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Important Books: Encore

August 27, 2010

It’s sad that significant books can get forgotten, along with the ideas and points that they made.  Here are a few more classics that deserve to be kept in mind. 

First, Johannes Munck, Christ and Israel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967).  Munck was an incisive exegete who died too young, but not before he had produced two major works, of which this is one.  The other likewise deserves continuing attention among serious students of the NT:   Johannes Munck, Paul and the Salvation of Mankind (Aarhus/Copenhagen: Universitetsforlaget/Ejnar Munksgaard, 1954; reprint, Richmond: John Knox Press, 1959).

Christ and Israel is an important exgesis of Romans 9–11, in which Munck shows that for Paul “Israel” remained an ethnic entity, and retained also for him a salvation-historical significance and future.  Indeed, Munck shows that Paul saw his gentile-mission as vital because its success was the pre-condition for the eschatological salvation of Israel as well.  In Paul and the Salvation of Mankind, Munck made similar points, exploding the idea that Paul and Jerusalem were at serious odds and that Paul had abandoned his people.

Along with these, I’d also recommend Peter Richardson, Israel in the Apostolic Church, SNTSMS, no. 10 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969).  Richardson makes  a strong case that in the NT (esp. in Paul) “Israel” always retains an ethnic connotation, and that there is no basis in the NT for the “new Israel”  view of the church that became prominent from the second century CE onward. 

Paul didn’t think of his gentile converts as spiritual Jews, or the church as the new “Israel”.  Instead, he thought of gentile believers as a distinguishable new body of children of Abraham, united with Jewish believers through faith in Jesus, who formed for him the new circle of salvation (thereby making Torah superseded in this role, though retaining a validity for Jewish believers as indicative of their identity as Jews so long as Torah was not used as an obstacle to acceptance of gentile believers as brothers/sisters in Christ).

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8 Comments
  1. I appreciate your concern for the anachronistic use of the word “church” which now carries the meaning “non-Jewish, believers in Jesus” but of course it did not have that connotation in the N.T. Instead it carried with it the idea of the “congregation of the Lord” that gathered at the Temple.

    Your statement seems to strong:
    “Paul didn’t think of his gentile converts as spiritual Jews, or the church as the new ‘Israel’.”
    It seems you have taken away what you must then give back:
    “…children of Abraham, united with Jewish believers through faith in Jesus, who formed for him the new circle of salvation…”

    I would agree that Paul as a Christian still has the the natural ability to discern between ethnic “Israel” and ethnic “Gentile” even in Romans but that natural distinction is not his greatest concern. Paul would NOT have taught that “the Law” for Jews in Israel has been decimated upon their reception of Christ, any more than “the law” for Gentiles, by the rule of their civilizations and authorities are decimated upon faith in Christ…not decimated in either case , but superseded in both cases by the Law of Christ, especially in relation to God.

    To me it seems consistent to think in this scripturally way:
    Jesus is Jewish, and he is the King of the Jews. The foundational Apostles, and future judges of Israel, are Jews. Some gentiles are grafted in on the basis of their loyal acknowledgment of The Jewish King. Some Jews are broken off their natural tree by virtue of dis-loyalty to their King. Gentiles should always remember that they have been adopted into the “congregation of the LORD”, by a special act of generosity.

    Jeff

    • The question I put on the table is what Paul thought, not what might seem more cogent or preferable to any of us. My point is that Paul does not use the word “Israel” to refer to his gentile converts. (Not even in Gal. 6:16, as Peter Richardson showed some decades ago), and in Rom 9–11 continues to see the divine redemptive programme as involving “the full inclusion [Greek: pleroma] of the gentiles” (11:25) and “the full inclusion of Israel” (11:12), i.e., two distinguishable bodies (and two steps in the drama) comprising the redeemed. It appears that Paul saw the inclusion of gentiles (qua gentiles) as a special eschatological divine action in which his own mission figured largely (perhaps crucially, in his mind). Through faith in Jesus Christ they are adopted as sons of Abraham, but he never refers to them as Israelites, Jews, etc.
      The point here is not what you, I or others choose to think is “scriptural”, but what Paul’s ideas were.

