Replacement Theology

As defined by a friend at Harvard Divinity School upon request [with my comments in brackets]

"I should mention that I will be able to give only the briefest history of the development of what you call "replacement" theology (which some see as having origins in the NT itself). First, I will give a brief history, making a few side comments here and there. Second, I will offer what some see as the central Scriptures that support this argument. Finally, I will try to make a few concluding comments that put all of this in perspective…

Here it goes:

First let's get some terms straight. There is one term that is used very commonly in scholarly discussions of how early Christians thought Christianity replaced Judaism as God's vehicle of salvation and God's new way of dealing with his people (and through them, the rest of the world). It is called "supersessionism." Let me quote from James Carroll's "Constantine's Sword" (he himself is summarizing the work of someone else). Supersessionism has eight main tenets or theses: 1) revelation in Jesus Christ supersedes the revelation to Israel; [The whole Word of God is all the revelation of Jesus Christ, the Logos, so OT revelation and NT revelation cannot contradict each other or supersede each other-- so point 1 is faulty logic, and I'm basing this on Peter's statement about the Word of God being totally inspired (II Pe. 1:20-21).] 2) the NT fulfills the OT [again, faulty logic, since obviously some prophecies are yet to be fulfilled, i.e. Jesus Christ's 2nd coming.]; 3) the church replaces the Jews as God's people [again, somewhat faulty logic, concerning promises of salvation Christians are God's people, but concerning promises yet to be fulfilled in Judah and Israel, the Jews are still God's people racially.] 4) Judaism is obsolete, its covenant abrogated or cancelled; [Read Jeremiah 31, entire chapter. While the first covenant has been superceded by the new covenant, which right now applies to Christians, understand that God never made a covenant with Judaism--a religious system. God made a covenant with a nation, which over time became two nations, the nation or kingdom of Israel and the nation or kingdom of Judah--a nation or kingdom is composed of a people with a ruling government over it. When God made the 1st covenant with Israel through Moses, it was made with a people that had just become a nation--composed of over three million people. In Jeremiah 31, God explicitly says he will make a new covenant, yet again with these two whole nations, and by extension the whole world as well. So again we see Judah and Israel aren't out of the picture.] 5) post-exilic (that is, after the Babylonian exile until the time of Jesus) Judaism was legalistic [true]; 6) the Jews did not heed the warning of the prophets [true]; 7) the Jews did not understand the prophecies about Jesus [partially true, they understood the 2nd coming prophecies, but not the 1st coming prophecies.] 8) the Jews were Christ killers [we all bear equal responsibility for Jesus Christ's death, and technically the Romans, the Italians, killed Christ, if you want to get really technical about it. This particular tenet of "replacement theology" really made rich soil for anti-Semitism to take root in, which it did]. There you have in succinct fashion what many early Christians believed and what many Christians have believed for much of the last 2000 years. [True, from the time of Origen, who set the tone for these beliefs that were handed to the Greco-Roman churches, which superceded and squashed the Judeo-Christian churches in Asia Minor. Log onto http://www.UNITYINCHRIST.COM/history2/index3.htm to read some good historic articles which show that the early Judeo-Christian church was squashed by the Greco-Roman church which held these "replacement theology" beliefs. Amazingly enough, these "replacement theology" beliefs weren't a part of the early apostolic church at all. Read the evidence for yourself.] That is really the essence of "replacement theology." The basic idea is that the Christian church effectively replaced the Jews as the chosen people of God. "Replacement" became the central idea. Christianity thus took the place of Judaism by claiming to be the "true Israel." Jews were thus regarded as the "false Israel" and told that the NT replaced and transcended the OT [a very false premise, for the Word of God is intended to be taken as a whole package, both Testaments having been inspired by the Living Word of God, the Logos, who is none other than Jesus Christ himself]. This theology had clearly developed by the 2nd century (AD). Thus Justin Martyr (who died in AD 156) stated that all the prophecies and types of the OT are fulfilled in Jesus Christ and his church [that's totally false, the types have been fulfilled, but many of the prophecies are yet to be fulfilled--you can see how truth is being mixed with error here in this "replacement theology"]. He argued that all the outlines of gospel history are predicted in the OT. He also claimed that the destruction of Jerusalem (AD 70) meant that Judaism was condemned by God and that Christianity was vindicated. He and other Christians claimed that because the Jews had rejected Christ they suffered such a terrible tragedy [probably true, but this doesn't stop them from being God's "chosen people", who are awaiting the coming of the Messiah, as well as we Christians are. They're still his physical chosen people, whereas we Christians are his spiritual chosen people.].

