Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christian Zionism and the narrative of exile, restoration and the Gentiles. Pt 2

My previous post summarised the sort of narrative one confronts in much prophetic literature. It was, of course, a crude over simplification and missed out much, such as the significance of the tribulation which I ought to have mentioned.

When I first encountered these prophetic traditions and the narrative contained therein, I was tempted to make aspects of Jesus and his ministry, death and resurrection, and claims in the letters, cohere with specific points within this narrative. However, things are not so simple. While Jesus' death, in some respects, reflects the tribulation, he also prophesied the coming 'Great Tribulation' which was to overtake Jerusalem within one generation (Cf. Wright, Pitre etc.). Paul, likewise, could speak in tribulation-related language of a coming catastrophe across the entire Mediterranean world (Perriman), yet the Gentile mission had already begun – based precisely upon the prophetic narrative outlined in the previous post on this series.

Instead of a direct equation between aspects of this narrative and moments in the 'Christ event', what we have is the eschatological inauguration of this prophetic narrative in the life death and resurrection of Jesus (and in the life and ministry of his Apostles), with some aspects of the narrative starting when others have not ended. This prophetic narrative was nevertheless inaugurated. It had begun, and the entire structure of NT theology presupposes this fact.

Let me press the point. Whenever we celebrate communion and the new covenant in Christ's blood, we are saying that this prophetic tradition begun in Christ. Whenever we read in the New Testament of the 'new creation in Christ', or the giving of the spirit, or of the 'new heart' or about Paul's Gentile mission, or Christ's preaching of the arrival of the kingdom of God, and his 'gathering' of the Twelve, or even when we simply read the New Testament, we do so because this prophetic narrative has been inaugurated.

All of this has clear implications in the Christian Zionism debate. At the beginning of this series I defined Christian Zionism along the following lines: that it is the belief that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is in accordance with Biblical prophecy.

What I have argued is that these prophesies were inaugurated not in 1948, but in the Christ-event. The crucial time for biblical prophecy is not 1948, but the first century. It is entirely irresponsible to ransack Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah or whoever, with the understanding that verses harvested from the chapters of these prophetic writings somehow confirm modern political events in a direct sense. To make such claims is to short circuit one of the fundamental narratives within Scripture and the justification for the very existence of the New Testament.

I don't think the above reasoning entirely excludes the notion that 1948 may in some sense be a faint reflection of the eschatological promises already inaugurated in Christ (but see below). Nor does it exclude the notion that the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 was an act of God's grace. What is excluded is the Christian use of these OT prophetic writings as proof for these events as the fulfilment of biblical prophecy.

Especially when this 'return' led to the persecution of Christians, i.e. those who claim to be the result of the real messianic inauguration of these prophesies. Especially when the return was no return in a literal biblical sense, either (the twelve tribes - including the lost ten northern tribes, to their alotted land), which they claim it is (but cf. Jesus and the Twelve disciples). I.e. the Christian Zionist reading is not a literal reading over and against the 'christological' one. And one also wonders whether the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 itself really coheres with the prophetic narrative, such as the ingathering of the Gentiles, the pouring out of the Spirit etc. Does the narrative trajectory understanding, of at least the Apostle Paul, support the CZ case at all? In light of Romans 4:13 ('For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith') one would be hard pressed to add the CZ addendum here without writing a most unusual closing chapter to the narrative as it has developed through Christ.

One of the realisations I have come to is that the NT hermeneutic is variegated. Many are as christological as I maintained in the previous posts in this series. To that one must now add the scope and significance of the prophetic narratives for the structure and direction of NT theology. My argument leads me to no other conclusion other than that the straightforward CZ case must be rejected.

I may write one more post in this series reflecting upon Romans 9-11.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Christian Zionism and the narrative of exile, restoration and the Gentiles. Pt 1

Time to complete my Christian Zionism series!

This will come in (at least) two parts. In this one I examine the prophetic narrative of exile, restoration, the salvation of the Gentiles, plus certain associated themes that the NT picks up, and I look at how this narrative is retold in and informs NT texts.

One of the most exciting elements of the prophetic writings is the theme of the restoration of the tribes of Israel followed by salvation coming to the Gentiles (please, please read Brant Pitre's Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile, if you haven't yet – and Bird's Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission). You will find this narrative all over the place, not least in Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55). For example, Zechariah 8:13: 'Just as you have been a cursing among the nations, O house of Judah and house of Israel, so I will save you and you shall be a blessing'.

