by Greg L. Price
I am hopeful that putting my thoughts down for you to read will be helpful to both of us as we discuss matters related to Israel, Jews, Gentiles, etc. Though I find some areas of agreement with some of the men to whom I have listened in the Identity Movement, I cannot agree with the underlying foundation upon which their house is built: namely that the New Covenant is made only with the natural seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
I do believe the New Covenant is made with Israel (i.e. Abrahamís seed). But it is not a bloodline relationship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that forms the link between them and their covenant seed. Rather it is a covenant relationship with Christ that makes one a member of Israel and Abrahamís seed regardless of his race. If anyone belongs to Christ, he is Abrahamís seed and an heir according to the promise made to Abraham (Gal. 3:29). To be a son of God is to be a seed or descendant of Abraham because Christ is the true seed of Abraham (Gal. 3:16), and to be in Christ is to be covenantally related to Abraham.
Let me illustrate the importance of understanding a covenantal relationship in distinction from a mere bloodline relationship. In Romans 5:12-21 and I Corinthians 15:22, Paul teaches that there are two covenantal heads: Adam and Christ. Though blessings would have been poured out upon Adam and all of his seed whom he represented if he had kept the terms of the covenant and not disobeyed God, rather curses were heaped upon Adam and all of his descendants whom he represented when he disobeyed God. We would have been blessed for the sake of Adam had he obeyed God, rather we were cursed for the sake of Adam because he disobeyed God. That relationship to Adam expresses our covenantal union with Adam. Yes, it may be argued that we all have a bloodline relationship to Adam (Acts 17:26) and thus this is the reason for a covenantal relationship. On the contrary, a bloodline relationship is not necessary to a covenantal relationship, for Romans 5:12-21 and I Corinthians 15:22 not only speak of our covenantal relationship to Adam which issues in our death, but also declare our covenantal relationship to Christ. Just as we were covenantally united to Adam who brought our death, so all who are covenantally united to Christ have been purchased from death unto life and have been granted faith to trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. Since no one can claim to be related to Christ as to bloodline (since he had no children), it is obvious that no one is in covenantal union with Christ due to oneís bloodline. It is grace through faith that unites one to Jesus Christ. Thus, all those who are covenantally related to Christ by faith are the sons of God and are the sons of Abraham, and thus the Israel of God speaks not to those in Jacobís bloodline but to those in Christís covenant line (whether one is of natural Israel or not).
This is precisely what water baptism signifies and seals: union with Christ and therefore union with Abraham and the covenant made with him (Gal. 3:27-29). Whoever receives water baptism is baptized into Christ, and since Christ is "the seed of Abraham" (Gal. 3:16), Christian baptism also unites all people from every nation to Abraham who is the father of "all" who believe in Christ (Gal. 3:9; Rom. 4:11). The Lord did not command his disciples to baptize simply those who are of the bloodline of Jacob among the nations. Christ could not have made the commandment more universal had He tried: "Go, therefore, and disciple all the nations, baptizing them (i.e. baptizing all the nations) in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit...." (Mt. 28:19).
Again, the covenantal relationship of those who were never related by blood to Israel is indicated by Paul in Romans 11:11-36. The contrast Paul makes is between those who are Israel and those who are not (i.e. those who are not Israel are called Gentiles and are distinguished from Israel in this chapter, cf. Rom. 11:25-26). The idea that the covenant is not based upon oneís bloodline is illustrated by the image of the olive tree. Those who are related by bloodline to the root (the root is Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) are called "the natural branches" (Rom. 11:21). Those who are not related by bloodline to the root are called branches "cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree" (Rom. 11:24). These "unnatural" branches that were never a part of the good olive tree (i.e. natural Israel) are here identified as Gentiles (cf. Romans 11:13). They are grafted into the olive tree not on the basis of blood, but rather on the basis of faith in Christ (Rom. 11:20). Paul declares it is after the fullness (or full number) of the Gentiles has come in that "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:25-26). How wonderfully this demonstrates that all those who believe in Christ (cf. Rom. 11:19-23) who are unrelated by bloodline to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are yet grafted into covenantal union with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And yet Paul also indicates that God is not finished with the bloodline of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, for God will yet save the natural branches and graft them back into the good olive tree (Rom. 11:23-27).
