Does 1 Peter condone Domestic Violence?

In his first letter, the Apostle Peter directs the following words to wives:

In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by the way their wives live, having observed your pure lives lived with respect. (1 Peter 3.1–2)

These words have sometimes been used to expect victims of domestic violence to remain within their abusive relationships. Women are seen to be encouraged to put up with suffering under domestic abuse for the sake of the salvation of their spouses.

First of all, let me say straight up that domestic violence is always wrong. Always. There is never a time that domestic violence should be condoned or encouraged. Never. Ever.

Second, I believe that using Peter’s words here to encourage victims of domestic violence to remain in abusive situations is a complete misunderstanding and misuse of Scripture. Let me explain why I believe that.

Peter, the author of this letter, is an Apostle of Jesus Christ. He was one of the Twelve—the inner circle whom Jesus handpicked. The Twelve were Jewish men—evocative of the twelve tribes of Israel. The symbolism of twelve Jewish men points specifically to the establishment of a new people of God. In other words, in appointing the Twelve, Jesus was deliberately starting a new movement that he defined as a new people of God, but with specifically Jewish roots. He was viewing the people that would grow around him and the Twelve as the faithful remnant of Israel.

It’s no wonder, then, that Peter was seen as an Apostle to Jews. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul, who was considered an Apostle to Gentiles, describes his encounter with the leaders of the early church in Jerusalem (who were all Jewish) as follows:

…they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was for the circumcised. For the one working through Peter for an apostleship to the circumcised also worked through me for the Gentiles. (Galatians 2.7–8)

Paul acknowledges that Peter was specifically commissioned to minister among Jewish people (the circumcised), while he, Paul, was commissioned to minister as an Apostle to the Gentiles.

Why is this important?

It’s important because Peter’s vocation as an Apostle to the Jews (i.e. the circumcised) is on display in the way he opens his letter. I’m offering my own translation of the Greek texts throughout this post, but here I’ll also quote the Greek text for those who are able to read it. That way I want to highlight something that is often passed over too quickly in translation:

Πέτρος ἀπόστολος Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ ἐκλεκτοῖς παρεπιδήμοις διασπορᾶς Πόντου, Γαλατίας, Καππαδοκίας, Ἀσίας καὶ Βιθυνίας…

Peter, an Apostle of Jesus Christ, to the elect migrants of the Diaspora of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia… (1 Peter 1.1)

When we understand Peter’s vocation as an Apostle to the Jews, we cannot help but recognise that he is writing his letter to the ‘Diaspora’—that is, to Jewish people living as migrants in the ancient countries of what we today know as Turkey. ‘Diaspora’ is the standard way of referring to all Jews who lived outside the ‘Promised Land’ (Judea, Samaria, and Galilee).

More specifically, Peter is writing to those whom he views as ‘elect’ among the Diaspora. This is his way of addressing Jewish people who have come to believe in Jesus as Israel’s messiah. In other words, Peter is not writing to all Christians—Jews and Gentiles—as is sometimes espoused. Rather, he is writing to the people to whom he ministered specifically as an Apostle to the Jews—that is, to Jews! To underscore this, he even says to them later:

Conduct yourselves well among the Gentiles… (1 Peter 2.12)

Evidently, then, Peter sees a distinction between his audience and Gentiles. They are very clearly Jews. Critically, though, they have come to believe that Jesus is Israel’s messiah, just as Peter himself has.

Now, let’s look at Peter’s words in chapter 3. There he addresses ‘wives’. Let’s read his words again:

In the same way, wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, even if some disobey the word, they may be won over without a word by the way their wives live, having observed your pure lives lived with respect. (1 Peter 3.1–2)

The wives Peter addresses are Jewish women who believe that Jesus is the messiah. Peter is not addressing each and every Christian woman in every age regardless of her cultural heritage or context. He is writing specifically to women who have grown up as Jews. These Jewish women would, in virtually all cases, have been married to Jewish men. We know that this was the standard case in the ancient world, since Jewish communities of the first century were endogamous—that is, they married within their own ethnic group. Thus, Jewish women were married to Jewish men. While it was possible for a Gentile man to marry a Jewish woman, it was most certainly not the norm. In fact, it was so exceptional that when it happened, it caught people’s attention and was worthy of specific mention (see Acts 16.1). The norm was that Jewish girls would marry Jewish boys and have Jewish babies. There is nothing here in Peter’s letter to indicate any exceptional circumstances that might call this into question. It is, therefore, logical to conclude that when he was addressing wives, Peter was thinking of Jewish women married to Jewish men.

