All three schools of covenant theology insist that at some point the Church becomes Israel. Some make sweeping statements that the two terms are used virtually
interchangeably, but when asked to produce the evidence, all point to Galatians 6:16 and some to Romans 9:6, which is really the extent of their “conclusive” evidence. The purpose of this article is to present a dispensational view of those passages used to teach that the Church is spiritual Israel or that Gentile believers become spiritual Jews.
Dispensationalists have correctly seen the consistent distinction the Bible makes between Israel and the Church, but have not always used the best terminology in trying to show the nature of this distinction. One such unwise common distinction, which many dispensationalists make, is to describe Israel as an “earthly people” with “earthly promises,” while the Church is a “heavenly people” with “heavenly promises.” However, such a distinction is not correct nor is it necessary or in any way
germane to dispensationalism. The truth is that each entity has both an earthly future with earthly promises and a heavenly future with heavenly promises. The distinction between Israel and the Church is a biblical one, and there are clear distinctives in God’s program for each, but the contrast between earthly and heavenly is not one of them.
The Evidences for the Distinction of Israel and the Church
The first evidence is the fact that the Church was born at Pentecost. This is based on the relationship of Spirit-baptism to the Church. According to Colossians 1:18, the Church is the Body of Christ:
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
According to I Corinthians 12:13, entrance into this Body is by Spirit-baptism:
For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit.
According to Acts 1:5,
Spirit-baptism was still future as of that point:
… for ]ohn indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit not many days hence.
So when did Spirit-baptism actually begin? The answer is that Spirit-baptism began in Acts 2:1-4. The problem is that this passage does not actually state that the events of that passage included
Spirit-baptism. However, the fact that it did is evident from
And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, even as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, John indeed baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized in the Holy Spirit.
Peter, while defending his actions of going into the house of a Gentile in Acts 10 to preach the gospel, points out that the Gentiles received the same experience of Spirit-baptism as did the Jews.
Peter states that the Holy Spirit fell on them, the Gentiles (Acts 10:44-46), as the Holy Spirit once fell on us, the Jewish believers, at the beginning, and the beginning for the Jewish believers was in Acts 2:1-4. Then Peter quotes Acts 1:5 (v. 16) showing that the prophecy of Yeshua in Acts 1:5 was fulfilled in Acts 2:1-4. Since Spirit-baptism is necessary to the existence of the Church, and since this ministry of the Holy Spirit only began as of Acts two, then the Church did not exist before then, but only began in Acts two. There is no biblical evidence that the Church began either with Adam or Abraham or that it existed in the Old Testament. The use of the future tense in Matthew 16:18 shows it did not exist in gospel history either:
And I also say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
The second evidence is that certain events in the life of the Messiah were prerequisites to the establishment of the Church, and so the Church could not come into being until these events took place. There were three such events. The first event was His death by which the atonement was provided, and it was on the basis of the blood of the Messiah that the Church was to be built. It is no accident that it is right after Yeshua announced that He would build a new entity, the Church (Matt. 16:18), that He also began predicting His coming death (Matt. 16:21). The second event was the resurrection of Messiah according to Ephesians 1:20-23:
… which he wrought in Messiah, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule, and authority, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that fills all in all.
While the Church is the Body, Christ is the head of the Church, and He became the head only by virtue of His resurrection. The third event was the ascension of Messiah according to Ephesians 4:7-11:
But unto each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Messiah. Wherefore he says, When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, And gave gifts unto men. (Now this, He ascended, what is it but that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; …
The Church could only become a functioning entity once the Holy Spirit provided the necessary spiritual gifts.
According to this passage, these spiritual gifts could only be provided after the ascension.
The third evidence is the mystery character of the Church. A mystery is a New Testament truth not revealed in the Old (Eph. 3:3-5, 9; Col. 1:26-27). While the Church itself is not called a mystery, a number of features relevant to the Church are. There are four such features. First, the concept of Jewish and Gentile believers united into one body is designated as a mystery in Ephesians 3:1-12. Second, the doctrine of Messiah indwelling every believer, the Messiah in you concept, is called a mystery in Colossians 1:24-27; 2:10-19; 3:4, 11. Third, the Church as the Bride of Christ is called a mystery in Ephesians 5:22-32. Fourth, the Rapture with its corollary events of the resurrection of the dead and the translation of the living is called a mystery in I Corinthians 15:50-58. The four mysteries, all of which are relevant to the Church, show that the Church itself is a mystery and distinct from Israel.