After the two major exiles, the ten northern tribes of Israel had been lost. Though some remained in the land, most of the tribes, at the time of Jesus and his Apostles, were scattered throughout the nations. In exile, the Israelite world of Jesus holds its breath for redemption...

Here are some NT snapshots with this crucial narrative in mind:

Acts 15:14-18 runs as follows:

'14 Simeon has related how God first looked favourably on the Gentiles, to take from among them a people for his name. 15 This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, 16 "After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, 17 so that all other peoples may seek the Lord-- even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called."'

Because the dwelling of David is rebuilt, because Israel is restored, there is hope at last for the Gentiles (v. 14, 17).

In 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 Paul writes:

'As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, "At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you". See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!'

Here Paul cites the text of Isaiah 49:8, almost exactly the same as that found in Rahlf's LXX. I submit that this is a classic case of what Hays calls metalepsis. The surrounding verses in Isaiah 49 inform our understanding of Paul's text. Within Isaiah 49 is the above narrative: Israel restored and regathered, Israel then given 'as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth' (cf. vv 5 and 6). The confidence of Paul as missionary to the Gentiles is because now is the time of salvation (also for the Gentiles). As Paul puts it at the start of 2 Corinthians: ' For in [Christ] every one of God's promises is a "Yes"' (1:20). Paul and his team become the righteousness of God (5:21) in the sense that God's saving righteousness is now available to the whole world (5:19), embodied in their ministry of reconciliation (5:18). Now there is 'new creation' in Christ (5:17).

The last paragraph shows that various other prophetic themes are associated with the restoration of Israel and the salvation of the Gentiles. Here we see the matter of new creation noted, something associated with the above narrative in Isaiah (cf. 66:18-22 – though read the whole 66th chapter). Connected with this narrative are such matters as the New Covenant (Isaiah 61:4-8; Jer 31), the pouring out of the Spirit (e.g. Ezekiel 39:29), and the new heart (e.g. Ezekiel 36:24-26) that find regular expression in the NT. The Lord's Supper tradition in Luke tells of Jesus speaking of the New Covenant in his blood, a matter picked up in Paul (1 Cor 11:25). The 'new heart' theme may well lie behind the Sermon on the Mount material, as Wright argues, and is explicitly adopted in Paul's argumentation in 2 Corinthians 3 (which also involves mention of the new covenant, mission to the Gentiles, and the ministry of the Spirit). The gift of the Spirit is related all over the place, for example in John (20:22), Luke-Acts (primarily Pentecost, of course!), Paul (e.g. Gal 3 – where it is appropriately linked to the blessing of Abraham).

In the next post in this series, I look at why all of this is important to the Christian Zionism debate.


Friday, February 16, 2007

My 'Christian Zionism' series

If you want to enter the competition for the free copy of Chris VanLandingham’s Judgment and Justification in Early Judaism and the Apostle Paul, then please submitt your efforts asap.

Tomorrow I’m thinking of finishing off the series I started on Christian Zionism a while back with a podcast. To refresh the memory, click here for the first 9 parts of this series.

Part 1 – Definitions
Part 2 – Popular examples
Part 3 – An appeal for dialogue, and the plan for following posts
Part 4 – The NT hermeneutical appropriation of the OT: A few preliminary points
Part 5 – The NT hermeneutical appropriation of the OT: Snapshots (a)
Part 6 – Clarification and Summary
Part 7 – The NT hermeneutical appropriation of the OT: Snapshots (b)
Part 8 – Steve Motyer’s article, ‘Israel in God’s Plan’
Part 9 – The NT hermeneutical appropriation of the OT: Snapshots (c)

And then I’ll finish off the Bauckham series!


Sunday, October 01, 2006

The use of Scripture in Christian Zionism: a critical examination. Pt. 9

Once again, thank you to those who have commented in the last post in this series. I will return to the points made in the comments, especially those by a certain ‘Roodee’ and the ever articulate David Wilkerson, but as I suggested here I shall first simply present the case that I think makes most sense, then respond to the points that have been raised in later posts, especially as I think they deserve a little more lime-light in this series than would otherwise be possible in the comments.

