Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Full Transcription of Rudolph's Sermon: "Paul, Israel, and the Land"

Sermon audio can be found HERE.

"Last week I presented a paper in Washington DC at a conference sponsored by the institute on religion and democracy where I raised the question "does Paul eliminate particularity for Israel and the Land in his portrayal of salvation available for all the world?"  The full version of the paper will be published by InterVarsity in 2016 in an edited volume.
      Today I would like to share an abridged version of that paper with you.  And my purpose in doing so is not so much to convince you of the thesis which I would imagine most of us here already agree with but rather to equip you with a way of answering this question so that you can share with Christian friends what Paul teaches about God's faithfulness to Israel.
      The fact of the matter is that there is a growing trend in the Evangelical world following on the coat-tails of main-line Protestant Christian denominations maintaining that the Church, the One New Man, has replaced the Jewish People as the People of God.  And so in this way of thinking, the Church as become the new spiritual Israel.  And I think that each one of us here at Tikvat Israel, every single one of us here needs to be able to demonstrate to our Christian friends why this is not the case.
      So take good notes and view this as a training session.  Let's blast off!  And if I'm going to fast for you to fill in the worksheet that each of you should have, you can listen to the message online at ""
      In this teaching which is entitled "Paul, Israel, and the Land" I will argue that Paul does not eliminate the particularity of the Jewish People or the Land of Israel in his portrayal of the Gospel.  And that a compelling case can be made for particularity when we examine what Paul has to say concerning five areas.
      We can remember these areas by remembering the acronym GUCCI which stands for--let me just say, you know this is hopeful because it's such a massive topic.  So when we're talking with Christian friends, it's easy to kind of just forget well what do I say first or what can I share?  There's just too many things to talk about.  So I think this acronym will be helpful to all of us.  GUCCI, which stands for G, the gifts of Israel, U, the uniqueness of Israel, C, the calling of Israel, second C, the confirmation of Israel's promises, and I, the irrevocability of Israel's election.
      I will comment briefly on each of these five areas and then conclude.
      Let's begin with G, the gifts of Israel.  Paul writes in Romans chapter 9, verses 3 through 5, "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Messiah for the sake of my brothers, my kindred according to the flesh.  They are the People of Israel and to them belong the adoption as children, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Torah, the worship, and the promises, to them belong the Patriarchs and from them according to the flesh comes the Messiah."
      Here Paul states that the adoption as children, the covenants, the promises, and the Torah remain in the...what tense?  Present tense.  In the Greek it's in the present tense.  This is very important.  It's not in the past tense.  It's in the present tense.  All of these things, the being adopted as children, the covenants, the promises, the Torah, all these remain in the present tense possessions of the Jewish People.
      Two chapters later Paul continues this theme and writes in Romans 11 verse 29, "For the gifts and the calling of God to Israel are irrevocable."  When Paul refers to Israel's gifts in this passage, he is likely pointing back to the list of national blessings that God gave to the Jewish People that we just read about it in Romans chapter 9.  Moreoever, Paul's use of the term "gifts" in Romans chapter 11 is informed by Second Temple Jewish literature where Israel is described as having been given national gifts, quote unquote, gifts from God.  This is attested in Philo, Josephus, and Ezekiel the Tragedian at the end of the 2nd century BCE.  And some of these texts that talk about the gifts of God to Israel in 2nd Temple Jewish literature relate the term gifts to the Land of ISrael.  MOreover, the term covenants and promises in Romans chapter 9 verse 4 and chapter 15 verse 8 cannot be understood apart from their Land aspect.  Because the origins of these covenants and the origins of these promises are coterminous with the oath that God made to the Patriarchs concerning the Land.  See, for example, Exodus chapter 32 verse 13.  This interconnection between covenant, promise, and Land, is echoed hundreds of times in Israel's Scriptures.  Something that would've been as clear to Paul as the stars in the sky.
      And this brings us to the U in our acronym, the uniqueness of Israel.  The gifts of God to Israel made Israel unique.  In his letters, Paul communicates this uniqueness or "particularity" in various ways.  For example, first, he divides the world including the Body of Messiah into two groups:  Jews and Gentiles.  Second, Jews are the circumcised as distinct from the foreskin as we see in Romans 3 verse 30, Romans 4 verse 9, and Romans 4 verse 12.  Third, Jews are the natural branches in contrast to the quote unquote "Wild Olive Shoots" unquote, as we read in Romans 11 verses 21 and 24.  Fourth, in Paul's view, Jews are Israelites quote unquote in contrast to "the nations" as we read in Romans 9 verse 4 and in Romans 10 verse 1 as well as Romans 11 verse 11 and verses 25 through 26.  Fifth, the Apostle writes that there is much quote unquote "advantage" in being a Jew as we read in Romans chapter 2 verse 25 and chapter 3 verses 1 through 2.  Sixth, Paul writes in Romans chapter 11 verse 28 that quote, "As far as election is concerned, they, the Jewish People, are loved by God on account of the Patriarchs," unquote.  