Perhaps you have heard
of the term Replacement Theology. However, if you look it up in a dictionary of
Church history, you will not find it listed as a systematic study. Rather, it is
a doctrinal teaching that originated in the early Church. It became the fertile
soil from which Christian anti-Semitism grew and has infected the Church for
nearly 1,900 years.
What Is Replacement
Replacement Theology was
introduced to the Church shortly after Gentile leadership took over from Jewish
leadership. What are its premises?
Israel (the Jewish people and the land) has been replaced by the
Christian Church in the purposes of God, or, more precisely, the Church is the
historic continuation of Israel to the exclusion of the former.
The Jewish people are now no longer a "chosen people." In fact, they are
no different from any other group, such as the English, Spanish, or Africans.
Apart from repentance, the new birth, and incorporation into the Church,
the Jewish people have no future, no hope, and no calling in the plan of God.
The same is true for every other nation and group.
Since Pentecost of Acts 2, the term "Israel," as found in the Bible, now
refers to the Church.
The promises, covenants and blessings ascribed to Israel in the Bible
have been taken away from the Jews and given to the Church, which has superseded
them. However, the Jews are subject to the curses found in the Bible, as a
result of their rejection of Christ.
How Do Replacement
Theologians Argue Their Case? They Say:
To be a son of Abraham is to have faith in Jesus Christ. For them,
Galatians 3:29 shows that sonship to Abraham is seen only in spiritual, not
national terms: "And if you be Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and
heirs according to the promise."
While this is a wonderful inclusionary promise for Gentiles, this verse does not
exclude the Jewish people from their original covenant, promise and blessing as
the natural seed of Abraham. This verse simply joins us Gentile Christians to
what God had already started with Israel.
The promise of the land of Canaan to Abraham was only a "starter." The
real Promised Land is the whole world. They use Romans 4:13 to claim it will be
the Church that inherits the world, not Israel. "For the promise that he
should be the heir of the world was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the
law, but through the righteousness of faith."
Where does this verse exclude Abraham and His natural prodigy, the Jews? It
simply says that through the law, they would not inherit the world, but this
would be acquired through faith. This is also true of the Church.
The nation of Israel was only the seed of the future Church, which would
arise and incorporate people of all nations (Mal. 1:11): "For from the rising
of the sun, even unto the going down of the same, My Name shall be great among
the nations, and in every place, incense shall be offered to My Name, and a pure
offering for My Name shall be great among the nations, says the Lord of Hosts."
This is great, and shows that the Jewish people and Israel fulfilled one of
their callings to be "a light to the nations," so that God's Word has gone
around the world. It does not suggest God's dealing with Israel was negated
because His Name spread around the world.
Jesus taught that the Jews would lose their spiritual privileges, and be
replaced by another people (Matt. 21:43): "Therefore I am saying to you, 'The
kingdom of God will be taken from
you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits of it.'"
In this passage, Jesus was talking about the priests and Pharisees, who failed
as leaders of the people. This passage is not talking about the Jewish people or
nation of Israel. See Teaching Letter #770008, "Did God Break His Covenant With
A true Jew is anyone born of the Spirit, whether he is racially Gentile
or Jewish (Rom. 2:28-29): "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither
is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; But he is a Jew who is one
inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit and not in the
letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God."
This argument does not support the notion that the Church replaced Israel.
Rather, it simply reinforces what had been said throughout the Hebrew Scriptures
[the Old Testament], and it certainly qualifies the spiritual qualifications for
Jews or anyone who professes to be a follower of the God of Israel.
Paul shows that the Church is really the same "olive tree" as was Israel,
and the Church is now the tree. Therefore, to distinguish between Israel and the
Church is, strictly speaking, false. Indeed, people of Jewish origin need to be
grafted back into the Church (Rom 11:17-23).
