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Israel and the nations: the limits of Old Testament expectation

This is a rather technical piece—some notes I made while working on something else—but the gist of the argument can be gained from the introduction and the conclusion. I have been looking at how the idea of a Gentile mission emerges in the New Testament. I made the point in “The parable of the wedding feast and the man without a wedding garment” and the ensuing discussion that Jesus does not contemplate a Gentile mission or the inclusion of Gentiles in the community of his followers before his death. He may have expected Gentiles to be included, or at least involved, at the parousia, but the mission that he inaugurated was basically a Jewish mission to Israel.

Behind Jesus, of course, is the Old Testament, and it is generally held by those who would attribute a Gentile mission to Jesus that the Psalms and the Prophets in particular foresee a day when large numbers of Gentiles will be incorporated into the covenant people. Christopher Wright, for example, has a good section in The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative in which he makes a progressive case to this effect, culminating in the contention that “there were voices and visions within the Old Testament that looked for the day when nations would be included within Israel in such a way that the very word Israel would be radically extended and redefined” (455).

I think this is overstated. I agree with Wright’s first four propositions:

  1. God is sovereign over the nations: they can be the agent of divine judgment, recipients of God’s mercy, and they are under God’s control (455-67).
  2. The nations are in different ways witnesses of Israel’s history (467-74).
  3. They are beneficiaries of Israel’s blessing (474-78).
  4. They will come to worship YHWH, not least on account of what he has done for his people (478-89).

But I do not think the evidence which he presents supports the claim that the nations will be included in Israel’s identity (489-500). Yes, in the latter days the nations will come to Zion, year after year, to worship YHWH, to seek his favour, and learn his ways, but they remain distinct nations: “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples…” (Is. 2:2-3; cf. Zech. 8:22-23; 14:16-19; Ps. 86:9). Herod’s temple, with its large but separate Court of the Gentiles concretely embodies this vision.

Registered in God’s city

Princes of peoples have been gathered, a people of the God of Abraham, for to God are shields of the earth, greatly exalted. (Ps. 47:9, my translation)

Wright takes this to mean that the nations will be registered “as Israel, as part of the people of father Abraham” (490). But what the psalm asserts is that YHWH “reigns over the nations”, as evidenced by the fact that he subdued the Canaanites under his people (47:3). The gathering of the princes as a (not the) people of the God of Abraham is a way of saying that Israel’s God has authority over the powerful rulers of the nations; their power is subject to him.1 There is no “great assembly of the nations”; there is no “register of the nations”. These ideas have been smuggled in.

Psalm 87 has the thought that the nations were born in Zion or registered in Zion:

Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon; behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush—“This one was born there,” they say. And of Zion it shall be said, “This one and that one were born in her”; for the Most High himself will establish her. The LORD records as he registers the peoples, “This one was born there.” (Ps. 87:4–6)

The point is not entirely clear, but Tate suggests that it reflects ancient imperial practice: 

Thus the process recalled in vv 5–6 is analogous to that of a conquering king who declares foreign peoples to belong to his royal realm and registers them among the people of the conquering country.2

The image is, therefore, not one of the inclusion of the nations in Israel but of the future rule of Israel over the nations—a theme that I think Wright rather downplays. Or it may be a picture of YHWH’s sovereignty more generally over the nations.

Blessed with God’s salvation

Isaiah 19 is certainly a remarkable passage. Egypt will be judged by God, but then “the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them” (Is. 19:21). Likewise, the Assyrians will become a third nation of blessing in the midst of the earth, and the Lord of Hosts will say, “Blessed be my people Egypt, and the work of my hands Assyria, and my inheritance Israel” (Is. 19:25, my translation).

Wright thinks that “the prophet uses Egypt and Assyria here in this highly eschatological prophecy in a representational way; that is, they stand for a wider inclusion of other nations” (492). “The archenemies of Israel will be absorbed into the identity, titles and privileges of Israel and share in the Abrahamic blessing of the living God, YHWH” (493). But Egypt and Assyria remain independent nations with their own cultus. Their relationship to YHWH is very similar to Israel’s, even to the point of being redemptive, but the final words make it clear that Israel is set apart as YHWH’s “inheritance”. The suggestion that Egypt and Assyria here stand for all nations is negated by the phrase “in the midst of the earth” (Is. 19:24).

Accepted in God’s house

The situation envisaged in Isaiah 56:1-8 is Israel in Babylon awaiting the “salvation” of return from exile. The passage addresses the fear of the “son of the foreigner” who has “joined himself to the Lord” (cf. Esth. 9:27) that he might be separated from the people of Israel at this time. The assurance is given that such proselytes—and also eunuchs—will be included in worship and the covenant on the same terms as the Jews. It’s an important passage, not least because it contains the saying “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Is. 56:7), but it is not a prediction of a great influx of Gentiles to become part of the covenant people. I like Wright’s suggestion, though, that Luke had this passage in mind “when he recorded that the first believer in Jesus from outside the native Jewish community was indeed a foreigner, a eunuch, and was reading the scroll of Isaiah, just a few column inches from this passage” (495).

Called by God’s name

Wright argues that the phrase “all the nations who are called by my name” (Amos 9:12) implies that the nations will be in a relationship to YHWH analogous to that of Israel, which is “called by the name of the Lord” (Deut. 28:10). This “great privilege, which the nations were supposed to recognise about the temple and about Israel, would actually be seen to be true of the nations themselves”. But the idiom “on whom my name is called” has the sense of “over whom I have control”, and in this context it is parallel to “they may possess the remnant of Edom”. So Stuart writes: ‘Thus in the restoration, God’s people will “possess” (ירש), ie, have control over those nations once their enemies, in fulfillment of the restoration blessing of power over enemies.’3 This seems to me a more coherent reading of the text.

