Thursday, August 31, 2006

The use of Scripture in Christian Zionism: a critical examination. Pt. 2

This post is simply to make concrete some of the definitions in the previous and will not attempt any analysis. Indeed, there wouldn’t be space in a single blog post to go into detail, especially as examples of CZ abound on the internet ranging, as one would expect, from the reputable to the outrageous.

Starting with the more up-market: The CEO of Bridges for Peace, one of the larger organisations with an explicit agenda, claims the following: ‘God’s promises to Israel are being literally fulfilled today’ (here, italics mine)

Representative of smaller organisations is Exobus. On their article page you will find Scriptures being used as proof texts such that the claim becomes ‘it’s the fulfilment of biblical prophecy to help Jewish people back to Israel today’.

You will notice the lead Scripture cited in prelude to their ‘7 reasons why’ justification for Aliyah:
‘“However, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when men will no longer say, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but they will say, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ For I will restore them to the land I gave to their forefathers”’ (Jer 16:14-15)
They proceed to argue that ‘The Word of God makes it clear not only that ‘“He who scattered Israel will gather them” Jer.31:10, but that God will use gentiles to help carry them home (Is 49:22 & Is 14:1-2). Dubbed by some as the Second Great Commission, this mandate to ‘help the Jews home ’ is accepted by increasing numbers of Bible-believing Christians as NOW’.

They go on: ‘The scripture is clear in many passages like Ezekiel 36 & 37 that God ’s programme is physical restoration of Israel, followed by spiritual restoration of Israel and world-wide revival. It is God’s primary intention to bless the Jews in the Land, and from that Land to make Jews a blessing to the whole world, bringing glory to His Holy Name (Ez 36:23)’.

For more claims like this visit the links given here.

Oh, OK, let's bung it in too. For one more particularly timely and bloody silly version, click here. The reasoning as represented on the hyperlink appears to be something like: Isaiah 24:1-6, ergo the world will erupt into nuclear war on September 12th, 2006!

In the following couple of posts I want to submit to you that this sort of thing evidences a mishandling of Scripture and involves i) a misunderstanding of the nature of Scripture, ii) a naïve hermeneutic that hasn’t allowed itself to be shaped enough by the Christ-event, thus betraying the model provided by the early Church, and iii) an inconsistent application of scriptural promises.



At 8/31/2006 3:09 PM, Anonymous Shane Clifton said...

Do you reckon the House of Yahweh website is a form of Spam? It will be fascinating to check this website out on September 13 (i.e. they tell us "Nuclear war will start September 12, 2006") - whereupon i imagine they shall post a fresh page
"Ha - fooled you; the real date is 2016!"

At 8/31/2006 3:29 PM, Anonymous Austin Agape said...

I enjoyed that you cited the House of Yahweh. I received their newsletter on my doorstep two weeks ago. I too am looking forward to September 13th.

At 8/31/2006 4:43 PM, Anonymous One of Freedom said...

In all likelyhood they will find some random event on that date and attribute the unfulfillment to that. Perhaps an invisible secret nuclear war even!

At 8/31/2006 5:12 PM, Anonymous boxthejack said...

[head in hands. again.]

At 8/31/2006 6:04 PM, Anonymous C. Stirling Bartholomew said...


Perhaps you could make your critique more convincing by taking on someone with a reputation for scholarship, for example Walter Kaiser is quoted:

"The promise of the land was just as eternal and everlasting as was the promise of the Messiah or the gospel. One may cut away the land from being conceived as an everlasting promise as easily as one may tear the gospel away from its everlasting provisions. To do one feat ought to be as easy as the other. Thus, even after Israel's latest return from the Babylonian exile, this land promise is still being reiterated as late as 518 B.C. in Zech. 10:6-10. Thus, this ancient word was still conceived as being viable, and apparently Paul so regarded it in his lengthy argument in Romans 9-11.":

Can anyone give a reference for this quote?

At 8/31/2006 6:17 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Shane, it's not spam, it's for real. I so want to see what they say on the 13th, and perhaps a sensitive post will be in order...

Clay, I shall be engaging with serious dispensationalist scholars later in the series - but the popular manifestation of it needs to be seen.

At 8/31/2006 8:26 PM, Anonymous C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

OK Chris,
But for others who would like to interact with a statement by a well known scholar here is a definitive statement:

The Promised Land: A Biblical-Historical View
Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.

Bibliotheca Sacra 138 (1981) 302-12.
Copyright © 1981 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.

Cut and paste the whole title into Google and you will find the article:

The Promised Land: A Biblical-Historical View

At 8/31/2006 11:44 PM, Anonymous David Wilkerson said...