Melito, Bishop of Sardis (died around the late 2nd century) was the first "poet of deicide" (that is, the first Christian to accuse the Jews of killing God--Christ), wrote a work called "On the Passover" around AD 170. He stated: "What strange crimes, Israel (he means the Jews), have you committed? You dishonored him that honoured you; you disgraced him that glorified you; you denied him that acknowledged you; you disclaimed him that proclaimed you; you killed him that made you live." Regarding the relationship between Christians and Jews he wrote: The people then was a model by way of preliminary sketch, and the law was the writing of a parable; the gospel is the recounting and fulfillment of the law, and the church is the repository of the reality. The model then was precious before the reality, and the parable was marvelous before the interpretation; that is, the people precious before the church arose, and the law was marvelous before the gospel elucidated. But when the church arose and the gospel took precedence, the model was made void, conceding its power to the reality, and the law was fulfilled, conceding its power to the gospel…just so also the law was fulfilled when the gospel was elucidated, and the people were made void when the church arose." What then would become of Israel? Was there any future for the Jews?

Christians in general did not deny that there was a future for the Jews. For example, the great Augustine believed that the Jews would be converted in mass numbers before the end of the age. Christians generally believed that Jews had suffered and would continue to suffer because they had broken God's covenant with Israel (hence the Babylonian exile) and because they had rejected Christ (and thus the Roman destruction of the temple). The dominant idea was that this meant that there was a general expectation that the Jews would accept Christ as the Messiah. Of course, there was all kinds of speculative ideas about a Jewish Anti-Christ or some Antichrist figure who would deceive the Jews and lead them astray. Some felt that Christ would come and destroy the antichrist and by doing so he would win the Jews over and they would convert in large numbers [evidently some of these early Greco-Roman Christians were reading and believing the OT prophecies in Zechariah 12-14]. Most of Catholic Christianity did not believe that the prophecies of the OT would be literally fulfilled in the Holy Land. Beginning with Origen (died around AD 254), there was a turn away from belief in a literal Millennium on earth for Christians. So it was highly unlikely that Christians would continue to believe that a literal restoration of a Jewish kingdom in Palestine (with Temple worship and sacrifices) would occur sometime in the future. One general trend was that a literal rendering of Scripture and the OT land promises was seen as Jewish and carnal.[But what if a literal rendering of Scripture and OT land promises (and yes, prophecy) is the right way to read the Bible?]

The NT church was seen as hoping for something better than a crass form of materialism (as many Greek influenced Christians held). [So the Greco-Roman churches essentially threw away the Old Testament, which Peter is quoted as saying about "Knowing this first, that no prophesy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (II Peter 1:20-21), for when Peter wrote this, the NT cannon hadn't been put together yet, this letter being written in 67 AD.]

"Replacement" theology made some alterations during the Reformation period. Luther, for example, emphasized that Jesus was a Jew. He began as a stout defender of the Jews (who had suffered enormous persecution at the hands of "Christians"). He rejected a lot of negative stereotypes and harmful characterizations of the Jews. He condemned the way that preachers during Easter week "do nothing else but enormously exaggerate the Jews' misdeeds against Christ and thus embitter the hearts of the faithful against them." He once wrote "If I had been a Jew, I should rather have turned into a pig than become a Christian" (a very graphic view of his conception of Christianity at the time [Greco-Roman Christianity, that is, which is all there was with the exception of some scattered small groups of Sabbatarians (Peter de Waldo and the Waldensians were going full force right now with their translation of the Bible into the vernacular or common language), and somewhat later, the fledgling Reform churches which would spring up from Luther's leadership and teaching]). He preached on the Five Books of Moses, expecting that Jesus, seen fully as a Jew, could finally be embraced by the Jews as the Messiah. When the Jews rejected Luther's preaching and his claim that Christ was the Messiah, he wrote a nasty pamphlet entitled "On the Jews and Their Lies." He advocated burning their synagogues and forbidding them to pray, to give thanks, to praise God, or teach publicly. Though I do not defend Luther, we must keep in mind that Luther wrote this after some period of preaching and he was just as unkind and uncharitable to every group whom he deemed an enemy of the Gospel (whether Anabaptists, Catholics, etc.). [So Martin Luther, because he let his emotions of anger get the best of him, stopped short of reforming all the errors of the Greco-Roman church, and went no further than reforming soteriology, the knowledge of salvation. He never got into a reformation in the area of eschatology, but apparently jumped back into letting "replacement theology" remain a part of the Reformation churches.]

