Church of Scotland report denies Jesus was the promised Messiah
Christians should not believe those parts of Scripture where God promised that a virgin would conceive: Isaiah 7:14 didn't really refer to a promised messiah: it was just about a general plan of salvation. And he wasn't born in the long-promised Bethlehem either - that's just a metaphor for anywhere, like Slough. And he didn't have to be a 'he' either - that's just a metaphor for all humankind. And his name didn't have to be Jesus (Mt 2:21) - meaning 'The Lord saves', because it could have been Brian or Steve: there's no real promise that the Lord will save us from our sins (Zech 3:9). He is not 'God with us' (Mt 1:23), and he didn't need to suffer (Is 53:7) because there's no real reward for obeying the word of God (Lk 11:27). Jesus isn't the visible image of the invisible God through whom all things were created (Col 1:15f) - that's just silly. He didn't reconcile us to himself through the cross (v20), and he's not the glory of the nations (Ps 96:3; 39:21). And when God promises that nothing shall separate us from the love of Christ (Rom 8:35), he didn't really mean 'nothing' - he meant God's love is completely dependent on the which side of the bed he gets out of in a morning.
Oh, hang on. His Grace has got it wrong.
It's only the Jews who shouldn't take God's promises literally.
That's alright, then.
And neither should Christians when they relate to Jews and Israel. Ah, now it's becoming clearer.
If God makes a promise to Jews, it's a metaphor. If He makes a promise to Christians, it's literal except where it refers to the Jews and Israel.
Yes, that's right. According to a report by the Church of Scotland, 'Israel' and the 'Promised Land' is all just one big mushy metaphor for... well, something like the fuzziness of promises that aren't promises. God's promises are just pictures, without precise meaning, and certainly could never apply to matters of geography. The 'Promised Land' in Scripture is not a literal land - it's more 'a metaphor of how things ought to be among the people of God. This "promised land" can be found, or built, anywhere'.
Except, of course, in Israel.
This astonishing Church of Scotland report is entitled The Inheritance of Abraham? The 'Promised Land', and the scare quotes say it all. It is supposed to be a 'discussion document' for debate, but its tone is consistent with the anti-Israel pro-Palestine narrative we have come to expect from some quarters. This once fervently Zionist Church of Scotland - which enthusiastically supported the right of Jews to return to their ancient homeland - now says Israel does not belong to the Jewish people. If it is adopted later this month by the 700 Church members who constitute the General Assembly, it may become the official position of the Church. Unsurprisingly, Jewish leaders are somewhat irked by this.
Quoted in the Jewish Chronicle, Ephraim Borowski, Scottish Council of Jewish Communities director, said: "The document is an outrage to everything that interfaith dialogue stands for. It is biased, weak on sources, and contradictory, and closes the door on meaningful dialogue. On behalf of the Jewish community of Scotland, we call upon the Church to withdraw it from the forthcoming general assembly. If the Church cannot build bridges, can it at least refrain from burning them?"
In the same newspaper, the Board of Deputies vice-president Jonathan Arkush said: “I am at a loss for words that the Church of Scotland should have delivered such a slap in the face to the Jewish community. The document is deeply troubling on many levels. It appears to have been produced with no consultation with the Scottish or national Jewish community. It is littered with misrepresentations of Jewish history, values and beliefs as well as basic factual errors.
“It is an ignorant and tendentious document masquerading as a theological statement. The Church has done a deep disservice to itself by producing a document without any regard to the trust, respect and dialogue on which interfaith relations should be based.”
Please read the report for yourselves (hyperlink above), but its reasoning essentially turns on: 'Would the Jewish people today have a fairer claim to the land if they dealt justly with the Palestinians?' It adds that from some Christian perspectives 'the desire of many in the state of Israel to acquire the land of Palestine for the Jewish people is wrong'.
And the report urges the Church to consider backing 'economic and political measures involving boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions against the state of Israel focused on illegal settlements'.
The chief executive of the Council of Christians and Jews the Reverend David Gifford said the report was ill-considered, regressive and insensitive to Jewish anxieties and the range of Israeli public opinion: “The at times unfortunate words and phrases reflect sadly on the authors and smacks of Christian superiority over Judaism,” he said. “While few would disagree that serious issues need to be addressed by the state of Israel, instead of offering fresh opportunities and an openness to engage with the Jewish community in a joint response to the worrying trends in the Israel/Palestine conflict, this report runs the risk of further alienating our own Jewish community and increasing its fear and anxiety.”
He's not wrong. The assertion that God's promises to Christians are somehow of a different theological order to those He made to Jews is verging on the anti-Semitic. If the Church of Scotland wants some facts, here are a few:
Israel is central to Jewish religious and national identity. It is the one piece of land historically promised to the Jewish people as recorded in Genesis. It is the only land where the Jewish nation has ever experienced self rule. In contrast, there has never been an autonomous Palestinian state in the area. It was ruled by a succession of empires until the Ottoman Empire fell in 1917 and the League of Nations granted the British a Mandate in 1920.
