‘Israel’ is a race of people physically descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God elected, set apart, this race of people to be His people and He gave this ethnic group a land (Israel) to live in. Whenever the Bible speaks of ‘Israel’ it always means this race of people as a whole, or select members (or groups) of this race of people. It never means Gentiles, even Christian Gentiles. The name 'Israel' does not apply to Christian Gentiles even in a spiritual form.
Some objections answered:
There are some Christians who believe that the church (composed of Jews and Gentiles) is the 'true Israel'; that Christians, whether Jew or Gentile, are the 'true Jews'. Some of the passages that they cite as proof are Romans 4:15 and Galatians 3, both of which refer to all Christians (Jew or Gentile) as being Abraham's children. Abraham is said to be the "father" of those who have faith: "…So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised." - Rom. 4:11 “Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. "(Galatians 3:6-7 KJV) “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. (Gal 4:28 ESV) See also Romans 4:16; Gal 3:29.
I don’t deny that a Gentile Christian may claim, based upon these passages, that he is a spiritual child of Abraham, and, like Isaac, are ‘children of promise’. I do not deny that the church as a whole can be said to be the spiritual children of Abraham by faith. But I do believe that, being Abraham’s ‘spiritual’ children in no way makes the church spiritual ‘Israel’ nor does it make all Christians spiritual Jews. These passages do not give a gentile Christian the right to claim the title of ‘Israel’.
Why? Because, Abraham was not Israel. God gave the name of ‘Israel’ to Jacob, not to Abraham ,"And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel." Gen 35:10(and Genesis 32:28). If Abraham was ‘Israel’ then his children were ‘Israel’ as well. But this was not the case. God ordained that ‘Israel’ would come through Abraham’s son Isaac and not from Abraham’s other son Ishmael(Genesis 17). And even though God would bring about ‘Israel’ through Isaac’s line, Isaac was not ‘Israel’.
Through Isaac God would bring into being two nations(Gen 25:23), one of which was ‘Israel’ and the other was not ‘Israel’ (Edom). Jacob and his progeny would be ‘Israel’ and not Abraham or his son Ishmael. Nor would ‘Israel’ be Isaac or his son Esau. Being a part of ‘Israel’ is not defined as being a descendant of Abraham, or being a descendant of Isaac. If you are merely a child of Abraham, as Ishmael was, you are not ‘Israel’. And if you are merely a descendant of Abraham and Isaac, as was Esau, you are not ‘Israel’. Those who may claim the title of ‘Israel’ are those who are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Jacob being the defining factor.
In other words, one can claim that they are ‘Israel’ only if they are Jacob, are one of his sons or are a descendant of one of his sons. There is ‘Israel’ (Jacob) and there are twelve tribes of Israel(Jacob’s sons and their progeny). Abraham and Isaac are the ancestors/fathers of ‘Israel’ but they are not ‘Israel’. Notice that when the nation of “Israel” is spoken of in the Bible they are often called ‘Jacob’(Deut 32:9;Num 23:10,21,23;Deut 33:10,28; 1 Chron 16:13,17;Ps 14:7; Ps 59:13; Ps 135:4….etc.), and also, that when God speaks to them He often refers to them as “Jacob”(Isaiah 8:17; 10:20; 40:27;41:41;43:1;44:1;Jeremiah 2:14;30:10;Lam.2:3Ezek. 39:19…etc.) , they are not called “Abraham” or “Isaac”; they are ‘Israel’ the” offspring of Abraham(Isaiah 41:8) and Isaac. They are ‘of’ Abraham and Isaac but are not solely defined as Abraham and Isaac. Abraham and Isaac are Israel/Jacob’s ancestors, the fathers of Israel,(Deut 6:10; 1 Chron 29:18;Isaiah 51:2; Micah 7:20…etc.)but they are not ‘Israel’ itself. Israel inherits the Covenants/promises that were given to Abraham and Isaac(Lev 26:42;Deut 29:13…etc.) but this does not make Abraham and Isaac take the name of their descendant, Jacob/Israel and that of his descendants (Israel).
