A colleague just showed me an article he has written addressing the issue of anti-Zionism in the Christian Church and the claim that the Old Testament promises of land made by God to to the Jewish people were “reinterpreted” by Jesus and the Apostles. In the article, he asks where that leaves 2 Timothy 3:16, which says “All Scripture [by which Paul means the Old Testament scriptures] is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
That set me thinking.
What I’m expressing here are my embryonic thoughts and I need to think more deeply about them but, for what they are worth, here are my first observations.
What do Colin Chapman, Stephen Sizer and other anti-Zionists mean when they tell us that Jesus and the Apostles “reinterpreted” the land promises found in the pages of the Hebrew Scriptures? The implications of such a claim are very serious.
If we can understand the Old Testament only through the lens of Jesus and the Apostles, as Chapman and Sizer claim, in what way can the Hebrew Scriptures be said to be “profitable … for teaching” in their own right? Why bother to read them at all? Why not just read the New Testament?
The claim that Jesus and the apostles reinterpreted the Old Testament Scriptures implies the promises of a land for Abraham’s physical descendant had one meaning before Christ (i.e. a literal meaning) but now they mean the opposite (i.e. they have a spiritual meaning). Either the promises always had a spiritual meaning (which no one, not even Moses understood) or they continue to mean what they always meant.
If the promise of land to Israel no longer means a promise of land, the implication is that we can no longer take the Old Testament at its face value.
If, however, we still read those “God-breathed” Scriptures at face value, we cannot do so with “profit” because although the promise of “land” may have meant what it said on the tin to the original readers, it no longer has the same meaning because Jesus and the apostles supposedly “reinterpreted” the promise.
The anti-Zionist claim also presents us with another problem. If the reinterpretation of the land promises by Jesus and the apostles is true, the new interpretation must have always been the way to understand them. So we are faced with a problem of God promising material blessing to Israel when, in fact, he is really talking about spiritual promises to “the Church”.
We cannot therefore use the term “reinterpretation” without doing damage to the New Testament doctrine of Scripture.
We can talk about Jesus and the apostles exposing “deeper meanings” to the land promises. We can say the New Testament uncovers “fresh layers” or draws out previously unknown “implications” to Old Testament texts but we cannot talk about reinterpretation.
The New Testament itself recognises that the meaning of some Scriptures was previously unknown or misunderstood until the coming of Christ but that is not the same as saying Christ “reinterpreted” the meanings.
And nowhere does Jesus imply the land promises did not really mean the promise of land.
The safest and most common sense approach to the promises God made to Abraham and his descendants of land is to accept that although there may be deeper layers to the promises and greater implications behind the texts, the basic face-value meaning of the “land” passages remains inviolate.