RE-INTERPRETING SCRIPTURE
By Daniel C. Juster Th.D.

Recently I was asked to review two books that have a very negative slant on the modern State of Israel. I wrote a lengthy letter to one of the authors and have had extensive dialogue with the brother who recommended one of the books. Both books emphasize in detail Israel's sins against the Palestinian Arabs (as if this should change our understanding of what Scripture says?). There is plenty of factual material for both Israelis and Palestinians to make a one sided case against the other. However, the most alarming assertion in these books was that because the New Testament does not explicitly emphasize the promise of the Land to the Jewish people, this must not be a continuing promise. In addition, both authors held that the New Testament re-interprets the Old Testament and universalized the idea of the Promised Land as a place for all God's people. "The meek shall inherit the earth."

The Concept of Re-interpretation

A recent book by a very prominent Catholic also used the idea of the New Testament as re-interpreting the Old. The Roman Catholic Church has repudiated replacement theology; the idea that the Church has replaced Israel or is the superceding ongoing meaning of Israel. However, this book described the Church as forming a new universal Israel with greater transcendent significance. It argues that the New Testament teaches that the Church, to a significant degree, is the fulfillment of the promises to Israel. The choosing of 12 disciples is given as further evidence. In this viewpoint, old Israel is not rejected (which is contrary to official Catholic doctrine) but is certainly diminished.

Is the Land Promised to Israel?

Let's look at the easier matter first - the claim that the New Testament does not affirm the promise of the Land to Israel, but universalizes this promise as meaning the future inheritance of all believers. The New Testament Scriptures write to the specific situations at hand and do not present a systematic theology. There was no need to re-state what was clearly stated in the Hebrew Scriptures, the only Bible at that time. The Gospels were written to preserve the record of the ministry of Yeshua when the original Apostolic Company was dying out. The Epistles were written to respond to specific challenges in the Gentile congregations. Of course, these writings have applications for all believers in all times.

However, when Paul specifically writes concerning the issue of Israel, because of the arrogance amongst Gentiles in Rome, he is as explicit as we could ever desire. Romans 9-11 is very clear. When he states in Romans 9, "Theirs are the covenants," such covenants obviously include the content of the promises within them. When Paul states in Romans 11:29, that "the gifts and call of God (to Israel) are irrevocable," the gift of the Land is again obviously one of those gifts. In addition, why would this issue of Land be addressed in the first century? The Land at that time was populated by Jews. Yes, there was Roman occupation and government. However, no one doubted that this was the Jewish land. It simply was not an issue!

Does the New Testament Have to Repeat the Content of the Hebrew Bible?

The viewpoint that the New Testament must directly speak about all important issues, even if clearly asserted in the Hebrew Scriptures, is a foolish one. The New Testament does not deal with some of the issues of economic justice, but the Hebrew Bible does when it enjoins the cancellation of debt on Sabbatical and Jubilee years. It does not describe how courts should operate, but this is a crucial issue. Are we to then conclude that just courts are now abandoned because this is not addressed? New Covenant Scriptures do not define what constitutes incest. Leviticus gives us the list of forbidden relationships. Are we to ignore this because it is not repeated in the New Covenant scriptures?

This approach smacks of the very arrogance against which Paul speaks. If the New Testament re-interprets the Old so that Israel is now the Church and the Land is the earth, we have a huge problem. This approach does not allow the texts of the Hebrew Bible to speak on their own terms with the integrity of their straightforward meaning; the result is they can be made to say something other than what the author intended. That is the core problem with the whole concept of re-interpretation. For this reason, Messianic Jews do not like to use the terms Old Testament and New Testament, but instead use non-prejudiced terms like the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Covenant Scriptures.

Scripture after Scripture in context states that the Jewish people will never cease to be a people before God and that they will ultimately inherit the Land, never again to be uprooted (Jeremiah 23:5-8; 31:35-37; Ezekiel 36:24-28). This is sufficient for our teaching. With integrity, this cannot be re-interpreted as fulfilled by "the Church as the ongoing meaning of Israel," or by "the Church which is preserved and will inherit the earth."