The NT hermeneutical appropriation of the OT: Snapshots (c)

Temple in Acts 7: Motyer writes (in the linked to article in the previous in this series):

‘Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 is a subtle presentation, which also hinges around the promise to Abraham. Stephen gives the promise a very different and particular ‘spin’ in 7:7, “afterwards they will come out of that country (Egypt) and worship me in this place.” These words were actually addressed to Moses, in Exodus 3:12, but Stephen draws them forward in time and attaches them to the foundational promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:14. Why does he do this? The strategy seems to be to suggest that the promise of worshipping God in this place has never yet been fulfilled—not, that is, until the coming of Jesus and the worship associated with him. Stephen tells Israel’s history so as to highlight (a) Israel’s constant unfaithfulness to the law and worship of other gods, (b) the inadequacy of the both the tabernacle and the temple as places of worship, and (c) the strange way in which the most real encounters with God all took place outside the promised land’ (9).

He goes on:

‘Stephen never quite makes the point, but the implied punchline, never delivered because his hearers shouted him down and covered their ears, is “the promise to Abraham has now, at last, been fulfilled in the Righteous One you crucified!” For him, too, the real point of the covenant was not possession of the land or the physical temple, but the inner relationship with God, which was now open to all who were ready to abandon loyalty to land and temple, and believe in Jesus’ (9).

While one may question the use of the words ‘abandon’ and ‘inner’ in the previous, once again the notion of the story reaching its climax and fulfilment in Christ is clear. The OT texts are not being mined in a Nostrodamus-chronological-proof-text fashion to demonstrate biblical foresight of this or that event, but they are being read in light of the Christ-event. The hermeneutic is christocentric, at least if understood in a broader sense as discussed in an earlier post in this series.

Actually, I suggest that these points are merely the tips of a giant iceberg. The appropriation of ‘Servant of YHWH’ passages in the NT is, in most cases (apart from the end of Romans), demonstrative of the same vision: Christ is portrayed in terms of the nation of Israel, and her mission (cf. Mat 3:17; Mark 10:45; Acts 8:30-35). Indeed, it has become increasingly popular to argue that this understanding sits behind the justification for the early church mission (to the nations), and is even linked closely to the theme of justification in Paul (cf. Wright’s Climax of the Covenant). For more on this in relation to the historical Jesus, cf. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, and in particular his recourse to the ‘son of man’ theme in Dan 7 (though my internal jury is still ‘out’ on the thrust of some of the arguments in this volume)

I am supplying only a few snapshots of the early church use of the OT, in order to grasp their hermeneutical movement. Nevertheless, I submit that this is, to a greater or lesser extent, a consistent picture throughout the varied NT writings. I concur with Motyer who writes :

‘For all these New Testament writers, the process of re-reading the Old Testament promises produces a christology which takes up the great themes associated with the covenant in the Old Testament (people, election, law, worship, temple, sacrifice, land, Jerusalem, the presence of God, witness to the nations and universal blessing)—and re-focuses them around Jesus’

As Paul writes in Romans 16:25-27: ‘Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen’. I’ll leave you to work on this question: What is made known through the prophetic writings?

We are almost at the point at which I can actually start relating these observations to the use of Scripture in CZ! Alas, I felt it was necessary to detail some of these points, even if only superficially, otherwise the following won’t sound as plausible. However, I will first summarise the points I wished to make in the previous few posts in this series, and would most appreciate your feedback at that point.

(Art via


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The use of Scripture in Christian Zionism: a critical examination. Pt. 8

I’ve just been on the phone with the London based NT scholar, Steve Motyer, to confirm that I can upload his article (‘Israel in God’s Plan’, a paper originally written for the 2003 EA consultation) for your reading pleasure. In this article he develops, to my mind, a very important argument, and one that analyses the hermeneutical question clearer than any other I’ve read. Though some of his thoughts, especially in relation to Rom 9-11, are developed in more depth in Israel in the Plan of God (Leicester: IVP, 1989), this article will certainly give readers a fresh and informed perspective on the whole debate. Perhaps the precise exegesis of Acts 15:13-21 may need to reworking, but this is a small matter for his exegesis is consistently well informed yet not too wordy. Indeed, anyone can read and understand it.

Actually, his article will also serve to furnish the argument developed in this series with further ‘snapshots’ concerning the hermeneutical strategy of NT writers.

It will be no secret, given the nature of my argument, that I have learnt a lot from Steve on this issue, and I think he’s dead right, but I would love to hear your thoughts about the thesis of ‘Israel in God’s Plan’, especially if you disagree.

Here is the article.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

The use of Scripture in Christian Zionism: a critical examination. Pt. 7

The NT hermeneutical appropriation of the OT: Snapshots (b)

To continue my analysis of the early Churches uses the OT, let’s look a little closer at how the matter of the ‘Land’ and ‘Temple’ are treated in the two passages in the NT. Again, the focus is on the hermeneutical moment.

