From the pen of Dr. Sam Waldron:
In my book on eschatology, which is with some audacity entitled, The End Times Made Simple, I spent a considerable amount of energy and spilled a lot of ink attempting to provide a balanced treatment of the relation of the Church and Israel. I labored to show both the unity of the Church and Israel and the superiority of the Church to Israel. Similarly, I also attempted to fulfill both of the missions mentioned in the previous paragraph: (1) show that the Church is the Israel of God and (2) demonstrate how that can be said without asserting that the New Testament supports a spiritualizing hermeneutic. Finally, I provided a summary of the vast New Testament evidence which affirms the Church as the Israel of God. Since that work is readily accessible, I am not going to review and expand all that evidentiary material in our present discussion.
Rather, I want to focus in on a few key passages and provide a somewhat more detailed treatment of them in light of the claims made by MacArthur in his manifesto. What are MacArthur’s claims? The following quotation adequately represents them:
“The Bible calls God “The God of Israel” over 200 times— the God of Israel. There are over 2000 references to Israel in Scripture. Not one of them means anything but Israel. Not one of them, including Romans 9: 6 and Galatians 6: 16, which are the only two passages that Amillennialists go to, to try to convince us that these passages cancel out the other 2000. There is no difficulty in interpreting those as simply meaning Jews who were believers, “the Israel of God.” Israel always means Israel; it never means anything but Israel. Seventy-three New Testament uses of Israel always mean Israel.”
This is one of those outrageous statements which could be used to make MacArthur look and sound silly. I really want to avoid doing that. I want to give MacArthur credit for knowing that we actually go to about a “zillion” passages to prove the Church is the Israel of God– not just two. I don’t want to take seriously the Arminian-sounding illogic MacArthur seems to use here. “All always means all and never means anything but all.” To which the proper answer is, of course, “But what does all mean?” MacArthur does sound like that, doesn’t he? “Israel always means Israel and never means anything but Israel.” To which the proper answer is, “But what does Israel mean?”
I do not attribute such reasoning to MacArthur– even though it would be easy to do so. Yet, such statements are indeed “red meat” for the Premillennial faithful and need to be cooked for a while. Here is what I think he is saying– if we charitably broil the “red meat” found here. I will summarize it in several assertions: (1) Every scriptural reference to Israel is a reference to ethnic or national Israel. (2) The assertion that the Church is Israel is doubtful because it is supported only by two passages. In contrast, a multitude of passages clearly refer to ethnic Israel. (3) The two passages that are used to support the idea that the Church is the Israel of God can be easily interpreted in line with all the clear uses of Israel as ethnic or national Israel. Let me make three brief counter-observations in response to these assertions.
First, MacArthur appears to adopt a kind of majority-rule hermeneutic in his understanding of the term “Israel.” In other words, he implies if the vast majority of biblical usages of a word carry a certain meaning, then we must assume that they all must carry this meaning. Now, in all charity, let me say that I assume MacArthur knows better than this and normally does better than this in his exegesis of Scripture. Nevertheless, his listeners are supposed to find the idea that two of the seventy-three New Testament occurrences of “Israel” might have a different meaning from the other seventy-one exceedingly doubtful or even impossible. But let us test that implication. Take the biblical word for heaven. It usually refers to the physical heavens where the birds fly and where the stars reside. But, in a minority of occurrences, heaven clearly refers to the heaven of God. Similarly, take the biblical word sheol as another example. It usually refers to the grave or what is physically below. But, in a minority of occurrences it clearly refers to what we call hell. Take also the biblical word for death. It usually and almost exclusively refers to physical death. Yet, in a very few cases (comparatively), it refers either to eternal death (the second death in the lake of fire– Revelation 2: 11) or spiritual death (total depravity and inability in sin– Ephesians 2: 1-3). Finally, take the Hebrew word Elohim, which occurs well over 2200 times in the Old Testament. Elohim almost always refers to either the true God or to false gods. Yet, there are a few famous cases in which it does not and cannot mean “god.” Rather, in those instances, it must mean a human ruler (Psalm 82: 6) or mighty angel (Psalm 8: 5). In light of this reality, there should be nothing particularly surprising (given the way the Bible uses words) if we were to discover that two of the seventy three uses of might actually refer to the Church.*
*Waldron, Samuel E. (2009-12-23). More of the End Times Made Simple (Kindle Locations 1132-1167). Calvary Press. Kindle Edition.