The fourth evidence is that the Church is called the one new man in Ephesians 2:15:
… having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; that he might create in himself of the two one new man, so making peace; …
Paul mentioned three groups in this context (2:11-3:6): Israel, the Gentiles, and the one new man. This one new man is distinguished from both Israel and the Gentiles and is comprised of believing members from both: that he might create in himself of the two . . . This one new man is identified as the Church in 2:16 (the body) and 3:6 (same body).
The fifth evidence is that the same three groups are distinguished from each other in I Corinthians 10:32:
Give no occasion of stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the church of God: …
This is a contrast made well after the Church has been established.
The sixth evidence is the fact that the term Israel is never used of the Church. This will be expanded upon in the next section.
Again, the above evidences have been only a summary of the details presented in chapter nine. The reader should refer to that chapter for the details of these arguments and evidences.
The Use of Israel in the New Testament
Covenant theologians boldly state that the Church is the new Israel and sometimes make it sound as if that claim is an obvious foregone conclusion of the New Testament. Cox even claimed that the two terms are used interchangeably.
The truth is that the term Israel is used a total of 73 times in the New Testament. As the following list shows, such a bold claim is unwarranted from the evidence:
Matthew 2:6 Quotation of Micah 5:2, which prophesies that the Messiah shall be shepherd of my people Israel.
Matthew 2:20 Geographical reference concerning the family’s return to the land of Israel.
Matthew 2:21 Same as above.
Matthew 8:10 Yeshua contrasts the faith of the Roman centurion with that of unbelieving Israel: I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
Matthew 9:33 The response of the multitudes to the miracles of Yeshua, It was never so seen in Israel.
Matthew 10:6 The disciples are instructed not to go among the Gentiles and Samaritans but to go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Matthew 10:23 Geographical notation of the work of the disciples in the cities of Israel.
Matthew 15:24 Messiah’s ministry was but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Matthew 15:31 The multitudes glorified the God of Israel when they saw the miracles of Yeshua.
Matthew 27:9 Quotation of Zechariah 11:12-13, which prophesied that the Messiah will be sold out for 30 pieces of silver by the children of Israel.
Matthew 27:42 Yeshua is mocked as the king of Israel.
Mark 12:29 Quotation of Deuteronomy 6:4: Hear O Israel.
Mark 15:32 Yeshua is mocked as the king of Israel.
Luke 1:16 The ministry of John was to get many of the children of Israel to turn to the Lord.
Luke 1:54 God has provided the Messiah to give help to Israel his servant.
Luke 1:68 A reference to God as the God of Israel.
Luke 1:80 John was in the deserts until the day of his showing unto Israel.
Luke 2:25 Simeon was looking for the Messianic hope as the consolation of Israel.
Luke 2:32 While the Messiah was to be a light for revelation to the Gentiles, He is also to be for the glory of thy people Israel.
Luke 2:34 The Messiah is appointed to be for the falling and rising of many in Israel.
Luke 4:25 An historical reference to the widows in Israel in the days of Elijah.
Luke 4:27 An historical reference to the lepers in Israel in the days of Elisha.
Luke 7:9 Yeshua contrasts the faith of the Roman centurion with that of unbelieving Israel: I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
Luke 22:30 The disciples are promised authority over the twelve tribes of Israel.
Luke 24:21 The two Emmaus disciples describe Yeshua as the one they hoped would redeem Israel.
John 1:31 The Messiah was to be made manifest to Israel through John’s baptism.
John 1:49 Nathanael described Yeshua as the King of Israel.
John 3:10 Yeshua refers to Nicodemus as the teacher of Israel.
John 12:13 The multitudes at the triumphal entry describe Yeshua as the King of Israel.
Acts 1:6 The disciples ask, Lord, do you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? Obviously, the disciples had ethnic Israel and not the Church in mind in this context.
Acts 2:22 Peter is addressing an unbelieving Jewish audience and states, Ye men of Israel.
Contextually, this could hardly be the Church.
Acts 2:36 This is the same audience as the above reference.
Acts 3:12 Peter is again addressing an unbelieving Jewish audience with the words, Ye men of Israel. As unbelievers, they could hardly be the Church.
Acts 4:10 Peter clearly has the whole ethnic Israel in view when he declares to all the people of Israel that the lame man was healed in the name of Yeshua Messiah of Nazareth.
