Christopher J. H. Wright on Why the Gospel is Good News for Both Israel and the Nations

I had already posted a review of Wright, Christopher J. H. Wright’s . Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Knowing God Through the Old Testament Set. Here is superb except from the book:

“We must take seriously the order of the servant mission as expressed both in Jesus’ ministry and in Paul’s repeated aphorism, “To the Jew first.” Paul insisted that even though many Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God had not rejected Israel. Israel would be saved. They would be saved along with Gentiles, both through Jesus Christ. And since the Christ had come through Israel and been sent to Israel, he must be offered first to Jews. So Paul’s expression “To the Jew first” was not only a matter of missionary strategy that he followed as he moved from city to city; it was also a theological conviction. The church was not a new Gentile phenomenon, even if it looked like that as its membership became increasingly Gentile. The community of Jesus followers was a new humanity, composed of both believing Jews and Gentiles. But it was also organically and spiritually continuous with the original people of God, as Paul’s olive tree picture in Romans 11 shows. Israel had been redefined and extended, but the Jewish roots and trunk were not replaced or uprooted just because unbelieving branches had been lopped off. Evangelism among Jews is a matter of considerable controversy today.

There are powerful voices arguing that it is historically offensive because of the atrocities of Christians against Jews, culturally inappropriate and theologically mistaken. One particular theological viewpoint rejects the need for evangelism among Jews. Jews, it is said, are already in covenant relationship with God and have no need of “conversion” to Christianity. Jesus, as the founder of what is now predominantly Gentile Christianity, is the Christian Savior. He is simply unneeded by Jews. This is the view of the so-called two covenant theory. The new covenant through Jesus is for Gentile Christians. Jews are saved through their own original covenant. Evangelism in the name of Jesus is therefore rejected. There are three reasons why I cannot accept this view and regard it as fundamentally unbiblical. First, it ignores not only the Jewishness of Jesus but also his whole conscious identity and mission that we have been exploring all through this book. Jesus came within Israel, to Israel and for Israel. To say that Jews don’t need Jesus is to undermine everything Jesus believed about himself and about God’s purpose in sending him to his people. It is ultimately to betray the gospel itself by excluding from it the very people among whom it was birthed and to whom it was announced. Second, it fails altogether to see the integral link between Jesus’ mission to Israel and God’s purpose of extending salvation to the Gentiles.

This, we have seen, is the essence of the Servant identity of Jesus. This was not only the historical interpretation of the earliest church but also is fully scriptural, that is, in accordance with the Hebrew Bible. Jesus is the Savior of the world because he is the Messiah of Israel. He cannot be one and not the other. If he is not the Messiah for the Jews, then he cannot be the Savior of the Gentiles. So if evangelism among Jews (in the sense of graciously calling them to see in Jesus the Messiah who fulfills their historic, scriptural faith) is disallowed, it cuts the nerve of all other evangelism. The gospel has to be good news for the Jews if it is to be good news for anyone else. And if it is good news for them, then to fail to share it with them is the worst form of anti-Semitism. Third, the “two covenant theory” utterly subverts Paul’s claim that the very heart of the gospel was that in it God had created one new people.

It simply cannot be squared with Ephesians 2– 3. Or even Romans 9– 11. For Jesus was not just the Messiah of Israel. He was also the new Adam. In him God’s purpose for humanity as a whole was achieved, precisely not through two separate covenant arrangements but by a single new people in Christ. “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, [Jew and Gentile], 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” (Eph 2: 15-16). This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body and sharers together in the promise in the Messiah Jesus (Eph 3: 6).”-Wright, Christopher J. H,  Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament (Knowing God Through the Old Testament Set)  InterVarsity Press, pgs 178-180.

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