Peter, Cornelius and the work of the Spirit in Acts 11


On Easter 5 in Year C, we find that once again the Sunday lectionary points us towards the reading from Acts as an important point of focus in the post-Easter narrative. The reading ‘which must be used as either the first or the second reading’ is Acts 11.1–18, the final episode in the ‘Petrine narrative’ which began with Peter healing Aeneas and raising Tabitha at the end of chapter 9, which was last week’s reading. After this week’s reading, we see the focus shift from Jerusalem to Antioch, which becomes a major centre of the Christian community, sending Paul and Barnabas out on their ‘missionary journeys’. Peter makes an appearance in chapter 12 when he is miraculously released from prison (as Paul is too in chapter 16), and gets one mention at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15.7—and that is his last appearance in Acts.

The episode with Cornelius is pivotal to Luke’s narrative in Acts, marking the formal admission of Gentiles as Gentiles into what was until now a Jewish renewal movement which hailed Jesus as the (unexpected) Jewish Messiah. This move has been adumbrated first in the response of Samaritans to the good news, brought by Philip in Acts 8.4, and in Philip’s further ministry to the Ethiopian official (‘eunuch’) in Acts 8.26f. This man appears to have been a ‘God fearer’ since, though not Jewish, he has ‘come to Jerusalem to worship’ (Acts 8.27). Here, faith comes to those groups immediately adjacent to the Jewish nation, but the flood of the good news is about to burst even these banks. The importance of the Cornelius incident is shown by Luke’s recounting it, then recounting it again in Peter’s first speech, and again now. Luke appears to communicate the importance of events by including detail and repetition—and so we later hear several accounts of Paul’s ‘conversion’ as well, signalling the importance of that incident in the spreading of the good news about Jesus. 


The comment in Acts 11.1 that the apostles and ‘brothers’ (believers) in Judea had heard about what happened is a classic device of Luke to link the previous episodes with what he now relates. But it also contains some important detail. First, Cornelius has functioned (as have the Samaritans and the Ethiopian official) as a ‘bridge’ character; he is not a pagan, but belongs to a group that Luke has called ‘God fearers’. To adapt Jesus’ words in Mark 12.34, he is not far from the people of God—and yet he is clearly not yet counted a member. However respected he is, as far as the (Jewish) Jesus movement is concerned, he represented ‘Gentiles’ who have received the ‘word of God’—a phrase sometimes denoting Jesus, sometimes the Scriptures, but here, the message of the good news as it has been proclaimed.

The same phrase has already been used by Luke in Acts 8.14 of the Samaritans, inviting us to see the link and the parallel. For Luke’s first readers, they will recognise that Luke is describing the spread of the gospel in a way familiar to ancient historians, describing events kata genos, by ‘kind’ meaning race or region. It is no accident that Luke is careful to specify locations, ethnic groups and issues of social status.

So when Peter goes to Jerusalem, the news has preceded him. He is not, it appears, criticised by the apostles, but ‘those of the circumcision’, οἱ ἐκ περιτομῆς. The NIV is wrong to translate this as ‘circumcised believers’, not least since all the believers in Jerusalem were circumcised! Rather this refers to those who were adamant about careful keeping of the law, so the ESV is probably right to use the phrase ‘those of the circumcision party’, a group which Paul will later loudly clash with in his letter to the Galatians. The criticism is that Peter ‘ate with them’—in social context (as all through the New Testament) sharing food being a sign of partnership and fellowship with them—which is not actually mentioned in the previous accounts, but inferred.


In his defence, Peter offers a forensic speech which dispenses with introductory comments and launches immediately into the narratio, the story of what has happened, told from his own point of view, and so fitting in the meetings with Cornelius’ messengers and household in the order he experienced them—though, surprisingly, not mentioning Cornelius’ name, perhaps because it is his status as a Gentile, rather than his personal identity, which matters.

As a speech in defence of his actions, Peter includes three things which an educated person would expect to see in such a defence. The first is the mention of the threefold vision, and then the Spirit directing Peter (something not made explicit in the previous accounts) to go with Cornelius’ men (Acts 11.12). The second is the corresponding mention of the angelic visitation to Cornelius in Acts 11.13; together with Peter’s experience, this offers a sense of divine approval, and effects a metastasis, a transfer of responsibility for what has happened from Peter to God. The third element is the mention of the six companions Peter has as witnesses (I am not sure whether the total of Peter and his companions being seven is of any significance). A reliable defence should always offer witnesses who can corroborate what has happened.

