Eschatology – Part 9

Eschatology – Part 9


If the people of Israel retained a single privilege, if a single special promise still had any meaning whatsoever, if even one letter had still to remain in force – how could the whole of the Old Testament be spiritualized? How could it all be transferred to another people? The result of this mental attitude was the conviction that the Jewish people was now rejected: it was Ishmael, not Isaac; Esau, not Jacob. Yet even this verdict did not go far enough. If the spiritual meaning of the Old Testament is the correct one, and the literal false, then (it was argued) the former was correct from the very first, since what was false yesterday cannot be true today. Now the Jewish people from the first persisted in adhering to the literal interpretation, practicing circumcision, offering bloody sacrifices, and observing the regulations concerning food; consequently they were always in error, an error which shows that they never were the chosen people. The chosen people throughout was the Christian people, which always existed in a sort of latent condition (the younger brother being really the elder), though it only came to light at first with Christ. From the outset the Jewish people had lost the promise; indeed it was a question whether it had ever been meant for them at all. In any case the literal interpretation of God’s revealed will proved that the people had been forsaken by God and had fallen under the sway of the devil. As this was quite clear, the final step had now to be taken, the final sentence had now to be pronounced: the Old Testament, from cover to cover, has nothing whatever to do with the Jews. Illegally and insolently the Jews had seized upon it; they had confiscated it, and tried to claim it as their own property. They had falsified it by their expositions and even by corrections and omissions.

Every Christian must therefore deny them the possession of the Old Testament. It would be a sin for Christians to say, “This book belongs to us and to the Jews.” No; the book belonged from the outset, as it belongs now and evermore, to none but Christians, whilst Jews are the worst, the most godless and God-forsaken, of all nations upon earth,[1] the devil’s own people, Satan’s synagogue, a fellowship of hypocrites.[2] They are stamped by their crucifixion of the Lord. God has now brought them to an open ruin, before the eyes of all the world; their temple is burnt, their city destroyed, their commonwealth shattered, their people scattered – never again is Jerusalem to be frequented.[3]….

Israel thus became literally a church which had been at all times the inferior or the Satanic church. Even in point of time the “older” people did not precede the “younger,” for the latter was more ancient, and the “new” law was the original law. Nor had the patriarchs, prophets, and men of God, who had been counted worthy to receive God’s word, anything in common inwardly with the Jewish people; they were God’s elect who distinguished themselves by a holy conduct corresponding to the election and they must be regarded as the fathers and forerunners of the latent Christian people.[4] No satisfactory answer is given by any of these early Christian writings to the question.

How is it that, if these men must not on any account be regarded as Jews, they nevertheless appeared entirely or almost entirely within the Jewish nation? Possibly the idea was that God in his mercy meant to bring this wickedest of the nations to the knowledge of the truth by employing the most effective agencies at his command; but even this suggestion comes to nothing.


Such an injustice as that done by the Gentile church to Judaism is almost unprecedented in the annals of history. The Gentile church stripped it of everything; she took away its sacred book; herself but a transformation of Judaism, she cut off all connection with the parent religion. The daughter first robbed her mother, and then repudiated her!….

By their rejection of Jesus, the Jewish people disowned their calling and dealt the death-blow to their own existence; their place was taken by Christians as the new People, who appropriated the whole tradition of Judaism, giving a fresh interpretation to any unserviceable materials in it, or else allowing them to drop. As a matter of fact, the settlement was not even sudden or unexpected; what was unexpected was simply the particular form which the settlement assumed. All that Gentile Christianity did was to complete a process which had in fact commenced long ago within Judaism itself, viz., the process by which the Jewish religion was being inwardly emancipated and transformed into a religion for the world.

