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Question:

"I heard a pastor say that Gentile Christians are all "spiritual Jews." Is that true?"

Answer:

In order to determine if Gentile Christians are "spiritual Jews," let's first examine some terminology. We need to know what makes a person a Jew so that we can understand what a "spiritual Jew" is.

Here are several definitions from Easton's Bible Dictionary:

  • "Hebrew - a name applied to the Israelites in Scripture only by one who is a foreigner (Gen. 39:14, 17; 41:12, etc.), or by the Israelites when they speak of themselves to foreigners (40:15; Ex. 1:19), or when spoken of an contrasted with other peoples (Gen. 43:32; Ex. 1:3, 7, 15; Deut. 15:12). In the New Testament there is the same contrast between Hebrews and foreigners (Acts 6:1; Phil. 3:5)." (Easton's Bible Dictionary Offsite Link, emphasis added)
  • "Israel - the name conferred on Jacob after the great prayer-struggle at Peniel (Gen. 32:28), because "as a prince he had power with God and prevailed." (See JACOB .) This is the common name given to Jacob's descendants. The whole people of the twelve tribes are called "Israelites," the "children of Israel" (Josh. 3:17; 7:25; Judg. 8:27; Jer. 3:21), and the "house of Israel" (Ex. 16:31; 40:38).

    This name Israel is sometimes used emphatically for the true Israel (Ps. 73:1: Isa. 45:17; 49:3; John 1:47; Rom. 9:6; 11:26).

    After the death of Saul the ten tribes arrogated to themselves this name, as if they were the whole nation (2 Sam. 2:9, 10, 17, 28; 3:10, 17; 19:40-43), and the kings of the ten tribes were called "kings of Israel," while the kings of the two tribes were called "kings of Judah."

    After the Exile the name Israel was assumed as designating the entire nation." (Easton's Bible Dictionary Offsite Link, emphasis added)
  • "Jew - the name derived from the patriarch Judah, at first given to one belonging to the tribe of Judah or to the separate kingdom of Judah (2 Kings 16:6; 25:25; Jer. 32:12; 38:19; 40:11; 41:3), in contradistinction from those belonging to the kingdom of the ten tribes, who were called Israelites.

    During the Captivity, and after the Restoration, the name, however, was extended to all the Hebrew nation without distinction (Esther 3:6, 10; Dan. 3:8, 12; Ezra 4:12; 5:1, 5).

    Originally this people were called Hebrews (Gen. 39:14; 40:15; Ex. 2:7; 3:18; 5:3; 1 Sam. 4:6, 9, etc.), but after the Exile this name fell into disuse. But Paul was styled a Hebrew (2 Cor. 11:22; Phil. 3:5).
    ...
    There are three names used in the New Testament to designate this people,
    (1.) Jews, as regards their nationality, to distinguish them from Gentiles.
    (2.) Hebrews, with regard to their language and education, to distinguish them from Hellenists, i.e., Jews who spoke the Greek language.
    (3.) Israelites, as respects their sacred privileges as the chosen people of God." (Easton's Bible Dictionary Offsite Link, emphasis added)
According to the above definitions, the people of the 12 tribes (i.e. the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) are collectively referred to in the New Testament as "Jews," "Hebrews," and "Israelites."

Now let's take a look at a short family history of the Jewish people. Recall that Abraham had several sons, including Ishmael and Isaac (Genesis 16:16, 17:18-21, 25:1-6). Isaac had two sons named Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:21-26). Jacob was renamed "Israel" by God (Genesis 32:28). Jacob/Israel had 12 sons (Genesis 35:22-26), who were the 12 patriarchs of Israel (Acts 7:8). One of these patriarchs was Judah (Genesis 35:22-23), from whom the word "Jew" is derived (see the definition for "Jew" above). Eventually the word "Jew" referred to all of the Israelites (i.e. the 12 tribes who were descended from Jacob - see the definitions above).

So a "Jew" is a physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which is why God is sometimes referred to as "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (see Matthew 22:32, Luke 13:28, 20:37, Acts 3:13, 7:32, for example). Jewish-ness is based on a person's physical ancestry, and therefore a Jew can never become a non-Jew.

