N.T. Wright, Israel & The Holy Land

Have a look at this essay by NT Wright: The Holy Land Today.

Here is N.T. Wright’s parable about Israel:

Once upon a time there was a family who had lived in a great old house for so long that they’d almost forgotten they hadn’t built it themselves. They loved the house and its grounds dearly; they knew every room, every nook and cranny, every stick and stone on the property.  They had suffered much because of violent and abusive neighbours, and were reduced in circumstances to the point where some of the fine rooms in the house were shut up, and some fields left uncultivated.  One day, to their alarm, a woman swept up the drive in a car, announced that she was in charge now, and proceeded to throw some of the family off the estate altogether, herding many of the rest into little encampments, while she took over the best parts of the house and grounds. When they protested, she called up her powerful friends, who gave her money to see her through.  Now, a generation later, the family have grown used to her, but many, particularly the younger generation, are asking why they have to put up with this intolerable situation a moment longer.

The ‘new woman’ here is the Jews of 1948 turning up to turf up the ‘old woman’ of the Palestinians – a narrative which ignores the reality of the fact that members of both families had been living in historic Palestine for centuries.

When it suits theologians to disposess Israel of God’s covenant promises, the Jews represent the “old” who have been replaced by the Church, and when it suits them to dispossess Israel of her right to the land, the Jews represent the “new” who have no home in Palestine.

At times, NT Wright speaks about Israel like the Three Bears spoke of Goldilocks:

To this day there are Jews living in those Palestinians’ houses, tilling their fields, sleeping in their beds, eating off their china, and quite likely quoting Deuteronomy to back it all up: houses you did not build, fields you did not plant, vineyards you did not grow.

NT Wright is cynical about Jewish concerns of anti-Semitism manifest in hostility towards Israel:

The Jews came in on the high moral ground of their sufferings in the Holocaust: the Yad Vashem memorial, in modern West Jerusalem, stands both as a horrific reminder of the appalling sufferings of European Jewry a generation ago and as a strong appeal for the moral legitimacy of the present state of Israel.  Every criticism of Israel can at once be construed as a resurgence of anti-Semitism.

NT Wright seems to have a cartoonish view of haredi frum Jews. He does not mention the fact that thousands upon thousands of Orthodox Jews in New York are actually anti-Zionist, in particular the Satmar hasidim of Kiryas Joel and Williamsburg, and writes:

Among the Jews, of course, are a large minority, perhaps even a majority, who long for peace with their every breath who would only too gladly give up some land for the sake of it and who bitterly resent the importation from America of plane-loads of Orthodox cousins, fired up with passionate synagogue sermons from their ageing rabbis in Brooklyn, ready to arm themselves and take over the Promised Land.

NT Wright seems to be taking the example of Meir Kahane and applying it across the spectrum of Orthodox Jewry. He considers any support for the idea of a modern state of Israel as a ‘childish thing’ which fails to appreciate how Israel was actually fulfilled by Jesus:

Instead of Israel as a political entity emerging from political exile, we are invited in the gospel to see Israel-in-person, the true king, emerging from the exile of death itself into God’s new day.  That is the underlying rationale for the mission to the Gentiles: God has finally done for Israel what he was going to do for Israel, so now it’s time for the Gentiles to come in.  That, too, is the underlying rationale for the abolition of the food laws and the holy status of the land of Israel: a new day has dawned in God’s purposes, and the symbols of the previous day are put aside, not because they were a bad thing, now happily rejected, but because they were the appropriate preparatory stages in God’s plan, and have now done their work.  When I became a man, I put away childish things.

Rather than simply criticising Christian Zionism as what he regards to be faulty theology, NT Wright sees it as a modern version of the Galatian heresy:

To suggest, therefore, that as Christians we should support the state of Israel because it is the fulfilment of prophecy is, in a quite radical way, to cut off the branch on which we are sitting.  It is directly analogous to the mistake of the Galatians, who thought that if they were members of Abraham’s family they should go the whole way and get circumcised.