About 140 AD the transition of Christianity to the ‘Gentiles,’ with its emancipation from Judaism, was complete.[5](This is an important footnote)….One thing, however, remained an enigma. Why had Jesus appeared among the Jews, instead of among the ‘nations?’ This was a vexing problem. After referring to John 12:20f and John 10:16, Harnack ends: The mission which his disciples carry out, is thus his mission; it is just as if he drew them himself.[6] Indeed, his own power is still to work in them, as he is to send them the Holy Spirit to lead them into all the truth, communicating to them a wisdom which had hitherto lain unrevealed.[7]


If the spiritual interpretation of the OT was the correct one, then it was always correct, and this is where the Jews went astray. They took it literally. A literal interpretation is a spiritual interpretation. The length to which the early church went in disassociating itself from its Jewish ties is appalling.

By 180 AD the church felt secure enough to distance itself from Pauline anti-legalism as well as the forced logic of the earlier fathers who argued that the figurative interpretation of the OT was the literal one, and switched to a literal interpretation of the OT in order to incorporate into the church those laws and institutions of the Old Testament that they deemed appropriate. With their more sound hermeneutic, they nevertheless refused to revisit the implications as it related to the OT prophecies and promises to the nation of Israel. Paul’s understanding of the role of Israel in God’s future program was forgotten.

[1] “Justin, for example, looks on the Jews not more but less favourably than on the heathen(cp. Apol., I. xxxvii, xxxix., xliii.-xliv., xlvii., liii., lx.). The more friendly attitude of Aristides (Apol xiv.) is exceptional.”

[2] “Cp. Rev. ii. 9, iii. 9, Did. viii., and the treatment of the Jews in the Fourth Gospel and the Gospel of Peter. Barnabas (ix. 4) declares that a wicked angel had seduced them from the very first. In 2 Clem. ii. 3, the Jews are called…’they that seem to have God’; similarly in the Preaching of Peter (Clem., Strom., vi. 5. 41):…’They suppose they alone know God, but they do not understand him’.”

[3] “Cp. Tertull., Apol. xxi.:…’Scattered, wanderers, exiles from their own land and clime, they roam through the world without a human or a divine king, without so much as a stranger’s right to set foot even in their native land’.”

[4] “This is the prevailing view of all the sub-apostolic writers. Christians are the true Israel; hence theirs are all the honourable titles of the people of Israel. They are the twelve tribes (cp. Jas. i. I), and thus Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are the fathers of Christians (a conception on which no doubt whatever existed in the Gentile church, and which is not to be traced back simply to Paul); the men of God in the Old Testament were Christians (cp. Ignat., ad Magn., viii.2, …’the prophets lived according to Christ Jesus’). But it is to be noted that a considerable section of Christians, viz., the majority of the so-called Gnostics and the Marcionites, repudiated the Old Testament along with Judaism (a repudiation to which the epistle of Barnabas approximates very closely, but which it avoids by means of its resolute re-interpretation of the literal sense). These people appear to be the consistent party, yet they were really nothing of the kind; to cut off the Old Testament meant that another historical basis must be sought afresh for Christianity, and such a basis could not be found except in some other religion or in another system of worship. Marcion made the significant attempt to abandon the Old Testament and work exclusively with the doctrine and mythology of Paulinism; but the attempt was isolated, and it proved a failure.”

[5] “Forty years later Irenaeus was therefore in a position to treat the Old Testament and its real religion with much greater freedom, for by that time Christians had almost ceased to feel that their possession of the Old Testament was seriously disturbed by Judaism. Thus Irenaeus was able even to repeat the admission that the literal observance of the Old Testament in earlier days was right and holy. The Fathers of the ancient Catholic church, who followed him, went still further: on one side they approximated again to Paulinism; but at the same time, on every possible point, they moved still further away from the apostle than the earlier generations had done, since they understood his anti-legalism even less, and had also to defend the Old Testament against the Gnostics. Their candid recognition of a literal sense in the Old Testament was due to the secure consciousness of their own position over against Judaism, but it was the result even more of their growing passion for the laws and institutions of the Old Testament cultus.”

[6] “Naturally, there was not entire and universal satisfaction with his explanation…The Christians of Edessa were still more venturesome. They declared in the third century that Jesus had corresponded with their king Abgar, and cured him. Eusebius (H.E., i ad fin.) thought this tale of great importance; it seemed to him a sort of substitute for any direct work of Jesus among pagans.”

[7] op.cit., Harnack, pp. 65-71.