A "Gentile" is a person who is not a Jew. Gentile-ness is based on a person's physical ancestry, and therefore a Gentile can never become a non-Gentile. Gentiles who converted to Judaism are never called "Jews" in the Bible, but instead they are called "converts" or "proselytes" (see Matthew 23:15, Acts 2:10-11, 6:5, 13:43, for example).

In the New Testament, the word "Israel" most often refers to the land or the people of Israel as a whole (made up of Jews, whether saved or unsaved), but we will see that it sometimes refers specifically to saved Jews (the "true Israel," also called "the Israel of God"). We will also see that the word "Israel" never refers to the Church (which is made up of saved Jews and saved Gentiles).

Now, notice that a spiritual person is someone who is led by the Spirit:
"This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man's judgment: "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ. Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly--mere infants in Christ." (1 Corinthians 2:13-3:1)

"Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted." (Galatians 6:1)
In the first passage above, Paul said that a person who does not have the Spirit (i.e. an unsaved person) cannot understand the spiritual truths in the Bible. In contrast, a spiritual person can understand these truths. Then Paul said that the Corinthian Christians were worldly and were mere infants in Christ, and that he could not address them as "spiritual." In other words, even though they were Christians they were not yet led by the Spirit to any great degree. In the second passage above, Paul spoke of restoring a Christian who had sinned. Paul said, "you who are spiritual" should restore the Christian (who is not yet as spiritual) who had sinned.

So in the above passages, the implication is that being "spiritual" essentially means that we are led by the Spirit.

If a Jewish person is saved and is led by the Spirit, then he is a spiritual Jew. If a Gentile person is saved and is led by the Spirit, then he is a spiritual Gentile.


Children of Abraham

Part of the confusion about Gentiles becoming "spiritual Jews" comes from several passages in the Bible which refer to Christians as "children of Abraham":
"Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring --not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all." (Romans 4:16)

"Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith." (Galatians 3:7-9)

"If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:29)
These passages tell us that whether we are Jews or Gentiles by birth, if we have faith in Jesus then we are considered to be children of Abraham and heirs according to the promise. But this does not prove that Gentile Christians are "spiritual Jews." Recall that Abraham's first child was Ishmael, who was explicitly excluded from God's covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:18-21). Similarly, Isaac's first child was Esau, and Esau was the father of the Edomites who were enemies of the Jews (Genesis 25:21-26, 29-30, 36:1, 36:43, Numbers 20:14-21, 1 Samuel 14:47, 1 Kings 11:15-16, 2 Kings 8:21-22, Psalms 83:1-6, etc.).

So being a child of Abraham does not make a person Jewish, but instead it is being a child of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that makes a person Jewish (as we saw above). If the Bible said that Gentile Christians are children of Jacob rather than children of Abraham then we would have reason to be called "spiritual Jews," because only the descendants of Jacob are Jews. But the Bible never says that Christians are "children of Jacob," and the Bible never refers to anyone as a "spiritual Jew," and in fact we will see that the Bible specifically says that Gentile Christians share in (not "take over") the Jews' spiritual blessings. We Gentile Christians have inherited the spiritual promises of Abraham by faith, but we have not inherited the physical or national promises that God made to Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob (i.e. the Jews). For example, here's what a prominent Bible commentary says about this:
"The fact that believers in this Church Age are identified with Abraham and God's covenant with him does not mean that the physical and temporal promises to Abraham and his physical descendants are either spiritualized or abrogated." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord and Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, p.454)

"[Gentile Christians] become Abraham's spiritual seed. They inherit the promise of justification by faith as Paul explained earlier (cf. Gal. 3:6-9). To suggest, as amillenarians do, that Gentile believers inherit the national promises given to the believing Jewish remnant - that the church thus supplants Israel or is the "new Israel" - is to read into these verses what is not there." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord and Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, p.600)
In other words, Gentile Christians have inherited the spiritual promises made to Abraham, but they have not inherited the physical and national promises that God made to Abraham's physical descendants (for a detailed look at these promises, see my series called Covenants, Dispensations, and the Ten Commandments). Despite what some well-meaning people believe, the Church has not "replaced" Israel, and the Church is not the "new Israel," and the Church is not a "continuation" of Israel, and Gentile Christians are not "spiritual Jews."


