I have watched from afar as Professor McDermott has, through books and articles, labored to move support for Israel away from the shaky foundation of dispensational prophetic scenaria and on to firmer foundations, and done so as a well-wisher. Further we’re glad to see Professor McDermott has left behind the errors of supersessionism- but after multiple readings of this essay, we’re still not quite clear as to where it is that he’s taking us for this firmer foundation. There is much to criticize in supersessionism, and Professor McDermott’s rediscovery of the Jewish Christ is to be lauded and so is his spirit of humility about his former views. Would that more of us wrote more about what we got wrong.

Having cut my theological teeth on covenant theology, I had never imbibed the sort of soft Marcionite thinking which McDermott properly rebuts in his essay, so I found reading the essay to be a sort of jarring as he described the views that he rejected, and rejoiced as he reconnected Jesus with Israel. But it is possible that in his desire to leave all of that behind, he has jumped into something which is also problematic.

At least in my reading of his “Rethinking Israel” piece, there are some questionable interpretations, and some areas simply of possible confusion.

First, let’s start with the reinterpretation of Galatians 6:16, beginning in his original piece with “This verse is commonly interpreted as […]”. Here’s the passage in question:

“For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” (Gal. 6:15-16 NAS)

Professor McDermott seems to be asserting that ‘the Israel of God’ refers to ethnic Israel which does not accept Jesus as Messiah on the basis of two arguments: first, the use of the word ‘and,’ and second, a possible echo of the Jewish Amidah prayer.

But he seems to hang a far too much on the use of the word 'and,’ (‘kai’ in Greek). In no way does this word have to imply completely separate, non-overlapping categories. In fact, in the very example which he gives as a possible source for the phrasing from the Amidah, ‘and’ is used to describe two groups, one of which is a subset of the other. When Jews pray for a blessing "upon us and upon all Israel your people,” the 'us' is a subset of 'all Israel'. The flexibility of the idea of ‘and’ holds in both the Greek and Hebrew languages.

So, neither the overreading of the word ‘and/kai’ nor the example of the Amidah is individually a compelling argument for this reinterpretation of Galatians 6:16, and in combination with one another they are even weaker, because the Amidah uses the phrasing in a way which McDermott argues that Paul does not.

We’re also glad that he’s abandoned the view that the parable of the vineyard is about taking the kingdom away from Jews and giving it to Gentiles, as he explains in the paragraph beginning with “after this discovery […]”

But it’s not clear where he’s taking us with this argument either. Tenancy is taken from wicked people (who are not specified by McDermott) and transferred to Jewish apostles. Okay, so far so good, but then what? After the Jewish apostles die, who then are their tenant successors? Does the lease revert back to some form of ethnic Israel? That seems to be where we are being led, back towards a covenant which assigns land based on nationality. It’s hard to see how to square that with the actual parable.

This is not a criticism per se, because it's not obvious in many places what exactly Professor McDermott believes or what his approach entails. So, I’d like to see him fill in some of the blanks before rushing into rebuttal on those points.

That being said, unfortunately, we do have some points of rebuttals to offer now on the points that appear to be both clear and problematic: first, of his interpretation of the Abrahamic covenant.

What does “forever” mean?

Let’s look precisely at God’s promises in Genesis 15, verses 18-21: “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.

Earlier in Genesis 13:14-17, God promises the land to Abraham forever: “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.

Do these passages mean that Abraham’s descendants will always possess the land? Of course not. In 15:13, God specifically says that Abraham’s descendants will, for a time, not be in possession of the Promised Land: “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.”

Already at this point, the promise seems to be much broader than the parceling out of one piece of property to one particular nation. The language used here is almost poetic in how vague and grand it is: God promises the land from the north to the south, and from the east to the west. No specific borders or limitations are mentioned. God then describes Abraham’s offspring as being as numerous as the dust of the earth. Whom does this apply to?

The New Testament has an answer to that question.

In Galatians 3:7, Paul specifically identifies the community of faith as Abraham’s descendants: “Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.”

And this is done specifically in the context of believers in the Messiah backsliding into a Torah and fleshly descent-centered ‘Judaizer’ approach.

“This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:2-3 NAS)

In light of N.T. teaching, it seems that Genesis 13:14-17 is a Messianic prophecy. This is in fact exactly how Paul interprets this promise in Galatians 3:16. “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.”

