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The Inheritance of Abraham? A report on the ‘promised land’
Ten years ago the General Assembly received the report Theology of Land and Covenant, from the Board of World Mission, Church and Nation Committee and the Panel on Doctrine. This report concluded with encouragement for us to listen more to others, “enriched by new insights through continuing questions that need to be faced”. Since 2003, two new insights have been noted by the General Assembly: in 2007, in the report What Hope for the Middle East? the Church of Scotland responded to a declaration from Church leaders in Jerusalem, and endorsed their criticism of Christian Zionism and encouraged members of the Church of Scotland to reject it, and in 2009 Christians in the Holy Land came together and produced Kairos Palestine: a moment of truth, offered as a word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian Suffering (information at www.kairospalestine.ps).
With the co-operation and support of the World Mission Council, we present this report in 2013 as our latest reflection on the ‘questions that need to be faced’, as the political and humanitarian situation in the Holy Land continues to be a source of pain and concern for us all.
The Bible and the land of Israel
There has been a widespread assumption by many Christians as well as many Jewish people that the Bible supports an essentially Jewish state of Israel. This raises an increasing number of difficulties and current Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians have sharpened this questioning.
This assumption of biblical support is based on views of promises about land in the Hebrew Bible. These views are disputed. The guidance in the Bible, notably the interpretation in the New Testament, provides more help in responding to questions about land and covenant. It also provides insight (discussed later in the report) into how Christians might understand the occupation of Palestinian land by the state of Israel, threats to Middle East peace and security, human rights, and racial intolerance, especially in the forms of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
The phrase “the land of Israel” has a range of understandings amongst the three world faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The city of Jerusalem, which is a holy place for all three religions, is the most contentious religious and political issue.
In general terms there have been three main ways of understanding the promises about land in the Bible:
- A territorial guarantee
- A land held in trust
- A land with a universal mission.
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