So Peter is addressing Jewish women who believe that Jesus is the messiah. Amongst these women would be some whose Jewish husbands were not convinced that Jesus was actually the messiah. This would naturally have created a significant division within the family—a division that even Jesus appears to have expected within Jewish families:

“Do not think that I came to set up peace on the earth. I did not come to set up peace, but a sword. For I came to turn

a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and a man’s enemies will be
the members of his household.

The person who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. The person who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of Me.” (Matt 10.34–37)

Peter’s advice to Jewish wives who believe in Jesus is not to attempt to separate from their husbands who do not share their belief about Jesus, nor even to disparage their husbands. Rather, he encourages them to stay committed to their marriages, with the specific goal of convincing their husbands that Jesus is indeed the messiah.

In other words, Peter gives advice here to Jewish women who live in a household where there is a difference of opinion over who Jesus is. Women in that situation would be encouraged to continue observing Jewish customs, along with their Jewish husbands. This is something Paul even advises the Gentile Christians in Rome to do for the sake of commending the gospel of Jesus as messiah to Jewish people (see Rom 12.1; 15.7–12). After all, these customs were not incompatible with belief in Jesus. As Paul acknowledged, the Law is holy, just, and good (Rom 7.12). Indeed, the Apostles viewed their belief in Jesus as the logical endpoint of their Jewish faith. They believed that Israel’s whole history and culture had culminated in Jesus the messiah (see Hebrews). Therefore, Peter is urging women married to Jewish husbands who do not share their belief in Jesus to cling to their Jewishness as a means of demonstrating to their Jewish husbands that Jesus is indeed Israel’s messiah. To put it another way, Peter urges the wives here to find the common ground with their husbands and work constructively within that common ground to commend the gospel of Jesus to their husbands.

So that’s what Peter is saying. What, then, is he not saying?

Peter is not addressing every Christian woman in any possible context. And he is most certainly not encouraging women to submit to domestic violence. The logic of Peter’s argument critically involves common ground. Common Jewish ground in his particular letter. For Jewish women married to Jewish men, that common ground existed in their cultural heritage, expressed chiefly in observance of the Mosaic Law. But there is no such common ground in situations of domestic violence. Indeed, domestic violence sees one partner abusively using power and violence to deprive the other partner of wellbeing, safety, and options. In such situations, there is no common ground anymore. One partner simply dominates the other, abolishing any sense of commonality. To have commonality, you need two consenting adults. When there is only one consenting adult, the very notion of commonality has ceased to exist. Indeed, part of the reason domestic violence is such a terrible problem is that the victim feels so utterly trapped within the world of their partner.

To use Peter’s words in 1 Peter to encourage women (or men for that matter) to remain in situations of domestic violence is a misunderstanding of the context, logic, and intent of Peter’s words. It is a tragic misappropriation of Scripture.

More than that, the New Testament makes the point that belief in Jesus is something that God himself grants to people (Eph 2.8–10). To expect a victim of domestic violence to remain in the abusive situation for the sake of their spouse’s salvation is effectively expecting the victim to save their spouse—to do the work that only God himself does. In that case, not only is the person trapped within the violent situation, but the cruel chains of bad theology keep them there, entrapping them even further. It is a terrible situation! No one should be expected to do the work that only God himself does. So we should never expect a victim of domestic violence to continue suffering for the sake of their spouse’s salvation.

2 Peter 1.4 states that part of what it means to be a Christian is to escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. Not only should we think of this in terms of being freed from the sin we ourselves commit, but we should also think of it in terms of helping victims escape the terrible situations in which they suffer. We would never think of encouraging sex slaves to remain in their situation for the sake of saving their pimps or clients. That would be reprehensible. So we should never think of encouraging anyone in an abusive relationship to continue in that situation either. The gospel of Christ is meant to bring freedom and peace, and Christians should be brokers of that very freedom and peace.

Domestic violence is both tragic and wrong. There is no other way to view it. The New Testament never condones it. No one ever should.

Reviewing Reza Aslan’s Jesus

My friend and fellow Sydneysider, historian John Dickson (Centre for Public Christianity), has written a review of Reza Aslan’s controversial recent book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (New York: Random House, 2013). In short, John isn’t a fan of Aslan’s method, content, or conclusions. Here’s a sprinkling of comments from John’s review:

John Dickson

The mismatch between Aslan’s grandiose claims and his limited credentials in history is glaring on almost every page.