Paul is not introducing a completely new idea. The Old Testament itself associates the idea of reigning forever with the coming Messiah. For example, we could also look at 2nd Samuel 7 to demonstrate the Messianic nature of God’s covenant. In verses 13-17, when God speaks to David through the prophet Nathan, He says:

[…] I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. […] Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”

Through David and Solomon, God establishes a kingdom and house that will live forever – which is, of course, a prophecy of Christ.

God is true to His word and keeps His promises forever, but we need to be as clear on the recipient of the promise as we are on the duration and extent of it.

When is this promised eternal kingdom given? Isaiah 60:21 reads: “Then all your people will be righteous, and they will possess the land forever.” Emphasis upon “then,” the context of this chapter clearly being after the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of His Kingdom. The possession of the land forever is connected to all of God’s people being righteous. Are we to understand this verse to refer to ethnic Israel? That requires us to ignore the first half of the verse. If we look back to the previous chapter, in Isaiah 59:20, we see the possession of the land forever is predicated on righteousness and repentance: “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins, declares the Lord.

The forever and the land are directly connected with ‘the Redeemer’.

This raises another problem for Prof. McDermott’s view: if God’s promises in the Old Testament refer to the temporal sovereignty of ethnic Israel over the Promised Land, why is it that for so much of history, Israel has not been sovereign there? The suggestion that God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob entailed eternal rulership over the Promised Land for the Patriarchs’ ethnic descendants is highly questionable when we look at the history of the Near East. The Jews were not in control of Israel during the Exodus, nor during the Babylonian captivity, and arguably not during the Roman occupation; and that’s just the period covered by the Bible.

What if one argues that the fulfillment begins with the coming of Messiah but still adheres to national Israel? That argument seems even more problematic given the fact that shortly after the time of the Messiah, temporal, national Jerusalem was destroyed. From the Bar Kokhba revolt in 136AD until 1948, Israel was subject to constant foreign occupation. Since its establishment after the Exodus, national Israel was never less in control of the Holy Land then it was for the two millennia after the Messiah. God does not break His promises, therefore the promise given to Abraham fulfilled by Christ and established with the coming of ‘the Redeemer’ was not a promise of unceasing political dominion by an ethnic/national entity over the Holy Land.

There is an historic view which leaves a place in prophecy for ethnic Israel: it may instead refer to some eschatological period. Paul arguably prophecies in Romans 11 the eventual restoration of the Jewish people. Who is to say that the restoration of the land in 1948 to Israel via Providence is not a step in that direction? God is sovereign. This seems to be the view that Alastair Roberts has suggested (https://theopolisinstitute.com/conversations/rethinking-israel-a-response-from-alastair-roberts/), and it seems quite plausible. As we look at the rebirth of national Israel, it seems that something is going on there -- some miraculous purpose of Providence.

Say what you will about this interpretation, it is at least more plausible than the alternative offered in a pseudo dual-covenant approach which fails to explain why it is that Israel has so often not been in control of the Promised Land.

A firmer foundation for Israel’s right to exist

Are we then saying that Israel is an illegitimate state or has no right to exist? Of course not. Nor are we saying that there is no Biblical basis for Zionism or support for Israel. On the contrary, we as Christians should be fierce defenders of the principles of Israeli nationalism, because we follow the Biblical attitude towards nationhood. Our support for the Jewish state need not be dependent on dual-covenant-esque exegesis, nor dispensational end times speculative systems, but instead on an understanding of nationhood that is thoroughly based in Scripture.

Imagine, for the sake of argument, that there was nothing special about Israel or the Jews: that God made no promises to them, that Israel is a nation just like any other and the Jews are simply one of many ethno-religious groups. In that alternate reality, Israel would still have every right to exist.

In the Old Testament, the nation state is endorsed as the divinely ordained system. Moses forbids Israel to invade other nations, conveying that God allows conquest of neighboring tribes in only very limited circumstances for the sake of establishing the security of the Israeli nation. In fact, the nationalistic theme is so strong that God decrees that the king, the priests, and the prophets will all be chosen among the brothers of Israel. Also, in Deuteronomy 2:19, God warns Moses against imperialism: “[W]hen you come near the people of Ammon, do not harass them or meddle with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the descendants of Lot as a possession.”

In Acts 17, Paul affirms to a foreign people the divinely ordained order of nationhood: “From one man He made every nation of men, to inhabit the whole earth; and He determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands.

