Q&A Forum: The Israel of God

Does the phrase “Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16 teach that the Church is the new Israel?

Galatians 6:15-16 says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.”[1]

The question arising from this summary statement is best answered by rehearsing the theme of the Galatians epistle. Paul has been strenuously countering the fatal error of bringing the gospel of Christ under the jurisdiction and constraints of old covenant law. Only the “grace of Christ” can deliver us from both present evil and final judgment (Gal 1:4-6). His own dramatic conversion, from Judaism’s defender and persecutor of “the church of God” (Gal 1:13-16) to an apostle of Jesus Christ, stands as a powerful witness to its inherent incompatibility. In chapter two he continues his argument by rehearsing his confrontation with Peter, who, in reverting to Judaistic separation from Gentile fellow-believers, had contradicted “the truth of the gospel” (Gal 2:14). Paul concludes that section: “If righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain [or needlessly]” (Gal 2:21).

From chapter three onward, Paul asserts that only by the Spirit can the life demanded by God’s law be fulfilled. In reality, the law was only a temporary guardian until Christ came to fulfil God’s promise to Abraham, and now all who are Christ’s are “Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:29). Only by the life of the Son of God reproduced in us by “the Spirit of His Son” (Gal 4:6) can the flesh be overcome, and our calling fulfilled as sons of God.

Ironically, both Jews and Gentiles needed the same redemption through Christ to become heirs of new covenant promises. The new covenant requires the miracle of “a new creation” (Gal 6:15), God intervening to bring us into new life derived from Him directly, bypassing the corruption of sin in the flesh. No ritual can create life, so circumcision no longer has force or meaning to the covenant people of God. Therefore peace and mercy from God are upon those who have acknowledged Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, and consequently are now children of God through new birth.

Some think the phrase “and upon the Israel of God” indicates a second distinct group; however, “and” here likely carries the sense of “even” (as suggested in W.E. Vine’s commentary on Galatians). This is parallel to Paul’s comment on the term “Jew” in Romans 2:28-29, which is that only the spiritual holds value with God, not physical identity. The Lord Jesus likewise declared Nathanael to be “an Israelite indeed” (Joh 1:47), meaning one who is a real Israelite in the sense of genuine faithful relationship with God, in contrast to a merely nominal Israelite.

Tragically, Israel has lost its place due to rejection of God’s Son. However, Romans 9-11 clearly teaches that God will restore Israel to relationship with Himself through the intervention of Christ as their Deliverer during the great tribulation. So, while believers forming “the Church” today are the spiritual “Israel of God,” this does not mean that the Church has replaced and superseded Israel in God’s promises.

[1] All Scripture quotations in this article are from the NKJV.