A persistent question in Christianity is how to understand God’s promises to Israel in the Hebrew Bible. Did the Church replace (or “supersede”) Israel, thus voiding the Sinaitic covenant? Or do the Jews remain God’s chosen people? And if the latter, must Christians believe that His promise to give the land of Israel to the descendants of Jacob remains in effect? The answers given to these questions affect Christian attitudes not just toward Jews but also toward Zionism. Reflecting on last week’s centenary of the Balfour Declaration, an Anglican theologian writing under the pseudonym Archbishop Cranmer addresses them through the lens of the Church of England’s theology:
Are God’s promises to Christians somehow of a different theological order from those He made to Jews? Many Christians would say yes, of course: the New Testament superseded the Old. But why should Christians believe God’s eternal promises to them if His promises to the Jews were provisional and reneged upon? Where does the confidence come from? It seems that if God makes a promise to Jews, it’s a metaphor; if He makes a promise to Christians, it’s literal except where it refers to the Jews and Israel. Is God so confusingly capricious?
Israel is central to Jewish religious and national identity: it is both a theological community and a political community. It is the one piece of land historically promised to the Jewish people as recorded in Genesis. . . . Archaeological discoveries continue to confirm the biblical record of a land promised to the Jews, who spoke and wrote Hebrew, and worshiped the God called YHWH in what is now called Israel at least 1,000 years before Jesus was born. . . .
Modern Israel just wants to be like other free nations of the world (cf. 1Samuel 8:7-20), combining the best ideals of the Western world—democracy, liberty, openness to debate and criticism, as well as advances in technology and the pursuit of the arts. Such ideals are much needed in the region, for at times it feels as though plucky little Israel is a candle surrounded by a sea of darkness—especially that which emanates from the jurisdiction of the United Nations. But only Israel seems to understand itself from the wilderness and its destination out of that wilderness, and the British government continues to take pride in the part we played in ending the exile.
God told Abraham to “Go,” and he responded “I will.” God promised Abraham that his descendants would have a land—a geographic entity—and would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. Israel is a fulfilment of that promise, or the covenant of blessing is as fragile and ephemeral as the desert covenant. Christians and Jews together can thank the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob . . . for the restoration of the Jewish people to their homeland, because it was an eschatological promise that He would so. And if that was not a promise, then Jesus may not in fact be the long-promised messiah, and our promised salvation is nullified in a plethora of meaningless metaphors.