Sunday, January 14, 2018

Umbilicus terrae

From what I've read, the basic contention of Christian Zionism is that OT promises ostensibly made to and for Israelites are just what they appear to be. They are, in fact, about the stated referent rather than a cipher for the church (i.e. Jewish and gentile Christians). On that view, Israel continues to have a special future, distinct from the gentiles. 

We might compare this to Augustinian amillennialism,  where OT prophecies and promises ostensibly about Israelites and Eretz Israel are stripped away and transferred to the church. 

A basic problem with the Augustinian interpretation is that we have many OT passages which distinguish Israel from the gentiles ("nations", "peoples", "coastlands", "ends of the earth"), predicting/promising that the gentiles will some day share Israel's faith in Yahweh and the Davidic Messiah, the gentiles will bring tribute to Israel, viz. Gen 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4,24; 27:29; 28:14; 1 Kgs 8:43,60; 1 Chron 16:8,24,26,28,31; Pss 2:8; 22:27; 45:17; 47:1,9; 67:2-5; 72:11,17; 86:9; 102:15; 117:1; Isa 2:2-4; 5:26; 9:1; 11:10-12; 19:18-25; 24:15; 25:6-7; 42:1-12; 45:22-25; 49:1,6,22; 51:4-5; 52:10,15; 56:1-8; 60:1-16; 66:18-20; Jer 1:5; 3:17; 4:2; Ezk 37:28; 38:23; 39:7; Hos 2:23; Amos 9:12; Micah 4:2-3; Zeph 3:8-9; Haggai 2:7; Zech 2:11; 8:20-23; 9:10; 14:16; Mal 1:11.

But on that view, Israel and the Church, or Jews and gentiles, can't be blended into a single entity. A point of contrast remains. 

Assuming that's correct, does it prove Christian Zionism? That's consistent with Christian Zionism, but is it consistent with other schemes as well?

For instance, when OT prophecies address the future of Israel, that's future at the time of writing, when the oracle was delivered. Future in relation to OT prophecy. But in what future will they be fulfilled? The Intertestamental period? The church age? During a temporary millennium at the tail-end of the church age? During the final state (new Eden/new Jerusalem) after Christ returns? 

In addition to when they will be fulfilled, there's the question of how and where. Does this mean Messiah will literally reign in and from Jerusalem? Does this mean gentile Christians will literally bring tribute (or the equivalent) to Jerusalem? That gentile Christians will make pilgrimages to Jerusalem, under Jewish control?

That's one interpretive option. Here's another possibility. There's a substantive sense in which a Bible-centered faith is centered on Israel. Not in terms of physical geography, but in terms of gentiles who frame their life and thought according to a Jewish Messiah, revealed in a Jewish revelation. When, throughout the globe, gentiles make Bible history the focal point of their lives, they are tributary to Israel. Indebted to God's redemptive and revelatory activities in Palestine. 

It's striking to see gentile churches all around the world whose guiding orientation is a Jewish book about Jewish history and a Jewish Messiah. It's striking to see gentile OT and NT scholars master Greek and Hebrew to study a Jewish revelation in the original languages. It's striking to see gentile OT and NT textual critics labor to establish the most authentic text of a Jewish revelation. It's striking to see gentile archeologists labor in the Middle East to recover background information about a Jewish revelation. It's striking to see gentile philosophers and theologians expound the theology and ethics of a Jewish revelation. It's striking to see gentile hymnodists compose music and lyrics about a Jewish Messiah. 

In that sense, gentile Christians pay tribute to Israel. In that sense, gentile Christians make a daily pilgrimage to Israel. We are intellectual pilgrims and tributaries to Israel because the Bible is our frame of reference for what we think and do. For how we live and what we hope for. We worship a Jewish Messiah. He rules in the Jerusalem of our hearts and minds (as it were). 

On the face of it, this is more realistic in the sense that it's hard to isolate "ethnic Israel", when so many professing Jews are not lineal decedents of Abraham. Do OT promises to Israel only apply to a core group who can trace their lineage back to Abraham? Even on Jewish terms, is Abrahamic pedigree essential to Jewish identity? What about gentile converts to Judaism? On a Zionist scheme, will they live in Israel? 

Moreover, it would be a core of a core. Within the core group of "ethnic Jews" is a subset of messianic Jews. And not messianic Jews in general, but only those with a genealogical connection to Abraham. 

In sum:

i) One possibility is that the modern state of Israel represents a stage in OT prophetic fulfillment. While that can't be ruled out, it's too early to make that identification. Clearly the modern state of Israel, c. 2018, doesn't correspond to those golden age oracles.

ii) Another possibility is a millennial fulfillment. A problem with that identification is that the only explicit text on the millennium (Rev 20) doesn't quote or allude to Zionist oracles.

iii) Yet another possibility is that in the world to come, ethnic Jews will have an everlasting homeland in territorial Israel. If so, that prospect doesn't bother me. I don't have a personal stake in that. I'm not Jewish. None of my relatives are Jewish. I have no emotional attachment to the Middle East. There are more scenic parts of the world. I wouldn't feel cheated if that's the case. 