A Man Is a Jew if He Is One Inwardly

Here's another passage which has been misinterpreted:
"A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code." (Romans 2:28-29)
In order to properly understand a passage of Scripture, it's important to look at the context and determine to whom the passage is addressed. If we go back eleven verses and look at Romans 2:17, we can see exactly to whom Paul was speaking:
"Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God" (Romans 2:17)
From Romans 2:17 down into Romans chapter 3, Paul was specifically speaking to Jews. He was not speaking to Gentiles, or about Gentiles, in any way. Paul was specifically speaking to Jews when he said, "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, ... a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly." Paul was saying that a true Jew is one who is not only Jewish outwardly (by birth), but one who is Jewish outwardly and has the inner circumcision of the heart through faith in Christ.

Paul was speaking specifically to Jews in Romans 2:28-29 (above), and he was distinguishing between saved Jews and unsaved Jews. His statements have no bearing on Gentiles.


There Is No Difference between Jew and Gentile

Another source of confusion is when the New Testament seems to say that there is "no difference" between Jews and Gentiles:
"That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, "Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame." For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."" (Romans 10:9-13)

"The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink." (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

"So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:24-28)

"Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all." (Colossians 3:9-11)
People sometimes interpret these passages to mean that all distinctions between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians have been erased, but that's not what Paul was saying. In Romans 10:9-13 (above), notice that Paul was saying that Jews and Gentiles are all saved and justified in exactly the same way. There is no difference in the way that Jews and Gentiles are saved. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 (above), Paul was saying that Jews and Gentiles (literally, "Greeks") are all "baptized by one Spirit into one body" without distinctions. In Galatians 3:24-28 (above), Paul was saying that Jews and Gentiles all receive justification in exactly the same way. In Colossians 3:9-11 (above), Paul was saying that Jews and Gentiles grow in spiritual maturity in exactly the same way.

In other words, Paul was saying that the principles of the Christian faith apply to every believer, whether we are Jews or Gentiles. However, this does not mean that all distinctions between Jews and Gentiles have been erased. For example, if Paul was teaching that all distinctions between Jews and Gentiles have been erased, then he was also teaching that all distinctions between male and female have been erased as well (see Galatians 3:24-28, above). Yet Paul himself taught that there are distinctions between male and female Christians (see 1 Corinthians 11:3-15, 14:34-35, Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 3:18-19, 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Titus 2:1-5). Furthermore, in most of the above passages Paul mentioned those who are slaves and those who are free. Notice that if Paul was teaching that all distinctions between Jews and Gentiles have been erased, then he was also teaching that all distinctions between slave and free have been erased as well. Yet in other passages Paul specifically taught that the distinctions between slave and free continue to exist within the body of Christ (see Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 3:22-4:1, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, Titus 2:9-10).

Since there are definite distinctions between male and female and between slave and free within the body of Christ, this shows that in the above passages Paul was not trying to teach that all distinctions between Jews and Gentiles have been erased within the body of Christ.


The Church Is Not the "New Israel"

The Bible does not teach that Gentile Christians are "spiritual Jews," and it also does not teach that the Church has replaced Israel. Out of the 83 times that the word "Israel" appears in the NIV New Testament, only 3 of those passages (Romans 9:6, Romans 11:26, and Galatians 6:16) are usually used as proof that the Church is the "new Israel."

First let's look at Romans 9:3-6:
"For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel." (Romans 9:3-6)
Notice that Romans 9:6 (above) says, "For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel." Some people use this verse as evidence that the Church has replaced Israel, but that's not what this verse says. In Romans 9:3-6 (above), notice that Paul was speaking about his own race, the people of Israel. He was not talking about Gentiles in any way. The Jews believed that they were automatically going to heaven because they were the people of God, but what Paul was saying in Romans 9:6 (above) is that not everyone who is physically descended from Israel is part of the true Israel, the Israel of God. This is the same argument that Paul made several chapters earlier when he said that a true Jew is one who is not only Jewish outwardly (by birth), but one who is Jewish outwardly and has the inner circumcision of the heart through faith in Christ (as we saw in Romans 2:28-29, above). That's what makes a person a member of the true Israel, the Israel of God. Paul was specifically speaking about Jews, and he was distinguishing between saved Jews and unsaved Jews. None of this has any bearing on Gentile Christians, and this passage does not teach that the Church has "replaced" Israel.