Joined with God’s people

And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. And the LORD will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem. (Zech. 2:11–12)

The context here is post-exilic. Jerusalem will not need a wall because YHWH will be a “wall of fire all round”; Babylon will be defeated and plundered by its former captives (Zech. 2:1-10). Many nations will join themselves to YHWH—not to Israel. They will be regarded as his people and will belong to him; they will no longer be a threat to Jerusalem. But as with Egypt and Assyria Isaiah 19, they remain distinct from Israel as God’s covenant people, and Judah is his inheritance in the land. “I will dwell in your midst” refers not to the nations but to Israel. It is too much to claim, as Wright does, that Zion “will become a multinational community of people from many nations, all of whom will belong to YHWH, and therefore they will rightly be counted as belonging to Israel” (498).

We also have the thought that God will assimilate a remnant of the Philistines into Israel, “like a clan in Judah”, just as the Jebusites, the original inhabitants of Jerusalem, had been incorporated into David’s kingdom (Zech. 9:7). But the analogy is telling: the inclusion of a small local people group in Israel says no more about an eschatological influx of the Gentiles than the inclusion of the Jebusites.

To conclude briefly…

There is a substantive narrative in the Old Testament which speaks of the nations responding positively to, and benefiting from, what YHWH does in and through and for his people. The passages considered by Wright contemplate a significant role for the nations at the time when YHWH restores his people, but they preserve the distinction between Israel and the neighbouring peoples. The exceptions are the foreigners who have already attached themselves to the Lord in Babylon and the remnant of the Philistines. There is no vision of a universal inclusion of redeemed nations in the covenant people. There is no radical extension and redefinition of Israel in this regard. So it seems to me that the mission to the Gentiles after the resurrection arises less smoothly out of the narrative of Israel than is usually supposed.

  • 1. Craigie translates: “The princely ones of the peoples are assembled with the people of Abraham’s God”: P.C. Craigie, Psalms 1–50 (WBC, 1983), 346.
  • 2. M.E. Tate, Psalms 51–100 (WBC, 1990), 390.
  • 3. D. Stuart, Hosea—Jonah (WBC, 1987), 399.
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Comments

Gentiles may not be clearly included in the future covenant people of God in the OT, but then they are not clearly excluded either. What is clear is their future in-gathering. On what basis was this in-gathering to be?

Jesus does not contemplate a Gentile mission or the inclusion of Gentiles in the community of his followers before his death

Do you mean he didn’t envisage it happening before his death (which it didn’t) or he didn’t envisage it happening before his death but possibly afterwards, or he only envisaged it in his post-resurrection appearances?

So what did Jesus say? According to Matthew 28:19, he said, post-resurrection, that disciples were to be made of all nations, which suggests that Gentiles as well as Jews would become followers of Jesus, just as the apostles were his followers/disciples.

That disciples from “all nations” were to be baptised goes further. Whether baptism is into a narrative or a person/people (or both), it is a covenant action. Those baptised in the NT, subsequent to John’s baptism (which provides a helpful distinction between the two baptisms), were undergoing covenant inclusion.

Further, disciples from “all nations” were to be taught “everything I have commanded you”. This was the teaching in the gospels, or Matthew’s gospel at least. It is clear: the teaching of the gospels before Jesus’s death was intended also for Gentiles after Jesus’s death.

It seems then that Jesus did envisage full Gentile inclusion in the covenant people of God, to be renewed around himself. This was envisaged before his death, but in a way that was only made clear after his resurrection. Jesus said that, retrospectively, his teaching which had been for Jewish followers, was for Gentiles too, and that through baptism they too were included in the covenant people of God.

What is clear is their future in-gathering. On what basis was this in-gathering to be?

What do you mean by “in-gathering”? There is an in-gathering of diaspora Jews: they rejoin Israel in the land. The nations come to Zion for various reasons, but this is not an in-gathering in the same sense. They remain distinct from Israel.

Do you mean he didn’t envisage it happening before his death (which it didn’t) or he didn’t envisage it happening before his death but possibly afterwards, or he only envisaged it in his post-resurrection appearances?

Yes, the sentence was ambiguous: “before his death” goes with “does not contemplate”.

Jesus said that, retrospectively, his teaching which had been for Jewish followers, was for Gentiles too, and that through baptism they too were included in the covenant people of God.

Perhaps, but that’s not the same as saying that Jesus while alive contemplated some sort of Gentile mission

What do you mean by “in-gathering”? There is an in-gathering of diaspora Jews: they rejoin Israel in the land.

Prophecy about an in-gathering of Gentiles (eg Isaiah 2, Micah 2, Isaiah 55:5 etc) is quite distinct from an in-gathering of diaspora Jews.

There was a limited Jewish return post exile, but it’s clear from 1st century literature that Israel was largely seen as still being in exile.

Paul obviously thought the time had come for the Gentile in-gathering - Romans 11:25.

A Gentile mission of Jesus? It’s back to Matthew again. First, let’s acknowledge that Matthew gives unusual prominence to a Gentile response to Jesus from the very beginning of Jesus’s ministry (and even from his birth). It continues with some unusual features mentioned (such as the centurion at the cross).

With Mark, Matthew notes the feeding of the 4,000, in an area inhabited by Gentiles, and which it is a commonplace among commentators to associate with mission to the Gentile world: the feeding with bread = feeding with manna in the wilderness; rabbinic teaching associated the manna with God’s presence; Jesus is the bread of heaven, and so on.

Matthew uniquely has the command to “make disciples of all nations/Gentiles” - 28:19. How are they to be discipled? With the teaching of Matthew’s gospel. Was this an afterthought? Did the post-resurrection Jesus think that by an unusual coincidence, his teaching would be appropriate for Gentiles as well as Jews? That Gentiles could be disciples as well as Jews? That Gentiles could be baptised into a narrative/person/people with the Jews?

