GOD’S COVENANT PEOPLE:
Yesterday, Today & Forever
In light of the previous two chapters, there can be no doubt that God has a plan for physical Israel today. The natural progression of thought would be to determine: “Who are the Israelites today?” However, before proceeding with this second question we need to address whether there is a spiritual Israel. Many Christian preachers and writers attempt to use Galatians 3:26-29 as justification for their “spiritual Israel” doctrine:
...YOU [Christian Galatians] are all sons of God through faith in [the] Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into [the] Christ have clothed yourselves with [the] Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in [the] Christ Jesus. And if you belong to [the] Christ then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)
Many Judeo-Christians, thinking that Jews and Greeks are two separate races of people, conclude that God is no longer working with physical Israel under the New Covenant. They believe that God is working with only a spiritual Israel people from all races of mankind, Israelites and non-Israelites alike, who have been saved in Yeshua (Jesus’ given Hebrew name) the Christ. Recall that Leonard C. Lee declared the following concerning physical Israelites under the New Covenant:
God rejected the Israelites as a nation [at the commencement of the New Covenant] ....1
The Israelites have now passed off the stage of action ....2
Their [the Israelites’] nationality [under the New Covenant] is of no significance in the ultimate purposes of God.3
Mr. Lee further concluded:
Since God rejected the Israelites as a nation, we can look for the fulfillment of His purposes only in spiritual Israel.4
Mr. Lee then attempted to explain how this takes place, using Galatians 3:26-29 to support his claims:
Those [of other races] who are grafted into Christ, the root, the true vine, will become spiritual Israel and will receive all the blessings and promises made to ancient Israel.5
In his book Just Before Dawn, Cornelius Vanderbreggen, Jr. wrote:
Here [Galatians 3:26-29] are words addressed not to physical descendants of Abraham, but to saved Gentiles [Mr. Vanderbreggen means non-Israelites]. They are informed that because of their faith in Jesus Christ they are Abraham’s seed. In other words, spiritually they are his descendants or his children, for they have believed in the same One [Yeshua] in Whose coming he [Abraham] believed!6
Dr. Ed Moore wrote the following in his periodical The Last Trump:
Hence, we can begin to see that being the children of Abraham has nothing to do with race [physical descendancy].7
The Catholics make the same claim. Pope Pius XI is quoted as saying:
Spiritually, we [non-Israelite Catholics] are Semites [“Israelites” because of faith in the Christ].8
As a minister, who once taught this “spiritual Israel” doctrine, I feel it is imperative to take a closer look at this passage and at the arguments employed by those trying to justify the teaching of a “spiritual Israel” under the New Covenant. However, before scrutinizing this passage, it must be understood that even if this particular passage does spiritualize Israel, this one passage cannot invalidate the sixty or more New Testament passages that clearly deal with Israel on a physical basis.*
* Refer to Chapter 2 - “Israel in the New Testament,” for sixty New Testament passages that teach God’s New Covenant plan for physical Israel.
With this last point in mind, we can now ask: “Does Galatians 3:26-29 spiritualize Israel in the sense that many modern-day preachers and Christians claim?”
Christians, who believe in and teach a “spiritual Israel” under the New Covenant, will find their interpretation of this passage in Galatians is totally dependent upon their definition of the words “Jew(s)” and “Greek(s).” They assume the word “Jew(s)” is synonymous with the term Israel or Israelites – descendants of any or all ofthe twelve sons of Jacob. They also assume that the word “Greek(s),” when used in contrast to the word “Jew(s),” means any or all non-Israelites. With this in mind, it must be admitted that:
IF THEIR DEFINITION FOR THESE TWO WORDS IS CORRECT, THEN THEIR INTERPRETATION OF THIS PASSAGE IS ALSO CORRECT!
However, it must also be acknowledged that:
IF THEIR DEFINITION FOR THESE TWO WORDS IS INCORRECT, THEN THEY HAVE ARRIVED AT THE WRONG CONCLUSION!