Therefore, being a child of Abraham, spiritually or physically, individually or nationally, does not make one a Jew/Israel. And therefore, even though Gentile Christians may legitimately claim Abraham as their ‘spiritual’ father, and even though they may legitimately claim that they are children of the promise, as Isaac was, they have no legitimate claim to the title of ‘Israel’. Only physical descendants of Israel/Jacob are Israel/Jacob, but the Church, as a whole, is not. Only the Christians who are physical descendants of Jacob are a part of Israel, and can claim relation to that title. The only way that the church can claim to be Israel is if they can provide Biblical proof that the church is ‘Jacob’.
Not all Israel is Israel
But, it may be objected, what about Romans 9? Doesn't Romans 9 indicate that being a physical descendant of Abraham through Jacob(Israel) does not make one a true child of God? "Not, however, that God's Word has failed. For not all those of Israel are Israel, nor because they are Abraham's seed are all children, but 'In Isaac a Seed shall be called to you.' That is: Not the children of flesh are children of God, but the children of the promise are counted for a seed. "(Rom 9:6-8) Therefore, aren't all Christians children of the promise through faith? And that being so, are they not the true people of God, the true Israel?
First, this passage does not say that the church is the true Israel, it is not negating that Israel is solely composed of physical descendants of Israel(Jacob)/Jews) and it is not saying that Christians are Israel. Paul is simply saying that not all physical descendants of Israel are 'children of the promise', the Israel of God, elect to salvation.
A lot of people seem to think of Romans 9 as speaking of election in general, and in sense it is. But contextually, the reason for the explanation of election is in reference to the race of Israel, it is explaining the statement that “not all Israel is Israel”, and demonstrating what makes the difference between those in Israel who are merely children of the flesh and those in Israel who are children of the promise.
What about the New Covenant?
Paul started chapter 9 by talking about his deep love for Israel, his people, his racial relations, he could wish himself ‘accursed, anathema’, cut off from Christ instead of them, he loves them so much. Paul continues by expounding on his peoples privileges, “ “ They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. “(Rom 9:4-5 ESV)
This being so, Gentiles (or even Jews) might ask why are the Jews in the state they are in? Why have Jews rejected the One sent from God? And speaking of the covenants Paul mentioned that belong to Israel, didn’t God promise to make a new Covenant with Israel(Jeremiah 31), in that Covenant didn’t He promise to write His law on their hearts? And didn’t He promise the Israelites through Ezekiel, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules….. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. ”(Eze 36:26-27; 37:23 ESV) Why is God doing the opposite? Why is He hardening their hearts(Mathew 13:10-15;Luke 19:42;John 12:37-40;Romans 11:7),why doesn’t He put hearts of flesh in them? And now, because they don’t believe, God is going to remove them from their land(Luke 19:41-44). Doesn’t this mean that God failed to keep His Word to Israel?
Paul’s answer isn’t “You see, my people had it all wrong. Being a part of Israel has absolutely nothing to do with ones physical descent, Israel is completely spiritual, Israel is the church, made up of those who are circumcised in heart, both Christian gentiles and Jews. They are the true Israel.” Instead he says, "not all Israel is Israel”, in context, he is saying that not all Jews are elect to salvation, to newness of heart, belief. Charles Feinberg comments, “ …he is not speaking of a distinction between Israel and the church or between Gentile Christians and Jewish unbelievers. He is rather distinguishing between those in the nation of Israel who are unbelievers, Abraham's natural seed, and those of Israel who are believers, the spiritual seed of Abraham. The Gentiles or the church are here nowhere in view.” The verse doesn’t say, ‘church’ or ‘Gentiles’, ‘nations’, ‘peoples’…etc., it just says “Israel”. It is speaking of God’s choosing of persons in the context of the race of Israel, election of individuals within the nation of Israel to inherit the promises. There is no exegetical basis for saying that the Gentiles are meant here in any way(as Christians or as unbelievers). Contextually it is simply speaking of those within the race of Israel who are elect to salvation and those within the race of Israel who are not elect to salvation and are ‘hardened/blinded’, as Romans 11:7 clarifies.