Luke even has the sending out of the 72 (Luke 10), which again is a commonplace of representing a worldwide mission to come, 72 being the supposed number of the nations in the world.

It can only amount to one thing: Matthew was pointing more than any other gospel to a Gentile mission and inclusion of Gentiles on the same terms as Jews in the covenant people of God, now renewed around Jesus. Read Matthew carefully, and you can come to only one conclusion: Jesus intended a Gentile mission all along.

Granted this was concealed, but not completely, during his three years’ ministry. Following his resurrection, it became the main theme of the continuing story - now directed by Jesus from heaven instead of by Jesus on earth.

Prophecy about an in-gathering of Gentiles (eg Isaiah 2, Micah 2, Isaiah 55:5 etc) is quite distinct from an in-gathering of diaspora Jews.

But this is not just distinct from an in-gathering of the Jews. It is an in-gathering (if we have to use that word) of a different kind. The nations come to Zion but they do not become part of Israel. You can have lots of people come to your house, eat with you, watch TV with you, but that doesn’t make them part of your family.

I agree that Matthew highlights the Gentile response to Jesus—that’s not at issue. He also highlights Jesus’ refusal to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles. I find it absurd to suggest that Matthew could include such statements and yet really mean quite the opposite.

The same distinction applies to the Gospels as to the Prophets: the nations acknowledge what the God of Israel is doing, but they are not expected to become part of the covenant people.

It’s all very well reading the Gospels carefully, but we can only read what is actually written—not what we would like to think was written.

But this (an in-gathering of Gentiles) is not just distinct from an in-gathering of the Jews. It is an in-gathering (if we have to use that word) of a different kind.

So we’re agreed there is an in-gathering of Gentiles then? (If you don’t like the word, Paul uses something very similar in Romans 11:25). And I agree, strictly literally, the OT does not say they are included as the covenant people of God, but neither does it say they are excluded. Yet Isaiah 56:6 and the rest of the chapter does not make much sense unless it means being included in the covenant.

The NT, on the other hand, does say Gentiles are included as the covenant people of God. How? By baptism. Eg Colossians 2:11-12, in the context of a message to a largely Gentile community, where baptism replaces the covenant ceremony of circumcision. Romans 11:17 - where Gentiles, by being grafted into the plant as wild olive shoots in place of the natural branches demonstrate this covenant inclusion.

I agree that Matthew highlights the Gentile response to Jesus—that’s not at issue. He also highlights Jesus’ refusal to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles.

It seems to have been very much at issue. Matthew goes further. In highlighting the response of Gentiles to Jesus, he says they too became his followers, where they were at least part of “a great multitude”, who “followed” him, Matthew 4:25.The same word is used of Peter and Andrew when they left their nets and “followed” him in Matthew 4:20.

You imply by “Jesus’ refusal to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles” that this was an absolute prohibition. It was nothing like this. The disciples were to go only “to the lost sheep of Israel” because that was the phase of his mission at that stage. This order of priorities is also observed by Paul - Romans 1:16. In Matthew 28:19 the phase was widened to include “all nations”.

Jesus’s mission was far more nuanced than you describe. An outstanding feature of Matthew’s gospel, which is a commonplace of commentators, is his focus on the Gentile world, in comparison with the other gospels. The conclusion of Matthew’s gospel, the covenant inclusion of the Gentiles (there’s no other way round it) is what the gospel had been preparing us for all along. Matthew 13:14-15 had warned us what Israel’s response would largely be, for all Jesus’s priority of making them the prime focus of his mission.

The nations do become part of the covenant people by faith and in baptism. They enjoy the full rights of the new covenant. Do you realise what you are saying by denying this?

This is getting silly. We’re not talking about Paul. We’re talking about the Prophets and Jesus. By “not at issue” I mean I don’t disagree with you on this point. The fact that crowds followed from Decapolis does not mean that they were disciples or commissioned to proclaim the kingdom of God or even baptized. Jesus prohibited his disciples from preaching to Gentiles, what happens with Paul is another matter. And when it comes to this…

The nations do become part of the covenant people by faith and in baptism. They enjoy the full rights of the new covenant. Do you realise what you are saying by denying this?

I can only conclude that you’ve completely misunderstood what I’ve been saying. This is not a very constructive exchange.

I’m not going off-piste Andrew. Your rebuttal of Chris Wright is part of a larger jigsaw puzzle for you, in which you want to prove that Jesus did not have the Gentiles in view in his ministry and that covenant inclusion of the Gentiles never was part of God’s purposes through Israel, or through Jesus.

Yet covenant inclusion of the Gentiles is anticipated by Jesus, especially in Matthew’s gospel, by baptism, and Paul understood the significance of OT prophecy and its fulfilment in Jesus to know that the time of Gentile in-gathering and the same covenant inclusion had come. Hence the verses I quoted. Paul provides the explanation of post-resurrection baptism, in Acts - the sequel to Luke’s gospel - and the letters.

I think you are very good at selecting certain pieces of the jigsaw puzzle from the box, and creating a pattern with them, whilst keeping other pieces back which make a very different sense of the whole.

The conclusion that may be drawn from OT prophecy concerning Gentile in-gathering is that the in-gathering was not to inclusion in the Mosaic covenant, because the fulfilment came with new covenant inclusion. This is certainly what is understood by the post-resurrection baptism of Gentiles, which Matthew includes as part of the final command of Jesus in 28:19.

You have not seen the significance of Matthew’s Gentile references, or the meaning of Matthew 28:19-20, in which the teaching of the whole gospel is said to be now for Gentiles as well as Jews. You misread Jesus’s so-called prohibition of the preaching of the gospel to Gentiles (I assume you mean Matthew 10:5). He certainly preached the gospel to the Gentiles himself (Matthew 4:24-25, Matthew 8:10-12, Matthew 15:28, 29ff), and commanded the disciples to do so in Matthew 28:19-20.

