Corporate Personality

Jacob Singular Pronoun
Abraham's Seed John the Baptist
Racialism

Jacob

Jacob and Esau were brothers. And so they remained...long after their deaths:

"Now Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom. 'Thus says your brother Israel: You know all the hardship that has befallen us, how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we dwelt in Egypt a long time, and the Egyptians afflicted us and our fathers.'" (Numbers 20:14-15).
"Thus says the LORD: 'For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because he pursued his brother with the sword, and cast off all pity; his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever.'" (Amos 1:11).

Nations were named for these two individuals, and thus they lived on. Esau was Edom:

"So Esau dwelt in Mount Seir. Esau is Edom." (Genesis 36:8).

Esau is Edom...and the father of Edom:

"And this is the genealogy of Esau the father of the Edomites in Mount Seir. " (Genesis 36:9).

Jacob, whose God-given name is Israel, is both a man, and also the people called after his name:

"But you, Israel, are my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend." (Isaiah 41:8).

Jacob thus never died, you could almost say:

"After having finished their meal, he said: 'So said R. Johanan: "Jacob our father never died."' And R. Na'hman rejoined: 'Then was it in vain that he was mourned and embalmed?' And R. Itz'hak replied: 'I make this assertion from the following passage [Jeremiah, xxx. 10]: "And thou, do not fear, O my servant Jacob, saith the Lord, and be not dismayed, O Israel; for, behold, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be at rest, and be secure, with none to terrify him." And Jacob is compared to his children; as the latter are still living so is he also.'" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume VIII, Tract Ta'anith, Chapter I, Kindle location 31551).

Jacob is both an individual man, and also a people.


Lorenzo Ghiberti, East Doors
Lorenzo Ghiberti, Isaac and Jacob.


Jacob, God's servant, is also addressed as an individual, not a people:

"Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth; I have put my spirit upon him: he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles." (Isaiah 42:1).

The servant who shall be lifted up on high:

"See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high." (Isaiah 52:13 NRSV).

...is Jesus Christ our Lord:

"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." (John 12:32).

Singular Pronoun

The habit of speaking of a people as if of an individual is deeply ingrained in scripture. Here are some examples where a singular pronoun is used of the nation:

"All her people groan as they search for bread; they trade their treasures for food to revive their strength. Look, O LORD, and see how worthless I have become. Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which was brought upon me, which the LORD inflicted on the day of his fierce anger." (Lamentations 1:11-12).
"Do not rejoice over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD will be a light to me." (Micah 7:8).
"Woe is me because of my hurt! My wound is severe. But I said, 'Truly this is my punishment, and I must bear it.'" (Jeremiah 10:19).
"And Edom said unto him, You shall not pass by me, lest I come out against you with the sword. And the children of Israel said unto him, We will go by the high way: and if I and my cattle drink of thy water, then I will pay for it: I will only, without doing any thing else, go through on my feet." (Numbers 20:18-19).

As will become apparent, the nation is one person, God's son:

"When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son." (Hosea 11:1).

Notice here that a prophecy referring to Israel is, in the New Testament, applied specifically to Jesus Christ. Is this a simple error, as the rationalist David Friedrich Strauss alleges?: "Adopting the evangelist's point of view, this is not attended with any difficulty; it is otherwise, however, with the prophecy which the above event is said to fulfill, Hosea xi. i. In this passage the prophet, speaking in the name of Jehovah, says: When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. We may venture to attribute, even to the most orthodox expositor, enough clear-sightedness to perceive that the subject of the first half of the sentence is also the object of the second, namely the people of Israel, who here, as elsewhere, (e.g. Exod. iv. 22, Sirach xxxvi. 14), are collectively called the Son of God, and whose past deliverance under Moses out of their Egyptian bondage is the fact referred to: that consequently, the prophet was not contemplating either the Messiah or his sojourn in Egypt. Nevertheless, as our evangelist says, v. 15, that the flight of Jesus into Egypt took place expressly that the above words of Hosea might be fulfilled, he must have understood them as a prophecy relating to Christ—must, therefore, have misunderstood them."
(Strauss, David Friedrich; Eliot, George (2014-02-07). The life of Jesus critically examined (Kindle Locations 4452-4459). Kindle Edition.