Calvin had this interesting idea that the OT was not that very different from the NT, except in clarity of expression. He believed that the Jews whom God "elected" under the OT were saved by Christ [i.e. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, David, to name a few] and that the OT was not merely a book of legal practices required to be obeyed (they too were saved by Christ). Calvin put a positive emphasis on Law and the purpose of the law in bringing us to salvation (though he felt that the law could not save us). [Correct, the law shows where the sin is, but it can't eliminate it nor does law-keeping wipe away past sins. It is only a spiritual mirror. Calvin seemed to understand this Biblical principle.] I have not been able to find explicit or detailed descriptions of Calvin's view of the Jews in his major work ("Institutes"). But I do know that Calvin had almost no interest in prophecy (thus he rejected the idea of a literal millennium on earth, and I presume that he felt that there was no separate place for the Jews in God's plan (though I am open to correction if someone has read Calvin's commentaries and other works). Calvin's followers in the so-called Reformed position took the following stance (though not all of them agreed on specific details). The church is the new Israel (as one of my NT professors at Gordon Conwell used to say. He is a Congregationalist minister). The calling of saints into the church is continuation of God's plan expressed throughout the OT to call a people to himself. They believe (at least some of them) that the OT prophecies concerning Israel will still be fulfilled in the Millennium by ethnic Jewish people who will believe in Christ as the Messiah and live in the land of Israel as a model nation for all nations to see and learn from. [Obviously, this group of Calvanists were believing the OT prophecies in a literal sense, seeing Zechariah 12-14 for what it says, about the Jews seeing Christ as the one whom they have pierced and recognizing him as Messiah, along with all the other OT prophecies about a restored nation of Israel as a model nation to the world.] Others believe that the church has actually "swallowed up" Israel (or the Jews), and that the only way Jews can become God's people again is simply by converting to Christ. [Partially true, the Jews must come to recognize Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah, the Christ. But the error is in the belief that the church has "swallowed up" Israel. Israel and the Church are two separate entities, each having their own set of promises, relationships and covenants with God. This is something those who embrace "replacement theology" do not understand. Paul in Romans 11 warns Gentiles who are being grafted into the "domestic" olive tree not to look down upon this "domestic" olive tree--which represents the nation of Israel. Israel and the Church are two separate entities. In the end, most of Israel will become a part of the church, but so will most of the Gentiles.] They believe that the only way Jews can become God's people again is simply by converting to Christ. If they do not convert to Christ, then they have no future any more than a non-converted person from China or Africa or any other part of the world has a special future in God's plan. They believe that the only way for them to be grafted into the true Israel (the church) is for them to be converted and accept Christ as the Messiah and the Son of God [which they will in the end--it's prophecied]. These people are mostly amillennialists who do not believe in a literal millennium and who believe that the only major event that awaits us is the return of Christ to judge the wicked, send them to hell, and to grant full eternal life in heaven to the righteous. Thus Christ's return for them is the end of the story. Case closed. No future for Israel. No second or first chance for those who have not heard the gospel. Only the elect, a small remnant who God chose to save, will be in heaven, and the rest will be burning and suffering in hell for all eternity (because, these people argue, they deserve it.). [Wow! Does this sound like the plan a loving God has for the human family he created--an estimated 50 billion who have lived and died over the past 6000 years? Now you can see why I think amillennialism is a very flawed interpretation of Bible prophecy, which twists the very Word of God, and shows God as an unloving, sadistic tyrant over mankind, leaving more to burn in some ever-burning hell-fire forever than he ever manages to save. What's the aim of a universal plan of salvation for mankind if only a few are saved? Didn't Jesus state "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:17), and Peter states (II Pe. 3:9) "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." Boy is this "replacement theology" skewed in the wrong direction--totally un-Biblical.]

