Paul and “The Israel of God”: An Exegetical and Eschatological Case-Study

S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. | May 24, 2010

Persistent efforts to explain “the Israel of God” in Gal 6:16 as a reference to the church defy overwhelming grammatical, exegetical, and theological evidence that the expression refers to ethnic Israel. Among contemporary interpreters, three views of the phrase’s meaning emerge: (1) “The Israel of God” is the church; (2) “The Israel of God” is the remnant of Israelites in the church; and (3) “The Israel of God” is the future redeemed nation. View 1 suffers from the grammatical and syntactical weakness of endorsing the meaning of the Greek particle kai as “namely,” a rare usage of that word. Exegetically, View 1 is also weak in choosing to define “Israel” as the church, a usage that appears nowhere else in biblical literature. View 1 also is lacking theologically because the name “Israel” is not applied to the church at any time in history until A.D. 160. Views 2 and 3 coincide grammatically and syntactically, exegetically, and theologically in positive support for those views by taking kai in its frequent continuative or copulative sense and by understanding “Israel” as a reference to ethnic Israel. View 3 shows its exegetical superiority to View 2 through the six points of Peter Richardson, which develop the ethnic nature of “Israel,” and by recalling Paul’s eschatological outlook for ethnic Israel in Rom 11:26. Theologically, View 3 jibes with Paul’s teaching about two kinds of Israelites, the believing ones and the unbelieving ones. Those who persist in advocating View 1 present a classic case in tendentious exegesis.

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