It’s not a constructive exchange for your line of interpretation, that’s for sure. To say “This is getting silly” is a rather silly way of avoiding the issue.

Hi Peter,

I sure don’t intend to speak for Andrew, but I believe you might be making his comments prove too much. In fact, over lunch today, I was reading toward the end of Re: Mission where he talks about inclusion of the Gentiles in the new people of God and how that fits into the story including its brief anticipation in prophecy.

I believe (and I could be wrong) what Andrew is arguing is not that the Gentiles were never inteded to be included in God’s new covenant people, but rather that inclusion was not something that part of Jesus’ evangelical mission or part of the gospel as it was present at his time. The keystone that makes Gentile inclusion possible is the Law no longer serving as the definition of covenant faithfulness, and this wall is torn down in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In other words, it is a phenomenon that Paul and the apostles are witnessing and active participants in, but in terms of Jesus and the OT prophets, it’s a faint, fringe issue.

Obviously, you disagree on how faint it was, especially with Jesus, and I’m finding that debate between you two interesting, but I don’t think Andrew is saying that the Gentiles were never meant to be included in God’s people.

Thank you for this intervention, Phil. I think a key issue you point to is whether, or in what sense, Gentiles are included in God’s new covenant people, in Andrew’s thinking. Maybe he can tell us. I think the whole trajectory of his argument denies Gentile covenant inclusion, because he is arguing for a historically limited action of Israel’s God in the history of God’s limited covenant people. Gentiles benefit from this indirectly, but all the NT benefits of Jesus, his death, resurrection, outpoured Spirit, were for the historic covenant people, not anyone else. Once their survival is ensured, and Roman pagan idolatry overcome, we are “off the map” biblically (Re:Mission). In fact, we are left with very little applicability of Jesus in any sense to our lives now, or beyond 1st century circumstances, because his relevance was historically to them, but not us (or believing Gentiles then, for that matter). You’ll note how ambiguous Andrew’s response was to Paul’s description of Gentile covenant inclusion.

Andrew has not addressed the points I raised in direct response to him in my last post, and even denies the explicit words of the Gentile injunction mandated in Matthew 28. I’m sure in his own way he feels the serious and persistent questions I have about the core arguments underlying his interpretation of scripture are fallacious. I am however grateful to him. I had never fully realised the extent and significance of Gentile inclusion in Jesus’s ministry until he explicitly denied it in this recent series of posts. The significance is in Matthew’s gospel especially. Andrew challenged me about whether Mark, Luke or John do the same. Sure enough, it’s there in them too; in fact in places they add to Matthew’s clear indication of their significance.

If you detach the gospels from the rest of the story as it unfolds in Acts, you might think that the signs of Gentile inclusion in the gospels are insignificant, or miss them altogether. If you look at the entire story, including the part OT prophecy about Gentile ingathering plays in the narrative of Israel, things appear in a different light. Paul (or whoever wrote Ephesians), the most able commentator on Jesus, gives us the last word on the subject -

“In reading this then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel, the Gentiles are made heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise of Christ” - Ephesians 3:4-6.

The point of something being a “mystery” is that it is not entirely obvious, but not entirely hidden either. (Hence 1 Peter 1:10-11). That is precisely where we are left with the nature of Jesus’s messiahship, OT prophecy concerning the inclusion of Gentiles in Israel, and even the significance of Gentile inclusion in Jesus’s ministry in the gospels. If you don’t want to see it strongly enough, you won’t even acknowledge that it’s there. This was the position of national Israel in the 1st century. That’s why we need someone like Paul to make it explicitly clear, and a gospel like Matthew’s to see that a reworked Messianic Torah was explicitly intended for Gentile disciples of Jesus the Messiah as well as Jews.

Peter, I despair. You seem determined to disregard or twist everything I have said. I am not for one minute denying the relevance of Jesus or the inclusion of Gentiles. It is a question of how these things are constructed. I note, moreover, that Paul attributed the revelation of the mystery of the inclusion of Gentiles not to Jesus but to the Holy Spirit. I take that as significant. It dawned on them later, as Acts makes clear.

Hey Peter,

Thanks for taking the time to clarify your thoughts for me. A couple of things come to mind.

First of all, I’ve worked my way through most of the Perriman corpus in the past couple of months since finding this blog, and Andrew spends a lot of ink talking about not just the Gentilic but the contemporary relevance of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit. So, rather than asserting that those things only had relevance for Israel, he actively asserts the opposite.

If I’m hearing you rightly, you feel that those assertions would be inconsistent with his hermeneutic. I personally don’t see that, but hermeneutical consistency is always a fair critique to bring up, and I’d suggest (humbly) that more fruit might come from your dialogue with Andrew to focus on how he could maintain relevance of Jesus and the Spirit for the Gentiles in light of his presuppositions rather than asserting that he actually holds them to be irrelevant. He clearly doesn’t hold that, but examining him for consistency in that regard and asking critical questions to tease out how all those pieces could consistently fit together is entirely appropriate, I think.

The second thing I’d want to say is just to bear in mind the actual argument of the post is that inclusion of the Gentiles is something that shows up in active gospel consciousness after the death and resurrection of Christ, not that it never shows up at all. I think you’ve done a good job of pointing out some places in the gospels that arguably could make the case for a stronger consciousness of Gentile inclusion, but the Gospels prior to the Resurrection and the OT are where you’ll need to make your case. Paul’s teaching that God has now revealed Gentile inclusion to apostles and prophets actually supports Andrew’s contention - that this was a mystery until the prophetic activity of the Spirit in Paul’s time.

