Many contemporary Christians teach that Yahweh no longer has a plan for physical Israel under the New Covenant and that He is now working with only a multi-ethnic spiritual Israel. This hypothetical Israel is said to consist of anyone of any nationality or race who becomes a Christian. In theological terminology this is a form of supercessionism or replacement theology. Many Christian preachers and writers attempt to use Galatians 3:26-29 as justification for a spiritual Israel:
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. - Galatians 3:26-29
It is commonly taught that Jews and Greeks represent two different nationalities or two different races. Consequently, they conclude that Yahweh is no longer working with a physical Israel under the New Covenant, but with a spiritual Israel composed of people from all races who have been saved in Yeshua (Jesus’ given Hebrew name) the Christ. In his book Clouds Over America, Leonard Lee presented these ideas about Yahweh’s relationship with the Israelites under the New Covenant:
God rejected the Israelites as a nation [at the commencement of the New Covenant]…. The Israelites have now passed off the stage of action.148
Their nationality [under the New Covenant] is of no significance in the ultimate purposes of God. 149
Lee claimed that the New Testament emphasis was on a “spiritual Israel”:
Since God rejected the Israelites as a nation, we can look for the fulfillment of His purposes only in spiritual Israel.150
He then explained how this allegedly occurs, citing Galatians 3:26-29 to support his claims:
Those [people of all nationalities and 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.151
Lee also relied upon the customary interpretation of Romans 11. However, Romans 11 is not about non-Israelites being grafted into Christ. It was demonstrated in Chapter 7 that Romans 11 fulfills several Old Testament prophecies concerning the reunion of the house of Israel with the house of Judah.
In his book Just Before Dawn, Cornelius Vandrebreggen used Galatians 3:26-29 in similar fashion:
Here are words addressed not to physical descendants of Abraham, but to saved [non-Israelite] Gentiles. 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 in Whose coming he believed!152
In his periodical The Last Trump, Ed Moore made similar remarks concerning the Israelites under the New Covenant:
Hence, we can begin to see that being the children of Abraham has nothing to do with race.153
James McKeever drew the same conclusions in his book The Future Revealed, in a chapter entitled “Israel and the Covenants”:
Today, Israel is composed of all those [people from all races of mankind] who have received Jesus Christ as their Savior….154
…all those who believe in Christ are Jews, are Israel, and are heirs to the promises made to Abraham.155
The title The Church Is Israel Now, a book by Charles Provan, succinctly states the spiritual Israel position. On the back cover Provan states emphatically that physical Israel is no longer of consequence:
…the titles, attributes and blessings of Israel were transferred to all those who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and to no one else, regardless of Abrahamic descent. The Church is Israel Now.156
The Roman Catholic Church makes a similar claim. Pope Pius XI is quoted as saying the following:
Spiritually, we are Semites.157
Because Galatians 3:26-29 is so widely used to justify a spiritual Israel composed of all nationalities and races under the New Covenant, it is important to analyze this passage carefully.
Those who believe that a spiritual Israel under the New Covenant includes all nationalities and races will find that their interpretation of Galatians 3:26-29 depends entirely upon their definitions of the words “Jew” and “Greek.” It is generally assumed that the term “Jew” is synonymous with the terms “Israel” or “Israelites,” the descendants of all twelve sons of Jacob Israel. It is also generally assumed that the word “Greek,” especially when used in contrast to the word “Jew,” means non-Israelites. If these definitions are correct, then the common interpretation of Galatians 3:26-29 is also correct. However, because these definitions are incorrect, the common interpretation of this passage is also incorrect.
The error lies in the commonly held definitions of Jew, Greek and gentile. When the correct definitions of these terms are furnished, new light is shed on Galatians 3:26-29 and on similar passages.
The biblical definitions for Jews (better rendered Judahites) and gentiles has already been provided in Chapter 2 and Chapter 5. The term “Greek” has yet to be explored. Although some New Testament passages use the term “Greek” in a more explicit sense, most biblical authorities recognize that it is often employed to simply represent gentiles in general:
“Greek” means either a native of Greece or else a Gentile in general (Rom 10:12; 2:9-10, margin).158
The term Hellenes [the Greek word translated Greeks] refers to the inhabitants of Greece … but it is also used as a virtual equivalent of ‘Gentile,’ to describe those who are not of Jewish [Judahite] origin….159
This interchangeable use of the words “Greek” and “gentile” is confirmed in the Greek text of Romans 2, as accurately rendered in the New American Standard Bible:
There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Judahite first and also of the Greek [Hellenos], but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Judahite first and also to the Greek [Helleni]. For there is no partiality with God. For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles [ethne] who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves. – Romans 2:9-14 NASV
Consequently, the word “Greek” in Galatians 3:28 could be replaced with “gentile” without doing harm to the intent or meaning of Galatians 3:26-29.