Now let's look at Romans 11:25-28:
"I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins." As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs" (Romans 11:25-28)
Notice that Romans 11:26 (above) says, "And so all Israel will be saved." Since the Church is made up of people who are saved, some people believe that Paul must have been referring to the Church in the above passage, and therefore the Church must be the "new Israel." However, it's always important to look at the context of a passage. Paul said that Israel has experienced a "hardening in part," which means that there is a part of Israel which is hardened to the Gospel. Therefore, the Church and Israel cannot be one and the same because by definition all of the Church believes the Gospel. In the above passage, Paul also said that God will turn godlessness away from Jacob, which is another reference to the nation of Israel (it is not a reference to the Church). Then Paul said that Israel is loved on account of the patriarchs, which again is a reference to the nation of Israel, not to the Church. Paul was making the very same argument that we have seen him make several times before. Paul was saying that there is a part of Israel which is hardened against the Gospel (i.e. all unsaved Jews), but the other part of Israel (all saved Jews) is the true Israel, the Israel of God. None of this has any bearing on Gentile Christians, and this passage does not teach that the Church has "replaced" Israel.


The two passages which we just looked at (Romans 9:6 and 11:26) are not always used as proof that the Church has replaced Israel. Out of the 83 times that the word "Israel" appears in the NIV New Testament, only Galatians 6:16 seems to be consistently used as proof by everyone who equates the Church with Israel. Here is Galatians 6:16 in context:
"Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God." (Galatians 6:12-16)
In the above passage, Galatians 6:16 ("the Israel of God") is the main verse which is used as proof that the Church has "replaced" Israel. But notice that Galatians 6:16 does not say that the Church has replaced Israel. It does not say that "the Israel of God" is the Church. This means that well-meaning people are reading into this passage something which is not actually there, and yet this is the main verse which they use as proof that the Church has "replaced" Israel.

Part of the confusion in Galatians 6:16 (above) is that the NIV and other versions of the Bible have translated the Greek word kai ("and") as "even," which makes the passage look like it says: "even to the Israel of God." However, that is not the normal meaning of the Greek word kai, as we can see in a literal translation of Galatians 6:15-16:
"for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation; and [kai] as many as by this rule do walk -- peace upon them, and [kai] kindness, and [kai] on the Israel of God!" (Galatians 6:15-16, Young's Literal Translation Offsite Link)
Notice that the Greek word kai occurs three times in the above passage. In the first two occurrences, the NIV has translated kai as "and" (which is its normal meaning), but in the third occurrence of kai in this passage the NIV has changed the translation to "even." This inconsistency in translation has caused people to misunderstand Paul's meaning.

In order to understand what Paul was saying here, let's look at the context. First of all, notice the situation which Paul was addressing:
"the Book of Galatians is concerned with Gentiles who were attempting to attain justification and/or sanctification through the law. The ones deceiving them were the Judaizers, who were Jews demanding adherence to the Law of Moses." (Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, p.758, emphasis added)
In Galatians 6:16 (above), Paul was writing to Gentile Christians, and he was describing certain Jews who were trying to force the Gentiles to be circumcised. Paul said that circumcision has no value for a Christian, and then he pronounced a blessing of peace and kindness on all who follow this rule of not becoming circumcised. Paul was specifically speaking to Gentile Christian men, and in fact only the Gentile Christian men could follow this rule of not becoming circumcised (because the Jewish Christian men had already been circumcised on the eighth day of life according to the Jewish law - see Leviticus 12:2-3, Luke 1:59, 2:21, and Philippians 3:2-5).