Once again, I’m not trying to argue against your position. Andrew is doing that much better than I could, and I’m learning a lot from the exchange. But I hope these suggestions might help for perhaps a more focused and profitable back and forth.

Phil - This is very helpful. I also shot myself in the foot in the previous post by using words against Andrew which shut down the discussion. Whatever my intention in using those words (‘speciousness’ and ‘mind-boggling’), they were not helpful and I apologise for using them.

Overall, your constructive suggestions as to how I interact with Andrew are fair and to the point. The points are taken. Thank you. Can I pick up one or two things you say, and maybe you can help me further. I’ll select some quotes and make comments.

Andrew spends a lot of ink talking about not just the Gentilic but the contemporary relevance of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit. So, rather than asserting that those things only had relevance for Israel, he actively asserts the opposite.

I wasn’t totally sure what you meant by this. Relevance beyond Israel must mean relevance to the Gentiles, mustn’t it (since they are everyone else)? I’ve spent several years interacting with Andrew’s ideas, and to be honest, if I don’t get it, I wonder who will. But yes, I don’t dispute this. Andrew does of course argue that the story beyond the immediate details of Jesus’s earthly ministry impacts the wider world. I dispute the nature of that impact, however. If by ‘contemporary’ you mean ‘contemporary with us’, I’d be interested to know how you construe that. I think Andrew is at his most opaque in bringing out any relevance at all of the biblical story to us today.

What I do believe Andrew to be saying, however, is that whereas most believing Christians through history have taken gospels and letters to include them (in a recontextualised way) as well as their original audiences, Andrew does not. They only facilitate a consequence for the early centuries, beyond which the church emerges into new and uncharted territory, for which the bible is not our guide.

If I’m hearing you rightly, you feel that those assertions (that the NT provides description of events which are relevant to Israel only) would be inconsistent with his hermeneutic.

I don’t think you have quite heard me rightly. I’m arguing, as above, that whereas most Christians believe that the events and teaching (in the main) of the NT apply to them as well as the early recipients of the events and teaching (ie death of Jesus, resurrection, spirit outpouring, and teaching), Andrew relates them exclusively to Israel. However, they do have very powerful consequences for the rest of the world, mainly in the early centuries, These consequences are largely to do with God acting in judgment against the enemies of God’s people, and Gentiles being so impressed with how Israel’s God has acted for Israel, (or maybe against Israel?) that they believe in him as well.

more fruit might come from your dialogue with Andrew to focus on how he could maintain relevance of Jesus and the Spirit for the Gentiles in light of his presuppositions rather than asserting that he actually holds them to be irrelevant

The problem is that I think Andrew’s basic presuppositions are flawed, and that all the problems with the outworking of his interpretation flow from this. In the most recent exchanges, I have taken what appears to be a very reasonable line of thought from Andrew (about Jesus’s lack of focus on the Gentiles because he never speaks of their role in the wider story), and to show that things are very far from being as simple as that. Andrew’s only response seems to be to reject out of hand a very reasonable response from me. Jesus interacts with Gentiles in ways that are very significant, though muted at this point in the story.

Yet you are right; I’m not good at “examining him for consistency in that regard and asking critical questions to tease out how all those pieces could consistently fit together”. I rather want to put together a whole counter-argument, which I think he finds very annoying.

bear in mind the actual argument of the post is that inclusion of the Gentiles is something that shows up in active gospel consciousness after the death and resurrection of Christ

This is what Andrew says, incidentally to a post about Gentile inclusion in Chris Wright’s understanding of the Old Testament! It is correct, but it occurs first in Matthew (28:19-20), so it’s obviously understood within the presentation of Jesus in that gospel that his life was of relevance to Gentiles, and indeed, part of my argument, which Andrew has evaded and finally contradicted, is that Matthew takes a Jewish ‘life and teaching of Jesus’, and says it is now to be given to Gentiles, who are included in it, and are to obey it just as Jews are. In other words, Matthew makes the argument about apparent lack of’Gentile consciousness’ in the gospel irrelevant. Whatever we may have thought about an apparent mutedness on the subject of eschatological Gentile inclusion by Jesus in the gospel, now (Matthew 28:19-20), that inclusion emerges fully in a Gentile target audience for whom the gospel is directlty, not indirectly, relevant. Further, we can understand, in the light of this explicit Gentile inclusion that there was great significance in the way Matthew handles Jesus’s interactions with Gentiles.

but the Gospels prior to the Resurrection and the OT are where you’ll need to make your case

Yes, I’ll accept this criticism, but bearing in mind that the resurrection as presented within the gospels is admissible in understanding the significance of Jesus within the gospels as a whole - we’re talking about a presentation of Jesus’s life, not a life abstracted from the presentation. It’s not that the rest of the NT is irrelevant in interpreting the gospel accounts of Jesus though, since they are providing a contemporary interpretation of those accounts. And to be fair, I was largely restricting myself to Matthew, and what could be found by looking clsoely at the details of Jesus’s interactions with Gentiles there.

Paul’s teaching that God has now revealed Gentile inclusion to apostles and prophets actually supports Andrew’s contention - that this was a mystery until the prophetic activity of the Spirit in Paul’s time

But as I said, a mystery in NT terms is not something that was entirely hidden until it was revealed later. The later revelation made clear what was there, but might not have been fully understood until the revelation came. So Paul’s teaching does support my case. There is enough in the gospels themselves to point to a broader significance for Gentiles, and Matthew’s gospel seems deliberately to encourage this view, from the birth of Jesus to immediately after his death.

