The two leading schools of thought concerning Israel and their relation to the Church are Dispensational Theology and Replacement Theology. Dispensational Theology sees Israel and the Church as two separate entities. Replacement Theology teaches that the Church has replaced Israel. I take an alternate view that I believe to fall somewhere in between these two extremes. That is, the Church is Israel. I have arrived at this conclusion based off of I what I believe to be the best exegesis of Rom. 9-11 along with Gal. 3: 26-29. I will present key observations from these passages as I argue for my view as well explain exactly what I mean by this statement along with consideration of the Law of Identity.
The first law of Aristotelian logic is the Law of Identity which says, “A is A.” In order for A to be A, there cannot be anything true of A that is not true of A. In Rom. 9:6, Paul says, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” Some translations read, “Not all Israel are truly Israel.” We see from the outset of Paul’s explanation that he sees a distinction between ethnic Israel and spiritual Israel. In the case of Israel, there are a number of things that are true of ethnic Israel that are not true of spiritual Israel. In short, ethnic Israel is not identical to spiritual Israel.
However, I do believe that spiritual Israel is identical to the Church. The Church is the true Israel that Paul references in 9:6. This is the covenant community who belongs to God as a result of their faith in Christ. Paul also states in Gal 3, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (26-29)”. Paul states that in Christ, the distinctions between Jew and Gentile dissolve. Thus, in Christ, the Church is identical to Israel in that all are “one in Christ Jesus.” Based on this passage, we can conclude that the Church is Israel.
The difference between my position and the dispensational view should be pretty evident. Strict dispensationalism sees the Church and Israel as two separate entities both outside of Christ and in Christ. This is to the extent that there are seemingly two different programs for each entity in regards to how God deals with them. Extreme versions of dispensationalism go so far as to teach many things that apply to Israel do not apply to the Church such as the Law and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I disagree with these elements of dispensationalism.
My view may sound much more similar to Replacement Theology on the surface, but there are some elements of Replacement Theology that I reject. I have qualified the statement, “The Church is Israel” to being “in Christ.” Obviously, outside of Christ, the two are not identical. Ethnic Israel is not identical to the Church, and I do not believe that the Church has replaced ethnic Israel to the extent that no promises or plans remain for ethnic Israel. Let’s return to Rom. 9-11 to make some further observations.
Rom. 11:11-12 –“ Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!”
Paul makes two significant statements here. First, God has saved the Gentiles for the purpose of making Israel jealous. I can hardly conclude that God has abandoned His plan for Israel if the purpose for saving Gentiles still revolves around Israel. Second, Paul makes mention of their future full inclusion. Because of this verse, along with others in this passage (15, 23-24 31), I believe that there will still be a mass revival of ethnic Jews. Thus, I cannot conclude that God has abandoned His plan to redeem ethnic Israel.
In vss. 17-21, Paul uses the illustration of a tree to represent the family of God. He refers to both Gentile branches and Jewish branches. These branches are certainly distinct as God has dealt with them differently, but the branches are different than the root. Apart from the root, the branches have many distinctions, but once the branches are grafted into the root, those distinctions dissolve, and all that remains is the one family of God.
In conclusion, my position is that ethnic Israel still has a special and even essential place in God’s plan of redemption (replacement theology does not agree with that), but once they are in Christ, there is no difference between them and Gentile believers (dispensational theology does not agree with that). In Christ, the Church is Israel and Israel is the Church.