Land in Rom 4.

Paul can claim in Romans 4:13: ‘For the promise that he [Abraham] would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith’. Did you get that? The promise that he would inherit the world. What was the promise God made to Abram actually (cf. Gen. 12)? To give him the specific strip of land in Canaan, of course.

So what is going on? This incongruity apparently doesn’t appear to bother Paul because he reads the OT through the Christ-event. The promise has been fulfilled in Christ, promises that, in light of Christ, were meant to suggest a universal reading all along.

To summarise far too much too quickly: it mustn’t be forgotten that God chose Israel to be a light to the nations; the world was always his concern, not just this land and this nation as an absolute end in themselves (cf. e.g. Gen 12:1-3, Isa 42:6; 49:6 etc.). Yet Paul realizes that this nation’s mission has been fulfilled and thus set in motion in Christ (ergo, including those who are in Christ), and so now God’s purpose through Christ is as testimony to the whole creation (cf. the structure of thought in Col and Eph – I can expand on this if anyone wants). God’s light has indeed dawned through his chosen Messiah of Israel to all the nations. Understood as a narrative, Paul is suggesting that in Christ we see the climax of a story, the reached end of a plan set in motion long ago. From the specific one sees, through Christ, the universal intentions that God had all along (Wright expands on these points in his Romans commentary. And for an interesting parallel analysis – at least to my mind – cf. Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV, 1)

(Image from


The use of Scripture in Christian Zionism: a critical examination. Pt. 6

Time to get on with my series on the use of Scripture in Christian Zionism: a critical examination. For previous posts in this series, here are links to:

Part 1 – definitions
Part 2 – popular examples
Part 3 – an appeal for generous dialogue, and plan for following posts
Part 4 – The NT hermeneutical appropriation of the OT: A few preliminary points
Part 5 – The NT hermeneutical appropriation of the OT: Snapshots (a)

I need to point out again, this discussion concerns not first and foremost the political issues of Land and other interesting matters that have been discussed (and rightly so) in many of the comments to my posts above, but the specific issue: the use of Scripture in Christian Zionism. In other words, my focus concerns hermeneutics. This is why I’m pursuing the question as to how the early Church uses the OT, to shed light on their hermeneutical strategies, even if my presentation will naturally be selective given the amount of relevant material.

Given the reasonably busy response I have received both on the blog and via e-mails I wasn’t quite sure how to proceed, but this is how I suggest I go about things: I will simply present the case that I think makes most sense, then respond to the points that have been raised in later posts – especially as many of the issues raised in e-mails and in the comments would need a little more space to properly engage.


Friday, September 15, 2006

The use of Scripture in Christian Zionism: a critical examination. Pt. 5

(Please be patient with my unfolding argument in the following posts. The line of reasoning is a little layered so it will take a few posts before I can really get to the meaty points of dispute)

I wanted to mention, by the way: With the previous post in mind, one may set the hermeneutical strategy of the New Testament writers in broader terms. It appears that some wanted to overstressed continuity between the Old Testament and the New in such a way that was unfaithful to the authors of the NT. The Ebionites can be seen as an example of this - as could the Judaisers, depending on how one approaches the complex issues involved in their identification. On the other hand, a damaging understanding of total discontinuity between the testaments can be seen in Marcion, for example. But the NT consistently avoids both of these extremes, and it is the process of understanding exactly how they do this that raises the question of hermeneutics, and consequently part of my problem with CZ. Right, hopefully that frames the problematic helpfully enough. On to the NT material.

I’m a Paul man, so apologies that my examples tend to be rather one-dimensional. I refer to Steve Motyer’s article for a fuller appreciation of the wider NT hermeneutical issues at hand. I shall upload it in the next few days as Steve has kindly given me permission to make it available here. So to Paul. In Gal 3:16 Paul controversially claims:

‘Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ’.

This is the NRSV translation which renders spe,rma as offspring. Perhaps better is simply ‘seed’. Motyer writes of this verse: ‘He asks, ‘who is the “seed” of Abraham to whom the promises are given?’—and instead of replying ‘Israel, of course, Abraham’s descendants,’ his answer is ‘Christ’ (3:16).’ (7).

