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Jewish Themes in the New Testament. Am Yisrael Chai! 

An examination of God's continued faithfulness to Jewish people by an evangelist among them... a book which deserves careful attention in our denomination and beyond

 

Jewish Themes in the New Testament. Am Yisrael Chai!
By Paul Morris
Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2013
ISBN 978-1-84227-821-5
Reviewer: Pieter Lalleman

Jewish Themes in the New TestaThis book’s title is rather misleading; what it is doing is better expressed on the cover: ‘… an examination of what the New Testament teaches about the Jewish people in the era of the New Covenant. The core of that teaching is an affirmation of God's continued faithfulness to them.’

Or as the Introduction states: ‘The core of the New Testament teaching on the Jewish people is an affirmation of … God’s continued faithfulness to them, despite all that might appear to the contrary. … The Hebrew expression Am Yisrael Chai is best put into English as ‘the people of Israel lives!’

Morris argues that the Jews cannot be regarded as just any ethnic group. But he is not a blind idoliser of Jews and all things Jewish, and replacement theology is not the only concept that comes in for his criticism. He makes it clear that for Christians to celebrate Jewish festivals is rather odd. He thinks that a church near a Jewish community should reach out to them with the gospel, however hard this may be – and as an evangelist among Jews he knows about their resistance to the gospel.

He argues strongly against separate Messianic communities (which he calls ‘sects’, p.154) and in favour of Jewish Christians joining ordinary churches (as 90 per cent of them do anyway, p.152).

The book is divided into four parts and 21 chapters but I did not find it very systematic. Morris mentions the modern state of Israel with caution and discusses it at more length in chapter 20. He does not see the return of the Jews to their land as the fulfilment of any prophecy; ‘The land of Israel is no longer a divine space but that does not rule it out as a place for Jewish people to live.’ (p.201) In other words, it is a human right that the Jews have a place of their own but its ‘kingdom value’ is almost nil and if they don’t accept Jesus as their Messiah they may not always stay there (p.209!)

Morris is at his best when he interprets ‘easy’ passages such Romans 9:1-5; 11:11-15 and Ephesians 2 but also ‘harder’ ones such as Matthew 21:33-46, Galatians 6:16 and 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16. The final chapter is given to Romans 11:25-26 in its context. The book has indexes of passages and of themes, but the former is incomplete and the latter probably has a misplaced section.

With replacement theology still alive among us, and many denying the Jewish people a home, this book deserves careful attention in our denomination and beyond.

It might be useful to begin reading at the last two chapters. 


The Revd Dr Pieter Lalleman is Acadamic Dean and Tutor of New Testament at Spurgeon's College

Baptist Times, 02/05/2014
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