Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Has God’s purpose for Israel already been fulfilled?

In my two-part study “The Seed of Abraham,” (click here for part one), I argued that the seed/offspring of Abraham referred to in certain passages of Scripture (e.g., in Gen. 13:14-17, 17:7-10 and 1 Chron. 16:12-18) belong to the twelve-tribed people concerning whom God said, Circumcise to yourselves every male” (Gen. 17:10), and who are distinguished from “the nations” (Gen. 26:4; 1 Chron. 16:24, 35; 17:21). Among the passages I quoted in defense of my position was Genesis 12:5-7, in which we read the following:


And taking is Abram Sarai, his wife, and Lot, his brother's son, and all their goods which they got, and every soul which they make their own in Charan, and forth are they faring to go toward the land of Canaan. And coming are they to the land of Canaan. And passing is Abram into the land as far as the place of Shechem, as far as the high oak. And the Canaanite is then dwelling in the land. And appearing is Yahweh to Abram and is saying to him, “To your seed am I giving this land.”


That the “seed” referred to in v. 7 is comprised of people who belong to the twelve-tribes of Israel is evident from what we’re told Yahweh later declared to Moses, as recorded in Exodus 33:1:


Go up hence, you and the people whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land about which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, saying: To your seed shall I give it. 


And in Joshua 1:2-6 we read that, after Moses’ death, Yahweh declared the following to Joshua:


“Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them.


In light of these and other related passages, there can be no question that the seed of Abraham referred to in Gen. 12:7 (as well as Gen. 13:14-17, 17:7-10 and 1 Chron. 16:12-18) refers to the twelve-tribed people of Israel. However, there are some Christian theologians (and, unfortunately, even some believers within the body of Christ) who believe that God’s covenant people, Israel, have already served their purpose and fulfilled their role in God’s redemptive plan, and that the only people of God with whom God is presently concerned (and with whom God will be concerned in the future, after Christ’s return to earth) is the company of saints that Paul referred to in his letters as the body of Christ.


Among those who hold to this position (and who deny that any prophecy-fulfilling destiny awaits Israel as a people distinct from the body of Christ), it’s commonly believed that, according to what we later read in Josh. 21:43-45, there is nothing more to be fulfilled with regard to what God promised Abraham concerning his twelve-tribed descendants and their possession of the land of Canaan. In these verses we read the following:


Thus Yahweh gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers. And they took possession of it, and they settled there. And Yahweh gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for Yahweh had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that Yahweh had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass.


We know that “all the land that [Yahweh] swore to give to [Israel’s] fathers” is the land of Canaan (the boundaries of which are specified elsewhere; see, for example, Gen. 15:18, Ex. 23:31 and Num. 34). It’s also clear from what we read in these verses that, under Joshua’s leadership, Israel had been permitted by God to finally enter into and begin dwelling within this land. And not only this, but all of the enemies who were dwelling within the land at that time were “given…into [Israel’s] hands” by God. They were not able to pose any military threat to Israel, or force them out of the land they had entered.


However, we also know from other passages that, in Joshua’s day (including the time concerning which Josh. 21:43-45 was written), there were regions within the territory given to Israel that had not yet been fully conquered and possessed by Israel (see, for example, Josh 13:1-17; 15:63; 16:10; 17:12-13, 17-18; 23:4-6, 12-13; Judges 1-2). And this fact alone is, I believe, problematic for those who would appeal to Josh. 21:43-45 in support of the view that everything God promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob concerning their Jewish offspring and the land of Canaan has already been fulfilled.


In response to the criticism that the land conquered and possessed by Israel under Joshua’s leadership was not as extensive as the territory that God promised in Gen. 15:18, many of the same theologians will then appeal to 1 Kings 4:20-21 in defense of what they believe. In these verses we read the following:


Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea. They ate and drank and were happy. Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt. They brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life.


The problem with appealing to both Josh. 21:43-45 and 1 Kings 4:20-21, however, is this: If what God promised Abraham concerning the possession of the land of Canaan by his offspring wasn’t fulfilled until the time of Solomon’s reign, then it couldn’t have been fulfilled during the earlier time to which Josh. 21:43-45 is referring. Thus, those theologians who appeal to both Josh. 21:43-45 and 1 Kings 4:20-21 are “stuck on the horns of a dilemma” with regard to when, exactly, they believe God’s promise to Abraham concerning the possession of the land of Canaan by his offspring was actually fulfilled.


