The Gospel and the Land Promise

+ Larger Font | - Smaller Font

The Creation Concept


What is the role of the promised land in the gospel?

The metaphor of the land

The land promise in the New Covenant

Was the land promise abandoned?

Where is the land promise in the New Testament?

Does the church inherit Israel’s land promise?

Did Jesus reinterpret the land promise?

Armageddon, Jehosaphat, and Gehenna

Valleys in Prophecy

Mountains, fall on us!

Mountains as promises

Isaiah's threshing sledge

Some problems in Covenant Theology

On the continuity of the land promises

The land promise and the 70 weeks

Is the land in Ezekiel 38-39 a metaphor?

Metaphors of unbelief in Ezekiel

The river of water from the mouth of the serpent

Paul and the land promise in W. D. Davies

The earth helped the woman

Ye are come to mount Sion

What the promised land means

The wells of salvation

The land promise in Hebrews 3:6-4:11

On the thousand years of Revelation 20

The promised land: shadow vs. reality

Faith and the land promise

Faith can move mountains

Strange things happen to mountains

Observations on the prophecy of Joel

The land promise for all nations

Mountains of Refuge

Jesus and the land promise

Gehenna and the land promise

Changes in the promised land

The Great Light

The exodus in prophecy

Mountains in prophecy [pdf]

Paul and the land promise in W. D. Davies

In Ephesians 2:14, Paul mentions the middle wall of partition, a wall in the court of the temple in Jerusalem that was about 5 feet high, built of marble, and beautifully decorated. Its purpose was to mark off the area of the temple at Jerusalem, beyond which no Gentile was allowed to enter.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul taught that this barrier has been broken down, and as the context shows, he was referring to the church as the temple where that was the case. In the church, and in Christ, there is no barrier separating Jew and Gentile; both have access to the things promised to the saints, which are spiritual in nature.

Image of temple inscription

Inscription from Herod's Temple warning Gentiles not to enter the inner court of the temple on pain of death

An inscription from one of the pillars on the wall from the Jerusalem temple of Paul’s day was discovered in 1871. It reads: [1]


This wall, and Paul’s teaching about it, became the focus of attention when a mob of enraged Jews attacked Paul in the temple, and accused him of bringing Trophimus the Ephesian past the barrier and into the sacred area enclosed by the wall, so profaning the temple, as related in Acts 21:27-30.

W.D. Davies pointed out that though Paul refers to the promises that God gave to Abraham to confirm the truth of the gospel, and to establish the fact that Gentiles who trust in Christ are included, he had nothing to say about the land promise, which is a prominent component in the promises, in the account in Genesis. Davies wrote: [2]

For Paul the promise did not so much confirm status as require faith, a faith that provided not security in privileges of birth but trust in what seemed to offer no security. But it is not this aspect of the Pauline revolution that concerns us directly, although it is implied or is a corollary to that which does. It is this. Paul ignores completely the territorial aspect of the promise. The land is not within his purview. Why?

Davies tried to support his claim that Paul ignored the land promises by appealing to Ephesians 2:14, where Paul said the middle wall of partition has been removed, referring to the spiritual temple of the church. However, this argument by Davies seems spurious. Davies avoided any discussion of the heavenly Jerusalem and the heavenly Mount Zion in his book, but a careful investigation of that teaching would have discredited his notion that Paul omits to mention the land promises. The prophets said that Mount Zion and Jerusalem would be raised up, exalted above the hills, [Isaiah 2:1-3]  so in the New Testament, the city of Jerusalem is located in heaven. It represents the promised land, as does Mount Zion, to which believers have come. Paul referred to “the Jerusalem which is above” in Galatians 4:26. This implies the land upon which Jerusalem stands, which represents the promised land, is also raised up.

Jerusalem, and Mount Zion, in particular, were raised up. This is shown in Zechariah 14:10, where the land round about the city becomes a plain. Hebrews 11:16 says of the saints, “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” The “better country” is the heavenly “land.”

Davies, I suggest, was mistaken when he claimed Paul completely ignored the land. Its borders remain intact; the breaking down of the inner wall of partition in the temple had no effect on the boundaries of the promised land. Davies wrote: [3]

The suggestion seems to have been made that the Judaizers who harassed Paul in the Galatian churches were Zealots, in which case the question of the land would have occupied him. But even if the Judaizers were not zealots it is likely that they were “territorially” conscious. The view that the Judaizers were Gentiles and, therefore, unlikely to be concerned with the land, we have elsewhere rejected. In Galatians we can be fairly certain that Paul did not merely ignore the terriitorial aspect of the promise for political reasons: his silence points not merely to the absence of a conscious concern with it, but to his deliberate rejection of it. His interpretation of the promise is a-territorial.

