It is a popular doctrine in the Church today that Christianity has superseded Israel as the covenant people of God.
The main argument can be summarised simply: since a New Covenant has come, “[God] makes the first one obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13). Therefore, it is the people of the New Covenant which are now the chosen people of God—no longer the Jewish nation. Jews can be a part of this new covenant people, but only because they believe in Messiah, not because they are Jewish; the Jews and the nation of Israel are no longer relevant.
This doctrine should be rejected by believers, though. It is unbiblical, counter-Biblical, and has been at the centre of a growing, “acceptable” racism within the Church: anti-Semitism.
Replacement theology isn’t found in the Bible.
There is an undeniable tension in the New Testament about the relationship between Israel and the Church. Arguments about whether the Law is applied to Christians play a clear role in the shaping of the early Church, such as whether or not believers need to be circumcised (Romans 2, 1 Corinthians 7, Galatians 5, etc) or whether food is clean or unclean (Acts 10-11, Romans 14).
Nowhere do we read, however, that Israel is irrelevant, let alone replaced as the people of God. If it were the case that Israel was forever cut off from God, one would expect to find that glaringly obvious throughout Scripture. But there is nothing.
The passages that are sometimes used to support the replacement of Israel (e.g. Matthew 21:33-43, Romans 9:8, Galatians 5:3, 1 Peter 2:9) are all very weak at best, and require the suspension of any reasonable literal hermeneutic or (in the case of Matthew 21) completely ignoring the context of the passage.
Replacement theology is a textbook case of eisegesis—projecting a belief that one holds onto a text in such a way as to make the text support one’s belief.
Replacement theology is counter-Biblical.
In truth, the idea of replacement theology (synonymously supercessionism, the Church has succeeded Israel) runs in contradiction to a great deal of the Biblical narrative.
It contradicts the eternal and physical proclamations of the Abrahamic covenant.
Flipping back to Genesis, some basic observations of the covenant in chapter 17 ar damning of replacement theology:
And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:7-8)
The covenant made with Abraham by God is everlasting. It never ends, and that means it cannot be supplanted. If it were, it would no longer be everlasting. And in case we are wont to spiritualize who the people included in the covenant are, the establishment of the covenant is quickly grounded in real, physical land—all the land of Canaan (c.f. Genesis 15).
God never goes back on this promise—He never says “Oops, you’ve gone too far Israel, you’ll never get that land, again!” This promise is still in effect.
It obfuscates clear prophetic promises to David about Israel.
Later, God affirms His promises to David:
And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly,from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. (2 Samuel 7:10-11)
Here, God points us to a time when Israel is physically established in the place He has appointed for them, and they will never again be disturbed and afflicted. This has definitely not happened yet, and for Israel to be spiritualized as the Church, we must also re-imagine what it means to “appoint”, “plant”, and “dwell” in a place—making the proposition effectively meaningless.
Since there is no explicit (or even implicit) reason to propose the replacement of Israel with the Church from Scripture, there is also no reason to introduce the idea in this prophetic statement; a place is a place.
It contradicts the words of Jesus and the Apostles.
So when [the disciples] had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”He said to them, “It is not for you to know timesor seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Here, after all their time spent with Jesus, and many days during which Luke reports that Jesus was “speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3), the disciples are still asking whether Jesus was going to restore the kingdom to Israel there and then. If the church replaces Israel, the disciples didn’t get it, yet.
One would think that this is a perfect opportunity for Jesus to pass on such an important idea as Israel being replaced by the Church. The disciples have asked him a clear, direct question about the restoration of Israel as a nation mere moments before Jesus ascends to the right hand of the Father.
Jesus, instead of correcting them, answers the question. No! Not yet! And don’t worry about it, go out and preach the Gospel to the whole world, then you’ll have time to think about it. This is an affirmation of the theology on which their question is based, that the kingdom will be restored to Israel and that Jesus will do it.
It contradicts the sovereignty of God in unconditionally appointing Israel in Romans 9.
Romans 9:8 is often called upon to argue the supercession of Israel, since it clearly states, “it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise”. But Paul here is not arguing that Israel is negated, he is arguing that just being born into Israel doesn’t mean you are included in Israel—inclusion is through the sovereign determination of God which fulfils God’s promise to Abraham.
Making the argument for the replacement of Israel from Romans 9 is exactly the opposite of the argument the Paul is making; that is, that God chose to fulfil His promise through Israel unconditionally.