The dual-covenant advocates have reached the right conclusion for the wrong reasons. We share their support for Israel: its right to exist, and the right of Israelis to live in their country without fear of destruction, invasion and terrorism. Yet none of this is predicated on highly debatable theological interpretations of God’s covenant with the Patriarchs as a perennial land-grant to the Israeli state.

Just as Israel is a legitimate state on the basis of the political philosophy of the Bible, it is legitimate on the basis of international law and norms. The existence of a Jewish state in Palestine is just as defensible as the existence of any other state. Following the Balfour Declaration, the League of Nations supported Britain’s attempt to “secure the establishment of the Jewish national home,” it being obvious to the international community at the time that the Jews had a right to a state in Palestine. This is no surprise - prior to the Balfour Declaration in 1917, tens of thousands of Jews lived in the territory, some of those communities having made Palestine their home for centuries. The Balfour Declaration itself was supported by major world powers such as Italy and the United States. Only a few years later, in 1922, the League of Nations additionally declared its support for a Jewish state in Palestine. The United Nations then approved the partition plan laid out after World War II. Shortly after Israel’s success in the First Arab-Israeli War they were recognized by the two superpowers, the USSR and the United States, and became a UN member state. Israel’s legitimacy from an international law perspective is entirely obvious to anyone not blinded by ideology, and no stretching of Biblical verses is necessary to confirm this.

The Jewish people suffered unprecedented atrocities during the Holocaust, and with the broad support of the international community, established a state based on a consistent historical population in the region. Put simply, Israel was founded entirely legally.

Our interpretation does not in the least preclude support for Israeli nationalism. Quite to the contrary: a truly Biblical approach justifies the state of Israel’s existence, while also guarding us against imperial exaggerations.

God made the nations and appointed that they govern themselves; that people groups with a shared culture and language and history are entitled to rule themselves is almost a matter of Biblical dogma. For as long as there has been an Israel, Jews have lived there: expulsion after expulsion, under the Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, Crusader, Ottoman, and British empires, they have returned to the land. If Americans have a right to America, the French to France, the Japanese to Japan, then the Jews have a right to Israel. We don’t need to come up with reinterpretations of prophecies that have been fulfilled in Christ to affirm what we have always affirmed: nations have the right to self-determination.

Christ must be central

There is a deeper problem here than just specific contests over the interpretation of various verses in Genesis, 2nd Samuel and Isaiah. The deeper question is this: What is the Old Testament about? In Christ’s own words: “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me.” Scripture is about Christ – every law, every prophecy, every verse speaks of Christ. Paul explicitly affirms that God’s covenant with Abraham was fulfilled in Jesus, who was, let’s not forget, a Jew. The Pauline, New Testament, Christian view is not in the least bit anti-Semitic.

We hold the same view that Jeff Meyers advances in his rebuttal, that this is fulfilled in the Jewish founding of the church. What is Professor McDermott's view? That the prophecy is fulfilled by the Jewish disciples and then transferred back to ethnic Israel in general? Is he implying that the covenant with Israel is fulfilled and then re-applied? If the vineyard is transferred from someone to the disciples, who are their successors? It is the church which is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. That certainly seems to be the way Mary (Miriam) took the annunciation of the birth of Jesus:

"He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

The conception of the Messiah is the fulfillment of the promise ‘to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’ This makes it all the more odd that Dr. McDermott cites the Magnificat in support of his view.

"Robert Wilken writes in The Land Called Holy that early Christians interpreted these and other passages (such as the angel telling Mary that God would give Jesus ‘the throne of David’ and that Jesus would rule ‘over the house of Jacob forever’) as indications of future ‘restoration and the establishment of a kingdom in Jerusalem.’"

It's good that this former supersessionist understands that the Magnificat is referring to a Jewish king, but that Jewish king is clearly Jesus.

Gentiles did not supersede Jews. But the Jewish Jesus did supersede the corrupt false shepherds who led the nation into destruction.

Does this leave any room for anti-Semitism? Not an inch. The Gospels describe a conflict between different Jewish groups. Jesus and his movement claim the mantle of Abraham, Moses and the Prophets. What about tough language in the Gospels about 'the Jews'? That is a larger topic than I can go into here (though I do deal with it in my upcoming book). Let me just say in short that I am convinced that this language is tied up in a conflict between Jesus the Galilean and the ruling elite of the capital province, Judea. In other words, it is not Jesus vs. 'the Jews', but rather Jesus vs. the Judeans.