However, that identification raises some puzzling questions. If ethnic purity is a necessary criterion to live there, that disqualifies many messianic Jews, who lack Abrahamic ancestry. 

Also, wouldn't living in one part of the world for all eternity get to be tedious? Don't we need some variety?

iv) Finally, it could mean Israel is instrumental to the salvation of the gentiles. That's our lodestar. Figuratively speaking, we worship facing Jerusalem because, in God's providence, Palestine is the historical source of our theology. In that sense, Christians are spiritual Zionists whether or not Zionism is literally true. Jerusalem remains the "navel of the earth" (umbilicus terrae). 

In the OT, there are salvific prophecies and promises about the gentiles, distinct from prophecies and promises about the house of Israel and Judah. These extend salvation to every ethnic group without merging them into a single unified referent. 

By the same token, gentiles don't need to appropriate promises to Israel given many OT prophecies specific to gentiles that extend salvation to gentiles. I'd add that just because so many OT passages have Israel as the immediate referent doesn't make them irrelevant to gentile Christians. The challenges facing gentile Christians are often analogous to the challenges facing OT Jews. 


  1. May I recommend my friend's article:

    He makes the analogy with the British Commonwealth. While it may not completely solve the problem of what to do with the land promises, it's pretty good in getting down how Gentile believers relate to both Jewish believers and non-believers.

    1. Another example might be the three intelligent species on Mars, in the Space Trilogy: hrossa, sorbs, and pfifltriggi. They are distinct species or races, with different territories, languages, societies, and cultures, yet they all worship the same Lord (Maleldil).

  2. That was an excellent list of verses that shows Israel's ultimate purpose to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.

    Umbilicus terrae = the navel / center of the earth, ie, the most strategic place "in the midst of the nations"
    in order to get the gospel out to the rest of the earth when the Messiah comes. (He is glory of God returned to the temple, and the temple Himself (John 1:14; 2:19-22) and has the flowing water in Ezekiel later chapters for the healing of the nations, etc. (John 4:14; 7:37-39)

    Is it an allusion to Ezekiel 5:5 (center/navel of the nations) or 38:12 (center, midst of the earth/land)
    also Exodus 19:5-6 and I Peter 2:9-10 and Matthew 21:43-45 show the NT fulfillment of the church as the people of God to be the kingdom of priests to mediate God's truth in evangelism and discipleship to all the nations.

    2. Seems to me that Gal. 4:26, Hebrews chapter 4, and Hebrews 11:10, 16; 12:22-23; 13:14; and Rev. 21-22 seem to say that the NT fulfillment of the land promises to Israel are heaven.

    3. also Isaiah 65:17 mentions "the new heavens and new earth" in a context of verses 18-25 understood by Zionists and Pre-Millennialists as about the 1,000 year Millennium before the eternal state in Rev. 21-22. (New heavens and new earth)

    But on that view, Israel and the Church, or Jews and gentiles, can't be blended into a single entity. A point of contrast remains.

    That is what the mystery of the church and it's continuous outreach to all the nations in history is - Ephesians 2:11-22; 3:4-11; Colossians 1:24-27; Revelation 5:9; 7:9; 21:3 (textual issue, but laoi λαιο - plural, peoples, seems to be the best reading.

    A problem with that identification is that the only explicit text on the millennium (Rev 20) doesn't quote or allude to Zionist oracles.

    yes, along with difficulty of believing that there will animal sacrifices again in the Millennium - seems like a massive contradiction to the book of Hebrews, Romans 6:10 and 1 Peter 3:18. (and along with the other seeming allusions to Ezekiel in the Gospel of John that I mentioned above.)

    Also, the great commission emphasizes "beginning from Jerusalem" (Luke 24:46-47 and Acts 1:8, etc.) and going to all the nations/ ends of the earth, etc.

  3. excellent list of verses - especially Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14;

    you need also Genesis 49:10 (to the Lion of Judah belongs the obedience of the peoples)

    I Kings 8:43, 60
    Psalm 2:8
    Psalm 67
    Psalm 87
    Psalm 93:6

    Isaiah 49:6

    Amos 9:12 (quoted in Acts 15 showing the purpose of setting aside the circumcision requirement)

    It seems those and others are what Luke 24:25-27; 44-47 are talking about:
    "thus it is written"
    in the law and prophets (v. 25-27)
    in the law, Psalms, and Prophets (v. 44)

    Thus it is written:
    1. The Messiah would suffer and die
    2. The Messiah would rise from the dead the 3rd day (book of Jonah)
    3. The Messiah would be preached to all the nations
    (Luke 24:44-47)

  4. should have been Psalm 96:3 (not 93:6)

    1. Yes, the Latin title is from the Vulgate translation of two verses in Ezekiel, where Jerusalem is the "navel of the earth".