The Church and Prophetic Analogy

The New Covenant Scriptures do speak of the New Covenant People of God, the Body of the Messiah, in terms that are analogous to what is said about ethnic Israel. It uses the very language of the Hebrew Bible to make such statements. Believers are called a royal priesthood reminiscent of Exodus 19 (I Peter 2:9, 10). They are called the Bride of Yeshua as Israel is called the Wife of God. What is going on here? This is not a matter of re-interpretation so that the original meaning of the text is now changed. Rather, the Spirit speaks new revelation by prophetic analogies to what was promised to ancient Israel. This new revelation tells us that the Body of Believers, rooted in Israel and called the commonwealth of Israel in Ephesians 2, has parallel promises to Israel. In Messiah, Gentile believers become children of Abraham. Hence, they are blessed with promises that apply to Abraham's descendants. Indeed, they will inherit the Earth, for in the Age to Come, the whole Earth becomes Promised Land. Thus there are many new applications for the promises. However this is the Age where the Jewish people come into their inheritance in the central Promised Land that is allotted to them. The meaning of the Passover-exodus will be applied to all nations. The whole earth will experience the prosperity promised to ancient Israel as a reward for faithfulness in their Land. This was anticipated in the prophets, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord (Isaiah 11:9). I call this theology "addition theology."

Addition theology has many benefits. It recognizes that the New Covenant made with Israel includes Gentiles. It recognizes that the meaning of covenant relationship and priesthood has been expanded to include all who come to faith through Yeshua. It recognizes a bridal position for the Body of Believers that is no less than the position of the priesthood of the Jewish people. It embraces the universal fellowship that is the new reality brought into being by Yeshua. At the same time, it reaffirms the promises made to the Ancient Nation of Israel which should be taken in a straightforward manner. God does not speak in a fast and loose way so that His words can mean something so apart from what would have comforted the original listeners. Imagine saying to the ancient Israelites that the promise of never being again plucked up from their Land means that people from all nations would be called of God and would inherit the earth. These would have hardly been considered as adequate, comforting words of assurance directed to them as an ethnic people. The Jewish people understood these words rightly in their obvious sense.

Deriving our Theology from the Integrity of Each Text

This becomes very important to how we are to do theology. Wherever possible, we are to take every text in context as it was intended by the author and as it would have been understood. The meaning of each Bible text and each book is to be organized and harmonized with the assertions from other texts and books, but never by doing violence to the text. What do we mean by doing violence to a text? It is to re-interpret a text so as to forgo its intended meaning.

The weight of the texts of the Hebrew Bible concerning the preservation of the Jewish people, their return to the Land and their inheritance in the Land are very clear and plentiful. This will be the natural conclusion of any open minded (unbiased) reader of the Hebrew Bible, unless he has been indoctrinated against a straightforward reading of the texts. So let us take heart and not be shaken! Those who work for the return of the Jews to their ancient Land and are part of the effort to bring the Jewish people to the knowledge of Yeshua are living out the truth of the Word of God.

By Daniel Juster


Dan Juster leads the overall ministry Tikkun International. Donate to Tikkun International.

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Comments
Comments:
13:08 02Sep07 Tjeerd Klaassens -
Thank you so much for this article! Your explanation is crystal clear.

13:24 02Sep07 anonymous -
Excellent article, well argued, expressing clear correct thinking, proper principles of exegesis, and correct conclusions. New Covenant revelation ADDS and CLARIFIES, but does not CHANGE what God has already revealed. - From a Gentile believer.

13:35 02Sep07 anonymous -
In the last few years I have become acquainted with the "Hebrew Roots of our Christian Faith" truth. My eyes have literally been opened to some of the truths of the New Covenant Scripture because of the understanding the Hebrew Roots. I would wish to understand, in Spirit and Truth, much more of the New Covenant by understanding the Hebrew Scriptures properly. It now grieves me to see so much preached completely out of text, and what I used to believe was truth also. Article was good and appreciated.