As an example, if your mother had taught you when you were a child that a turkey walked on four legs, had a long tail and said “moo,” then, more than likely, whenever you spoke of turkeys, you would be making erroneous conclusions based on the original definitions given to you by your mother. Initially, it would be difficult to convince you that your basic understanding of turkeys was incorrect – your mother (teachers, college professors, preachers, religious denominations, etc.) couldn’t be wrong! Imagine how much more difficult it would be to convince a whole society that had been taught the same specious definitions! Furthermore, the number of churches, so-called authorities, and people who falsely believe and teach a lie, does not make the lie true, no matter how many times it is repeated.
This is exactly the scenario we find ourselves in today. Many modern-day Christian teachers and preachers teach that all Israelites are Jews, and that everyone else is either a Gentile or a Greek and, therefore, not an Israelite. However, in chapter 1 it was proven that the commonly accepted definitions for “Jew(s),” “Greek(s),” and “Gentile(s)” are unfounded. Once the correct definitions are provided, a different light is shed on Galatians 3:26-29 and on the remainder of Scripture as well.
As demonstrated previously, the Biblical use of the word “Jew(s)” refers to the Judahites who were descendants from the house of Judah, which was composed primarily of the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin. The word “Jew(s)” never refers to all twelve tribes as a whole and never refers to the ten-tribed house of Israel.
For the most part, the word “Greek(s)” is used interchangeably in the Bible with the word “Gentile(s)” as illustrated in 1 Corinthians and several other locations:
... Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we [apostles of Yeshua] preach [the] Christ crucified, [which is] to Jews [Judahites] a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, [the] Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)
Consequently, the word “Greek(s)” in Galatians 3:28 could be replaced with “Gentile(s)” without doing harm to the intent or meaning of Galatians 3:26-29.
As previously demonstrated the word “ethnos,” from which the word “Gentile(s)” is derived, has at least five New Testament applications:
1. “Pagans” – in reference to heathens, specifically all nations, races, and people not serving YHWH as God – 1 Corinthians 12:2.
2. “Nation(s)” – in reference to a multitude people, specifically all mankind – Acts 17:26.
3. “Nations” – in reference to non-Israelites, specifically all nations, races, and people not physically descended from Jacob/Israel – Acts 7:45.
4. “Nation” – in reference to Judahites [Jews], specifically the descendants of the house of Judah, the two southern tribes of Israel – Luke 7:3-5.
5. “Gentiles” – in reference to Israelites, specifically the descendants of the house of Israel, the ten northern tribes of Israel – Romans 9:24.
Therefore, there is more than one possible interpretation for the word “ethnos.” “Ethnos” can refer to either non-Israelite or Israelite gentiles. Thus, it is foolish, if not dishonest, for anyone to randomly select the application which happens to suit his doctrinal position and apply it to a particular passage. The context must be taken into consideration and studied, to determine which of the interpretations is the correct application.
The Context of Galatians
So what does the context of Galatians tell us about these Greeks or Gentiles? To whom was the epistle of Galatians written?
Paul, an apostle ... and all the brethren who are with me, to the churches of Galatia. (Galatians 1:1-2)
With the understanding that the word “church” means those called out “or” saved in “Yeshua,” it is then obvious that the Apostle Paul was addressing this epistle to the Christians of Galatia who had responded to the gospel call of salvation.
Who were the Galatians who responded to the gospel? The Apostle Peter provided an important clue to help answer this question:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus [the] Christ, to those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen. (1 Peter 1:1)
As previously demonstrated, this verse can be interpreted to say:
[The Apostle] Peter ... to those who reside as aliens, Israelites of the dispersion who now reside in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, who are chosen.
