By Doug MacLean, Rabbi Loren, Rabbi Glenn and Jerry Weinstein
Even though God has made it clear that Israel is special and Christians should support Israel, many have been taught the opposite – that they don’t need to support Israel. They have been taught that there is no longer anything special about the Jewish people; the fact that most Israelis are descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is irrelevant; Israel is regarded as no different from any other nation.
These attitudes toward Israel and the Jewish people have their roots in what is called Replacement Theology, also known as Supersessionism. This doctrine asserts that God is finished with the Jewish people as a special nation, that the Church is the new Israel and has replaced Israel; and therefore all the promises of restoration and blessing originally given to Israel now apply to the Church and not the Jewish people.
Replacement Theology has become the dominant position within Christianity regarding Israel, and most Christians accept it without ever critically examining it. Churches and pastors who believe in Replacement Theology rarely, if ever, discuss the many promises made by God to restore the Jewish people to their homeland and bring the Jewish people to a great national salvation. The selective exclusion of these prophecies in their preaching, coupled with a general unawareness of Replacement Theology by the average Christian, prevents this flawed teaching from being opposed – and it needs to be opposed.
Replacement Theology Is Based On Bad Interpretation
Replacement Theology is wrong because its method of interpretation is wrong. It depends on a non-literal (allegorical, metaphoric, symbolic) approach to interpreting the Bible. It ignores the Golden Rule of Interpretation: “If the literal sense makes sense, seek no other sense – otherwise you get nonsense.” The literal sense is the preferred sense – unless there is a compelling reason to use a non-literal sense.
Approaching the Bible with a commitment to the Golden Rule of Interpretation is often understood to mean that every word of the Bible is interpreted in a literal way. But that’s not true. Being committed to a literal approach to interpretation does not mean ignoring non-literal uses of language such as figures of speech, allegories, metaphors and parables. A literal approach means that, since words mean something, and since human beings normally communicate using words in a literal way, that is the way we approach interpreting the Bible. We are to take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning, unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, clearly indicate otherwise. This is a common sense and correct approach to using and understanding language and literature, including the Bible.
Using the Golden Rule of Interpretation, it’s evident that “Israel” refers to the people who descend from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who have a special attachment to a land called by that same name. “The Church” is different from Israel. The Church is a community of Messianic Jews and people from the nations whom God has called out from the world. The Golden Rule of Interpretation makes clear that God has not replaced Israel with the Church nor is God finished with the Jewish people. The Lord has a glorious future for that special people, nation and land. His plan is to continue to gather the Jewish people from the nations and bring them to their ancient homeland. He will continue to reveal the Messiah to more and more of them until Israel experiences a great national salvation that will result in tremendous blessing for the world! Replacement Theology, by ignoring the Golden Rule of Interpretation, makes passages like Romans 9-11 (which affirms God’s ongoing commitment to Israel and contains promises of restoration and blessing) impossible to properly understand.
Replacement Theology Has Been Rejected By Prominent Theologians
Replacement Theology has enjoyed majority support throughout much of Church history, yet several of the most influential and gifted theologians of the past and present have understood that God has a continuing plan for the Jewish people, and reject this teaching. Consider this statement from Jonathan Edwards: “Nothing is more certainly foretold than this national conversion of the Jews in Romans 11.” (Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1, Banner of Truth Trust, reprint, 1976, 607). And consider this statement from Charles Spurgeon: “I think we do not attach sufficient importance to the restoration of the Jews. We do not think enough of it. But certainly, if there is anything promised in the Bible, it is this. I imagine that you cannot read the Bible without seeing clearly that there is to be an actual restoration of the children of Israel … For when the Jews are restored, then the fullness of the Gentiles shall be gathered in; and as soon as they return, then Jesus will come upon Mount Zion to reign with his ancients gloriously, and the halcyon days of the Millennium shall then dawn; we shall then know every man to be a brother and a friend; Christ shall rule, with universal sway.” (Charles Spurgeon, The Spurgeon Archive, Sermon No. 28, delivered June 3, 1855, spurgeon.org/sermons/0028.htm, Accessed February 27, 2015 ).
