Who Is the “Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16?

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Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2018 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.”

 

(Galatians 6:15-16) – 15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that matters is a new creation! 16 And all who will behave in accordance with this rule, peace and mercy be on them, and on the Israel of God. (NET)

(Galatians 6:15-16) – 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God. (NIV)

 

Who is the “Israel of God” that Paul refers to in this verse? Dispensationalists believe Paul is talking about the people of national Israel, the natural descendants of Abraham. Given the context of the book of Galatians, is that a consistent interpretation? Before we answer that, the NET Translation Notes are helpful:

 

NET Notes: tn The word “and” (καί) can be interpreted in two ways: (1) It could be rendered as “also” which would indicate that two distinct groups are in view, namely “all who will behave in accordance with this rule” and “the Israel of God.” Or (2) it could be rendered “even,” which would indicate that “all who behave in accordance with this rule” are “the Israel of God.” In other words, in this latter view, “even” = “that is.”

 

Also the EXB translation:

(Gal 6:16) – Peace and mercy to those who follow [walk/live by] this rule—and to all of God’s people [the Israel of God; either: (1) Jewish Christians or (2) the church as the “new Israel”].

 

Besides the NET, translations that favor “and/also on the Israel of God” are the KJV/NKJV, ESV, NRSV, LEB, NASB, and others.

Translations that favor “even/that is, the Israel of God” are the NIV, CSB, RSV, NLT, AMPC, Mounce, GW, and others.

 

Since it can go either way, I think it’s likely that all dispensational translators favor the “and on the Israel of God,” because dispensationalists believe that whenever Israel is mentioned in the NT, it’s always the ethnic nation of Israel that the writer is referring to (which is true in most cases). On the other hand, I think it’s likely that most non-dispensational translators favor the “even/that is, the Israel of God.” In such a situation, context and the overall teaching of Paul (and all Scripture) must be the deciding factor.

So what does Paul reveal in the book of Galatians about Israel? He reveals that “those who believe are the sons of Abraham” (Ga 3:7). And that “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise” (Ga 3:29). Further, that “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith” (Ga 3:26). In the book of Romans Paul says that “a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something that is outward in the flesh, but someone is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit and not by the letter….” (Ro 2:28-29). In chapter 4 of Romans, Paul says that Abraham is the father of those who believe in Christ, and that we are his descendants through faith (Ro 4:11-12,16,18). In Romans 9 Paul reveals that it’s not those who are physical offspring of Abraham who are of Israel, but those who are of the promise, through Isaac, which all refer to Christ (Ro 9:6-9). In all of this Paul reveals that it’s those who have faith in Christ, who are in Christ – Jew and Gentile alike – who make up true Israel….not those who are of natural Jewish lineage.

If you’re a spiritual descendent of Abraham, what does that make you? It makes you a spiritual Jew. If you’re a spiritual Jew, what does that make you? It makes you a citizen of spiritual Israel.

If that’s not enough, in the immediate context of Galatians 6:15-16, Paul speaks of those who “follow this rule (or standard), which is the gospel message that Paul has been talking about throughout Galatians. In other words, he’s talking about the life-changing message of Christ that produces a “new creation.” What he reveals here is that true Israel is made up of those who are a “new creation,” which together compose His Body, which is the Church (Eph 1:22-23; Col 1:18). He goes into detail about this in Ephesians 2:11-22, where he reveals that all people-distinctions are done away with in Christ, as a new creation in Him collectively. In Him we are a new creation, a new organism, a brand new people. Thus, true Israel is a new creation in Christ — both individually and collectively as one new people.

In spite of how clear Paul has identified true Israel in Christ, dispensationalists insist that, while there is a spiritual application for Church age believers as spiritual offspring of Abraham, it doesn’t end God’s plan for the nation of Israel. May I say, I think dispensationalists are missing the whole point. God’s plan for the nation of Israel has already been completed in Christ and His Church. They have their full end in Him (Himself True Israel), as a spiritual people. They have their end as a spiritual nation (1 Pe 2:4-10), as New Israel of the New Covenant. This is what the OT always had (has) in view.

When it comes to Israel, Dispensationalism emphasizes the physical of the OT, while the NT emphasizes the spiritual. Dispensationalism is so locked into the OT point of view that it’s not able to comprehend the NT revelation regarding Israel. If they would allow the light of the NT to explain the OT, they would come to the realization that God’s plan for Israel is fulfilled in Christ, which is now fulfilled. It’s done. Finished. Nothing left to be fulfilled for the nation of Israel. There’s only one people of God, not two. There has always been one people of God, and there will always be just one people of God — which are those who are in Christ, who make up His Church.

 

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