Notice that in Galatians 6:16 (above), Paul was speaking a blessing of peace and kindness on two groups of people:

  1. "neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation; and [kai] as many as by this rule do walk -- peace upon them, and [kai] kindness" (Galatians 6:15-16a, Young's Literal Translation Offsite Link)
    Here Paul pronounced a blessing on the Gentile Christians who follow this rule by not becoming circumcised.
  2. "and [kai] on the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16b, Young's Literal Translation Offsite Link)
    Here Paul extended the blessing to include Jewish Christians ("the Israel of God" or the "true Israel," as we have seen in other passages).
So in Galatians 6:16 (above), Paul pronounced a blessing of peace and kindness on two groups of people: saved Gentiles and saved Jews. It is the saved Gentiles who are told to obey this rule of not trying to follow the Law of Moses (by becoming circumcised), and it is the saved Jews who are "the Israel of God."


New Testament Distinctions between Israel and the Church

What this all boils down to is that the New Testament does not teach that the Church has replaced Israel. In fact, the New Testament often makes a distinction between Israel and the Church, as in the following examples:

  • "For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel." (Romans 9:3-4)
    The apostle Paul was a Christian, and therefore he was a member of the Church. Yet he described the people of Israel, those of his own race, as being largely unsaved. Since the word "Israel" is referring to the unsaved people of Israel, then there is obviously a distinction between "Israel" and "the Church" here.
  • "What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it." (Romans 9:30-31)
    Paul said that the Gentiles had obtained righteousness by faith, and therefore these Gentiles were in the Church. But he said that Israel had not attained righteousness. Again, the word "Israel" is referring to the unsaved people of Israel, so there is obviously a distinction between "Israel" and "the Church" here.
  • "Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved." (Romans 10:1)
    Paul's desire was for Israel to be saved. The word "Israelites" is referring to the unsaved people of Israel, so once again we can see that there is a clear distinction between "Israel" and "the Church" here.
  • "But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our message?"" (Romans 10:16)
    Paul implied that some of the Israelites had accepted the Good News (and were therefore members of the Church), but he said that not all of the Israelites had accepted the Good News. The word "Israelites" is partially referring to the unsaved people of Israel, so once again we can see that there is a clear distinction between "Israel" and "the Church" here.
  • "Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious." (Romans 11:11)
    Paul said that salvation has come to the Gentiles in order to make Israel envious. Why? Because the majority of the people of Israel have not received salvation. Once again, the word "Israel" is referring to the unsaved people of Israel, so there is obviously a distinction between "Israel" and "the Church" here.
  • "I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them." (Romans 11:13-14)
    Paul was talking to saved Gentiles (who were therefore in the Church), and he was distinguishing them from his own people (the people of Israel) whom he hoped would receive salvation. Once again, Paul was referring to the unsaved people of Israel, so there is a clear distinction between "Israel" and "the Church" here.
  • "Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God" (1 Corinthians 10:32)
    Paul distinguished between three groups of people here: unsaved Jews, unsaved Gentiles (literally, "Greeks"), and the Church. Once again, the Jews in this verse are the unsaved people of Israel, so there is obviously a distinction between "Israel" and "the Church" here.

The above passages are examples where the New Testament distinguishes between unbelieving Israel and the Church. In addition, the New Testament also provides a number of examples where saved Jews are distinguished from saved Gentiles within the Church:

  • "They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews' spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings." (Romans 15:27)
    Paul specifically said that the Gentile Christians share in the Jews' spiritual blessings. We Gentile Christians have inherited the spiritual promises of Abraham by faith, but we have not inherited the physical or national promises that God made to Abraham and his descendants (the Jews) in the line of Isaac and Jacob, which are described in my series called Covenants, Dispensations, and the Ten Commandments. The Church has not "replaced" Israel.
  • "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them." (Romans 16:3-4)
    Paul made a specific mention of "the churches of the Gentiles." Again we can see that Paul made distinctions between Gentiles and Jews within the body of Christ. He never referred to Gentile Christians as "spiritual Jews," and he never referred to the Church as the "new Israel," or the "continuation" of Israel, or the "replacement" of Israel, etc.
  • "When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles [saved Gentiles]. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews [saved Jews] joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew [a saved Jew], yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles [saved Gentiles] to follow Jewish customs?" (Galatians 2:11-14)
    The apostle Peter, a Jewish Christian, used to eat with Gentile Christians. But he began to draw away from them so that he wouldn't receive criticism from other Jews for associating with Gentiles. Notice that Peter did not defend his actions (of eating with the Gentile Christians) by making the argument that saved Gentiles are "spiritual Jews" (meaning that he should be free to associate with his fellow "Jews"). He also did not make the argument that saved Gentiles are part of the "new Israel" (so he should be free to associate with his fellow "Israelites"). Instead, in the minds of the apostles and the early Christians there was a clear distinction between Jews and Gentiles, even within the body of Christ. Peter was wrong to separate himself from the Gentile Christians in order to appease certain Jews, but it shows that he did not try to argue that the Gentile Christians had become Jews in any way, whether spiritual or otherwise.
  • "This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus." (Ephesians 3:6)
    This passage says that Gentile Christians are heirs together with Israel and sharers together with Israel in the promise in Christ Jesus. It does not say that Gentile Christians become Israel. Once again we can see that Paul distinguished between Gentiles and Jews within the body of Christ. The "true Israel" (the "Israel of God") is one part of the Church, and saved Gentiles are the other part of the Church. Both groups are sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus, which shows that the Church has not "replaced" Israel or "taken over" the promises from Israel.
  • "Jesus, who is called Justus, also sends greetings. These are the only Jews among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have proved a comfort to me. Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings." (Colossians 4:11-12)
    Paul was writing to the church at Colosse, which was a Gentile church in Asia Minor. Notice that Paul said that certain Christians were his fellow Jews, and then he said that Epaphras was one of the Colossians' fellow Gentiles. Paul made a specific distinction between Christians who were Gentiles and Christians who were Jews.

We have now seen Scriptural examples where Israel is distinguished from the Church, and we have seen Scriptural examples where there is a distinction between Jews and Gentiles within the Church. In addition, there are entire books (or portions of books) in the New Testament which were specifically addressed either to Jews or to Gentiles within the Church:

  • "A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers ... Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ." (Matthew 1:1-2, 17)
    The Gospel of Matthew was written to the Jews, which is one reason why Matthew gave a detailed genealogy of Jesus' Jewish ancestry based on significant periods in Israel's history. For example, here are some things that Bible scholars say about the Gospel of Matthew:
    "Of the four gospels, the first, Matthew, was written to the Jews." (Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, p.763, emphasis added)

    "it appears that Matthew had at least two reasons for writing. First, he wanted to show unbelieving Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. ... Second, Matthew wrote to encourage Jewish believers." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord and Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, p.16, emphasis added)
  • "I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong--that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles." (Romans 1:11-13)
    This section of Romans was addressed specifically to Gentile Christians. For example, Paul talked about spiritual gifts and about being "mutually encouraged by each other's faith," which tells us that he was writing to Christians. Then he said that he hoped to have a harvest among the readers of this section of Romans, just as he had had "among the other Gentiles." This shows that he was addressing this section of Romans to Gentile Christians.
  • "Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth --you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?" (Romans 2:17-21)
    This section of Romans was addressed specifically to Jewish Christians.
  • "I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them." (Romans 11:13-14)
    This section of Romans was addressed specifically to Gentile Christians.
  • "For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles" (Ephesians 3:1)
    This section of Ephesians was addressed specifically to Gentile Christians.
  • "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways" (Hebrews 1:1)
    The book of Hebrews was addressed to Jewish Christians. For example, here are some things that Bible scholars say about the book of Hebrews:
    "More knowledge can be gained about the recipients of the epistle than the author. First, they were obviously Jewish, and the author writes with full expectation that his readers will respect the Old Testament. The whole back drop of the letter is from Jewish history and religion. Second, they were Jewish believers, because only these would be in danger of going back into Judaism." (Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, p.950, emphasis added)

