Monday, May 28, 2012

What About Esther 8:17?

All Christians agree that God made promises to Abraham and to his descendants. Christians disagree on who exactly are Abraham’s descendants.

Dispensationalists insist that the only true heirs of these promises are the blood descendants of Abraham. While the blessings of these promises extend to the entire world, God must fulfill these promises for ethnic Jews.

Because Dispensationalists define Israel/Jew strictly according to blood, the categories of Israel/Jew are fixed from conception. You either have Jewish blood or you do not.

No one can ever change their genes. Once a Jew, always a Jew.

For Dispensationalists, religion plays no role in determining who is Jewish. An atheist Jew is still a Jew and therefore, an heir of the promises. A Gentile convert to Judaism is not a Jew and therefore, is not an heir of the promises.

The problem with this paradigm is that it does not fit the Scriptures. Even in the Old Testament, Israel was not a fixed entity based strictly upon blood. Israel was ALWAYS subject to grafting and pruning.

From the beginning, unbelievers were pruned out of Israel and lost their inheritance. Ishmael, Esau, Saul, Absalom, and countless others were cut off from the promises because of unbelief.

From the beginning, believing Gentiles were grafted into Israel and became heirs of the promises to Abraham. Rahab and Ruth are the preeminent examples, but entire groups of people were grafted into Israel: Abraham’s household servants and the Egyptians who fled during the Exodus.

Also, as a result of the events of the book of Esther, a large number of Persians became believers and were grafted into Israel. Look at how the Bible describes this in Esther 8:17:

“And in every province and city, wherever the king's command and decree came, the Jews had joy and gladness, a feast and a holiday. Then many of the people of the land became Jews, because fear of the Jews fell upon them.”

These Persians “became Jews.” These Persians were grafted into Israel and became heirs of the promises to Abraham.

When it comes to Esther 8:17, Dispensationalists abandon their “literal” hermeneutic. They cannot accept this text at face value.

If you want a classic example of eisegesis, ask a Dispensationalist to explain Esther 8:17. They will go through tortuous gyrations to avoid the obvious implications of this text, namely, that converted Gentiles were grafted into Israel, even in the Old Covenant.

When Paul penned Galatians 3:29, he was not inventing a new truth. Grafting and pruning are not exclusively New Covenant principles. Paul was explaining a concept that operated in Old Covenant, as illustrated by many Old Testament texts, including Esther 8:17.

So, whenever you find yourself listening to a Dispensationalist wax eloquent about how Gentiles cannot inherit the promises to Abraham, simply ask, "What about Esther 8:17?"


dk said...

Eric, I came upon your blog a couple of months ago and have enjoyed reading your posts, as I, too, was brought up with dispensationalism, but have come to jettison it as a convoluted man-constructed doctrine which I believe is more accurately termed "dispensensationalism".

Lately, your posts have all been focused on the issue of what actually makes someone a Jew. In particular, you have been attacking what you consider to be a fundamental dispensensationalist tenet that Jewishness is only attained by being a blood descendant of Abraham. Not being an expert in dispensensationalist literature, I'm wondering if you could cite some specific references from dispensensationalists that establish that as a tenet of dispensensationalism. You have made a parenthetical reference to the book, "Christ's Prophetic Plan", but have established no other basis for your claim.

Also, as a sidebar, if being a blood descendant of Abraham makes one a Jew, then wouldn't all of the Arabic descendants of Ishmael also be Jewish? Wouldn't God's promises (including the land of Israel) then belong to them, also? Just a thought, as it seems to be a logical extension of the blood lineage of Abraham.

Eric Adams said...

dk, thanks for commenting. You are correct that my recent posts have centered on attacking the Dispensational principle that the Israel of promise is defined strictly by blood. This principle is the working assumption of everyone who uses the label "supercessionism" or "replacement theology" as a critique of non-dispensationalists. For example, read anything from

Regarding your last question, Dispensationalists do not believe that ALL descendants of Abraham are heirs of the promises. The promises only extend to those descended from Jacob (Israel). Descendants of Ishmael and Abraham's other children through Keturah are not heirs of the promises. Neither is Esau and his descendants. How Dispensationalists justify this requires a longer explanation. Perhaps in a future post.

Becky Hartke said...

This post was so clear and helpful. Thank you!

I do have a question related to Esther 8:17 though. Like you, I used to put a lot of stock in this verse as a one-stop refutation of the dispensational view of Israel. But I have since discovered that several major translations (like the JPS, RSV and NRSV) render the phrase in question "proclaimed themselves to be Jews" instead of "became Jews" - with the implication being that they acted like Jews in public "because the fear of the Jews came upon them". This translation seems to make sense contextually, but I wondered if you had any further insight that makes "became Jews" more plausible.

Eric Adams said...

Becky Hartke, one could make a case for Persians simply acting like Jews out of fear. However, "became Jews" is the literal translation that is found in the versions preferred by Dispensationalists. It is ironic that those who most insist on "literalism" resort to special pleading to explain away this text.

Jeff said...

Eric, your criticism of the "literal hermeneutic" used by dispensationalists is not an informed one.

If you want a scholarly description of the "grammatical historical" hermeneutic, read Ryrie's Dispensationalism.

A description I like, incidentally written by a technical drawer -- not a theologian -- was written by Clarence Larkin.

"The language however of the Bible is of three kinds. Figurative, Symbolical and Literal. Such expressions as "Harden not your heart, " "Let the dead bury their dead, " are figurative, and their meaning is made clear by the context.

"Symbolic language, like the description of Nebuchadnezzer’ s "Colossus" Daniel’ s "Four Wild Beasts" or Christ in the midst of the "Seven Candlesticks, " is explained, either in the same chapter, or somewhere else in the Bible.

"The rest of the language of the Bible is to be interpreted according to the customary rules of grammar and rhetoric. That is, we are to read the Bible as we would read any other book, letting it say what it wants to say, and not allegorize or spiritualize its meaning."

You can find an online version of this at It is a good read and explains many of the hermeneutic principles used by dispensationalists.

So, when you say, "When it comes to Esther 8:17, Dispensationalists abandon their “literal” hermeneutic", it exposes a basic misunderstanding of the Dispensational hermeneutic on your part.

What non-dispensationalists take for granted in their "non-literal" hermeneutic, the dispensationalist looks at more carefully.

Your post says, "These Persians “became Jews.” Agreed. That means something different to me than "These Persians were grafted into Israel and became heirs of the promises to Abraham."

I can't speak for the non-dispensationalist, though. Exactly how do they systematically arrive at their hermeneutic in general? Is it along the lines of Clement of Alexandria's work? Or Origen's?

Eric Adams said...

Jeff, I am well-versed in Dispensational hermeneutics. I graduated from a Dispensational seminary and was a hard-core Dispensationalist for years.

If you noticed, I put the word "literal" in scare quotes and am poking fun at how Dispensationalists forever trumpet a "literal" hermeneutic, yet struggle to plainly explain passages like Esther 8:17 and wind up saying the exact opposite of what the text says.

The bottom line is that Esther 8:17 is one of many OT passages indicating that Gentiles can be grafted into Abraham/Israel and become Jews.