Phil, I appreciate your intervention in this dispute, which was becoming increasingly polarised. I have read The Coming of the Son of Man, Re:Mission, and the many, many posts Andrew has presented over the years, including the groundwork which was first fashioned in the previous website Open Source Theology. Andrew and I have debated Romans sufficiently for me to undersand his interpretation of the book too, so I have never got round to reading it in its totality. I also appreciate Andrew, not by agreeing with him; we are completely at odds. But I have been driven back to the biblical material by the very good questions he raises. I find myself confirmed in an entirely different understanding of things, but, I hope, on a much deeper level of understanding and appreciation of the scriptures which we are exploring.

Hi Peter - Thank you for your kindness and patience in your response.

I do recognize that you’ve been interacting with Andrew’s views much, much longer than I have and wouldn’t want to imply otherwise. But perhaps it is because I’m coming at this material with relative newness that certain things stand out to me that are old news for you. You have probably already dealt with them to your satisfaction, but they are new to me, so I appreciate the patience.

For instance, I believe Andrew does talk about the relevance of Jesus’ death and resurrection and the outpouring of the spirit for the Gentiles both in early church history and in present day (I am one of those Gentiles, so I have a vital interest in where someone’s hermeneutic will put me). For the sake of time, I won’t cite specific passages in his writing, but if you feel like I might be inducing too much on a particular point, please let me know and I’ll try to put together a more thorough presentation when I have the books in front of me.

1. Jesus’ resurrection and ascension consummates his kingship, and he is still king over a people who live among nations who, by and large, do not acknowledge this kingship. This calls us to be faithful kingdom communities both as a faithful way of life in the eyes of God, but also as a proclamation of the reality of that kingship to the nations with hope that others and perhaps even entire nations will also acknowledge this kingship and live accordingly, whatever it might look like politically in our milleu.

2. The Spirit is the animating power that enables us to be faithful even unto death, guides us in the path of obedience to God, empowers our prophetic message and activity to ourselves and the world around us, and its work is an initial installment of the new creation and the surety for our hope in it.

3. Christians in many nations live under a political situation very similar to the early church with regard to persecution. Although they may not find Scriptural support for a coming political judgement against their nation, their ethics and what their community and faith looks like has, in many ways, already been modeled in many respects by the early church living under similar conditions. What do faith communities look like when they are falsely accused and marked out for persecution by the ruling powers that be? It can largely be found in the accounts we have of the early church. While Christians today might not hope in an interim resurrection of martyrs, they can hope in a final resurrection and new creation.

4. There remains a new creation (of which a future resurrection is part) which begins with Abraham and is continuing to journey to consummation, and we still live in light of that destiny while acknowledging we also face many crises. This new creation embodiment also informs our ethic as well as our evangelistic call as we invite people to submit to king Jesus and join his people in their trials so that we might see the day of the new creation as it should be.

So, that’s why, rather than claim Andrew sees no relevance of the events in Scripture to Gentiles or the modern church, I suggested you might instead focus on whether or not these kinds of ideas can be consistently arrived at via his hermeneutic. Maybe this is an instance of trying to have one’s cake and eat it, too. Maybe the radical nature of Andrew’s hermeneutic would make Scripture irrelevant to Gentiles and the modern church, and that would be significant if you could show how that followed.

I agree with you that this area is probably where Andrew’s work is most opaque, but one explanation for that (from his hermeneutical standpoint) is that Scripture does not spell out for us what these points are supposed to look like in our historical situation. That is up to us to figure out.

“I don’t think you have quite heard me rightly. I’m arguing, as above, that whereas most Christians believe that the events and teaching (in the main) of the NT apply to them as well as the early recipients of the events and teaching (ie death of Jesus, resurrection, spirit outpouring, and teaching), Andrew relates them exclusively to Israel. However, they do have very powerful consequences for the rest of the world, mainly in the early centuries”

Ok, that does help me in one sense. But then, the way you’re defining application and relevance exists within the world of the products of your hermeneutic. For example, you would say (along with church history at large, which is a weighty consideration) that Christ’s death atoned for the sins of all elect Jews and Gentiles throughout history. Andrew would say Christ’s death atoned for Israel whose sins God had mercifully passed over until the time at which he was going to deal with them in judgement and salvation in history (culminating in 70 AD).

However, Andrew’s view only lacks application to the Gentiles in a context of everyone needing atonement for sin to escape a final judgement at the end of the world. In that context, we’d rightly ask, “Well, what does Jesus dying for Israel have to do with me? Not too much, sounds like. This work of Christ has improved my situation not one iota.”

In the context of the products of Andrew’s hermeneutic where the judgment(s) in Scripture are historical and not an end-of-the-world punishment for personal sin, Christ’s death applies to the Gentiles by virtue of the consequences it has for them (which, in a sense, is not terribly different than a traditional statement - isn’t it the consequences of Christ’s death that have application for you?). There is no other way it could apply to the Gentiles from the standpoint of that theological cluster.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it seems at many points that your critique of Andrew comes down to you comparing the products of your hermeneutic in its theological context with the products of his hermeneutic in his, and I would say (perhaps wrongly) that this doesn’t really move the dialogue forward. You said it best when you said, “The problem is that I think Andrew’s basic presuppositions are flawed, and that all the problems with the outworking of his interpretation flow from this.” If this is indeed the case, then I’d be interested to see your critique of the interpretive methodology itself and/or a demonstration of how consistency with that methdology takes you to places Andrew wouldn’t want to go.

There is certainly some value in bringing up passages and pointing out how, at face value at least, they don’t seem to be explained well by Andrew’s methodology, but that is a much more difficult and dubious road as his explanations make sense within his own framework, just as yours make sense within yours. Like you said, the real difference comes down to the actual hermeneutic. Most theological views have made a peace with difficult passages and established a certain level of internal consistency. This may not be convincing to everyone, but to actually demonstrate these views to be false (or at least very unlikely), my personal bias is that comparing explanations for particular passages doesn’t get us moving along. Please forgive me if I’ve misunderstood your efforts. As I said, you’ve been at this a long time, and I’m coming into the discussion relatively new.