This is why Paul refers to fellow members of the Tribe as quote "His" "God's People" in Romans 11 verse 1.  Or "His inheritance" as the marginalized reading of Romans 11 verse 1 puts it.  Thus, emphasizing the Land and the Seed promises.  Seventh, because of Israel's election, Paul---now let me just say this before I go on any's very difficult reciting these Scriptures as a Jew.  Why?  Because these Scriptures are emphasizing the blessings or the uniqueness or the that God has given to Jewish People.  It's easier for a non-Jewish person to say these things.  And I say because for those of us who are non-Jews here I want to encourage you that you can do this better than I can, especially in speaking with Christian friends.  Because when I say something like this it sounds kind of self-serving, you're kind of raising up your people in some way, but when a non-Jewish person shares these things, there's more credibility behind it.  So I just want to encourage you, one, that I don't feel comfortable up here saying this but, two, Paul was a Jew and he did say these things so he obviously felt it was important to say this.  And, thirdly, that if you're non-Jewish, listen up because you in particular...can make these points much more powerfully than I or another Jewish Believer in Yeshua can.  So we're on the seventh point.  Seventh, because of Israel's election, Paul can say in Romans chapter 1 verse 16 that the besorah, the Gospel, is, first, for the Jew, then, for the Gentile, unquote.  Going first to the Jewish People was not primarily a matter of chronological order, ethnic loyalty, or wise outreach strategy.  It was primarily because the Jewish People remain elect and, therefore, God's children in a unique sense.  In the present tense.  As Paul states in Romans chapter 9 verse 4.  That is why Paul can write in Romans 2 verses 9 through 10, quote, "there will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil, first for the Jew, then for the Gentile."  So let's get it clear:  whatever blessings and benefits Jewish People get, they also get the trouble first.  So the point here is...that God is fair.  The trouble and the distress for every human being who does evil, first comes to the Jew.  Then for the Gentile.  But...glory--I like this part, this is a better part--but glory, honor, peace for everyone who does good, first for the Jew then for the Gentile.
      The Pauline principle here is:  to whom much is given, much is expected.  Because the Jewish People are in a unique filial relationship with God and have national gifts from God including adoption as children, covenants, promises, and the Torah.  We will be judged by a stricter standard than the Gentile world.
      It is important to remember that the kingdom of God is fundamentally a table fellowship of Jews and Gentiles.  And that the beauty of this God-designed unity, and the richness of this fellowship, which is supposed to be characterized by interdependence and mutal blessing, can only exist (!) when Israel's uniqueness is upheld.  For when Israel's uniqueness, when Israel's particularity is eliminated, then the kingdom of God becomes a table fellowship of Jews only.  Or Gentiles only.
      And this brings us to the first C in our acronym, the calling of Israel.  In Romans chapter 11 verse 29, Paul writes, quote, "For the gifts and the calling of God to Israel (the calling of God to Israel) are irrevocable".  What does Paul mean by the calling of God to Israel?  Notably, Paul uses the same term for calling, klesis, in 1 Corinthians chapter 7 verses 17 through 20, where he refers to the calling, the quote unquote calling, of being circumcised.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7 verses 17 through 20 and verse 20, quote, "This is my rule in all the congregations.  Was anyone at the time of his call, that is to salvation, already circumcised?  In the calling in which he was called, in this let him remain" unquote.  The notion of a Jewish calling, quote unquote, a Jewish calling, and the responsbility of Jews to remain in their calling, finds further support in Paul's command to Jewish People in 1 Corinthians 7 verse 18 where he says, "me epispastho" literally "do not put on foreskin." Metonymically, do not assimilate or Gentilize yourself. Unquote.  The language is a likely allusion to 1 Maccabees chapter 1 verses 11 through 15 which is in the Apocrypha where the expression "remove the marks of circumcision" is linked to "de-judaization" and the adoption of Gentile customs that collapse Jew-Gentile distinction.  Why was Jewish assimilation so problematic for Paul?  It is probably because Jewish particularity reflects Israel's divine calling.  According to Exodus 19, the Lord elected Israel to be His treasured possession, His segulah, out of all the peoples.  The text goes on to state that Israel was called to be a quote "Kingdom of Priests" and a "Holy Nation", a mamlechet kohanim v'goy kadosh.  And we see this in Exodus 19 verses 5 through 6, Deuteronomy 7 verse 6, Deuteronomy 14 verse 2, and Deuteornomy 26 verse 18.
      Philo, a Jewish contemporary of Paul, considered Israel's Exodus 19 calling to be fundamental to the nation's identity.  He compared Israel to a king's royal estate and to a priest who ministered on behalf of a city.  In other words, Philo viewed Israel as having a priestly calling to be different.  And through that difference to minister to the nations.  In other words, the calling of Israel is not to minister to itself.  The ultimate calling of Israel is for to minister to the nations of the world.