The instruction of the Spirit to Peter is not quite as the NIV has it in Acts 11.12 ‘to have no hesitation’. The actual phrase is that Peter should go ‘without making any distinction’. This is expressed elsewhere in the NT, including in 1 Peter 1.17, in the idea that God is ‘impartial’ or (in the AV) ‘is no respecter of persons’. The decisive theological move relates to how one becomes a member of the people of God—no longer by ethnicity, or accepting and living by the law, or doing those things as well as recognising Jesus as Messiah and Law, but now by receipt of the Holy Spirit alongside recognising the truth about Jesus. Luke emphasises the role of the Spirit in all parties throughout this account; it should be the normal expectation of any believer that the Spirit will speak, direct, guide and reveal.

The end result of Peter’s defence is not, at least immediately, further division, but unanimous agreement that God is indeed at work. This is the result that Peter is aiming for in his closing rhetorical question ‘Who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?’ (Acts 11.17). It is worth noting that Luke describes Peter’s opponents as ‘being silent’ (Acts 11.18), using the verb hesuchazo, ἡσυχάζω, a cognate of the term used by Paul in 1 Tim 2.12 for women ‘to be silent’. It clearly cannot mean not saying anything, since those who are ‘silent’ also exclaim in praise to God! The sense is that their quarrelling and arguments are at an end.


There isn’t any real sense in the narrative that Luke is pitching Scripture against experience, as some might infer from the contrast between obedience to the (scriptural) food laws and the direction of the Spirit; Luke in fact shows much less interest in the food laws compared with Matthew and Mark. In any case, the final resolution of the Gentile question is resolved in the Council meeting in Acts 15 precisely by appeal to the Scriptures, which point to the drawing of all peoples to Zion and the presence of God as God’s ultimate goal.

Nor does Luke appear to be offering a paradigm by which specific groups might be gradually included in the people of God in stages. In the first century worldview of the writers of the New Testament, humanity was divided quite clearly into two groups: Jews and Gentiles. The Cornelius episode does not describe a gradual, staged inclusion of the next group of humanity in the offer of the good news, to be repeated at intervals and offered as a model for the inclusion of successive new groups of humanity at different stages of history. No; rather, this was a decisive, not-to-be-repeated step of recognising that the good news was not only for the one half of humanity, the Jews, but for both halves, Jews and Gentiles, together. As such, this is Luke’s narrative exposition of what Paul states in Eph 2 (writing to people in a region that, if Rev 2.9 is anything to go by, saw some tension between Jews and Gentile Christians):

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two [that is, Jews and Gentiles] one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away [that is, Gentiles] and peace to those who were near [that is, Jews]. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Ephesians 2.14–18)

Although Luke does have an interest in the poor and the marginal, it is again striking that both the Ethiopian and Cornelius were people of prestige and status. Luke seems to be explaining not only how a Gentile like his patron Theophilus has come to be included in the people of God, but how such respectable and wealthy people in the Roman world have come to be included. The good news about Jesus has spread out, from one people group to another, and one region to another, but it has also spread up the Roman social ladder, touching on every layer of society.

(There is no video this week whilst I recover from Covid…)


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37 thoughts on “Peter, Cornelius and the work of the Spirit in Acts 11”

  1. Isa 19:9 In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border. 20 It will be a sign and a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the LORD because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them. 21 And the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the LORD and perform them. 22 And the LORD will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the LORD, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.
    23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
    24 In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.”

    A remarkable prophecy not only anticipating gentile salvation but one where Jew and gentile are on level playing field. Isaiah cites Israel’s two worst enemies (Egypt, Assyria) as those who will along with her share in God’s salvation.

    It’s noteworthy that it is the gifting of the Spirit to gentiles that convinces the early church that salvation of an equal standing has been granted to gentiles. Indeed David’s ‘fallen tent’ (dynasty) has been restored precisely so that the gentiles may be converted (Acts 15, Amos 9).

    How tragic that many churches function on the basis of ethnicity. Why are we so weak?

    Reply
    • Great point John!
      The Assyrians are entering Exekiel’s temple via the North gate and the Egyptians via the South gate. All become one in the New Temple. As time rolls out from east to west (east at the top) Jesus New Temple comes down the Mediterranean, down through time, walking on the sea, walking on the nations, crushing the beast. Eventually Ezekiel’s New Temple will be seen as the New Jerusalem and ultimately all will be incorporated into a new Land, even a New Earth.