Now it seems to me that if what I have stated above is accurate, the very foundation of Identity has been pulled out from underneath. Those I have listened to have sought to undermine this covenantal union by building a doctrine on a false identity of the Jews, Gentiles, and Israel. Now by Godís grace, I will seek to expose some of the faulty construction of Identity built upon the false foundation.
1. Identity teaches that the house of Judah returned from exile, but not the house of Israel. However, the prophets prophesied that Israel and Judah would return to the land of Israel together from the land of their captivity (Jer. 3:18; 30:1-3; 33:7; Jer. 50:1-6, 17-20; Is. 11:11-16; Ez. 37:16-22).
2. Identity teaches that those who returned from captivity were of the house of Judah alone and therefore are called Jews. However, it was Medo-Persian kings which released "all" Godís people from captivity (Ezra 1:1-3; 6:2; 7:11-13; Neh. 2:1), and it was into the very land of the Medes that the house of Israel had been driven into captivity 200 yrs. earlier (2 Kings 17:6; 18:11; Is. 13:17; Jer. 51:11, 28; Dan. 5:28). In fact, the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (Israelites) settled in the cities of Judah (1 Chron. 9:1-3). In Ezra 1:5 only the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi are specifically mentioned, however, it is certain that other tribes were represented (cf. 1 Chron. 9:3) and they would be understood under the phrase "with all those whose spirits God had moved" (Ezra 1:5). In fact, in Ezra 6:16-17, at the dedication of the temple, sacrifices are offered "for all Israel twelve male goats, according to the number of the tribes of Israel," even as Hezekiah had offered sacrifices for "all Israel" (2 Chron. 29:20-24), and then gathered the tribes throughout all Israel to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover (2 Chron. 30:1-5, 10-11, 18; 31:1). Thus, when Jesus sent His disciples to minister throughout Palestine, He sent them not to the Gentiles, not to the Samaritans, but only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt. 10:5-6) i.e. to the Jew first just as Paul also patterned his missionary outreach to the Jew first (Rom. 1:16; 2:9, 10).
3. Identity teaches that the term "Jew" in the New Testament always refers to the apostate religion of Judaism. However, if that were the case it would be impossible for a Christian to be referred to as a Jew after having been converted. Yet Jesus is called a Jew (Jn. 4:9), as is Peter (Acts 10:28), Apollos (Acts 18:24, and Paul (Acts 21:39). In fact, Paul says that those who are Jews are Jews "by nature" not by religion (Gal. 2:15). The Lord Jesus taught that salvation was from the Jews (Jn. 4:22) and thus the term "Jew" does not convey a false religion in that context. Paul taught in Romans 3:1 that to the "Jews" were committed the oracles of God (i.e. the revelation of the Old Testament), and thus again Paul is not declaring the term "Jew" to convey an apostate religion.
4. Identity teaches that the term "Gentile" or "nations" refers to Israelites (those of the house of Israel i.e. the northern kingdom). However, rather than identifying Israel with the Gentiles, the Scriptures distinguish Israel and Israelites from Gentiles and the nations among whom the Israelites live (Gen. 10:5; Judg. 4:2; Is.49:6; Jer. 4:7; 46:1; Ez. 4:13; Hos. 8:8-9; Joel 3:2-3; Micah 5:7-8; Zech. 1:21; Mt. 10:5-6; 20:18-20; Mk. 10:33-34; Lk. 2:31-32; 18:32-33; 21:24; Acts 4:27; 7:45; 9:15; 10:1, 45; 13:42-43, 46-47, cf. Is. 49:6; 17:16-34; 21:11, 21; Rom. 3:9, 19; 9:30-31; 11:13, 25-26; Eph. 2:11-12; Rev 11:2).
