Monday, April 29, 2013

Replacement Theology and Galatians – Part 4

In the previous article, I showed that Replacement Theology regards the Church as existing throughout human history. The Church as defined by Reformed theologian Dr. Reymond is, “composed of all the redeemed in every age who are saved by grace through personal faith in the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ” (Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, p. 805).

I showed, however, on the contrary, that the Church is a new thing, a mystery – something not found in the Old Testament but is now revealed (Eph. 2: 14-18; 3:1-7), and that OT saints are called “the remnant” (Isa. 1:9; 46:3; Jer. 23:3; 31:7; Joel 2:32; Mic. 7:18; Rom. 9:27; 11:5), whereas those that are associated with the Gospel of Christ are called members of the Church (Acts 11:26; 20:28; 1 Cor. 1:2; Col. 1:18) – the “ekklesia,” and “Christians” (Acts 11:26). It is of utmost importance to associate the Church with Jesus Christ, hence, Paul, in writing to the Ephesians, defines the period of the Church as an age and a dispensation (Eph. 1:10; 3:5, 9-10).   


The problem with Replacement Theology’s interpretation is one of motivation – the desire to prove some presupposition throughout Scripture, that is, their desire to say the whole of Scripture concerns the history of redemption, the continuity of the OT and the NT. One of the prime presuppositional errors comes from Covenant Theology which was born in the early 1600s by Johannes Wollebius (1586-1629 - though some trace its origin to Heinrich Bullinger 1504-1575) who added additional covenants which are not found in the Bible called the covenants of works and grace (and/or redemption). 

The covenant of works teaches that God made a covenant of works with Adam in which God ruled over man before the fall. “Wollebius defined the covenant of works as it has usually been defined: ‘the promise of eternal life for obedience and the threat of death for disobedience’” (Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, p. 504). The covenant of grace was made through God’s mercy after the Fall. The covenant of grace extends across all ages after the Fall and is mediated by Christ.

What is the problem with this and Covenant theology in general? Dr. Couch puts it well when he writes, “Dispensationalists respond that nowhere does the Bible call Adam’s obedience a kind of covenant. Nor would they agree that obedience was a form of works salvation” (Mal Couch, An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics, p. 159). Indeed, adding a covenant of works to Scripture violates two fundamental protestant calls – Scripture alone (no made-up covenants), and salvation by Christ alone (no works-based salvation, a covenant of works means a works-base salvation!).

The hermeneutical problem identified with covenant theology has been called prooftext or dogmatic issues interpretation. “In this procedure, the interpreter tries to find biblical support for everything he or she is saying, even if the supporting verses must be taken out of context to prove a doctrinal or contemporary teaching.” In one form of this error, the interpreter takes one verse or phrase and builds an entire doctrine or sermon from it. This approach usually neglects the context and authorial intent. The resulting doctrine is almost always unbiblical, or true and solid textual support would be found for it.” (John McLean in Mal Couch, gen. ed., The Fundamentals for the Twenty-First Century, p. 82)        

The text of Galatians 5:6

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love. (Gal 5:6)

This text is teaching that being a Jew does not give anyone an advantage in being a Christian,  since the Church is made up of both Jew and Gentile. Just as the previous article showed that in Galatians 3:27-29 there is no advantage with God with respect to salvation because salvation is a gift of God. Paul concludes his argument discussing the false claim that the Christian can gain a spiritual advantage if only one would get circumcised! Paul starts out saying, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing” (Gal. 5:1-2).

There is very little disagreement among expositors concerning this verse, but the extreme replacement people use this verse to back-up their claim that the Jew, as a national entity, has rejected the Lord and thus God has given them up forever. That is not what is taught in Scripture for God will save “all” [Gr. ‘pas’, sg., “every one”] Israel because of the covenant made with Israel (Rom. 11:26). The claim is also not consistent with how God works. If it is true that God will throw away Israel for rejecting Him, what about mankind in general? Has not all mankind rejected God? Unless God transforms man, he cannot accept the things of God. No, this verse re-enforces the truth that in the Church age, both Jew and Gentile are on equal ground when it comes to salvation, for this is the dispensation of the Church.         

The Text of Galatians 6

And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. (Gal. 6:16)

In verses 11- 18, Paul returns to the subject of circumcision and specifically, circumcision of Gentiles. Should they make gentiles get circumcised? Paul’s response is – God forbid (cf., 6:14)! God shows personal favoritism to no man (Gal. 2:6). The book starts out describing what circumcision is (of the Promise), and describes the difference between the Mosaic system and the Promise. The Promise is identified as the Abrahamic covenant (cf., 3:16, 18) which is still in effect (3:17, 21) and circumcision is the sign of that covenant, as such, ethnic Jews should still be circumcised because the promise is still in effect. A descendent of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is still that – a member of the covenant people. Another question is raised, is there conflict between the Law and the promises of God? Paul’s answer is – may it never be, or perish the thought. God gave both the Law and promises, but for different purposes, and it was not the purpose of the Law to give life (Donald Campbell, Galatians, in the Bible Knowledge Commentary). However, the Mosaic Law had its purpose while it was still in effect (3:22-25), as it served as a tutor to those under the Law. The Law prepared the way for the gospel for it proclaimed all are sinners (3:22).  

