March 17th, 2016

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The historical theology of many streams of the Church for the most part was in unity on their understanding of the Church as a third race (dating from as early as the second century), a new people of God and neither Jew nor Gentile. The Church was understood to be composed of people who had been Jews and Gentiles, but were no longer Jews or Gentiles. The identity of the Church was also described as a New and True Israel that had replaced the old ethnic Israel that had been finally rejected by God due to their rejection of Israel.

It is easy to see how texts were used to support this decision. “…if anyone is in Messiah he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). Today some interpret this to say that when one is in the Messiah, they enter a new creation. We read that in Messiah, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile” (Galatians 3:28). Of course the passage also states that there is neither male nor female, and the Church never taught the elimination of the distinction of the sexes. Yet we can understand how the Church understood these texts.

Ephesians was especially important in forming this definition, With regard to the relationship of Jew and Gentile, “He has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility … His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross …” (Eph 2:14-15). Also, “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called, one Lord, one faith and one baptism, one God and Father of all…” (Ephesians 4:4).

What about Ethnicity?

Other texts also seem to support this idea of a third race, (third race – genus tertium, is a term mentioned by Tertullian and taken up again in the 19th century by Adolf Harnack). This idea describes as a new unified people of God where the old distinctions of ethnicity are no longer valued. I Corinthians 12:12-13 states that, “The Body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body, so it is with Christ. We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” We can quote other texts such as Peter noting that all believers are a holy priesthood and are being built into a spiritual house made up of living stones (I Peter 2:4-5).

How are these statements of unity, one body, a spiritual building, a new man etc. to be “unpacked.” Are they to be taken as literally ending the role of ethnic Israel? Or that ethnic distinctions are of no continuing value? Is the “no difference” between Jew and Gentile, or male and female in regard to all things, or just with regard to salvation and positional spiritual status with God, (“Seated us with him in the heavenly realmsEph 2:6).

It’s Multi-layered

Others have pointed out that we, Jew and Gentile, and male and female, are the same and one in certain regards but not in all regards. So it is only with regard to salvation in the Messiah and spiritual status that we are the same, and indeed that we are One Body. However, other texts make it clear that on other levels in God’s working with nations and ethnic peoples, there is still an important distinction and purpose for Israel and distinctive peoples. The other texts of Scripture use other analogies and metaphors and present teaching more in line with the emphases of the Hebrew Bible on the everlasting role of ethnic Israel in God’s plan of world redemption and in the Age to Come. The nature of the relationship of Israel, the Church, the Body of the Messiah of Jew and Gentile, is multifaceted and multi-layered. The greatest danger is to over-simplify the Scriptures and to ignore the weight of texts that do not fit into a favored view or to twist these texts to fit.

Indeed, there are texts that lead to a profoundly different theology than the third race interpretation of historical theology. These texts lead to a very different definition of the Church than the third race-new Israel definition.

To look at this different definition of the Church I will present other texts that qualify the “One New Man” theology of Ephesians.

The Kingdom Theology of the Synoptic Gospels

The preaching ministry of Yeshua begins with the announcement of the Kingdom of God. “The Kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). This is the good news. Since the publication of George Ladd’s book(1), the Evangelical World has more and more understood the Gospel as preached by Yeshua as th