Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Galatians 6:16 - "The Israel of God"

One more post on the conclusion to Galatians. After prioritizing "new creation" in contrast to concerns over circumcision and uncircumcision, Paul writes:

"And those who walk according to this rule, peace and mercy upon them, and/even upon the Israel of God"
Galatians 6:16

The big question that arises from this text is what the phrase "Israel of God" refers to. Does it refer to the church, Jewish Christians, or Jews in general? So take your best shot at interpretation, but please support your conclusion with evidence from the text!

6 comments:

Chris Poteet said...

We must remember that the interpretation for "Israel of God" has to flow from Paul's entire argument. The whole point of Paul's letter to the Galatian Christians is that they need not become Jews to become Christians.

To be a child of Abraham all one needs is faith (3:8-9, 29). Jesus has broken down the barrier of Law (3:24-6; Eph 2:11ff). Those 'in Christ' are a part of the "Jerusalem above."

Why after a weighty polemic showing that the only thing that matters is to be "in Christ" not circumcision/law or uncircumcision is anything, and if one follows that rule they will have peace and mercy upon them and be in the Israel of God.

Tony said...

Along with Chris’ comments can we look to Roman’s 9:6-8 to see a consistency with Paul’s theology of who the true Israel is in God’s eternal plan. With God the ultimate author of scripture it is not simply Paul’s belief or some human formulation in his mind of who the true Israel is but we can see that it has been God’s plan from the beginning. So Paul can argue in Galatians from this understanding and expound on it in a different manner based on a different situation in Romans.

Brian Nystrom said...

It looks like the key may be with the word "and". That seems to be why you gave us both words in the posting of the verse. From some reading I did, it seems like the "kai" can have a copulative meaning or a cummulative meaning.

I take the copulative meaning to be that it is joining two different thoughts. If that is true, the preferred translation seems to be "and" and then "Israel of God" is something different than "those who walk." I would say that it is probably referring to Jewish Christians then.

The cummulative meaning for "kai" seems to be that is combining two similar or identical thoughts. If that is true than the prefered translation for "kai" would be "even", and "Israel of God" would be referring to the same people as "those who walk". It would seem then to be referring to the church.

(I may have mixed up which meaning goes with which word but I think they are both textually valid.)

As to which one is correct, I would lean toward "even" for "kai". Thus, the "Israel of God" would be the same as "those who walk", and thus the church. Also from reading, some said that those who walk ("osoi") is referring to the church individially, while "Israel of God" is referring to the same people but in a collective sense. That sounds right.

Food for thought.

Matt Harmon said...

Given the effort that Paul makes to present all believers (Jew and Gentile alike) as children of Abraham it is hard for me to see two distinct groups here in 6:16. Therefore I think it makes the most sense within the argument of Galatians to see the "Israel of God" as referring to ALL of Abraham's children, defined by their faith in Christ and not their ethnicity.

But such a conclusion does raise the thorny issue of the relationship between the church and Israel, doesn't it? :)

Michael F. Bird said...

1. I think arguments about either a connective or epexegetical use of kai are indecisive(and boring).

2. With everyone above so far, I concur, Paul has just been arguing for the unity of Jews and Gentiles in one body, so it's unlikely he's going to split them up in the end.

3. The benediction at the end of 1 Corinthians 16.22 curses anyone who does not love Christ, so Paul would not think that blessings accrue to Israel irrespective of whether they love Jesus or not.

4. Elsewhere Paul uses "Israel-esque" language to describe Christians elsewhere, e.g. Phil. 3.3.

5. See Greg Beale's excellent article in Biblica from a few years back.

Paul in Akron said...

I realize that I am a few weeks late in posting, but when I first read this post, a point has popped up in my mind several times since; here it is:

The idea of presuppositions affecting one's interpretation is a key factor in a verse like this. If you hold to a two-people two-plan two-purpose theology (Dispensational), then any chance of this verse referring to one people is out of the question; however, if this presupposition is not held, or if one is not committed to it, then the text has a chance to speak for itself.

I think that there is much to be said for the unity of the people of God based upon the Abrahamic covenant, as argued in Galatians.