Many of the Israelites after being taken captive by the Assyrians migrated and made their residence in the country of Galatia. These Israelites were some of the people Peter addressed in his first epistle. Thus it would be safe to say that when the Apostle Paul, a contemporary of the Apostle Peter, wrote to the Christians in Galatia, he was writing to some of those same people. This, alone, does not prove that the “Greek(s)” mentioned in Galatians 3:28 were Israelite Gentiles, but it certainly deserves consideration in our attempt to discover their true identity. The context of Galatians 3 will provide the remainder of the clues necessary to correctly answer the previous question:
Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham [Israelites]. (Galatians 3:7)
This verse is also quoted in an attempt to spiritualize Israel in the New Testament. But this verse taken alone, as it is translated in our modern English versions of the Bible, does not support the concept that Israel is merely spiritual. If the word “those” spoken of in this verse refers to non-Israelite Gentiles, then one must conclude that the “sons of Abraham” are “spiritual sons” rather than “physical sons.” On the other hand, if the word “those” refers to literal Israelites from either the house of Judah or the house of Israel, then one must conclude that only those physical Israelites who are of faith (saved by Yeshua) are “sons of Abraham.” The remaining physical Israelites would continue to be an anathema as the house of Israel had become when God divorced her – Jeremiah 3:8, etc.
Nothing can be proven by proponents of either position, when they use this verse as it is translated in most of our modem English Bibles. However, consider this verse as translated by Pastor Alfred Marshall in The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament where another clue is uncovered to help determine the correct interpretation:
Know ye then that the (ones) of faith, these sons are of Abraham.9
In other words, those who are already physical sons (Israelites) and who are of faith, are reckoned as true sons of Abraham.
A similar expression in 1 Peter 3 acts as an additional witness:
... Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear. (1 Peter 3:6)
The Apostle Peter wrote his first epistle to Israelites of the Dispersion; consequently, verse 6 can be interpreted to say:
...you physical daughters of Sarah have truly become her children if you do what is right....
Even when using the literal translation of Galatians 3:7, we are not provided enough evidence to determine the correct application for the word “Greek(s)” in verse 28. Therefore, further study in Galatians 3 is required:
... before faith came, we were kept in custody under the [Old Covenant] law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to [the] Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Galatians 3:23-25)
Who are the “we” whom the Apostle Paul addressed in these verses? Clearly they are the same people as the “you” whom he directed verses 26 and 27 at:
... you are all sons of God through faith in [the] Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into [the] Christ have clothed yourselves with [the] Christ. (Galatians 3:26-27)
Since the “you” in verses 26 and 27 are represented as Jews and Greeks in verse 28, we can conclude that the “we” in verses 23, 24 and 25 are also both Jews and Greeks. The Apostle Paul described those people, who were both Jews and Greeks, as having been previously “under the Law.” Which people had been given God’s Law or were considered under God’s Law? This description fits only one group of people – the nation of Israel. Consider carefully the following Scriptures:
Moses charged us [the twelve tribes of Israel] with a law, a possession for the assembly [nation] of Jacob. (Deuteronomy 33:4)
... He [YHWH] established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should teach them to their children. (Psalm 78:5)
... who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the service and the promises. (Romans 9:4)
These Scriptures plainly teach what every preacher across this land should already know: God’s Law was given to the Israelites; it belonged to them and they were under its requirements. Not only was the Law given to the Israelites as their possession, but it was also given exclusively to Israelites as their possession. This God-ordained discrimination is made clear in the following passage:
He [YHWH] declares His words to Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances [“judgments” - KJV and “laws” - Moffatt] to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His ordinances [“judgments” - KJV and “commands” - Moffatt], they [other non-Israelite nations] have not known them. Praise YH! (Psalm 147:19-20)
This irrefutable evidence correctly identifies the Greeks of Galatians 3:28. They can be no one but Israelite Gentiles, a conclusion confirmed by several Scriptures.
