Tim’s Blog

Christians and Judaism

April 28, 2024

Most discussions regarding Jews and Christians involve oversimplifications on both sides of the equation.

With regard to Jews: modern Judaism is not simply Old Testament religion, minus Jesus. To think otherwise is to pretend that history occurs in a vacuum.

1) The first thing we ought to observe is that even in Old Testament times, a great deal changed from beginning to end. The situation of Israel’s identity was radically different toward the end of the Old Testament period compared to what it had been earlier. This is not merely because Israel had moved through the stages of clan to tribal nation to kingdom, but in particular because there was an early royal rift between the so-called “ten tribes” and the kingdom of Judah (which comprised the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Simeon, and most of Levi). In the first years of that rift, the first northern king invented new forms of worship for Yahweh so that his people would not be going to Jerusalem; and after a few generations, almost every northern king worshiped other gods altogether. Within a couple hundred years, God judged the northern kingdom and most of the northern tribes were relocated and eventually sown into the peoples of those lands.

The point is that “Jews” does not equal “Israelites” (as Jason Staples has so insistently and ably pointed out). “Jews” is shorthand for “people from the kingdom of Judah,” which is not the same as “Israel.” (This is one crucial point when considering whether a Jewish nation-state actually fulfills the Old Testament promises toward Israel. Answer: it does not, and cannot. The promises envision a reunified Israel, which is not something human beings can achieve.)

2) Even in the first century before Jesus’ ministry, Judaism had evolved and was evolving and was not exactly the faith of the Hebrew Scriptures. Various groups were trying to mark out that faith in various ways, in the face of several centuries of prophetic silence, and in particular, in the face of an awareness of living in a “post-exilic” age of wrath.

This variety of Judaisms already present before the outset of Jesus’ ministry is evident in his interactions with his contemporaries. The Sadducees and Pharisees, quite obviously, were very different, but even the Pharisees had significant differences among themselves; and that does not even take into account other groups (e.g. the Essene community etc).

3) Post-Christian Judaism shifted even further, both from interaction and reaction to the claims of Jesus, as well as to the destruction of the temple and the attending dissolution of what little independence Judea had enjoyed since the return sponsored by Cyrus.

With regard to Christians: modern Christians too are very far removed from the situation of the first generation of believers in the first century. One big reason for this is that early in its history, the Church went from being completely Jewish to overwhelmingly Gentile, and (shortly thereafter) increasingly indebted to thought forms and philosophies more at home in the Greek and Roman world than in the Hebrew Scriptures.

This means that even if we are emphatically opposed to Marcionite tendencies (Marcion pitted the God of the Old Testament against the God of the New as two different, opposing deities), we have to labor significantly to overcome (centuries of) conceptual baggage in order to understand and appreciate the Old Testament. And that understanding and appreciation is actually critical to understanding the New.

It is not the task of Christians to rehabilitate Judaism. Jews who come to Christ will do so by way of seeing Scripture through new eyes.

If we want to be the means God uses toward that end, as we proclaim the good news of Israel’s Messiah, a good start would be in our own backyard, by seeing Scripture through new eyes ourselves.

And, as Paul reminds us, we are not to “boast against the branches.” We have been grafted into our position in God’s people out of mere grace, and God’s purpose is to re-graft branches presently broken off.

Our mission is neither to treat Jews as our enemies, nor to find ways to force some sort of fulfillment of supposed prophecies regarding a Jewish nation-state (there aren’t any).

Our mission toward Jews is the same as our mission toward Gentiles: to treat them with humility and yet with faithfulness, confident in the power and love of the Messiah.

The Church and the Calling to Pray for Healing

April 27, 2024

No matter where a church stands on the issue of cessationism, it should cultivate the biblical practice of prayer for healing.

This practice should be shaped by the Church’s confession regarding death and resurrection, and by the explicit command of Scripture.

The Church confesses that it is appointed to man to die (Hebrews 9:27). This means that in the final analysis, all healings in this life are temporary. They are not ultimate.

The Church also confesses the resurrection of the body. This means that, contrary to the hyper-spirituality common to some parts of the Church, the living God is intimately concerned with our bodies, and in fact infallibly plans to restore us to full and perfect health when it’s all said and done.

Like restoration from sin, liberation from illness and disease is partial in this life. But that doesn’t mean God isn’t serious about it. Just as we would not pray “Lord, if it be your will, remove lust from my heart,” we should not pray, “Lord, if it be your will, heal Jane from her multiple sclerosis.” The Lord has revealed his will, and it is liberation from both sin and ill health. The partiality attendant to that liberation in this life is not an implied reason to pray without faith or seriousness, with regard either to sin or to sickness.

James writes,

“Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.

“And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous is powerful in its working.” [James 5:14–16]

What is in view here is not someone with “the gift of healing” going around. It is the elders of the local church; no special apostolic gifts are requisite. They simply take God at his Word and pray in accordance with his command.

Certainly, not everyone will be healed in this life. Paul, who says little in his letters about the signs and wonders present in his ministry, in fact was God’s instrument for amazing events that we would call miracles of healing (e.g. Acts 14:8–10; 19:11–12; 28:8; cf Acts 15:12). Yet even he left behind a beloved companion who had fallen ill (2 Tim 4:20). So even he did not have power simply to heal whomever he chose; and in any case, all those whom he did heal eventually died.

But that fact does not change the command or the ultimate promise of resurrection. We anoint with oil as a sign that we acknowledge that it is the Spirit who gives life to these mortal bodies (cf Romans 8:11), and although the full force of his resurrection power has not yet been displayed in them, he is nonetheless powerfully present even now, bearing witness to our ultimate hope.