      Reply
  2. John -The passage quoted from Isaiah 19 is familiar to many of us. However, in itself, it is pitched at a national level. It does not provide sustenance for ” the level (individualistically-based) playing field.” That ,of course , comes to fruition through the death of Jesus Christ. But even this will not satisfy the *replacement* protagonists who have difficulty in taking Romans 11:26 at face value. Individual Jewish converts -yes; but national Israel?
    In the previous post [8-5-22],you declare” Jesus is Israel [Isaiah 49:3]”. What exactly do you mean by that ; given that verse 5 states: “And now the Lord says ‘he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself.'” ? There are dangers in employing phrases such as “Christ is the true seed” and “one in Christ” whilst ignoring or minimising the historic and , yes, national/racial / personal background in an attempt to “fit the pieces of the jigsaw” into a neatly- compounded picture.
    Yes Christ is the true seed, Yes we are “one in Christ” . But no, it does not necessarily follow that we ( the Church) are the “Israel of God” Anton left you with a question: “Can you give me any place in the NT where the Church is called the New Israel? Of course not? The only equivelant expression is that quoted above. There is at least one alternative meaning to this interpretation; based upon a careful examination Galatians 6:12 onwards. I leave you to peruse it.
    Finally, you maintain that “the ‘land’ promises are realised in Christ.” What exactly do you mean by “realised” . Are you following what I see as the line of thought which intreprets *the land* “spiritually” . Is this what you mean by “the earthly land — becomes a * heavenly reality* in the NT? —– “thus people, land, city, inheritance etc, all become *heavenly*?”How then do you reconcile this with “they will be fully *realised* in a new heavens and *a new earth* – a spiritual earth? A heavenly earth?

    Reply
    • Hello Colin,
      Is not Jesus the true Son/Israel?
      The whole nation was not saved through the wilderness. Neither did Moses enter into God’s promise.
      Didn’t, in the history of Redemption, God save a remnant, that is, of believers remaining faithful.
      Another canonical, longtitude in theme is the presence of God, in, with his people, tabernacling with them (as did he in incarnation in Christ).
      And Jesus is the true temple, indwelling his people, and building his temple with “living stones” believers spreading world-wide, the footprint of the temple of the living God, that is, de-centring from Jerusalem and speading to a world wide expansion of the Kingdom of God.
      And believers are sons of God in Christ, that is, inheritors from him ( mini- Israelites, perhaps, but not as replacements – as I bridle at the very idea- but in fulfilling the great commision which is an iteration of the the command to multiply and fill the earth in Genesis. For all the world is God’s – nowhere is off limits.
      God is the place, of worship, security, safety, fruitfulness, peace, protection, provision, life itself ( and sure this is not to deny the material world) – indeed all that cities provided in a marauding hostile warring world; hence the world-wide expension of the city of God, come down. The place is not God…
      But unlike in JW’s, God will dwell in that place with his people. In effect, there will be a world-wide Eden.
      Just a thought or two.

      Reply
  3. Hi Colin

    Lots of questions here. Firstly, I think I know broadly at least where you are coming from since I came from roughly the sae place. My own background is dispensational which seems in the same ballpark as your questions.

    1. It seems obvious to me that salvation described in national terms is made up individuals. In fact the salvation of Assyria, Egypt and Israel is always a remnant since other verses speak of the judgement of these nations. Just as they are not all Israel who are of Israel so we could say of Assyria and Egypt in Isa 19 that not all who belong to the nation is converted. It is really in my view just another way f saying that gentiles will be converted along with Jews.

    2. There are two servants in Isa 40-54. The first is Israel the nation – the rebellious and blind servant. The second is the normally unnamed servant who in Ch 49 is also called Israel. ‘And he said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” Thus we have Israel for Israel. Israel to bring back Jacob/Israel to himself. I think the recapitulation of the gospels show that Jesus is the true Israel (out of Egypt have I called my son… I am the true vine…). Sonship in Messiah and actually in any Davidic king was a statement that he as king represented the sonship that belonged to the nation. Messiah is the royal son who represents the nation. In Gals 3 he is called the seed of Abraham singular. Therefore as you acknowledge he is the true seed. But Paul’s argument doesn’t stop there. Against a background of Judaizers who want to make gentiles second class citizens he insists that Jews and gentiles alike are sons of Abraham and sons of God. We are Abraham’s seed and heirs. In Gals 4 Paul takes the eschatological city of Isa 54 and says it is the heavenly city (Jerusalem above) we find in the NT. It seems to me quite clear that all the promises to Israel are inherited by the church (Eph 2). Many OT titles for Israel are given to the church; church; saints; holy nation; people for a possession; the true circumcision etc.