In order to move from the bleeding obvious (that some Jews were freedom-fighters) to the utterly implausible (that Jesus was one of them), Aslan takes several false steps, all of which involve as much creativity as history.

…there is the exaggerated depiction of Jesus’s homeland as a place brimming with insurrection and crazed prophets of doom. Scholarship over the last four decades, ever since Martin Hengel’s seminal work, has concluded that “zealotry” in Palestine was a limited, if contiguous, set of movements through the first half of the first century.

…countless scholars from within the relevant disciplines are amply satisfied that there are straightforward explanations of the fact that Jesus of Nazareth ended up on a Roman cross. And none of them involves trampling on the range of evidence in our possession that Jesus eschewed violence on behalf of the kingdom of God.

Finally, the list of exaggerations and plain errors in Zealot bear testimony to Aslan’s carelessness with concrete history.

The review was published by the ABC, and can be accessed HERE.

One Scripture in Two Testaments

The Bible is made up of an Old and a New Testament. While that may seem like an obvious ‘Sunday School’ kind of thing to say, it is actually a profound theological statement. The authoritative word of God in its canonical form has come to us in two distinct portions with Jesus Christ standing at the critical divide. One of our tasks as Christians today is to figure out what each portion contributes to our knowledge of God, such that our faith in him is nourished and our love for him grows. We also need to work out what it means for the practice of our faith, such that our love for others is demonstrated in the world. In other words, we need to ask, “How does the fact that we have an Old and a New Testament inform our beliefs and practices as Christians?”

It has been said that the Bible is essentially made up of stories, stipulations, songs, and other people’s mail. It’s not a bad summary, really. One of the things this tells us is that the Bible was not written to us, but for us. That is, we as Christians living in the twenty-first century were not the intended audience of any of the literature in the Bible. However, we are its recipients, it preservers, and those over whom the Bible has an authoritative claim. The diverse material in the Bible was originally written by and for people living in different ages and cultures to our own. This means that it is a mistake to read ourselves directly into the biblical literature. Mind you, this is an easy mistake to make, and we do it often. For example, when the Law stipulates what ‘you’ must or must not do, we might be tempted to treat this as a direction to us, rather than to the ancient nation of Israel in its covenant relationship to God. Similarly, when the Apostle Peter writes that Jesus’ divine power has given ‘us’ everything for life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called ‘us’ (2 Peter 1.3), we tend to think he is addressing us and all Christians, rather than describing the situation of the Apostles who knew Jesus during his earthly ministry. To an extent this kind of mistake is understandable, because as Christians we stand under the authority of God’s word and should let it impact us. However, the first thing we must do in letting it impact us is recognise that the words were written to and about others. Accordingly, one of our most important interpretive tasks is to understand to whom the stories, stipulations, songs, and mail were originally given. Only then can we ask what relationship we today have to those original audiences and thereby work out how any given passage of the Bible impacts us.

Another significant factor to bear in mind is that the Bible as a whole tells a unified story about God and his dealings with humanity. Thus, while we have two distinct testaments, they are still integrally related to each other.

Furthermore, stories unfold. They progress through stages, complications, twists and turns, before arriving at a resolution and then finally coming to an end. As Christians we acknowledge that the resolution to God’s dealings with humanity is found in Jesus. He is the climax of the whole storyline of history as we find it in the Bible. However, we have not yet reached the end of history. In other words, we live between the resolution of the story and its ending.

This is also important for understanding how the Old Testament fits into the scheme of things. In the Old Testament, which comes before Jesus, the storyline is still unfolding. Those who lived in the Old Testament era of history did not have the benefit of knowing the resolution to the story in which they were taking part. For them, God and his purposes were to some degree still unknowns, though he was revealing his unchangeable self and will to them bit by bit. Just as when the sun rises in the morning, it does not actually alter its shape, but simply comes into fuller view as it rises, affording us the light to see what would otherwise be dim landscapes, so God in the Old Testament was in the process of revealing himself and gradually giving to humanity the light we need to make sense of the world in which we live.

