How are we to understand the relationship between the Church (that we see revealed and inaugurated in Acts 2) with God’s people Israel (that we see begin with their father Abraham in Genesis 12). When the N.T. speaks of the New Covenant and Abrahamic Covenant (A.C.) who does it pertain to and in what way(s)? Also, with the coming of the Messiah how does that pinnacle event affect all these issues? What I hope to accomplish in this post is give a framework that will provide the reader with direction for these questions.
In Galatians, Paul is dealing with false teachers who have crept in teaching a false gospel. We known from the epistle that these false teachers were imposing on the church other requirements (circumcision, dietary laws, holy days, etc.) to be full recipients of all the gospel offered. In chapter 3, Paul lays out the case for how one is saved and what the believer is entitled to. In vs. 14, Paul concludes that all those who believed as Abraham did are recipients of the “blessing of Abraham.” The A.C. has often been divided into three blessings: land, seed, and blessing. So which aspects does Paul have in mind in vs. 14 and subsequently, the rest of the chapter? Verse 16 states,
Now the promises (plural) were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings” as referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. (Italics, underlining, and bold my emphasis)
Two fundamental observations should be made here. First, Paul uses the plural when speaking of the benefits given to the believing recipients of the A.C. So this text cannot be speaking about one particular aspect of the A.C. as some have argued. Grammar dictates that Paul has at least two promises from the A.C. in mind. And unless the text specifies which particular promises he has in mind; it is safest to assume all of them. Second, the A.C. was given to Abraham and to Christ.
Paul then explains the purpose of the law from vs. 17-26. The law was to expose our need for a Messiah and for everyone to turn to Him. Jesus fulfilled the law and was cursed by it on the believers’ behalf (vs. 10-14). Therefore, all who believe in Him are united to Christ and by their union to Him become “Abraham’s offspring” and thus “heirs according to the promise.” Therefore, I conclude from Paul, Galatians 3 teaches that all who believe in Jesus are the true sons of Abraham, the father of Israel.
In the overarching story of the Bible we see God’s special people emerge on the scene in Genesis 12. But what was it that made them special? Was it bloodlines? No. Abraham was a Gentile until God called him and set him apart from the nations. Abraham was the first Jew. And it was God’s choice that made him special. We see in the O.T. that generally those God elected were descendants of Abraham. And so the large majority of Jews were blood descendants of Abraham. However, having Abraham’s blood in you was never a prerequisite to being part of the nation of Israel. For example, the Egyptians who left in the Exodus with Israel, or more specifically, what about Rahab who Jesus descended from? In the O.T. what marked someone as being part of the nation of Israel was circumcision, and submission to God’s law. These were the outward manifestations of professed belief in the Messiah.
We later learn from Paul that not all who descend from Abraham were of Israel; but only those who were set apart by God’s choice (Romans 9:6-13). In other words, only those who were elected and believed were truly part of Israel. So if we know that being a blood descendent of Abraham was never a prerequisite for being part of the nation of Israel. And we know from Paul that election and belief is a prerequisite for being part of Israel. It would best be understood that all those who believe and identify themselves with Jesus Christ (the Seed of Abraham) and his body (the Church) are the true Israel of God (Galatians 6:16, see illustration).
Lastly, if we know that Gentile converts prior to Christ and the New Covenant are recipients of all that was promised to Abraham, but refuse Gentile converts now because of the inauguration of New Covenant and the establishing of the Church. Then that would mean O.T. converts are entitled to more of the Abrahamic Covenant and the New Covenant than the Church is today. It is much more consistent to see Jesus and the Church (the body of Christ) as that which was promised to Abraham. Therefore, there should be no distinctions between the Israel of God and the Church.
My brother Doug’s intro can be found here.