Kaiser wonderfully elaborates the use of 'land' in the OT, but his handling in the NT is lacking. He doesn't make his case that Paul believed the OT promises meant what he means. He looks at Rom 9-11 which doesn't mention land just the people and thinks Paul must believe everything Kaiser has said about the OT is loaded in them 'because Paul believed in the authority of the word of God.' This simply begs the question.

I forgot the exact stat on word frequency, but I remember 'land' is high up there in the OT. It occurs like 4 times in the NT. More importantly, in Romans 4:13 Paul takes Kaiser's eternal promise of Genesis 15 and simply de-ethnicizes and expands it to be a promise of inheriting the world. Similarly Matthew's Jesus speaks of the poor inheriting the 'earth' not the land.

Kaiser quotes Joel 3's threats to those who attack Israel and yet Acts uses these same passages applying them to the day of pentecost and those gathered there. They are using the OT in a strange or at least not straightforward way. Salvation history models like Kaiser's won't grasp this radical shift.

Kaiser calls this spiritualizing but it is clearly a concrete expansion (land->earth) even if not entirely true to history.

Paul views the Jews as recipients of the promises (Rom 9:1-9)but the heirs of the promises are his converts. Israel just sort of held them until Christ. Christ was from them "according to the flesh", he is the son of David according to the flesh (Romans 9:1-5, 1:3-4). But Christ is to be regarded as the Son of God and no longer regarded according to the flesh (2 Cor 5; by his strictly ethnic significance, i.e. Davidic Messiah). Likewise the seed and the heirs are the children of the promise (his converts via Christ) not the children 'of the flesh' (Romans 4:9-20ish and 9:1-9).

Paul seems to devalue all the ethnic (flesh) elements even grouping the Law into that mixture. All fine as far as they went perhaps (or were they all a distracting trick?), but now fulfilled and to be regarded as elements of the old era.

This makes the OT just an old oracle book waiting to be deciphered in Paul's day if you ask me. I don't see the complex historical thinking Wright attributes to Paul about return from exile and messianic representation etc. I see the second Adam stuff. A little closer to the old-fashion charge of 'Paul as hellenizer' or radical apocalyptic thinker I think. If he is the latter he can't be domesticated the way Wright wishes to make all apocalyptic=eschatological thinking rooted in Israel's historical existence and promises.

I have no clue what he was doing in Romans 11. I change my view every few years, so I no longer consult myself on that one.

At 9/01/2006 4:31 AM, Anonymous byron smith said...

I forgot the exact stat on word frequency, but I remember 'land' is high up there in the OT. It occurs like 4 times in the NT. More importantly, in Romans 4:13 Paul takes Kaiser's eternal promise of Genesis 15 and simply de-ethnicizes and expands it to be a promise of inheriting the world. Similarly Matthew's Jesus speaks of the poor inheriting the 'earth' not the land.

David, thanks for your thoughts, though I wondered about this paragraph. Isn't it the same Greek word (ge) that is translated as both 'land' or 'earth'? I agree that Paul has 'globalised' it, but my point is that the ambiguity of his move is built into the vocab.

At 9/01/2006 7:08 AM, Anonymous David Wilkerson said...


Thanks for keeping me honest, exposing my laziness and poor memory of seminary lectures.

Of course, in Romans 4 Paul's term is not 'ge' but 'kosmos' which is an unambiguous embellishment of the Genesis promises of land. This verse alone I think shows Paul's mind and his view of the Scriptures.

As for Matthew you are correct he is caught in the ambiguity of the term 'ge'. Of course his other usages of it are for the whole 'earth' or for little 'regions' of his tale. So most translations go with 'earth' against Ps 37:11's 'land'. Perhaps there is a better explanation for this?

Still one could argue I suppose that these words of the beatitude on the historical Jesus' lips could only be a repetition of the OT promises to inherit Israel. But how mundane!

When I said 'land' was refered to infrequently (again I don't know the exact stat and maybe the word was 'inheritance' anyway??) I meant specific reference to Israel's land in its entirety. These would have to be references that one could reasonably construe as referring to the object of inheritance not simply the usage of the word for a 'region' of Zebulon or something incidental as is most common.

The only references I can recall are Stephen's speech in Acts 7 where he talks of Abraham coming to 'this land where you are now which was promised to Abraham and his offspring.' This is just a retelling of the story of Israel though and makes no eternal claims for the promise of land or the identity of its recipients. Given a few more minutes Stephen might have clarified things, but it was already going in a bad direction for the audience.

At 9/01/2006 6:22 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Clay, as I stated in the post, the aim was simply 'make concrete' some of the definitions suggested in the previous post. I think the popular face of CZ is important to name, and when I challenge its use of scripture and suggest a different one, of course I shall dialogue with its academic representation. I was not making the definitive statement for the series. Exobus, for example, make just the sort of claims that trouble me, yet I won’t be turning to them for its most nuanced defence! But for those of us with considerable experience of Zionism, we know that most often the CZ that we encounter is the popular version. I’m ‘naming the powers’.