Or perhaps he did not misunderstand at all. Why is it common in scripture to speak of a people group as if they were an individual? Is the idea here that all are one because of common physical descent? Jerome thought so; this is the crux of his argument in 'Against Helvidius.' All are counted as one because, looking back, all came from one, just as the tribes of Israel were once in Abraham: "One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him." (Hebrews 7:9-10). Though mothers contribute half the DNA, in this system, descent is reckoned through the male. Generalizing the principle to all fathers, even those from whom no clan nor tribe is reckoned, leaves 'cousins' equal to 'brothers,' because both have the same 'father,' the founder of the clan. So confronted with the Lord's troublesome 'brothers,' we jump back a generation, to Joseph's father Jacob (Matthew 1:16). Now, if he were the founder of a clan as were Jacob and Esau, his offspring down through the generations could call him 'father,' and would, in consequence, be 'brothers.' As it happens, this is not how the Bible explains why the people of God call one another 'brother:' the Bible's own explanation traces their common descent, not back to Jacob, but up to heaven: "Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us? why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother, by profaning the covenant of our fathers?" (Malachi 2:10). Jerome's speculative reconstruction seeks to explain a Bible usage which is already explained...differently. Notice how much more radical the Bible concept is than Jerome's reconstruction. The Bible does not say Israel are the children of Jacob, but that Israel is Jacob.

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Abraham's Seed

God promised Abraham that his descendants could not be numbered. The population of the present day numbers in the billions. In Abraham's day, the world's population was small. All of the present-day inhabitants of the globe are descended from those alive in that day. So what was so special or remarkable about God's promise to Abraham? While some men leave no descendants, and others' line peters out in genocide or disaster, most of the men walking around on the globe in 1800 B.C. left an awful lot of descendants. But most of these men are not remembered. All of Abraham's physical descendants are also descendants of Terah, but who ever calls himself a 'child of Terah'? The pagan Terah was promised nothing by God, and believed the nothing which he was told. The promise of founding a nation is a gift of God and is not what belongs to every man by virtue of biology. One aspect of this gift is that the recipient's name lives on, becoming the name of a people.

Paul's understanding of the promise to Abraham is not limited by biology. Paul understood the promised "seed" to be the Messiah:

"Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He says not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ." (Galatians 1:16).

We inherit the promise because we are in Christ. At baptism we confess the faith by which we are incorporated into His people. And just as 'Israel' is named after Jacob, 'Christians' are named after Christ. Though this name is introduced almost casually into scripture, the Old Testament habit of identifying a nation as one man carries with it the nation's sharing the founder's name as its common form of identification.

Strictly speaking Moses' law does not permit one to be punished for the sins of another: "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin." (Deuteronomy 24:16). But we are in Christ; so there is nothing illegal about His suffering for our sins. We are His body: "Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular." (1 Corinthians 12:27).

Paul's understanding of this Old Testament theme centers around God's promise and the faith which grasps hold of that promise, not reproductive biology. According to Paul, we, the church, are the progeny of Abraham, who can no more be numbered than the sands of the sea. Jerome insists, contra Paul, that it's biology. But if Paul is wrong about this, then under what rationale do the Gentiles who believe the gospel belong in the church? Will the Roman Catholics willingly eject the Gentiles from the people of the Messiah if that is what it takes to make the Lord's 'brothers' 'cousins'?

Paul's concept is no radical departure. The Jews confess themselves children of Abraham: "They answered and said to Him, 'Abraham is our father.'" (John 8:39). But Judaism, throughout the Biblical period, always welcomed proselytes:

“But Ruth said:
'Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.'” (Ruth 1:16).
“Do not let the son of the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD speak, saying, 'The LORD has utterly separated me from His people;' nor let the eunuch say, 'Here I am, a dry tree.' For thus says the LORD: 'To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants—everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant—even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.'” (Isaiah 56:3-7).