“But as I said, a mystery in NT terms is not something that was entirely hidden until it was revealed later. The later revelation made clear what was there, but might not have been fully understood until the revelation came.”

Assuming that’s a common use of mystery in the NT (and I’m fine taking your word for it), that would be sort of a tacit admission that any previous material that might substantiate the “mystery” is too faint and obscure to be visible to the audience until commentary from much later.

For instance, Paul uses Hagar and Sarah as an allegory for the old covenant defined by the Law and the new-old covenant defined by the promise. I guess you could say that, in some sense, that teaching was there in the original material and Paul is just mining it out. I’m not sure I would say it that way, but I could see it.

Regardless, I think we’d both agree that likely nobody would have understood those Scriptures that way until Paul used them the way he did - not the people who lived through the events, not the people who received the Scriptures that described them, and not the people who read those Scriptures faithfully for thousands of years until Paul, with the help of the Spirit, took that story up into a much broader sense. Nor could those Scriptures have meant that, because the new covenant did not exist historically. It is only at the time Paul is writing that those Scriptures could be said to have meant those things.

Whether we say those Scriptures never taught what Paul says, or whether we say those were hidden mysteries buried in the texts until history could provide certain events and Paul unearthed them, I’m not sure how different those things are.

Peter, I don’t “want” to prove that Jesus did not have the Gentiles in view—I have no theological axe to grind over this one. I just don’t think the evidence supports the idea.

You keep sidestepping the point that I have made repeatedly. I agree that the resurrected Jesus sends his disciples to baptize Gentiles. I agree that Paul saw the inclusion of Gentiles in the covenant people as some sort of fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy, though perhaps not in the sense that you suggest. Thank you, Phil, for making the point for me. But the argument in the post above is simply that, whatever he may actually have thought, Jesus says nothing to this effect prior to his death.

I don’t know what you mean about Jesus anticipating inclusion of the Gentiles by baptism. There is nothing inherently Gentile-friendly about baptism.

The conclusion that may be drawn from OT prophecy concerning Gentile in-gathering is that the in-gathering was not to inclusion in the Mosaic covenant, because the fulfilment came with new covenant inclusion.

But no one appears to have seen this at least until after the resurrection and perhaps not until we get to Cornelius. It’s not to be found in the new covenant passages in the prophets.

I have seen the significance of Matthew’s Gentile references. It is the same story that we find in the prophets: the Gentiles look on, are impressed by, respond to what YHWH is doing in and through and for his people. But it is not a story about the inclusion of Gentiles in the covenant people. It is not a story about the radical redefinition of what it means to be Israel.

He certainly preached the gospel to the Gentiles himself (Matthew 4:24-25, Matthew 8:10-12, Matthew 15:28, 29ff)…

In Matthew 4:23-25 Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God in the synagogues in Galilee and heals the sick. Matthew does not say that Gentiles came from Syria. Commentators suggest that Matthew means the region north of Galilee, which had a significant Jewish population according to Josephus: “the Jewish race… particularly numerous in Syria” (War 7.43).

As for Matthew 8:10-12, even if you are right—and I don’t think you are—Jesus speaks of people coming at the consummation of the kingdom.

I’ve no idea why you think the story of the Canaanite woman supports your argument. Jesus withdraws to Tyre and Sidon. He does not preach the gospel. He tells the woman that he was sent by God—this was his mission—only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The bread is for the children, the dogs only get what falls from the table.

No Gentile asks to follow Jesus. No Gentile is invited to follow Jesus. No Gentile is told to come back later.

Why does Mark writing for the churches in Rome not emphasize the sort of concern for the Gentiles that you somehow find in Matthew? Why doesn’t Luke, writing for a Gentile readership, make it clear that Jesus always meant them to be part of God’s people? Why aren’t you quoting John in support of your claims?

The truly remarkable thing is that the early church resisted the temptation to make Jesus address the Jewish-Gentile crisis, probably the most painful and difficult internal issue that it faced. Why? Because they knew that he had said nothing about the inclusion of Gentiles in the covenant people.

the argument in the post above is simply that, whatever he may actually have thought, Jesus says nothing to this effect (Gentile inclusion etc) prior to his death.

But the counter argument that I am making, which you do not seem able to see, is that it’s not just a question of what Jesus says, but what he does, or rather how Matthew is presenting what he does. We should be paying particular attention to the editorial activity of Matthew, because he draws particular attention to the involvement of Gentiles in Jesus’s ministry, though Mark and Luke add to this in their own ways.

It is of particular importance that we note Jesus’s post-resurrection words at the end of Matthew. You can’t arbitrarily decide that these are somehow to be discounted because he didn’t say anything like it in his pre-resurrection ministry. And to repeat, the importance of Matthew is that the entire gospel is then framed as being directly relevant to Gentiles – “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you”. Also to repeat, baptism was understood in Acts and the letters to be covenant inclusion. You can’t discount it in Matthew simply because Matthew did not fully develop its significance. You can’t frame an argument on the basis that it probably meant something entirely different from its consistent meaning in the rest of the New Testament. It meant Gentile covenant inclusion. Tell me what you think it did mean if you disagree with this.

Matthew’s gospel is somewhat unique in that it is the most Jewish of the gospels, yet the most hostile to Jews of the gospels, and the most inclusive of Gentiles, to the point where Jesus does include them on the same terms as the other disciples – as I have demonstrated before, but you apparently overlooked. In Matthew 28, Matthew’s gospel, the most consciously presented as the new Torah, is given to the Gentiles (through the command to Jewish disciples) as a discipleship training manual for them.