Jesus' disciples claim that Jesus is the Messiah. Either He is, or He is not. If He is, it is hard to see the Messianic promises coming any other way than through Him. Of course, that doesn't mean that only people who believe in Jesus have a right to their homeland. As the Salamancan scholars argued in the case of the looting of the Indians by 'Christian' soldiers, those who are not followers of Jesus have the same rights to property and self-determination as those who do. It is Jesus who taught us that you don't have to believe in Jesus to be treated with equality and dignity. This is something we Christians have far too often forgotten, but which the Christian West did remember and apply in helping Israel establish her proper homeland in 1948.

In short, we agree with much of Professor McDermott’s criticism of supersessionism, but wonder if in his proper zeal to leave that error behind, he risks falling into the dual-covenant error. What we offer is something different, not caught in the dual-covenant vs. supersessionist dialectic: emphasizing that God fulfilled His covenant with the Jews in the Jewish Messiah, Jesus. It grounds the state of Israel on the basis of justice, not ad hoc claims to special possession of the land without broad adherence among the nations, nor in the history of the Church.

The hermeneutics McDermott uses to justify support for Israel seems to be in tension with the teaching of the New Testament - Christ stands in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and God’s covenant with His people, including the land promises to Abraham. Any interpretation of prophecy and covenant in the post-Apostolic era that neglects Christ neglects this truth: God fulfilled His word through His Word.


Jerry Bowyer is Editor of Town Hall Finance, serves on the Editorial Board of Salem Communications, is Resident Economist with Kingdom Advisors, and is President of Bowyer Research. He holds a Sacred Theology Licentiate from the Collegium Augustinianum and a Bachelor’s degree from Robert Morris University.

Charles is a risk analyst for Bowyer Research, a writer for Townhall Finance, has been published on Affluent Investor, RealClearMarkets, RealClearPolitics, Asia Times, and has been a guest on The Glen Meakem Radio Program.

Next Conversation
What Is Israel’s Vocation?
Peter Leithart and Mike Bull

I have watched from afar as Professor McDermott has, through books and articles, labored to move support for Israel away from the shaky foundation of dispensational prophetic scenaria and on to firmer foundations, and done so as a well-wisher. Further we’re glad to see Professor McDermott has left behind the errors of supersessionism- but after multiple readings of this essay, we’re still not quite clear as to where it is that he’s taking us for this firmer foundation. There is much to criticize in supersessionism, and Professor McDermott’s rediscovery of the Jewish Christ is to be lauded and so is his spirit of humility about his former views. Would that more of us wrote more about what we got wrong.

Having cut my theological teeth on covenant theology, I had never imbibed the sort of soft Marcionite thinking which McDermott properly rebuts in his essay, so I found reading the essay to be a sort of jarring as he described the views that he rejected, and rejoiced as he reconnected Jesus with Israel. But it is possible that in his desire to leave all of that behind, he has jumped into something which is also problematic.

At least in my reading of his “Rethinking Israel” piece, there are some questionable interpretations, and some areas simply of possible confusion.

First, let’s start with the reinterpretation of Galatians 6:16, beginning in his original piece with “This verse is commonly interpreted as […]”. Here’s the passage in question:

“For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” (Gal. 6:15-16 NAS)

Professor McDermott seems to be asserting that ‘the Israel of God’ refers to ethnic Israel which does not accept Jesus as Messiah on the basis of two arguments: first, the use of the word ‘and,’ and second, a possible echo of the Jewish Amidah prayer.

But he seems to hang a far too much on the use of the word 'and,’ (‘kai’ in Greek). In no way does this word have to imply completely separate, non-overlapping categories. In fact, in the very example which he gives as a possible source for the phrasing from the Amidah, ‘and’ is used to describe two groups, one of which is a subset of the other. When Jews pray for a blessing "upon us and upon all Israel your people,” the 'us' is a subset of 'all Israel'. The flexibility of the idea of ‘and’ holds in both the Greek and Hebrew languages.

So, neither the overreading of the word ‘and/kai’ nor the example of the Amidah is individually a compelling argument for this reinterpretation of Galatians 6:16, and in combination with one another they are even weaker, because the Amidah uses the phrasing in a way which McDermott argues that Paul does not.