Thus far, in studying the context of Galatians 3, verse 7 and the three verses (23-25) immediately preceding the passage in question (Galatians 3:26-29) have been examined. The five verses immediately following verses 26-29 must also be studied:
... as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. So also we [Israelites], while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fulness of the time came, God sent forth His son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He [Yeshua] might redeem those who were under the [Old Covenant] Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:1-5)
This passage provides us with three clues. The first clue, “under the Law,” has already been reviewed in Galatians 3:23-25. Israelites, both Jews and Greeks (descendants of the house of Judah and the house of Israel), were the only people who had been under God’s Law.
The second clue is found in the statement which declares that Yeshua came to “redeem those who were under the Law.” Notice it says nothing about redeeming those who were not under the Law. Why not? Why would Yeshua not want to redeem nonIsraelites as well? Simply put, He could not! Yeshua could purchase non-Israelites, but He could not redeem them. The reason is simple when it is understood that the word “redeem” means to buy back. Only people who had been the possession of YHWH could be bought back or redeemed. Which people had previously been the possession of YHWH? That question is answered in the following two passages:
‘...if you will indeed obey My [YHWH’s] voice and keep My covenant, then you [Israel] shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the [YHWH’s] words that you [Moses] shall speak to the sons of Israel. (Exodus 19:5-6)
... you are a holy people to YHWH your God; YHWH your God has chosen you [Israel] to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples [nations and races] who are on the face of the earth. (Deuteronomy 7:6)
It is quite clear that only Israelites, who had been the possession of YHWH and who had subsequently been divorced and rejected by YHWH, could be bought back or redeemed by YHWH. Both the Old and New Testaments attest to the veracity of this conclusion:
“...a Redeemer [Yeshua] will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob [Israel],” declares YHWH. (Isaiah 59:20)
Blessed be [YHWH] the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people [Israel]. (Luke 1:68)
... we [the two men on the road to Emmaus with Yeshua after His resurrection] were hoping that it was He [Yeshua] who was going to redeem Israel. (Luke 24:21)
Once again we have evidence that correctly identifies the Greeks in Galatians 3. Those Galatian Greeks had to be Israelite Gentiles since only Israelites could be redeemed by Yeshua.
The third clue is found in the phrase “that we might receive the adoption as sons.” To whom does “the adoption as sons” belong?
... Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and temple service and the promises. (Romans 9:3-4)
It is conceded that this verse does not harmonize with what many Christians have been taught concerning “the adoption as sons” - that anyone of any race can receive “the adoption of sons.” However, I hope that you are honest enough to lay aside any previously held misconceptions and that you will accept what the Apostle Paul clearly teaches. With the evidence from Romans 9:4, only one conclusion can be drawn concerning the identity of the Greeks (Gentiles) in Galatians 3 - the Galatian Greeks were Israelites.
The context of Galatians 3 correctly identifies the Greeks as Israelites. This conclusion is supported by the Apostle John:
The Jews therefore said to one another, “Where does this man [Yeshua] intend to go that we shall not find Him? He is not intending to go to the Dispersion [“Israelite resident(s) in Gentile countries” - Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible] among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks [Israelites of the Dispersion], is He?” (John 7:35)
In addition to the previous three clues, note the emphasis placed on the words “if” and “then” in verse 29 of Galatians 3:
... if you belong to [the] Christ then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:29)
This verse can now be correctly understood to say:
Only Israelites (both Jews and Greeks) belonging to the Christ are reckoned as true heirs of Abraham according to the promise.
In other words, this passage was dealing with Israelites who were under the misconception that simply being a physical descendant was all that was necessary to be considered an heir to the promise. In contrast, the Apostle Paul was pointing out that physical descent alone is not enough under the New Covenant; physical descendants are only considered “heirs according to the promise” if they are also spiritual sons of Abraham through salvation in Yeshua the Christ.
This is not to say that people of other races could not and cannot become proselytes to the covenants which belong to the Israelites - Isaiah 56:3-7, etc., and thus receive benefits derived from those covenants. However, one does not have to distort Galatians 3:26-29 in order to prove that point.