What are the Scriptures used to "prove" that the church is the New Israel? I can't quote them all, so I will just cite most of them. Rom. 2:28-29: "For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal." Rom. 4:11-12, 16, 18 (Abraham is not only to be considered the father of the Jewish people in a physical sense, but he is also "the father of all who believe without being circumcised"--implying that a descendant of Abraham is now a spiritual privilege. See also, Rom 9:6-8: "it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants"). See also, Gal. 3:29; Phil. 3:3; Hebrews 8, and Gal. 6:16 (which speaks of God's peace upon the "Israel of God"--the church over against the Judaizers and those who want to keep the law). I could go on, but the basic argument is that God is now working through the church, and the church has inherited the promises made to Abraham's descendants. [The concept here that "replacement theologists" can't seem to grasp, is that God's promise of descendants numbering as the sands of the seashore for Abraham, would also mean that God would bring those descendants into the church at some time, and not leave them outside the plan of salvation through Christ and him alone. This is what Paul points out in Romans 11. And Zechariah 12-14 shows this literally happening at Jesus' return in glory and power.] The church should no longer look merely to physical blessings because they shall inherit eternity and all that entails in God's great universe, and not just some land in a small corner of the globe. [True, good principle here. But to those who want to believe that God isn't interested in that "small corner of the globe", where, might I ask, does God the Father bring his very throne, the New Jerusalem? If you don't know the answer to that question (many Christians don't), read the New Testament chapter of Revelation 21:1-17.]

The discussion of Jewish-Christian relations is so vast today that one is at a loss to know where to begin. Let me say briefly that some claim that anti-Semitism is rooted in the NT (the author I quoted above, James Carroll, makes this claim). [I would amend this to say that anti-Semitism is rooted in the gross misinterpretation of the New Testament, and the Old as well.] There are numerous attempts to find Paul more favorably inclined towards Judaism (so positively inclined that one wonders why he became a Christian). Some have tried to reclaim Jesus' Jewishness (the implicit critique is that Christians have not so recognized this fact and this has lead to much anti-Jewish hostility on the part of Christians [not a bad way of looking at it, but not necessary either.] Some claim that (both Jews and Christians) that a two-covenant theory is possible: that both Christianity and Judaism together prepare the way for the coming Messiah. Vatican II, in light of the Holocaust and a consciousness of the Church's [the Catholic Church's] part in persecution of the Jews in Christian history, stated that it "deplores the hatred, persecutions, and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at any time and from any source." It also said: "We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours [Jews] to suffer." More recently there have been apologies for anti-Semitism in Christian history by both Catholics and Protestants (in light of the vast historical evidence revealing this sordid record of un-Christian actions).

Curtis EvansSources Used:James Carroll "Constantine's Sword"Wayne Grudem "Systematic Theology"D.A. Carson "The Gagging of God"-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

My Views:

As I stated at the beginning of this article defining "replacement theology", my comments are in brackets [ ]. The author is Curtis Evans, a student at Harvard Divinity School. His views and mine are not quite the same, but he wrote a very unbiased article defining "replacement theology". My comments are biased, as you can plainly see. It is my strong belief that "replacement theology" and the gross amillennial misinterpretation of God's Word, both in the Old Testament and New, have created the fertile ground from which anti-Semitism grows. Multiple millions of innocent Jews have died unnecessarily as a direct result of anti-Semitism having fertile soil in which to grow. And "replacement theology" has proved to be a very rich soil in which anti-Semitism has grown. 2000 years of sordid Greco-Roman church history lies there as the evidence of this. While many in these denominations that hold "replacement theology" beliefs have a proper understanding of the gospel of salvation--and thus may actually be born-again Christians--their proper understanding in the area of eschatology, along with holding "replacement theology" beliefs have created the fertile soil from which anti-Semitism can yet even now take root and grow anew.

