In a previous article, a common criticism raised from Covenant theologians brought forth from promoters of Dispensational thought is Covenant theology promotes what some would call “replacement theology.” An article, promoting Covenant theology, brought forth a counterargument that the term “replacement theology” is alien to Covenant theology arguing that Dispensationalism promotes an Israel-centered grid when reading the Scriptures. However, it was noted that the term “replacement theology” is used intentionally, and was shown that there were theologians throughout the centuries that promoted the idea that the church had either superseded or replaced Israel when it came to future promises. It was shown by the biblical text there are exclusive promises that are given to national Israel that have not yet been completed, and if God fails to give these promises to the people whom He had addressed, then God’s glory is nullified.
In this same article, the writer commented that Israel was only an instrument God used to bring about what God prophesied to the serpent in the Garden of Eden
[Dispensationalism] assumes that the temporary, national people was, in fact, intended to be the permanent arrangement. Such a way of thinking is contrary to the promise in Gen. 3:15. The promise was that there would be a Savior. The national people was only a means to that end, not an end in itself. According to Paul in Ephesians 2:11-22, in Christ the dividing wall has been destroyed. It cannot be rebuilt. The Hidelblog.com. Covenant theology is not replacement theology. Retrieved from: https://heidelblog.net/2013/08/covenant-theology-is-not-replacement-theology/
Does Ephesians 2:11-22 prove that Israel was only a “means to an end?” A brief exposition of the Ephesians 2:11-22 will be examined below.
In the broader context of Ephesians chapter two Paul summarizes the Ephesian saint’s life before Christ, and that by God’s mercy they have received forgiveness (vs. 1-6). Paul also told them that in the future they will be displays of God’s grace, and how all of these benefits that were given to them was not based on any merit of their own but was all a work of God (vs. 7-9). Due to this reality, they were to complete the good works that God had laid out before them to complete (v. 10). Paul, in the next verse, discusses how the Gentiles (i.e., non-Jews) were excluded from the “commonwealth” (this refers back to the back to the theocracy found in with Israel in the Old Testament, as the Law was specifically given to the Israelite people). Paul also wrote they were strangers (lit. “aliens”) to the covenants of promise (these are the promises that are associated with the commonwealth of Israel such as land, seed, blessing, king, and kingdom). Paul writes they were without hope and God in the world (as far as these personal promises to national Israel are concerned).
Paul then explained they had been brought (or “made near”) by the blood of Christ and continued the metaphor of this spiritual reality by bringing up the dividing wall that surrounded the Temple of God. The dividing wall was a physical structure that was around the temple of God and separated Jew and Gentile. The non-Jew could not cross past this wall as it resulted in death to the gentile who crossed over it. Paul wrote due to the work of Christ these two groups that were once separated would be unified. Paul then underscored this truth by quoting from the Old Testament and gave the result of the work of Christ for the non-Jew: They are strangers and aliens no longer, but fellow citizens with the saints in God’s personal household. Paul also spoke of the foundation of God’s household which was built on the apostles and those prophets that spoke in the early church, and that the Gentiles are being built up in the Lord.
There are several qualities to note about this epistle. Paul could have made it very clear that the church is spiritual Israel or the new Israel as some past theologians have written. However, Paul in verse 14 used the word εἷς (“one”). Paul then further specifies what this number signifies in verse 15 by using the Greek phrase εἰς ἕνα καινὸν ἄνθρωπον (“into one new man”). If Paul wanted to express the church were one new nation he would have written εἰς ἕνα καινὸν ἔθνος (“into one new nation”) or εἰς ἕνα καινὸν Ἰσραὴλ (“into one new Israel”). In addition, Paul uses other terms in this particular passage to describe the unification of Jew and Gentile such as οἰκεῖος (“household”), οἰκοδομή (“building”), and ναός (“temple”). In other epistles, he uses the word σῶμα (“body”) to describe the spiritual unity of the church (c.f., 1 Cor. chap 12). However, Paul when talking to the Gentiles in explaining the reality of the Church never uses the word nation, or Israel, to describe such people.
Paul outlined the blessings that the Gentiles have been given by God in chapter one of Ephesians. The Gentiles had been made holy and blameless before God (v. 4), they had been predestined to adoption to be sons and daughters of God the Father (v. 5, 11). Redemption through the blood of Christ to be reconciled to the Father (vs. 7-8). He had given them “the mystery of His will” through the apostles (v. 9). There is an inheritance that the Gentile saint would receive (v. 11), and the sealing of the Holy Spirit guaranteeing the inheritance we will receive (i.e., their glorification) (v. 14). These details outlined in chapter one are important because in none of these blessings that Paul mentioned in chapter one are the physical promises Israel is to receive (i.e, land, seed, blessing, king, and kingdom).
Furthermore, Paul used the temple as a metaphor to describe the reality of the spiritual unity of Jew and Gentile in Christ Jesus. However, this does not mean that Paul is making an argument national Israel is a means to an end. From the context, observing the words in their plain sense Paul is arguing that the ministry of Christ brings these two different people groups together and unifies them. The dividing wall, as Paul wrote metaphorically has been destroyed between the two groups, but to claim this passage is an argument that the promises directly given to national Israel are now obsolete when the words Paul uses in the text do not express this idea, is overstepping the bounds of the author’s intent.
The author in the article above seemed to imply that dispensational thinkers observe Israel as an end in itself. This writer would have to respectfully disagree with his analysis of dispensationalism. The end of all things according to the dispensationalist is the glory of God, not the nation of Israel. As stated previously the reason Israel figures prominently is that there are still promises that are given to Israel personally by God that He must fulfill. If God does not give these promises to the people He said He would give them to this will, in effect, minimize the glory of God.
Israel and the church are not juxtaposed beside each other. As Scripture has revealed there are physical blessings that are personally given to Israel, and they are spiritual blessings that are given to the church. Ephesians 2:11-22 show that the Gentiles are unified with Jews (which was not seen in the economy of the Law). The Gentiles are fellow sharers of the spiritual blessings outlined in chapter one of Ephesians, and this is all a working of God’s multifaceted plan, for His own glory. Amen.
In Covenant theology, it is expressed that the body of Christ was seen through Israel, which served as a type and shadow that the church has always existed. In the next article, this author will contend that is not the case.
Until next time…
Soli Deo Gloria!