If you stop to think about it, Abraham himself was a proselyte. If he inherited his spiritual standing from his father Terah, then he is in a bad way, because Terah was an idolater:

". . .as it is written [Ps. xlvii. 10]: 'The nobles of the people are gathered together, the people of the God of Abraham.' The God of Abraham, and not the God of Isaac and Jacob? It means, the God of Abraham, who was the first of the proselytes." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume VII, Section Moed, Tract Succah, Kindle location 29833).

We do not, when all is said and done, inherit our spiritual standing from our racial ancestors. If Abraham had done so, he'd be lost!

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This means that some people are children of Abraham for no other reason than because they believe in the God of Abraham. Their physical descent runs through others. The bottom line on who is a Jew and who is not was always faith: "Whoever renounces idol worship may be called a Jew." (Megillah, 13a. quoted p. 192, The Wisdom of Israel, editor Lewis Browne). Isaac was not born after the natural fashion; he is a child of promise. He is the gift of God. It is interesting that 'Abraham' is considered a peculiarly appropriate name for a convert to Judaism: "A person becomes a member of the House of Israel either by birth or by conversion. . .The convert is then given a Hebrew name. In the case of men, the name is usually Abraham; considered a son of the founder of Judaism, who brought many converts to the One God, he is called Abraham ben Abraham." (Leo Trepp, Judaism, Development and Life, pp. 318-319). The convert, like Abraham, went out from his home at the leading of God. The convert is not less the child of Abraham than any other Jew, but is even named the son of Abraham.

Abraham himself was a convert, who, raised in the midst of an idolatrous nation, turned his back on his religious heritage and departed under command of God. He felt no loyalty to the idolatrous faith and culture in which he had been raised. In New Testament times, Judaism still unequivocally welcomed proselytes. Philo celebrates the story of Tamar, mentioned also in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus:

"This nobleness has been an object of desire not only to God-loving men, but likewise to women, who have discarded the ignorance in which they have been bred up, which taught them to honor, as deities, creatures made with hands, and have learnt instead that knowledge of there being only one supreme Ruler of the universe, by whom the whole world is governed and regulated; for Tamar was a woman from Syria Palestina, who had been bred up in her own native city, which was devoted to the worship of many gods, being full of statues, and images, and, in short, of idols of every kind and description. But when she, emerging, as it were, out of profound darkness, was able to see a slight beam of truth, she then, at the risk of her life, exerted all her energies to arrive at piety, caring little for life if she could not live virtuously; and living virtuously was exactly identical with living for the service of and in constant supplication to the one true God." (Philo Judaeus, On the Virtues, Chapter XL. (220-221)).

There is a great deal of confusion in the world today, and one way in which people depart from the Biblical paradigm is in describing atheists, who have no intention in the world of observing the first commandment, as 'Jews.' Such language, whatever its merits or defense, is not Biblical.

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Rembrandt van Rijn, Jacob Caressing Benjamin
Rembrandt van Rijn, Jacob Caressing Benjamin

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John the Baptist

In John the Baptist's day, converts to Judaism were expected to undergo purification by baptism. But John called all to submit to baptism. All are converts, no one is born a Jew: "Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones." (Matthew 3:8-9). Following this logic Baptists today expect candidates for baptism to testify to their conversion. Reversing this trend, the dispensationalists deny that anyone is, or can be, a convert, because not the convert but only heirs to the genome are the real article.

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Rembrandt van Rijn, Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph
Rembrandt van Rijn, Jacob blessing Joseph's Sons.

In Adam

All of humanity are understood to have been 'in Adam,' and thus to have inherited the consequences of his fall:

"For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).

