For Sunday July 7, 2013
This post is a follow-on to the one of two weeks ago entitled “Who are Abraham’s Heirs”? Paul ends this passage with a curious phrase: the Israel of God. Why does he do this? What does he mean? What’s in it for us?
First, why does Paul do this? I suggest it was to emphasize the fact that “the people of God’s promise were not those circumcised physically into Judaism, but rather those who through the gospel (“the rule”) had become “new creations” in Jesus Christ.
What does Paul mean? Based on the original Greek grammar one could take ‘the Israel of God’ as a coordinate clause (“peace upon those in Christ and (separately) on the ‘Israel of God’). Yet another option would be to read this last phrase concessively (… “even on the Israel of God”). As is usually the case context ought dictate and the context of the prior paragraphs focuses on the contrast between law and gospel. The ‘Israel of God’ consists of the people who are defined not by the Law, but by the promise of the gospel itself.
So what then is in this for us? That if we will live according to the ‘rule’ of the gospel we will experience the ‘peace and mercy’ God promised so long ago to Abraham and his descendants, or in other words, to Israel. The objection is often raised that such an interpretation is ‘replacement theology’. Yet what is at issue is not replacement but fulfillment. ‘The Israel of God’ is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. As Paul says elsewhere, the Law does not invalidate the promise made 400 years earlier. Jesus is not a replacement for Israel: he and his followers, we ourselves as His body, the church, are the Israel of God. What’s in it for us is not only ‘peace and mercy’ but also an identity and a destiny. This, the gospel, is very good news indeed.