Acts 4:27 Israel is listed along with the Gentiles as being guilty of the crucifixion. This could hardly be the Church.
Acts 5:21 A reference to the senate of the children of Israel who were unbelievers and, therefore, not the Church.
Acts 5:31 Peter offers repentance to Israel. Israel is in unbelief at this point and so is obviously not the Church.
Acts 5:35 Gamaliel addressing his fellow members of the Sanhedrin states, Ye men of Israel, none of whom were believers.
Acts 7:23 Stephen is making an historical reference to the children of Israel of the time of Moses.
Acts 7:37 Same as above.
Acts 7:42 Same as above.
Acts 9:15 God declares that Paul will proclaim the gospel to Gentiles and to the children of Israel. This is a reference to Jews who do not believe as yet.
Acts 10:36 Peter refers to the now historical fact that Yeshua came to preach the gospel unto the children of Israel, the majority of whom did not believe the message and so did not constitute the Church.
Acts 13:16 Paul is addressing an unbelieving Jewish audience when he states, men of Israel.
Acts 13:17 Paul refers to the historical this people Israel of the time of the Exodus.
Acts 13:23 Paul mentions the historical fact that the Messiah had come to the Jews in fulfillment of the promise brought unto Israel.
Acts 13:24 Paul refers to the historical fact that John the Baptist preached repentance to all the people of Israel.
Acts 21:28 The men of Israel refers to the mob who attacked Paul.
Acts 28:20 Paul declares that he is chained for the hope of Israel, a reference to the Messianic hope and not the Church.
Romans 9:4 Paul lists the privileges God gave the Israelites.
Romans 9:6 Paul draws a contrast of two Israels: Israel the whole and believing Israel within Israel the whole. Both Israels comprise of Jews only. While some covenant theologians wish to make the believing Israel the Church, other covenant theologians agree that this verse contrasts Jews who believe and Jews who do not believe.
Romans 9:27 Another contrast between unbelieving Israel and the believing remnant.
Romans 9:31 A reference to unbelieving Israel who did not arrive at that law.
Romans 10:19 Paul declares that Israel received the message, but did not accept it.
Romans 10:21 God’s hands are stretched out to unbelieving Israel.
Romans 11:1 Paul refers to himself as an Israelite nationally and ethnically.
Romans 11:2 Paul makes an historical reference to the fact that Elijah pleaded with God against Israel because of Israel’s unbelief.
Romans 11:7 Paul again draws a contrast between Israel the whole that failed to obtain what she was seeking for with the remnant, the election.
Romans 11:25 Paul speaks of the blindness that had befallen Israel.
Romans 11:26 The prophecy that all Israel will be saved. Covenant theologians are split on the meaning of this verse.
Generally speaking, covenant amillennialists see this as a reference to the Church, while covenant postmillennialists and covenant premillennialists see it as a reference to national ethnic Israel.
I Corinthians 10:18 The Israel after the flesh is obviously national ethnic Israel.
I Corinthians 3:7 An historical reference to the children of Israel at the time of Moses.
II Corinthians 3:13 Same as above.
II Corinthians 11:22 Paul refers to both unbelieving Jews and to himself as Israelites.
Galatians 6:16 Paul’s reference to the Israel of God, which is the only reference used by all covenant theologians to prove that the Church is called Israel. This verse will be discussed in detail below.
Ephesians 2:12 The commonwealth of Israel is contrasted with the Gentiles and with the one new man, which is the Church.
Philippians 3:5 Paul refers to himself as coming from the stock of Israel, an obvious reference to his national ethnic origins.
Hebrews 8:8, 10 A quotation of the New Covenant of Jeremiah.
Hebrews 11:22 An historical reference to the Israel of the Exodus.
Revelation 7:4 A reference to the 12 tribes of Israel.
Revelation 21:12 Same as above.
The list of scriptures is the total number of times that Israel is mentioned in the New Testament, and it is obvious, even to covenant theologians, the vast majority of the times they are referring to national, ethnic Israel. In fact, only three passages are used by covenant theologians to try and prove their Church-equals-Israel equation. In two of these, Romans 9:6 and 11:26, they are not unanimous, for even some covenant theologians see these verses as speaking of national ethnic Israel. The only verse on which all covenant theologians are unanimous is Galatians 6:16. This is the one and only verse that even comes close to saying what covenant theologians want it to say.
Therefore, it will be given its own separate treatment.
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