Saturday, November 08, 2008

What happens to the Land in the NT?

First, the matter of land is surely not absent in the NT (cf. the geographical land divisions in the first chapters of Luke, Acts and the language of the restoration of the tribes etc.). Barry E. Horner in Future Israel (while I haven't read it all- far from it – this is a book that has actually wound me up rotten!) argues:

'Romans 11:29. "God's gracious gifts and calling are irrevocable." The plurality of the "gracious gifts," ta charismata, surely follows on, by way of explication, from that which is declared secure according to the Abrahamic Covenant originating from "their [Israel's] forefathers," v. 28. Of course from a Hebrew perspective, the "gifts" include saving grace for Israel, yet surely more is included such as the encompassing covenant blessings of 9:4-5 that would unquestionably include the land' (276)

So it remains, but is surely treated differently, with different emphasis (is thus transformed). Is it:

  • Spiritualised? Inheritance in Paul becomes the Spirit, not a strip of land in Canaan. Cf. eternal life language in John
  • Displaced in person of Christ?: On the basis of Eph. 2:11-22; 3:6; Heb. 4:1-11; John 4:20-26, Chris Wright argues that 'Christ himself, therefore, incorporates and fulfils the significance of the land, as he did also for the law, the covenant, the temple, the king, the priest hood, the prophetic word, Wisdom etc... The effect of this, however, was far from being merely a spiritualizing evaporation of all the great social and economic themes associated with the land in the OT. The reality of Christian koininia in Christ included such practical aspects of inclusio, authority, lifestyle, and socioeconomic responsibility in ways that clearly reflect these same dimensions of Israel's life in the land' (New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, 1.524). Cf. also WD Davies.
  • Transformed as the eschatological promise of resurrection?: 'The language of the promised land was understood by many Jews at the time as an eschatological promise of resurrection life beyond the grave (Dan 12:13; Wis 5:5; Shemoneh 'Esreh 13; Dead Sea Scrolls: 1QS 11:7-8; 1QH 11:10-12). This "promised land" of Israel's was being inherited by the Christians, says Paul.' (Cited in Gregory MacDonald's The Evangelical Universalist)
  • Brueggemann: 'it is here urged that the land theme is more central than Davies believes and that it has not been so fully spiritualized as he concludes. It is more likely that the land theme can be understood in a dialectical way: in contexts of gnosticism the land theme must be taken in a more physical, historical ways; in contexts of politicizing the land theme must be taken in a more symbolic way' (The Land, 170).
  • Universalised?: Paul recognised that the Abrahamic covenant had universal implications (cf. its narrative context following Gen. 1-11), and so Paul, especially under the influence of his broadly christologically shaped hermeneutic universalised the land as God's intention for the world. So, for example, Romans 4:13: 'For the promise that he [Abraham] would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith'. Compare Eph. 6:2-3 and Deut. 5:16.

Any other suggestions?


At 11/08/2008 2:39 AM, Anonymous Mark said...

This is maybe my theology rather than Paul's, since I am an unrepentant tree-hugger but here goes:
There is a parallel between promised land (erez Israel) and the whole earth (kol erez)and chosen people and the Gentiles. God chose one family to bless all the families of the earth; they were given a portion of the land to demonstrates God's plan to renew the whole earth.
At the parousia of Christ when the saints are raised and glorified the whole creation is also liberated from frustration and glorified. If Jerusalem is then the center of a transformed earth, no one will complain.

At 11/08/2008 5:11 AM, Anonymous Bill said...

Just a thought: does irrevocable include transferable? Maybe the Land was simply a gift to the Jews. (Surely this has been suggested?) Irrevocable indeed, they kept it even after the spirit moved on. In fact they kept it, despite the presence of occupying foriegn opressors, for many centuries. My history of Palestine from 600 to 1900 is weak, but many of their descendants are still there, aren't they?

Now, as a parallel to the Land, I vote for the first option. Our inheritance is a spiritual realm. A new land of the holy spirit in one another. Amen?

Btw, Christ, you know I ain't no theologian. So please tell me if this is too blunt, will ya?

At 11/08/2008 5:13 AM, Anonymous Bill said...

"Btw, Christ" ??? My apologies, Lord, for the typo.

No offense, "Chris". ;)

At 11/08/2008 5:14 AM, Anonymous Brian LePort said...

I like what Mark has said. I think the land theme has expanded and includes the whole earth. The restored creation of Romans 8 that appears to be connected with the resurrection of the sons of God maybe the final result of the land promise.

At 11/09/2008 3:31 AM, Anonymous Brant Pitre said...

I for one think that the promise is transcendenatlized and eschatologized (as in W. D. Davies excellent piece, the Gospel and the Land, drawing on several ancient Jewish texts). By transcendentalized (as opposed to merely spiritualized) I speak of the ancient Jewish belief that after the Fall the Promised Land of Paradise so to speak is now "hidden" in the heavenly realms, and will be revealed at the restoration of creation (the "new heavens and the new earth" and descent of new Jerusalem in Rev 21).

If you reread Isaiah with this in mind, it is important to see that the prophetic book of the OT most focused on the new Exodus (i.e., return to the land) also ends with three chapters on the new heavens and the new earth--i.e., the restoration of creation.

In this view, I would hold that the Promised Land is a kind of earthly sign--a sacrament, if you will--of the eschatological reality of the restored cosmos. This is why Paul can say in Romans 4:13 that the promise to Abraham was that his descendents should "inherit the world (Gk kosmos)"--i.e, the restored creation. With this in mind, it throws a whole new light on the centrality of the new Creation in Romans 8, which I believe is picking up the theme of the Abrahamic promise in Rom 4.