    As a result it is not hard to interpret Paul’s title in Gals 6 ‘the Israel of God’ as a reference to the church, Jew and gentile. As far as I am aware there are only two groups competing for this title a) Jewish believers only in the church b) Jew and gentile believers in the church, There are a few reasons I think (b) is the correct answer. The chief one is that I cannot imagine Paul playing into the hands of the Judaizers by dividing between Jew and gentile. This is precisely what he is seeking to combat. Also, while he is not given to speaking of the church as Israel on this occasion I think he deliberately makes an exception. He is rubbing the face of the false teachers in the truth that the church (Jew and gentile) was the Israel of God and not the nation and Judaism as they fondly thought.

    He is making much the same argument when he speaks of the Jerusalem below as being in slavery while the Jerusalem above is free.

    3. Paul n Galatians and elsewhere sees the church as the eschatological people of God. It is the messianic community spoken about in the OT composed of Jew and gentile. Again and again the NT takes verses in the OT that speak of future salvation for Israel and the nations and sees them fulfilled in the church. OT texts cited as fulfilled; OT images used of the church; salvation categories used in the OT (redemption; righteousness, holiness etc) – all point to the continuity that exists between the OT and the NT. It is the continuity of promise and fulfilment,

    Type and antitype. I take it that the OT furniture is often a type pointing to an antitype. Thus the sacrifices pointed to Christ; the temple to Christ and the church; Jerusalem to the new Jerusalem; Canaan to the heavenly country. In the last couple we see the trajectory from the earthly to the heavenly. The book of Hebrews is in great part about this trajectory.

    The OT by types and prophecies was always pointing forward to an end time of either judgement or salvation. This endtime seems to be one event, however, in the NT we discover it is in two phases each commencing with a coming of Jesus. Jesus has come but he is yet to come. Thus the NT sees OT types and prophecies fulfilled in stages. So OT salvation has come but it is yet to come. OT redemption has come but we await the redemption of our bodies etc.

    All God’s plans are realised in Christ. His promises are yes and amen in Christ. He is the sphere or territory in which all is realised. And so, the OT has a type of the land God promised Abraham, It is Canaan. However as we have noticed Hebrews shows that ‘earthly promises’ have a heavenly realisation. Abraham looked for a heavenly country and city. Another word for land promise is inheritance, in the NT ‘inheritance in heaven’ (i Pet 1). Remembering that there are two stages in fulfilment when we read Eph 1 he speaks of ‘blessings in heavenly places’. This is an echo of blessings in Canaan. Presently we enjoy ‘the eschatological land’ by faith as we know all the salvation blessings we presently enjoy in Christ.

    At the Second Coming the promises of the OT that we are presently enjoying in part in Christ we will enjoy fully in a new heaven and new earth. The physical land will not be limited to Canaan but embrace the whole earth for the meek shall inherit the earth. John’s image of the holy city coming down from heaven show that heaven and earth become one. The dwelling of God is with men. Eden is restored and glorified.

    Colin, if you, are starting from a dispensational perspective that makes an absolute distinction between Israel and the church you will not be persuaded by these arguments. I think the only thing that persuades is an inductive study of texts that NT writers use from the OT that they clearly see fulfilled in the church. The OT anticipated the kingdom of God. This kingdom arrived in Christ.

    A good example is one cited above. Isa 54 describes the eschatological Jerusalem. Dispensationalism would argue this is an earthly city. Paul, however, in Gals 4 lifts Isaiah 54 and says it describes the Jerusalem above and says its citizens are Jews and gentiles who are believing in Christ. This runs counter to dispensationalism.

    Every blessing.

    Reply
    • John – I read through the whole of your comment – it made sense to me and I think I agree with all of it – and it was well written. Many thanks for taking the time and effort to write it.

      But I confess that I don’t really know what `dispensationalism’ is. I also read Colin’s comment. Clearly (from the style) his questions were pointing in a certain direction, towards a certain punchline, but I couldn’t really understand what this was.

      If you have the time (and patience), could you write a `guide for dummies’ on what `dispensationalism’ is and where Colin’s questions were leading?

      Reply
      • Mornin’ Jock,
        Think: Chemist, dispensing chemist, doctor, hospital.
        No priesthood, priesthood of theology, priesthood, magisterium.
        …something like that.
        Dispensationalism does away with priests as an intermediary between God and man but can’t quite let the punter have freedom of choice and insists on an elaborate set of beliefs …. Not quite homeopathy (flat earthism ) . Requires a heavy dose of Schofield to be taken three times a day before or as well as the Bible.

