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Balfour Declaration at 100 Years

by Dale Jorgenson

(It will be helpful to read the article in this edition from Dec. 1917 by Bro. Patmont:

‘Finding the Lost Sheep of Israel’ prior to reading this article.)


Thus says the Lord God, I will even gather you from the people, and assemble ye out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.  (Ezekiel 11:17)

The December 1917 issue of the Word and Work, which was at the time under the editorship of R H. Boll, carried a historic story about Palestine and the future home of Israel.  Louis R.  Patmont, a minister engaged in numerous aspects of evangelizing activity, commented on the current news in an article entitled “Finding the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel:”

Recent press dispatches announcing the rapid progress of the Allied armies

In Palestine, now only twelve miles distant from the city of Jerusalem, have

wakened great interest in this important front among contending powers, as well

as among open-minded students of prophecy.  The conquest of Jerusalem may

become the most important turning point in the history of the world.[i]

Patmont’s timing was right on.  British General Allenby finally entered the city and took possession of it against the Turkish army on December 6, 1917.  The Ottoman Empire had taken over Jerusalem in1517, and the Turks had maintained at least nominal possession of the area since that time.  Turkey was fighting on the side of the Axis (with Germany and Austria-Hungary) in the midst of World War I, and the battle in Palestine was one part of the larger war going on in Europe.

Approximately one month before Allenby entered Jerusalem, however, occurred a political event in London which was intended to prepare the ground for the future of the city after the victory over the Turkish government.  The Balfour Declaration,  sometimes called the Israeli Magna Carta by some members of the government of the state of Israel, was issued in a letter sent by Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to a distinguished Jewish representative, Lord Walter Rothschild November 2, 1917.[ii]  Rothschild and Balfour were both friends of Chaim Weizmann,  Zionist leader who was highly influential in convincing leaders of the British government that a homeland was desperately needed for the Jewish people.[iii]  The text of the Declaration contains 67 words in a single sentence:

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine

of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to

facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing

shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-

Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by

Jews in any other country.

The ambiguity of the Declaration, both in respect to the majority population of Palestine at the time and to the nature of the “national home for the Jewish people” has been  a source of antagonism and often of violence ever since the original issue of the document.  Although the concept was received peaceably by Emir Faisal, who represented the Arab forces in World  War I, by 1920, political changes and the modest immigration of European Jews into Palestine had reversed the positive  approach of most Arab leaders. From that point to the present, the ambiguities of the Balfour letter have surfaced in the active opposition of most of the Arabic  and Islamic world.  In 1917 even many British Jews who had been happily assimilated into British society and who had little interest in setting up a Jewish state made their voices heard.  As Jewish immigration became heavier during the 1930’s and especially after the anti-Jewish stance of Nazi Germany, the protests from the Arab population became more violent and dangerous to the Jewish population.[iv]

The Allied conference held at San Remo, Italy, in April 1920, gave a mandate to Great Britain to administer the Palestinian territory which had formerly been held by the Turks.  The British Mandate was confirmed by the newly-established League of Nations in 1922, and was in effect until 1948.[v]

The men who most directly gave their political authority to the Declaration are interesting as to the considerations that drove them.  Arthur James Balfour was born in 1830 under comfortable circumstances in Scotland.  Educated at Eton and at Cambridge University, he majored in philosophy, and was said to have been torn between philosophic and religious studies on the one hand and the political life he actually lived on the other.  He did spend more than fifty years in British politics, including a stint in the Foreign Office at the beginning of the Boer War in Africa.  Before that war ended, he was elected Prime Minister and served until 1905. He continued to remain as leader of the Conservative Party until 1911.  During the years until 1915 he seems to have reverted in a major way back to his preferred love of philosophy and religion.  In April and May of 1914 he was invited to give the Gifford Lectures at Glasgow University, at which time he presented ten lectures on the subject, Theism and Humanism.  The “substance of the lectures” was compiled in a book by that name in  1915.[vi]  C. S. Lewis once  reported that Balfour’s book was one of the ten books which had most influenced his own intellectual-spiritual development.

Balfour was brought back into the government in 1915 when he succeeded Winston Churchill as First lord of the Admiralty.  After a year, at least partly because of dissatisfaction over the conduct of the war against the Axis, David Lloyd George of the Liberal Party was called to be Prime Minister.   George called on Arthur Balfour, still a member of the Conservatives, to serve as Foreign Secretary.  It was while he was serving in that position, and in agreement with David Lloyd George, that Balfour wrote the letter to Rothschild containing the Balfour Declaration November 2, 1917.

