Two of the main arguments for the Covenant Theology view of the Church being equal to or having replaced Israel have been dealt with. Now the Dispensational view will be argued for.
A. A consistently literal interpretation of the whole Bible
This is not to say that Covenant theologians do not interpret the Bible literally. Only that they do not do it consistently. The topic of eschatology is allowed to be interpreted in a non-literal or allegorical manner. Dispensationalists recognize the need for scripture to be interpreted in a consistently manner for the message to be understood with as little subjectivity as possible. Several areas of the Bible, when interpreted literally, give special support to the idea that the Church and Israel are distinct.
The first area is the covenants God made with the nation of Israel, specifically the Abrahamic covenant, as it was referenced throughout the book of Genesis.
B. The beginning of the Church
The time the Church began sets its apart from the nation of Israel. In short, the Church came into existence on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2.(1) There are differences to be noted between the origins of Israel and the origins of the Church. Israel originated through the physical descendants of the Abraham and Jacob, the Church began as a spiritual entity the Holy Spirit. One became a Jew by being born into the nation (with the exception of the rare convert), while one joins the Church by putting their faith in Christ. Israel was commanded to stay away from foreign nations to stay holy, the Church is commanded to go into all the nations to spread the gospel.
C. The word “Israel” is never used of the Church and always of national Israel in the New Testament.
This has been stated several times already in this series, but the point cannot be emphasized enough. The nation of Israel continued to exist as a unique entity in the New Testament after the beginning of the Church. The word Israel is never used of the Church. A connection cannot be made between the Church and Israel because the Bible never makes that connection.
D. Israel is distinguished from Gentiles and the Church
Part of the dispensational claim is that there exist three major people groups. Jews, Gentiles, and the Church. One passage of Scripture makes this threefold distinction clear. 1 Corinthians 10.32 says “give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or the Church of God.” It cannot be said that the Church is Israel in light of this verse. It would be redundant of Paul to mention both Israel and the Church if they were both the same. Also, if the charge is made that there is equality between Israel and the Church, then the question must asked about the Greeks mentioned here. Are they to be made equal to Israel as well? Because there is no differentiation in the way these three groups are listed. It doesn’t seem like it would be possible to say two are the same and the third is separate.
E. The Church is a “New Man”
Paul had much to say about the doctrine of the Church in his letter to the Ephesians. In chapter 3 Paul said that the Church was a mystery which had been hidden in the past. When Paul uses the word “mystery,” he does not mean something that cannot be known. Rather he is speaking of something that has been kept unrevealed up to this point.
In chapter two Paul explains how under the Old Testament Law Jews and Gentiles were kept separate in their worship at the temple, referencing the dividing wall in the temple court. But in Christ, Paul tells us that this wall has been torn down, and Jews and Gentiles are brought together into one body, “one new man.”(2) This “man” did not exist before, and is an entirely new creation.
Covenant theologians try to make the church replace Israel as God’s chosen people. There is simply no sure way to prove this. The case for this position rests on faulty hermeneutics, theological bias, and a handful of proof texts. On the other hand, the case for the dispensational distinction between the two groups is much more solid. It flows naturally from a consistent pattern of interpreting the Bible literally. It obeys basic rules of identification when showing that the term “Israel” is always applied to the physical descendants of Abraham and Jacob.
(1) Evidences for this include: (1) Christ said that “I will build My Church” (future tense) in Matt. 16.18. (2) Eph. 1.20 says that Christ had to be raised from the dead so that He could be the head of the Church. A body cannot exist or function without a head. (3) All members of the Church possess spiritual gifts. Gifts could not be given until Christ ascended to Heaven according to Eph. 4.7-12. (4) Paul goes to great lengths to show that the Church is a mystery not revealed in the Old Testament, Eph. 3.9. (information taken from Ryrie, Basic Theology 463).
(2) Ephesians 2.15