16:34 02Sep07 Barbara Byerly -
I want to thank you for your comments that lead to the truth of God's Word. Both old and new covenant were made in the Hebrew Scriptures. God has and will keep His Word to His land Israel and the Jewish people. Yes, he would love for the Arabs and Jews to live together in peace and harmony. He would also love to see His multi-denominational Churches work together in the bond of love and peace. We are so splintered how can we criticize God's Work among His people. Some denominations do not believe others will get to heaven. My heart breaks with all the multiple splits and divisive ways we act.Thanks Dan for all the years of study and bringing the Truth of God's Holy Word with clarity and defending the Truth as recorded in scripture.
In His love, peace joy, and hope for Israel's future to be understood and defended. America has been a true friend of Israel. May our Holy God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit keep that bond of trust and faithfulness in His Church and in Messianic Congregations throughout the world.

17:29 02Sep07 Robert Lowe -
Thank you. The Lord has been impressing on my heart to study how to interpret the Bible correctly. You touch upon some important methods in the article. Can you recommend a book(s) that explain good methods of Bible interpretation?

  -- Dr Juster replies: There are some older and adequate manuals if you can get them. One is Protestant Christian Interpretation by Bernard Ramm. However, the height of scholarship is The Hermeneutical Circle by Grant Osborn. This is a very difficult and high scholarship type book. I have a short summary in my book Growing to Maturity and an essay in the book Voices of Messianic Judaism edited by Rabbi Cohn-Sherbock.

18:28 02Sep07 John R. Peacher -
Amen and Amen, Dr. Juster! God, and His promises are the same yesterday, today and forever. He is not man that He should change according to popular opinion. I consider the New Jerusalem, with the twelve gates named after each Tribe. Oh for the day when the earthly and heavenly Jerusalem finally merge! Revelation 21:10-12 "And He carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,Having the glory of God; and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; And had a wall great and high, and had twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and names written theron, which are the twelve tribes of the children of Israel."
PRAISE HIS HOLY NAME. WHAT A DAY THAT WILL BE, WHEN YESHUA WE SHALL SEE, WHEN WE LOOK UPON HIS FACE, THE ONE WHO SAVED US BY HIS GRACE!

18:42 02Sep07 anonymous -
Yes, I enjoyed this article very much and am glad to see this in print ... more people need to be aware of this ... especially those who are attempting to re-write our Holy Scriptures. 19:56 02Sep07 Andre Tavares -
The concept of "addition theology" is very powerful against the replacement theology without denies the goy's role in the Kingdom. The Jewish heritage and identity (and its affirmation), for some reason, frightening the Gentiles, as if this would expel them or oust them out. It is so irritant this idea that to affirm the universal outreach of New Testament message it is necessary to deny the alliances and promises to the Jewish people. If the Gentile believers knew some Gentile reformed-calvinists theologians, some of reformational and neocalvinists philosophers, this stupidity in deny the legal and leading function of TANACH. And I have no doubts: the most part of Christians in the West will abandon Israel because of the Islam or post modern treat, and will look for theological forms to cast out the Jewish aspects of Christian belief.

20:53 02Sep07 Jesse Bruton -
Not having read these books, I don't know what exactly what you are responding to. But your term "addition theology" and the brief hermeneutic you present rings with truth. Thank you for your needful reminder that the good news must continually be examined through the lense of God's historical, redemptive, covenant-relationship with His people. May my fellow Gentile brethren not presume too much of ourselves. We have definitely been grafted directly into the cultivated olive tree. But we are not the roots nor the trunk.

03:19 03Sep07 Miriam Maranzenboim -
One of the most timely articles I've read lately. All of the uproar concerning the Temple Mount should be an indicator of the soon-coming of Yeshua to the Mt. of Olives. I believe that "all Israel" will be saved - I'm not sure about Jews in the diaspora since some would rather forget their identity as Jews. Would like to hear D. Juster's thoughts on the matter.

