We are working through B&H’s Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views. See my introduction and other posts in this series. In my previous post we looked at Robert Thomas’ Dispensational view as to Israel and the church. In this post I will summarize the three responses to his essay.
Thomas raises many dispensational “curiosities”, but Reymond focuses on two:
- Thomas’ understanding of Israel
- Thomas’ understanding of the church
First, Reymond repeats his interpretation of the parable of the tenants (Matt 21:33-45; Mk 12:1-12; Luk 20:9-19), which he maintains is “obvious” (stated twice on p137). This is ironic since Thomas said his own conclusion was “obvious”!
National Israel, except for its elect seed, would be judged, and the special standing it had enjoyed during the old dispensation was to be given to the already emerging international church of Jesus Christ, comprised of the elect Jewish remnant and the elect Gentiles.
Raymond concludes with four propositions (p139).
- The “modern Jewish state is not part of the messianic kingdom of Jesus Christ” (a point for which Thomas did not argue).
- The OT land promise “served as a type” of the fulfillment of God’s promises to the church.
- Interpreting OT promises of a “geopolitical reestablishment of the state of Israel […] literally would be a retrograde elevation of type over antitype”.
- The future messianic kingdom will “embrace the whole of the recreated cosmos” and leave no place for a “holy land” or anything specifically Jewish.
Second, Thomas’ conception of the church over-complicates Jesus’ eschatology of the two ages. Jesus envisioned two ages: the present age, and the age that would come upon His return. There is no room for additional stages.
Saucy agrees with much of Thomas’ chapter, but differs with Thomas in that he believes the church presently participates in the inaugurated Davidic kingdom, and thereby the relationship between Israel and the church is closer than in Thomas’s view.
For Saucy, Thomas misinterprets Acts 15:16 and 2:30-36 as awaiting a “future reign of Christ following this present period” (p144). Instead, it is better to interpret these verses as saying that the church participates in “the first phase of the Davidic messianic kingdom” in this age (p145). This is also seen in Luke 19:11-27; Rom 14:17; 1 Cor 4:20; and Col 1:13.
Saucy sees a “union of Israel and the church in God’s salvation” (p149), while Thomas holds to an “exaggerated distinction” (p146); one that misses the mission of Israel to bring in the Gentiles to the people of God. The Gentiles are “fellow partakers” in the covenants (Eph 2:12). This, however, “does not mean that the church is fulfilling these promised covenants in place of Israel, to whom they were promised” (p147); nor does it mean that the church receives everything in these promises, such as the land.
Brand and Pratt Jr
Thomas “avoids at least one significant text” (p151), namely 1 Peter 2:9, which applies OT language of Israel directly to the church.
Second, Thomas claims to hold an exclusively literal hermeneutic, but “taking the Bible literally can mean a variety of different things” (p152). Ironically, Thomas’ hermeneutic results in non-literal fulfillment when the New Testament quotes the Old. For example, Thomas’s literal reading of Jer 31:31 sees the new covenant of as applying to “Israel and Israel only” (p152). However, a literal reading of Luke 22:20 and Heb 8:7-12 recognizes that the new covenant is enjoyed by the church. Which “literal” reading should one take? For Brand and Pratt, the answer is that “NT interpretation of the OT supervenes the OT itself” (p153). This does not imply that the OT was wrong, but that the NT provides progressive revelation as to the OT promise and its fulfillment.
Third and briefly, for Thomas, Rev 21;12, 14 proves that “[Israel] will ever be distinctive” from the church (p153). However, Eph 2:14-15 does not allow such a conclusion. Recognizing this is “taking the Bible more literally than even Thomas” (p153).
Many thanks to B&H Academic for providing a review copy of this book. Next up is Robert Saucy and Progressive Dispensationalism.