Replacement Theology Attacks The Faithfulness Of God
If God will not fulfill the many literal promises He made to Israel of future restoration and salvation (for example, see Ezekiel 36-48, Isaiah 60-66, Zechariah 12-14), then God is not faithful and the Church can’t rely on Him to keep His promises to the Church.
Replacement Theology Nurtures Arrogance
Replacement Theology encourages the opposite of what the apostle to the nations told Christians from the nations to do – to have a humble, loving attitude toward the Jewish people and understand that God is not finished with Israel and has not replaced Israel with the Church. If some of the natural Jewish branches have been broken off and you wild branches (Christians from the nations) have been grafted in, do not consider yourself to be superior to those Jewish branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you (notice the importance of Israel and being connected to Israel). You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in” … do not be arrogant but tremble … God will graft the Jewish branches back into their own olive tree … all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:17-26). Notice that Paul anticipates the development of Replacement Theology – the claim that the Church has replaced Israel and God is finished with Israel and Israel is no longer important. And Paul rejects Replacement Theology and the arrogant attitude behind it.
Consider this: Rabbi Paul felt the future standing of Israel was so vital that he devoted three entire chapters of Romans (arguably his theological magnum opus) to that very issue, and includes a warning against dismissing Israel or boasting against them. It is as though the great Apostle anticipated the very thing that Replacement Theologians have promoted.
Replacement Theology Encourages Anti-Semitism And Anti-Zionism
Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism are growing around the world. The tiny nation of Israel, surrounded by a sea of anti-Israel sentiment, continues to be in the headlines – and cast in a very controversial light. Ask almost any group of people, “How do you feel about Israel?” and you are sure to get lots of opinions, some very strongly against this special land and people. Replacement Theology contributes to this hostility towards the Jewish people and the nation of Israel. There is little doubt that in the past, Replacement Theology was driven by anti-Semitism and was used as a theological justification for additional anti-Semitism. For extensive documentation of “Christian anti-Semitism” and its horrible consequences, we recommend The Anguish of the Jews by Edward Flannery and Our Hands Are Stained With Blood by Michael Brown. And, undoubtedly some of today’s anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism continues to be supported by Replacement Theology.
Replacement Theology Diminishes The Importance Of Something Important That God Is Doing Today
Not only is the importance of Israel diminished by Replacement Theology, but so is the Messianic Jewish movement. We believe that God is in the process of fulfilling His promises to gather the Jewish people to Israel and save us spiritually, and one of the most significant things God is doing in the world today is revealing to more and more Jewish people that Yeshua is the Messiah. God is using the Messianic Jewish movement to make an impact for the Gospel on the Jewish people and on the Church. But those who embrace Replacement Theology don’t share that perspective, and the Messianic Jewish movement is of little interest to them.
Imagine The Good That Would Come From The Rejection Of Replacement Theology
Imagine what would happen if Replacement Theology were rejected and hundreds of millions of Christians, who were once indifferent or even antagonistic to Israel and the Jewish people, suddenly came to understand God’s plan for Israel and the Jewish people. Imagine them no longer seeing Israel as just another nation, but as a special nation that God was committed to support and bring salvation to, so that Israel will be the center of blessing for the world. Imagine hundreds of millions of Christians becoming passionate about the growth of the Messianic Jewish movement and the salvation of the Jewish people.
Let’s be aware of Replacement Theology (Supersessionism), why it’s wrong, and the harm it causes, and let’s oppose it whenever we can.
For Additional Information:
For additional information, read the articles on “Combating Replacement Theology” on the Shema website:
Here are links to two other good articles:
Jews, Gentiles, & the Goal of Redemptive History, An Exegetical & Theological Analysis of Romans 9-11 by Fred Zaspelcan
Israel and the Church – Understanding Some Theological Options by John Parsons hebrew4christians.com/Articles/Israel/israel.html.