A View Askew verses Right Interpretation

When taking the Old Testament prophecies literally, and adding them to the New Testament Scriptures, it appears that the surviving Jews in the Israeli nation will be converted at the second coming of the Messiah (Christ), as Zechariah 12 and 13 plainly show. As well, there will be a model nation of Israel, set up by Jesus, with king David as ruler over it, while Jesus is King of the world (Zechariah 14:9). Jesus also made a very New Testament promise that each one of his 12 apostles would rule over one of the 12 tribes of Israel in the restored nation of Israel in the Kingdom of God. These aren't "spiritual" tribes, but racial tribes Jesus was talking about. "Replacement Theology" tries to negate a very promise of Jesus to his 12 apostles. Hmm. Give you something to ponder here? A belief which many who ascribe to "replacement theology" have is that the sacrifices and a Temple could never be re-instituted because Jesus fulfilled all their types by his supreme sacrifice. That is one of their major premises as to why they apply all those New Testament Scriptures in the bias that they do. If Jesus, as the very Logos, or Word of God, inspired the prophets to say he would set those sacrifices up again and build a new Temple, then why in the world are people trying to tell Jesus what he can and can't do? It's like saying, "You can't do that Jesus. Your sacrifice did away with the need." We're human, Jesus is God. Don't presume to tell him what he can't and can do, which he has plainly spelled out in prophecy. Just shut up and wait to see what his purpose for doing all that is--which we'll find out when we meet him.My feelings are that "replacement theology" churches have fallen into a gross error and misinterpretation of Scripture, both Old Testament and New, for reasons I will explain. Those that believe and promote "replacement theology" and "amillennialism" have let NT Scripture be subtractive from OT Scripture--using the NT set of Scriptures to "break" in a sense another set of Scriptures, the OT Scriptures and their meanings. That is an error many churches, theologians and denominations have fallen into. We don't know all the details, say of a temple and Levitical priesthood being set up under the Melchizedek priesthood, but when the two sets of Scriptures are added together (OT & NT) we get the true picture instead of a skewed picture. If we can't understand the picture perfectly, it is because Jesus hasn't spelled it all out yet, and we have to patiently wait till his return to fill in the details of how he intends to blend the two systems together. Jesus didn't tell his apostles everything they wanted to know about concerning the kingdom age. So are some of you theologians more privileged than the apostles of Jesus?--that you think you can fill in details he wouldn't reveal to his own apostles? Well, you've done a horrible job in trying to guess. We must remember that the Millennial Kingdom of God, as prophecied in both Old and New Testaments, is a totally different dispensation--it's not the Old Testament dispensation under Israel (which ended in 31AD, and fully died in 70AD), it's not the church dispensation which has existed from 31AD and will continue to the second coming of Christ (when it too will end), the Millennial Kingdom of God, ruling over earth and mankind will be a totally different dispensation all on its own, where new rules and rulers will be in place with Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords. God hasn’t told us exactly how this new dispensation will all fit together, and we have made the huge mistake of trying to fill in too many gaps in our understanding of what both Old and New Testament Scriptures tell us--gaps purposely left in Scripture. Read the whole chapter of Jeremiah 31 to see what God said about abrogating his new covenant agreement with the physical nations of Israel and Judah in the Millennial Kingdom age. That whole chapter does not fit "replacement theology" at all--as a matter of fact, it tears it apart. God's Word cannot be broken, and one part of Scripture decidedly cannot and should not be used to attempt to break another part of Scripture. It is a highly unsound method of dividing the Word of God to use any set of Scriptures to subtract from the meaning of other Scriptures. Scripture does not abrogate itself. It's not like algebra where, say, the NT Scriptures are assigned positive values (+), and the OT Scriptures are assigned negative values (-), so when the two are "added" together algebraically, the NT Scriptures always cancel out any meaning of the OT Scriptures that might "disagree" with it. That's not sound interpretation at all. Sound interpretation is more like simple addition, where all Scripture has a positive additive value, and their total meaning is gained by adding them together. One other thing to do. Ask God to help you understand, through the Holy Spirit he has placed within you, while using proper methods of interpretation.