|Why the Church Has Rejected ``Replacement Theology''|
|by Jared L. Olar|
In looking back over the course of Christian history, I have learned of various beliefs and opinions that have enjoyed a ``quasi-doctrinal''status. These beliefs might linger on for centuries-neither accepted on any sort of an official or permanent basis, nor definitively rejected-but in the passage of time the Church might re-examine such opinions in a new light, and come to see that they are incompatible with the truth of the gospel. One of the most important examples of this phenomenon is the Church's recent repudiation of the ``quasi-doctrines'' of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism. Christian antipathy for Jewishness began in the latter decades of the first century A.D. At first it was just another religious squabble within the Jewish community, but it soon degenerated into centuries of prejudice, bigotry, hereditary animosity, and mutual recriminations. Within this context, Christianity developed several anti-Semitic ``quasi-doctrines,'' including the belief that the Jews are collectively responsible for the death of the Messiah, and therefore cursed by God above all other peoples. Closely allied to these perverted beliefs is an influential theological opinion known as ``Replacement Theology.''
Not all that long ago, this particular opinion was so widespread that it was simply assumed by most Christians to be a fundamental element of God's Truth. These days, however, it is a view that seems to be increasingly restricted (in my experience at least) to Christians who have had direct or indirect contact with the teachings of Martin Luther, one of the most virulently anti-Jewish men ever to live, who developed his theology within a Christian culture that took Replacement Theology for granted. According to this school of thought, as a result of the coming of the Messiah all of God's promises to Israel have been completely fulfilled-and any that have not yet been literally fulfilled have either been abrogated, or else will receive only some sort of allegorical or spiritual fulfillment in reference to the Church rather than to Israel. In its more extreme forms, Replacement Theology veers toward the heresy of Marcionitism ,asserting the obsolescence (if not complete irrelevance) of the Ten Commandments and the Torah that God gave to Israel by the hand of Moses.
In contrast to these sorts of opinions, we should recall that nearly two decades ago (as Professor Robert Wilken mentions on p. 14) Pope John Paul II, when speaking before a Jewish audience, made the remarkable declaration that God has never revoked, and will never revoke, His covenant with Israel. This is a welcome change, and is well nigh astounding in its implications, for it is nothing less than a public repudiation of Replacement Theology. What accounts for this about-face? Has the Church obtained a better understanding of the Scriptures, or are the diehard adherents to Replacement Theology the ones who have been right all along? It is my conviction that the Church has indeed made a change for the better-no, for the best. To explain the reasons for this belief of mine, in this article I would like to turn our attention to the divinely-inspired writings of the Hebrew Prophets, so that we can learn just what the holy Spirit really has to tell us about the past, present,and future role of the Chosen People of Israel.
|``How Odd of God to Choose the Jews''|
When one gives it some thought, it might be puzzling that God would select a particular nation for His very own. Surely the Creator of the entire human race would not play favorites, and yet history records that some 3,500 years ago He singled out Israel to be the Chosen People. Because it is impossible that God would do something like that without some very good reason, we must ascertain just what He was up to back then. The following Scriptures tell us what God's intentions were in choosing Israel to be His People:
But we know Ancient Israel's sad history. They were abysmal failures at being God's representatives and would not keep the promises that they made to Him. Seeing their wickedness, God effectively quarantined Israel from the Gentiles, erecting strict legal and ceremonial barriers lest they infect each other with their worst proclivities (cf. Deut. 12:29-31;23:2-8). Furthermore, the priesthood that God intended for every firstborn Israelite had to be restricted to just one tribe, the Levites(Num. 3:12; 8:5-26), who alone among the Israelites seemed to have the kind of zeal for God and His Law that all Israel would need in order to succeed in their divine mission (Ex. 32:26). Finally the sins of Israel got so sickening that for the sake of His own reputation God had to exile His own People, the very nation who were meant to represent Him and who were to show the Gentiles what God is really like. The twelve tribes of Israel were driven from the land that He had promised would belong to them til the end of time (II Kings 17:5-23; 25:1-26).