Notwithstanding this difficulty, these theologians will still insist that what we’re told in Josh. 21:45 (i.e., that ”not one word of all the good promises that Yahweh had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass”) should be understood as evidence of the past fulfillment of what God had promised Abraham concerning his seed and the land of Canaan. However, it should be noted that the “good promises” in view here are what God had promised “to the house of Israel.” The “house of Israel” refers to the twelve-tribed people who descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (and who entered the land of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership), and is not a reference to the three patriarchs themselves. Since “the house of Israel” did not exist when God promised what he did to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the “good promises” in view in Josh. 21:45 cannot refer to the earlier promises that God had made to these three men. This verse cannot, therefore, be understood as an affirmation that everything promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had been fulfilled in Joshua’s day. Rather, we’re simply being told that the good things God had promised to the house of Israel were, in Joshua’s day, being enjoyed by the house of Israel.


The “good promises” being referred to are those that were made to and concerning the house of Israel shortly before Moses died and Israel entered Canaan under Joshua’s leadership. For example, in Deut. 11:13-15 and 22-25 we read the following:


“And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love Yahweh your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full.


For if you will be careful to do all this commandment that I command you to do, loving Yahweh your God, walking in all his ways, and holding fast to him, then Yahweh will drive out all these nations before you, and you will dispossess nations greater and mightier than you. Every place on which the sole of your foot treads shall be yours. Your territory shall be from the wilderness to the Lebanon and from the River, the river Euphrates, to the western sea. No one shall be able to stand against you. Yahweh your God will lay the fear of you and the dread of you on all the land that you shall tread, as he promised you.


That the “good promises” in view in Josh. 21:45 are promises that were made to the house of Israel in Moses’ day (and not the earlier promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) is confirmed from what we read in Joshua 23:9-16. In these verses, we read that Joshua declared the following to the house of Israel shortly before his death:


For Yahweh has driven out before you great and strong nations. And as for you, no man has been able to stand before you to this day. One man of you puts to flight a thousand, since it is Yahweh your God who fights for you, just as he promised you. Be very careful, therefore, to love Yahweh your God. For if you turn back and cling to the remnant of these nations remaining among you and make marriages with them, so that you associate with them and they with you, know for certain that Yahweh your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that Yahweh your God has given you.


And now I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that Yahweh your God promised concerning you. All have come to pass for you; not one of them has failed. But just as all the good things that Yahweh your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so Yahweh will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that Yahweh your God has given you, if you transgress the covenant of Yahweh your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of Yahweh will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you.


In these verses, the “good things” that Yahweh had promised concerning Israel (and which had “come to pass” for Israel under Joshua’s leadership) are contrasted with “all the evil things” that Yahweh threatened to bring upon Israel if they transgressed his covenant with them. A key chapter in which these promised blessings for obedience – as well as the threatened curses for disobedience – can be found is Deut. 28. It is these promised blessings from God that, in accord with what we read in Joshua 21:43-45, the house of Israel was enjoying under Joshua’s leadership.


“A holding eonian”


Although the points made above demonstrate the problematic nature of the claim that Josh. 21:43-45 proves that God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob concerning their offspring and the land of Canaan have already been fulfilled, there is actually an even bigger and more fundamental problem facing those who appeal to either Josh. 21:43-45 or 1 Kings 4:20-21 in support of their past-fulfillment position. For God did not merely promise Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that their twelve-tribed descendants would enter and inherit the land of Canaan while enjoying, under Joshua’s leadership, approximately 30 years of military dominance over the enemies who remained within their territory. Nor did God merely promise Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that their offspring would enjoy an approximately 40-year-long time of peace and prosperity under the reign of one of Israel’s future kings. No; God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob went beyond anything that Israel enjoyed during the days of either Joshua or King Solomon.


In Genesis 13:14-17 and 17:7-8 we read the following:


And Yahweh Elohim says to Abram after Lot was parted from him, “Lift your eyes, pray, and see. From the place where you now are, northward and toward the south-rim and eastward and seaward, for all the land which you are seeing, to you am I giving it, and to your seed, till the eon. And I make your seed as the soil of the land. Could a man count the soil of the land, moreover, then your seed shall be counted. Rise, walk in the land, its length and its width, for to you am I giving it, and to your seed, for the eon.”