The New Testament writers demonstrate that ethnos, from which the word “gentiles” is translated in the New Testament, is simply a generic expression for any nation, people or race. It can refer to either a non-Israelite or an Israelite nation. Therefore, it is improper to indiscriminately select an application and apply it to any particular passage without due consideration of the context in which ethnos is found.
Nation an nations are clearly the best translations of ethnos and ethne. They should have been translated in this manner throughout the New Testament, permitting the context of each passage to determine which nation(s) were being referred to. Unfortunately, the translators’ erroneous translations have often resulted in flawed theology concerning these words. The same has occurred with the Greek word “hellen,” including its use in Galatians 3:26-29.
What does the context reveal concerning the Greeks or gentiles in the book of Galatians? To whom was the book of Galatians written?
Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;) and all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia. - Galatians 1:1-2
The Greek word ekkleesíais, translated churches, means called out assemblies or communities. The Apostle Paul addressed this epistle to the Christian communities found throughout the country of Galatia who had responded to the New Covenant call of salvation in Yeshua the Christ. Who were these Galatians who responded to the gospel? The Apostle Peter provides an important clue in answering this question:
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ…. - 1 Peter 1:1-2
It was already established in Chapter 8 (pages 42-43) that Peter wrote his first epistle to the dispersed Israelites beyond the Euphrates River, fulfilling Ahija’s prophecy found in 1 Kings 14:
For Yahweh will strike Israel, as a reed is shaken in the water; and He will uproot [the house of] Israel from this good land which He gave to their fathers, and will scatter them beyond the Euphrates River, because they have made their Asherim, provoking Yahweh to anger. – 1 Kings 14:15 NASV
“Beyond the Euphrates River” includes the countries cited in Peter’s salutation, which included the country of Galatia.
This alone does not prove that the Greeks in Galatians 3:28 were Israelite gentiles. However, it certainly deserves consideration. The context of Galatians 3 and 4 provides the remaining clues necessary to correctly identify them.
Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. - Galatians 3:7
Galatians 3:7 is often quoted in an attempt to spiritualize Israel in the New Testament. However, when this verse is taken alone, as it is translated in our modern English versions, it does not support the concept that Israel is merely spiritual. If the word “they” in this verse refers to non-Israelite gentiles, then a person must conclude that the children of Abraham are spiritual rather than physical children. On the other hand, if the word “they” refers to racial Israelites then a person must conclude that only those racial Israelites who are of faith are considered children of Abraham. The remaining racial Israelites - those who do not enter into the New Covenant through Yeshua the Christ - would remain in their sins and be in need of the blood of Yeshua the Christ in order to be considered true children of Abraham.
Nothing can be proven by the proponents of either position using this verse alone, especially as it has been translated in most modern English Bibles. However, consider this verse as translated by Pastor Alfred Marshall in The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, in which the Greek phrase is literally translated “these sons are of Abraham” with the emphasis on “these sons”:
Know ye then that the (ones) of faith, these sons are of Abraham. - Galatians 3:7160
In other words, the true sons are those physical sons of Abraham who believe in Yeshua. 1 Peter 3 provides a similar expression:
.…Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement. - 1 Peter 3:6
The Apostle Peter wrote his first epistle to Israelites of the dispersion. Consequently, 1 Peter 3:6 can be understood to say: “you physical daughters of Sarah are truly her children if you do well.”
The literal translation of Galatians 3:7 alone does not provide enough evidence to determine the correct application for the word “Greek” in Galatians 3:28. We must look for more evidence from within the context:
But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. - Galatians 3:23-25
In these three verses, the “we” and “us” are the same people as the “ye” and “you” whom Paul addressed in verses 26 and 27 and whom he identified as both Judahites and Greeks in verse 28:
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Judahite nor Greek…. - Galatians 3:26-28
Therefore, the “we” and “us” in verses 23-25 are both Judahites and Greeks. Paul described these same people as having previously been “under the law.” This description fits only one group of people - the twelve tribes of Israel:
Moses commanded us a law, even the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob. - Deuteronomy 33:4
For he [Yahweh] established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children. - Psalm 78:5
…my [the Apostle Paul’s] brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises. - Romans 9:3-4
These passages teach that Yahweh gave His law to Israelites. It belonged to them, they were under its obligation and, likewise, under its curse. Not only was Yahweh’s law given to the Israelites as their possession, it was given exclusively to Israelites:
He [Yahweh] sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye Yah! - Psalm 147:19-20
This evidence concerning the law of Yahweh, which most of Christendom agrees with, correctly identifies the Greeks in Galatians 3:28. Those Galatians can be none other than Israelites from the house of Israel whom Yahweh had divorced and scattered among non-Israelites nations and who generally had become known as Greeks. The context proves this to be true because only the twelve tribes of Israel had been under the law of Yahweh.
