Everyone has heard about the ‘New Covenant’. The term rolls off the tongues of Christian pastors and teachers all the time, but have you ever stopped to wonder just what the ‘New Covenant’ actually is? If you take a quick poll of Christians at random, asking them, “What is the New Covenant?” you might be surprised by the results
Most folks will give you a puzzled look while they scramble for an answer. You will hear definitions like (all these are actual answers): “It’s Jesus’ atoning death for our sins,” or “To love the LORD our God,” or “Christ’s sacrifice for His people,” or “The bread and wine of communion,” etc. If you then go so far as to ask, “With whom was the ‘New Covenant’ made?” you will get even more puzzled looks and answers like, “The New Covenant is for Christians,” or “It’s for all Gentiles and Jews,” or “It’s for believers,” etc. But why such confusion when the answers to both questions are clearly stated right in the New Testament?
The reason for this confusion is that most mainstream Christian denominations hold ‘New Covenant’ doctrines, which actually conflict with the Biblical definition. Therefore, pastors and teachers do not teach the Biblical definition and confusion reigns supreme. In defense of these pastors and teachers, most of them probably do not understand the Biblical definition of the New Covenant themselves, because they were not taught in their churches or in the seminaries where they learned to be pastors.
But can it be possible that the bulk of mainstream Christianity is ignorant of the real definition of the New Covenant? Well, to find out, let us delve into the Scriptures ourselves. As we delve, let us put aside all church doctrine and read the Scriptures as written, without an “expert” to tell us the words mean something else. Let us abide by the watchword of the Reformation, “Sola Scriptura” (only the Scriptures) because if we do, the Scriptures become clear enough for a child to understand.
The ‘New Covenant’ According to the Bible
The Apostle Paul, “the Apostle of the Gentiles” (Romans 11:13), spells out the New Covenant clearly in chapter 8 of the Book of Hebrews. In the first 7 verses, he speaks of Messiah Yahoshua being the high priest sitting at the right hand of the Almighty in Heaven, and being the “mediator of a better covenant” (verse 6). Two verses later, Paul goes on to state exactly what the New Covenant is,
For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith Yahowah, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith Yahowah. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith Yahowah; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them an Elohim, and they shall be to me a people. (Hebrews 8:8-10)
This is it, the Messiah-mediated New Covenant. Search as you will, there is no other ‘New Covenant’ listed anywhere in the New Testament.1 The definition of this New Covenant, according to Paul, is this: the Almighty will put His laws into our minds and write them in our hearts. He will be our Elohim and we will be His people.
[1 There are verses which speak of Messiah’s blood as being the blood of the New Covenant (e.g., Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, and 1 Corinthians 11:25), but these verses do not actually define what the covenant is. The first covenant was also sealed with blood (see Exodus 24:8).]
But exactly where did Paul get this definition and to which “laws” was he referring? Here again, the Bible answers these questions for us, because Paul was simply quoting the Scriptures when he gave us this definition. Specifically, he was quoting a latter-day prophecy by the prophet Jeremiah,
Behold, the days come, saith Yahowah, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith Yahowah: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith Yahowah, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their Elohim, and they shall be my people.
So there you have it, simple enough for a child to understand. In black and white, we have Paul telling us exactly what the New Covenant is and demonstrating that it was the fulfillment of a prophecy given some 650 years earlier by the prophet Jeremiah. What could be more clear? Why, then, is this truth not clearly and unequivocally taught from the pulpit? Put simply, much of mainstream Christianity does not happen to agree with this prophecy because it violates two prevalent doctrines within mainstream Christianity, as we will now see.
Church Doctrine Violation #1
In both Paul’s definition of the New Covenant, and Jeremiah’s definition, the Covenant is that the Almighty will write His “law” upon the hearts of the people with whom He is making the covenant. And in the Hebrew of Jeremiah’s definition, the exact meaning of the term “law” is unequivocally defined. The word for “law” is “תורה” (Torah), which is what Moses penned in the first five books of the Bible. So the word “law” in the definition of the New Covenant is the “Law” that the Most High gave to Moses.
