Saturday, July 6, 2024

Spiritual Israel, True Jews and the Israel of God

 By Stan Feldsine -


This article explores the question, do Christians become "spiritual" Israel, "true" Jews, or the "Israel of God" when they are saved, or do they remain Gentiles.

Are Saved Gentiles "True Jews"?

One of the passages that comes up when the claim is made that Gentiles become Israel when they are saved is in Rom 2:28-29. The claim is made that the passage states that "a person is a Jew who is one inwardly", and the incorrectly perceived meaning of that passage is that anyone, Jew or Gentile who is circumcised of heart, or has the Holy Spirit, is a "true" Jew.

Rom 2:28-29 A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. (29) No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person's praise is not from other people, but from God.

At first reading, this passage appears to support the notion that when anyone, Jew or Gentile receives circumcision of the heart by the Spirit, more commonly known as regeneration, then that person is a "Jew". This conclusion ignores the context of the pericope however.

The letter to the Romans in chapters 1-5 is broken down into discourses addressed to separate groups of people, as follows:

  1. Rom 1:18-32 is addressed "against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness" (vs 18). This group is the heathen unbelieving people of the world.

  2. Rom 2:1-16 is addressed to those "who pass judgement on someone else"..."because you who pass judgment do the same things" (vs 1). These are those who are both Gentile and Jewish and are hypocrites and "religious" people.

  3. Rom 2:17 to Rom 3:8 addresses those "who call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God", those who "know his will"..."and are instructed in the law" (vs 17-18). These are the unbelieving people of Jewish descent or the religious national Israel.

  4. Rom 3:21 to Rom 5:21 addresses "all" (vs 3:22-24). This group is all of humanity.

The discourse from Rom 2:17 to Rom 3:8 is specifically addressed to a specific subset of humanity. That subset is the unbelieving Jewish people. When Paul makes the statement that "a person is a Jew who is one inwardly", he is specifically referring to believing Jews as a subset of all of the Jewish people whom he is addressing, not a subset of all of humanity. All humanity is addressed in the subsequent section.

So the "Jew", in the context of this passage, is the Jew from among the Jewish people who accepts their Messiah and is "circumcised of heart". This in no way applies to Gentiles, who are not a party to the group being addressed. Paul is saying that among the Jews, the only "true Jew" is the Jew who is one inwardly. He is not saying that Gentiles who believe are Jews inwardly.

Are Saved Gentiles "Spiritual Israel"?

Paul brings this thought up again in both, the letters to the Galatians and Romans.

Galatians 6:16

Gal 6:15-16 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. (16) Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule--to the Israel of God.

The above is from the NIV translation. The Lexham English Bible states it a little clearer:

Gal 6:16 And all those who follow this rule, peace and mercy be on them and on the Israel of God.

And the New King James:

Gal 6:16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

There is disagreement on the inclusion and meaning of "and" in "peace and mercy be on them AND on the Israel of God", so we will need to go beyond the grammatical text to learn what Paul is saying in this verse.

Paul is addressing the church of Galatia which is made up of primarily believing Gentiles with believing Jews included as well. It is reasonable to read that when Paul adds "and on the Israel of God", he is implying that the new creation is for both, believing Gentiles and believing Israelites. The Young's Literal Translation agrees:

Gal 6:16 And whoever shall observe the elements by this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, also on the Israel of God."

Paul would be saying then, that peace would be on them(the Gentiles), and also on the Israel of God (believing Israel). It is reasonable to understand that the "and" in the text brings together into the new creation both Gentiles and the Israel of God. This would be consistent with the previous section which discussed, "Are Saved Gentiles True Israel?". Nowhere in the Bible are Gentiles ever explicitly called "Jews" or "Israel". There is no reason to understand that Paul is uniquely calling Gentiles "the Israel of God" in this passage when that understanding is given nowhere else in the Bible.

Romans 9:6

Another passage that is sometimes used to claim that Gentiles are Israel is Rom 9:6.

Rom 9:6 It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.

This verse is sometimes used to claim that it is not physical descent that makes a person Israel, but rather it is the spiritual nature of a Gentile or a Jew makes a person Israel.

Paul's discourse in this passage is specifically addressed to those Jews who make up national Israel. Rom 9:1-5 is speaking of the ethnic people of Israel. Verse 6 continues the thought as regards to national Israel. Paul is speaking of the people of Israel, and saying that not all of national Israel are believers. The "true" or "spiritual" nature being spoken of here is specifically speaking of the believing status of Jews who make up national Israel.