Corroborating evidence is provided in the five verses immediately following verse 29 of Galatians 3:
Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all; but is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father. Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world: But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. - Galatians 4:1-5
We are provided three clues in these five verses. The first clue “under the law” has already been discussed. Only Israelites, from the house of Judah and the dispersed house of Israel, had been under Yahweh’s law.
The second clue is that Yeshua came to “redeem them that were under the law.” Note that this verse says nothing about redeeming those who were not under the law. Several passages from both the Old and New Testaments alike, cited in Chapter 8 (page 44), demonstrate that it was Israelites, not non-Israelites, whom Yeshua came to redeem.
Only Israelites who had been the possession of Yahweh and who had subsequently been sold by Yahweh could be bought back or redeemed by Yahweh. When the word “redemption,” or some form thereof, is used in the Bible in relation to a specific people, it is always associated with the nation of Israel.
Redemption belongs exclusively to the nation of Israel. Therefore, biblical exegesis reveals that Paul wrote the Galatian epistle to born-again, Greek-speaking Israelites residing in the country of Galatia, one of the countries to which the dispersed Israelites had migrated as prophesied by Ahijah.
The third clue is found in the word “adoption.” To whom did the Apostle Paul say that biblical adoption belongs?
…my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh: Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises. - Romans 9:3-4
Despite the common belief that anyone from any race can receive biblical adoption, the Apostle Paul wrote that adoption pertains to Israelites. Therefore, the Greeks or the gentiles in Galatians 3 must be the nations of the divorced and scattered house of Israel.
The context of Galatians 3 identifies the Greeks as Israelites. This conclusion is supported by the fact that Paul first identified himself and the Corinthian Christians as descendants of Old Covenant Israelites:
Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea. - 1 Corinthians 10:1-2
This passage is referring to Israelites whom Moses led out of Egypt and from whom Paul and the Corinthians were descended. Two chapters later, Paul uses the same phrase “Judahites or Greeks” to identify himself and the Corinthian Israelite gentiles to whom he was writing:
For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Judahites or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. - 1 Corinthians 12:13-14 NASV
The Greeks in 1 Corinthians 12 and Galatians 3 are not non-Israelite gentiles. They are the scattered nations of the house of Israel. The Apostle John confirmed this identification:
The Judahites 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 [diaspora] among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks, is He?” - John 7:35 NASV
Strong’s Concordance defines diaspora as Israelite residents in gentile countries.161 The Judahites questioning Yeshua identified certain Greeks as Israelites who had been dispersed among the non-Israelite Greek nations.
John 12 provides additional evidence of Israelites who were known as Greeks:
And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast: The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus. Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus. And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. - John 12:20-23
It is highly improbable that non-Israelites would have sought Yeshua at an Israelite festival. Yeshua explained this event as a sign that His time to die was at hand, and according to the Old Testament prophets, one of the principal reasons for Yeshua’s death, burial and resurrection was to reunite the house of Israel with the house of Judah. The context of these four verses begins with verses 12-15 concerning Zechariah’s prophecy about Yeshua’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. This prophecy by Zechariah (9:9-10) is one of the prophecies concerning the reuniting of the two houses of Israel.
Therefore, these Greeks’ desire to see Yeshua was indicative that the house of Israel, who was among the Greek-speaking nations, was being prepared to be reunited with the house of Judah by returning to Yahweh.
In The History of Israel, Heinrich Ewald wrote about the Israelite dispersion into the Greek world:
It is somewhat difficult to survey all the foreign cities and countries to which … the Samaritans … made themselves settled homes. Even before Alexander, many were already living dispersed among the heathen in all quarters. From the countries beyond the Euphrates and Tigris, where large numbers had continued to reside ever since the Assyrian and Babylonian days … they spread one by one…. The main stream of the dispersion ran … through the dominions of the ruling nation, first of the Macedonian-Greeks and then of the Romans. Many others settled in Phoenicia and northern Syria, particularly in the numerous towns founded or renovated in theses regions by the Greeks.162
In addition to the previous three clues, note the emphasis placed upon the words “if” and “then” in verse 29 of Galatians 3:
And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. - Galatians 3:29
According to the Apostle Paul in Romans 9:3-4, the promises belong to Israel. Therefore, Galatians 3:29 can now be correctly understood to say: Only Israelites, either Judahites or Greeks, who belong to Yeshua the Christ are reckoned as true heirs of Abraham according to the promise.