But what do I know about Paul?... I'm just a lowly historical Jesus guy.

Anyway, believe it or not, I will be dealing with this directly in my next book, on Jesus and the Last Supper. How is the supper related to the new Exodus and new creation? Wait and see...!

At 11/09/2008 7:52 AM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...

So what's THE answer?

If you don't have THE answer, then maybe the Bible isn't quite as perspicacious as Evangelical Protestants believe it to be.

Personally, I think the idea of a god who tells people to kill the first of their flocks for him is superstitious nonsense.

Second to that nonsense are attempts by theologians to "link" everything in the books of the Bible together and call it "systematic theology," when they are merely inventing epicycles to fit within epicycles and claim that the cosmos revolves in perfect spheres.

Face it, there is no supernatural promise of land, just as there never was a supernatural demand for the first flocks.

At 11/09/2008 4:37 PM, Anonymous Sam said...

As well as all you mentioned, the land has been...

... universalized in Mt 28. For the exodus people, "Go and take the land" (cf Joshua) has become "go and take the world!"

... eschatologically interpreted in Hebrews: the promised land is what Joshua knew and hoped for; we now hope for "his rest" (Heb 3:18-4:1).

At 11/10/2008 12:06 AM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...

I like what Brant and others say here. Anyone interested should read Bruce Waltke's take in his OT Theology; as well as Joel Willitts dissertation for a different take. Bruce is a little too 'spiritual' vs. but is good on pointing out 'in Christ-ness'; I disagree with Willitts (see my forthcoming review in EuroJournTheol).

Local/small things are meant to be universalized, expanded; NOT status preservation. See Beale on the Temple for instance.

Also I think we have to bring in other data: what happens to the cognate notions of Jerusalem, Zion, Temple, etc.? Hard to say these are not being universalized. So I think this is the best description of Land as well, particularly in light of Romans 4:13, Hebrews (esp ch 11) relocation of Land expectation.

At 11/10/2008 9:49 AM, Anonymous simon said...

I've recently being doing a series on Christian hope in my church and this issue is quite a lively one among some members.
My take has been the universalised option that you put last, Chris. I base it on the places in the NT where a specific OT hope focused on Jerusalem or the land appears to have been globalised. This also applies to the 'seed' of Abraham and the temple - each in the OT focused on ethnic Israel and zion but in the NT centred on Jesus and inherited by those whose faith is in him.
Jesus himself universalised the promise of land in the beattitudes (assumning he spoke them) when he said the meek would inherit the earth rather than the land (Mt 5:5 quoting and amending Ps 37:11)
it makes sense to me.

At 11/10/2008 3:31 PM, Anonymous Ben said...

There is the dispensational answer that the land promise is that which will be fulfilled in the millennial kingdom for the Jews.

What's always bothered me about the issue is how new covenant language in the OT integrates restoration to the land with Spirit presence/enablement, but you don't see it addressed squarely in the NT.

I like the thinking that associates Rom 4 (inherit the world) and Rom 8. With new creation, the greater would subsume the lesser. That is, he promise of a few acres on the mediterranean occurs but it comes under the whole world being given to the people of God. In the end, I think the one people of God thing makes the promise for the dispensational millenial emphasis a little too Jewish only focused.

At 11/10/2008 10:50 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Ha, Bill, we all know what you meant! I must be very Christ-like ...

Hi Mark! Yea, I heard about your tree-hugging!

Hi Edward "If you don't have THE answer, then maybe the Bible isn't quite as perspicacious as Evangelical Protestants believe it to be."

Truth does not need to be as you imply here, I think is my general response.

Most of you are going for the universalising option, whch I too feel most at home with.

Though Brant, thanks for your comment which finally helped me to understand the "sacramental" view. I am REALLY looking forward to your forthcoming. I was only telling someone today (one of my colleagues at St Mellitus) how brilliant your previous book is.

Ben says very clearly why I don't like the Zionist versions: "With new creation, the greater would subsume the lesser"

At 11/11/2008 11:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It could mean what it actually says, that the jewish people promised the land and will actually get it, but this would be much to simple i think, i much prefer the 20 reasons why the text could possibly not mean what it says.

At 11/12/2008 2:49 AM, Anonymous Michael Barber said...

I like what Brant said, I just want to add my two cents...

The Levites are the model of what the Israelites were meant to be. For example, in Exodus 19:6 we read that the nation of Israel was called to be a nation of priests--only the Levites however received that promise.

With this in mind it is absolutely fascinating to realize that though the Levites were the one tribe who received what was apparently intended for all Israel in Exod 19:6 they are also the ONLY tribe that DOESN'T receive land! They are apparently going to receive something greater. Moses makes this clear in several places, e.g., in Deuteronomy: " Levi has no portion or inheritance with his brothers; the Lord is his inheritance, as the Lord your God said to him" (Deut 10:9).

I think this we ought to consider this when thinking about the significance of the promise of the land.

At 11/12/2008 3:01 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Domonic, I don't think a literal reading is the most simple in light of the NT.

At 11/12/2008 3:01 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Michael, that is brilliant! Thanks for sharing that absolutely fascinating thought!

I wonder how Numbers 18:23-24 may fit into this: "Numbers 18:24 because I have given to the Levites as their portion the tithe of the Israelites because I have given to the Levites as their portion the tithe of the Israelites" (Luke 16:9 "And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes" came to mind, as if living off of the produce of others is laudible ...)


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