This runs counter to the Christian doctrine which teaches that Christians are not “under the law,” or that the “law is fulfilled” and no longer applies to Christians. This negative attitude toward the ‘the Law’ is referred to by many as ‘antinomianism’—from the Greek “anti” (against) and “nomos” (law). Some of the more conservative Christian denominations try to limit the amount of antinomianism and state that only the “ceremonial” parts of the Law no longer apply. They define the “ceremonial laws” as those defining the Biblical Holy Days, forbidding the consumption of unclean flesh (e.g., swine), etc. That way, they can still selectively retain those portions of the Law with which they agree (e.g., working hard, paying tithes, avoiding sex with animals, honoring parents, not stealing, etc.). Biblically, of course, there is no category of “ceremonial laws.” The entire Law is based upon, “Thus saith Yahowah” and applies to His people.2
[2 Note: Large portions of the sacrificial system within the Law cannot be followed today because the Temple is no longer standing in Jerusalem.]
This selective “editing out” of portions of the Law have contributed greatly to the problems facing the Church today. Depending upon the varying interpretations of various Church leaders, some eliminate more, and some eliminate less of the Almighty’s Law. This has contributed greatly to the plethora (multiples of hundreds) of Christian denominations that have sprung up across Christendom. All doggedly and valiantly defend their positions and claim to be led by the Holy Spirit. All the while, those on the outside of this free-for-all mess cannot help but wonder if the poor Holy Spirit is somewhat schizophrenic.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is just fine, but antinomian church doctrines are prevalent and completely unscriptural. They are based largely upon gross misinterpretations of the writings of Paul, just as Peter warned would happen,
And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness. (2 Peter 3:15-17)
The problem lies in the fact that Paul, “in all his epistles” was battling certain nuances of Pharisaic doctrine regarding the Law that mainstream pastors today do not understand. The Pharisees were the preeminent and predominant sect of Judaism at the time of Messiah and Paul, and most of the proclamations made in the New Testament, which appear to conflict with the Law come out of legal points and arguments raised by Pharisees. Check this out for yourselves. See for example, Matthew 9:11, Matthew 12:2, Matthew 15:1, Acts 15:5, etc.
The “Law” according to the Pharisees consists, not only of “thus saith Yahowah,” but also of thousands of Pharisaic commandments, which they teach were given verbally to Moses and passed down verbally until the Pharisaic scribes began to record them. That is why “healing on the Sabbath,” “picking heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath,” and “eating with publicans and sinners” was declared by the Pharisees to be illegal, in spite of the fact that there is no commandment in the “Law” against these things.
When Peter says that Paul was writing in his epistles “according to the wisdom given unto him” and that some of his teachings are “hard to be understood,” he was referring to these legal nuances of Pharisaic teaching on the Law.” Paul indicates as much in his own words when he declares that he is a master in their version of the Law,
I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: (Acts 23:6)
Both Messiah and Paul referred to these Pharisaic commandments, which were being taught as the Law, as “tradition of men” (Mark 7:8 and Colossians 2:8), “commandments of men,” or “commandments and doctrines of men” (Matthew 15:9, Mark 7:7, Colossians 2:22, Titus 1:14).
And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.. (Galatians 1:14)
Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;
For an in-depth explanation of Pharisaic Judaism, an examination of its influence and discussion in the New Testament, and the resulting misunderstandings and unbiblical teaching of mainstream Christianity, see the Elijah’s Cry study, “The Law and the New Testament Believer.” It is long, but worth a read to clarify what the Bible really teaches about the Law of the Most High and its applicability today.
For now, it is only necessary to understand that the law of the Most High was not diminished by the teachings of Paul or the Messiah. Paul stated,
Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all. (Acts 25:8)
Concerning the Law of His Father, Messiah stated,
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
As few pastors today point out, the word “fulfill” does not mean to “do away with” or “abolish.” To fulfill a promise means to keep the promise. To fulfill a commitment means to honor the commitment. By the way, “heaven and earth” are still here; therefore by Messiah’s words, the Law—the Torah of His Father—is still in full force and effect.
Messiah goes on to make a more ominous prediction for the last days and the judgment when all will stand before Him,
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it. And it came to pass, when Yahoshua had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.