  -- Dr Juster replies: Well, it is an interesting point. I do think that all Israel at the end is broader than those who are in the Land, but you are correct in putting forth a possible interpretation.

09:42 03Sep07 anonymous -
Please continue to write on this subject ... I find there are MANY uninformed Christians - even friends of mine - who are believing this ... especially as this it propogated by the media in the west. I am forwarding this article on to MANY! Thank you, G_d bless you and may He continue to pour out the spirit of wisdom and revelation upon you and increase the anointing of a forerunner ... a voice crying out ... upon you and your ministries.

11:39 03Sep07 Darrell Stout -
One of the areas of theology that is grossly misunderstood in the Church at large is the truths of how the Church and Israel are related and connected. Dan's article needs to be spread far and wide - to both the "Gentile" Church and to Israel. Both groups largely fail to see this valid Biblical connection. Thank you Dan for setting forth these truths is such a concise and truthful manner. Great!!!

12:37 03Sep07 Nancy Rothstein -
This was a very helpful commentary that gave me insight in how to wisely answer people who claim that the New Covenant scriptures have changed G-d's promises to Israel. May G-d continue to give you wisdom and insight into spiritual issues, especially related to Israel.

16:09 03Sep07 Pip (Philip) Deverill -
Thank you, Dr. Juster, for this article. I have not read the book, so will refrain from that most invidious of practices - which is to comment on something one has not read. However, you make some extremely important points with clarity and lucidity, for which I am extremely grateful. It is an eternal shame that the church fails to realise that its very existence is owed to the tribe of Judah, and that the Apostle to the Gentiles (me included !) described himself as a Hebrew of the Hebrews ! We Gentiles need the humility to recognise - as another respondent has already touched upon - that we were grafted into the Olive Tree, by our Father's grace: we are not the firstborn among many brethren, but rather follow in the way which has already been laid out for us by Jewish believers.
Unfortunately, we need to recognise, too, that the evil one will do and is doing all in his not inconsiderable power to blind Gentiles particularly to the whole truth of our God's plan - to choose out a people for Himself from all tribes and nations beginning with the Hebrews. As it is he has us fighting amongst ourselves, instead of putting our energies into spreading His Kingdom, praying for the Peace of Jerusalem, and doing all in our power to ensure the return of His original people to their promised land.
Not for nothing did Yeshua pray, "that they all should be one" for it is easy to see how powerful, in the Holy Spirit, a truly united church would be ! May our Lord richly bless you and all your endeavours.

10:06 05Sep07 DDKK -
I just had a conversation with my Dad this weekend that shocked me. We were talking about the Lord and I said that the Jews were the Apple of God's eye and the promises are to them first. He got all stiff and said, "No, I don't believe that... we are!" I gave him several things from the New Covenant Scriptures, because he said the Old Testament is just that OLD! My heart was grieved at his responce. This article will be good to give him. Oh and he was a Pastor for 40 years.

16:15 05Sep07 James Wagner -
This is an excellent article and puts a lot of potentially controversial things in a clear Biblical perspective. It is however alarming to see that elements of replacement theology still linger not far below the surface in some quarters.

21:41 05Sep07 Marc Handelsman -
Hermeneutics is the art and science of biblical interpretation. The Bible should be taken at face value without reading opinions into the text. There would be less theological confusion, if people would take G-d at His word. And keep scripture in its proper context.

07:58 06Sep07 John Paschal -
Thanks for this article.
Because of the times in which we live, teachers and commentaries abound. With the internet, we have instant publishing and we are challenged to discern the right teaching from the false teaching. Often the false teaching is so subtle, it is almost believable.
Thank you Dr. Juster for your clear writing and reminding us that we must rightly divide the Word of Truth.

10:18 23Sep07 Mack E Whaley -
What you say here, to me is God's truth from the Bible.


Also in this issue of the newsletter:

Leora Mazurovsky: Back to the Future
Avi & Hannah Tekle: The Trek to the Promised Land
Betty Intrater: Come and Let Us Go Up ...
David Shishkoff: Sudanese Refugees in Israel