This is why the Old Testament goes through so many stages of history, and even has apparently dissonant voices in it. For example, Deuteronomy can affirm that God blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked, and yet the Teacher in Ecclesiastes can voice his utter befuddlement at why he sees so many righteous people suffering at the same time that so many wicked people prosper. Even today as we read these theological tensions, we may feel some of the discomfort of those who lived in the Old Testament era when revelation was still unfolding and the resolution to these issues had not yet come. But come it did. In Jesus, we see one who is supremely righteous suffering death at the hands of wicked people, at the same time as we see God passing judgement on humanity’s wickedness and raising Jesus to life for our justification. At the cross and empty tomb of Christ, we finally understand God and his purposes. Neither Deuteronomy nor Ecclesiastes were the end of the story. To pick up the sentiment of the writer to the Hebrews, God had spoken in the past at various times and in various ways, but he finally spoke through his Son, who is the radiance of his glory and the exact expression of his being (Heb 1.1–3).

Furthermore, in the Old Testament, God had not finished his dealings with humanity. Although he gave glimpses of where he was taking history, at no point in the Old Testament do we actually get to history’s destination. So while the Old Testament gives us a true picture of God and his purposes, it is still an incomplete picture. That should sound a caution to us in how we use the Old Testament: if we use it without the New, we may distort our understanding of God, which will in turn detrimentally affect our beliefs and practices.

So when we read the Old Testament, we mustn’t think that those who wrote it and who lived in that era knew God and his purposes as fully as we do. On the contrary, we have the blessed benefit of hindsight, having seen what they longed to see and heard what they longed to hear (cf. Matt 13.17). But with this blessed position comes much responsibility. We need to handle the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, properly.

As Christians, we want to do justice to all of Scripture. We affirm that the entire Bible is God’s authoritative word under which we sit, and rightly so, for it is all God-breathed and useful to us. However, this does not mean that we should treat all parts of Scripture in the same way. One danger we face is that of failing to see the Old Testament as the Old Testament—as that part of the unfolding storyline that comes before the resolution in Christ. We affirm that the Old Testament gives us a true picture of God, but we must at the same time affirm that it is an incomplete picture within the grander scheme of Scripture. If we do not, we risk absolutising the Old Testament in a legalistic kind of way.

For example, in light of Jesus, we must affirm with Paul that the Law served as a guardian or tutor for the people of Israel until the appointed time when Christ came and fulfilled it (see Gal 3.24 – 4.5). The Law has, therefore, served its purpose. The Law indeed is holy and just and good (Rom 7.12), but it no longer has authority over Christians as Law. Instead, it now serves us as witness to the unfolding character of God, guiding us as wisdom and as scripture, but not as Law. But we are not ancient Israel living in the land, and therefore we are not under the Law. We are under the Law of Christ, under a new covenant, under grace, in a time of fulfilment and fuller revelation. If, however, we fail to realise the provisionality of the Old Testament and treat it just like the New Testament, we may mistakenly think that we must still obey the Law as Law—that Christians must observe the Sabbath from Friday night to Saturday night. We might say that Christians should avoid eating pork as something detestable to God. We may declare that homosexuals should be ruthlessly put to death. We might pledge a blind allegiance to modern Israel because we conclude that it is the continuation of God’s chosen nation with a special claim over a particular slice of the Middle East, regardless of anyone else’s claim within the region or whether their policies are just. We may even say that God is not a trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit. Yet to do any of these is to fail to appreciate the progressive nature of revelation in Scripture, or the resolution that specifically comes with Jesus. The Old Testament begins to show us God and his will, but as Christians, we live on this side of the cross and empty tomb, and should live by the light of God’s fuller revelation. Just as the writer of the Hebrews urged in his letter, we must acknowledge that with Jesus things have changed irrevocably. There is now no turning back. Jesus is the game changer.

Alternatively, we may swing the other way and end up treating the New Testament just like the Old. That is, we may think that the New Testament is also an unfinished story for which the ‘punch line’ has yet to be delivered. If we do this, we will tend to look for more revelation that takes us further away from Apostolic witness and New Testament theology. We may seek new experiences and depend on them for defining ourselves and our theology. We may seek new prophets who have new words to give us, and put our faith in them for determining what we should believe and practise. We will probably feel an inexorable pull from our culture to conform our beliefs and practices to its norms. We may feel the inclination to give up seemingly ‘old fashioned’ values in favour of more widely acceptable notions, especially on issues for which our society may ridicule the New Testament perspective, such as its views on men and women, sexuality, and the exclusivity of Jesus. All the while, because we are treating the New Testament in the same way as the Old, we will have convinced ourselves that we are still being biblically faithful, and yet we will have weighed anchor from Christ and drifted off on tides that take us away from the God who made himself known in Christ and inspired the Scriptures for our benefit.