That Adam is the progenitor of all humankind is probably sufficient to understand this, just as Sarah had many descendants: "But even if we agree to what R. Jose says (shall we say that) the passage 'and the Lord visited Sarah' speaks of an individual (and therefore it should not be used)? Nay; since many descended from her, she is regarded as many and therefore that passage, though speaking of one only, is regarded as though it spoke of many." (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Tract Rosh Hashanah, Chapter IV, Volume IV, Section Moed, Kindle location 16478). Some people object to Paul's construct, that all die in Adam but in Christ are made alive, on grounds of Ezekiel 18:

"Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die. But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right. . .He that hath not given forth upon usury, neither hath taken any increase, that hath withdrawn his hand from iniquity, hath executed true judgment between man and man, Hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord GOD." (Ezekiel 18:4-9).

They say Ezekiel leaves no room for one to bear the sins of another, as Jesus, in the person of the suffering servant, bears our sins:

"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. . .He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities." (Isaiah 53:4-11).

Isaiah's suffering servant is punished, not for his own sins, but for the sins of the people. Some interpreters think that the suffering servant is the nation of Israel, though it does not seem that Deuteronomy 28 allows Israel to suffer for any but her own sins: "And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the LORD thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God. . .But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the LORD thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee: Cursed shalt thou be in the city, and cursed shalt thou be in the field." (Deuteronomy 28:1-16). In Deuteronomy 28, God promises Israel perfect justice: if she does well, she will be blessed, if evil, cursed. To punish her for the sins of another suspends this promise, to say the very least. Certainly Ezekiel does not mean to deny that God can pardon by whatever means He proposes, else why must He respect 'repentance,' to which many human law codes give no heed?

The circumstance and situation examined in this page, how one can be 'in' another, how the believer is 'in' Christ, provides an Ariadne's thread allowing exit from the labyrinth. Just as Israel's sins were laid on the scapegoat, our sins are laid on Jesus, and He bore them to the cross. "Jesus took our sin, suffering the full weight of its penalty. In return He offers us His righteousness. When we are united to Christ, what is ours becomes His and what is His becomes ours." (J. D. Greear, Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, p. 35).

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Racialism

In its hey-day the Ku Klux Klan marketed itself as a forward-looking Christian organization, and to this day there are race haters who so self-identify. It is often assumed by outsiders that these groups' Bible interpretations are legitimate, yet there is no suggestion in the Bible that white folks are superior to black folks. So where, then, do they get it from?

After the calamities of the first and second centuries, when Judaea, having already lost its national independence, came near to being depopulated by Roman legions, the Jewish religion turned inward, and in the writings of the Rabbis there is often little of the welcoming spirit toward Gentile proselytes so prominent in earlier Jewish thought. As seen above, God chose a people, but He never made racial descent the ultimate criterion of membership in this people; the way was always open for volunteers. This Biblical theme came in time to be muted, and people began to assume, with the Rabbis, that membership in the congregation of Israel comes primarily through birth ancestry.

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A key question is, what is the standing of proselytes in the congregation of Israel? Equal, as Philo still thought?:

"And he receives all persons of a similar character and disposition, whether they were originally born so, or whether they have become so through any change of conduct, having become better people, and as such entitled to be ranked in a superior class; approving of the one body because they have not defaced their nobility of birth, and of the other because they have thought fit to alter their lives so as to come over to nobleness of conduct. And these last he calls proselytes ('proselytous'), from the fact of their having come over ('proselelythenai') to a new and God-fearing constitution, learning to disregard the fabulous inventions of other nations, and clinging to unalloyed truth.

"Accordingly, having given equal rank and honor to all those who come over, and having granted to them the same favors that were bestowed on the native Jews, he recommends those who are ennobled by truth not only to treat them with respect, but even with especial friendship and excessive benevolence. And is not this a reasonable recommendation?" (Philo Judaeus, On Monarchy, Book I, Chapter VII.)

