The following essay was written by Solomon Chikwe (from Owerri, Nigeria) and is used with his permission:
In the first two parts of this presentation (see Part 1 here and Part 2 here), we saw how the old covenant was not a covenant between God and “Israel only,” but one that included people from other nations. We also saw how the promised land was robustly and legitimately inherited by non-Israelites, of whom Caleb was a notable part.
In those essays, the claim that God’s old covenant package involved “Israel Only” was shown to suffer a validity shipwreck. It was clearly demonstrated how the premises of that theological position do not lend reasonable support to its conclusion. Ultimately, it was exposed how the said conclusion, which rests on assumptions drawn from selective scripture mining, is both baseless and false! After all, possibility is not necessity!
Now, let’s proceed to test the validity of the “Israel Only” claim at the New Testament level, to see if our findings would be consistent with those made in the previous category – the old covenant – or not. Let’s see if there would be a correspondence between how God gave both Israelites and strangers the earthly promised land and how He is administering the new covenant.
Firstly, what is the new covenant, and why was it instituted? Also, who did God enter into the new covenant with? Jeremiah 31:31-34 says,
(31) “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make A NEW COVENANT with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:”
(32) “Not according to the covenant I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which covenant they brake, although I was a husband to them, saith the Lord:”
(33) “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord; I will PUT MY LAW IN THEIR INWARD PARTS, AND WRITE IT IN THEIR HEARTS, AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.”
(34) “And THEY SHALL TEACH NO MORE EVERY MAN HIS NEIGHBOUR, AND EVERY MAN HIS BROTHER, saying, KNOW THE LORD: FOR THEY SHALL ALL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST UNTO THE GREATEST OF THEM, saith the Lord: for I WILL FORGIVE THEIR INIQUITY, AND WILL REMEMBER THEIR SIN NO MORE.”
It is important to note that the central focus of the discussed covenant is the filling of the hearts and minds of its subjects with the knowledge of God. In other words, the new covenant is predicated upon (spiritual) ENLIGHTENMENT– a blessing that eluded mankind since Adam. And this blessing, as we shall subsequently see, is the salvation of mankind.
Now, I must concede that a shallow consideration of the above scripture would, very likely, lead the reader into committing an “If ‘A’, therefore not ‘B'” fallacy – where ‘A’ represents Israelites and ‘B’ represents those who are not Israelites. And this is likely to occur because that scripture specifically calls out the house of Israel and the house of Judah as God’s targets for the said covenant. Interestingly, such hasty and erroneous conclusions characterize the “Israel Only” arguments.
But does that scripture conclude that the new covenant would be limited to Israel only? No! Instead, it only tells that a different covenant shall be made with Israel, as opposed to the one initially made with them – the one they broke.
So are there any scriptural accounts that present a witness of God’s plan to include non-Israelites in the new covenant? Yes, there are!
The old covenant prophet, Isaiah, in a number of his prophetic declarations, revealed the plan of God to include non-Israelites (the Gentiles) in the to-be-revealed covenant, even God’s enlightenment plan. For example, Isaiah 42:6-7 says,
(6) “I the Lord have called thee (Christ) on righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will give thee for A COVENANT of the people, FOR A LIGHT OF THE GENTILES;”
(7) “To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from prison, and them that sit IN DARKNESS out of the prison house.”
Do you see, from the above scripture, that the enlightenment of men is their salvation? Do you also see that the Gentiles were included in God’s covenant plan, to the end of freeing mankind from the prison of darkness?
To explicitly show that the (new) covenant was purposed for both Israel and the Gentiles, let’s see what Isaiah 49:6 says. That scripture says,
“And he said, It is a light thing that thou (Christ) shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob (Israel), and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will ALSO give thee for A LIGHT to THE GENTILES, that thou mayest be my SALVATION unto THE END OF THE EARTH.”
Do you see how God presented both Israel and the Gentiles, in their distinctive categories, as purposed candidates for his salvation plan? Do you see how he used the word “ALSO” to emphasize the inclusion of the Gentiles in the salvation plan that Jeremiah as well foretold that He had purposed for Israel, even the new covenant? Remarkably, also, Isaiah expresses that God’s aim, as touching spread, is “THE END OF THE EARTH.” What inclusivity; what extensiveness!
Another explicit scriptural exposition of the truth of the covenant of salvation being ordained for both Israelites and non-Israelites is found in the words of a man, Simeon, whom Luke says was “just and devout,” and waited in hope – under the old covenant – to behold the Lord’s Christ before dying (Luke 2:25-33). Under the influence of the Holy Ghost, he said,
(30) “For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,”
(31) “Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;”
(32) “A LIGHT TO LIGHTEN THE GENTILES, AND the glory of thy people Israel.”
The above scriptures strongly witness against the one-sided view of the “Israel-Only” theological stance. They condemn it as a recklessly inductive argument that fails to pass for validity, let alone for soundness.
