A response to Graeme Carle, "Promised land or Not."
Recently Graeme Carle published his opinions on Israel and the promised land here: https://emmausroad.org.nz/promised-land-not/. In his post he challenged anyone from Laidlaw College or Carey Baptist College to respond. I am taking up the challenge, although I represent neither college. The opinions are my own.
Graeme starts with Romans 4:13, “For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” We all know that Abraham was promised not the world but a small slice of territory at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, But here, Paul, in line with his recognition that God’s promise of descendants to Abraham is expanded to include not just ethnic Israel but everybody who has faith, also recognises that in Christ the promised land is expanded to include the whole world. Graeme claims, “Abraham and Jesus haven’t yet inherited the whole world to share with us have they?” Graeme is wrong. He hasn’t noticed that the most frequently quoted Old Testament text in the New Testament is Ps 110:1, “The Lord says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool?” The New Testament authors read this verse as saying that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God, ruling not just the whole world, but the entire the universe with the power and authority of God. Sometimes it is combined with Ps 2:7-8, “I will tell of the decree of the Lord: He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession’.” In the Psalm that can be classed as ancient Near Eastern royal court hyperbole. But with Jesus it is the reality. Jesus has inherited not just the kingdom ruled by David to whom this Psalm originally applied, but the ends of the earth. Wherever the people of God are found is the promised land. The gospel has reached as far as New Zealand – the ends of the earth from the perspective of the Hebrew post – and since the people of God are found living there, the promise has indeed been fulfilled in Christ. Just as the Book of Joshua shows the people of God taking the promised land for God’s people, so the Book of Acts shows the people of God taking the ends of earth for God’s people.
Graeme then turns to 2 Cor 1:20, “For in him (Christ) every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.” The sense of the verse seems clear to me – whatever promises God made to Israel in the past, they find their fulfillment in Christ. Or as Murray Harris writes in his NIGTC commentary on this verse, “God’s promises all find their ‘Yes’ of fulfillment in Christ; he forms the climax and summation of the divine self-revelation” (p. 202). The verse has no verb in Greek (Greek grammar does that at times), and one needs to be supplied in English. Our translations all supply a present tense verb, but Graeme is unhappy with this, so he decides that it needs a future tense verb. Occasionally New Testament verbless clauses need a future tense verb in English, but it is always clear from the context (see 1 Peter 4:17; Heb 6:8; 1 Cor 15:21). It is not clear in 2 Cor 1:20 though. Graeme wants to make the verse say “There is one more promise that won’t happen for a couple of thousand years, for then Israel will get its land back.” The problem with this is that the New Testament nowhere states specifically that Israel will ever get its land back. Graeme has noticed the state of Israel and wants to find New Testament support for it being the beginning of the end times. So he misreads to Scripture to make it say that.
Next Graeme turns to Rom 11:1-2 to support his claim that God’s promises have not failed. He misquotes that text too. He writes, “I say, then, God has not rejected his people, has He, May it never be … God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew …” (Rom 11:1-2). My problem is with the ellipse that Graeme inserts in the middle of his quote. The paragraph that encompasses Rom 11:1-5, without Graeme’s ellipse reads like this (with some italics added to show what Graeme has omitted),
I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars; I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.” 4 But what is the divine reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.
Paul’s evidence that God’s promises have not failed is not connected with the last days gathering of the people of God to the promised land, which is never mentioned in Romans 11 (or anywhere else in the New Testament). Rather, it is that Paul is “an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” and a follower of Jesus, part of the remnant chosen by grace. That is why Paul can say that God is faithful. God has not cast off his people, for the gospel remains open to Jew and Gentile alike, and Jews like Paul were (and still are) becoming believers in Jesus.
Graeme brings in one more New Testament text, Luke 21:24, “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” Graeme looks at vv. 20-24 together, which he rightly relates to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, but then he transfers verse 24 2,000 years into the future (what warrant he for inserting this gap into the text I do not know) and suggests that the times of the Gentiles were fulfilled in 1967 when Israel regained Jerusalem. The problem with Graeme’s exegesis is that he doesn’t notice the full stop at the end of verse 24. Luke does not go on to say, “and then will be the times of the Jews.” This verse say nothing at all about the restoration of Jerusalem. A glance at Mark’s version of the same discourse is illuminating. Mark 13:14-23 ends like this, “And if the Lord had not cut short those days, no one would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he has cut short those days” (v. 20). God, in his grace, set a limit on the duration of Rome’s war on Jerusalem. Mark explains it as the Lord “cutting short those days”, while Luke explains it with reference to the times of the Gentiles having a limit. But neither Mark nor Luke (nor, as it happens, Matthew) anywhere suggest the restoration of Jerusalem to Israel. It is simply not on their horizon. Graeme needs to take note of what the text does says and not what it doesn’t say.
What is significant about Graeme’s article is that apart from these New Testament texts that he misreads, he can only cite Old Testament texts about the promised land. This is because there are no New Testament texts available. Graeme reads the Old Testament as though the New Testament had never been written. And to be frank, that is a faulty hermeneutic. The New Testament is just not interested in the promised land. It appears just once in Heb 11:8-10, 13-16, where it is negated, as anticipating a better, heavenly country. The New Testament nowhere anticipates Israel’s return to the land in the last days. Nowhere. There has been a change of focus from the land to Jesus.
So my question to Graeme is, “Where are you going to focus your attention? The land and a secular state with a religious name (Israel), or Jesus? I don’t believe it can be both and you need to make a choice.