In the words of Messiah, Christian-defined “wonderful works” are not the test of whether one is walking in His will, but whether or not people are doing the “will of the Father in Heaven.” His Father’s will is given to us in the Torah (the Law) as “thus saith Yahowah.” Violation of the Torah is “iniquity.”
Even the end-time true “remnant” is defined as those who “keep the commandments of Elohim, and have the testimony of Yahoshua the Messiah” (Revelation 12:17).
So, according to the Bible—in spite of false Christian doctrines—the consistent message is that the Torah (Law) of the Most High is important to Him and to His Son. Therefore, the Biblical definition of the New Covenant, as ‘writing the Torah/Law on our hearts’, makes perfect sense. In the end, all of the Almighty’s people will be doing His will because they want to; what a great picture. After all, as John wrote,
Whosoever believeth that Yahoshua is the Messiah is born of Elohim: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of Elohim, when we love Elohim, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of Elohim, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
(1 John 5:1-3)
Church Doctrine Violation #2
The second reason that the ‘New Covenant’ definition is not clearly taught is that the ‘second party’ to this ‘New Covenant’—as taught by the Bible—is ‘unacceptable’ to many Christian denominations. Let us take another look at the Biblical definition of the New Covenant to determine the identity of the ‘second party’ to the covenant.
…Behold, the days come, saith Yahowah, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith Yahowah. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith Yahowah; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them an Elohim, and they shall be to me a people. (Hebrews 8:8-10)
As politically incorrect as it may seem to many churches, the Almighty chose stubborn little Israel as the second party to His ‘New Covenant.’ And yes, Hebrews 8:6 points out that this is the same Messiah-meditated “better covenant” to which Christians imprecisely refer all the time. As a matter of fact, if you search the entire New Testament, you will find that there is no other ‘New Covenant’ mentioned anywhere. But how can it be that the ‘New Covenant’ is made with Israel?
Why Not Make the New Covenant with Israel?
For people who really believe in the Bible, there should be great rejoicing that the Most High would make the ‘New Covenant’ with Israel. Why? Probably the most important reason is that the new Covenant is linked to promises He made to the Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—long ago. By maintaining and renewing the Covenant that He made with Israel, He proves that He fulfils the promises He made early on, and demonstrates that His word is dependable and true. If He did not honor His promises, then nothing would be certain and our future would be in great doubt. The end-time prophecies, to which Christians look with great hope, would mean nothing, and despair would reign supreme.
If we look briefly to some of the covenantal promises made to the Patriarchs, we find the following made to Abraham,
And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)
When Isaac was old, he blessed Jacob—later called Israel (Genesis 32:28)—and imparted to him the blessings made to Abraham,
As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be Elohim unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their Elohim. (Genesis 17:4-8)
And Elohim said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him… (Genesis 17:19)
And El Shaddai (Elohim Almighty) bless thee and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a multitude of people; And give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land wherein thou art a stranger, which Elohim gave unto Abraham. (Genesis 28:3-4)
And not long thereafter, the Almighty honored the request of Isaac and spoke the following promise to Jacob,
I am Yahowah Ehohim of Abraham thy father, and the Elohim of Isaac: the land wherein thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; And thy seed shall be as he dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep the in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. (Genesis 28:13-15)
So we see that the Covenant of the Most High was made with Abraham, and then passed to Isaac and Jacob, later called Israel (Genesis 32:28). It should be briefly pointed out here that this Covenant included promises to Jacob/Israel that he would later spread to outward to the north, south, east, and west. This part of the Covenant was not accomplished during his own life. He did journey east to get his wives from the household of Laban, but this could hardly be argued to be a ‘spreading abroad’ in every direction that would result in a blessing to “all the families of the earth.” That part of the promise was fulfilled to his descendents’ descendents and the subject of another study. For now, back to the Covenant.