Now, it needs not be argued that the hereby discussed covenant is reposed in Christ. However, to clear any doubt, Galatians 3:16 is very instructive. That scripture says,
“Now to Abraham and his SEED were the promises made. He saith not, And seeds, as of many; BUT AS OF ONE, And to thy SEED, WHICH IS CHRIST.”
Against the above background, we see that the seed of Abraham that God made the promise to was actually Christ; not Israel. The promise was made to Abraham and CHRIST; not Abraham and Israel! Nonetheless, Christ had to come through Israel; thus, giving Israel a special place in the scheme of things.
Permit me to hereby submit that God was more interested in fulfilling His covenant with the spiritual seed of Abraham than his biological seed. In other words, God’s covenant with Abraham rested in Abraham’s faith, not in his sperm! (cf. Galatians 3:9). So, given that the concerned seed was to multiply into many members (see 1 Corinthians 12:12), the offspring of Abraham’s faith were therefore those ordained to possess the eternal inheritance, not the children of his fleshly loins. Of course, any of the biological children of Abraham who meets the faith criterion gets included in the mix; otherwise, he is not!
Consistently, Paul wrote, “And IF ye be Christ’s, THEN ye are Abraham’s SEED, and heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29).
Notably, Paul uses an ‘IF-THEN’ statement that assigns the responsibility of identity to Christ, that is, those who are in the SEED take their identity from Christ, not Israel. Thus those who are heirs of the kingdom must first be Christ’s: for Christ is the seed, not Israel.
But how exactly does anyone become Christ’s?
Paul answers the above question by saying, “For as many of you as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).
But where are those who are baptized into Christ drawn from?
Jesus answers the above question as he spoke to his disciples thus; “Go ye therefore, and teach ALL NATIONS, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” (Matthew 28:19). Mark’s rendition records that Jesus said, “Go ye into ALL THE WORLD, AND PREACH THE GOSPEL TO EVERY CREATURE. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16-17).
Certainly, every creature in the above portion of Mark 16 isn’t Israel only – whether home-based or in diaspora – but every human being encountered in the world. And unbelief was the discriminant that Jesus pointed out as what can disqualify anyone. Consequently, Paul’s teachings, as we shall shortly see, collapsed every segregating factor that lies outside of unbelief.
Back to the subject of identity, it is worthy of note that Jesus Christ was not actually an Israelite – judging the matter by the true sense of genealogical mapping. And this truth follows the reality that Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, whose genealogical root was traced from Abraham in Matthew 1, was not Jesus’ biological father. It is of no doubt that the Bible’s genealogical trees were constructed after biological paternity. So, the Joseph-Jesus case was just a case of proxy. To this end, Matthew had to quickly set the record of Christ’s root straight, shortly after his Abraham-to-Jesus genealogical narration in Matthew 1. In fact, Matthew ended his account by emphasizing that Joseph never copulated with Mary until she had begotten Jesus (Matthew 1:25).
Following the above discussed truths, it is recognizable that the new covenant ensued from a conscious and deliberate plan to deconstruct fleshly ties together with their limitations, and establish spiritual ties together with their benefits. It was to produce many of Abraham’s kind in terms of his faith, not his biology. To this end, Jesus told Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). In other words, Jesus was making the natural births of men, and their privileges or limitations, of no importance in new covenant admission. It is a different ball game!
Very clearly, Paul expressed the boundlessness of the incorporation of men into Christ, apart from unbelief. In his teachings, he disintegrated all forms of ethnic, social, gender, or racial borderlines that hitherto characterized the narrative of God’s relationships with men, thus leaving the only delimiting condition as faith in Christ (cf. John 3:16). Expressly, Paul said,
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28).
In the same vein, the apostle Peter said,
“…Of a truth I perceive that God is not a respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him.” (Acts 10:34-35).
The above expositions are truths that stand extremely lethal to the “Israel only” idea. In fact, they brutally destroy that joke of a theological concoction! I mean, if the apostles insisted that anyone, regardless of which nation he/she came (or comes) from, was (or is) acceptable to God – as a member of God, in as much as he/she feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, then the “IO” proponents need to undo their bond of darkness.
To further answer the question concerning the place of non-Israelites in the covenant, I would like us to also inspect the content of God’s words to Abraham concerning the matter.
Genesis 17:4 says, “As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, AND THOU SHALT BE A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS.”
Also, Genesis 17:7 says, “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee AND THY SEED after thee in their generations for AN EVERLASTING COVENANT, TO BE A GOD UNTO THEE, AND THY SEED after thee.”
Also, Genesis 18:18 says, “Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation (Israel), and all the nations of the earth (non-Israelites) shall be blessed in him?”
Finally, given that God declared that He would make Abraham the channel through which MANY nations would be blessed, isn’t it unintelligent to say that the many nations that God referred to were also biological offspring of Abraham? Were all nations biologically in Abraham? No, but all nations got born by Abraham through faith!
To be continued…