The phrase “Israel of God” appears only once in the scriptures, yet it is frequently used in Christianity. Just who is the Israel of God?
- “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.” — New International Version
- “May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God.” — New Living Translation
- “May peace come to all those who follow this standard, and mercy to the Israel of God!” — Holman Christian Standard Bible
- “And those who agree to this path shall have peace and affection upon them and upon the Israel of God.” — Aramaic Bible in Plain English
The Amplified Bible reads, “even upon the [true] Israel of God!”
Clearly some translations depict two groups, illustrated by “to all who” and “even to Israel of God” or “all those who—and mercy to the Israel of God” or “upon them and upon the Israel of God” whereas some clearly depict one group as “the new people of God” or “true Israel of God”. While the original Greek clears up the correct rendering, as readers of English we can also rely upon the context of this verse to answer the question at hand—Who are the Israel of God?
What is the rule, principle, standard or path that is being referred to here? The preceding verses explain:
“Those who are trying to force you to be circumcised want to look good to others. They don’t want to be persecuted for teaching that the cross of Christ alone can save. And even those who advocate circumcision don’t keep the whole law themselves. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast about it and claim you as their disciples… It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation.” — Galatians 6:12-15
Paul further explains regarding the path of circumcision and slavery to the law:
“Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace.” — Galatians 5:2-4
How did Paul feel about those who were trying to convert the Christians into Jews by circumcision?
“I wish those troublemakers would castrate themselves.” — Galatians 5:12
It was thus that Paul concludes that “May peace come to all those [uncircumcised] who follow this standard, and mercy to the [circumcised] Israel of God!”
What mercy? Paul explained to the Romans the mercy that will be shown to the people of Israel, for God’s gifts and call can never be withdrawn:
“Many of the people of Israel are now enemies of the Good News, and this benefits you Gentiles. Yet they are still the people he loves because he chose their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn. Once, you Gentiles were rebels against God, but when the people of Israel rebelled against him, God was merciful to you instead. Now they are the rebels, and God’s mercy has come to you so that they, too, will sharek in God’s mercy. For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.” — Romans 11:28-32
Do you belong to the Israel of God or the New Creation?
Christians are called to be a new creation. The Israel of God is not a new creation, they are God’s chosen people of the old covenant, and we are called by Christ as chosen people of a new covenant, a new creation where “it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised”. (Colossians 3:11)
As for those that teach that Christians are the “Israel of God” on the basis of this one verse taken out of context, I recall the words of Paul:
“I wish those troublemakers would castrate themselves.”