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Let’s be honest: Some Bible verses about God’s covenant with the Jews and “one new humanity” can seem confusing. Some Christians interpret such verses to mean they’ve become the true Israel of God, the real offspring of Abraham or spiritual Israel. (The latter phrase is actually nowhere in the Bible.) Such verses can appear at best to be ambiguous; at worst, to smack of replacement-fulfillment theology. One simple key, however, can demystify much of the dilemma: Context can be everything!
A truism of sound Bible interpretation (or interpretation of any communication) is that text without context is pretext. By definition “context” refers to that which accompanies or goes with text. “Pretext” means that which misleads or conceals. Those who are passionate about truth will discover they can usually demystify most difficult verses about Israel and one new humanity simply by carefully studying the context of those verses. Sadly, not doing so often leads to pretext.
Take for example Romans 9:6-8: “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel…but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” The immediate and obvious context of Romans 9:6-8 is that it follows Romans 1-5. In verses 1-5, Paul writes explicitly about ethnic Israel’s ongoing, covenant-based inheritance, calling and destiny. Beginning with verse 6 and through the end of chapter 9, he then explains how, despite Israel’ sin and national rejection of Messiah, her calling and destiny still stands. He does this by explaining the historical role of Israel’s remnant. Meanwhile, he does not intend verses 6-8 to comprise a thought unto itself. Those verses, therefore, can not be rightly interpreted in isolation from the rest of his explanation.
The apostle’s main explanatory point in Romans 9:6-29 is that through history, only a remnant within Israel, chosen by grace, has stayed faithful to God and engaged personally in His full covenant blessing. Yet that remnant served—and still serves—to maintain the election and destiny of the whole nation.
Paul is saying those who are descended from Israel which are Israel, and are Abraham’s offspring, are the faithful remnant of physical Israel. In other words, faithful Messianic Jews are the “Israel” that is spiritually as well as physically descended from Israel (or Jacob). They are the children of the promise who are fully/truly Abraham’s children. Paul is not referring specifically here to Gentiles who follow Yeshua and therefore consider themselves Abraham’s spiritual offspring. HOWEVER, that could be a sound, secondary application—in balance—for other ethnic nationalities. While not physically Jewish, Gentile Christians do inherit all the spiritual blessings of following in the faith of their spiritual father, Abraham. What they don’t do, is disinherit the Jews from their covenant promises.
Let’s go on. At the next level of context, Romans 9:6-8 is an essential part of Paul’s master treatise on Israel that starts with Romans 9:1 and ends at 11:36. Within that treatise, the apostle consistently uses “Israel” to refer to physical Jews descended physically from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. At an even broader contextual level, Paul’s writings as a whole repeatedly confirm that while one in Messiah, physical Israel (faithful or not) is “Israel” and physical Gentiles (faithful or not) are “Gentiles.” And at the broadest contextual level, both Old and New Covenants as a whole teach the same truth.
Let’s rejoice that Gentiles needn’t become Jews to enjoy eternally the goodness of God! In Messiah, there’s neither Jew nor Gentile when it comes to right standing with YHVH, receiving His blessing or with unity of the saints. “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God…For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33, 36).