The Almighty later continued the Covenant with the descendants of Jacob/Israel when they journeyed in the wilderness with Moses,
Ye shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I am Yahowah. If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them… For I will have respect unto you, and make you fruitful, and multiply you, and establish my covenant with you… and will be your Elohim and you will be my people… (Leviticus 26:2-13)
Interestingly enough, in the next 32 verses, the Almighty predicted that these same Israelites, with whom He was continuing His Covenant, would ultimately fall short of the standard, be cast out of the land and “scattered among the heathen (verse 33). But after all that, He makes the following promise,
And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am Yahowah their Elohim. But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their Elohim; I am Yahowah. (Leviticus 26:44-45)
This is indeed both an interesting promise and a prophecy. In spite of the forecasted sins of Israel, the Almighty promises to show their descendants grace and retain them as His people because of the covenant “of their ancestors” with Him.
A similar warning of rebuke and ultimate restoration is found in the Deuteronomy 28:15 to 30:8. For those denominations, which teach that “the God of the Old Testament” did not operate by grace, this passage exposes the lie and proves that the Almighty does not change; He was merciful then and remains merciful today.
In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith Yahowah, thy Redeemer.
Unlike much of the modern Church today, the Apostle Paul was aware of the fact that the Almighty will ultimately redeem Israel on account of the promises made to the Patriarchs. His letter to the congregation in Rome urges them to be mindful of this truth,
For, lo, the days come, saith Yahowah, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith Yahowah: and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it. And these are the words that Yahowah spake concerning Israel and concerning Judah… Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. For it shall come to pass in that day, saith Yahowah of hosts, that I will break his yoke from off thy neck, and will burst thy bonds, and strangers shall no more serve themselves of him: But they shall serve Yahowah their Elohim, and David their king, whom I will raise up unto them. Therefore fear thou not, O my servant Jacob, saith Yahowah; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid. For I am with thee, saith Yahowah, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished… For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith Yahowah; because they called thee an Outcast, saying, This is Zion, whom no man seeketh after. Thus saith Yahowah; Behold, I will bring again the captivity of Jacob's tents, and have mercy on his dwelling places; and the city shall be builded upon her own heap, and the palace shall remain after the manner thereof. And out of them shall proceed thanksgiving and the voice of them that make merry: and I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will also glorify them, and they shall not be small… And ye shall be my people, and I will be your Elohim. Behold, the whirlwind of Yahowah goeth forth with fury, a continuing whirlwind: it shall fall with pain upon the head of the wicked. The fierce anger of Yahowah shall not return, until he have done it, and until he have performed the intents of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it. (Jeremiah 30:3-24)
I say then, Hath Elohim cast away his people? Elohim forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. Elohim hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to Elohim against Israel, saying, Yahowah, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of Elohim unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. (Romans 11:1-5)
The Apostle Paul, unlike many mainstream Christian expositors today, understands that the Most High keeps His promises and will honor the Covenant that He made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As we get closer to the “latter days” mentioned in Jeremiah and many other prophets, the end-time fulfillment of that Covenant will become a reality, no matter which denominational doctrines are violated and ultimately proven to be unbiblical and contrary to the will of the Most High. Paul’s statement in Hebrews 8:8-10 is Biblically sound: The New Covenant was made with Israel.
I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? Elohim forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness? For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office…(Romans 11:11-13)
And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if Elohim spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of Elohim: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for Elohim is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes. For the gifts and calling of Elohim are without repentance. Romans 11:17-29)
What About Believing Gentiles; Is There a Covenant for Them?
In order to answer this question Biblically, it is necessary to look to again to Paul’s statement in Romans.
For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office… And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree; Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee. Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in… Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if Elohim spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of Elohim: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for Elohim is able to graft them in again. For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? (Romans 11:13, 17-24)
First, in Romans 11:13 Paul states that his letter is being written to “you Gentiles.” This is an important detail for reasons we will soon see. Nowhere in the entire letter to the Romans does Paul ever state that he is writing to someone else, contrary to the teachings of many mainstream Christian expositors. These misguided teachers infer that Paul must be also writing to some Jews, because of some of the subject matter he discusses, but Paul’s actual words do not support this assumption.
As a matter of fact, there is a key clue in the Bible which indicates a very high probability that there were no Jews anywhere in Rome at this period in history,
After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them. (Acts 18:1-2)
Paul is believed to have written his letter to the Romans while he was in Corinth; after he had written 2 Corinthians, but prior to his departure for Jerusalem. This would place the date of Romans in 56 C.E.—after all the Jews had been expelled from Rome by Emperor Claudius—thus leaving only Gentiles in the congregation in Rome. [Isn’t it great that the Bible gives us these little details?]