5. Identity teaches that only Israel could sin (since sin is the transgression of the Law and only Israel was given the Law). Thus, Identity teaches that only Israel needs to repent of sin. However, the Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death not to Israel only, but to the whole world (Rom. 3:23; 5:12). The Scriptures teach that all have sinned and need to repent (Jonah 3; Acts 17:30; Rom. 3:9-20; 2 Pet. 2:4-8). In fact, if only Israel had transgressed the Law, only Israelites would die, for Rom. 5:12 clearly demonstrates that death is the result of sin. However, since all men die, we know that all men have sinned and need to repent of their sin.
6. Identity teaches that Adam and Eve are not in fact the parents of the whole human race. Along with Adam and Eve were created other human beings (the other races). However, God clearly states that all men sinned and died covenantally in Adam (Rom. 5:12-19; I Cor. 15:22). Adam is called the first man by the apostle Paul (I Cor. 15:45). This false teaching has many ramifications concerning salvation for those who are allegedly not in Adam (i.e. all the various races that did not descend from Adam). Christ came to redeem those who sinned in Adam (Rom. 5:12-19), but what about those races who did not sin in Adam?
In conclusion, I believe a fundamental misunderstanding of the covenantal relationship of which I spoke at the outset has led Identity to misinterpret much of the Word of God. They have narrowed the focus of Godís kingdom message of salvation to Israelites when God specifically intends for the "unnatural" branches of the non-Israelites (Gentiles) to be united with the "natural" branches of the Israelites (Jews) in one olive tree. This is the same truth taught in Ephesians 2:11-17. Those who are Gentiles in the flesh, who are aliens (i.e. who are non-Israelites) from the commonwealth of Israel, and who are strangers from the covenants of promise (these Gentiles cannot be Israelites, for Israelites have both "the covenants" and "the promises" according to Rom. 9:4), are joined together with those who are Israelites to form one new man in Christ. That which separated Israel from the Gentiles in the Old Covenant was the ceremonial law ("that is the law of commandments contained in the ordinances" Eph. 2:15), but it has been taken out of the way having been nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14). The mystery of the gospel that was not revealed in the Old Testament as it was revealed to the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:1-5) was not that the house of Israel would be reunited with the house of Judah (that was clearly prophesied in the Old Testament and clearly realized in the Old Testament, cf. points 1-2 above), but rather that non-Israelites (Gentiles) would be joined together with Israelites in the commonwealth of Israel (Eph. 2:11-13, 19), joined together as one new man (Eph 2:15), joined together in one body (Eph. 3:6), and joined together in one olive tree (Rom. 11:13-27). That is the great mystery of the gospel. But that great mystery is destroyed in the false gospel of the Identity movement.
If Identity is accurate in understanding the New Covenant to be made with only the bloodline seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then one would expect Romans 9-11 (which explains Godís plan for "Israelites" and "Gentiles") to especially confirm this proposition. However, Identityís interpretive principles only bring confusion and disorder to these chapters as I will seek to demonstrate by Godís grace.
The interpretive key for Identity is found in Romans 9:25-26 where Paul quotes from Hosea 2:23 and Hosea 1:10 to establish the truth that God is calling out a people for Himself "not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles" (Rom. 9:24). Identity explains that the quotes Paul uses from Hosea 2:23 and Hosea 1:10 identify who Paul intended by the designation "Gentiles" in Romans 9:24 (and in the other references to "Gentiles" in Rom. 9-11). In Hosea 2:23 and Hosea 1:10 the reference is clearly to the house of Israel (the northern kingdom). Thus, Identity would interpret all references to "Gentiles" in Rom. 9-11 to speak of the house of Israel, and references to "Israelites", "Israel", and "Jews" in Romans 9-11 to speak of the house of Judah. Therefore, those within the Identity movement would propose that Paulís illustration of the olive tree in Romans 11 actually teaches that the natural branches of Israel (i.e. the house of Judah) were broken off for their unbelief, and that the unnatural branches of the Gentiles (i.e. the house of Israel) were grafted into the olive tree in order to provoke to jealousy the natural branches of Israel (i.e. the house of Judah) so that in this way "all Israel will be saved" (Rom. 11:26).
