In a previous blog post, I surveyed the highlights of statements made by presidents of the United States regarding America’s efforts to be a blessing to the Jewish people and the nation of Israel.
Our nation has a rich legacy of support for Israel, for which we should be very thankful. Many have conjectured that this may ultimately be the reason that God has blessed the United States so abundantly over the course of so many years.
This begs the question: What is the source of this centuries-long focus on Israel? What was the foundation that gave rise to this concept of support for Israel, which—despite the winds of political change—has endured consistently throughout our history?
Our historical search for the answer to that question must take us back to the 16th century and the city of Geneva, Switzerland, where English Reformers gathered after fleeing the persecution advanced by Bloody Mary Tudor, who ruled in England from 1553 to 1558. A number of these men (including Miles Coverdale and John Foxe) congregated in the city where John Calvin preached and there—for the first time in history—translated the Bible completely from the original languages into English. The work they produced is called the Geneva Bible.1
But as important as the translation itself was, this Bible was invaluable for another reason: It was truly the original study Bible. Foremost among the array of materials it offered were its annotations regarding the Biblical text.2 In fact, the explanatory notes greatly upset King James I, who later authorized a new English translation that famously bore his name, which was published, of course, in 1611 and ultimately surpassed the Geneva Bible in popularity—even in the New World.3
But how does the Geneva Bible tie back to America’s love for Israel? We must realize that the Geneva Bible was the Bible of both the Pilgrims and the Puritans who came to these lands, beginning with the arrival of the Pilgrims on the Mayflower at Provincetown Harbor in Cape Cod on November 9, 1620, and continuing later with the arrival of the first Puritans in the 1630s.4
The Geneva Bible’s notes on Romans 11:25 and 11:28 jump out as being light years ahead of their time with regard to the future prophesied for the Jewish people. It is amazing to think that these notes could have been written just 43 years after Martin Luther first posted the 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, officially (albeit unwittingly at the time) launching the Reformation.
Those verses, and the Geneva Bible notes regarding them, are as follows:
For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Rom. 11:25).
The blindness of the Jews is neither so universal that the Lord hath no elect in that nation, neither shall it be continual: for there shall be a time wherein they also (as the Prophets have forewarned) shall effectually embrace that which they do now so stubbornly for the most part reject and refuse.5
Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers (Rom. 11:28).
Again, that he may join the Jews and Gentiles together as it were in one body, and especially may teach what duty the Gentiles owe to the Jews, he beateth this into their heads, that the nation of the Jews is not utterly cast off without hope of recovery … . In that, that God respecteth not what they deserve, but what he promised to Abraham.6
In the providence of God, the authors behind these notes in the Geneva Bible summarized two overarching truths regarding God’s Chosen People—namely, that their current state of unbelief is neither complete nor permanent. Rather, as a well-known and much-beloved (to dispensationalists) contemporary study Bible puts it:
Israel’s blindness is partial (Jews are being saved today) and temporary (until they acknowledge Jesus at His second coming).7
While we may not see direct evidence of a belief in the future restoration of Israel taking hold among the Pilgrims,8 we do know that the sentiment behind these particular notes in the Geneva Bible began to have an influence upon the Puritans who followed them.
Dr. William C. Watson, in his groundbreaking book Dispensationalism before Darby, makes these astounding statements to summarize his vast research on this subject:
Most seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century colonial ministers did not see America as “the New Jerusalem” but expected the Jews to return to the biblical Jerusalem in preparation for the last days.9
… New England Puritans understood Israel as the focal point of the future millennial reign.10
Dr. Thomas Ice likewise concludes:
Within the English-speaking world, the most pro-Israel element has been American Christianity, starting with Colonial America and up to our present time. The reason appears to be the fact that America was primarily founded, not just by Christians, but by Protestant Christians who were clearly philo-Semitic – the Puritans.11
As you take time to reflect on how God has blessed you, I encourage you to thank Him for a heritage of understanding the promises that He has made to the nation of Israel—along with a determination to bless the Jewish people—which was built into the very foundation of the United States of America.
Reposted, with permission, from the Friends of Israel Blog.
1 For more information, see “The Geneva Bible, A Bible of Firsts”; <https://www.olivetree.com/blog/geneva-bible-bible-firsts/>; Internet; accessed 13 July 2019. See also Roger Nicole, “The Original Geneva Bible”; https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/the-original-geneva-bible/; Internet; accessed 13 July 2019.
2 Dr. David L. Brown notes: “The Geneva Version quickly became very popular in England. Here is why. It was backed by the great reformers Knox, Calvin, Beza, and others. It was a very handy size. But, the primary reason it was so popular with the people was because it was the first ‘study Bible’ filled with copious [sic] by the Reformers.” The Incomparable Book – The Holy Bible: Examining the History of the English Bible (Oak Creek, WI: David L. Brown, 2000), p. 177.
3 For more information, see “The Geneva Bible and Its Influence on the King James Bible”; < https://founders.org/2011/10/12/the-geneva-bible-and-its-influence-on-th… Internet; accessed 13 July 2019.
4 “The Geneva Bible was the ‘Bible of the Protestant Reformation’, and the Bible of the Puritans and Pilgrims. It was the first Bible taken to America, brought over on the Mayflower. The Geneva Bible is the Bible upon which America was founded.” (“Geneva Bible History”; <http://www.geneva-bible.com/geneva-bible-history.html>; Internet; accessed 13 July 2019.)
5 1599 Geneva Bible note on Romans 11:25; <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+11&version=GNV>; Internet; accessed 12 July 2019.
6 1599 Geneva Bible notes on Romans 11:28; <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+11&version=GNV>; Internet; accessed 12 July 2019.
7 Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Ryrie Study Bible: Expanded Edition (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), p. 1,714 (KJV).
8 Gov. William Bradford’s 1592 edition of the Geneva Bible is said to have “journeyed with him from England to Holland and eventually to Plymouth.” (“About the Pilgrims”; <http://www.pilgrimhallmuseum.org/ap_religion.htm>; Internet; accessed 13 July 2019.
9 William C. Watson, Dispensationalism before Darby: Seventeenth-Century and Eighteenth-Century English Apocalypticism (Silverton, OR: Lampion Press, 2015), p. 203.
10 Ibid., p. 329. See also Watson’s instructive comments about Theodore Beza, John Calvin’s disciple and a leading influence behind the notes in the Geneva Bible, on pp. 14-15 and 47-48.
11 Thomas Ice, The Case for Zionism: Why Christians Should Support Israel (Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Publishing Group, 2017), p. 30.
Paul J. Scharf (M.A., M.Div., Faith Baptist Theological Seminary) is a church ministries representative for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, serving in the midwest. He also assists Whitcomb Ministries and writes for “Answers” Magazine and Regular Baptist Press. For more information on his ministry, visit foi.org/scharf or email firstname.lastname@example.org.