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Roots and Shoots

 'I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you'. (Genesis 12:2-3)

The most common, alternative perspective of these verses is to re-interpret the covenant with Abraham in the light of the fact that Jesus Christ has since come into the World. Because of this, they say, some key themes of the Old Testament must be re-evaluated. This is an important issue and must not be underestimated. But neither must it be overestimated.

The problem is trying to decide exactly which parts of the Old Testament are affected by the coming of the Messiah. This is where we get differences in opinion because we are naturally departing from the safe haven of an objective literal reading of the text and we are moving into the subjective areas of allegorising or spiritualising the text. In other words, because we accept that Jesus changes everything, we have to accept that, for some people, 'things ain't what they seem any more' and some Bible texts now attract new meanings, determined by some expert's readings of the New Testament. We have the benefit of history to show us the unfortunate results of such teachings, first expounded by some of the Church Fathers in the early years of Christianity, teachings heavily influenced by the Greek culture of the time.

The 'uneducated' reader of the Old Testament is now told that s/he would be mistaken in reading parts of it as straight narrative, because we may not be getting the full story. But who sets the rules? So you turn to mature Christians or go to Bible College to find out how the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus and the formation of the Body of Christ affects what you are reading elsewhere in the Bible.

In many cases this can be helpful, for instance when we identify Jesus as the fulfilment of so many Old Testament promises and prophecies, including the one in Genesis 12:3 that we read earlier. This makes sense as these show the Old Testament pointing to the New Testament and it all falls into a logical order.

To have to read the Old Testament with one eye on the text and the other on a whole library of concordances and commentaries is beyond many ordinary Christians. They simply don't have the time. Surely reading the Bible was not meant to be this difficult?

So let us again read the original wording of the covenant with Abraham (when he was just plain Abram).

'I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you'. (Genesis 12:2-3)

and

'The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God'. (Genesis 17:8).

Now, as already mentioned, not all Christians would read these Scriptures in the same way. In fact, Christians tend to fall into one of two camps.

The first would take the plain meaning of the text, reading it literally, and take these promises to mean that there is a role for Abraham's descendants, the Jewish people - and the land of Israel - in the Christian age.

And the second read the text symbolically and say that there is absolutely no role at all for the Jewish people or the land of Israel in the Christian age.

The first group tend to stress the continuity between the Old and the New testament, whereas the second group tend to elevate the New over the Old, saying that all things changed with the advent of Jesus the Messiah.

For the purpose of these articles, I will give names to these groups based on the imagery of Romans 11:17, 'If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root'. (This imagery will be properly explained in a later article).

The first group, the literal readers of Scripture, I shall call Mr. Roots, to identify them with the oldest part of the olive tree and the second group, the Scripture spiritualisers, I shall call Mr. Shoots, identifying them with the newest parts of the olive tree.

Mr. Roots would look at the plain meaning of these verses, which tell him that the descendants of Abraham - the Jews - are to become a great nation, living in a land promised to them by God as a permanent habitation and out of whom there would be great blessings to the world, through Jesus.

More about Mr. Shoots next week.

Steve Maltz
July 2013

(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book Outcast Nation)

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