Purpose Statement: Dr Boyle’s opening case addresses a separate issue from that under discussion, focusing on God’s land promise to Abram (Abraham) and his offspring found in Genesis. Dr Boyle does not explore who Abraham’s offspring are, despite it being clear in the New Testament that it is all those of faith (Galatians 3:7, Romans 9:6-8) and that real circumcision is not physical but ‘of the heart, by the spirit’ (Romans 2:29). Rather, Dr Boyle takes the land promise as evidence that ethnic Israel remains a distinct people of God. He contrasts this people with what he calls ‘the gentile Church’, even though this term does not appear anywhere in Scripture. Indeed the Bible tells us that in Jesus, who is the chief cornerstone of the church (Ephesians 2:20), there is neither Jew nor Gentile (Galatians 3:28).
The person of Jesus Christ does not appear in Dr Boyle’s opening remarks. Yet as Christians we must always view the promises of the Old Testament through the prism of Jesus, his life, teachings, death and resurrection. As the writer to the Hebrews notes: ‘In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things…’ (Hebrews 1:1).
Investigating the evidence
1. Terry: 'The Promise to Abram was Unconditional, Unilateral and Eternal.'
Dr Boyle argues that no conditions were attached to God’s land promise, and that therefore it was not cancelled out by Israel’s later disobedience. But he overlooks statements throughout the Old Testament that make clear that the covenant, like all contractual arrangements, was conditional on observing the contract’s terms. Exodus 19:5: ‘Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine.’ This passage also makes clear that the land was ultimately God’s and that the nation of Israel were merely tenants (Leviticus 25:23). When we see this land promise – a sign of God’s grace and mercy – through the prism of the New Testament, we see it is now fulfilled in the person of Jesus, who is grace and truth (John 1:17). Jesus is our high priest and perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 9:11-12), the true seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16) and the living temple through whom we have access to God the Father (John 2:19). The physical land is like an old wineskin (Mark 2:22) and no longer relevant to God’s plan of salvation.
2. If the physical land is still so important, as Dr Boyle asserts, why does Jesus not talk about it more?
It is striking that Jesus never mentions the land promise. The land is now understood in the context of the kingdom of God, which Jesus came to proclaim (Mark 1:14-15). Jesus mentions the land only once, in the Beatitudes, where it is clear that the people who will inherit the earth (the Greek word used means land or earth) are not a particular nation or ethnic group but the meek, those who follow God whatever their nationality or ethnicity. It is clear elsewhere (Acts 1) that Jesus is focused on a heavenly kingdom which goes beyond the notion of a ‘national homeland’ and which is both spiritual in nature and simultaneously global and inclusive in its reach. This teaching is developed by Paul – for example the land is missing from the privileges which are listed at the beginning of Romans 9 as flowing to the Jewish people (but which can only ultimately be obtained through faith in Jesus). Jesus and his earliest disciples looked beyond the narrow Jewish territorialism of the Old Testament, and so should we as followers of Jesus today.
In A Nutshell
Dr Boyle defends his stance by quoting from Hebrews 11:9 but we need to read further on in the same chapter. For the writer to the Hebrews makes clear that Abraham ‘was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God… These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect’ (Hebrews 11:10,39-40, my emphasis). That ‘something better’ is Jesus and the phrase ‘together with us’ points clearly to the unity of God’s people: they (the Old Testament heroes of faith who foreshadowed Jesus) and we (New Testament believers in Jesus Christ whether Jewish or Gentile) are one. It follows that there is only one people of God, united by faith.
Jeremy Moodey is the CEO of Embrace the Middle East. He speaks on behalf of the organisation in churches and at conferences and festivals, and writes regularly in the press and through social media. Any opinions expressed here are entirely personal. Embrace does not take a view on such matters.
Follow Jeremy Moodey on Twitter @JeremyMoodey