“And I set up My covenant between Me and you, and your seed after you, for their generations, for a covenant eonian, to become your Elohim and your seed’s after you. And I give to you and to your seed after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for a holding eonian (or a possession age-during).


We also read in Exodus 32:11-13 that Moses beseeched Yahweh as follows:


“Why, Yahweh, has Your anger grown hot against Your people whom You have brought forth from the land of Egypt with great vigor and with a steadfast hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying: For evil He brings them forth to kill them in the mountains and to finish them off the surface of the ground? Turn back from the heat of Your anger and show mercy concerning the evil to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself. You spoke to them, saying: I shall increase your seed as the stars of the heavens, and all this land, as I have said, I shall give it to your seed, and they will gain it as an allotment for the eon.”


And in 1 Chronicles 16:12-18, God’s promise to give the land of Canaan to the “seed of Israel” as an allotment is referred to as a “covenant eonian”:


Remember His marvelous works that He has done, His miracles and the judgments of His mouth, O seed of Israel, His servants, sons of Jacob, His chosen ones. He is Yahweh, our Elohim; His judgments are in all the earth. Remember His covenant for the eon, the word he enjoined on a thousand generations, that He contracted with Abraham, and by His oath to Isaac. He ratified it to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as a covenant eonian, saying, “To you shall I give the land of Canaan, the region of your allotment.”


The words “till the eon,” “for the eon,” “a covenant eonian” and “a holding/possession eonian” indicate that God’s intention has always been that the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to whom the land of Canaan has been promised will possess and enjoy this land for much longer than the relatively brief periods of time referred to in Josh. 21:43-45 and 1 Kings 4:20-21. Notice, also, that in the verses quoted from Genesis 13 and 17, Abraham himself is included among those to whom the land will be given “for the eon” and as “a holding eonian.” Since Abraham died long before Israel entered the land under Joshua’s leadership (and must therefore be restored to life in order to have an allotment in Canaan “for the eon”), it follows that what God promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob concerning the land of Canaan has yet to be fulfilled. And this means that neither the state of affairs referred to in Josh. 21:43-45 nor the state of affairs referred to in 1 Kings 4:20-21 fulfilled everything that God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob concerning their offspring and the land of Canaan.


Moreover, lest anyone think that God’s promise to give the twelve-tribed descendants of Abraham the land of Canaan as “an allotment for the eon” and as a “holding eonian” was somehow nullified because of Israel’s past disobedience/unfaithfulness, Scripture is clear that this is not at all the case. Moses himself prophesied that, after the promised blessings described in Deut. 28:1-14 came upon Israel, Israel would ultimately suffer the threatened curses that he went on to describe in Deut. 28:15-68. However, Moses did not believe that this then-future state of affairs would be irreversible or without remedy. In Deut. 30:1-10, we read that Moses went on to prophesy concerning the house of Israel as follows:


And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where Yahweh your God has driven you, and return to Yahweh your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then Yahweh your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where Yahweh your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there Yahweh your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. And Yahweh your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And Yahweh your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. And Yahweh your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the voice of Yahweh and keep all his commandments that I command you today. Yahweh your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For Yahweh will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, when you obey the voice of Yahweh your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul.


Moses was not merely providing Israel with a hypothetical scenario here that may or may not occur. Rather, Moses was prophesying concerning the pre-ordained future of the house of Israel. And the blessing-filled state of affairs concerning which Moses prophesied is in accord with the promise to which he had previously referred when beseeching God on Israel’s behalf (see Ex. 32:13, which I quoted earlier).


Moreover, in addition to the passages already quoted concerning the eonian duration of God’s covenant with Israel (and Israel’s future possession of the land of Canaan as an allotment), later Scripture is clear that Israel will, in fact, enjoy the blessings described by Moses in the above passage (including the possession of the promised land) after suffering the threatened curses described in Deut. 28:15-68. Consider the following passages in which we find Israel’s eonian allotment in the land that God promised them foretold:


Isaiah 60:18, 21

Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise….Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land for the eon, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified.


Jeremiah 24:5-6

“Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up.


Jeremiah 32:37-40

Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me for the eon, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an eonian covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.


Ezekiel 28:25-26

Thus says the Lord Yahweh: When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob. And they shall dwell securely in it, and they shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am Yahweh their God.”


