Not Uniformity But Unity

According to 1 Corinthians 10:32 the New Testament divides the world into three groups of people: Jews, Gentiles, and “the church of God;” which is composed of redeemed Jews and Gentiles. And based on the specific group of people who through divine grace were designated to be the recipients of the biblical covenants of promise; it is correct to speak of one multi or dual-ethnic redeemed community and one mono-ethnic covenant community consisting solely of individuals of Hebrew patriarchal descent rather than some type of amalgamation where God-given distinctions are eradicated; distinctions which only point to differences in position and function, not intrinsic worth and value.

One passage that often surfaces in this conversation is Galatians 3:28-29. Verse 28 states that, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female– for all of you are one in Christ Jesus (NET). The context of this passage deals with the matter of justification by faith (cf. Gal. 3:24-26). Faith, in the sense of confident trust based on one’s conviction of what is spiritually true, is the only way anyone can be declared righteous, whether Jew or Gentile. Therefore, in the matter of justification there is no distinction between these two distinct ethnic entities. That’s the intent of Paul’s teaching here. And so that alone and nothing else can be deduced from this passage. This conclusion is reinforced by the fact that just as ethnic distinctions continue to exist, gender and sociological distinctions also continue to exist alongside of the universality of faith as the sole means of securing a righteous standing before God.

The next verse, Galatians 3:29 reads, And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise (NET). Based on this statement many assert that in some sense Gentile Christians are now spiritual Jews, which in effect would foundationally redefine and restructure the covenant nation God created through Hebraic patriarchal descent.

The intended meaning of this verse is made evident when compared with Ephesians 2:11–13 and Ephesians 3:6: 11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh– who are called “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” that is performed on the body by human hands– 12 that you were at that time without the Messiah, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ; …namely, that through the gospel the Gentiles are fellow heirs, fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus (Eph. 3:6 NET).

Paul’s point is that Gentile believers become partakers (not taker-overs) in the blessings of the Jewish covenants and receive this privilege by faith. This act does not make them spiritual Jews but rather spiritual Gentiles. Nor does it eradicate God-given Jewish ethnic/covenantal identity. Plus, even though Gentiles share in Jewish covenant blessing, they do not share in all the facets of these covenants. Things such as inheritance of the Land and circumcision, which is the sign of the Abrahamic covenant (cf. Gen. 17:11), are not appropriated by believing Gentiles. These elements are exclusively for the Jews. But again, the distinction here involves position and function. Biblically speaking; all are equal, yet distinct. Both Jews and Gentiles are on equal footing with God, because God is not a respecter of persons. And this why there is absolutely no difference whatsoever with respect to one’s intrinsic worth and value as an image-bearer of God (cf. Gen. 1:26).

The simile of the Olive Tree (cf. Rom. 11:16-21; 24) also validates this construct. In this tree there are two types of branches representing Jewish believers and Gentile believers. The Jewish believers are the natural branches; that is, they correspond to the very nature of the tree. To press this illustration further, it’s as if the tree and the natural branches have the same blood type. The wild olive branches are the Gentile believers. And it’s clearly stated in the text that the presence of these branches in the tree is contrary to nature; in other words the blood type or DNA is not a match so to speak. The point is, there is clearly a composite difference between the two, which makes them distinct from each other.

Now theologically speaking, the olive tree in this passage does not represent Israel or the Church; it represents the place of spiritual blessing. Israel is the owner of the Olive Tree, but Israel is not the tree itself. The root of this place of blessing is the Abrahamic Covenant (cf. Eph. 2:11-16; 3:5-6). The Gentiles, by their faith, have now become a partaker of Jewish spiritual blessings as contained in the Abrahamic Covenant. Tragically however with respect to these blessings, the majority of the contemporary church subscribes to a replacement model which asserts that Gentile inclusion results in Jewish exclusion; a position which I would argue is theological confusion because it fails to take into account that with regard to redeemed humanity, it’s not a matter of uniformity but unity.


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