His third and final subquestion is:
3. Does God have a separate plan for Israel apart from the Church?
The question inverts the order of the biblical narrative. It should be asked: Does God have a separate plan for the Church apart from Israel? The only good answer is no, since to be a believer in the Messiah of Israel connects you to the people of Israel. There is no plan for the church outside of its connection to Israel. As long as you keep the narrative in order, supersessionism is unnecessary for there to be a unified plan.
Many believe that God has a continuing covenant with Israel, separate from the Church. This is usually base[d] passages like Romans 9-11, although the context is often ignored. In Romans 2:28-29, for example, the Apostle Paul defines ‘Jew’.
“A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29)
This polemic by Paul is directed toward a person who already bears the name ‘Jew’. He is arguing that for those who are already Jewish, the real point of being Jewish is an internal spiritual calling, not simply an outward identity. It is disastrous to take this passage as making gentiles into spiritual Jews. I know that because in the debate proper, Sizer emphatically denies that he is erasing Jewish and Gentile identity, yet to take this passage to define what it means to be a “Jew” does just that. Since he thinks of being Jewish as otherwise being a race, it is easy to see why he would fall in that trap. A dichotomy between a “racial” Jew and a “spiritual” Jew makes sense for the supersessionist (they are indeed so far apart). God was not working with mere races nor with disembodied spirits, but with actual peoples.
That is why in Romans 9, the term ‘Israel’ is limited to those who acknowledge the Lord Jesus.
“It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” (Romans 9:6-8)
However, he gives this one sense of believing Israel which puts it in the category of those descended from Israel. Note that the “child of the promise” was still a natural child born of Abraham, but he was also of the promise. So it is not an exclusive disjunctive. This is in line with Romans 2, and does not abolish the normal sense of “Israel” as being a national people.
In the letter to the Philippians, Paul explicitly identifies the church as the true ‘circumcision’ (Phil. 3:3).
It is not explicit or implicit. He identifies “We” as the circumcision, which far more likely means himself and those others, who, unlike “the mutilators,” put no confidence in the flesh, i.e. do not seek to circumcise Gentile believers for their salvation. Circumcision of the heart (a metaphor for spiritual renewal in God) is what truly matters for all people (Jer. 17:6). “The church” is not in view. He is not dissociating Jewish circumcision from true circumcision.
This is entirely consistent with the Old Testament, where, as we have already seen, citizenship of Israel was open to all ‘those who acknowledge me’ (Psalm 87:4).
This is definitely an interesting Psalm to use.
Psalm 87:1 By the sons of Korah, a psalm, a song, whose foundation is in the holy mountains. 2 HaShem loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. 3 The most glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God, Selah. 4 I mention Rahab and Babylon to those who know me, and behold there are Philistia and Tyre, with Cush, “This one was born there.” 5 But of Zion it can be said, “Man after man was born in her,” and He, the Most High, maintains her thus. HaShem will count, when He records nations, “This one was born there,” Selah. 6 But singers as well as flute players, all my wellsprings are in you [O Zion].
This is the Art Scroll Stone Tanach, and it is a plausible translation of the Hebrew. It is a Psalm which holds up “Zion” as the great center of the earth. Interpretations differ, but what are the grounds to make it out to say that “citizenship of Israel was open to all ‘those who acknowledge me.’” It does not include Rahab and Babylon, Philistia and Tyre, and Cush in the definition of Israel or Zion, or counts them as born in Zion such that they should become part of the definition. They don’t become citizens of Israel. Rather it lavishes praise on Zion, because it is the city of God. The psalm brings other locations – even enemy states of Israel, like Philistia and Babylon – into the picture without denigrating them, but it doesn’t use other locations as a means to redefine or spiritualize Israel. This is in line with the case that God does not have a separate plan for the body of Messiah apart from Israel.
Romans 9-11. Of course God has not rejected the Jewish people. His covenant purpose for them, as with every other race, has always been ‘that they may be saved’ (Romans 10:1),
Great! Yet Scriptures present a far more developed covenant purpose for Israel other than spiritual salvation of its individual members.
to create one people for himself, made of both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 11:26).
Again, let’s recall the two meanings of “[one] people,” as this is a place where Sizer clearly wants to reduce distinct senses. Israel is “[one] people” in the sense of one nation (an extended family with a national-religious identity, if you will). That someone who was of the Nations, a foreigner, could join Israel does not change the fact that such a person would be joining an extended family with a national religious identity. That’s the nation refered to in Romans 11:26, as is clear from the chapter. The New Testament nowhere implies that gentiles must become Israelites to be a part of the saved people (the Church); but rather they join a multi-national commonwealth of Israel.
The second larger meaning of people (in Sizer’s usage and drawn from NIV paraphrases) is supra-national, that of a people drawn from many peoples (clearly what Messiah does). Israel (who are a people in the first sense) is distinct from the Gentiles (various nationals, who are of peoples in the first sense as well). In Messiah they are unified in the second sense: to speak of one people (in the second sense) from the Jewish people and all other peoples is true in its own right. But it does damage to read that sense into Romans 11, since the distinction between peoples are crucial to Paul’s argument.
God’s covenant purposes are fulfilled only in and through Jesus Christ. This is most fully explained in Ephesians 2.
“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” … remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one … His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Ephesians 2: 11-16)
Citizenship is used throughout, as he is meaning it to imply by it identity as a member of the people of Israel, but an alternative (and I think, better) translation is “the commonwealth of Israel” (so NASB, ESV, KJV, RSV). The Gentile believer’s membership within the commonwealth maintains the close connection to Israel while at the same time maintaining the ordinary distinction between Israel and the Nations which is so plain throughout the Scriptures (the distinction is as ordinary as the distinction between men and women!). Paul’s implication that gentiles become part of the commonwealth of Israel, and are thus closely connected to the God of Israel in Messiah, anticipates what was invisioned by Isaiah 56, in which all peoples (nations) connect to the God of Israel in God’s House (the Temple). The way in which one posits “citizenship in Israel” will depend on whether one is ready to drop a false notion of replacement (certainly, Paul had Roman citizenship, but he was not of the people of Rome or the people of Italy or anything like that). In the kingdom of Messiah, all who trust in the God of Israel are citizens of Israel’s commonwealth. That is consistent with and dependent on the biblical notion of the chosenness of the Jewish people.
To summarise, in the New Testament we are told explicitly that the promises were fulfilled in Jesus Christ and in those who acknowledge Him as their Lord and Saviour. God’s blessings come by grace through faith, not by works or race (Ephesians 2:8-9).
“Fulfilled” does not mean ended.
“The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ… There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor 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.” (Galatians 3:16, 28-29).
Yet, men and women, while in one spiritual family of Messiah, nevertheless have distinction in gender and calling. Israel and the Nations are one in the spiritual family of Messiah, but the national identity and multinational (Gentile) identity also remains.
It is not an understatement to say that what is at stake is our understanding of the gospel, the centrality of the cross, the role of the Church, the nature of our missionary mandate, not least, to the beloved Jewish people.
He’s right. And the inability of supersessionist theology to provide an adequate theory to the above matters underlines the crucial importance that it be revised and repented of.