We’re also glad that he’s abandoned the view that the parable of the vineyard is about taking the kingdom away from Jews and giving it to Gentiles, as he explains in the paragraph beginning with “after this discovery […]”

But it’s not clear where he’s taking us with this argument either. Tenancy is taken from wicked people (who are not specified by McDermott) and transferred to Jewish apostles. Okay, so far so good, but then what? After the Jewish apostles die, who then are their tenant successors? Does the lease revert back to some form of ethnic Israel? That seems to be where we are being led, back towards a covenant which assigns land based on nationality. It’s hard to see how to square that with the actual parable.

This is not a criticism per se, because it's not obvious in many places what exactly Professor McDermott believes or what his approach entails. So, I’d like to see him fill in some of the blanks before rushing into rebuttal on those points.

That being said, unfortunately, we do have some points of rebuttals to offer now on the points that appear to be both clear and problematic: first, of his interpretation of the Abrahamic covenant.

What does “forever” mean?

Let’s look precisely at God’s promises in Genesis 15, verses 18-21: “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates—the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.

Earlier in Genesis 13:14-17, God promises the land to Abraham forever: “Look around from where you are, to the north and south, to the east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.

Do these passages mean that Abraham’s descendants will always possess the land? Of course not. In 15:13, God specifically says that Abraham’s descendants will, for a time, not be in possession of the Promised Land: “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.”

Already at this point, the promise seems to be much broader than the parceling out of one piece of property to one particular nation. The language used here is almost poetic in how vague and grand it is: God promises the land from the north to the south, and from the east to the west. No specific borders or limitations are mentioned. God then describes Abraham’s offspring as being as numerous as the dust of the earth. Whom does this apply to?

The New Testament has an answer to that question.

In Galatians 3:7, Paul specifically identifies the community of faith as Abraham’s descendants: “Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.”

And this is done specifically in the context of believers in the Messiah backsliding into a Torah and fleshly descent-centered ‘Judaizer’ approach.

“This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal. 3:2-3 NAS)

In light of N.T. teaching, it seems that Genesis 13:14-17 is a Messianic prophecy. This is in fact exactly how Paul interprets this promise in Galatians 3:16. “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.”

Paul is not introducing a completely new idea. The Old Testament itself associates the idea of reigning forever with the coming Messiah. For example, we could also look at 2nd Samuel 7 to demonstrate the Messianic nature of God’s covenant. In verses 13-17, when God speaks to David through the prophet Nathan, He says:

[…] I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. […] Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”

Through David and Solomon, God establishes a kingdom and house that will live forever – which is, of course, a prophecy of Christ.

God is true to His word and keeps His promises forever, but we need to be as clear on the recipient of the promise as we are on the duration and extent of it.

When is this promised eternal kingdom given? Isaiah 60:21 reads: “Then all your people will be righteous, and they will possess the land forever.” Emphasis upon “then,” the context of this chapter clearly being after the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of His Kingdom. The possession of the land forever is connected to all of God’s people being righteous. Are we to understand this verse to refer to ethnic Israel? That requires us to ignore the first half of the verse. If we look back to the previous chapter, in Isaiah 59:20, we see the possession of the land forever is predicated on righteousness and repentance: “The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins, declares the Lord.

The forever and the land are directly connected with ‘the Redeemer’.

This raises another problem for Prof. McDermott’s view: if God’s promises in the Old Testament refer to the temporal sovereignty of ethnic Israel over the Promised Land, why is it that for so much of history, Israel has not been sovereign there? The suggestion that God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob entailed eternal rulership over the Promised Land for the Patriarchs’ ethnic descendants is highly questionable when we look at the history of the Near East. The Jews were not in control of Israel during the Exodus, nor during the Babylonian captivity, and arguably not during the Roman occupation; and that’s just the period covered by the Bible.

What if one argues that the fulfillment begins with the coming of Messiah but still adheres to national Israel? That argument seems even more problematic given the fact that shortly after the time of the Messiah, temporal, national Jerusalem was destroyed. From the Bar Kokhba revolt in 136AD until 1948, Israel was subject to constant foreign occupation. Since its establishment after the Exodus, national Israel was never less in control of the Holy Land then it was for the two millennia after the Messiah. God does not break His promises, therefore the promise given to Abraham fulfilled by Christ and established with the coming of ‘the Redeemer’ was not a promise of unceasing political dominion by an ethnic/national entity over the Holy Land.