In fact, Christian support for the modern state of Israel denies the essential gospel of Jesus Christ:

It is similar to the mistake of which the Reformers accused the mediaeval Catholics, of supposing that in every Mass they were actually re-crucifying Jesus, when Jesus’ death had been once and for all, never to be repeated, on Calvary.  It is a way of saying that in the cross and resurrection God did not actually fulfil his whole saving purpose; that Jesus did not in fact achieve the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy; that his resurrection was not the start of God’s new age; that Acts is wrong, Romans is wrong, Galatians is wrong, the letter to the Hebrews is wrong, Revelation is wrong.  Say that if you like, but don’t claim to be Christian in doing so.

Ironically for someone apparently so concerned with not dividing Christians along ethnic lines, NT Wright all but ignores the 10-15,000 Israeli Jewish believers in Jesus in order to make the claim:

“In particular, as pilgrims we must take with the utmost seriousness the fact that almost all Christians living in the Holy Land today are Palestinians.  Yes, there are some Jewish Christians, some brave souls living their faith openly, and, I have it on good authority, many others who practise their allegiance to Jesus as Messiah behind locked doors, as certain of their forebears did between the first Easter and the first Pentecost. But most of those who worship God in Christ day by day and week by week in the Holy Land today are Palestinian Arabs”

This is worrying:

Many [Palestinian Christians] are tempted to make common cause with their Muslim neighbours, the Cross and the Crescent united against the Star of David.  Yet many know that even if the Arab world got together and succeeded where they failed in the wars of 1949, 1967 and 1974 – in other words, if they managed to eliminate or marginalize the state of Israel altogether – then the battle would be on to establish in its place an Islamic republic of Palestine similar to that in Iran and elsewhere, in which, as in many Muslim countries, Christianity would be at far greater risk than it is from the present Israeli government.  They feel themselves to be between the devil and the deep blue sea.

So Wright thinks Palestinian Christians shouldn’t unite against the Star of David because they’ll get a raw deal, not because it would be wrong or anti-Christian to do so.

One final point: nowhere does Wright speak about efforts to unite Palestinian-Arab and Israeli-Jewish believers in Jesus, concentrating instead on Western Christians uniting with Palestinian Christians.

It seems Wright falls into the same trap he accuses others of: dividing Christians along ethnic and political lines.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “N.T. Wright, Israel & The Holy Land

  1. Glasspole

    Going by Wright’s view, I have absolutely no desire to be a “Christian”. His flawed view is insulting at best. As one of “the Jews” who actually listens to “ageing Rabbis in Brooklyn”, I take great exception to this kind of crap

    • This illustrates well how the neo-liberal New Perspective on Paul, which drew much root from a proper reaction against racist and religious anti-Semitism, for many proponents now feeds anti-Zionist anti-Semitism. ‘You shall know them by their fruits’ – basic errors have big implications.

  2. Dooley

    what a plonker!

  3. Fran

    From a Christian perspective the Bishop of Durham – for it is he – fails to distinguish between the covenants made by the Almighty with Abraham which concerned calling and land (Eretz Israel) and that made with Moses on Sinai which had to do with the conduct which leads to holiness.

    This in contrast to St Paul who taught that those ‘in Christ’ are counted as fulfilling Torah through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the calling of Abraham’s people – which is inextricably bound with the land they were promised – is irrevocable and awaits final fulfilment.

    I’ve heard Anglican leaders distance themselves from Bishop Wright’s crude supercessionism.

    But not far enough nor loudly enough.

  4. zkharya

    ‘One of the specific things on which the New Testament insists, again and again, is that in the life, death and supremely the resurrection of Jesus the promised new age has dawned. The return from exile has happened.’

    So, why can’t Palestinian Christians be merely content with a ‘spiritual’ return from exile?

