After scanning Michael Vlach’s propositional material, I next wanted to read his response to the views that are more palatable to me. I wanted to see how Vlach handled things that are disagreeable to him. I thought, if he can show regard for different hermeneutical approaches to key scripture passages, it’ll be easier to judge him sincere and honestly consider his views. No notable, new thoughts surfaced, however.
In the book, all three of the argued positions reside in Romans chapters 9-11, per the subtitle. Those chapters are certainly key, and it’s incumbent on any thinker to deal with the sitz im leben/historical context² of Paul’s Romans epistle. If a theologian or exegete doesn’t even deal with an (1) author’s (2) situation, (3) presumed audience, or (4) literary purpose in any overt manner, something is missing. Some assumptions should then be brought into the light. For instance, could the ethnic makeup of the Roman churches have influenced Paul’s writing? Can we know if he had in mind a church that was half-Jew/half-gentile, or perhaps mostly gentile? Would that knowledge change how we interpret Romans 9-11 in light of other Christian scriptures? Could Paul’s desire for the people of his own ethnic origin have led to some hyperbole that we can’t understand, even with hindsight?
² After I finalized this post, I noted The Bible Project’s newest video and the succinct wording on the intro page for historical context of NT letters: “A wise reading of these letters involves learning about their historical context. . . .” Here, TBP’s look at historical context comes in three “layers,” beginning with some very broad brushstrokes. The most valuable part of the video, in my opinion, starts at about 3:17, and the next installment, if my guess is on track, will be even better.
Vlach’s response to Merkle (view #3) launches itself quickly with a criticism of the latter’s handling of the Romans 9-11 text. But there is more, whether Merkle brought other thinking into his consideration or not! Vlach’s non-typological approach assumes the “continuing theological significance of national Israel” (212), but I must ask, where is this national Israel now? And why on earth (I mean that both as an exclamation and as a concrete reference) would God want to teleport all national Jews—and half-Jews and 16th-Jews and 128th-Jews—to Jerusalem at some later date? At least on the surface, the views in this book all purport to deal with, and mostly distinguish between, ethnic Israel and spiritual Israel. The fact that none of these Christian academics seriously deals with political Israel should tell us something. It is more the popular-level writers of Christianese tripe that are purveyors of that the “we support Israel” stuff.
Here are my current, fly-over judgments on this:
- Michael Vlach and those who hold his views are surely sincere, but they are captive to a hermeneutical paradigm that doesn’t ultimately appear to hold water. They are prejudiced toward a set of understandings (and so am I).
- It’s obviously fine if God decides to do something I don’t expect in the end, but I am partial to views that connect OT prophetic “Israel” to “God’s people” in general, and/or to “spiritual Israel” as typified in Jesus, the ultimate Israelite.
I don’t present this as any sort of “final word.” Actually, it’s not even a final word for myself. I haven’t taken the time I had wanted to take with this, but it feels like time to move on—but not before some proclamation!.
If only everyone—Christians, Jews, Muslims, journalists, politicians, atheists, Middle Easterners, Far Easterners, Midwesterners, and everyone else—could jettison the notion that contemporary geopolitical issues are directly relate to spiritual or biblical concerns, then we could have a better discussion of soteriological eschatology, e.g., whether God will ultimately save all faithful Jews (and what constitutes being a faithful Jew). Today’s political nation of Israel has nothing to do with God or salvation. Stated in the reverse: God has no more concern with any political development regarding Israel than He does with Syria or Switzerland or Sierra Leone or Nicaragua or New Zealand.
The notion that “we” (whatever group of Americans, or Christians, or American Christians, or western Christians that is) must “support” “Israel,” for one or more reasons, is a false one.
Furthermore, I expect nothing to occur in geographical Israel at any point the future that has anything particularly to do with eschatology or salvation or any particular massing of God’s people.
If I turn out to be incorrect, you might see my jaw drop for a few eternal seconds, but I won’t argue with the Lord.
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I’m also just finishing the book The King Jesus Gospel, in which Scot McKnight largely compels me with his thoughts on the definition of the gospel (encapsulated in the early verses of 1Cor 15). In more than one place, He portrays Jesus as the end of the “Jews’ story.” I am with McKnight here. Jesus came from the Jews, in a sense, and He was/is theirs to accept. At this point in history, at least, if a Jew should not accept Jesus, I’d expect that person’s status to be the same as that of any other non-believer.
Whether or not you’re a Jew, believing in YHVH God means that you believe in Jesus as Messiah. In the converse: If a Jew doesn’t believe in the Messiah now, s/he is not fully believing in YHVH whose prophets spoke of him centuries earlier. We all ought to carry our belief through to its logical conclusion: affirming that YHVH sent his Son, loved him, raised him from the dead, and at exalted him to where he now sits as κύριος | kurios | LORD.