Notice the subject of circumcision reaches a high point here:

13 For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised, that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through  which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.  17 From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.  (Gal 6:13-17)

Only the cross of Christ is all important. Notice what Dr. Witmer writes, “The life of the child of God centers around the work of the Savior on the cross. Everything else fades in importance. As a result, ‘neither is circumcision [a male Jew] anything, nor uncircumcision [a male Gentile]’ (v. 15). With this verse Paul destroys all distinctions of race and entitlement. Before God all peoples stand equally, either as sinners or as the redeemed… The only thing that counts is a new creation, being a new person with eternal life in Christ.” (John Witmer, Mal Couch, Galatians, p.96).

Verses 16 seems to use a traditional Jewish synagogue prayer to highlight the point “Peace be on Israel,” – the final benediction of the Jewish Amidah (cf., Ps. 125:5; 128:6). (Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Backgrounds Commentary, p. 536). This section serves as a contrast between Jews and them – the Gentiles! The expression “and upon the Israel of God” is said by the Replacement Theologian to be epexegetic, that is to say, “and” should be translated “namely,” or “even.” However, the great NT Grammarian Dr. Vincent strongly denies this saying, “[even] is at best doubtful here, and is rather forced, although clear instances of it may be found in 1 Cor. 3:5; 1 Cor. 15:38.” As Dr. Vincent points out this is there is no real case for the use of “even” here. What is important is our participation in the new creation that we enjoy in the cross of Christ, so that circumcision is irrelevant.   

Dr. Benware writes, “Galatians 6:16, is seen by all replacement theologians as establishing the fact that Israel and the Church are interchangeable terms. At issue is the meaning of Paul’s statement, ‘peace and mercy by upon them, and upon the Israel of God.’ Replacement theologians base their claim largely on the translation of the word ‘and’ (kai); the word that appears before the term ‘Israel of God.’ They set aside the primary meaning of ‘and’ in favor of the secondary meaning of ‘even.’ All agree that ‘them’ refers to believing Gentiles. So the verse is said to declare that mercy be upon them (believing Gentiles), even upon the Israel of God. This translation essentially equates believing Gentiles with the Israel of God. But this interpretation is weak both grammatically as well as contextually.” (Paul Benware, The Gathering Storm: Understand prophecy in Critical Times, p.300)   

 There is identified a difference between the Promise given to the Jew and that which the gentile benefits from. The Abrahamic covenant is unconditional, eternal, and provides Abraham and his physical offspring the following (Gen. 12:1-3):

  1.  A seed (physical offspring from Abram and Sarai) known specifically through the line of  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel).
  2.  A land identified and located with of the modern nation of Israel.       
  3. A blessing: (a) Israel will bless the world (Gen. 12:2d, 3); and (b) God will bless Israel in both a spiritual and physical sense.

The Abrahamic covenant is further expanded in detail as follows:

  1. The seed clause is expanded to include the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:4-16; 1 Chr. 17:3-15). Israel will have the seed of David to rule forever over Israel (2 Sam, 7:12-14, 16).
  2. The land is expanded to include the Land Covenant (Deu. (8-30). Israel will possess the land as an everlasting possession. 
  3. The blessing is expanded to include the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-33). The New Covenant has two aspects. It is given specifically to Israel and speaks of a future day when all Israel will be saved (NT: Rom. 11:26). Secondly, it is through the New Covenant that the gentile finds inclusion into the blessing and is spiritual in nature. The Church is not promised a physical blessing, that is reserved for Israel.

So it is that Paul describes that what we have today is something new! Both the Jew and Gentile are in this new body called the Church, the ‘ekklesia.’ Dr. Tom McCall puts it well when he writes, 
“If Israel has been condemned to extinction and there is no divinely ordained future for the Jewish nation, how does one account for the supernatural survival of the Jewish people since the establishment of the church for almost two thousand years, against all odds?” (Tom McCall, in Mal Couch gen. ed., Dictionary of Premillennial Theology, p. 194)    

What then can we say about national Israel? In the past Israel was chosen by God to be set apart to Him and they were the keepers of the Word of God (cf., Deu. 4:5-8; 6:6-9; Rom. 3:1-2) and the Messiah would come through the seed of Abraham. In the Church age, the Jewish heart is hardened (cf. Rom. 11:25), but this does not mean that Jews cannot be called of God and believe in Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. In the future, however, all Israel will be saved, all Israel that survive the Great Tribulation will call upon the name of the Lord as promised in the New Covenant (Jer. 3:18; Ezek. 37:1-23).