Galatians 3:29 was written for Judahites who were under the mistaken notion that simply being a physical descendant of the house of Judah was all that was required to be an heir of the promise. In rebuttal, Paul pointed out that physical descent was not enough under the New Covenant. The physical descendants of Abraham are considered “heirs according to the promise” only if they are also spiritual sons of Abraham through salvation in Yeshua the Christ.*
*Mark 16:15-16, Acts 2:36-41, Acts 22:1-16, Romans 6:3-4, Galatians 3:26-27 and 1 Peter 3:21 should be studied when considering what our response should be to Yeshua’s gospel call of salvation.163
This does not mean that non-Israelites cannot join themselves to Yahweh and become proselytes to the covenants that belong to the Israelites and receive benefits derived from those covenants.* However, a person does not have to distort Galatians 3:26-29 in order to prove this point.
*See Appendix 2 - Yahweh’s Plan for Believing Non-Israelites.
In conclusion, Paul makes it clear to whom he was addressing this epistle:
For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Yeshua. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. - Galatians 3:26-27
The “ye” and “you” in verses 26 and 27 are identified in verse 28 as being:
- Judahites, that is, descendants of the house of Judah, and
- Greeks, that is, descendants of the house of Israel who were formerly under Yahweh’s law, divorced by Yahweh and dispersed to Galatia, whom Yeshua came to redeem, and to whom belongs the adoption and the promise.
Does Galatians 3:26-29 spiritualize Israel? It certainly does, but not in the sense that it is generally thought. This passage is declaring that only Jacob’s racial descendants who have also become spiritual descendants through salvation in Yeshua the Christ are Abraham’s true descendants and, therefore, heirs of the promise. They are “the Israel of God” as depicted in Galatians 6:16. There is indeed a spiritual Israel today. But it is not out of all nations; it is out of the nation of Israel.
Two other passages deserve consideration because they are also used to incorrectly teach a spiritual Israel from all nations and races who have been saved in Yeshua.
This text is usually misapplied to Judahites and gentiles alike. But even if Paul were addressing these statements to gentiles, in Romans 9:24-26 he identifies those gentiles as Israelites, that is, descendants from the house of Israel – see Chapter 6 (pages 25-29).
Romans 2:28-29 has nothing to do with gentiles. Paul was addressing his fellow Judahites who held the same erroneous outlook as previously described in the preceding study of Galatians 3. These Judahites assumed their racial ties to Abraham alone were sufficient to make them acceptable to Yahweh. Paul was not telling non-Israelites that they could become spiritual Judahites. Instead, he was telling the Judahites that unless their hearts were circumcised by Yeshua, they were not true Judahites in His sight.
Note that option 1 implies an inclusion or an addition of people, and option 2 implies an exclusion or a subtraction of people. We must allow the context to determine the correct interpretation. Does the context include or exclude people? Verses 7-27 make it clear that Paul’s intent was an exclusion of people.
First, in verses 7-9, the racial line of Ishmael is excluded from Abraham’s seed. Next, in verses 10-13, the racial line of Esau is excluded. Verses 14-22 explain Yahweh’s sovereign right to exclude whomever He wishes. And finally, in verses 23-27, the majority of Israelites from both the house of Judah and the house of Israel are also excluded.
Paul’s point in verses 6-26 was to illustrate that “though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved” - verse 27. In other words, “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel,” or, in other words, not all Israelites are considered Israel in Yahweh’s sight. This conclusion harmonizes perfectly with what has already been determined from Galatians 3:26-29 and Romans 2:28-29.*
148. Leonard C. Lee, Clouds Over America (Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1948) p. 71.
149. Lee. p. 74.
150. Lee, p. 71.
151. Lee, p. 75.
152. Cornelius Vanderbreggen, Jr., Just Before Dawn (Hiawassee, GA: Reapers Fellowship, 1988) p. 35.
153. Ed Moore, The Last Trump (January/February, 1991) p. 7.
154. James McKeever, The Future Revealed (Medford, OR: Omega Ministries) p. 43.
155. McKeever, p. 55.
156. Charles D. Provan, The Church IS Israel Now (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1987) back cover.
157. Pope Pius XI, The Point (October, 1958) p. 18.
158. “Greece,” Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, Electronic Database Copyright (c)1998 by Biblesoft.
159. “Greeks,” The New Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978) p. 494.
160. Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958) p. 747.
161. James Strong, “Dictionary of the Greek Testament,” The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990) p. 23.
162. Heinrich Ewald, The History of Israel (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1874) Volume V, pp. 238-239.
163. For additional information concerning baptism and its relationship to salvation, Baptism by the Scriptures may be read online, or ordered as a free tract from Mission to Israel, PO Box 248, Scottsbluff, Nebraska 69363.
*We are admonished in Matthew 10:8 “freely ye have received, freely give.” Although there is a suggested price for our books, we do not sell them. In keeping with 2 Corinthians 9:7, this ministry is supported by freewill offerings. If you cannot afford the suggested price, inform us of your situation, and we will be pleased to provide you with whatever you need for whatever you can send.