    "the author's heavy stress on Jewish prototypes and his earnest polemic against the permanence of the Levitical system are best explained if the audience was largely Jewish and inclined to be swayed back to their old faith. The heavy and extensive appeal to the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures also was most suitable to readers who had been brought up on them." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord and Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, p.778, emphasis added)
  • "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations: Greetings." (James 1:1)
    The book of James was addressed to Jewish Christians. For example, here are some things that Bible scholars say about the book of James:
    "The recipients of the epistle are the twelve tribes which are of the Dispersion. The term Dispersion was and is a technical Jewish term for Jews living outside the land." (Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, p.981, emphasis added)

    "Clearly addressed to "the 12 tribes scattered among the nations" (James 1:1), this letter has a marked Jewish flavor. ... The letter is definitely to a Jewish constituency. Though the letter demonstrates careful Greek diction, it is nonetheless filled with extensive Hebrew symbolism." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord and Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, p.816, emphasis added)
  • "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance." (1 Peter 1:1-2)
    The book of 1 Peter was addressed to Jewish Christians. For example, here are some things that Bible scholars say about the book of 1 Peter:
    "The recipients are the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion ... The fact that they are of the Dispersion (a word found elsewhere only in John 7:35 and James 1:1) shows them to be Jewish people living outside the land. This letter was written to Jewish believers living alongside a majority pagan Gentile environment in Asia Minor or modern-day Turkey." (Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, p.992-993, emphasis added)

    "It is likely that Peter wrote to the Jewish Christians scattered to the West (cf. 1 Peter 1:1) and that James addressed the Jewish Christians scattered to the East, in Babylon and Mesopotamia." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord and Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, p.816, emphasis added)
  • "Dear friends, this is now my second letter to you. I have written both of them as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking." (2 Peter 3:1)
    The book of 2 Peter was addressed to Jewish Christians. For example, here are some things that Bible scholars say about the book of 2 Peter:
    "As 3:1 makes clear, this epistle was written to the same group as 1 Peter." (Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, p.1004, emphasis added)

    "It is likely that Peter wrote to the Jewish Christians scattered to the West (cf. 1 Peter 1:1) and that James addressed the Jewish Christians scattered to the East, in Babylon and Mesopotamia." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord and Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, p.816, emphasis added)
  • "Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James, To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ:" (Jude 1:1)
    The book of Jude was addressed to Jewish Christians. For example, here are some things that Bible scholars say about the book of Jude:
    "He heavily quotes II Peter, and where Peter used the future tense, Jude used the past tense. What Peter warned would happen, now has happened. ... The recipients (1b) are obviously believers, and the strong similarity to II Peter probably means he wrote to the same body of Jewish believers as did Peter." (Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, p.1009-1010, emphasis added)

    "The tone of the letter demonstrates that the original recipients may have been Christian Jews of Palestine who were gathered into local fellowships. The references made to Old Testament incidents and to extrabiblical literature identified the recipients as people who would understand these references with no need for explanation." (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Walvoord and Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, p.918, emphasis added)

We have now seen Scriptural examples where Israel is distinguished from the Church, and we have seen Scriptural examples where there is a distinction between Jews and Gentiles within the Church, and we have seen that there are entire books (or portions of books) in the New Testament which were specifically addressed either to Jews or to Gentiles within the Church.

All of these passages provide further evidence (in addition to the weight of evidence which we have already seen) that Gentile Christians do not become "spiritual Jews" and that the Church has not "replaced" Israel.