Essentially, these pitfalls stem from the same error: not realising that Scripture is God’s unfolding revelation that culminates in Jesus. We cannot graduate the Old Testament to the position of the New, nor can we relegate the New Testament to the position of the Old. Rather, we must understand that Scripture has come to us in an Old and a New Testament, with Christ standing at the critical juncture of resolution between them. In Christ, God’s final word has been spoken and the faith has been once and for all delivered to the saints. While we wait for the end, we must let the word about the Christ dwell in us richly, for this is how we will be able to teach and admonish each other with all wisdom, to frame our words and practices faithfully, with heartfelt gratitude to God.

This piece is a slightly modified version of an article that appeared in Southern Cross (the Sydney Anglican diocesan monthly magazine), November 2012.

Restoring the Kingdom to Israel (Part 2)

A second widely held view about the restoration of Israel is what might be termed the ‘Replacement’ perspective. This view states that the Church has replaced Israel in the purposes of God and has taken over all the prerogatives that Israel once enjoyed as the people of God. In other words, the Church is the ‘New Israel’.

There are some significant implications that stem from this view. For example, the actual ‘Promised Land’ (what is today the State of Israel and the territories of the Palestinian Authority) is no longer of any theological consequence in the scheme of God’s plans. Rather, biblical statements about the physical land are spiritualised either to refer to any place where God’s people meet, or to heaven, or to a recreated earth after the Day of Judgement. Also, if the Church is the ‘New Israel’, then spiritually all Christians are ‘New Jews’. However, this is where I believe the view comes unstuck. Let me explain.

Galatia

The Gentile churches in Galatia that Paul had founded during his journeys faced a significant problem after Paul left them. Apparently, Jewish believers came to them and demanded that they be circumcised (Gal 6.12). The point of this was to turn these Gentile Christians into Jews and, thereby, make them part of the covenant people of God, who alone had access to the special salvific blessings God had bestowed. After all, Jesus was Israel’s Messiah. This ‘Judaising’ view initially seems quite in line with the classic promises of God in the Old Testament, which were made specifically to Israel. However, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul was at pains to demonstrate to these Gentile Christians that they had already received God’s Spirit as Gentiles and, as such, were already party to the fullness of salvation without the need for becoming citizens of Israel (Gal 3.1–5). Now, the Judaisers, who were demanding a change of ethnicity in these Gentiles through circumcision, were not claiming that the Church had replaced Israel. They were, in fact, implying that Israel was the Church. However, in critiquing this ‘Judaising’ view, Paul also effectively critiques the Replacement view, for he denies that there is any ethnic (racial or spiritual) dimension to salvation. On the contrary, anyone who believes in Jesus, whether they are Jewish or Greek, male or female, slave or free, are saved children of God (Gal 3.28).

Artistic Reconstruction of the Roman Forum

Paul effectively faced the opposite problem with the Gentile Christians in Rome. Most of the Jews in the imperial capital, as throughout most of the Roman Empire at the time, did not acknowledge Jesus as Israel’s long awaited Messiah. In the eyes of Rome’s Gentile Christians this was just another sign of Israel’s continued history of obstinacy towards their God. They believed that God had finally abandoned Israel once and for all and now offered salvation to Gentiles. In other words, they believed Jews were a lost cause, and that to be a Christian was to be non-Jewish. Paul corrected this view by pointing out that the Jesus-centred gospel was actually for the Jew first, and then for the Greek (Rom 1.16). He urged Rome’s Gentiles to become living sacrifices (Rom 12.1) who would give up their legitimate freedom in the gospel (Rom 15.1–2) in order to serve the circumcised, just as Christ himself had done (Rom 15.8). In other words, Paul wanted the Gentile Christians of Rome to live in a way that attracted Jews to the gospel and helped them to recognize Israel’s Messiah, Jesus. In so doing, Paul states that Israel is still very much within God’s grand plans. God had not abandoned Jews (Rom 11.1–2), but rather was using their ‘hardening’ as an opportunity for bringing the gospel to Gentiles who, in turn, could then take the gospel back to the Jews (Rom 11.11–27).

