In This Series
Replacement Theology | Replacement Theology Rebuttal | Anti-Semitism
In This Lesson
"Replacement Theology" Defined | What Does the Bible Say?
"Replacement Theology" Defined
Replacement Theology reduced to its simplest form teaches that the Church has replaced Israel regarding the plan, purpose, and promises of God. The term "Replacement Theology" is relatively new and unfamiliar to many people (in some cases, even those who believe in it). Among theologians, the older and more widely used term is "supersessionism". The word "supersession" comes from the Latin supersedeo from which we get the English verb "supersede", which means "to take the place of". So, the noun "supersessionism" has come to mean "the act of replacing one person or thing by another, especially one held to be superior".
Those holding to the doctrine of Supersessionism or Replacement Theology believe the Church supersedes, or replaces, Israel as God's chosen people. Its proponents teach that God has set aside Israel and made the Church the "new Israel" the new and improved people of God.
There are many variations within the broad spectrum of Replacement Theology, but two of the main approaches are these:
- Israel's role as the people of God was completed. This is the kinder and gentler way of stating the basic thesis of Replacement Theology. It says that once the Messiah came 2,000 years ago, Israel's mission was completed. A transition occurred at that point, and the Church took over as the people of God and became the focal point for the outworking of God's plan and purpose in redemption. God is no longer working administratively through ethnic Israel. Some refer to this as "economic supersessionism".
- Israel's place as the people of God was forfeited. These Replacement theologians are more straightforward and actually say that the supposed replacement of Israel was a divine judgment against the nation in the first century for its rejection of the Messiah. This is what some writers have called "punitive supersessionism."
Perhaps Martin Luther articulated this position most eloquently when he wrote: "For such ruthless wrath of God is sufficient evidence that they [i.e., the Jewish people] assuredly have erred and gone astray. Even a child can comprehend this. For one dare not regard God as so cruel that he would punish his own people so long, so terrible, so unmercifully . . . Therefore this work of wrath is proof that the Jews, surely rejected by God, are no longer his people, and neither is he any longer their God"1
Common threads that weave their way through the numerous variations of supersessionism are...
- that God is finished with Israel as a nation; and
- that the promises He made to Israel in the Old Testament have been inherited by the Church. However, most Replacement theologians are reluctant to say that the Church which is largely in apostasy2 today has also inherited the curses and judgments that God pronounced on Israel for her apostasy.
One defender of Replacement Theology writes: "The Jewish nation no longer has a place as the special people of God; that place has been taken by the Christian community which fulfills God's purpose for Israel"3. This is how one evangelical theologian summarized the essence of supersessionism in a paper he presented at the Evangelical Theological Society annual meeting a few years ago: "The issue is whether national Israel as an administrative structure is still in the plan of God"4.
Replacement Theology is closely associated with Reformed (or Covenant) Theology, the brand of theology historically linked to John Calvin (1509-1564) and the Protestant Reformation5. Reformed/Covenant Theology, in turn, is closely associated with Amillennialism, a view in Christian end-time theology that rejects the biblical prophecy of a thousand-year physical reign of Jesus Christ on earth. Amillennialists believe in a spiritualized (rather than literal-historical) interpretation of the prophetic Scriptures. The natural attraction that Replacement Theology and Amillennialism have for each other is understandable because Replacement Theology relies so heavily on a non-literal and allegorical interpretation of the biblical promises to Israel.
Although many of the early Reformers and Puritans including even Calvin himself wrote about the nation of Israel one day being restored by the grace of God and experiencing a national regeneration, that is an increasingly marginalized minority view in Reformed Christianity today which is ironic, since we have seen the amazing rebirth of the nation of Israel, just as the Word of God predicted! And even among those who allow for an end-time work of the Spirit of God among the Jewish people, there is still a reluctance to acknowledge that God is not finished with His people, Israel, as a nation, or to acknowledge the prospect of a future Kingdom on the Earth.
Replacement theology teaches that the many promises made to Israel in the Bible are fulfilled in the Church, not in Israel. They believe the prophecies in Scripture concerning the blessing and restoration of Israel to the Promised Land are "spiritualized" or "symbolized" into promises of God's blessing for the Church. As stated previously, however, Replacement theologians neglect or reject the notion that the Church, which is replete with apostasy and other sins, has also inherited the curses and judgments God pronounced on Israel for her sins.