And the Apostle’s silence on the land is in keeping with the role he ascribes in Galatians and Romans to the Law. The Law–the guide for life and especially, as we saw in Part I, the condition for peaceful life in the land–Paul interprets as having been an intervention between the promise to Abraham and its fulfilment in Christ. Its role had been a particularized one, that is, directed only to Israel, which had thus been set apart from other peoples, but only in order to bring Israel to Christ, and that for the sake of all peoples. But even the particular role of the Law had been purely provisional (Gal. 3:19ff). Now, in the coming of Christ, the promise had been fulfilled and the Law was no longer necessary (Gal. 3:10-14, 23-26). The children of the promise had achieved maturity and entered into their inheritance (Gal. 4:17). The preparatory, particularized time of the Law had now given place to the universalism of grace manifested in the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham “in Christ” (Gal. 3:15-18; Rom. 4:16). With the coming of Christ the wall of separation between Israel and the Gentiles was removed. This wall, usually interpreted of “the Law,” or of “the veil of the temple,” in the passage in Ephes. 2:11-22, which here, whether written by him or by a member of his school or not, brings Paul’s thought to its full expression, we may also interpret implicitly to include the geographic separation between those in the land and those outside the land. Because the logic of Paul’s understanding of Abraham and his personalization of the fulfilment of the promise “in Christ” demanded the deterritorializing of the promise. Salvation was not now bound to the Jewish people centered in the land and living according to the Law: it was “located” not in a place, but in persons in whom grace and faith had their writ. By personalizing the promise “in Christ” Paul universalized it. For Paul, Christ had gathered up the promise into the singularity of his own person. In this way, “the territory” promised was transformed into and fulfilled by the life “in Christ.” All this is not made explicit, because Paul did not directly apply himself to the question of the land, but it is implied. In the Christological logic of Paul, the land, like the Law, particular and provisional, had become irrelevant.

In Paul’s theology, the Mosaic legislation no longer had any power over believers who are baptized into Christ’s death. Paul argued that the law of Moses given 430 years after the covenant with Abraham was confirmed, would not make the promises that were included in the covenant invalid.

Galatians 3:17
And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

Similarly, the believer becoming “dead to the law” would not make the land promises in the covenant invalid; they would remain in effect. Davies was mistaken when he said “the land, like the Law, particular and provisional, had become irrelevant.” Nothing Paul taught supports that conclusion.

The land in the promise to Abraham was symbolic of spiritual and heavenly things. When Abraham was called out of his homeland to dwell in the promised land, God was revealing a new religion to Abraham and his seed, that would be rooted in the land of promise, as if that was a new Eden. The story of the deliverance of Lot, when Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, and Israel’s exodus from Egypt, are similar. Egypt typified bondage, and the present worldly society. The promised land was a place where many revelations from God were given, and revelations given elsewhere, were often about the promised land. Examples of this can be found in the prophecies of Ezekiel and Daniel. Paul did not suggest that the land had become irrelevant. On the contrary, he said the saints wrestle “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” [Ephesians 6:12] The territory for which they struggle is the truth. That, I think, is the significance of the statement in Revelation 12:8, referring to the dragon and his angels, “neither was their place found any more in heaven.”

Jesus promised that the Spirit will lead his saints into “all truth.” I suggest, the land in the promise to Abraham represents truth. In Revelation 12:15, the flood from the serpent’s mouth is swallowed up by the land. This could allude to the promised land, that the woman who flees to the wilderness aspires to enter. The flood is the great flood of confused, flawed interpretations, and false teachings, that threatens the church! Only the truth could swallow up this sort of information flood, that is spewed forth from the mouth of the serpent.


1. James Orr, ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. 1915. “Definition for ‘PARTITION, THE MIDDLE WALL OF’”.

2. W. D. Davies. The Gospel and the Land: Early Christianity and Jewish Territorial Doctrine. U. of California Press. 1974. p. 178.

3. Ibid., p. 178-179

Copyright © 2011 by Douglas E. Cox
All Rights Reserved.