I submit that one cannot make sense of Paulís words in Romans 9-11 while maintaining the Identity interpretive key just mentioned. I also submit that the only way that this passage can be reasonably interpreted is if the designations, "Israelites", "Israel" and "Jews", refer to bloodline descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and if the designation, "Gentiles", refers to those who are not bloodline descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Who is Israel in Romans 9-11? Is Israel only the house of Judah (as Identity proposes), or is Israel the house of Judah and the house of Israel (as I propose)? The answer to this question either destroys or establishes the foundation of the Identity movement. In an effort to understand who Paul intended by the term "Israel", I will be considering those passages in Romans 9-11 where the words "Israelites" and "Israel" occur.
1. Romans 9:3-5
Paul states that to the "Israelites" were given certain privileges.
A. "The adoption" refers to the relationship into which God entered with all 12 tribes (Ex. 4:22-23; Hos. 11:1-2).
B. "The glory" speaks of the glory cloud by which God revealed Himself to all 12 tribes (Ex. 24:16-17; 29:43; 1 Kings 8:10-11).
C. "The covenants" point to the gracious relationship God established with Abraham (Gen. 17:7; Ex. 2:24), Moses (Deut. 5:1-22), David (2 Sam. 7:5-17), and with the house of Israel and the house of Judah in the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31). These covenants were given to all 12 tribes.
D. "The giving of the Law" directs Paulís readers to the covenant law God gave to all 12 tribes from Mt. Sinai (Deut. 5:1-22).
E. "The service of God" looks to the sacrificial service of the tabernacle and temple which God graciously provided for all 12 tribes (Ex. 24:18-31:18; 1 Kings 8:1-66).
F. "The promises" concerning the Messiah were given to all 12 tribes (Num. 24:17; Deut. 18:15; Is. 59:20; Gal. 3:16).
G. "The fathers", Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the "root" of all 12 tribes (Ex. 2:24; Acts 3:13; Rom. 4:1; 9:10; 15:8).
H. Who are the "Israelites" of Romans 9:4? They are not those of the house of Judah alone (as Identity supposes). To the contrary, they are those of the house of Judah and the house of Israel as well. They are all 12 tribes.
2. Romans 9:6
Paul states, "For they are not all Israel who are of Israel."
A. The historical illustrations of this truth are the births of Isaac and Jacob.
B. God chose Isaac over Ishmael even though both were sons of Abraham; and He chose Jacob over Esau though both were sons of Isaac.
C. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the fathers of all 12 tribes so that the reference to Israel must have in view members not simply of the house of Judah, but members of the house of Israel as well (i.e. all 12 tribes).
3. Romans 9:27-28
Paul cites a passage from the prophet Isaiah "concerning Israel."
A. However, Isaiah 10:22-23 does not refer to the house of Judah at all, but to the house of Israel.
B. This violates the position of Identity for according to their scheme, "Israel" in Romans 9-11 must be the house of Judah if the term "Gentiles" refers to the house of Israel.
C. Paul does not seem to view Israel in the same way that Identity views Israel.
4. Romans 9:29
Paul continues his thought "concerning Israel" that was begun in Romans 9:27.
A. However, in this instance Paul quotes from Isaiah 1:9 which refers to the house of Judah, rather than to the house of Israel.
B. Thus, Paul is not making any kind of strict distinction beween the house of Israel (Rom. 9:27-28) and the house of Judah (Rom. 9:29).
C. The designation "Israel" (Rom. 9:27) refers to the house of Israel (Rom. 9:27-28) and to the house of Judah (Rom. 9: 29).
5. Romans 9:30-33
Paul states that "Israel", though pursuing the law of righteousness, did not attain to it because they stumbled over Christ, the stumbling stone.