        Reply
  4. I’d add that the continuity between the Testaments is being “called- out -ones. Abraham was called out. Israel was “called out” by God. All believers are “called out” by God. There is a difference but no distinction between Jewish and Gentile believers.
    Church means comprises those world wide, called out by and to the Christ. In effect, there isn’t a “church age”, as a replacement. Or it is misdescribed and truncated, whereas it the church so understood can be more fully seen from Genesis through Revelation.

    Reply
  5. Jock

    I’m not sure that Colin is coming from a dispensational position. I thought I detected signs of this but I may be wrong.

    We all approach Scripture through a grid. The Bible is a story and our grid is how we think the story is put together. Dispensationalism believes that God deals with people in a variety of distinct ways throughout biblical history. These are called dispensations (forms of administration).

    Most importantly dispensationalism believes that God has two distinct peoples for whom he has two distinct programmes. The two peoples are Israel and the church. Israel is his earthly people for whom his programme is earthly and the church his heavenly people. The church is a mystery not revealed in the OT. No OT prophecy refers to the church. The church began at Pentecost and will be secretly raptured to heaven before God recommences his programme with Israel. This present era of the church is the (hidden) dispensation of the church. When the church is ‘raptured’ a seven year period of tribulation or suffering will begin for Israel. At the end of the seven years Jesus’ Second Coming will take place. It’s purpose will be to judge the world and rescue Israel and gentile believers during the seven years of tribulation. At or just before his Coming Israel will be converted along with many from the nations and they will enter the millennium (Rev 20). Both the church and Israel (with the converted nations) will enter the millennium. Israel and the nations will be on earth and be God’s earthly people while the church will be in heaven and be his heavenly people.

    All OT prophecies about Israel are strictly fulfilled in the seven year period following the rapture of the church (Christ’s secret Coming for his church) and during the millennium. They do not refer to the church nor the era (dispensation) of the church. This, I think, is why Colin is reluctant for the church too be termed as ‘Israel’. From Ch 4 -19 in Revelation the church has been raptured to heaven. It is Israel that is in view in these chapters not the church.

    This system of interpretation began around the 1850s. It’s architects were Brethren writers J N Darby and W Kelly. In the first half of the C20 it was probably the view of the majority of evangelicals throughout the world. Dallas seminary in the States championed this position. At a time when most denominations were buying into German criticism that was undermining faith, dispensationalists stood for the inspiration of the Bible and a biblical gospel. Apart from the distinctives I’ve described dispensationalism was orthodox.

    Around the 1950s another way of putting the Bible together began to emerge. It spoke of the kingdom as ‘already but not yet’. I’m not quite sure of its origins but G E Ladd, G Vos and O Cullman all promoted it. It has become the prevailing paradigm and has steadily pushed out dispensationalism. Dispensationalism still continues at grass roots level among those who were reared in it. It remains strong in the Bible Belt in the States. A popular if distorted version is found in the ‘Left Behind’ series. Dallas remains dispensational but in a much modified form.

    Dispensationalism has a fairly literal hermeneutic which helped keep faith accountable to the text. It placed an emphasis on the coming again of Christ which was healthy. It probably took separation from the world a bit too far though when I look at modern evangelicalism I have my doubts.

    I disagree with dispensationalism and think it creates confusion in key areas nevertheless I have great respect for many who hold to it. Some of the godliest people I’ve known were dispensationists. The missionary movements of the C20 mainly grew out of dispensational theologies.

    Reply
    • Thank you John, I am much obliged to you for explaining it to me too.
      My mother, now 88 was until 3 weeks ago still cycling about giving away gospels to anyone who would accept one. She is very dispensational, theologically and literally. We have always clashed on this subject however. She now regrets me purchasing on-line for her a new, enormous Schofield bible as it’s now too heavy for her to lug about.
      Your succinct summary is helpful to me but I won’t be using it on my mother, time’s too short for endless disagreements.

      Reply
      • Yes

        The Schofield Bible was the dispensational Bible. That and a tome by Dwight Pentecost called ‘Things to Come’. I had two Schofield Bibles. Nevertheless your mum sounds like a witness to a faith that worked. Her dispensationalism didn’t do her much harm,

        Reply
        • Yes, the logical conclusions, extrapolations from Dispensationalism I see have no bearing on her. She stops and talks to men in holes in the road, muslims in the park, anyone who gives her eye contact. She then gives them a gospel. quite often, especially muslims, are eager and grateful to finally have one. She keeps with the Schofield bible as a habit instilled in her by her father.
          Again, thanks for such a clear outline on this subject.
          …so what about Cornelius?

