By Ed Vasicek, Midrash Detective
When it comes to interpreting Scripture, there are a number of common paradigms. Dispensationalism, progressive dispensationalism, olive tree theology, covenant theology, New Covenant theology, replacement theology, and supersessionism are among them.
Some of us fall in between the cracks. For example, I am somewhere between the cracks of traditional dispensationalism, progressive dispensationalism, and olive tree theology (developed by Messianic Jew David Stern).
I am suggesting we need a new, broader term to help make the major division between these viewpoints clear. So I am proposing that those of us who believe that God will fulfill the promises he made to ethnic Israel embrace the clear-cut label, “Fidelity to Jacob Theology.” This grouping should include many traditional and progressive dispensationalists and those who embrace olive tree theology.
This dividing line is a very important one and greatly affects how we interpret Scripture. The points of this broad hermeneutic are:
The promises God made to Israel (Jacob) will stand. Since replacement theologians and others sometimes refer to the church as “spiritual Israel” or “the new Israel,” I have chosen the term “Jacob” to emphasize the national and ethnic nature of these promises. God will faithfully keep the promises to the people with whom he made the promises with the terms understood as they would have been understood at the time. There is no slight of hand, no change of definition, no alterations or added conditions, but complete transparency and integrity on the part of God.
- The church is viewed within the context of God’s dealings with Israel. God has been dealing with Israel since the time of Jacob and preparing the way for Israel since the time of Abraham. God has always had his remnant of believers, even within the nation of Israel. God has also had non-Jewish believers in him. In the church — which was yet future as of Matthew 16:18 — Jewish and non-Jewish believers have equal status and privileges before God, but Jews are still Jews and gentiles are still gentiles, even though believing gentiles receive the spiritual benefits of being part of the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12). Messianic Jewish believers –who are not “Judaizers”– are “The Israel of God” indeed (Galatians 6:16).
- In Old Testament times, it was a remnant of Jews whose hearts were circumcised and thus right with God (Deuteronomy 30:6). God has always had a people right with him (the elect) and people who populated his nation, many of whom were not elect. This same pattern holds true today. In Pre-Pentecost times, some (at times many) gentiles turned from their sins and trusted the God of Israel. Some became full Jewish converts, many others partial converts and thus not equally privileged.
With the initiation of Jesus’ church, the New Covenant was initiated. Under the New Covenant, believing Jews and believing Gentiles are to be collected together as one new man. Whereas unbelieving Israel still has national purposes in the plan of God, they should not be confused with the elect. This has always been true; it is not a New Testament phenomenon.
What is distinct, however, is the equal status before God of believing Jews and believing gentiles. This status is equality before God, not “sameness” in other regards. Just as there is neither male nor female in our relationship to God (Galatians 3:28), there is a distinction within the church and family (I Timothy 2:9-15).
- God will restore the Kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6) in his time. Right now, Jewish believers and gentile believers are integrated into one body, the current form of the Kingdom. At the end of the Tribulation period, all Israel will come to believe (Zech. 14) and all will enter the New Covenant.
- During that 1,000 year Millennial Kingdom, Ezekiel’s temple will be rebuilt, Christ will reign from Jerusalem, and the Jewish people will be exalted (cf. Zechariah 12-14).
Whether we divide spiritual history into dispensations or label eras as covenants, whether we agree as to when the rapture occurs in relationship to the tribulation, or whether we embrace the idea that a mystery means something not mentioned at all in the Old Testament or mentioned but not clearly — these are not nearly as important when it comes to interpreting Scripture. What is important from interpretational and theological perspectives is that we recognize that God is no swindler nor double-talker. He will keep his fidelity to Jacob.