I would have thought that someone who wished to argue, as Harter does, that it is inappropriate to evangelize Jews, would not have drawn his readers’ attention so extensively to Romans 9-11. I am also surprised that Harter uses Romans 9:4-5 and 11:1-2 as authority for his position. In Romans 9: 1-4, Paul reveals that he has “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart and could almost wish that he himself “were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of ” his “brothers” those of his “own race, the people of Israel.” Clearly Paul wishes his Jewish kinsmen, to whom so much has been given and who are so precious to God, to trust Jesus as Messiah so much that he would almost risk losing of his own salvation if that could somehow help them to know Christ!
In Romans 11:1-2, Paul asks “Did God reject his people?” He then responds: “By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” Here and elsewhere Paul seems to assert that all Israel will be saved, and later in Romans 11, verses 25 and 26, he explains the “mystery” that those who have rejected the Messiah have experienced a “hardening…until the full number of the Gentiles has come in.”<br><br>A chapter earlier, Paul had expressed his desire that Israel be saved along with his conviction that in rejecting Jesus the Messiah, they had not submitted to God’s righteousness:
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:1-4).
To suggest, as Mr. Harter implicitly does, that Jews like Peter, Paul, James, John and Steven who trusted that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, and who carried his gospel to their spiritual descendants, both Jewish and Gentile, somehow represent a repudiation of Judaism goes against their self-understanding which we discover in the pages of the New Testament. They understood themselves to be fulfilling Judaism! These Jews were passionate about proclaiming Jesus as Messiah to their Jewish brethren and to all people!
Finally, I feel that Mr. Harter’s suggestion that Presbyterian Christians desiring to proclaim Jeshua to Jews “open the door to the possibility that God could cancel the promises he has given us” is just plain wrong. Rather I think, based on the text of Romans 9-11, that it is far more likely that these promises will be ineffective for those who do not proclaim Jesus to Jews and to all people. Paul says that because God’s promises to Israel are irrevocable, all Israel will trust Jeshua as Messiah and be saved. He also says, as mentioned previously, that God has hardened Israel until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and that, in God’s salvation history, if the natural branches (Israel) were broken off so that wild olive branches (Gentiles) might be grafted in, the grafted-in branches (Gentile Christians) need to be very careful that we become neither arrogant nor complacent about the grace of God revealed in Jesus so that we ourselves do not get broken off. I have always thought that this particular warning in Romans 11 applies particularly to Presbyterians and other “mainline” Christians (like myself) who risk taking God’s salvation in Jesus for granted and whose temptation is also to cease obeying the command to the church in Acts 1:8 to witness to Christ “in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (emphasis added)
Posted Jan. 13, 2004
Winfield Casey Jones is pastor of First church, Pearland, Texas.
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