          Reply
          • What indeed about Cornelius? I suppose the question is: if Cornelius were alive today, would he be a dispensationalist?

    • Thanks John.
      It is a clear, rounded and succinct explanation filling in some large gaps in my understanding.
      It is written by someone who has been there, done that. got the t- shirt.
      I hadn’t realised how convoluted it all is.
      But Steve’s mother demonstrates the sense of urgency that seems to be missing from large parts of the church – the lateness of the hour.
      An expression my mother used was, it is later than you think.

      Reply
    • John – many thanks for this. It is very helpful.

      Based on what you say, I’d say that `dispensationalism’ is responsible for much of the dangerous nonsense that we see today, whereby the moral atrocities perpetrated by the State of Israel are overlooked, because – well – they are somehow God’s chosen people, God is dealing with them in a different way. I don’t think that people are doing it deliberately when they overlook the fact that the way that Israel deals with their Palestinian population is pure apartheid – worse than there ever was in South Africa – it is a question of serious myopia when they try to force things into the straight-jacket of an attractive theory. They tend to jump on the slightest excuse to justify this sort of thing. People also turn a blind eye to the fact that the war of 1947-48 was pure ethnic cleansing.

      I can see how the attitudes that you described could lead to the situations where so-called `evangelical Christians’ have strongly influenced the American government.

      I do feel that, following the atrocities perpetrated against the Jews by Adolf and his followers, there was a strong case for a Jewish state. I don’t understand why they didn’t set it up in the location that had formerly been Prussia and I don’t understand why it had to involve taking land from the Palestinians. I agree with those who take the view that the Balfour agreement of 1917 was an atrocity.

      I’d heard the term `dispensationalism’ before – but basically had no idea about the connotations of how people who subscribed to a `dispensationalist’ point of view considered the earthly Israel (i.e. physical descendants of Israel). This more-or-less explains an awful lot to me, so many thanks.

      I suspect that many who subscribe to the `dispensationalist’ point of view actually have no idea about what this is supposed to mean about their attitude towards the earthly Israel – so that is probably why there is the clear dichotomy – the theory has a vile component, but nevertheless there seem to be many fine Christians coming from a `dispensationalist’ background.

      Reply
      • Dispensationalism is like a free version of an expensive app. It offers many templates to avoid the hard work of learning. So when one starts talking about something with a dispensationalist they jump straight to a preformatted conclusion. It’s easy to pick up unlike Magesterium , the full version. *.* DOS

        Reply
        • Steve – ah ha – so you mean just like the Chemist shop you were talking about this morning where you ask the pharmacist to dispense you something that makes you feel real good (without bothering too much what she gives you).

          Reply
  6. Hi Jock

    You’re right that a pro-Israel position arises from dispensationalism. In the states evangelical Christianity was largely dispensational for many years in the C20 and s a strong pro-Israel stance developed.

    That being said, I’m not so sure that the anti-Israel stand growing in the West is particularly to be trusted. Palestine was by all accounts a fairly empty country before 1948. The Palestinians seemed to have been shipped in. While I am sure there will be Israeli abuses nevertheless it is not the Israelis who speak of wiping other countries/races of the face of the earth. This kind of rhetoric comes from hamas and other Arab countries such as Iran. In a recent conflict it was hamas that were raining down missiles on Israel but Israel got the bad press when it retaliated.

    I think the left wing press have a very heavy bias in this area. I’m not really very knowledgeable here. Anton (who is a kind of dispensationalist) is very knowledgeable on Israel and worth listening to if you wish to hear a more pro-Israel perspective.

    I believe that at the end of history just before or as Jesus returns there will be a vast conversion of Israel.,, the gifts and callings of God are without repentance (Roms 11).

    Reply
    • Hello John,

      Well, I’ve always considered myself to be essentially on the right politically. My information on Palestine comes from someone else who is `right’ rather than `left’ (although I confess I don’t really understand these labels). He was a church minister, whose parents were missionaries in the Middle East, so he basically grew up there – and therefore got his information `first hand’. I haven’t been there myself.

      I have seen what Anton has to say on the matter – and he comes across as a `theoretician’, starting from a point of view of what Scripture has to say (seen through his lens) – and then he interprets events in the Middle East through that lens.

