Monday, October 25, 2010

Are the Jews God's Chosen People?

Last week the Vatican wrapped up a two-week synod on the Middle East. In its concluding message the synod took issue with Jewish groups (and, by extension, evangelical Christians) who use the Bible to justify Israel's right to the land. At a concluding news conference, Greek-Melchite Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros was asked about that part of the statement. His response is very significant:

"The concept of the promised land cannot be used as a base for the justification of the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of Palestinians. The justification of Israel's occupation of the land of Palestine cannot be based on sacred scriptures....We Christians cannot speak about the promised land for the Jewish people. There is no longer a chosen people. All men and women of all countries have become the chosen people."

During the conference, a document resurfaced that first circulated about a year ago. It is called the Kairos Palestine Document, and it is largely a polemic against supporting Israel. At one point the document singles out those who hold to a literal interpretation of the Bible as the basis for Israel's right to the land. "This is precisely the error in fundamentalist Biblical interpretation that brings us death and destruction when the word of God is petrified and transmitted from generation to generation as a dead letter. This dead letter is used as a weapon in our present history in order to deprive us of our rights in our own land."

So does literal interpretation make the Bible a "dead letter"? And does such interpretation actually harm the followers of Christ now living in the Middle East? If true, those are serious charges. But I have four major concerns with the position espoused by the conference and the Kairos Palestine Document.

First, I believe the position presented on literal interpretation reveal a flawed understanding regarding the message of the Bible. It confuses the eternality and immutability of God's Word with "petrification." And it seems to make the interpreter the ultimate arbiter or right and wrong by allowing them to select those portions of the Bible that match their beliefs while disregarding the rest.

Such an approach to interpreting the Bible can ultimately place someone in opposition to God Himself because t
he written word, like the living Word, is "the same yesterday and today and forever." Both reveal the character of God Himself, and God has declared "I the LORD do not change" (Mal. 3:6). Jesus said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away" (Luke 21:33).

Second, I believe that by not accepting the clear teaching of the Bible they have reached a conclusion that is ultimately contrary to the character God and the clear message of His Word. I don't have sufficient time to trace the consistent message of the Bible as it relates to God's promises to the Jewish people, including a promise to inherit the land of Israel. But let me share the one passage in the New Testament where the Apostle Paul specifically talks about the relationship between Israel and the church--Romans 9:11. Paul ends this section by acknowledging that Israel and the church are currently on opposites sides of the equation when it comes to the gospel message...that Jesus is indeed the Messiah and the Son of God. But Paul quickly adds, "But as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable." Note carefully Paul's words. The nation of Israel is an "elect" nation because of the promises made by God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Why? Because God's promises are "irrevocable." The replacement theology behind the synod and the earlier document is contrary to the unchanging character of God.

Third, I believe the conference and the Kairos Palestine Document fail to acknowledge the true oppressor of the church in the Middle East--Islam. I would ask them to compare the religious freedom of Christians in Israel to the religious freedom of Christians in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, or Gaza. Even in those instances where freedom of movement is denied to Christians in Israel--as when Palestinians Christians are denied entrance to Jerusalem--it is not because of their faith. Rather, such restrictions have taken place in response to Palestinian suicide bombers. I believe the conference failed in its obligation when it singled out Israel for harsh condemnation while failing to condemn the evil actions done in the name of Allah. Perhaps it's because these Christian leaders can condemn Israel with less fear of retribution. Israel tolerates nonviolent dissent, Islamic countries do not.

Fourth, I believe a false dichotomy is being presented in the conference and the document. To support Israel's right to its land does not make one anti-Palestinian. When Israel possessed the land in the Old Testament, God expected them to protect the rights of the non-Israelites in their midst (Exod. 23:9). When looking toward Israel's ultimate fulfillment of God's promises, the prophet Ezekiel wrote, "You are to allot [the land] as an inheritance for yourselves and for the aliens who have settled among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel" (Ezek. 47:22).

I believe Christians need to read the Kairos Palestine Document and compare it to Scripture. Then we all ought to take a stand for the truth as it is presented in the whole counsel of God's Word. And to those who are on the other side in this issue, may I suggest the following. In your call for justice and equality, you could gain more support from within the evangelical community if you would also stress the following:

1. Acknowledge that the Jewish people do have a right to live in the land, and that a Jewish state upholding the rights of all its citizens has as legitimate a right to exist as a separate Palestinian state upholding the rights of all its citizens.

2. Remember your role in the present age is not to inaugurate God's kingdom through political action. Rather, God has called you to be a witness to His love and reconciliation through Jesus Christ. Acknowledge that your mission is to live for Him in such a way that your Jewish neighbors will come to accept Jesus as their Messiah, your Muslim neighbors will come to accept Jesus as the Son of God...and both will come to know Him as their personal Savior.

3. Affirm that the Word of God is the basis for truth and that, like God Himself, it remains unchanged "yesterday and today and forever."

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dr. Dyer,

    Thank you for the post. I sent an email to the Moody address with the following note (I'm not sure if you receive those notes but I'll post it here just in case).

    My name is Geoff Kirkland. I'm a Master's Seminary grad and just happened to be in chapel today when Dr. Mayhue mentioned that you were coming to TMS to do a "winterim" class on Jeremiah/Lamentations. Well, I am currently finishing coursework for a PhD at Baptist Bible Seminary (in Clarks Summit, PA under Dr. Rod Decker). At any rate, my dissertation topic was just approved: The Use of Jeremiah in the Book of Revelation. Your two articles in BibSac were very helpful to me in seeing the correlation of Jer 50-51 and Rev 17-18. Certainly I will deal with this very issue in my dissertation.

    I'm wondering if I may be able to treat you to a lunch or a dinner while you're out in LA for that week so I can pick your brain on some issues relating to my dissertation (Jeremiah, Babylon, etc.). Would that be possible? I presume TMS will put you up at a hotel in Santa Clarita so I could certainly drive up to there and take you out to dinner at a place near the hotel (there's a lot of options near the hotel!).

    Thanks for your help. Look forward to hopefully getting together (And I certainly plan to sit in and audit the course!).