Friday, April 20, 2012

How Jewish Is Jewish Enough?

Every Christian believes that God made promises to the descendants of Abraham (Genesis 12, 13, 15, etc). Every Christian also holds that believing Gentiles are descendants of Abraham (Galatians 3:29).

However, Dispensationalists insist that God still owes promises to ethnic Jews. Only the blood descendants of Abraham qualify as the true heirs to these promises, and so God must fulfill his promises to those who are blood descendants of Abraham, the ethnic Jews.

Who are these ethnic Jews? This seems like an easy question, but not so! It is complicated. There are a lot of moving parts.

Specifically, what happens in a mixed marriage between a Jew and a Gentile? Are the children Jewish? Are the children going to be part of the Israel who will inherit the promises made to Abraham?

In recent posts, I have showed the failure of defining Israel/Jew by matrilineal or patrilineal descent. See here and here.

In response, some Dispensationalists have emailed me and asserted that lineal descent is the answer. As long as one of the parents is Jewish, then the children are Jewish.

In my previous post, I began to explore the problems with using lineal descent to define Israel/Jew. Lineal descent works in a relatively closed community, but when the community is opened up or abandoned, then dilution renders lineal descent irrelevant.

Dilution of the blood pool is a real issue in defining an ethnic people. For instance, most Native American tribes have blood quantum laws requiring between one-half (1/2) and one-sixteenth (1/16) tribal blood for membership.

In the episode “Diversity Day” on The Office, Michael Scott claims he is two-fifteenths (2/15) Native American. When told that this is impossible, Michael replies, “It’s too painful to talk about.”

For those Dispensationalists who argue that lineal descent makes someone a Jew, is there ever a point at which the bloodline become too diluted to be of significance?

Consider the case of a Jew who marries a Gentile and then joins a Gentile community, so that all of their descendents marry Gentiles. According to lineal descent, all of their descendants would still be considered Jewish.

  1. The child of a full Jew (100% Jewish) and a Gentile is 1/2 Jewish (50%). 
  2. The child of a 1/2Jew (50% Jewish) and a Gentile is 1/4 Jewish (25%).
  3. The child of a 1/4 Jew (25% Jewish) and a Gentile is 1/8 Jewish (12.5%).
  4. The child of a 1/8 Jew (12.5% Jewish) and a Gentile is 1/16 Jewish (6.25%).
  5. The child of a 1/16 Jew (6.25% Jewish) and a Gentile is 1/32 Jewish (3.125%).
  6. The child of a 1/32 Jew (3.125% Jewish) and a Gentile is 1/64 Jewish (1.5625%).
  7. The child of a 1/64 Jew (1.5625% Jewish) and a Gentile is 1/128 Jewish (0.78125%).

By the seventh generation of intermarriage, the children would have less than one percent Jewish blood, yet they would still be considered Jewish according to lineal descent.

In the one hundredth generation of intermarriage (3000-4000 years?), the children would have 0.000000000000000000000000000158 percent (1.58 x 10-30) Jewish blood. Yet, according to lineal descent, they would still be considered ethnic Jews who are going to inherit the promises.

Of course, this is ridiculous. No one would seriously consider such a person to be an ethnic Jew. No one … except those Dispensationalists who define Israel/Jew by lineal descent.

Because the Bible gives us no blood quantum law to govern mixed marriages, lineal descent fails as a mechanism to define Israel/Jew. Dilution of the blood pool renders lineal descent deficient in determining who is and is not a Jew.

All of this points to the fact that Israel/Jew was never defined strictly by blood. Being Jewish was never strictly a matter of ethnicity.

Dispensationalists are wrong on this foundational issue, and their whole system collapses under the weight of this miscalculation.

Galatians 3:29 is not simply a “New Covenant” truth. It was always true, even in Genesis 12.


Jeff said...

I was beginning to get engaged in the content of your blog, but this one is dis-engaging.

Your first paragraph uses too broad a brush to engage a dispensationalist.

Every Christian believes that God made promises to the descendants of Abraham (Genesis 12, 13, 15, etc). Every Christian also holds that believing Gentiles are *spiritual* descendants of Abraham (Galatians 3:29).

There, that's better.

Eric Adams said...


Re-read Galatians 3:29.

Paul writes that those who are in Christ are Abraham's offspring. The word "offspring" could also be translated "seed" or "descendants." Thus, believing Gentiles are Abraham's offspring, Abraham's seed, and Abraham's descendants.

If Paul is not compelled to add the word "spiritual," then neither am I. The question is, why do you feel compelled to add the word "spiritual"?

Jeff said...

Thanks for responding, Eric.

Up a couple of verses in Gal. 3:26 it says, "For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus."

Then, it goes on to say, as you pointed out, in verse 29, "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed."

What did I add?

Jeff said...

Your broader point about the promise in that verse requires looking in the context a little closer.

The promise seems to be about eternal life. Verses 21 and 22 say, "Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. 22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe."

Can we conclude then that we abrogate by virtue of the fact that we are Christians, the kingdom promise made to Abraham? Is it possible that the kingdom promise, specifically the "land" promise was something else?

Eric Adams said...

Jeff, you added the word "spiritual." Galatians 3:29 says, "If you are in Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants." You altered this to "You are Abraham's *spriitual* descendants."

Obviously, this is what Paul meant, but this is not what Paul wrote. Why are Dispensationalists compelled to make this clarification? John MacArthur makes the same comment on this verse in his Study Bible. Why is this necessary? Everyone knows that Paul does not mean that we become ethnic/blood descendants.

I don't know about you, but when I was a hard-core Dispensationalist, I used to do stuff like this because I did not believe that anyone could be grafted into Abraham. The promise was only to Abraham and his blood descendants. No one could ever be added to this. Gentiles would get in on the *spiritual* promises but not the *earthly* promises. Hence, the need to add the word *spiritual*.

Now I believe that that is a fundamental misunderstanding of both the Old and New Testaments.

Jeff said...

That's obviously not how I see it. My original comment was that your first paragraph uses to broad a brush.

I'm not arguing with the Scriptural reference. I'm arguing with *you* (though I don't think it's a fellowship-breaking argument) about how to interpret this passage of Scripture. By that I don't mean that I'm necessarily right about it either, but what I'm *not* doing is conceding the covenantal point, which seems to be what you are championing on your blog. On that point, I can't be sure though, because you have staked out your blog position on a negative argument. I'm making an assumption that, since you are in the PCA, you are articulating a covenant position, similar to Sproul, whom I admire and agree with on so many things. Perhaps you could state your position more positively, instead of what seems to me like laying traps for the Dispensationalists.

I don't think I added anything to Scripture by clarifying *your* original post, which was that Christians are descendants of Abraham. You say you don't think there is some miraculous physical gene splicing implied by this passage. So it seems we don't have a disagreement there.

The point of contention is what the promise is/means. I say God is not compromised by making one promise to Abraham's physical descendants and another to Christians.

The Dispensational system solves a lot of problems introduced by the Covenant system, one of them being an opening for Arminians. Chafer talks about this in his Dispensationalism book.

Are you trying to make a point that Dispensationalists are over-spiritualizing in their hermeneutic? That isn't a charge I hear very often about Dispensationalists, except from neo-orthodox supporters. Is that where you're coming from?

Eric Adams said...

Jeff, I'm afraid that I am going to have to disagree with your contention that my first paragraph was too broad of a brush. My first paragraph was simply a re-statement of Scripture.

My position is that the church is a continuation of Israel. God has one people throughout all ages.