Exiled, enslaved, broken by famine and war, and apostates from the Law, the nation of Israel seemed to be on the verge of literal extinction. It looked as though God's Plan would not succeed. If we had lived then, we might have been tempted to emend God's promise to ``in your seed shall all of the nations of the earth not be blessed.'' And as for those words He had said to Isaac, ``I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands ...,'' well, perhaps that should have read, ``I will make your descendants multiply,but later on when they sin against Me I will wipe them off the face of the earth; I will give to your descendants all these lands, until they sin against Me, at which time I will go back on My word and give these lands to the Gentiles.''
|``The Eternal ... will again choose Jerusalem''|
Thankfully, the unfaithfulness of humans cannot keep God from being faithful. He swore an oath that Israel would be a blessing to all nations, and He would make sure that they were a blessing even in spite of themselves. Indeed, despite the fact that Israel sinned so horribly against the God who did nothing but shower His unique blessings upon them, at the lowest point in Israel's history the Eternal God emphatically reaffirmed all of His promises to Israel. For example, the House of Judah to this day still reads the following words every Feast ofTrumpets:
However, adherents to Replacement Theology have asserted that God only promised to preserve the People of Israel until the coming of the Messiah, and that the words of Jer. 31:35-37 are nothing more than hyperbole or exaggeration for effect. In this point of view, with the arrival of the Messiah Israel had served its purpose, and is therefore no longer important in God's sight or a necessary element of God's Plan. Thus, once the New Covenant was established, Israel became obsolete,irrelevant, and no longer of any special interest or importance either to God or to His Servants. Rather, the Church of God, composed almost entirely of Gentiles, is the new Chosen People, having replaced and supplanted Israel and Judah.
Alternately, there have been those who regard ``Israel'' in this prophecy as an allegorical reference to the Church-but there is not the slightest hint of allegory anywhere in this context. Yes, metaphors and figures of speech abound in this prophecy (e.g., writing the Torah on the heart),but figures of speech do not an allegory make. Anyway, it would indeed be cruel for God to send a message to Israel that had all the appearances of an emphatic promise that they would never die out, but which was actually an announcement that they would someday be rejected by God and replaced by a new Chosen People made up almost entirely of Gentiles.
No, I must say that the belief that the New Covenant is a Gentile covenant is in opposition to the express witness of the holy scriptures. The consistent message of the Bible is that God is faithful and keeps all of His promises. He regarded His covenant with Israel as a marriage, and to Him all of Israel's sins were like a wife's adultery against the man who loves her (Jer. 3:1, 20; Ezek. 16 & 23; Hosea 1-3). Yet, amazing though it is, rather than abandoning His covenantal bride Israel(unfaithful though she surely was) and taking up with a different woman-which is what usually happens in such situations in our modern``enlightened'' society, and which is what Replacement Theology in effect claims God did-He declared that He would renew His marriage vows with Israel. He would forgive her unfaithfulness and offer her a New Covenant. And this time their marriage would work.
|Is God a Bigamist?|
It should now be evident that Replacement Theology does not fit verywell with the aboveshown teachings of the Bible. Many Christians have noticed these kinds of difficulties, and have attempted to find a better way to interpret all of the relevant scriptural texts. The solution proposed by the Dispensationalist Tradition attempts to reconcile these contradictions using a modified form of Replacement Theology. In their view, there are currently two Peoples of God, Israel and the Church. Dispensationalists teach that Israel and the Church are two separate Peoples with very different and separate promises from God. As they would explain it, at first God dealt primarily with Israel. However, from the time that the Jews murdered Christ, God has instead been dealing primarily with the Gentiles through His Church. But God has not yet fulfilled all His promises to Israel. In order to make good on His promises, in the Last Days God will once again deal primarily with Israel. First, all Christians on earth will be raptured to heaven, after which Israel will suffer seven years of horrible tribulation to punish them for not believing in Christ. Then Christ will return, and the remaining Jews will repent and accept Jesus as their Messiah. Israel will then enjoy one thousand years of peace and prosperity in their land. During the Millennium (which in Dispensationalist thought is a gift of God meant for Israel on earth, not the Church in heaven), every prophecy and promise pertaining to Israel will be fulfilled to the utmost.