This claim is the most outrageous because this
passage clearly shows that we Gentiles are the "wild olive branches," who get
our life from being grafted into the olive tree. The tree represents the
covenants, promises and hopes of Israel (Eph. 2:12), rooted in the Messiah and
fed by the sap, which represents the Holy Spirit, giving life to the Jews (the
"natural branches") and Gentile alike. We Gentiles are told to remember that the
olive tree holds us up and NOT to be arrogant or boast against the "natural
branches" because they can be grafted in again. The olive tree is NOT the
Church. We are simply grafted into God's plan that preceded us for over 2,000
All the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament, unless they were
historically fulfilled before the coming of Jesus Christ, are now the property
of the Christian Church. These promises should not be interpreted literally or
carnally, but spiritually and symbolically, so that references to Israel,
Jerusalem, Zion and the Temple, when they are prophetic, really refer to the
Church (II Cor. 1:20). "For all the promises of God in Him (Jesus) are Yea,
and in Him, Amen, unto the glory of God by us." Therefore, they teach that
the New Testament needs to be taught figuratively, not literally.
Later, in this Teaching Letter, we will look at the fact that the New Testament
references to Israel clearly pertain to Israel, not the Church. Therefore, no
promise to Israel and the Jewish people in the Bible is figurative, nor can they
be relegated to the Church alone. The promises and covenants are literal, many
of them are everlasting, and we Christians can participate in them as part of
our rebirth, not in that we took them over to the exclusion of Israel. The New
Testament speaks of the Church's relationship to Israel and her covenants as
being "grafted in" (Rom. 11:17), "brought near" (Eph. 2:13), "Abraham's
offspring (by faith)" (Rom. 4:16), and "partakers" (Rom. 15:27), NOT as usurpers
of the covenant and a replacer of physical Israel. We Gentile Christians joined
into what God had been doing in Israel, and God did not break His covenant
promises with Israel (Rom. 11:29).
How Did The Position Of
The Early Church Fathers Affect The Church?
Let us look at a brief history of the first four centuries of Christianity,
which established a "legacy of hatred" towards the Jewish people, which was
against the clear teaching of the New Testament. In the first century AD, the
church was well-connected to its Jewish roots, and Jesus did not intend for it
to be any other way. After all, Jesus is Jewish and the basis of His teaching is
consistent with the Hebrew Scriptures. In Matthew 5:17-18 He states: "Do not
think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to
abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth
disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any
means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." Before the
First Jewish Revolt in AD 66, Christianity was basically a sect of Judaism, as
were the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. Separation between Judaism and
Christianity began as a result of religious and social differences. There were
several contributing factors:
1) the Roman intrusion into
Judea, and the widespread acceptance of Christianity by the Gentiles,
complicated the history of Jewish Christianity;
2) the Roman wars against
the Jews not only destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem, but also resulted in
Jerusalem's relinquishing her position as a center of Christian faith in the
Roman world; and,
3) the rapid acceptance of
Christianity among the Gentiles led to an early conflict between the Church and
Synagogue. Paul's missionary journeys brought the Christian faith to the Gentile
world, and as their numbers grew, so did their influence, which ultimately
disconnected Christianity from its Jewish roots.
Many Gentile Christians
interpreted the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem as a sign that God had
abandoned Judaism, and that He had provided the Gentiles freedom to develop
their own Christian theology in a setting free from Jerusalem's influence. Could
it be He was showing us that Temple worship was no longer necessary as His Holy
Spirit now resides in us (I Cor. 6:19), not in the Holy of Holies?
After the Second Jewish
Revolt (AD 133-135) put down by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, theological and
political power moved from Jewish Christian leaders to centers of Gentile
Christian leadership such as Alexandria, Rome, and Antioch. It is important to
understand this change, because it influenced the early Church Fathers to make
anti-Jewish statements as Christianity began to disconnect itself from its
As the Church spread
far and wide within the Roman Empire, and its membership grew increasingly
non-Jewish, Greek and Roman thought began to creep in and completely change the
orientation of Biblical interpretation through a Greek mindset, rather than a
Jewish or Hebraic mindset. This would later result in many heresies, some of
which the Church is still practicing today.
Had the Church
understood the clear message of being grafted into the Olive Tree from the
beginning, then the sad legacy of anti-Semitic hatred from the Church may have
been avoided. The error of Replacement Theology is like a cancer in the Church
that has not only caused it to violate God's Word concerning the Jewish people
and Israel, but it made us into instruments of hate, not love in God's Name.