A. Paul identifies "Israel" by quoting from a conflation of two passages in Isaiah (8:14; 28:16).
B. Isaiah 8:14 specifically teaches that "both the houses of Israel" would stumble over Christ, the stumbling stone.
C. Thus, again Paul makes it clear that he has the house of Israel and the house of Judah in view when he uses the term "Israel."
6. Romans 10:19-21
Paul asks whether "Israel" really knew the gospel.
A. In order to answer the question, Paul first states in Romans 10:19 that Moses told "Israel" that God would make them jealous by those who were not a nation (Deut. 32:21). God is addressing the 12 tribes of Israel, not simply the house of Judah.
B. In Romans 10:20-21, Paul cites God speaking first to the Gentiles (Is. 65:1), and secondly to Israel (Is. 65:2).
C. Who is the disobedient people to whom God has stretched out His hands all day long in Isaiah 65:2? According to Isaiah 65:9, it is the same people God would yet restore, namely "descendants from Jacob and from Judah" (i.e. the house of Israel and the house of Judah).
D. Again, Paul deliberately cites Old Testament passages that identify "Israel" as the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
7. Romans 11:1-4
Paul argues that God has not cast away His people for He is yet calling out His elect from Israel.
A. First, Paul points to his own salvation as an "Israelite" in order to demonstrate that God is not yet finished with Israel (Rom. 11:1).
B. Second, in Romans 11:2, Paul cites the words of Elijah who pleaded with God against "Israel" (1 Kings 19:10, 14). It was not the house of Judah that Elijah specifically addressed in his diatribe against "Israel." On the contrary, it was the house of Israel.
C. Identityís attempt to identify "Israel" with only the house of Judah seems to fail time and time again in Romans 9-11.
8. Romans 11:7-8
Again Paul notes that "Israel" did not obtain that for which it was seeking, but the elect within Israel did find mercy.
A. The hardening of "Israel" in Romans 11:7, Paul declares in Romans 11:8 was prophesied in two Old Testament passages (Deut. 29:4; Is. 29:10).
B. Deuteronomy 29:4 is addressed to all 12 tribes of Israel, while Isaiah 29:10 is addressed to Jerusalem (the capital of the house of Judah).
C. Once again, Paulís use of Old Testament texts (uniting the house of Israel and the house of Judah) substantiates the view that by the term "Israel", he means all 12 tribes.
9. Romans 11:16-24
Paul now comes to the illustration of the olive tree. The natural olive branches ("Israel") are all those who have descended from the holy root (the fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). Some of these natural branches ("Israel") were broken off because of their unbelief, and in their place were grafted into the olive tree unnatural olive branches ("the Gentiles").
A. It would appear that the holy root to which Paul refers in Romans 11:16 is Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for note that Paul declares in Romans 11:28 that unbelieveing Israel (the natural olive branches that were broken off) is on the one hand an enemy of the gospel, but on the other hand Israel is beloved "for the sake of the fathers" (i.e. for the sake of the holy root).
B. Since both the house of Israel and the house of Judah have Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for their natural root, it would appear that these two houses are the natural branches. This would make the unnatural branches nonIsraelite Gentiles who have no natural relationship to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
C. As we have seen throughout Romans 9-11, "Israel" refers to all 12 tribes for they are organically the natural branches that descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
D. It is these same 12 tribes of Israel that would be provoked to jealousy by the salvation of the "Gentiles" according to Romans 10:19 and Romans 11:11. And yet the "Israel" of Romans 10:19 designates the 12 tribes of Israel, thus the same is true in Romans 11:11.
E. It is these same 12 tribes of Israel that are hardened according to Romans 10:7-8 and Romans 11:25. And yet the "Israel" of Romans 10:7-8 refers to the 12 tribes of Israel, thus the same is true of the "Israel" that is hardened in Romans 11:25.
F. Paul states that by making Israel jealous through the salvation of the "Gentiles", in this way "all Israel" will be saved (Rom. 11:26). The natural olive branches will be grafted back again into the original olive tree, that same olive tree into which the unnatural branches (the "Gentiles") had previously been grafted.
