In some recent posts we have been specifically looking at passages concerning promises made to Abraham and how they find their fulfillment in Christ, then subsequently are applied to those who are in union with Christ by faith, and thereby heirs of the promises made to him. In a very real way, the book of Galatians and also chapters 2-5 of Romans, are commentaries on the Book of Genesis. By observing the connections that were made, through the use of an Augustinian hermeneutic simplified as the Old (Testament) revealed in the New, we were able to see these promises clearly and their relationship to believers today. However, despite perhaps a willingness to also hold this proper hermeneutic principle, some of the loudest voices in evangelicalism today arrive at a completely different view with regard to the promises made to Abraham, in fact there are two opposite views that are the most asserted. Oddly enough, both of these views are founded on a genealogical principle but again, they arrive at different conclusions.
First, and the more prominent view advanced today, is one that holds to preeminence of the Abrahamic promises to the actual, genetic offspring of Abraham, i.e. Jews, but more specifically modern Israel. Beginning with Genesis 12:1-3, which we have already looked at, and following all of the subsequent promises rooted in the original ones to Abraham concerning land and seed, up to and including those made to Israel throughout the Old Testament, this view holds that the promises are held out today primarily for modern Israel, especially the State of Israel as formed in 1948. Generally, they would then view the land strip of Gaza as belonging to Israel, but there is some inconsistency over desiring that modern borders of the State of Israel match those borders that were described after the conquest of Joshua.
This particular view, known more commonly as dispensationalism, though there are variations, places an overwhelming emphasis on the perpetual promise of the land, as it intertwines with the seed of Abraham. In this view, the promises in the Old Testament take priority over any New Testament fulfillment, especially as it relates to Christ being Abraham’s offspring, Galatians 3:16. This view holds that while Israel did inherit and inhabit the land after the conquest of Joshua, there remains a future regathering of Israel to the land in order to fulfill the promises made to Abraham and His seed. Generally, those who hold this view see the fulfillment of this promise was initiated in 1948 when Israel became a State and that it reaches its culminating point during the millennial reign of Christ. For this reason, the view we are discussing is accurately referred to as Dispensational Premillennialism, with this added descriptor as a reference that Christ will return before/pre- establishing His millennial reign. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this view of the millennial reign of Christ, subsequent to the rapture and the Great Tribulation, is then used as the lens through which the Major and Minor prophets are read. In other words, the hermeneutic of the New interpreting the Old focuses on the prophetic, futuristic aspects of the New, which are then read back into the prophetic, futuristic aspects of the Old. For instance, formulating an end times view based largely off of Revelation and then using that as a grid for how to interpret Old Testament promises and prophecies. Ultimately, the problem is leapfrogging over the life, death, and resurrection of Christ and how the prophetic perspective of fulfillment takes place through both His first and second advents. As a corrective, in order to understand the promises and prophecies, even beginning with Abraham and going through the nation of Israel, we must go through Christ who is Himself True Israel. Walvoord is representative of the dispensational premillennial position:
All of these prophecies [Old Testament] imply that the promises of the land are going to be fulfilled and Israel will once again be established in the area promised to the seed of Abraham.John Walvoord, The Promise of the Land to Israel
Naturally this would beg the question of Who the seed of Abraham is. The problem inherent in the DP view is that they begin with Abraham and his immediate seed Isaac, Jacob, the Twelve, and the Nation of Israel, but then fast forward to modern Israel. As we have seen already, in order to rightly answer the question, one has to consult the New Testament passages, namely those in the aforementioned Romans and Galatians, which specifically state that the seed of Abraham was not referring to plural or more than one, rather it was referring to Christ. Then, and only then, can we understand that by union with Christ, through faith alone are Abraham’s true offspring identified. This of course includes all those from Jewish descent who have/had faith in Christ, either in the promise of His coming as with Abraham, or in looking back to the risen Christ as with Paul.
The second prominent view, though less so, likewise holds to a genealogical principle of the Abrahamic promises, however with an interesting twist. In this view, the promises made to Abraham concerning land are not intertwined with seed, as in the view above. Instead, they are separated and redefined. Rather than hold that the offspring of Abraham refers ultimately to Christ and then subsequently to all those who have faith in Christ, as we have seen in Galatians, this view holds that the defining principle of Abraham’s offspring, who were in union with him via circumcision, is now believers and their offspring by baptism. The basis for this principle for them is the Covenant of Grace, as defined according to their view. In other words, the genealogical principle of Abraham’s offspring runs through Christ and then out on the other side, not by faith as per Galatians, but by faith + offspring. Abraham’s seed is defined as Isaac, Jacob, the Twelve, the Nation of Israel, Christ, and then believers and their offspring. The view that we are defining here is the Paedobaptist view, largely held by Presbyterians, but could also include Lutherans, Anglicans, some Methodists, and yes even Catholics. They are typically identified by their belief in the baptism of infants in accordance with the Abrahamic Covenant requirement to circumcise infants.
The PB view is broad in its understanding of modern-day Israel. Some hold to a future ingathering of Jews near the time of Christ’s Second Coming and others hold that while the door of faith is certainly open to all people, including Jewish people, there will not necessarily be a massive ingathering in the final days. Related, and as alluded to above, the relationship of land and seed is separated. Holding to the view of offspring as we have seen does not imply that the seed of believer’s inherit the land promised to Abraham. Instead, they view the land promise as typological of the inheritance of the earth given to all believers. In this way, there is a separation of the promises, on the one hand extending to the offspring of believers and on the other hand extending to believers only in the New Heavens and Earth.
With these two popular views broadly defined, hopefully it further crystalizes the third option that we have been looking at in recent posts, a view that will help us on walk on dry ground and avoid the pitfalls of both dispensational premillennialism and paedobaptism. Now, to be clear and forthright, even within this third view there are a variety of opinions, disagreements, and lack of consensus on all points. That said, it is a view that has Christ at its center. It is a view that sees all of the promises, including land and seed, reaching their fulfillment in Christ and then their application through Him, alone. Likewise, it is a view that sees the telos of the genealogical principle as Christ. Having already seen the fulfillment of Abraham’s offspring as being Christ, then subsequently all of those united to Him by faith, in a future post we will take up the discussion of the land promise. Whose land is it…really?