Why Do You Refer to Israel as Palestine?

By Wayne Jackson

Why do you refer to Israel as Palestine (land of the Phillistines)? Should we not call the land by its biblical name, rather than by a name referencing its pagan dwellers?

The fact is, there is no exclusive biblical name for that tiny territory (about the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined) that lies between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Here are the facts relative to this matter:

(1) The region was called the “land of Canaan” (Genesis 10:15) because it became the traditional home of the Canaanites (descendants of Noah’s youngest son [see Genesis 9:18]). The Canaanites were a very pagan people at the time of Israel’s invasion of the land.

(2) The land was also designated as the “land of Israel” (Matthew 2:20) because it was the region promised to the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel), which land they were to possess following their sojourn in Egypt. However, that territorial promise actually involved a region much greater than modern Israel (cf. Genesis 15:12-21; 1 Kings 4:21).

(3) The region was also designated as the “land of Jehovah” (Deuteronomy 30:20) and the “land of promise” (Hebrews 11:9). Zechariah called it the “holy land” (2:12).

The territory belonged ultimately to the sovereign God who owns the entire earth (Psalm 24:1), but he promised it to the seed of Abraham, and it was holy in the sense that it was set apart to occupy a special place in the unfolding of the plan of redemption. It is even referred to as “your land, O Immanuel” (Isaiah 8:8).

We have discussed the providential selection of Canaan in preparation of the Messiah’s coming more fully in our book, Background Bible Study.

(4) The land was also referred to as “Palestina” (Exodus 15:14, KJV) or, in the later translations, more correctly, “Philistia.”

The earliest use of the term “Palestine” apparently was in the history of Herodotus, who referred to “Palestine Syria” on several occasions (The Histories i.105; ii.106). Josephus said that the Greeks called the area from Gaza to Egypt “Palestine” (Antiquities of the Jews 1.6.2). In his day (ca. A.D. 348-420), Jerome spoke of “the land of Judea, which is now called Palestine” (In Ezechiel 37:17).

The use of the term “Palestine” for that region has become more popular since the days of World War I.

(5) Here is the important point: the land was given by God to Israel provisionally. That is, it would remain theirs only so long as they remained faithful to the Lord (see Joshua 21:43-45; 23:14-16).

Of course, as every serious Bible student should know, the right to that territory was forfeited—completely forfeited—twenty centuries ago. Israel’s culminating act of rebellion, the crucifixion of their own Messiah, was the final “filling up” of that measure of wickedness that characterized their fathers (see Matthew 23:29ff).

That land no longer belongs to Israel by divine right. The plain fact of the matter is this: God’s favor today is restricted to a spiritual nation comprised of all people of any ethnic background who have been born into Christ’s kingdom (John 3:3-5).

Today’s real “Israel” is the kingdom of Christ (Matthew 21:43; Romans 2:28-29; Galatians 6:16; 1 Peter 2:9).

(For further study, see God and the Nation of Israel.)

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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.