Ezekiel 36:24-26

I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.


Ezekiel 37:11-14, 21-25; 39:28

Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am Yahweh, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am Yahweh; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares Yahweh.”


Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God.


“My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children's children shall dwell there for the eon, and David my servant shall be their prince for the eon.


“Then they shall know that I am Yahweh their God, because I sent them into exile among the nations and then assembled them into their own land. I will leave none of them remaining among the nations anymore.”


Joel 2:18–19

Then Yahweh became jealous for his land and had pity on his people. Yahweh answered and said to his people, “Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach among the nations.


Amos 9:14–15

I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says Yahweh your God.


Micah 2:12; 4:6–7

I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob; I will gather the remnant of Israel; I will set them together like sheep in a fold, like a flock in its pasture, a noisy multitude of men.


In that day, declares Yahweh, I will assemble the lame and gather those who have been driven away and those whom I have afflicted; and the lame I will make the remnant, and those who were cast off, a strong nation; and Yahweh will reign over them in Mount Zion henceforth and unto the eon.


Zeph. 3:19–20

Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,” says Yahweh.


In light of these and other prophetic statements concerning God’s covenant people, Israel, we can conclude that Israel still has an important role to play in God’s “purpose of the eons,” and that Israel’s eonian destiny will involve possessing (and enjoying their eonian life in) the land that God promised them.


More objections answered


In a recent discussion on Facebook, one believer who holds to the view that God’s covenant people, Israel, have already served their purpose and fulfilled their role in God’s redemptive plan (and that there is, consequently, no prophecy-fulfilling destiny awaiting Israel as a people distinct from the body of Christ) stated the following concerning Israel:


“There are NO people alive today who have a pure Israelite bloodline. They don’t exist. Through the dispersion and intermarrying for almost three millennia, the tribes of Israel have been thoroughly and completely mixed into all the nations.”


The dispersion of the tribes of Israel to which this believer was referring is that of which we read in Ezekiel 22:15:


“I will scatter you among the nations and disperse you through the countries, and I will consume your uncleanness out of you.”


We know that, in this verse, God was referring to the twelve-tribed people whose identity is based on their ethnicity/lineage (i.e., descent from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), the covenants God made with them, and the related promises God made to them. And among the promises that God made to his people are the following:


Ezekiel 20:41

“As a pleasing aroma I will accept you, when I bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you have been scattered. And I will manifest my holiness among you in the sight of the nations.”


Ezekiel 28:25

“When I gather the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they are scattered, and manifest my holiness in them in the sight of the nations, then they shall dwell in their own land that I gave to my servant Jacob.”


Ezekiel 36:24

“I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land.”


Ezekiel 37:21

“Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land.”


Thus, the view that the house of Israel lost their identity (and ceased to exist as a distinct people) after they were scattered and dispersed among the nations by God is completely contradicted by what God himself has promised them. In light of the above verses (and other related prophetic passages), it’s clear that the very same “house of Israel” that God said he would scatter and disperse among the nations is to be gathered back by God as well. And notice that, after the house of Israel is gathered by God and brought to their own land, they will be just as much differentiated and distinct from “the nations” among whom they were scattered and dispersed as they were before they were scattered and dispersed.


Remarkably, when the believer quoted above was challenged to prove his assertions concerning Israel being “thoroughly and completely mixed into all the nations,” he replied, “Just use a little bit of logic and think it through. It’s really common sense.” But it is neither logical nor in accord with “common sense” to refuse to believe what God has said and promised through his prophets (and simply not knowing how God has preserved the house of Israel as an ethnically-distinct people after they were scattered and dispersed among the nations is no reason to deny that God has, in fact, done this).


The same believer quoted earlier also appealed to Hebrews 10:1 in defense of his view, and claimed that “the sons of Israel…were only a shadow of what the REAL, better and spiritual pictured and figured,” and that “the physical Israelites were a type, a shadow of what was to come.” But is this, in fact, what we’re being told in Hebrews 10:1? In this verse we read the following:


For the law, having a shadow of the impending good things, not the selfsame image of the matters, they, with their same sacrifices which they are offering year by year, are never able to perfect to a finality those approaching.”


