Compton, Jared and Andrew David Naselli. Three Views on Israel and the Church: Perspectives on Romans 9-11. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Academic, 2019. 266 pp. Pb; $21.99 Link to Kregel Academic
This is the second volume in Kregel Academic’s Viewpoint series, joining Four Views on the Warning Passages in Hebrews (ed. Herb Bateman, 2007). The relationship of the church and Israel was part of the progressive dispensationalism debate in the 1980s and several edited volumes appeared with sections on the issue. Chad Brand edited a four views book on this topic, Perspectives on Israel and the Church (B&H, 2015). This is the first multi-view book on specifically on the relationship of Israel and the church based solely on Romans 9-11. Each chapter begins by tracing the argument of Romans 9-11, although chapter 11 contains most of the controversial issues.
Michael Vlach represents a traditional dispensationalist view (although he does not use the term) to argue for a future mass conversion of ethnic Israel. Fred G. Zaspel and James M. Hamilton Jr. also argue for a future mass conversion, but one that does not include a role for ethnic Israel. Theirs is a historical premillennialist approach which is informed by biblical theology. In contrast to these similar views, Benjamin Merkle argues Romans 9-11 does not imply a future mass-conversion of ethnic Israel, although a remnant of ethnic Israel will be saved in the future. All of the contributors to this volume work very hard to avoid supersessionism or any hint of the anti-Semitic attitudes of the church for centuries.
Vlach argues Paul understands Israel in in the same way Old Testament prophets did (p. 21). The prophets looked forward to a time when God would act in history to restore his people and he does not see anything in the New Testament that indicates these expectations were canceled or typologically fulfilled in the church. He argues that Paul’s use the Old Testament in these chapters is “largely contextual inconsistent with the intent of the OT prophets” and he does not use typological exegesis to transform Jewish expectations into Christian theology about the church (p. 63). Many readers will recognize this view as dispensationalism, although this is a word Vlach does not use. He also avoids using any language that might sound as if there are two peoples of God, Israel and the Church. In fact, he states “Jesus’s church encompasses both believing Israelites and Gentiles,” but also that “believing Israelites are still identified with Israel as they participate in Jesus’s church” (p. 71).
Zaspel and Hamilton take what they call a biblical-theological approach to Romans 9-11. They argue Old Testament prophecies are fulfilled in Christ and in the church. The first coming of Christ fulfilled a new exodus pattern yet they do understand that another iteration of this pattern will occur at Christ second coming. Gentiles in this “inter-advent period” are provoking the Jews to jealousy so that when Jesus returns there will be a mass conversion of Jews who will enter into the millennium (p. 123). The millennium is a step towards the new heaven and a new earth. Therefore, there is both continuity and discontinuity between what God has done for Israel in the past and what he is doing through the church in the present. A portion of this chapter is devoted to describing biblical theology as a kind of “drama of Scripture” which is focused on Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament story. There is certainly weren’t for this in the Paul’s letters since he describes Christ is the Passover (1 Cor. 5:7) or the manna in the wilderness as typologically fulfilled in communion (1 Cor 10:1-4). However, they stop short of saying everything in the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ. Referring to the new exodus patter, they look forward to “yet one more iteration of the pattern at Christ second coming (p. 133).
Merkle does not think Romans 9-11 teaches a future mass-conversion of an ethnic Israel, but rather that there will always be a remnant of Israel until the end of time. The trouble for Merkle is the word “mass.” He does not represent the classic reform position that the church has replaced Israel as God’s people, nor does he want to represent any form of replacement theology. He is adamant the church does not replace Israel (p. 205). He agrees with the view that God has not rejected or abandon ethnic Israel, but he qualifies this with the word “completely” (p. 204). Merkle is the only author contributor to this book who attempts to define typology. Citing David Baker, he defines a type as “a biblical event, person or institution which serves as an example for pattern for other events, persons or institutions” (p. 163). A type is therefore a kind of foreshadowing in historical events (the type) of later, intensified events (the antitype). For Merkle, Israel is the type, and Jesus is the anti-type because he is the fulfillment of Israel; he is the “true Israel” because he fulfills “all did the nation of Israel was to have accomplished” (p. 164).