Archaeology confirms the Bible record of a land promised to the Jews, who spoke and wrote Hebrew, and worshiped Israel’s God in what is now Israel at least 1,000 years before Jesus was born. Jews are the only people who have ever had an autonomous state on this tiny piece of land. They governed themselves as a national entity,producing kings, visionary prophets and writers from whose pens flowed some of the most treasured writings in the history of the world. Archaeological support for these claims includes:
✡ an ancient Hebrew alphabet, from 10th century BC discovered at Tel Zayit in 2005;
✡ Israel is named in ancient Hebrew on the 9th Century BC ‘Moabite Stone’;
✡ An inscription at Tel Dan dating from the time of King Ahab names the ‘House of David’ and ‘Israel’.
Jews have inhabited the Holy Land continuously for 3000 years. Despite attempts by successive occupying powers to expel them, communities of Jews have lived in the Holy Land continuously since the time of Abraham until the present in, for example, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron. Jews returned to the Holy Land throughout the Diaspora period, notably from Spain and other Mediterranean countries in the late 13th and 14th Century.
In Jerusalem Jews have been the largest ethnic group since the 1840s. During the Mandate many Jewish communities in Arab towns such as Nazareth and Gaza were forced out by Arab neighbours and their members joined kibbutzim or moved to predominantly Jewish towns. Since the Babylonian exile, the Jewish diaspora has spread as far as South America, China and Australia. But Jewish ethnic identity, recognised by the countries in which they lived as minority communities, was based on Jewish affinity with the land of Israel and the Jews living there.
At the 1920 San Remo conference, the League of Nations granted Britain a Mandate over Palestine. It committed Britain to the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine west of the Jordan River. Recognition of ancient Jewish links with the land was foundational to the Mandate. A Palestinian state was to be established east of the Jordan River (present day Jordan). Jews could not settle or buy land there.
The assertion that the Jewish homeland was stolen from Palestinians is false. In the early 19th century more than 10,000 Jews lived throughout what is today Israel. In 1880 Jews made up about 6 per cent of Palestine’s population. The land was then a run-down colonial outpost of the Ottoman Empire. Jews purchased much land from Arab owners legally during the late 19th and early 20th century and by dint of huge effort, turned it from rocky hillsides and malarial swamps into productive and profitable land.
By World War One, the Jewish population of Palestine was around 85,000 out of 700,000 (roughly 12 per cent). It rapidly became the most dynamic economic centre in the Middle East attracting people from all over the region eager for a share in the growing prosperity of Palestine. In contrast, no independent Palestinian entity or identity has existed until the 20th Century.
On 29 November 1947, the United Nations voted to create an Arab and a Jewish State alongside each other in what is now Israel and the West Bank. It was accepted that Israel would have a sizeable Arab minority. The Jewish State was allotted 56 per cent of Mandate Palestine, since the UN correctly predicted heavy Jewish immigration from Europe after the creation of the Jewish State. Perhaps they also guessed that large numbers of Jewish refugees from Arab nations would also need a home.
The Jewish Agency, led by David Ben Gurion, accepted the plan. Arab leaders rejected it, and Arab attacks on Jewish communities began at once. Britain announced that her troops would be withdrawn from Palestine on 15 May 1948. Aware that Arab countries had vowed to destroy any Jewish state, David Ben Gurion declared the independence of the State of Israel on 14 May 1948, with borders as stipulated in the UN Partition Plan.
Significantly, the Declaration of Independence stated: 'We appeal ... to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions..' Within days of the British withdrawal, 35,000 Iraqi, Lebanese, Syrian and Egyptian troops (led by British officers) invaded Israel. Despite overwhelming odds, and the loss of 1 per cent of the population of Israel, Israeli forces decisively defeated the Arab armies. Israel took territory beyond the UN allocated borders because their territory could not be defended against further Arab attacks.
Some 6-800,000 Palestinian Arabs were displaced as a result of the Arab war on Israel in 1948. Some were compelled to leave their homes by IDF forces. But many left voluntarily before the 1948 war because local and national leaders advised or compelled them to do so. Palestinians who heeded this advice could not return to their homes after the Arabs lost the war. Unsurprisingly, given repeated Arab threats to annihilate Israel, Israeli leaders feared an Arab ‘fifth column’. However, most Arabs who had remained in Israel became Israeli citizens. Jews were also expelled from their homes by Arab forces, for example from Gush Etzion and K’far Darom in Gaza, all built on land purchased legally. And of course Jews were expelled from the Old City of Jerusalem. In addition, 800,000 Jews were forced to abandon homes and businesses in Arab countries. They arrived in Israel with nothing.
These are the forgotten refugees of 1948. Both sides committed atrocities. Women and children were murdered by Jewish fighters of the Stern gang and Irgun in the peaceful Arab village of Deir Yassin. Arab fighters took revenge by murdering Jewish women and children in K’far Etzion and members of a convoy taking medical supplies to Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital.
Modern Israel combines the best ideals of the west – democracy, openness to debate and criticism as well as new ideas in technology and the arts. Such ideals are much needed in the region. Given the ferocity of comment in the Israeli press and the intensity of debate and moral self-criticism which so characterises discussion in Israel – so rare in public life today – the attacks on Israel are profoundly depressing and disturbing.
God promised Abraham that his descendents would have a land, and would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. Israel is a fulfilment of that promise. We thank the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob for the restoration of the Jewish people to their land, because it was a promise that He would so. And if that was not a promise, then Jesus is not the long-promised Messiah, and our promised salvation is nullified in a myriad of meaningless metaphors.