What all these things show us is that God does not see saved Gentiles as a part of Israel, nor does he see the concept of ‘Israel’ replaced by a new concept called ‘Church’. The reality of ‘Israel’ continues into the ‘Church’, and yet Gentiles are not actually part of ‘Israel’. They are Gentiles! There is, in other words, a very clear distinction between Jews and Gentiles in the Church, and the distinction is such that the Church cannot really be viewed as a ‘New Israel’. In fact, the term ‘New Israel’ never appears in the New Testament. The earliest cognate we have for the term, as far as we can tell, is from Justin Martyr in the mid-second century AD in his Dialogue with Trypho the Jew. In this ‘discussion’, Justin, a Gentile Christian from Samaria, tells a Jew named Trypho that, because Jews had rejected Jesus, what had once belonged to Israel was now the preserve of Christians alone. For Justin Martyr, the Church had replaced Israel and become the ‘True Israel’ (Dial. Trypho 123; 135). I have little doubt that the Apostle Paul would have strongly objected to Justin’s view had they been contemporaries, since Justin’s view smacks of the elitism that Paul sought to correct in Rome a century earlier.

So where do we go from here? Hopefully, a way forward is beginning to suggest itself. But we’ll save a discussion of it until the next instalment in this little series.

Restoring the Kingdom to Israel (Part 1)

A couple of months back I wrote a short series for ThinkTank, the Moore College faculty blog. I’ve decided to post the series here as well. So here is part one of Restoring the Kingdom to Israel.

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The concept of ‘Israel’ is loaded with significance. From the pages of the Old Testament, we see Israel as the descendants of the patriarch Jacob. They are a national entity, God’s chosen people, the carriers of his promises, and the recipients of divine revelation who stand in a covenant relationship with God. In the Old Testament, Israel is ‘the people of God’.

For this reason, it should come as no surprise in the New Testament when we find the apostles asking the risen Jesus whether, having conquered the grave, he would now conquer Israel’s enemies and restore Israel’s kingdom (Acts 1.6). For the apostles, faith in Jesus as the Messiah was simply the capstone of Israelite faith. Jesus’ response to them is very interesting. He does not chide the apostles for asking the question about restoration. Indeed, the question was brimming with classic biblical expectation. Instead, Jesus informs them that the timing of such things is not to be disclosed to them. In other words, he does not answer ‘No’, but rather ‘In God’s good timing’.

This, of course, begs the question: Has the kingdom been restored to Israel, and if it has, when did it occur? Over the course of a few blogs, I want to consider briefly two widely held views on this issue, and then argue for a third view.

The first view I want to consider is that which says Israel was restored when the modern-day State of Israel came into existence in 1948. As a result of this ‘restoration’, many eagerly expect the imminent fulfillment of the Bible’s eschatological promises.

However, there are numerous problems with this view. Firstly, it assumes that citizens of the modern State of Israel are coterminous with the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah, or at least with ancient Jews in a generic sense. Yet, they are vastly different. Consider the following factors:

  1. Ancient Israel/Judah was a monarchy ruled by the Davidic dynasty. Modern Israel is a democratic republic with a president elected by the Knesset (parliament) and a prime minister elected by popular vote.
  2. Ancient Jews saw themselves as being under the terms of a national covenant with Yahweh, their national God. Obedience to the terms of this covenant (the ‘Law’) was critical for Israelite identity. Today, however, Arabs make up approximately 20% of modern Israel’s population. The great majority of them are Muslims, while some are Druze, and others Christian. Furthermore, many Israeli citizens are agnostics or atheists. There is no ancient covenantal framework binding over modern Israeli citizenship. As such, the modern concept of ‘Israel’ and citizenship within it are quite different to the biblical concept.
  3. After the fall of the Davidic dynasty, the biblical prophets looked forward to its restoration. In fact, this was a common hope within mainstream Judaism for many centuries. However, there is no ‘constitutional’ room for a Davidic dynasty in the political structures of modern Israel today. If a Davidic descendant could somehow be found and his ancestry confirmed (which would be virtually impossible), the modern State of Israel would have to be dismantled in order to make way for a new Davidic Kingdom of Israel. As such, today’s State of Israel cannot be the long-hoped for kingdom.

There is a lot more we could say about these factors. They certainly have significant political ramifications for how we should (and should not) treat the State of Israel today. Yet perhaps the most critical factor to consider is the status of Jesus himself. The apostles viewed him as the long awaited ‘King of the Jews’—the promised Davidic descendant. In fact, this is the very reason why they asked him about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Jesus’ status as Messiah, then, is totally unrelated to the modern political nation-state that today bears the name ‘Israel’. He was not foretelling the inauguration of the State of Israel in 1948. Jesus must have had something else in mind.

In the next blog, I’ll consider the second widely held view relating to the restoration of the kingdom of Israel. Stay tuned.