In Matthew 4:23-25 Jesus proclaims the kingdom of God in the synagogues in Galilee and heals the sick. Matthew does not say that Gentiles came from Syria. Commentators suggest that Matthew means the region north of Galilee, which had a significant Jewish population according to Josephus: “the Jewish race… particularly numerous in Syria” (War 7.43).

I was careful to say that Jews as well as Gentiles were flocking to Jesus from these Gentile areas. Syria may well have had a significant Jewish population, but it was not the heartland of Jewish Israel, and other areas were distinctly Gentile; that’s why Matthew draws attention to them. “Galilee of the Gentiles” - remember?

I’ve no idea why you think the story of the Canaanite woman supports your argument. Jesus withdraws to Tyre and Sidon. He does not preach the gospel.

Wrong. Even in Tyre and Sidon, having withdrawn from areas where he was popular and well known, Jesus preaches the gospel to the Canaanite woman by commending her “great faith”, healing her daughter, and implicating the culpability of those who should have eaten atthe table with him but would not, whilst receiving and honouring those who, like the woman, were regarded by Jews as Gentile “dogs”. He puts their words into his own mouth, and then condemns them by commending her for what they did not bring to him.

Matthew is making the point that despite the immediate contingency of Jesus’s mission, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”, it was as often as not Gentiles who were benefiting from him, because they responded in willing faith and Israel not. That this was the point Matthew was making is demonstrated by the episode which follows immediately, which is the feeding of the 4000, in Gentile territory, with a number (4X1000) which commentators see as representing Gentiles.

Nobody is denying that Jesus’s mission was to Jews, because he came to fulfil their story. Matthew in particular, but the other gospel writers as well, in parallel and different ways, illustrates and paves the way for the Gentile (covenant) inclusion which Israel’s story was intended to fulfil, largely and paradoxically by their rejection of the role they were supposed to play in that fulfilment. It’s all there in Matthew, and the other gospels.

No Gentile asks to follow Jesus. No Gentile is invited to follow Jesus. No Gentile is told to come back later.

So look at what the gospels are saying. Jesus came to the Jews. In large measure he was rejected by Israel, despite his popularity. The beginnings of Gentile inclusion are demonstrated by their response to him, individually, corporately, by the areas in which Jesus chose to exercise his ministry outside Jewish Israel, and by things Jesus said about the Gentiles, many of which I haven’t included. This isn’t an exhaustive compendium on the subject.

Most of all, Matthew above the other three gospel writers turns the entire teaching of Jesus over to Gentiles by the Great Commission. And you say this is irrelevant because Jesus said it in a resurrection appearance. The speciousness of the distinction is mind-boggling.

Why does Mark writing for the churches in Rome not emphasize the sort of concern for the Gentiles that you somehow find in Matthew? Why doesn’t Luke, writing for a Gentile readership, make it clear that Jesus always meant them to be part of God’s people? Why aren’t you quoting John in support of your claims?

I’d happily show how Mark and Luke complement Matthew, with many of the same Gentile episodes, and some more of their own which reinforce the same point. A Gentile ministry of Jesus took place in the gospels, and pointed in the clearest possible way to a Gentile fulfilment to come.

My argument about Matthew all along has simply been that Jesus says nothing about the inclusion of Gentiles in the covenant people until after his death. Nor does he do anything that points in this direction. Matthew highlights the fact that Gentiles are impressed by what is going on, they benefit from his presence. He does not highlight the inclusion of Gentiles in the people of God. The distinction is crucial and consistent with the Old Testament. It seems to me that people have tried to interpret certain texts as though Jesus expressly included Gentiles. I’m correcting these misreadings, as I see them. Yes, baptism in the New Testament entails covenant inclusion in some sense. But it does not of itself mean inclusion of Gentiles. Besides Matthew says nothing about Jesus baptizing anyone. The argument that the 4,000 included Gentiles is groundless; and how Jesus’ instruction to teach Gentiles everything that he has commanded his disciples changes anything is beyond me. So can we leave it there? To be honest, when the exchange gets so repetitive, cross-purposed, and we have to resort to words like “specious” and “mind-boggling”, I’m inclined to think that it’s not serving much of a purpose.

Andrew,

What do you make of the phrase “my people” being used of Egypt and Assyria in those passages? Would “my people” have been understood as a phrase broader than “Israel?”

The passage appears to envisage both Egypt and Assyria becoming a people for YHWH, just as Israel was a people for YHWH. For example, there will be an altar to the Lord in Egypt, and when they cry out to him because of oppressors, he will send them a saviour; the Egyptians will “know the Lord in that day”. This is remarkable, but it does not at any point suggest that these nations become part of Israel. They remain three distinct peoples in the midst of the other nations of the earth (Is. 19:24).

 

Ok, I see what you’re saying. Would you also extend that to apparent NT uses of Israel’s titles for Gentiles? Such as Peter’s “kingdom of priests,” etc.?

If Peter is writing consciously to Jewish and Gentile believers—and not just to Jewish Christians—then presumably by this point the apostles have got used to the idea that the family of Abraham has become a people defined no longer by the Law but by faith in Jesus.

Peter says: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet. 2:10). But in Hosea (eg. 2:23) this language refers to Israel, not the nations.

Ok, so, just thinking out loud (so be gentle), the Hosea passage is describing God “seducing” Israel away from her idols and forming a covenant with her - a remarriage of sorts.

So, Peter’s use of that passage -could- be in reference to the experience of faithful Jewish Christians. In other words, just because an Israel-ish title shows up in the NT, we can’t automatically assume it builds the case for a Gentile-heavy church being considered as the continuation of OT Israel.

Except that Paul puts Hosea to different use:

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” (Rom. 9:22–26)

I’m going to officially register a request that you write a blog post on the topic of NT uses of titles for Israel.