So why can Paul so confidently use promises that explicitly relate to the Land, and use them in this way (Cf. Dunn, Galatians, on the ‘land’ issue here)? Motyer continues:

‘Paul does not feel that he is denying the ‘meaning’ of the texts he quotes. He thinks that the real heart and core of the promises to Abraham was the one in Genesis 12:3, which he quotes in Galatians 3:8, ‘All the Gentiles will be blessed in you.’ He thinks that this is the underlying purpose behind the whole election of Israel—the ‘blessing’ of the rest of the world. And that never happened in the Old Testament: it is only happening now, through his own ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The blessing is not coming to the Gentiles through Israel, but through Jesus—therefore Jesus must be the ‘seed’ to whom the promise is addressed, ‘in you all the nations will be blessed.’’ (8, italics his).

To be continued ...


Thursday, September 14, 2006

The use of Scripture in Christian Zionism: a critical examination. Pt. 4

The NT hermeneutical appropriation of the OT: A few preliminary points

This post is still written for the purpose of setting the frame for my main arguments later, so please bear with me!

Those new to the ‘hermeneutical spiral’ of New Testament studies may be at a loss as to how to understand how the New Testament authors used the Old Testament scriptures. I remember, very early in my Christian life, reading in the works of some Christian apologists various ‘proofs’ for the truth of the Bible based on the fact that it contained hundreds of ‘fulfilled prophecies’ such that anyone who would care to read and check them out would be convinced of the truth of Christianity. I seem to remember looking some of them up and feeling anything but convinced! How on earth, for example, does Hosea 11:1 function as a predictive prophecy of the words in Matthew 2?

Matthew 2:14-15 ‘Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son”’.

At this stage I had not been a Christian for long and so I decided to put my bible down and trust that clever people had worked this sort of thing out! However, those who may be a little more attentive to detail will notice that the ‘this was to fulfil’ pattern is repeated in Matthew, is actually a pattern. Were these early Christians merely being manipulative in their use of Scripture? If we judge anachronistically, we may have to conclude in the affirmative. What is going on?

However, this is a pattern that we find not only in Matthew’s Gospel but also throughout the New Testament. The early church exercised a peculiar hermeneutic when reading the Old Testament texts. To isolate the precise nature of this hermeneutics is not simple, and there is a good deal of debate in scholarship at the moment as to how to define it. For example, Richard Hays has argued, in his important work Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, that Paul exercises an ecclesiocentric hermeneutic. Francis Watson, in his recent and also important Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith, has – rightly to my mind – challenged this claim and suggested that Paul’s hermeneutical is best understood as soteriological. However, I suggest that the way in which Watson defines this term is too broad to be of much help. Many others (Fee, Eckstein, Motyer etc.) argue that the hermeneutic we see at least evidenced in the apostle Paul is best understood as christocentric. However, if by Christology one understands that which relates to the person of Christ, and this as something to be distinguished from soteriology, the saving work of Christ, then I think we have a problem. I have suggested in my own exegesis of 1 Cor that Paul evidences an approach that reads Old Testament Scripture in light of the relation between risen Lord and believers. In other words, it is indeed christocentric if by that we do not neglect to appreciate the concrete expression of this hermeneutical moment in light of the life and passion of the early church believers themselves.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The use of Scripture in Christian Zionism: a critical examination. Pt. 3

My series on the use of scripture in Christian Zionism will now continue. The first two posts can be read here and here. There is some lively discussion in the comments of both as well, which is always enjoyable.

I want to make very clear at the start of the following: I’m very open to change on my opinion in relation to these matters, if good reason is supplied. Where I come, and came, across as very confident, do not let that be interpreted as a closed mind. I say this as I realise what a sensitive issue Christian Zionism can be, and I want to tread reasonably carefully. Though I won’t prat around. I also want to make a suggestion: where CZ is so important for those unaffected by the direct political situation in Israel and surroundings, I would suggest that you have things out of perspective. CZ isn’t as serious a matter as our Christology or understanding of the Scripture, so lets keep the discussion friendly. Anyway, I’m waffling now. On to the matter.

The following discussion will be (at least provisionally) divided into three sections. The first shall detail how the early church used Old Testament Scripture. This is a massive topic so my presentation will naturally be selective. The purpose of this section is to gather information before, in the second part, I suggest concrete reasons why, in the light of this evidence, the CZ hermeneutic needs to be challenged. The third section will critically respond to some of the arguments employed by CZs against the line of reasoning I suggest. I hope you find the following enjoyable.