Paul continues by going through examples of how the concept of God electing /choosing individuals isn't new: vs. 9-13. God has done this before: He speaks of God's promise of a son to Sarah(even in her old age) of a son, who would inherit the promises, instead of Abraham’s son Ishmael (who was the oldest and was already born) the inheritor of the promises. And the same with Jacob and Esau, both had the same father and the same mother, and yet God chose Jacob to be the child who would inherited the covenants of Abraham and Isaac, and chose to hate Esau before either child was born or had done any works. Thus Paul is illustrating that being a descendant of Abraham doesn't guarantee ones salvation, nor does it guarantee that every single one of his descendants will be children of the promises/covenants made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or Israel as a whole. It’s God’s choice that determines which of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’s physical descendants will be recipients of the promises(including the new covenant).
God’s promises have not failed, God has not broken His word. He has the right to choose those in Israel who will be vessels of mercy, and those in Israel who are vessels of wrath. And God isn’t just doing this with Israel; Paul also says that God has chosen individuals to be objects of His mercy from among the Gentiles as well (vs. 24). The Jews are not to be the exclusive recipients of God’s mercy, God is graciously engrafting individuals in from among the Gentiles(Romans 11) as recipients of His salvation.
But this verse (6), “not all Israel is Israel”, is not speaking of the Gentiles, it is speaking of the Jews. In sum, “With Israel is found an individual election within a national election”. Or, to put it another way, this verse(not all Israel is Israel) is speaking of only one race of people(Israel: the race that God set apart from all other peoples/races) and in this race are those who are elect and those who are not elect.
The final objection that will be addressed in this section is the fact that we are all ONE in Christ: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. “(Gal 3:28-29 ESV). “…and having put on the new, having been renewed in full knowledge according to the image of the One creating him, where there is no Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, foreigner, Scythian, slave or freeman, but Christ is all things and in all.”(Col 3:10-11 LITV) “…for the Writing saith, `Every one who is believing on him shall not be ashamed,' for there is no difference between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord of all is rich to all those calling upon Him, for every one--whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, he shall be saved.' (Rom 10:11-13 YLT) “for also in one Spirit we all to one body were baptized, whether Jews or Greeks, whether servants or freemen, and all into one Spirit were made to drink,” (1Co 12:13 YLT) There is only one people of God, it may be argued, and therefore there are no longer Jews and Gentiles, they are all one people, the church, the true Israel. There is only one people of God in Christ.
In reply, it should be noted that this unity does not change our physical ‘make up’, it does not make us uniracial (or of no race) any more than it makes us of no gender. If we say that, as Christians, we should not acknowledge any racial distinctions in fellow believers, or people in general, then we must also cease to acknowledge gender distinctions between fellow believers; which contradicts the New Testament acknowledging distinctions between men and women and the differing standards and rules that women must follow according to the NT.
The New Testament affirms that women have a God given distinctive position/role from that of men, even as Christians. Women are to keep silent in the churches (1 Cor. 14:34), learning quietly because of their of their position in Creation, woman being created after man (1 Tim 2:11-14), they are not to have authority over a man (1 Tim 2:12), are to be submissive to their husbands(Col. 3:18) and are to modestly(1 Tim. 2:9) adorn themselves as women(1 Cor. 11:3-16).
Why are women to do this? Why do women have a distinctive role/position from that of men? The simple answer is, because God wants them to. Women are not distinct from men because men are innately better, or of more worth than women, but because God is the One who gave women this distinction. God is the One who created man first, and then the woman. He could have created them both at once, instead of creating them in a sequence. But He chose to do it the way He did it for His own purposes. God designed that man would be the head of a woman. “But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.”(1Co 11:3 LITV) And He ordained that woman should not exercise authority over a man in the church:“And I do not allow a woman to teach nor to exercise authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived has come to be in transgression; (1Ti 2:12-14 LITV). This is God’s design, women are to acknowledge this in submitting to their husbands “as to the Lord” (Eph 5:22; Col. 3:18), not “as to their husbands, or for their husband”. They are to acknowledge that this subjection is of God’s ordination. Also, God has ordained that the wife being submissive to her husband is a picture, parallel to the church submitting to Christ: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. “(Eph 5:22-24 ESV) It’s God’s picture, we are not to alter it.