Timothy and Titus

This conclusion is further confirmed by the actions of the apostles and the early leaders of the Church. Consider that in Scripture, a person was Jewish if his father was Jewish. If a person's mother was a Jew but his father was a Gentile then that person was not automatically considered to be Jewish. An example of this can be seen in Leviticus 24:10-11, where a certain man is repeatedly described as being a non-Israelite even though his mother was Jewish:
"Now the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father went out among the Israelites, and a fight broke out in the camp between him and an Israelite. The son of the Israelite woman blasphemed the Name with a curse; so they brought him to Moses." (Leviticus 24:10-11)
This man is not described as being an Israelite (a Jew), but rather he is called "the son of an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father" and "The son of the Israelite woman." This man was "among" the Israelites, but he was not considered to be an Israelite himself (even though his mother was an Israelite). So we can see that if a man's mother was Jewish but his father was not, then he was not automatically considered to be Jewish. However, he had the freedom to identify himself with the Jews, as we can see in Acts 16:1-2:
"He [the apostle Paul] came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek." (Acts 16:1-3)
In the above passage we see that the apostle Paul circumcised Timothy, even though Paul did not circumcise Titus:
"Yet not even Titus, who was with me [Paul], was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves." (Galatians 2:3-4)
Notice that neither Timothy nor Titus had a Jewish father (so they were not considered to be Jewish), and neither of these men had been circumcised. For some reason, Paul circumcised Timothy but not Titus. Why? It's because Timothy was half-Jewish, and therefore he was free to identify himself as a Jew by being circumcised. Doesn't that mean he was putting himself under the Law of Moses, which Paul repeatedly preached against doing (as in Galatians 3:10)? No, because circumcision was the sign and seal of the covenant that God made with Abraham and his descendants, centuries before the Law was given to Moses (see Genesis 17:9-14 and Galatians 3:16-17, for example).

So Paul felt that it was best for Timothy to be identified as a Jew through circumcision (which Timothy was allowed to do since his mother was Jewish), because Paul and Timothy were ministering among Jews. On the other hand, Titus was fully a Gentile. He was not considered to be Jewish in any way, whether "spiritually" or otherwise.


The Jerusalem Conference

For further evidence that Gentile Christians are not "spiritual Jews," notice that some of the Jewish Christians expected the Gentile Christians to obey the Law of Moses:
"Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses." The apostles and elders met to consider this question." (Acts 15:5-6)
So some of the Jewish Christians felt that the Gentile Christians should be compelled to become like Jews. Consider that if Gentile Christians are "spiritual Jews," then this was a perfect time for the Church leaders to make that clear. But notice the Church leadership's response. They wrote a letter to the Gentile believers to help clarify the proper position of the Gentile Christians concerning Jewish practices:
"With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings. We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. ... It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell." (Acts 15:23-24, 28-29)
If the Gentile Christians were "spiritual Jews," then this letter to them from the apostles and the elders of the Church would have been a perfect time to point this out and to encourage the Gentile Christians to consider themselves as being a part of the Israel of God. But the apostles and elders said just the opposite! They essentially said that the Gentile Christians were not Jews in any way and therefore did not need to be circumcised nor to consider themselves as being a part of Israel nor to begin following Jewish practices. Instead, the apostles and elders basically asked the Gentile Christians to follow the law of love by not doing certain things which are detestable to Jews in order to avoid causing conflicts between themselves and the Jewish Christians. This echoes what Paul said in Romans 14:13-15, 20-21:
"Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. ... Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall." (Romans 14:13-15, 20-21)
So we can see by the actions of the apostles and the leaders of the Church that Gentile Christians were not considered to be Jewish in any way, whether "spiritual" or otherwise.


Conclusion

The New Testament makes many distinctions between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, and it makes many distinctions between Israel and the Church. The weight of Scriptural evidence shows that the Church has not "replaced" Israel, and the Church is not the "new Israel," and the Church is not a "continuation" of Israel, and the Church has not "taken over" the promises from Israel, and Gentile Christians are not "spiritual Jews."

These are important principles to understand because they have a direct impact on the way that people interpret the end-times passages in the Bible. In other words, if we erroneously believe that the Church is the "new" Israel or the "true" Israel, etc., then we are likely to misinterpret the passages which describe Israel and Jews and Gentiles in the end-times. So before we study end-times events, it's important to understand the Scriptural distinctions between Israel and the Church and between Jews and Gentiles.

For more distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, as well as the different programs that God has for Israel and for the Church in the end-times, I invite you to see my articles called:
All for Your glory, Lord Jesus!
 
 
 
  Modification History  
 
 

  • 06/23/2009 - Added section headings.
  • 11/20/2007 - Added some links to my three-part series called "Covenants, Dispensations, and the Ten Commandments." Added a link to my eight-part series called "The Rapture of the Church."
  • 04/09/2006 - Added Romans 10:9-13 and modified some of the wording throughout the article.
  • 08/23/2001 - Modified some of the wording.