It contradicts Romans 11 all over the place.
has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite (Romans 11:1)
There is zero room to worm around with “his people”, here. Paul provides his own identity as an argument—He is both a part of the church and a Jew. He does not stop identifying as a Jew, and elsewhere says, “what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way” (Romans 3:1-2).
did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! (Romans 11:11)
The “they” here refers to Israel from verse seven, which is also the “them” in verses eight and nine. Paul then goes on to argue that Israel’s stumbling—their rejection of Jesus as Messiah—is temporary, and done so that the gospel would be kindled in the Gentiles and Israel would be made jealous (v.11).
If the church has replaced Israel (as it would have at the time Paul was writing), it would be saying that Israel stumbled so that the Gentiles could be included in salvation so that the church would be jealous of not being included in salvation. This is nonsensical, to say the least.
some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. (Romans 11:17-18)
The “branches” here are those of Israel who rejected Jesus as Messiah. Paul warns us not to be arrogant towards them—for, as He argues in verse 23 and 24, they are not beyond hope. They have only to believe, and God will welcome back. Arrogance towards Israel is the very mark of supercessionism, “Israel no longer matters and God has rejected them, only the church matters.”
To adopt replacement theology one must say that:
- When God says everlasting, he doesn’t mean it will last forever—and he doesn’t keep His promises; or at the very least veiled their meaning so heavily that no one in the Bible seems to get it.
- God was being purposefully unclear when He said “I will appoint a place for my people Israel”; He didn’t mean an actual place.
- When Jesus referred to the kingdom of Israel that He would establish sometime in the future, He meant the church that he’d already established in the present.
- Paul was wrong to propose that God sovereignly and unconditionally elected Israel through Jacob, since God rejects Israel as a nation because they rejected Jesus.
- Israel stumbled so that the Gentiles could be included in salvation so that the church would be jealous of not being included in salvation.
- In contradiction to Paul, God has rejected Israel, Israel has fallen, and Israel has been uprooted and replaced with the church, rather than the Gentiles being grafted into Israel.
Replacement theology ferments arrogance and racism towards the Jewish people and the nation of Israel.
Replacement theology has not helped believers to act righteously in a world that itself is mad with hatred towards the chosen people of God.
Instead, it is a stumbling block which has lead historically to a gangrenous splotch on the face of the church, believers turning a blind eye to or even encouraging the persecution of the Jewish people. Augustine referred to the Jews as enemies of the church, and it may be that this influence was the foundation for Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism, which in turn appears to have—with help from the church—been a factor inspiring the anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany in the early 20th century.
This overt racism still flows strong in parts of the Church, and many whom I believe do truly love the Lord and respect the Scriptures have been blinded to the reality which is the mystery of Israel. No matter how zealous we may be for the Lord, there is no justification for hatred and racism against anyone.
More grievous still is it when the Scriptures are used to defame the Jewish people, the very nation of Israel whom the Lord chose for Himself from among the nations.
This isn’t a secondary issue.
Christians who espouse this ideology must, with fear and trembling, consider that they are preaching and teaching a doctrine which contradicts the very plan that God Himself has laid out for His beloved people.
This is a harsh reality, but the church is in the midst of a critical theological, doctrinal, and pastoral crisis on the issue of Israel. Believers are being taught the false doctrine of Supersessionism and hardening their hearts against the purpose of God for Israel, and this issue will—and is—tearing the church in pieces.
One might argue that the mystery of Israel is not a primary issue, that we should focus on the Gospel.
Yes, let’s focus on the Gospel.
Jesus was born a Jewish man in a Jewish land. He perfectly fulfilled the Jewish Law. He preached the Gospel of the Kingdom to the Jew first. He was sacrificed as the paramount fulfillment of Jewish rite, rejected and crucified by His Jewish brethren according to Jewish prophecy, recognized by Jews as Messiah before and after His resurrection. He told his Jewish disciples that He would restore the physical kingdom of Israel, and all Israel will be saved when He marches intoJerusalem after the final suffering of the Jewish people.
Covenant & Controversy: The Great Rage
Finally, in closing, I’d like to recommend a film I have come to love, in a bittersweet way.
A couple of years ago, FAI Studios produced the first film in a five-part series titled Covenant & Controversy. Part 1, The Great Rage, is a raw, sober examination which “assesses [the] historical expressions of Jew-hatred and grapples with the modern progression of this international rage in present-day” (Vimeo).