So Peter exhorts us: “Since all these things [with regard to the coming day of the Lord] are to be destroyed [dissolved] in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness” (II Pet. 3:11). It is godly ethics emanating from our eschatology, not prophetic glibness and sensationalism, which pleases God. Certainly it is more likely to make our Jewish friends and enemies both jealous and curious.

C. The importance of Judeo-centric evangelism. I have often heard the suggestion: “Let us put aside our eschatological differences and agree to focus on the evangelization of the Jews.” It may sound a good proposal, but how can the Augustinian honestly face it? Will he tell the Jew that after believing in the Lord Jesus as his Messiah, then he will be absorbed into the Christian church and lose all of his Jewish identity? Surely in Paul declaring that he remained an Israelite, he never disowned Jewish ethnicity, nationality and territory in all of his outreach to the Jews. Rather he proclaimed to them “the hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20). Could the Augustinian evangelize in Israel and tell the Jew that in reality, which is in the sight of God, the land is now passé, an anachronism? It takes a Judeo-centric eschatology to reach out to the Jews and at least gain their attention.

Hence there is the need for opposing replacement theology on account of the cause of Jewish evangelism; it saps the life out of it. The modern awakening of evangelism, especially directed toward the Jewish people, commenced toward the end of the nineteenth century. Ever since, up to the present time, this flourishing movement has had premillennial, dispensational, restorationist underpinning. I also believe that Christian restorationists made a significant contribution toward the formation of the modern state of Israel. By and large, the Augustinians opposed it. Where is there one missionary agency today, based upon Augustinian eschatology, which thrives in its distinctive outreach toward the modern nation of Israel and the Diaspora? Why is this so? Because the Augustinian gospel results in Jewish converts losing their Jewish identity while the Gentiles retain their distinctiveness. Believe me, I say this while being a happy and contented Gentile.

Hence the answer for today is the proclamation of the gospel, to both Jew and Gentile, in its full Jewish context. The reason is that, “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). I believe that God will especially be pleased to honor this priority.

About the Author: Dr. Barry Horner, an Australian, is a graduate of George Fox College and Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in Oregon. His Doctor of Ministry degree from Westminster Theological Seminary in California focused on the biblical/theological content of The Pilgrim’s Progress as well as its validity as an appropriate means for the communication of the Word of God. Ordained in Melbourne in 1976, Barry has pastored churches in Australia and the United States. The reflections above are from his excellent book in the New American Commentary Studies in Bible and Theology entitled: Future Israel. B&H Group, 2007. The article above is adapted from http://www.pre-trib.org/data/pdf/Horner-ReflectionsonRespons.pdf