      I do have a basic question for Colin McCormack and Anton, which is: would your perspective on the Middle East change if you discovered that it was actually the Palestinians who had the genetic / ancestral ties to Israel after the flesh and not those who identify themselves as such?

      If it changes anything at all, then the perspective is clearly wrong.

      Reply
      • Yes, you’re right, that’s a good question. For myself, whatever the left demonises, I tend to think cannot be all bad. How’s that for prejudice?

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        • John – I used to think exactly the same way – this also governed my thinking about Israel. The Israelis looked respectable and decent, the Palestinians looked like a bunch of head bangers who came across as a bunch of violent thugs.

          My views changed when the person I mentioned in the post above explained something more of the situation, from what he had seen with his own eyes – from many years of living there. I found him particularly reliable because, as well as being reasonably conservative in his views of most things, he left the Church of Scotland over the Scott Rennie matter – and moved to the Free Church.

          I then started taking `alternative’ views more seriously – views that corroborated what he claimed to have seen with his own eyes.

          I kind of agree with your `default’ position. I remember the late great Sir Hugh McDiarmid said, `Think of the English and do the opposite’. While I think that the English are OK (I’ve met quite a few English in my time and most of them have been rather decent) – I usually find that the maxim works rather well if you replace `English’ with `leftists’.

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  7. John, If I have a “pro – Israel position” it definitely does *not* emerge from dispensationalism. My position is Reformation Anglican and if anyone in my tradition has provided sustenance on the topic of Israel, it’s Bishop John Chayles Ryle. I have to admit also to a warm admiration for Charles Spurgeon. Both were Reformed and both believed that the covenants and promises of God continued to have relevance to the Jewish people. Over the last few years I have questioned the presuppositions of past evangelical gurus, who in my estimation, in their desire to reduce or even eliminate (national) Israel from the hermeneutical scene , were presenting a decontextualised “Jesus” . OT prophetic utterences were, to me, being denuded of their full import in order to dovetail into a preconceived pattern. To that end, I no longer subscribe to the Reformed “Covenant of works” and”Covenant of grace ” which,I believe, superimpose an external *Church*- based theology that does not allow the NT to “breathe”, other than as rarefied air for the NT.
    Incidentally,my views are less to do with politics and more concerned with biblical interpretation.

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    • Colin – my apologies for being somewhat thick and ignorant when it comes to history. Could you explain to me what is meant by Reformed “Covenant of works” and”Covenant of grace ”?

      The idea of `covenant of works’ kind of contradict Genesis 15:6 – so I’d like to know where the terminology crept in and whose idea it was.

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      • Jock As far as I am aware, it actually goes back to Calvin and is still prevalent among certain Reformed theologians and scholars, including those of an Anglican persuasion.
        By way of example ( and this dates me) in the IVP, “The New Bible Dictionary” article on *Circumcision* the author writes ” Genesis 17 shows circumcision as firstly a *spiritual* and secondly only a national sign.” Later in the same article he declaims, “That this is national, is not to be denied —–but this is a by-product of the identification of the *Israelite Church* with the Israelite nation in the Old Testament, and *circumcision belonged primarily to the Church*.
        This is an instance of what I contended in the previous post: the superimposition of a particular theological iterpretation on to the text of Scripture!

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        • Hello Colin ,
          Your comment has led me to taking that New Bible Dictionary 3rd ed down from the bookshelf.
          That entry on circumcision was written by Anglican Bible scholar Alec Motyer.
          I could be wrong, but I don’t think he is primarily known as a covenant theologian, but rather as an OT Biblical scholar.
          I can’t say I’ve even looked at the entry before now, but I do think from having a skim of it.

          I’m on my phone, si not really able to do the article justice, but I don’t really see the emphasis you seek to put on it.
          “Para b. Significance of the practice.
          In Gen 17 the divine covenant is set out as first a series of promises, personal (vv 4b -5: Abram becomes a new man with new powers), national (v6, the predicted rise of monarchic nationhood), spiritual (v7, the pledged relationship of God with Abraham and his descendents). When the covenant is secondly expressed in a sign, circumcision (vv9-14), it is this totality of divine promise which is symbolized and applied to the divinely nominated recipients.. This relationship of circumcision to foregoing promises shows the that the rite signifies the gracious movement of God to man, and only derivately, as we shall see, the consecration of man to God…
          The civenant of circumcision ooerates on the principle of the spiritual union of the household in its head. The covenant is “between me and you and your descendants after you” (Gen 17:7).