In conclusion, the Apostle Paul once again states:
... you are all sons of God through faith in [the] Christ Jesus.... (Galatians 3:26-27)
The “you” in verse 26 is identified in verse 28 as:
- “Jews” – descendants from the house of Judah, and
- “Greeks” – descendants from the house of Israel, who were formerly under God’s Law, who were divorced by God and dispersed to Galatia, whom Yeshua came to redeem and to whom belonged the adoption as sons.
Does Galatians 3:26-29 spiritualize Israel? It certainly does, but not in the sense that so many people today are claiming. This passage declares that only Abraham’s physical descendants, who also become spiritual descendants through salvation in Yeshua the Christ, can be considered Abraham’s true descendants.10
Romans 2:28-29 and Romans 9:6
Two other Scriptures are often used in the attempt to prove that Israel is a “spiritual” group of people from all races who have been saved in Yeshua under the New Covenant. Each passage will be examined briefly:
... he is not a Jew [Judahite] who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew [Judahite] who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter [of the Law]; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29)
The Apostle Paul was simply addressing his fellow Judahites (Jews) who had the same erroneous outlook as previously described in our study of Galatians 3. These Judahites (who could claim physical descent like Paul) assumed that ancestry alone was sufficient to make one acceptable to God. Paul was not declaring to non-Israelites that they could spiritually become “Judahites.” Instead, Paul was declaring to Judahites that they were not to be reckoned as true Israelites, unless they, as Israelites, were circumcised of the heart – saved in Yeshua the Christ.
Keep in mind that even if Paul were addressing Gentiles, he identified the Gentiles in Romans 9:23-26 as Israelites (descendants from the house of Israel).*
* Refer to Chapter 1 - “God’s Plan for Physical Israel Today.”
A second passage in Romans also needs to be examined:
... it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel. (Romans 9:6)
There are two ways in which this verse, by itself and separated from its context, can be interpreted:
1. “Israel” is comprised of more than just physical Israelites.
2. Not all physical Israelites are considered Israel.
Note: Option 1 implies inclusion – an addition of people.
Option 2 implies exclusion – a subtraction of people.
Since we have two possible options for interpreting this verse, we must allow the context to be the determinant in choosing the correct interpretation. Does the context imply an inclusion or an exclusion? Read the verses which immediately follow Romans 9:6, and it becomes clear that the Apostle Paul’s intent was an exclusion.
First, the physical line of Ishmael was excluded in verses 7-9. Next, the physical line of Esau was excluded in verses 10-13. Verses 14-22 explain God’s sovereign right to do this. Next, the majority of the Israelites from both the house Judah and from the house of Israel were also excluded in verses 23-27.
The Apostle Paul’s point in writing verses 6-26 was to illustrate that only a remnant from all Israel (from both the house of Judah and the house of Israel) will be saved as he stated in verse 27. In other words, not all physical Israelites are considered Israel, “rulers with El(ohiym),” in God’s sight. This conclusion harmonizes perfectly with what we have already discovered from Galatians 3:26-29 and Romans 2:28-29.11
Although many claim and teach differently, be assured that under the New Covenant God is still working with and has a plan for a remnant of the physical descendants from all twelve tribes of Israel who respond to the gospel call of Yeshua the Christ.
1. Leonard C. Lee, Clouds Over America: The United States in Bible Prophecy (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1948) p. 71.
2. Lee, p. 71.
3. Lee, p. 74.
4. Lee, p. 71.
5. Lee, p. 75.
6. Cornelius Vanderbreggen, Jr., Just Before Dawn (Hiawassee, GA: Reapers Fellowship, 1988) p. 35
7. Dr. Ed Moore, The Last Trump, January/Feburary 1991, p. 7.
8. Pope Pius XI, The Point, October 1958.
9. Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958) p. 747
10. For this same study on audio cassette, listen to Defending Identity online.
11. For a more comprehensive study of Romans 2:28-29 and Romans 9:6-27 listen to Objections of a 2nd Modern-Day Preacher online.