So it is with Israel, the New Testament acknowledges racial differences, it acknowledges Jewish Christians, and Gentile Christians, it still refers to these people as ‘Jews’ and ‘Gentiles’: The Gospel is the power of God to believing Jews and Gentiles(Rom 1:16), God is the God of both Jews and Gentiles (Romans 3:29); Paul acknowledges Jewish Christians in his blessing of peace in Galatians 6:16, “peace and mercy be upon….The Israel of God”. If there is any objection that these points actually prove that race is nullified, that Paul, in using these racial terms, is just trying to clarify that there is now no difference between races because God is the God of Jews and Gentiles he also blatantly separates Jews from Gentiles in Romans 11 where he continues his explanation of why the Jews rejected their Messiah and salvation. He declares that God has ‘cut off’ a large part of the Jews for the present time, engrafting Gentiles (wild branches) in their place, saving a remnant of Jews(elect Jews) for Himself, God has hardened the other part of the Jews temporarily until the “fullness of the Gentiles has come in”(vs. 25), God will send the Deliverer and cleanse Israel. We will deal with this more later.
Israel is still a distinct people, even in New Testament times, as an Old Testament passage makes clear, “Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar-- the LORD of hosts is his name: ‘If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.’" (Jer 31:35-36 ESV) The sun is still shining, the moon and stars are still giving light to the night, the sea’s waves are still roaring, therefore the people of Israel are still a distinct people, a nation before God, even though they have been disobedient to Him, as the continuing verse says “Thus says the LORD: "If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the LORD." (Jer 31:37 ESV)
So, why is there a distinction? Why are the Jews (Israel) a distinct people from the Gentiles (non-Jews/non-Israel)? There is a distinction because God wants there to be a distinction, He made the distinction, He set Israel apart, sanctified them (Exod 31:13;Lev 22:32; Deut 10:15), from all other nations. As with the God ordained distinction between men and women, it is not because Israel was/is better(Deut 9:6), or more in number than all other nations, they are/were just as wicked as all the other nations, they are/were under sin just as the Gentiles were (Romans 3:9) they are distinct because God desires them to be distinct, He chose to love them (Deut 7:6-8), chose to set them apart.
The Potter’s Freedom
When we turn to Malachi 1 where God says “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”(vs 13). This is not only referring to these two individuals, but to their descendants as well. “The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi. ‘I have loved you,’ says the LORD. But you say, ‘How have you loved us?’ ‘Is not Esau Jacob's brother?’ declares the LORD. ‘Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.’ If Edom says, ‘We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,’ the LORD of hosts says, ‘They may build, but I will tear down, and they will be called “the wicked country,” and “the people with whom the LORD is angry forever.”'" (Mal 1:1-4 ESV) “The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau, for the LORD has spoken. (Oba 1:18 ESV) and In Isaiah 34:5 God calls Edom (the descendants of Esau) “people I have devoted to destruction”. In contrast, later on in Malachi, God says "For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. (Mal 3:6-7 ESV) God loves, offers mercy to Israel, and will one day save all of his elect in Israel(Romans 11:26;Isiaiah 54) in spite of their wickedness (Ezek 36-37) and hates and destroys Edom in their wickedness.
The inevitable objection will be, “that’s not fair!” This declaration, or a similar one (Romans 9:19), is addressed in Romans 9 where Paul defends God's right to do whatever He wants with His creation “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath (like the people of Edom) prepared for destruction in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory-- even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? …” (Rom 9:20-22 ESV) God has just as much right to elect or not elect, to a specific purpose, a race of people as He has the right to elect or reject individuals. He has mercy on whomever He chooses and He hardens whomever He chooses(Romans 9:18).