Hi David, thanks for your comments in response to Clay’s citation. In fact, you have pre-empted my forthcoming points a little.

You write: “They [the early Christians] are using the OT in a strange or at least not straightforward way”.

I hope to show in this series why they use the OT Scripture the way they do, and how fundamentally different it is with the hermeneutic of representatives of dispensationalist and CZ. The verse in Rom 4 you cite is one I find fascinatingly overlooked by many insisting on the association between the strip of land in Palestine, and the covenant of God. But as I said, more on these points in later posts. As for Rom 11: I’m not sure if I’ll try to present my take on Rom 9-11 in this series (and this verse, of course, will make sense in one direction or another depending on the interpretation of this extremely complex and hotly debated context). It will perhaps be taking on too much. I’ve learnt a lot from Steve Motyer’s exegesis of Rom 9-11.

Anyway David, I shall be returning to some of your points in later posts in this series, especially as the meaty section starts.

At 9/01/2006 8:22 PM, Anonymous C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

I agree with David Wilkerson that Kaiser's treatment of Rom. 11 in this short article isn't serious but it wasn't intended to be serious and he qualified it with hedging word "appears".

I should stress that I am not and have never been a dispensationalist and not even a reader of this sort of stuff. I have only read one book by Kaiser, the one on hermeneutics with M.Silva. The church I grew up in was not fundamentalist, it was a significantly left of center independent evangelical split from a mainline PCUSA church. The founders were all professionals, some with Phd's and they were readers of Dwight Pentecost, etc. without being rabid pro-Israel or zionists. The pastor had studied at Dallas (DTS) but he wasn't a prophecy type. Our choir director was a Palestinian, the late Wadad Sabba, from Jerusalem and then Lebanon. She taught music and french at SPU for decades and was a concert soprano of significant reputation. Wadad's family was forcibly evicted from their home in Jerusalem in 1948. When the subject of Modern Israel came up she would get very animated ( angry). She was exasperated by evangelical attitudes toward Arab Christians, treating them like the didn't exist.

I would like to explore the question: is there a biblical warrent for Modern Israel?
But Chris wants to talk about the popular culture and this is his blog. Finding garbage on the web on all topics religous is such an easy thing to do it hardly generates any enthusiam.

BTW, I sent the question: Is there a biblical warrent for Modern Israel? to Randall Buth who has been in Jerusalem for three decades. It appears the he does not want to answer this question. (no reply) I can't really blame him. If I were in his shoes I would not want to get involved in a discussion of that topic. But since he is there and has been teaching for three decades then I assumed he must have a well informed position on this question.

At 9/01/2006 11:01 PM, Anonymous Jim said...

Clay doth opine

I would like to explore the question: is there a biblical warrent for Modern Israel?
But Chris wants to talk about the popular culture and this is his blog. Finding garbage on the web on all topics religous is such an easy thing to do it hardly generates any enthusiam.

The answer- no.

As to what Chris addresses on his blog you apparently haven't taken very much time reading him. Interspersed with detailed exegetical postings he offers fascinating and humorous takes on modern Church life. That you find it "garbage" is sad though. Apparently you don't have much of a sense of humor. Getting through life without one must be quite unpleasant.

Naturally, if you find his humorous postings unhelpful in your personal pilgrimage then perhaps you would be better served scanning other blogs more to your liking. Or even managing one of your own.

For my part, I enjoy humor as well as more serious things. And I hope Chris doesn't take your feelings as reflective of anyone but yourself.

In other words, I hope he keeps up the good work.

At 9/02/2006 1:34 AM, Anonymous C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Oh this has got to be a post from Jim West.
No one else would ...

My reference to garbage was not a reference to Chris or his blog but a reference to the some of CZ web sites that he was critiquing, which IMHO are easy targets. To easy to waste time on.

Glad we got that one cleared up.


At 9/02/2006 1:47 AM, Anonymous C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

BTW, Dr. West

If Chris wants to engage in censorship and delete my comments that is his prerogative. He doesn't need any help from Brother West.

At 9/02/2006 9:41 AM, Anonymous dan said...


I just finished Bauckham's The Bible in Politics and he has an interesting chapter in there, related to this topic, entitled "The Book of Esther and the Jewish Holocaust". Bauckham asks some interesting questions and one caught my eye in particular (although Bauckham doesn't really pursue this one):

Do ethnic groups have a right to political independence in a land of their own?

Certainly this right has been denied to other ethnicities -- one need only think of the experience of the Black Panthers or of the Nation of Islam in the USA. African-Americans underwent generations of slavery in America and were steadfastly refused a right to carve out and rule their own piece of land even after they were granted freedom. If we grant land based on the experience of persecution due to ethnicity, then why do the Jews have a State, but African-Americans have no State? We do Christians support the Zionists but not the Black Panthers?