  2. Melissa Fitzpatrick permalink

    Thank you for these recommendations, especially the two by Johannes Munck. I was pleasantly surprised that my local theological library has both of them. I am fascinated by Paul’s relationship with Jerusalem. I think, even in the book of Acts, which a lot of folks would agree paints a fairly romantic portrait of Paul and Jerusalem, one can still glimpse some tension.

    In my academic circle, exegesis of Romans 9-11 is often governed by petty theological debates and I find myself swimming upstream in my view of the text. If I suggest that maybe Paul believed Israel had a special place in God’s mysterious eschatological plan (that not even Paul had a full understanding of), I get passed off as Charles Ryrie.

    • There are two issues implicit in what you say: (1) the widespread notion (since the 2nd century) that the church (which typically = a gentile body) is the “new Israel”; and (2) the a-historical reading of Rom 9-11 (i.e., through the Pelagian/Augustinian debate and its successor versions). Given the issues at stake, all the more reason for careful. as-dispassionate-as-feasible, exegesis aimed at trying to perceive what the author was concerned about. (And, yes, I know that all such inquiry is deemed naive and terribly, terribly unfashionable in some self-styled circles of sophisticates, but the simple human inquiry about what authors of texts were trying to say remains valid in my view.)

  3. Irving Hexham permalink

    Talk of “Israel” remaining an ethnic entity, and the relegation of ideas about a “New Israel” to the Second Century, make me uneasy. Such arguments sound far too close to those of scholars like Walter Grundmann and the Deutsche Christen for comfort.

    Now I know that Bob Morgan, in an article I’ve misplaced, recently attempted to refute the findings of Susannah Heschel, but I am not entirely convinced. At the best he has forced a Scottish verdict on the matter.

    The suggestion that ethnicity lies at the root of Paul’s theology has profound implications none of which are good when translated into social and political life.

    • Hmm, Irving. I’m not sure that you’re catching what I said. My point dealt with exegetical issues: What did Paul mean when he used the word “Israel”? And how did he see “Israel” and gentile believers/Christians? I support the view that Paul remained self-consciously Jewish as apostle to the gentiles, that “Israel” continued for him to be made up of Jews, that this Israel continued to have a special place in his view of eschatology. It’s nothing to do with Grundmann, “German Christians”, and anti-Semitic theology . . . . indeed, the very opposite! If Christians treat the NT as scripture, then (per the reading of Paul I’ve supported) certain views become dubious, e.g., that the Jewish people were left in the theological scrapheap of history in favor of the church, etc.

  4. Steven Carr permalink

    ‘Christ and Israel is an important exgesis of Romans 9–11, in which Munck shows that for Paul “Israel” remained an ethnic entity, and retained also for him a salvation-historical significance and future.’

    In Romans 10, doesn’t Paul ask rhetorically how Israel can be saved, unless Christians are sent to preach about Jesus?

    ‘How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? ‘

    What does Munck say about Paul pointing out that unless Christians are sent to preach about Jesus, Israel could not believe in Jesus, ‘the one of whom they had not heard’?

    • You have to be sensitive to anachronism: E.g., were Paul and other Jewish believers “Christians”? The term has come to mean non-Jewish, gentiles, etc. So, let’s not use anchronistic labels, and re-frame your question? What does Munck (and Paul) say about how Israel is to be saved? Paul points to Jewish believers of his time as an eschatological “remnant” that proves Israel has not been abandoned by God, even though the main body of Israel did not believe the gospel (Romans 11:1-6), and expresses confidence that in God’s mysterious eschatological plan “all Israel” will be saved (Romans 11:11-12, 25-32).

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