Thursday, August 31, 2006

The use of Scripture in Christian Zionism: a critical examination. Pt. 2

This post is simply to make concrete some of the definitions in the previous and will not attempt any analysis. Indeed, there wouldn’t be space in a single blog post to go into detail, especially as examples of CZ abound on the internet ranging, as one would expect, from the reputable to the outrageous.

Starting with the more up-market: The CEO of Bridges for Peace, one of the larger organisations with an explicit agenda, claims the following: ‘God’s promises to Israel are being literally fulfilled today’ (here, italics mine)

Representative of smaller organisations is Exobus. On their article page you will find Scriptures being used as proof texts such that the claim becomes ‘it’s the fulfilment of biblical prophecy to help Jewish people back to Israel today’.

You will notice the lead Scripture cited in prelude to their ‘7 reasons why’ justification for Aliyah:
‘“However, the days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when men will no longer say, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but they will say, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ For I will restore them to the land I gave to their forefathers”’ (Jer 16:14-15)
They proceed to argue that ‘The Word of God makes it clear not only that ‘“He who scattered Israel will gather them” Jer.31:10, but that God will use gentiles to help carry them home (Is 49:22 & Is 14:1-2). Dubbed by some as the Second Great Commission, this mandate to ‘help the Jews home ’ is accepted by increasing numbers of Bible-believing Christians as NOW’.

They go on: ‘The scripture is clear in many passages like Ezekiel 36 & 37 that God ’s programme is physical restoration of Israel, followed by spiritual restoration of Israel and world-wide revival. It is God’s primary intention to bless the Jews in the Land, and from that Land to make Jews a blessing to the whole world, bringing glory to His Holy Name (Ez 36:23)’.

For more claims like this visit the links given here.

Oh, OK, let's bung it in too. For one more particularly timely and bloody silly version, click here. The reasoning as represented on the hyperlink appears to be something like: Isaiah 24:1-6, ergo the world will erupt into nuclear war on September 12th, 2006!

In the following couple of posts I want to submit to you that this sort of thing evidences a mishandling of Scripture and involves i) a misunderstanding of the nature of Scripture, ii) a naïve hermeneutic that hasn’t allowed itself to be shaped enough by the Christ-event, thus betraying the model provided by the early Church, and iii) an inconsistent application of scriptural promises.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The use of Scripture in Christian Zionism: a critical examination. Pt. 1

In the next few posts I shall discuss the handling of Scripture in Christian Zionism (CZ). I will suggest it is marked by a proof-texting mentality that not only misunderstands the nature of biblical prophecy, but also displays a naïve and inconsistent hermeneutic. In a later post in this series I’ll also suggest why this subject isn’t merely a theological curiosity – and something best left alone - but impacts world politics. In fact, I suggest it also negatively distracts discipleship to Jesus and thus needs to be challenged. And the use of Scripture in Christian Zionism gets right to the heart of the problem, hence the focus of this small series.

Needles to say I deplore anti-Semitism in all its forms, that is not the question here – so lets be clear about that up-front. Indeed, today I was saddened to hear of the great NT scholar Adolf Schlatter’s deplorable pro-Führer anti-Jew nonsense on Jim West’s blog.

CZ, of course, comes in many shapes and sizes and so I offer a few definitions to lend some orientation.

The Wikipedia definition runs as follows: ‘Christian Zionism is a belief among some Christians that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is in accordance with Biblical prophecy’ (italics mine).

Mark Calder recently wrote a very helpful analysis of CZ in an undergraduate dissertation at the University of Edinburgh, which he kindly e-mailed me (more from him in later posts). He defines CZ as follows: ‘Stated simply, Christian Zionism is the belief that the Christian Bible justifies Jewish claims to some or all of, or indeed more than, the land of British Mandate Palestine’ (p. 7, italics mine).

The major work on Christian Zionism from a critical perspective is Stephen Sizer’s Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? He suggests the most basic of frames: ‘At its simplest, Christian Zionism is a political form of philo-Semitism, and can be defined as ‘Christian support for Zionism’ (p. 19). If flesh is hung on this frame, in practice this invariably means ‘Christian Zionists are therefore also defenders of, and apologists for, the state of Israel. This support consistently involves opposing those deemed to be critical of, or hostile towards Israel, but also leads to the justification of Israel’s occupation and settlement of the West Bank, Golan and Gaza on biblical grounds’ (pp. 20-21, italics mine).

I’ll return to these definitions later, but first to some practical examples of CZ and especially the handling of Scripture therein.