          Those who thus became members of the covenant were expected to show it outwardly by obedience to God’s law, expressed to Abram in its most general form, Walk before me and be blameless” (Gen 17:1).
          The relationship between circumcism and obedience remains a biblical constant (scripture cited). In this respect, circumcision involve the idea if consecration to God, but not as its essence.
          Circumcision embodies and applies ccovenant promises and summons to a life of covenant obedience…
          This response was not always forthcoming and though the sign and the thing signified are identified in Gen 17:10, 13-14, the Bible candidly allows that it is possible to possess the sign and nothing more, in which case it is spiritually defunct and indeed condemnatory (Romans 2:27).
          The OT plainly teaches this as calls for the reality to apperopriate the sign and warns thatin the absence of the reality the sign is nothing (Je 9:25) and foresees the circumcision of the heart by God (Dt. 30:6)”
          …………
          The article then considers the NT.

          Colin, I think we must be looking at different editions as I can not reconcile what you have written, with the contents of this IVP Third Edition: consulting editors I H Marshall, AR Millard, JI Packer, DJ Wiseman
          Yours in Christ

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      • Reformed theology typically speaks of an Adamic covenant which was a covenant of works; the belief is if Adam had obeyed God he would have been rewarded with eternal life (a view fore which there is not the slightest evidence). The mosaic covenant it will normally accept as a covenant of works.; its tenet was ‘this do and live’. The other covenants Reformed theologyspeaks of as covenants of grace. More importantly it sees an overarching covenant of redemption/grace which was planned in eternity and is worked out in history through the various biblical covenants. This is called Covenant Theology. Covenant theology often falls into the trap of so flattening the covenants that there is little distinction between the OT and the NT. Nowadays Covenant theology is more likely to stress the difference between promise and fulfilment.

        One practical example of Reformed theology’s flattening influence lies in pedobaptism. Christian baptism it believes is closely aligned with circumcision and with children being given the covenant sign (circumcision in the past and baptism in the present) but then, as someone who believes in believer’s baptism, I would say this, wouldn’t I?

        My response would be that in the OT covenant participation was based on birth while in the NT, covenant participation (in the new covenant) is based on the new birth. Ie. Believers not babies are the recipients of the new covenant…that’s why communion is for adult believers. sorry folks, I know some of you will disagree.

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    • Colin,
      Mention of Bible interpretation and Spurgeon, brought this to mind from T Keller.

      “…So we have a balance to strike—not to preach Christ without preaching the text, and not to
      preach the text without preaching Christ. Charles Spurgeon gives us a great metaphor for
      striking this balance. In his sermon “Christ Precious to Believers” (Sermon no. 242, March 13,
      1859). In it he says that often he hears sermons that are “very learned… fine and magnificent–
      but there is not a word about Christ in that sermon.” And here is what he says about such
      preaching—“They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. I heard
      nothing about Christ.” Finally he tells of a Welsh minister who spoke to a younger minister
      about his sermon. “It was a very poor sermon,” he told the young man. “Will you tell me why
      you think it a poor sermon?” came the response. “Because,” said the Welsh minister, “there
      was no Christ in it.” “Well,” said the young man, “Christ was not in the text; we are not to be
      preaching Christ always, we must preach what is in the text.” So the older man said this—
      “Don’t you know young man that from every town, and every village, and every little
      hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road to London?” “Yes,” said the
      young man. “Ah!” said the old divine “and so from every text in Scripture, there is a
      road to the metropolis of the Scriptures, that is Christ. And my dear brother, your
      business in when you get to a text, to say, ‘Now what is the road to Christ?’ and then
      preach a sermon, running along the road towards the great metropolis—Christ. And,”
      said he, “I have never yet found a text that had not got a road to Christ in it, and if I
      ever do find one that has not a road to Christ in it, I will make one; I will go over hedge
      and ditch but I would get at my Master, for the sermon cannot do any good unless there
      is a savour of Christ in it.”

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      • Ah yes. That’s why I created a diagram of 5he books of the bible with Revelation at the centre and radiating from 5his all the other books in 5 groups of 13. It looks like a flower so I call it Something Greater Than Solomon Is Here. This verse comes after “consider the flowers…” He wants us to think of Him as The Flower, arrayed better than Solomon.

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    • Sorry Colin for mistaking your influences. Actually I think J C Ryle who was premillennial was probably influenced by the prophetic conferences of his era. I do think the Reformed doctrine of one covenant of grace contributed to the equal and opposite error to dispensationalism. If dispensationalism chopped the Bible up too much them Covenant theology did not distinguish properly between the OT and the NT, between promise and fulfilment,

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