One needn't look far to see the obvious problems that exist with this view. For instance...
- the continuing existence of the Jewish people over the past 2000 years, despite the many attempts to destroy them; and
- the revival of the modern state of Israel. If Israel has been condemned by God, and there is no future for the Jewish nation, how do we explain why and how Israel reappeared as a nation in the 20th century after not existing for 1900 years?
This doctrinal teaching originated in the early Church. It was and is the foundation from which Christian anti-Semitism has grown and infected the Church for nearly 2,000 years. Those holding to this doctrine insist that the Jewish people have no future, no hope, and no part in God's plan unless they repent, become born again, and become a part of the Church. While this doctrinal view is true for every other nation and group, it is not true for Israel.
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What Does the Bible Say?
It is important to acknowledge here that the Church does "replace" Israel in some areas, such as recognizing the Messiah and His redemptive work. However, it is not biblical to say that God is finished with Israel or that He is punishing her for her rejection of the Messiah.
"I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: 'The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.'" (Romans 11:25-26 NIV)
- The Church and Israel are Different
The New Testament clearly teaches that Israel and the Church are different, not that the Church has somehow "replaced" Israel. The Church is an entirely new creation that came into being on the day of Pentecost, and the Church will continue until it is raptured.
9"...making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will," (Ephesians 1:9-11)
13"But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord." (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17)
- We Are to Love and Honor the Jewish People
11"Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called "the uncircumcision" by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands 12remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father." (Ephesians 2:11-18 emphasis added)
Notice, the Apostle Paul says that "by the blood of Christ" (the Messiah), we Gentiles are "brought near" to Israel and her covenant promises.
"Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!" (Romans 11:11-12 NIV emphasis added)
Notice in the above verse, we are told that God has temporarily partially hardened their hearts [the KJV says a "blindness in part"]. He did this so the message of salvation through God's Messiah would be forced out into the nations. However, Romans 11:26 [cited above] says that a time is coming when "all Israel will be saved."
The Apostle Paul goes on to tell us that the Jews are "loved on the account of the Patriarchs." Romans 11:28
Israel is a People Chosen by God
They were chosen to:
- Hear God's Word and record it [the Bible].
- Be obedient to God's Word and be "a light to the nations."
- Be the human channel for the Messiah.
They fulfilled their calling and brought the Gospel to the world. God promised Abraham in Genesis that "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." Genesis 12:3
God made an everlasting covenant with Israel. That covenant must be fulfilled and completed or He will be proven a liar and His Word, the Bible, will be proven a lie. As theologian Clarence H. Wagner, Jr. states: "If God will not fulfill His promises to Israel, what guarantee do we have that He will fulfill His promises to the Church?"
35"Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar the LORD of hosts is his name: 36'If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.' 37Thus says the LORD: 'If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the LORD.'" (Jeremiah 31:35-37)
The Gifts and Calling of God for Israel are Irrevocable
Of the ±75 references to Israel in the New Testament, none of them refers to the Church [as the Replacement Theology doctrine believes], but to Israel. Try this little experiment: Look up New Testament references that use the word "Israel" or similar words, and replace that with the words "the Church". You'll find that the passages are illogical.
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- The church has no relationship to the curses and blessings for Israel.
- The covenants, promises, and warnings are valid only for Israel.
- Israel has been temporarily set aside in God's program during these past 2000 years of dispersion.
- Israel will be fully restored and redeemed.
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1 "On the Jews and Their Lies", Trans. Martin H. Bertram, in Luther's Works [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971], p. 265.
2 apostasy n. renunciation of a belief or faith, often in favour of opposing beliefs.
3 Bruce Waltke, "Kingdom Promises as Spiritual," in Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Testaments, Ed. John S. Feinberg [Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1987] p. 275.
4 A Future for Israel in Covenant Theology: The Untold Story by R. Todd Mangum, Instructor in Historical and Systematic Theology at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania [November 16, 2000], p. 20.
5 Protestant Reformation n. A religious movement of the 16th century that began as an attempt to reform the Roman Catholic Church and resulted in the creation of Protestant churches.