Bird’s Eye View of Paul (8): stories within the story – Israel

We are continuing Bird watching via A Bird’s Eye View of Paul: the man, his mission and his message by Michael Bird.

We’ve been looking at the ‘stories behind the story’ – the background themes of Paul’s thought –  next is Israel

First some brief comments of my own. Quite a few Christians get very worked up about the place of modern Israel in the plans of God. Usually this is all hooked into an eschatology that sees OT promises being literally fulfilled in the land of modern Israel. ‘God keeps his promises and won’t abandon his people’ is the thinking that virtually equates contemporary Israel with the OT people of God. The restoration of the Jewish state in 1948 is interpreted as an obvious sign of God’s blessing and faithfulness to the Jews and a forerunner to the final return of the Messiah. A corollary of this theology is enthusiastic and largely uncritical support of Israeli policies in the Middle East.

So what does Bird say about Israel? This:

– Central to Paul’s understanding of the gospel is the story of Israel in light of Jesus

– Those who believe in the Messiah are members of Israel – it is Christians Bird says who form the ‘Israel of God’ of Galatians 6:16

– OT Israel’s purpose was to be a light to the nations (Is 42:6) – God’s salvation was always to be extended to the nations

– Romans 9-11 is both against the idea that the gospel is for Gentiles instead of Jews AND against the idea that ‘salvation remains organically cocooned around Israel’.

– Tragically, Israel rejected her Messiah. Now the scope of salvation is widened to include Gentiles into the hope of Israel.

– God’s covenant faithfulness means he will not abandon Israel, her hope lies in turning to her Messiah so that one day ‘all Israel will be saved’ [Rom. 11.26]

My take on this: – as I read Bird the implications of what he says are these:

This is an unfolding single narrative of Israel within the story of the Bible: there is one people of God; one holy nation; one new covenant which fulfils the old; one multi-ethnic church community that constitutes a reconfigured Israel in which the old ethnic boundary markers (circumcision, law and the land) no longer have spiritual significance.

Yes a contemporary Jew may well have special affinity for and connection with the story of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah. Paul’s passionate desire for his fellow Jews to have faith in their Messiah is as relevant today as ever. Yes, Jewish believers in the Messiah today are not required to become Gentiles to follow Jesus. But there is nothing intrinsically spiritual or special about the modern state of Israel. Nor is there any ‘spiritual advantage’ for a Gentile Christian to express their faith in especially Jewish ways [I’ve come across this variant of the Galatian heresy a few times – as if there are two classes of Christian].

There are not two covenants running alongside each other, one for Jews, one for Gentiles. In Christ, the land no longer has any spiritual significance. Christians who build such dualistic theologies have failed to understand the unfolding single narrative flow of Paul’s thought.

Well, that’s me off the fence … how do you see the place of modern Israel in the plan of God?

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