  5. zkharya

    However, Wright should be given credit for this observation:

    ‘ Many Palestinian Christians are now in exile, in America or elsewhere, and do not expect to return. They have given up the struggle. Many are tempted to make common cause with their Muslim neighbours, the Cross and the Crescent united against the Star of David. Yet many know that even if the Arab world got together and succeeded where they failed in the wars of 1949, 1967 and 1974 – in other words, if they managed to eliminate or marginalize the state of Israel altogether – then the battle would be on to establish in its place an Islamic republic of Palestine similar to that in Iran and elsewhere, in which, as in many Muslim countries, Christianity would be at far greater risk than it is from the present Israeli government.’

  6. CZ

    Well done for exposing Wright’s virulent anti-Zionism. His attitude is an example of how evangelicals within the Church of England have stigmatised pro-Zionism such that groups like Churches Mission to the Jewish People are now a pariah in the C of E. Unsurprising. the New Perspectives has been peddling the line that nationalism was a major target of Christianity. The Roman Empire was a major target of early Christianity, and was widely interpretd as the fourth monarch in Daniel’s prophecies. and one major political fact about it was that the Empire ensured that neither the Jews nor any other peoples under its rule had a sovereign state.
    If Christian anti-Zionists were to be logical, they would have to oppose the existence of Egypt as well, given that it was a nation now under Roman rule, later to resurface as an independent nation. Funny how they never do that.
    Supersessionism never made theological sense to me for this very reason: it teaches that the church, the spiritual international community of second birth, was meant to replace the Jews, a national community of first birth. Obviously this is unrealistic metaphysically and betrays a confused attitude towards eschatology, bringing forward the time when there will be no more nations. It is also a purely punitive view of Jews as a nation: after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, it offers no concrete recongition of divine grace in allowance for return to the land to build a home within which conversion to Christianity once again becomes viable. In effect, this is insisting that Jews alone of all nations be required to convert to Christianity whilst being deprived of a home and a public realm and means of self-defence. In any other case, this would be regarded as racist.
    It’s vitally important to recognise that Anglicans who are anti-Zionist are living in the past, resentful of the passing away of the British Empire and the rise of the USA. They rather stigmatise pro-Zionism within Anglicanism and Britain, and instead play the ‘blame America’ game.
    Wright in his book ‘Scripture and the Authority of God’ plays the game of positioning himself as a theological centrist and stigmatises the belief that Israel is related to Biblical prophecy as ‘right-wing’. This is so intellectually immature it needs to be rebuked publicly.
    We need to remember that Wright lost a lot of credibility with many evangelicals for a different reason, when he resorted to inappropriate tactics in arguing against the views of some people at Oak Hill on penal substitution, using only the first letters of their names. (I am not a supporter of Oak Hill’s theology, but I am saying that for me, his manner of arguing was unacceptable and I stopped taking him seriously because of that.)

  7. CZ

    It’s worth pointing out that there are a number of prophecies of revival coming to the UK in the near future, mostly from independent Pentecostal and charismatic circles, but also from pro-Zionists in the Anglican church. I believe that when revival comes to Britain and the rest of Europe, a careful support for Israel will return. The March For repentance organised in London by the black churches contained a number of pro-Zionist organisations.
    Wright’s attempt to say that believing Israel is part of Biblical prophecy makes one ‘not a Christian’ is a disgraceful example of theological bullying, overstepping the mark of principled theological debate. Now that he has had the temerity to write in this way, he must not be surprised to receive strong ripostes in the near future from trained theologians. He must also not be surprpised if some of those start to claim that the likes of him aren’t Christians.
    I suggest a petition be drawn up to make him retract his statement. It’s time this bullying was challenged.

  8. abigail

    “Woe be unto the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture! saith The LORD…Therefore, behold, the days come, saith The LORD, that they shall no more say, The LORD liveth, who brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; But, The LORD liveth, who brought up and who led the seed of the House of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries to which I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own Land.” * Jeremiah 23:1,7,8.

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