Rom. 2:28,29: Shincheonji´s Error.

Dear reader,

Centuries after the apostles died, some church leaders began to teach that the Catholic Church (i.e. the Christian Church) at the time was the new Israel. 

Church leaders wanted to unite the Christian Church with the Roman government - and create the true Israel/true kingdom of God on earth.  They referred to themselves as spiritual Israel.  During the Reformation, Calvin and other reformers followed this tradition (1). They spiritualized texts about national Israel to refer to Christians.  

What is the problem with this tradition?

The message in the New Testament is that Jews become spiritual Jews and Gentiles become spiritual Gentiles.  This is evidenced by the way the apostles continued to distinguish between Jews and Gentiles and between the church (all Christians) and the nation of Israel.

1. Spiritual Jews - Physical descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel, true Jews who believe in the Messiah, a remnant, circumcision of the heart, the first followers of Christianity. 
2. Non-spiritual Jews - Physical descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel, those who do not believe in the Messiah.
3. Spiritual Gentiles - Physical descendants of other nations, those who worship the true God and believe in the Messiah.
4. Non-spiritual Gentiles - Physical descendants of other nations, pagans, those who do not love God or believe in the Messiah.
5. The church - Jews and Gentiles who follow Christ, the head of the church. Both constitute the body of Christ and are spiritually one in Christ. 
6. Israel - All descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel, including both spiritual and non-spiritual Jews.

Church leaders of the spiritual-Israel tradition misapplied verses from Galatians and Romans to support the idea that physical Israel was fully rejected and Christians were the new, spiritual Israel.  This is significant because Shinchonji has the same concept.

Where does God's Word reveal that Christians are the new spiritual Israel?  Authorities in this tradition used Romans 2:28,29 to show that Christians are spiritual Jews.

When we carefully look at the situation in Romans 2:17-29, however, Paul is referring to Jews.  He is distinguishing between two kinds of Jews - spiritual and non-spiritual Jews.  The audience is Jews, not Gentiles. ¨Now, you who call yourself a Jew¨(Rom. 2:17). Paul's point is that true Jews are circumcised on the inside, not just the outside.

Even though Manhee Lee supports the Spiritual Israel concept, in one of his books, he mentions in passing that there were two kinds of Jews in physical Israel.  Notice he cites Rom. 2:28,29.  ¨In Physical Israel there were inward Jews and outward Jews (Rom. 2:28,29)¨ (Creation of Heaven and Earth, p. 102).  

What about Gentile followers of Jesus? 

In the first century, it was decided that the Gentile followers of Christ did not have to become Jews.  They could remain Gentiles and still be followers of Jesus.  However, they were not labeled ¨spiritual Jews¨.  In Ac. 15:23, they are called ¨Gentile believers¨.

In Romans 11, Paul refers to Gentile believers as ¨wild olive branches¨ (Rom. 11:11-24), not spiritual Jews.  When Paul rebuked Peter for withdrawing from Gentile believers in Antioch, he did not tell Peter that Gentiles were now spiritual Jews. Rather, he taught that both Jews and Gentiles are justified before a holy God in the same way (Gal. 2:11-21).

In summary, a Jew who is a follower of Jesus becomes a spiritual Jew. A Gentile who follows the Lord becomes a spiritual Gentile. They are both spiritually renewed on the inside and one in Christ, but they do not change their ethnicity.  God's purpose is to create a new kind of human from both Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:15,16).  

Secondly, in Romans 11, Paul teaches that physical Israel would be hardened until the fullness of the Gentile believers came into the Messiah's movement.  Then something would happen to physical Israel (Rom. 11:25-28).  Paul reminds the Christian world that God would fully restore Israel, not reject them.  See other articles on a full restoration.

¨Has God rejected Israel?  By no means!¨ (Rom. 11:1).

Appendix: Question/Answers.

Question: What about Paul's reference to the ¨children of Abraham¨ in Rom. 9:8? Is he saying that the children of the promise (i.e. Gentiles) are Abraham's children?

Paul is referring to children (elected ones) whom God chose for his purposes. The topic is about election for God's purposes. In verse six, Paul writes that not all of the descendants of Abraham were children of the promise (election). Ishmael, for example, was a physical offspring but not through God's promise. God made a promise to Abraham to give him a child and through this child the greater promise of a nation for God's purposes (and the coming Messiah) would be realized. Verse nine talks about the promised child. Paul makes a similar point related to Jacob and Esau, that Jacob would be elected for God's purposes, not his brother. In this context, verse eight is found, which says that not all the natural descendants of Abraham are considered ¨children of God¨ (or ¨children of election or the promise¨). These children do not refer to Gentiles, but to those descendants whom God adopted for his purposes (see ¨adoption¨ in v. 4). The main point is related to election for God's purposes and God using individuals and nations to that end. The context is not about spiritual Gentiles. 

 Question: What about Paul's reference in Gal. 3:7 that those who believe are ¨children of Abraham¨? Is he telling the Gentiles that they are true children of Abraham?

Gentiles, by definition, are not physical descendants of Abraham. However, we can be considered spiritual offspring by having the same faith as Abraham. Paul's point is that Gentiles, when they exercise their faith in Christ, imitate Abraham, the spiritual father of the Jews. Just like Abraham was justified by his faith and it was credited to him as righteousness, Gentiles can be as well (v. 8). The faith of the Gentiles in Abraham's seed (the promised Messiah) makes them heirs too. But, Paul is not telling Gentiles that they become physical offspring of Abraham just like a spiritual woman does not become a spiritual male when she believes. Although we become spiritually related to Abraham as spiritual Gentiles, we still do not change our ethnicity and become spiritual Jews.

Question: Does Jesus say that the kingdom would be taken away from Israel in Mt. 21:43?

In this parable, Jesus says that the kingdom would be snatched from the Pharisees (see v. 45), which indeed happened. Although some later believed, most of the rabbis and Pharisees did not. They later met after the destruction of Jerusalem and created what is known as Orthodox Judaism. Orthodox Judaism is based on the Talmuds and not the teachings of Jesus, the Messiah. In this sense, the kingdom has been taken away from them. However, God's election of Israel cannot be revoked, according to Paul (Rom. 11:29). There will come a time when the ¨time of the Gentiles¨ is over. Paul explains that Israel's temporal hardening will then be over (Rom. 11:25).

Question: What about Galations 3:28 where Paul says that there is no longer Jew nor Gentile? Doesn't this mean that there is no spiritual distinction between the groups?

Yes, we are all spiritually one in Christ. However, the physical and ethnic distinctions still remain. A spiritual male in Christ remains a male, not a spiritual woman. The ¨oneness¨ is spiritual and makes no believer spiritually superior to others. However, this does not eliminate the physical, national, or social distinctions of a person. A Mexican who believes in Christ does not become a spiritual American or Jew. Likewise, a Gentile who believes in Christ becomes a spiritual Gentile, not a spiritual Jew.

(1) ¨Combating Replacement Theology¨ Accessed January 11, 2014.