      Against this Second Temple Jewish backdrop we can understand Paul's command in 1 Corinthians 7:18 me epispastho as an imperatival instruction to Jewish People including Jesus-Believing Jews or Yeshua-Believing Jews to remain faithful to their Jewish identity.  This was ultimately so that through their particularity they might walk out Israel's priestly calling to be a light to the nations even as Paul was walking out this what he refers to as a priestly service, as he puts it in Romans 15 verse 16 through his Apostolic ministry.
      And this brings us to the 2nd C in our acronym.  What is our acronym?  GUCCI.  Okay, the 2nd C in our acronym, the confirmation of Israel's promises.  In Romans 15 verse 8, Paul writes, quote, "For I tell you that the Messiah has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the Truth of God in order that He might confirm the promises given to the Patriarchs."  Paul goes on to quote the Septuagint or Greek version of Isaiah 11 verse 10 to show how these promises to the Patriarchs will come to ultimate fulfillment in the Messianic Kingdom.  Romans 15 verse 12 states, quote, "And again Isaiah says, the root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles, in Him the Gentiles shall hope," unquote.  Notably, the context of this Isaiah passage includes fulfillment of the Land Promise.  After the words quote "in Him the Gentiles shall hope" unquote, Isaiah declares, quote, "And it shall be in that day that the Lord shall again show His hand to be zealous for the remnant that is left of the People.  And He shall lift up a standard for the nations and He shall gather the lost ones of Israel and He shall gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth."  That's the Septuagint version of Isaiah 11 verses 11 through 12.  Here in Isaiah 11, the universal dimension of the Messianic Kingdom is balanced by the particularity of Israel's King who is not just a generic human being but He is the root of Jesse that is the Son of David and the return of His People to their Land.  Though Paul does not quote verses 11 through 12, we can reasonably assume that he was aware of the territorial context and that he intended what he did quote to serve as more of a bookmark than a stand-alone comment.
      There are other Pauline texts that weigh in on the Apostle's view of the confirmation of Israel's promises.  These include Romans chapter 11 verse 26, Romans chapter 9 verses 25 through 26, 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 and 1 Corinthians chapter 15.  And in the full version of this paper I unpack what Paul has to say in these passages.  All of the eschatological drama described in 1 Corinthians chapter 15 centering on the death, the resurrection, and the bodily return of the Messiah, takes place in....Rome?  In Rome?  Is that where it takes place?  In New York city?  In Toledo?  No?  No, it all takes place in the Land of Israel.
      And this brings us to the final letter "I" in our acronym.  The irrevocability of Israel's election.  Paul writes in Romans chapter 11 verse 29 that quote "the gifts and the calling of God to Israel are..."  what does it say?  "Irrevocable" metameleta in Greek.  Well, in English translations, the word "irrevecoable" usually appears at the end of the sentence.  In the Greek text, ametameleta appears at the beginning thus placing emphasis on this word as though it was high-lighted or had an exclamation mark attached to it.  Paul's point is that Israel's general state of unbelief does not compromise its election, its gifts, or its calling.  God remains faithful to Israel despite Israel's unfaithfulness.  Paul makes the same point at the beginning of Romans 11 when he raises the rhetorical question "I ask then, has God rejected His People?" or, in the marginal reading, "His inheritance?" as he says in Romans 11 verse 1.  Here Paul does not go on to say "Yes, God has rejected His People and transferred all of Israel's blessings to the Church."  On the contrary, he exclaims me genoita...let's all say it.  Say it like "oy gevalt".  Me genoita!  That's right...  which means...which means "Of course not! Absolutley not!  Out of the question!  By no means!" or, I like the complete Jewish Bible translation "Heaven forbid!"  Paul could not have been more loud and clear in affirming the irrevocability of Israel's election.  We might add that if God is not faithful to Israel then there is no guarantee that He will be faithful to any of us.
      In conclusion, I've argued that Paul does not eliminate particularity for Israel and the Land in his portrayal of salvation available for all the world.  And that a compelling case can be made for particularity and God's continuing faithfulness to Israel when we review what God has to say about....GUCCI.  The gifts of Israel, G, the gifts of Israel, the uniqueness of Israel, U, C, the calling of Israel, C, the confirmation of Israel's promises, and, I, the irrevocability of Israel's election.
      So remember that acronym when we're with Christian friends and we're trying to explain to them about God's faithfulness to Israel.  Just remember Gucci.  Paul does not undermine the particularity of the People or the Land of Israel in his teachings.  Rather, he affirms the continuing election, gifts, and calling of his People, and spends considerable time in his letter to the Romans--at least four chapters--to get this point across.  In Paul's view, particularity is part of the warp and woof of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom that is manifest as we have said, in a table fellowship of Jews and Gentiles who remain faithful to their callings as Jews and Gentiles in Messiah.  Paul's Isaianic vision of the world to come is best expressed in Romans 11 and Romans 15 where Israel and the nations are described as worshipping God together in unity and diversity, in interdependence and mutual blessing.  Paul sums it all up beautifully in Romans chapter 15 verse 10 when he says, quoting the Song of Moses, and let us all say it together, "Rejoice, O Gentiles with His People."  Let's pray."