Jews and Gentiles united in Christ
So, We know that being “one in Christ Jesus” does not take away physical distinctions. As Jim Mclarty says, “Paul did not simply argue for unity between Jews and Greeks. He also eliminated any distinction between a bond slave and a free man, or between male and female believers. Now, historically, experientially, and factually, no person’s social status or gender ever changed as the result of coming to faith in Christ. In the first century, slaves were not automatically set free when they professed Christ. And, it remains that way today. A pauper is still a pauper. A president is still a president. A man is still a man. A woman is still a woman. Christianity does not result in unisexuality.”
So, what do the earlier mentioned passages on unity mean? They all mean that salvation is applied indiscriminately to all peoples, with no regard to ones gender, race, or station in life. It means physical distinctions are not the cause of salvation, that physical distinctions are of no value, no worth in our salvation. The Jews are not the only ones to receive salvation, neither are the Gentiles, nor men only, or slaves only…etc. God saves people from all nations, in all stations and of both genders (1 Tim 2:2-4; Acts 10:34-35). In other words, being in Christ changes our spiritual status, our position before God, regardless of our physical status, but it does not change our physical status. In Colossians 3, after stating that in Christ there is no slave, Jew, Gentile…etc. The author goes on to state that wives are to submit to their husbands, children to obey their parents, slaves obey their masters…making it obvious that their physical positions and roles were not changed despite their unity in Christ.
Also, as Christians we are to acknowledge our Oneness in Christ with our fellow believers, we acknowledge that we are all united by Christ, by His salvation, whatever race or gender we are . 1 Timothy 5:1-3 says, “ Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity. “(1Ti 5:1-2 ESV) This is recognizing physical distinctions and yet acknowledging unity because these people are all a family in Christ, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and are to treat one another as such. 1 Peter 3:7 tell husbands to live with their wives in an ‘understanding way’ “giving honour to the female as to the weaker vessel and as to the co-heirs of the grace of life”(DBY) Acknowledging that their wives are ‘females/weaker vessels’ and not only that, but also acknowledging that she too receives salvation. So we see that we are to treat our fellow believers(regardless of physical status/position) as equal recipients of salvation.
And so, although believing Jews and Gentiles are united in Christ, their physical lineage has not changed. Being united in Christ does not mean that God cannot make distinctions within this united group, or that He cannot or will not use different groups of the united elect people differently. There are still Israelites and those who are not Israelites, and God still has a distinct plan for physical Israel. To use Paul’s illustration in 1 Corinthians 12, Christian Jews and Gentiles(the elect) are a part of the same body. Within the body are like different ‘members’/parts of the body…hands, eyes, organs…etc. There are Gentiles within the body and there are Jews. They each have differing God given purposes, God is using/and has used the Gentiles one way, and the Jews another way, and yet being used in different ways does not change their unity in being saved by Christ and the faith that He gives(alone…sola fide).
 See pg.84 of Jim McClarty’s book Is The Church Israel?(Printed in the United States of America; James T. McClarty, 2004) This book can read online at http://www.salvationbygrace.org.
On pg. 84, in referencing the Angel Gabriel’s declaration to Mary, “and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end (Luke 1:33). McClarty points out that “If this is strictly spiritual language,referring to Christ on His throne ruling the Church, then the Church absolutely must provide some proof that they are, in fact, Jacob.”
 Charles L. Feinberg, MILLENIALISM: THE TWO MAJOR VIEWS(Winona Lake, Indiana; BMH Books, 2008). 230.
 Charles L. Feinberg, Israel in the Spotlight(Chicago; Moody Press,1975),106.
 James T. McClarty, Is The Church Israel?(Printed in the United States of America; James T. McClarty, 2004) 67. This book can read online at http://www.salvationbygrace.org.
Scripture quotations marked 'ESV' are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.