There is an historic view which leaves a place in prophecy for ethnic Israel: it may instead refer to some eschatological period. Paul arguably prophecies in Romans 11 the eventual restoration of the Jewish people. Who is to say that the restoration of the land in 1948 to Israel via Providence is not a step in that direction? God is sovereign. This seems to be the view that Alastair Roberts has suggested (https://theopolisinstitute.com/conversations/rethinking-israel-a-response-from-alastair-roberts/), and it seems quite plausible. As we look at the rebirth of national Israel, it seems that something is going on there -- some miraculous purpose of Providence.

Say what you will about this interpretation, it is at least more plausible than the alternative offered in a pseudo dual-covenant approach which fails to explain why it is that Israel has so often not been in control of the Promised Land.

A firmer foundation for Israel’s right to exist

Are we then saying that Israel is an illegitimate state or has no right to exist? Of course not. Nor are we saying that there is no Biblical basis for Zionism or support for Israel. On the contrary, we as Christians should be fierce defenders of the principles of Israeli nationalism, because we follow the Biblical attitude towards nationhood. Our support for the Jewish state need not be dependent on dual-covenant-esque exegesis, nor dispensational end times speculative systems, but instead on an understanding of nationhood that is thoroughly based in Scripture.

Imagine, for the sake of argument, that there was nothing special about Israel or the Jews: that God made no promises to them, that Israel is a nation just like any other and the Jews are simply one of many ethno-religious groups. In that alternate reality, Israel would still have every right to exist.

In the Old Testament, the nation state is endorsed as the divinely ordained system. Moses forbids Israel to invade other nations, conveying that God allows conquest of neighboring tribes in only very limited circumstances for the sake of establishing the security of the Israeli nation. In fact, the nationalistic theme is so strong that God decrees that the king, the priests, and the prophets will all be chosen among the brothers of Israel. Also, in Deuteronomy 2:19, God warns Moses against imperialism: “[W]hen you come near the people of Ammon, do not harass them or meddle with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the descendants of Lot as a possession.”

In Acts 17, Paul affirms to a foreign people the divinely ordained order of nationhood: “From one man He made every nation of men, to inhabit the whole earth; and He determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands.

The dual-covenant advocates have reached the right conclusion for the wrong reasons. We share their support for Israel: its right to exist, and the right of Israelis to live in their country without fear of destruction, invasion and terrorism. Yet none of this is predicated on highly debatable theological interpretations of God’s covenant with the Patriarchs as a perennial land-grant to the Israeli state.

Just as Israel is a legitimate state on the basis of the political philosophy of the Bible, it is legitimate on the basis of international law and norms. The existence of a Jewish state in Palestine is just as defensible as the existence of any other state. Following the Balfour Declaration, the League of Nations supported Britain’s attempt to “secure the establishment of the Jewish national home,” it being obvious to the international community at the time that the Jews had a right to a state in Palestine. This is no surprise - prior to the Balfour Declaration in 1917, tens of thousands of Jews lived in the territory, some of those communities having made Palestine their home for centuries. The Balfour Declaration itself was supported by major world powers such as Italy and the United States. Only a few years later, in 1922, the League of Nations additionally declared its support for a Jewish state in Palestine. The United Nations then approved the partition plan laid out after World War II. Shortly after Israel’s success in the First Arab-Israeli War they were recognized by the two superpowers, the USSR and the United States, and became a UN member state. Israel’s legitimacy from an international law perspective is entirely obvious to anyone not blinded by ideology, and no stretching of Biblical verses is necessary to confirm this.

The Jewish people suffered unprecedented atrocities during the Holocaust, and with the broad support of the international community, established a state based on a consistent historical population in the region. Put simply, Israel was founded entirely legally.

Our interpretation does not in the least preclude support for Israeli nationalism. Quite to the contrary: a truly Biblical approach justifies the state of Israel’s existence, while also guarding us against imperial exaggerations.

God made the nations and appointed that they govern themselves; that people groups with a shared culture and language and history are entitled to rule themselves is almost a matter of Biblical dogma. For as long as there has been an Israel, Jews have lived there: expulsion after expulsion, under the Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, Crusader, Ottoman, and British empires, they have returned to the land. If Americans have a right to America, the French to France, the Japanese to Japan, then the Jews have a right to Israel. We don’t need to come up with reinterpretations of prophecies that have been fulfilled in Christ to affirm what we have always affirmed: nations have the right to self-determination.