One definition of Israel is, that they are believers and sons of believers, and thus the children of Abraham: "Resh Lakish said: He who entertains a suspicion against innocent men is bodily afflicted, for it is written, [And Moses … said,] But, behold, they will not believe me; but it was known to the Holy One, blessed be he, that Israel would believe. Said He to him: They are believers, [and] the descendants of believers, whereas thou wilt ultimately disbelieve. They are believers, as it is written, and the people believed; the descendants of believers: and he [Abraham] believed in the Lord." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbath, 97a). Some people think however that belief is optional. The view is held by many today that Israel is primarily a racial category, and only secondarily involves any religious or covenantal dimension, so much so that even unbelief does not cut one off from membership in the community:



  • “The creed is a conditio sine qua non of the Christian Church. To disbelieve its dogmas is to cut oneself loose from membership. Judaism is quite different. The Jew is born into it and cannot extricate himself from it even by the renunciation of his faith, which would but render him an apostate Jew. This condition exists, because the racial community formed, and still forms, the basis of the religious community. It is birth, not confession, that imposes on the Jew the obligation to work and strive for the eternal verities of Israel, for the preservation and propagation of which he has been chosen by the God of history.”

  • (Kaufmann Kohler, Jewish Theology, Kindle location 190-200).



This development cuts the community off from both Scripture and tradition. The racialist definition acknowledges the atheist Jew as a member of the congregation in good standing. This is a far cry from the old days, when the atheist's demise was celebrated not mourned, "An apostate from the Jewish faith was not to be mourned; on the contrary, white dress was to be worn on the occasion of his decease, and other demonstrations of joy to be made." (Alfred Edersheim, Sketches of Jewish Social Life in the Days of Christ, p. 131.) This is a new religion, not the old one.

The stage is set for generalization. So far, so good: we have succeeded in transmuting 'Israel' into a racial category, in consequence of a defeated nation's withdrawal into itself following the vicissitudes of history. Yet most people are not of this ethnicity. How to transmute God's love for 'Israel,' the apple of His eye, into a preference for, say, white Anglo-Saxons? It's easy! Just identify your group as 'Israel.' Thence comes the British Israelitism popularized, though not originated, by Herbert and Garner Ted Armstrong. It hardly needs emphasis that no linguist, no ethnographer, can respond to the thesis that the British ('Brit'+'ish'='man of the covenant,' get it?) are Manasseh, and the inhabitants of the United States are Ephraim, with anything but gales of laughter. Nevertheless the transformation of the Bible into a racialist book is premised on these arbitrary identifications. Some people don't know enough to laugh, so then you quote, "And he blessed them that day, saying, In thee shall Israel bless, saying, God make thee as Ephraim and as Manasseh: and he set Ephraim before Manasseh." (Genesis 48:20). See? The Bible comes right out and says God likes white Anglo-Saxons best! Joseph Smith, the founding 'prophet' of the Latter Day Saints, was of the tribe of Ephraim: "Actually, of course, the house of Israel has been scattered among all nations, and Joseph Smith (through whom the Book of Mormon was revealed) was of the Tribe of Ephraim." (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, p. 311). The atheists listen to this information with sober attention and repeat what they have learned, 'the Bible teaches white racism.' But it's laughable!

God dispossessed the Canaanites, whom He had judged and found wanting owing to their habit of child sacrifice, replacing them in the land with the children of Israel. So what can the Canaanites have been, say the racists, but black, and the children of Israel but white? But there is no archaeological evidence that suggests the children of Israel, whose ancestors had been sojourning in Egypt for hundreds of years and who travelled with a "mixed multitude" of persons who had been resident in Egypt: "And a mixed multitude went up also with them; and flocks, and herds, even very much cattle." (Exodus 12:38), looked particularly different from the prior inhabitants of Canaan. These were related to the present-day inhabitants of Lebanon, whose Punic-speaking ancestors founded colonies, such as Carthage whose great general was Hannibal:

Hannibal

David is likely to have looked altogether different? And they know this how? These are fanciful and arbitrary identifications, plucked out of thin air. It is striking that at the Exodus, the inauguration of the nation of Israel, the people who marched out of Egypt were not racially homogeneous, but rather a "mixed multitude." Israel went down to Egypt as a family, a tribe, but came out a mighty people. Their numbers were augmented. Those who hungered and thirsted for righteousness, those who heard and responded to the beckoning call of the Liberator God, who were of mixed lineage but of one allegiance, made up a part of the nation right from the start. It has never been primarily about race.

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