G. In Romans 11:26-27, Paul again identifies who "all Israel" is by citing Isaiah 59:20-21. "Israel" is both "Zion" and "Jacob" (i.e. both Jerusalem, the capital of the house of Judah, and Jacob which is the house of Israel). "All Israel" is not the house of Judah alone, but is the house of Judah (as represented by its capital city, Zion), and the house of Jacob or Israel.
10. Romans 9:24-26
This is the passage cited as the interpretive key according to Identity.
Are the "Gentiles" in Romans 9:24 actually the house of Israel referred to in Hosea 2:23;1:10?
A. The "Gentiles" cannot be the house of Israel for the following reasons:
1. Just as Romans 9:24 mentions the terms "Jews" and "Gentiles", likewise so does Roman 2:17,24. However, in Romans 2:24 "Gentiles" cannot mean the house of Israel for Paul quotes from Ezekiel 36:22 which is directed expressly toward the house of Israel. In other words, Paul declares in Romans 2:24, "For The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you [O house of Israel]." The "Gentiles" are clearly distinguished from the house of Israel, rather than being identified with the house of Israel. Rather Paul identifies the house of Israel in Romans 2:24 with the designation "Jew" in Romans 2:17. Therefore, we should likewise understand "Gentiles" in Romans 9:24 to be distinguished from the house of Israel, and "Jews" in Romans 9:24 to include the house of Israel.
2. Paul makes it clear in Romans 9:27-28 that it is not the "Gentiles" who are the children of Israel, rather it is "Israel" that is called "the children of Israel."
3. In Romans 9-11, the contrast between "Jews" and "Gentiles" (Rom. 9:24) is continued using the terms "Israel" and "Gentiles" (Rom. 9:30-31; Rom. 11:25). As I have already shown in Romans 9-11, "Israel" refers to the bloodline descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (i.e. the 12 tribes of Israel or the natural branches) in contrast to the "Gentiles" (i.e. nonbloodline descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or the unnatural branches).
4. In Romans 9:24, Paul does not appeal to Hosea 2:23 and Hosea 1:10 in order to strictly identify the "Gentiles" with the house of Israel. Rather Paul cites Hosea 2:23 and Hosea 1:10 in order to draw a parallel between the nonIsraelite "Gentiles" and the Israelites of the house of Israel. They would both be recipients of the unmerited favor of God in calling them His "beloved" and "sons of the living God."
A. The only way that Romans 9-11 can be interpreted reasonably and consistently is to identify "Israel" with the blood line descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to identify the "Gentiles" with those who are not bloodline descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
B. According to the view defended in this paper, Paul would then be teaching that those who are nonIsraelites (i.e."Gentiles") will be grafted by faith into the same covenant (i.e. the same olive tree) that once belonged exclusively to Israelites of the house of Israel and of the house of Judah. Once the full number of the nonIsraelites (i.e."Gentiles") have been grafted into the olive tree, then the Lord will add to the olive tree "all of Israel" from the house of Israel and the house of Judah to His covenant.
C. When understood correctly, Romans 9-11 completely undermines the views of Identity as to the identity of "Israel", "Israelites", "Jews" and "Gentiles."
D. The identity of "Israel", "Israelites", "Jews", and "Gentiles" as maintained by Paul in Romans 9-11 must be consistently applied through his epistles and the rest of the New Testament (which is simply saying that the writers of the New Testament being inspired by the Holy Spirit must be consistent with whom Paul defines as "Israel" and as "Gentiles" in Romans 9-11).
E. Thus, Godís covenant people are those who have the faith of Abraham whether they are Israelites, or nonIsraelites. In fact, all those who believe in Christ are the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16) for both elect Israelites (the natural branches) and elect nonIsralelites (the unnatural branches) have been united together in the same olive tree of Israel whose root is Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
F. For a refutation of the false view of the Sabbath that is prevalent amongst those in the Identity Movement, you may want to read my recent study, When Does The Sabbath Begin? Morning or Evening? This may also be ordered through Still Waters Revival Books.