Christ must be central

There is a deeper problem here than just specific contests over the interpretation of various verses in Genesis, 2nd Samuel and Isaiah. The deeper question is this: What is the Old Testament about? In Christ’s own words: “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of Me.” Scripture is about Christ – every law, every prophecy, every verse speaks of Christ. Paul explicitly affirms that God’s covenant with Abraham was fulfilled in Jesus, who was, let’s not forget, a Jew. The Pauline, New Testament, Christian view is not in the least bit anti-Semitic.

We hold the same view that Jeff Meyers advances in his rebuttal, that this is fulfilled in the Jewish founding of the church. What is Professor McDermott's view? That the prophecy is fulfilled by the Jewish disciples and then transferred back to ethnic Israel in general? Is he implying that the covenant with Israel is fulfilled and then re-applied? If the vineyard is transferred from someone to the disciples, who are their successors? It is the church which is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. That certainly seems to be the way Mary (Miriam) took the annunciation of the birth of Jesus:

"He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

The conception of the Messiah is the fulfillment of the promise ‘to Abraham and to his descendants forever.’ This makes it all the more odd that Dr. McDermott cites the Magnificat in support of his view.

"Robert Wilken writes in The Land Called Holy that early Christians interpreted these and other passages (such as the angel telling Mary that God would give Jesus ‘the throne of David’ and that Jesus would rule ‘over the house of Jacob forever’) as indications of future ‘restoration and the establishment of a kingdom in Jerusalem.’"

It's good that this former supersessionist understands that the Magnificat is referring to a Jewish king, but that Jewish king is clearly Jesus.

Gentiles did not supersede Jews. But the Jewish Jesus did supersede the corrupt false shepherds who led the nation into destruction.

Does this leave any room for anti-Semitism? Not an inch. The Gospels describe a conflict between different Jewish groups. Jesus and his movement claim the mantle of Abraham, Moses and the Prophets. What about tough language in the Gospels about 'the Jews'? That is a larger topic than I can go into here (though I do deal with it in my upcoming book). Let me just say in short that I am convinced that this language is tied up in a conflict between Jesus the Galilean and the ruling elite of the capital province, Judea. In other words, it is not Jesus vs. 'the Jews', but rather Jesus vs. the Judeans.

Jesus' disciples claim that Jesus is the Messiah. Either He is, or He is not. If He is, it is hard to see the Messianic promises coming any other way than through Him. Of course, that doesn't mean that only people who believe in Jesus have a right to their homeland. As the Salamancan scholars argued in the case of the looting of the Indians by 'Christian' soldiers, those who are not followers of Jesus have the same rights to property and self-determination as those who do. It is Jesus who taught us that you don't have to believe in Jesus to be treated with equality and dignity. This is something we Christians have far too often forgotten, but which the Christian West did remember and apply in helping Israel establish her proper homeland in 1948.

In short, we agree with much of Professor McDermott’s criticism of supersessionism, but wonder if in his proper zeal to leave that error behind, he risks falling into the dual-covenant error. What we offer is something different, not caught in the dual-covenant vs. supersessionist dialectic: emphasizing that God fulfilled His covenant with the Jews in the Jewish Messiah, Jesus. It grounds the state of Israel on the basis of justice, not ad hoc claims to special possession of the land without broad adherence among the nations, nor in the history of the Church.

The hermeneutics McDermott uses to justify support for Israel seems to be in tension with the teaching of the New Testament - Christ stands in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy and God’s covenant with His people, including the land promises to Abraham. Any interpretation of prophecy and covenant in the post-Apostolic era that neglects Christ neglects this truth: God fulfilled His word through His Word.


Jerry Bowyer is Editor of Town Hall Finance, serves on the Editorial Board of Salem Communications, is Resident Economist with Kingdom Advisors, and is President of Bowyer Research. He holds a Sacred Theology Licentiate from the Collegium Augustinianum and a Bachelor’s degree from Robert Morris University.

Charles is a risk analyst for Bowyer Research, a writer for Townhall Finance, has been published on Affluent Investor, RealClearMarkets, RealClearPolitics, Asia Times, and has been a guest on The Glen Meakem Radio Program.

-->

To download Theopolis Lectures, please enter your email.

CLOSE