The motivations which drove Balfour and George to issue the Declaration were clearly varied.  One involved the British desire to bring the Jews of Russia and the United States into a strong position of support for the Allies..  Another was the ambition of Britain to extend her hegemony through Asia from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and to frustrate the military-political designs of the Ottoman Turks in regard to the Palestinian area.  The United States entered the war during April before the November, 1917 Declaration, but both the Declaration and the USA coming into the battle against the Axis may have been results, at least partially, of the international Zionist Movement which was strong in both Britain and America.[vii]

Another factor which seems to have affected both Balfour and Lloyd George may well have been related to their biblically-based beliefs in premillennial  dispensationalism.  Balfour was raised in a milieu of the Reformed faith in Scotland, and seems to have held firm to that commitment throughout his political life, including the time of the Gifford Lectures at Glasgow.  Stephen Sizer has written, “Like Lloyd George, Balfour had been brought up in an evangelical home and was sympathetic to Zionism because of dispensational teaching.  He regarded history as ‘an instrument for carrying out Divine  purpose.’”[viii]

  1. Nelson Darby (1800-1882), sometimes dubbed “the father of modern dispensationalism,” had deeply influenced evangelicals in Britain since the 1830’s when his works began to be widely published. He taught that the prophetic Scriptures contain Divine promises to the Jewish people, a factor which may very well have been one of many reasons Arthur James Balfour was moved to actively push in the Cabinet for support for a “Jewish homeland.”

David Lloyd George (1863-1945), after his father’s early death, was raised in Wales by his mother and an uncle who was active in the Church of Christ.[ix]    As a youth, George was deeply involved in the activities of that church, was baptized, and even spoke publically, a discipline which has been credited with helping develop the oratorical skill he later demonstrated in political life.   Although he seems to have weakened in his early Christian commitments sometime in his late teens, he is thought to have also been a dispensationalist by many students of his biography.  Sizer again considers this among the motivations which impelled him to work with Balfour and Weizmann to issue the Balfour Declaration:  “Like many Christian evangelicals in America today, David Lloyd George was a premillennial dispensationist…”[x]

In 1947, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine between Jews and Arabs.  During March, 1948 President Harry Truman reluctantly met with Chaim Weizmann, the Zionist who had so deeply influenced Balfour and David Lloyd George thirty years earlier.  On May 14, the British announced that their mandate would expire.  Late in the morning on that day, David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of the state of Israel, announced the formation of a new government.  Against the strong recommendations of several cabinet members including Secretary of State George Marshall, President Truman announced that “The United States recognizes the provisional government as the de facto authority of the State of Israel.”  While the Balfour Declaration had confronted violence during the years of its existence, the declaration of a State of Israel generated a war the next day with five Arab countries,  Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.


On December 6, 2017, President Donald Trump announced his intention to move the United States embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, thus recognizing the ancient city as the legitimate capitol of Israel.  The response in the United Nations General Assembly was to condemn the United States for this action, with a vote of 138 to 9, with 35 abstentions.

On November 2, the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, English Prime Minister Theresa May and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met in London for a celebratory dinner to observe the centennial of that document.  Called on by Palestinians and opponents of the State of Israel in Britain and around the world to disavow the  historic statement,  Ms. May stood proudly and staunchly for the Declaration:

“We are proud of the role that we played in the creation of the State of

Israel and we will certainly mark the centenary with pride.”

She added that “There is much more work to do,” a classic understatement, as after its first hundred years the Balfour Declaration still raises violent disagreement as to the proper disposition of the area usually called Palestine.  But for the people in Israel, and many who see the century’s shift toward recognition of the Jewish State as the beginning of the events which are predicted by the prophets, there are still lots of reasons for thanksgiving for the work of Arthur James Balfour, David Lloyd George, Chaim Weizmann, and not least, President Harry Truman.


Dr. Dale Jorgenson is a retired college professor both in Bible and in Music.

[i] Archived editions of the Word and Work  (including the December 1917 issue) are available on line.  Larry Miles,  Co-Editor of the on-line magazine, has entered all the  historic issues which have become available.

[ii] Michael Freund, “Fundamentally Freund:  Balfour and the Jewish Magna Carta,” Jerusalem Post,  December 29, 2017.

[iii] Weizmann became the first president of the nation of Israel, from 1949 until 1952.

[iv] “Conflictiing Jewish and Arab Responses to the Balfour Declaraton,” Israel and Judaism Studies, the Education Website of the NSW Jewish Board.

[v] “British Mandate for Palestine,” Wikopedia.                                

[vi] “Substance,” because as Balfour explained, the lectures were not read but given ex tempore from notes.

A reprint of the book has been published by the Inkling Press.

[vii] Numerous websites discuss this pro and con, most of them critical of “Zionism.”

[viii] Stephen Sizer, “The Road to Balfour,” The History of Christian Zionism,  No. 4, 2012.  Sizer, an Anglican priest, has been under criticism and discipline by his church for what has been seen as extreme antii-Zionist expressions.

[ix] Several biographies suggest he was a Baptist, confusing his “Campbellite” background with the Baptist Church and culture.  This is not surprising when one remembers that Thomas and Alexander Campbell tried to live as members of a Baptist fellowship until the mid or late 1820’s, and that Alexander Campbell’s first journal was titled

The Christian Baptist (1823- 1830).

[x] Sizer.

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