Is the New Testament
anti-Semitic? Was it Intended That the Church Treat the Jewish People with
While the New Testament
has been used by Gentile anti-Semites, even within the Church, the writers of
the New Testament were Jewish, and therefore their arguments, even critical
ones, were from the vantage point of being an intra-communal debate, not
inter-communal accusation. Even where the criticism is harsh, it is directed
towards a particular group or sect of Jews because of their practices, which
needed correcting. For example, even though Yeshua spoke harshly to the
Pharisees, He nevertheless said of them, "The teachers of the law and the
Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell
you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach"
(Matt: 23:2-3). He was distressed that they were "missing the mark" in their
self-righteousness, which is something all of us need to be careful of doing.
The clear teaching of the
New Testament is that the Church was and is to love and honor the Jewish people.
In Ephesians 2:11-18, we are told that "by the blood of Messiah," we
Gentiles are "made near" to the commonwealth of Israel, the covenants,
promises and hopes given to Israel. In Romans 11:11-12, 25, we are told that
"blindness in part" has come to the Jews so that the message would be forced
out into the nations. Nevertheless, we are told that a time would come when
"all Israel would be saved"
(v. 26), because the gifts and callings of God towards Israel and the Jewish
people were given without repentance (v. 29). God's relationship with Israel and
the Jewish people is everlasting.
We Gentile Christians
are told that the Jews are "beloved for the sake of the Patriarchs"
(Romans 11:28). They are a chosen people who fulfilled their calling and brought
the Gospel to the world. They were chosen to:
Be obedient to God's Word and demonstrate to the
world as "a light to the nations."
Hear God's Word and record it - the Bible.
Be the human channel for the Messiah.
The Jewish people have
fulfilled their role. The promise to the world through Abraham was that, "in
you will all the nations on the earth be blessed" (Genesis 12:3). They were
to be a light unto the nations and, while they made mistakes as we all do, they
did demonstrate the power of God on earth, they did hear God's Word and record
it so that we have the Bible, and they were the human channel for the Messiah,
who was born, ministered, died, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven and will
return to Jerusalem, Israel, in a day yet to come.
God made an everlasting
covenant between the land of Israel and the Jewish people that must be fulfilled
and completed or His Word, the Bible, will be proven a lie, which it is not. God
will never forget or annul His ancient people. If God will not fulfil His
promises to Israel, what guarantee do we have that He will fulfil His promises
to the Church? (See Jeremiah 31:35-37).
Are Jews and Israel in
the New Testament?
Do They Still Have a Covenant with God?
ABSOLUTELY. The Bible is
clear on this matter.
The Jews are Israelites, not Gentiles (Romans
To Israel still belong the sonship, the glory,
the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship and the promises (Romans 9:4).
The gifts and calling of God for Israel are
irrevocable (Romans 11:29).
There are 77 references to Israel in the NT and
none of them refer to the Church. Try replacing the words, "the Church," where
Israel is mentioned and the passage is rendered unreadable and silly, e.g., Rom.
10:1, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they
might be saved." If you put "the Church" where Israel is mentioned, then it is
redundant. The Church is the body of saved believers, so how could Paul's prayer
be for the Church to be saved?
Psalm 105 has a seven-fold affirmation of God's
promises of Canaan to Abraham. This is an everlasting promise, as was Genesis
Jeremiah 31:35-37 speaks of the everlasting
nature of God's promises to and for Israel, the Jewish people, which is as sure
as the sun that shines by day and the moon and stars that glow in the night.
The end-time prophecies, which speak of the
return of the House of Jacob to their land (Israel) and its restoration, have
overwhelmingly been fulfilled in Israel and the Jewish people in the past 120
The Gospel and Yeshua came "to the Jews
first, then the Greek" (Romans 2:9,10; Matt:10:5-7;15:24). There is a
distinction in roles between the two. Galatians 3:28 says: "There is neither
Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female;
for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This is speaking of everyone's
standing before God as equals, because we are all sinners saved by God's grace
and the atoning work on the Cross. Nevertheless, our roles here on earth are
definitely distinct; e.g., men and women, mothers and fathers, husbands and
wives, etc. all have distinct roles to play. Likewise, Jews and Gentiles have
distinct roles to play.