Ah, but somebody might want to suggest that the experience of the Holocaust changes everything. Perhaps it is the degree of persecution that gives the Jews the right to have an independent State. Is this a comparison we want to make? Even if it is, what of the other minority groups that were slaughtered in the death camps? The Roma, another people who were systematically slaughtered, were never granted their own land after WWII (indeed, the Roma were consistently overlooked in all regards). Why a land for the Jews and no land for the Roma?

Furthermore, homosexuals and the mentally ill were also sent to the death camps. Should an independent state be established for homosexuals? I know some lesbian separatists that would be thrilled to have an independent state, why are they denied this option when the Jews are allowed this option? Should an independent state be established for the mentally ill? There are certainly centuries of recorded abuse of the mentally ill, all around the world, so why are they not given their own state? Clearly they can trust no other State to maintain their survival.

Anyway, most people will think my last example borders on the absurd but I think that there are some significant questions here that need to be answered.

I suppose that some will be inclined to say that the difference is found in "biblical support" but, since I think such "support" is a misreading of the text, this argument holds no water (IMO), and so the above question should be addressed.

At 9/02/2006 7:05 PM, Anonymous David Wilkerson said...

As much as I disagree with it as a tenet of Christian theology, it is impossible to deny Clay's proposition that there is a "biblical" foundation for Abraham's physical descendants possessing the land promised to Abraham in an eternal covenant. It's in the bible after all. Stephen refers to this claim in Acts 7, so it's "in" the NT.

Of course we may argue about how to deal with the genetic claims of the people there now and how their religion remains the same as that of Abraham, but that was an issue from the very beginning. The ethnic boundaries and religion of Israel was always in flux. We can't simply disqualify them all as Abraham's descendants.

If Dan is right that no ethnicity deserves its own state, then this goes to the root of Israel's ancient religion and covenant. This strikes at the heart it seems to me of the ethnic religious claims which we gentiles have been grafted into. Was it all rubbish to begin with, with its roots in ethnic bigotry? Why privilege their Messiah then? Certainly Unitarianism looks more just and rational.

Perhaps we find the ethnic claims to land atrocious, but Israel's presence in the land was a definition of justice for the Jews. To argue for justice from a liberal universal context smacks of the same secular liberalism that wishes to have a God not revealed in ethnic religious cults and texts.

Only someone who refuses to admit the radical reinterpretation of the tradition that Paul is making could say that it is a misreading of the texts to claim the land of Israel for the Jews. You have to be the kind of person like Paul who calls Abe's natural descendants (who are not Christians) "children of Hagar". The "misreading" of texts accusation can easily work both ways. The supersessionism of Paul invites it. If this sort of supersessionism is simply "the truth" then it has to be realized it is an easily contested political reading, not just the only rational option.

In-house debates among Christians will be easily settled since it seems we should follow Paul's "mis-reading", but it's not as if the dispensationalists are making some obviously irrational claim. They just haven't fully converted to Paul's wild vision. But it seems many of us spend a lot of energy explaining why Paul's religious vision (disinheriting the Jews of the flesh) is not so crazy (that is, repugnant to Jews).

All that to say that after WWII, I think the Jews should have been given New Jersey instead of Palestine.

At 9/03/2006 7:50 AM, Anonymous dan said...

Just a quick note of clarification in relation to David Wilkerson's comment.

In my comment, I do not assert that "no ethnicity deserves its own state." What I am doing is asking if any ethnicity deserves its own state, and if so, what makes one ethnicity qualify while another ethnicity is disqualified.

At 9/06/2006 12:37 PM, Anonymous Jamie said...

This is my first post here and I'm something of a CZ novice, so forgive the crudeness of my logic. One of my best friends got caught up with Exobus when he was a teenager, and that's never quite sat easy for me. Having been frequently dissatisfied with the two dominant positions (with debates that all too often degenerate into name-calling - careful that doesn't happen here) I am trying to find another way.

I've got my head round the beginnings of a trajectory which I have elaborated on here.

Basically put, I'm trying to see if there's any distance in holding a place for Israel in the land, but (to quote Star Trek) not as we know it. It's an attempt at a theological-Christological hermeneutic of the 'possession' of the land. Christ 'possessed the gates of his enemies' not through military might, coercion or political power but through self-sacrifice and apparent failue. Can Israel do the same? It's rough around the edges at the moment and needs input - I'd appreciate your thoughts.

At 9/08/2006 12:40 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Jamie,
Thanks for the link, I shall have a look! And I shall ponder your interesting thoughts on this matter. The hermeneutical question I shall return to when I get back to Germany in a few days. I'd like to hear your comments as I work through this.


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