Roots: A Christian Response to Israel
by David Bivin
There is a growing awareness among Christians today of their
spiritual ties to Israel. While the Jewish people confront the question of their identity as Jews, Christians, too, are
examining the basis of their own identity and rediscovering their Judaic roots. Perhaps the clearest definition of who Christians really are is found in Paul's letter to the Ephesians (2:11-13). Writing to a church formed of Gentile men and women, the Apostle states:
...remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth ... were separate from the Messiah, excluded from citizenship in
Israel. But now in Messiah Yeshua you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Messiah.
He goes on to assure them that they are no longer foreigners
but have become fellow citizens with Jewish saints, prophets, and apostles. It is indeed staggering to realize that in Messiah those who are gentile by birth have become part of Israel. Though we were not born as Jews we are received as "adopted sons" (Galatians 4:1-7). So intimate is this relationship that we may address God as Abba, the Hebrew equivalent of "daddy" (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:6).
In his letter to the Corintian Christians living in the center of pagan Greece, Paul says "When you were gentiles you were led astray to dumb idols." (1 Cor. 12:2) Notice the past tense "were." For Paul these Corinthians had become part of "the Israel of God" (Gal. 5:16). Elsewhere in the same letter, he rebukes them for a terrible sin that "does not occur even amongst the gentiles." (1 Cor. 5:1) Again Paul indicates that these believers had a new identity.
The Bible does state that there is neither Jew nor Greek (Gal. 3:28), since all believers are free and equal in the eyes of God. However, the Jewish roots of our faith, in spiritual heritage, remain intact.
In Jeremiah 11:16, the metaphor of a "thriving olive tree" is used to symbolize the people of Israel and references made to branches that have been broken off. Paul uses the same metaphor in describing how Christians have been grafted into Israel (Romans 11:17-24).
This comes as a humbling revelation for those Christians who renounce all ties to Israel. We are counseled not to be arrogant, but to be humble and merciful in view of the grace given to us through Messiah (Rom. 1:30-31). The Church did not replace Israel, it became a part of Israel. Our Messiah was not the "first Christian to walk on the face of the earth," but a Jew who went to Synagogue, and wore phylacteries. Virtually all of the apostles and saints of the early Church who suffered to bring the gospel of new life to the pagan world were Jewish believers. Over the centuries, countless churches and cathedrals throughout the world were named after these Jewish saints. Yet during the Holocaust, nearly all churches stood by in silence, having denied their Jewish heritage and spiritual identity long beforehand. The greatest perversion of Christianity has been to divorce itself from Israel.
The Apostle Paul ("... an Israelite ... a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin") posed a rhetorical question: "Has God rejected his (Jewish) people?" "By no means," he concluded, "there is a remnant chosen by grace" (Rom. 11:1,5). Further, Paul asserted that the ancient promises made to the patriarchs were still available to their descendants (Rom. 9:4) since "the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:28-29).
God has never abandoned the people of Israel. Although they have felt forsaken at times, he has never stopping loving them:
Can a woman forget her baby ...? Though she might forget, I could never forget you. See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands (Isaiah 49:15-16). The mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my unfailing love will not depart from you (Isaiah 54:10).
The Church is burdened with an unresolved identity problem. Sadly, most Christians are unaware that a problem exists. Yet many illnesses of the Church, both past and present, are a result of our not knowing who we are in Jesus.
Perhaps the three most crucial questions facing Christians today are:
1. Are we willing to see ourselves as part of a Jewish family?
(Closely related is the question of our willingness to view Jerusalem
and the land of Israel as our spiritual center.)
As members of God's family, many Christians are rediscovering Jerusalem as a spiritual center and taking their stand with the people of Israel. Seeing themselves as part of Israel, these Christians are getting in touch with the Jewish roots of their faith. The Hebrew language and culture--past and present--are integral parts of that identity. For this reason, thousands of Christians are studying Hebrew and finding new depths of meaning as they read the Bible.
2. Will we stand by our family, the Jewish people, and resist all
attempts to harm or destroy this family?
3. Will we preserve our Jewish identity by studying Hebrew language,
literature, and culture?
David Bivin has lived in Israel since 1963, when he came to do graduate studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. From 1970 to 1981, he was director of the Hebrew Language Division of the American Ulpan, and also director of the Modern Hebrew Department of the Institute of Holy Land Studies on Mt. Zion. He is co-author of two books: Fluent Biblical and Modern Hebrew, and Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus, and publisher of Jerusalem Perspective, a monthly report on research into the words of Jesus.
David is currently director of the Jerusalem School for the Study of the Synoptic Gospels, a team of Jewish and Christian scholars engaged in preparing a detailed commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. In addition, since 1981 David has served as Yavo's Director of Research and Education.
Yavo Digest, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1987
Bible Scholars: Question the Answers
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