Second, Paul states three times—things that happen ‘in threes’ in the Bible are usually important—that these Gentiles are being “grafted in” to an olive tree. Interestingly, the prophet Jeremiah makes the following statement regarding the olive tree,
Yahowah called thy name, A green olive tree, fair, and of goodly fruit: with the noise of a great tumult he hath kindled fire upon it, and the branches of it are broken. For Yahowah of hosts, that planted thee, hath pronounced evil against thee, for the evil of the house of Israel and of the house of Judah, which they have done against themselves to provoke me to anger in offering incense unto Baal. (Jeremiah 11:16-17)
It would appear from this passage that the olive tree referred to is the whole kingdom of Israel (the northern “house of Israel” tribes, and the southern “house of Judah” tribes). Hosea, likewise refers to Israel as an olive tree in the following statement,
I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon. (Hosea 14:5-6)
So Paul, using the same metaphor as Jeremiah and Hosea, says three times that these Roman Gentiles must be “grafted in” to the “good olive tree”—Jeremiah’s “green olive tree, fair, and of goodly fruit”—the “remnant” of Israel “according to the election of grace” to which Paul refers.
But is there precedent for Gentiles being “grafted in” to Israel elsewhere in the Bible? Not surprisingly, there is. The prophet Isaiah speaks of this as follows,
Thus saith the LORD, Keep ye judgment, and do justice: for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed. Blessed is the man that doeth this, and the son of man that layeth hold on it; that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil. Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to Yahowah, speak, saying, Yahowah hath utterly separated me from his people… Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to Yahowah, to serve him, and to love the name of Yahowah, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant; Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people. Yahowah Elohim which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.
We see here that Gentiles are able to “take hold” of the Covenant that the Almighty made with Israel and that they will be treated just like the natural branches. By all indications, these members of the Roman congregation had in fact taken these steps already.
Unlike mainstream Christians of today, Paul refers to these Gentiles in Rome as “them that know the Law” (Romans 7:1). Earlier in his letter, he had written to these same individuals,
Behold, thou art called a Jew3, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of Elohim, And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. (Romans 2:17-20)
Paul did not say that they “are Jews” but simply that they were being called Jews by others. The same thing happens to Gentile believers today who reverence the Almighty’s Sabbath, observe his Biblical feast days, and refrain from eating unclean flesh (e.g., swine, shellfish, rodents, etc.), etc. When they tell people they are keeping these practices, the first thing they get asked is, “Are you Jewish?”
[3Note: The NIV, NASB, and RSV translations of the Bible, based on the ‘Codex Vaticanus’ Greek manuscript, change the wording to “Behold, if you call yourself a Jew…” This is a subtle, but significant change which alters the meaning considerably. This translation, while ideal to Roman Catholic interpretation of Romans, begins to break down logically in verse 21 and later verses. Note: Codex means ‘book’ vice scroll, and ‘Vaticanus’ denotes that this ‘book’ was discovered in the Vatican. (The reader can make his/her own assessment as to possible Roman influence.)]
For a fuller discussion of the congregation in Rome, please see the Elijah’s Cry study entitled, “The Law and the New Testament Believer.”
As we have seen during the course of this study, most mainstream rank-and-file Christians do not know what the “New Covenant’ is when compared to its definition given in the Scriptures. Contrary to the doctrines of many denominations, this ‘New Covenant’ was made with Israel and results when the Almighty will put His laws into the minds of His people and write them in their hearts. He will be our Elohim and we will be His people.
Biblically, Gentiles can “take hold” of this Covenant, which results in their being “grafted in” to the faithful remnant of Israel. In the process of “taking hold” of this Covenant, Gentiles are expected to turn away from pagan practices, reverence the Almighty’s Sabbath, and do the things that please Him.
This is a consistent message presented in all of the Biblical passages we have examined—both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. Christians who belong to denominations which teach otherwise should probably approach their pastors and teachers to humbly and prayerfully request they study this issue.
May the Most High Creator of the universe, and the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob richly bless you and keep you as you study this, and other Biblical issues. Shalom!