The roots of Replacement Theology go back to the early Church and became the seed bed of ‘Christian anti-Semitism.’
What Is Replacement Theology?
In simplicity the belief is that Israel has been replacedbythe Christian Church in the purposes of God. The Church is now the continuation of Israel and the latter is excluded. After Pentecost ‘Israel’, in the Bible, refers only to the Church.
The Jewish people are no longer God’s chosen people and the promises, covenants and blessings ascribed to Israel in the Bible have been taken away from the Jews and given to the Church. The Jews are subject however to the curses found in the Bible.
The Jewish people as a whole have no specific future or hope, nor calling in God’s economy; although individual Jews can be saved.
Development of Replacement Theology in the Early Church
Clearly Jesus is Jewish, and taught that He was not abolishing the things of the past.
“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.” – Matthew 5:17-18
The New Testament shows us that separation between Judaism and Christianity began partly as a result of the widespread acceptance of Christianity by the Gentiles. At the same time, the destruction of the Temple and the move away from Jerusalem, being the centre of the Christian faith, contributed much. (See The Legacy of Hatred, David Rausch, 1984.)
As more Gentiles came in to the church, many read the Bible through a Greek mindset, which it is claimed, resulted in many heresies. Judaism began to be considered as a legal religion under Roman law, while Christianity, a new religion, was illegal.
Clarence H. Wagner, Jr. informs us that,
“The antagonism of the early Christians towards the Jews was reflected in the writings of the early Church Fathers. For example, Justin Martyr (c. AD 160) in speaking to a Jew said: ‘The Scriptures are not yours, but ours.’ Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon (c. AD 177) declared: ‘Jews are disinherited from the grace of God.’ Tertullian (AD 160-230), in his treatise, ‘Against the Jews,’ announced that God had rejected the Jews in favor of the Christians.”
In the early 4th century, Eusebius wrote that the promises of the Hebrew Scriptures were for Christians and not the Jews, and the curses were for the Jews. He argued that the Church was the continuation of the Old Testament and thus superseded Judaism. The young Church declared itself to be the true Israel, or “Israel according to the Spirit,” heir to the divine promises. They found it essential to discredit the “Israel according to the flesh” to prove that God had cast away His people and transferred His love to the Christians.”
With Christianity becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine, laws began to be passed against the Jews and their buildings. Over the next 1,000 years, Church Councils confirmed and added to these restrictions. And Wagner again informs us that,
“So, by the Middle Ages, the ideological arsenal of Christian anti-Semitism was completely established. This was further manifested in a variety of precedent-setting events within the Church, such as Patriarch Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, expelling the Jews and giving their property to a Christian mob. From a social standpoint, the deterioration of the Jewish position in society was only beginning its decline. During this early period, the virulent judeo- phobia was primarily limited to the clergy who were always trying to keep their flocks away from the Jews. However, later, the rank and file, growing middle class would be the main source of anti-Semitic activity.
“The result of these anti-Jewish teachings continued onwards throughout Church history, manifesting itself in such events and actions as the Crusades, the accusation of communion host desecration and blood libel by the Jews, the forced wearing of distinguishing marks to ostracize them, the Inquisition, the displacement of whole Jewish communities by exile or separate ghettoes, the destruction of synagogues and Jewish books, physical persecution and execution, the Pogroms. Ultimately, the seeds of destruction grew to epic proportions, culminating in the Holocaust, which occurred in ‘Christian’ Europe.
“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.”
Verses used to teach Replacement Theology
In Matthew 21:43 and similar verses, Jesus says that the kingdom of God would be taken away from the Jews. However, these verses must be read in context, as Jesus was not talking to the whole race of Israel but specifically to the Pharisees, chief priests, etc.
Romans 2:28-29 is dealing with the fact that whatever we believe it must be from the heart and not just an outward show. Relationship is the key. This has nothing to do with one group replacing another, rather it shows that both are on the same footing.
Romans 11:17-23 talks about the Gentiles being grafted in, to the original olive tree, not replacing it. It shows that the Gentiles are drawing on the same life
Verses such as Galatians 3:29 and Romans 4:13 are used to show that Abraham only had a partial inheritance but the church today has the fullness. However these and similar verses in the New Testament do not exclude Israel but rather include the Gentiles. Gentiles have been brought in to the fulfilment of the promises of God not Israel excluded and replaced.
Other Verses to consider
Ephesians 2:11-18 are central verses to this subject and I believe that they show clearly that replacement theology is not taught within Scripture. They do not just show that the Jews need the Gentiles but equally for fullness the Gentiles need the Jews. Note the following statements that are made in these verses.
* We were excluded from the commonwealth of Israel
* We were strangers to the covenant of promise
* Now Christ’s purpose is to make the two into one
* Now He wants to establish peace
* Access to God is the same for both parties.
Clearly it is talking about a unity of two groups not a take-over by one of them!
Romans 11:11-36 reveals that, indeed for a time, the Jews did stumble in order that the Gentiles could come in. But within the verses there is a clear warning not to be smug about what has happened because God has not yet finished with Israel.
Outcome of this
I will sum up this article by again quoting from Wagner as I do not feel that I can improve on what he says here:
“What Happens When the Church Replaces Israel?
1) The Church becomes arrogant and self-centred.
2) It boasts against the Jews and Israel.
3) It devalues the role of Israel or has no role for Israel at all.
4) These attitudes result in anti-Semitism in word and deed.
5) 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.
6) Many New Testament passages do not make sense when the Jewish people are replaced by the Church.
7) 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.
8) You can lose the Hebraic/Judaic contextualization of the New Testament, which teaches us more about Yeshua and how to become better disciples.
9) The Church loses out on the opportunity to participate in God’s plan and prophecy for the Church, Israel and the world today.
What Happens When the Church Relates to Israel?
1) 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.
2) We can see the consistency of God’s redemptive plan from Genesis to Revelation as an ongoing complementary process, not as disconnected snapshots.
3) We show love and honour for God’s covenant people, not contempt.
4) We value the Old and New Testaments as equally inspired and significant for the Church today.
5) Bible prophecy makes sense for today and offers opportunities for involvement in God’s plan for Israel.
6) 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.”
The Error of Replacement Theology, Clarence H. Wagner, Jr. (**** Please note that we do not agree with all that Wagner says but we believe that he is correct on the issue of the dangers of Replacement Theology to Christians today. Most especially we would affirm our commitment that salvation can only come by grace through faith and that works of the law will never save anyone. ****)