There are a series of exegetical decisions on nuances of the text on which each position must make a decision. First, what does pleroma mean in Romans 11:12 (Israel’s full inclusion) and 11:25 (the fullness of the Gentiles). Is the word quantitative (a full number) or qualitative (“the fullness”)?
Second, the nature of mystery in 11:25 is a key point. For Merkle, the “mystery” need not be mysterious, since it is a hidden thing now revealed, that there is an interdependence of salvation of Gentiles and Israel (p. 193). For Vlach, this mystery is that Israel has experienced a personal hardening which is allowed the Gentiles to come in to salvation, and this is the manner in which Israel will be (49).
Third, the exact nuance of meaning of “until” (achris hou) in 11:25 is important. Does this phrase imply a change of circumstances, so that after the full number of Gentiles is saved then Israel will be saved? Or does this phrase imply a termination: the partial hardening of Israel continues until the fullness of the Gentiles without any change of circumstances afterward? Vlach argues the normal sense of the phrase is a reversal (p. 50); Merkle takes the phrase as a termination (p. 185).
Fourth, the nuance of meaning of “and so” (kai houtos) in 11:26. Should this be read as temporal (and then all Israel will be saved) or modal (in this manner all Israel will be saved.” It may be the case that this is less of an issue since Vlach admits that either a temporal or a modal view would imply a future conversion of Israel (p. 54).
Fifth, what does Paul mean by “all Israel”? If he has ethnic Israel in mind throughout Romans 9-11, would he shift from ethnic Israel in 11:25 to spiritual Israel in 11:26? For Vlach, Zaspel and Hamilton, Paul means ethnic Israel in both cases, or Merkle, Paul refers to ethnic Israel and “remnant Israel”
Sixth, to what does Paul’s citation of Isaiah 59:20-21 refer? Does “the deliverer with come from Zion” a reference to the second coming or does it refer to Christ as deliverer at the cross? The citation certainly has a future sense, however for Merkle, it does not have a future from the perspective of Paul because for Paul it refers to Jesus, who has already delivered us from the wrath to come at the cross (p. 198).
I will now turn to some evaluation of the volume. One issue which the authors only allude to is the promise to ethnic Israel that they will dwell in the land promised to Abraham in peace and prosperity. If ethnic Israel does experience a future mass conversion, will they (literally) be restored to Israel? This is the traditional dispensational view, although Vlach only alludes to this in his chapter. Although Zaspel and Hamilton think Romans 9-11 looks forward to a future mass conversion, they are not interested in the land promises (p. 136 and Vlach’s response, p. 148-49).
I found it somewhat frustrating that the first two positions were so close. As Compton explains in his conclusion, this was certainly not the intention. There were a number of times I thought the view of Zaspel and Hamilton was more or less dispensational, albeit in a progressive dispensationalist sense. Vlach certainly does not represent a classic dispensationalist in the Scofield tradition, nor does Merkle represent the classic Reformed position. As such, the viewpoints expressed in the book seem as though there an in-house discussion rather than between opposing positions.
A related second observation: the book would have been improved by including one or two more perspectives on Romans 9-11. For example, the book needs to have a representative of the traditional Reformed position, although finding someone to write a chapter espousing replacement theology might be difficult. Chapters written by representatives of newer views of Paul such as the New Perspective on Paul, the apocalyptic view of Paul, or the “Paul was in Judaism” viewpoint would have broadened the discussion of Romans 9-11 considerably.
Nevertheless, this volume is a welcome contribution to the ongoing discussion of these important chapters in the book of Romans.
NB: Thanks to Kregel Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.