Theses Regarding “All Israel Will Be Saved”

April 18, 2024

Theses regarding the widespread restoration of Israel:

1) The people provided the promise have not been redefined. The Old Testament prophecies frequently distinguish between Gentiles and Israel with reference to future blessing. Moreover, when Paul says “all Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:26), he is not speaking merely of “all the elect remnant of Jew and Gentile,” which would be at best nothing more than a tautology.

A responsible reading of Rom 11:26 must fully reckon with 11:28. In terms of the “Israel” Paul has in view, “As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards the election, they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.” This verse makes absolutely no sense if Paul is not referring to the presently unbelieving mass of “ethnic” Israel, and it makes no sense if he does not have a massively significant reversal in view.

2) The nature of the blessing has not been redefined. On the one hand, Yahweh has always been fully committed to his creation (the earth and its environs), which is why the doctrine of the resurrection is so central to Christian faith. Given that, there is nothing “carnal” in itself regarding the long-held desire of Israel to hold God to his promise of land. On the other hand, the promises to Israel have always been spiritual promises. The promises to Israel stand in the context of a promise of a new heavens and a new earth, and they are messianically defined. That is, they are all about Jesus, and always have been.

3) The distinction between Jews and Gentiles in the promises, therefore, does not mean that one is an “earthly seed” and the other is a “heavenly seed.” The biblical program is one of full integration and shared blessing between Israel and the nations.

4) It is useless to object that “God has divorced Israel” and is therefore done with them. Ironically, the only actual biblical texts which explicitly mention Yahweh divorcing Israel also explicitly affirm that he will restore them (post-divorce)! (That is a key aspect of the message of Hosea.)

5) The promises of God, not the dilution of Israelite blood through the vagaries of history, must always establish the starting point and immovable foundation of what we believe.

6) The biblical promises are in fact much more miraculous than simply envisioning that some day the people we know as “Jews” will embrace the Messiah en masse. Throughout the later Old Testament prophets, including well after the obliteration and displacement of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians, Yahweh still promises a future for Ephraim as representative of the northern tribes. The radical character of God’s promises for Israel are so daring that Ezekiel portrays it most starkly as life from the dead.

7) These promises remain future, and they do not introduce an alternate route of redemption.

A] It will not do to suggest that the promises were fulfilled by the return from exile, because i) The return from exile was a return of a small remnant from only the Babylonian exile; and ii) still in Romans 11, Paul anticipates the fulfillment of these promises in the future.

B] Neither will it do to suggest that the promises were fulfilled in the 1st century, but later than when Paul wrote Romans. Not only is there zero evidence of a widespread turning to the Messiah by 1st century Jews; even if there were, that would not satisfy the promises, as we have noted in (5) above.

C] Neither yet will it do to suggest that these promises will be fulfilled at Christ’s return. His return will be for judgment, and after that a reversal will be too late. To the contrary, Jesus himself sets the timetable in Matthew 23:39: Israel will not see him again until they say “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” that is until they submit to him as Messiah and Lord.


It may be objected that if the northern tribes must be restored, the promises are impossible.

We must take this bull by the horns. Read through the prophetic books. The promises are what they are. They involve a very significant form of “all Israel,” including the so-called “lost tribes” (see e.g. Jer 31:1, which refers to all the clans of Israel; see also Jer 30:3; Ezek 36; 37:16–17; Zech 8:13; 10:6ff etc). Indeed, the signature new covenant prophecy itself clearly distinguishes between “the house of Israel” and “the house of Judah” (Jer 31:31; cf Ezek 36:25–26 in context).

Does God break his Word? Does he renege on his promise? Does he redefine his promises to the degree that they are utterly meaningless?

He does not.

How then can he restore the northern tribes when they have been sown into the Gentile world to the degree of apparent untraceability?

There is one way that I know of.

He can save the world.

And just coincidentally, that seems to be exactly what Paul says God is up to. “If their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!” [Rom 11:12] “For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?” [11:15]

“For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy by their disobedience, so also these now disobeyed regarding the mercy shown you, in order that they themselves may obtain mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, in order to have mercy upon all.” [Rom 11:30–32]

There is None Righteous…

April 15, 2024

It is interesting that of the various passages Paul quotes and cites in his catena of Romans 3:10–18, only the (possible) first is about universal sinfulness in its original context, i.e. Ecclesiastes 7:20 (which appears to me the most probable allusion at 3:10a for the phrase “there is none righteous”).

In the remaining passages (Ps 53/14; Ps 5:9; Ps 10:7; Isa 59:7–8; Ps 36:1), the “all” is in fact not universal, but refers specifically to those who oppose David or the poor oppressed of Yahweh etc.

Moreover, the overwhelming sin-type found in this catena regards not sexual perversion, covetousness, theft etc, but violence against Yahweh’s chosen, whether his anointed king or his people.

This fits with a Christocentric reading of Rom 3:1–8. While Paul is indeed advocating a generalized, universal human sinfulness (illustrated by the apparent Ecc 7:20 citation), it appears he is following up the preceding passage. This, for him, is the climactic “fall” of Israel, as becomes very clear at the end of Romans 9, where he speaks of them stumbling over Christ, the Rock whom God has appointed (cf also Rom 11:11).

Sin abounds through Torah in Israel (Rom 5:20), and it comes to a head specifically in her encounter with her own Messiah.