That which is referred to in this verse as “a shadow of the impending good things” is something that we’re told the law has (“For the law, having a shadow of…”). And what is that? The answer is provided in the verses itself (and in the verses that immediately follow): it’s the offering of sacrifices which are unable to “perfect to a finality those approaching” and cannot be “eliminating sins,” and in which “there is a recollection of sins year by year.” But (as we go on to read) “by one approach present [Christ] has perfected to a finality those who are hallowed” (Heb. 10:11-14).


When Christ returns (and the new covenant of which Christ became the Mediator through his death goes into effect), the salvation that we find referred to in Heb. 5:9, 9:28 and elsewhere will be realized. It is at this time that the words of Romans 11:26-27 will be fulfilled: “And thus all Israel will be saved, according as it is written, “Arriving out of Zion shall be the Rescuer. He will be turning away irreverence from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them whenever I should be eliminating their sins (Rom. 11:26-27). In other words, that which the sacrifices performed under the law had no power to bring about (because they were not intended and designed to do so) will be fully accomplished for all Israel when Christ returns, and the sin-eliminating outcome of his sacrifice goes into effect for God’s covenant people.


So the view that Israel – i.e., the people to whom Simeon referred to as “[God’s] people Israel” while he was holding the infant Jesus (Luke 2:32) – are merely “a type, a shadow of what was to come” is not something that is affirmed in Hebrews 10:1. This verse says nothing about the actual people of Israel being either a type or a shadow that has been replaced by something else, and any support that this verse is thought by some to provide this position is actually based on what they have inferred from it (or read into it), rather than on what is actually being said in the verse itself.


Finally, some understand Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 as supporting the view that the body of Christ has “inherited” the promises originally made to national Israel, and is the “true Israel” that has replaced national Israel as God’s people. In these verses we read that Paul wrote the following to the saints in Corinth:


14 Do not become diversely yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness? Or what communion has light with darkness? 15 Now what agreement has Christ with Belial? Or what part a believer with an unbeliever? 16 Now what concurrence has a temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God, according as God said, that I will be making My home and will be walking in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 17 Wherefore, Come out of their midst and be severed, the Lord is saying. And touch not the unclean, and I will admit you,18 and I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty.


1 Having, then, these promises, beloved, we should be cleansing ourselves from every pollution of flesh and spirit, completing holiness in the fear of God.[1]


In verse 16 Paul was quoting from Lev. 26:11-12. To better understand the meaning of these verses in their original context (and thus what Paul would’ve had in mind when he quoted them), I’ll include the ten preceding verses as well:


“You shall not make idols for yourselves or erect an image or pillar, and you shall not set up a figured stone in your land to bow down to it, for I am Yahweh your God. You shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am Yahweh.


“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely. I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you. You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.


Thus, in the original context in which the verses quoted by Paul appear, the verses refer to God’s dwelling within the literal sanctuary that existed in the land of Israel, and to his being actively present among (or “walking” in/among) the people of Israel. This is in accord with what God had previously declared to Moses: And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst (Exodus 25:8). The word “their” in this verse (as well as the word “you” throughout Lev. 26:1-12) refers to God’s twelve-tribed people, Israel (who are an ethnically distinct people whose very identity and existence is inseparably connected with their covenant-based relationship with God and the promises God has made to them). In other words, the predominantly Gentile-comprised company of saints that Paul referred to in his letters as “the body of Christ” is not in view in these verses. But why, then, did Paul write that the status of the body of Christ as the temple of the living God was “according as God said” in Leviticus 26:11-12?


Paul’s reason for quoting these verses in 2 Cor. 6:16 can be understood as follows: just as God promised to dwell among his covenant people Israel by being uniquely present in the sanctuary that was “in their midst” (i.e., in the part of the sanctuary called “the Holy of Holies”), so God is now making his home in, and is actively present among (or “walking in”), the saints who constitute the body of Christ. And it is by virtue of this fact that Paul could figuratively refer to the body of Christ as “the temple of the living God” (which is true of us both collectively and individually).