What is the Role of the
"On this rock I will build
My Church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it"
(Matthew 16:18). The Church is built on the testimony and understanding of
Peter, who is Jewish. Ephesians 2:11-14 indicates that Israel and the Jews (we)
were chosen, but Gentiles (you) were also included.
The Church is related to
Israel and partakers of the covenants, promises, and hopes, but we have not been
called to usurp them. Our relationship is as "grafted in" (Rom. 11:17);
"brought near" (Eph 2:13); "Abraham's offspring" (by faith) (Rom.
4:16); "heirs" to Abraham's promise as adopted sons (Gal. 3:29) and
"partakers" (Rom 15:27).
To the world, the Church is called to preach the
Gospel to all nations and make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20); to love the Lord our
God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and to love our neighbour as
ourselves (Mk. 12:30-31).
To the Jewish people, we are called to show
God's love "for the sake of the Patriarchs" (Rom. 11:28), for without
them we would not have had God's Word or our Saviour who was a Jew from Israel.
We are to show God's mercy (Rom. 11:31). We are to give our material gifts to
help them (Rom. 15:27). We are to pray for them and for Israel (Ps. 122:6). We
are to be watchman on the walls to protect them (Isa. 62:6,7). We are to help
with the aliyah (immigration) to Israel and the building up of Zion (Isa.
60:9-11; Jer. 16:14-16; Isa. 49:22-23).
According to Romans 11, we are two distinct
groups, both grafted into the same tree, which are the covenants and promises
given to Israel; grounded in the same root, the Messiah; drinking of the same
sap, God's Holy Spirit. We do not hold up the tree, but the tree us, and we are
forbidden from boasting against or being arrogant to God's covenant people the
Jews (Rom. 11:17-18).
What Happens When the
Church Replaces Israel?
The Church becomes arrogant and self-centered.
It boasts against the Jews and Israel.
It devalues the role of Israel or has no role
for Israel at all.
These attitudes result in anti-Semitism in word
Without a place for Israel and the Jewish people
today, you cannot explain the Bible prophecies, especially the very specific
ones being fulfilled in Israel today.
Many New Testament passages do not make sense
when the Jewish people are replaced by the Church.
You can lose the significance of the Hebrew
Scriptures, the Old Testament, for today. Many Christians boast of being a New
Testament (NT) Christian or a NT Church as in the Book of Acts. However, the
Bible of the early Church was not the New Testament, which did not get codified
until the 4th century, but rather the Hebrew Scriptures.
You can lose the Hebraic/Judaic
contextualization of the New Testament, which teaches us more about Yeshua and
how to become better disciples.
The Church loses out on the opportunity to
participate in God's plan and prophecy for the Church, Israel and the world
What Happens When the
Church Relates to Israel?
The Church takes its proper role in God's
redemptive plan for the world, appreciating God's ongoing covenant relationship
and love for Israel and the Jewish people.
We can see the consistency of God's redemptive
plan from Genesis to Revelation as an ongoing complementary process, not as
We show love and honor for God's covenant
people, not contempt.
We value the Old and New Testaments as equally
inspired and significant for the Church today.
Bible prophecy makes sense for today and offers
opportunities for involvement in God's plan for Israel.
We become better disciples of Yeshua as we are
able to appreciate the Hebraic/Judaic roots that fill in the definitions,
concepts, words and events in the New Testament that are otherwise obscured.
Why? Many were not explained by the Jewish writers of the New Testament, because
they did not feel the need to fill in all the details that were already
explained in the Old Testament.
Had the Church
understood this very clear message from the beginning, then the sad legacy of
anti-Semitic hatred from the Church may have been avoided. The error of
Replacement Theology is like a cancer in the Church that has not only caused it
to violate God's Word concerning the Jewish people and Israel, but it made us
into instruments of hate, not love in God's Name. Yet, it is not too late to
change our ways and rightly relate to the Jewish people and Israel today.
Through Bridges for Peace you can read, study and learn more, and also give to
demonstrate God's exhortation to us to bless His Covenant People, whom He still
loves. Not only do we need to learn and do for ourselves, but we need to teach
others so as to counteract the historical error that has been fostered in the
Church for nearly 2,000 years.
Thank God, He is a God of
mercy, redemption and second chances.
By: Clarence H. Wagner, Jr.