Gentiles are not a part of the context of Romans 9. Rom 9:6 is saying nothing regarding Gentiles and their being a "true" or "spiritual" Israel.

"Spiritual Israel" then would be those of national Israel who are believers, and it is the unbelieving people of Israel that are not "true" or "spiritual" Israel.

This is corroborated in the following verses where Paul explicitly states that just because national Israel are his descendants, that doesn't mean that they are all Abraham's children (vs 7-8).

Are Abraham's Offspring "Spiritual Israel" or "True Jews"?

Three other terms that add to the identity confusion of Israel are "Abraham's offspring", "the children of Abraham" and "the children of the promise".

Rom 9:6-8 It is not as though God's word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. (7) Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." (8) In other words, it is not the children by physical descent who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring.

In Rom 9:6, is making a reference to national Israel, and saying that of all of the people of Israel, not all are "spiritual" Israel. Only the believing Jews are "spiritual" Israel, and thus, Abraham's children.

In Rom 9:7-8 Abraham's children are considered "spiritual" offspring. Paul makes this point when he clarifies who physical Israel is by quoting Gen 21:12. The point is that Abraham's "physical" offspring are of the line of Isaac, who begat Jacob who is Israel in the flesh.

Gen 21:12 But God said to him, "Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.

Believing Gentiles and Jews are Abraham's spiritual offspring, while Israel alone by descent are Isaac's physical offspring.

In Rom 9:8, the "promise" being referred to here is a provision of the the Abrahamic Covenant, that Abraham would be a blessing to the nations, "and you will be a blessing".

Gen 12:2 "I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.

Paul explains in the letter to the Galatians that the "promise" and the blessing to Abraham's offspring was the coming Holy Spirit, who would come to all the world through the shed blood of Christ who is "the Seed". Through Jesus, we would receive the promise by faith.

Gal 3:16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say "and to seeds," meaning many people, but "and to your seed," meaning one person, who is Christ.

The implication of the Seed being one person, and not many people, is that the spiritual blessings to the nations will come to all the world, Gentile and Jew, through the one person, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the "way". The "way" is not through identification by Gentiles as "spiritual Israel".

Gal 3:14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Rom 4:16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring--not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.

Gal 3:7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.

Jesus Christ then is the "Seed" of Abraham. Anyone who belongs to Christ then becomes Abraham's "spiritual" offspring. Gentiles and Jews are together are "Abraham's offspring" and "sons of Abraham" through Jesus.

Gal 3:29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Act 13:26 "Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent.

It should be clear that there are spiritual sons of Abraham that consist of both believing ethnic Israelites and believing Gentiles. Believing Gentiles are Gentile sons and children of Abraham, and believing Israelites are Jewish sons and children of Abraham. Each has received the promise and blessing of the Holy Spirit.

At the same time, there are physical sons of Abraham that consist of sons of Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob and Esau. Abraham was the "father of many nations".

Then there are sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who are the physical sons of Abraham and Sara and Isaac and Rebekah.

The term "sons of Abraham" and "Abraham's offspring" should not be confused to mean that Gentiles somehow become "spiritual Israel". The context of the passage will determine which is being spoken of. The correct spiritual identity of Gentiles is spiritual sons and children of Abraham.


Israel is an ethnic term and always refers to the ethnic Jewish people. This paper should conclusively show that Gentiles do not become Israel when they are saved, and Christianity is not Israel scripturally. Gentiles remain Gentiles, are referred to as Gentiles, and are not thought of as any less because they are Gentiles. As regards salvation and blessings, there is no difference between Gentiles and Israel.

Understanding the unique identities of Israel and Gentiles will enable the student to avoid a great many errors in interpretation of several of the systematic topics. Believing that Gentiles become "spiritual" Israel or "true" Jews is theological anti-Semitism. Ethnic Israel is the party with whom the adoption to sonship is given, the divine glory is given, the covenants are made with, the law and temple worship was given (Rom 9:4). The belief that Gentiles become Israel subtly leads to the belief or confusion that Gentiles can somehow end up in the position that God uniquely gave to ethnic Israel.

At worst, confusion regarding Israel's identity leads to errors including appropriating God's unconditional promises to Israel such as the land, as well as outright anti-Semitism such as Covenant Theology (replacement theology), the BDS (Boycott, Divest Sanction) Movement, and so on.

It is my prayer that this has helped to show the distinction between Israel and Gentiles, as well as what their commonalities are.

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