  1. I agree with much of what he said, I think he does a good job of showing Israel's calling and uniqueness, which is his main point of discussion, overall good job. Romans 9, seals the deal, it ALL belongs to Israel.

    Where I disagree, is when he tries to fit gentiles into the picture and his vision of what that looks like, with how he relates gentiles to Israel, he definitely sides with the rabbinical view, instead of Paul's view.

    I will clarify, he categorizes gentiles and nations all together, he doesn't make a distinction between gentiles who trust in the Messiah and those who do not, he talks about the Messianic Kingdom, and also does not clarify the difference between those who put on the resurrection and those who do not. If the wild olive tree represents the nations or the gentiles, it is only the gentiles who trust and follow Yeshua that are grafted in among the native branches, also sharing and taking in what rightfully belongs to Israel(the native branches) and what does not belong to gentiles, but because of God's mercy, through Yeshua, gentiles who take hold of this promise, have become fellow partakers and inheritors, and not all gentiles or nations, only those who trust in Him.

    What Paul says is so profound and contrary to what Judaism believed in that day, and still does not believe today... In Ephesians 2, we read of how Paul relates gentiles in the Messiah to Israel, the Covenants, the Promises, the citizenship, etc, and in Galatians, Paul relates gentiles to Abraham, but in a very intimate way, as a father. Paul shows a metaphor in Romans 11 of believing gentiles joining the olive tree that belongs to Jews. And to use Rudolph's words above: Paul was a Jew and he did say these things so he obviously felt it was important to say this.

    Well said... Rudolph. :D

    Thus a believing gentiles relationship to Israel is not the rabbinic view, if that were the case, no point for Paul to write what he did, wasted words, instead they mean something and have a literal implication. Paul envisioned gentiles who followed the Messiah, as sharers in what only belongs to Israel. Paul even tells his gentile audience to stop living like the gentiles, making a distinction between the gentiles who followed the God of Israel and the nations who did not. Maybe one day both sides of this argument will actually be understood, until then, we just have to keep trucking along.

    1. Zion,

      Here's my take on the acronym and points.


      G: If "gifts" refers to the gift of the Land, I'm in agreement.

      U: Unique is a bit of an issue. Rudolph's second point there is that the Body of Messiah is divided into "circumcision" and "foreskin." I disagree that circumcision is initiatory (i.e. circumcision as the terminus ad quem or "goal") when it comes to membership in Israel. How do I know he sees circumcision as initiatory to membership in Israel? Because he says "…in Paul's view, Jews are Israelites quote unquote in contrast to "the nations" as we read in Romans 9 verse 4 and in Romans 10 verse 1 as well as Romans 11 verse 11 and verses 25 through 26."

      C: That he sees circumcision as the terminus ad quem to membership in Israel is further evidence by "C" in the acronym which stands for "calling" and which he defines as a totally separate Way of LIfe than gentiles where "circumcision" is a metonym for Torah observance. He references but does not have time to quote passages such as Exodus 19:5-6 which says "5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

      C: The 2nd "C" of confirmation of Land promises is fine.

      I: The "I" of irrevocability of Israel's election is also fine.

    2. Ah ok, I see what you are referencing now... yeah, he adheres to the rabbinic view and tries to squeeze that into Paul's interpretation. It is very anachronistic to interpret the Torah, from a much later rabbinic view, doesn't work.