I say that Paul “figuratively” referred to the body of Christ as “the temple of the living God” because we are not literally a “temple.” The literal meaning of the word translated “temple” in 2 Cor. 6:16 and elsewhere (naos’) is a building devoted to the worship (or regarded as the dwelling place) of a divine being. With regard to the temple that existed in the land of Israel in Paul’s day, A.E. Knoch defines the word as follows: “The sacred edifice near the center of the sanctuary, and which was accessible to the priests and Levites only.” As Knoch noted in his definition of the Greek term translated “sanctuary” (hieron’, or “SACRED-place), the Jewish temple was constituted by “the Holy place” and “the Holy of Holies,” and existed within the larger “sanctuary” complex (which, in contrast with the temple itself, was comprised of “all the open courts, halls and buildings that were open to the Jewish public”). 


So when Paul quoted Lev. 26:11-12 after declaring that the body of Christ is “the temple of the living God,” he was not saying that the body of Christ is in view in these verses. Nor was Paul implying that the body of Christ” has replaced or superseded Israel as God’s “chosen people,” and are (or will be) the beneficiaries of all the blessings that God has promised his covenant people (as has been commonly believed by Christians throughout “church history”). Again, the “you” to whom God was referring in Lev. 26:11-12 (and throughout the chapter to which these verses belong) refers to the twelve-tribed people of Israel. And the means by which God promised to be present among them (or “walking among them”) was not by dwelling within their bodies; rather, God was promising to be (and remain) present among them through his indwelling of the sanctuary that was in their midst (which God referred to as “my sanctuary”). Paul was simply making an analogy between what was true with regard to God’s relationship with Israel and what is now true with regard to God’s relationship with the body of Christ.


Moreover, the fact that Paul quoted Lev. 26:11-12 in support of his affirmation that the body of Christ is “the temple of the living God” actually undermines the commonly-held Christian belief that the body of Christ has “replaced” Israel. For there was, of course, a difference between the actual people of Israel and the sanctuary/temple that was in their midst (and in which God promised to dwell). Instead of saying that the body of Christ was a “new Israel” (or a “spiritual Israel”), Paul was instead likening the body of Christ to the sanctuary/temple through which God promised to dwell in the midst of the people of Israel. And just as it wouldn’t make any sense to say that the sanctuary/temple that existed in the land of Israel (or which will exist in the land of Israel during the eon to come) is going to “inherit the promises” that God made to the people of Israel, so it wouldn’t make any sense to say that, because Paul referred to the body of Christ as “the temple of the living God,” we are going to “inherit the promises” that God made to Israel.


In 2 Cor. 6:17-18, Paul went on to use terminology derived from other verses from the Hebrew Scriptures (e.g., Isaiah 52:11, 43:6, Jer. 31:9, Hosea 1:9-10) to communicate to the saints in Corinth what God has promised to do for those in the body of Christ if we heed his earlier exhortation to “not become diversely yoked with unbelievers” (v. 14). The “promises” to which Paul was referring in 7:1 are these:


Wherefore, Come out of their midst and be severed, the Lord is saying. And touch not the unclean, and I will admit you, and I will be a Father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty.


Paul was affirming that those to whom he wrote (who were already “sons of God” and had access to the Father through faith) would enjoy their relationship with God to a greater and fuller degree by heeding his exhortation in v. 14 (and which, in the words of 7:1, involved “cleansing” themselves “from every pollution of flesh and spirit” and thereby “completing holiness in the fear of God”).



[1] Commenting on Paul’s exhortation in verse 14, A.E. Knoch has provided the following helpful remarks in his “Concordant Commentary on the New Testament”:

The church has fallen so low and has compromised so thoroughly with the world that the sharp distinction between saint and sinner has been almost obliterated. And with this the separation between believer and unbeliever is rarely acknowledged. Were we, who are Christ’s, living up to our privileges, we would not even consider any alliance with unbelievers. In business we should have a standard of righteousness unknown to them. No partnership is possible between righteousness and lawlessness. The social organizations of the world are darkness to one who is light in the Lord. There can be no agreement between the religions of the world and Christ. The true believer cannot share in that which appeals to the unbeliever. https://www.concordant.org/expositions/concordant-commentary-new-testament/paul-corinthians-2/

As is implied in Knoch’s comments, Paul was not merely referring to marriage (as is supposed by some) when he exhorted the saints to whom he wrote to not be “diversely yoked with unbelievers.” This exhortation is much broader in scope, and includes what Knoch referred to as business alliances and social/religious organizations. In accord with this fact, I believe that Paul would’ve been just as opposed to believers being involved in and associated with the mainstream institutional Christian church of today as he was opposed to believers being involved in the pagan religious system(s) of his own day.