Upon close inspection, we can see that the Dispensationalist version of Replacement Theology very commendably avoids the error of claiming that Israel has been wholly rejected and replaced. Instead, Israel's rejection is merely temporary, in the nature of a penance for the duration of the Church Age. Unfortunately there is a major drawback to this theory: nowhere in Scripture do we find any reference to God having two separate Peoples with very different and separate promises from God. In the imagery of the Prophets, that would present God as a bigamist. No, the One True God has only one wife-there is only one People of God. On that score, the Dispensationalist model is simply unworkable. But as I said above, neither did God divorce His wife and marry a different woman. To understand what the Bible really has to say about this issue, let us turn once more to Jeremiah's New Covenant prophecy.
|``I will remember My covenant with you ....''|
Notice very carefully that Jeremiah's New Covenant prophecy is to be made with the House of Israel and the House of Judah. God says nothing here about making a New Covenant ``with Israelites and Gentiles,'' and certainly He says nothing about making a New Covenant that would exclude Israel. As a matter of fact, there is not a single reference anywhere in the Scriptures to God promising to make a covenant with Gentiles. Every single prophecy of the New Covenant is addressed exclusively to Israel or Judah, never to Gentiles (e.g. Isa. 59:20-21; 55:1-5; Jer. 32:37-41;Ezek. 16:60-63; 34:25-31; 36:24-36). The New Covenant-the terms of which promise righteousness, godliness, and eternal salvation to the People of God-is one of the divine promises given specifically to Israel. Yet we have seen that God made Israel His Covenant People so that everyone on earth-Israelites and Gentiles together-could enjoy His blessings. How exactly did God propose to bring that about?
The answer is found in two of the New Covenant prophecies cited above: First, Jeremiah's contemporary Ezekiel made some truly astounding statements in the sixteenth chapter of his book. In that context, God compares the sins of the House of Judah (Jerusalem) to those sins that had been committed by their kinsmen the House of Israel (Samaria) and by the long-dead people of Gentile Sodom (vv. 44-50)-God refers to Jerusalem, Samaria, and Sodom as three sisters. Though Israel and Sodom had sinned grievously, in comparison to Judah those two peoples looked righteous (v. 51-52). Therefore Judah would have to be carried away into captivity, just as Israel and Sodom had previously suffered divine chastisement. And yet, despite their sinfulness and the enormity of the punishments that God visited upon Israel, Sodom, and Judah, He affirmed that someday all three peoples would ``return to their former estate.'' How would that happen? The answer is found in Ezek. 16:60-63, where God says:
Under the terms of the Sinaitic Covenant, Gentiles could become``proselytes''-they could voluntarily come under Israel's Covenant and become Israelites. But here God says that Sodom would join Judah and Israel in a new and everlasting covenant, and that it is according to the terms of this new covenant-not the Sinaitic Covenant-that the Sodomites would become ``daughters'' of God's Bride Jerusalem. This prophecy is simply astounding, because it foretells a time when Gentiles-even Gentiles who have already died-would enter into a covenantal relationship with God side-by-side with the twelve tribes of Israel. Imagine what Ezekiel's original audience must have thought when they heard these words. Quite understandably, Israelites normally viewed Gentiles as little more than immoral, unclean idolaters. But God said that someday the Sodomites, a Gentile people who were infamous for their immorality and uncleanness, would join Israel in the New Covenant.
These remarkable prophecies are paralleled by an announcement given nearly a century before the days of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. At that time, Isaiah told his fellow Jews that if they would only repent of their sins,God would ``make an everlasting covenant'' with them (Isa. 55:3). Of supreme importance is the fact that this covenant would be grounded upon``the sure mercies of David'' (vv.3-4), which other translations render as``the love that I owe David.'' This is a reference to the unconditional promises that God had given to King David and his dynasty (II Sam.7:12-16; Psa. 86:28). In other words, the ``everlasting covenant'' that God wished to make with His Chosen People was based upon the Messianic Promise that someday the royal Son of David would bring everlasting righteousness, justice, and peace to Israel.
But what has that got to do with the Gentiles? Read the very next verseof Isaiah's prophecy, and it will become clear:
God knew this would be hard for Israel to accept, so He reminded them that ``My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways'' (Isa.55:8). God desired to bring salvation not only to His Chosen People, but to every nation on earth. Remember, that was the reason He chose Israel in the first place-so He could deliver not just the twelve tribes of Israel, but all peoples of the earth. God takes up this theme once again in Isa. 56:1-8, where He invites Gentiles to keep the Sabbath day and to worship in His Temple alongside His Beloved People Israel. Isa. 56:8 in particular asserts once more that when God intervenes in human history to regather His scattered People Israel, He will also gather Gentiles, who would swell the numbers of the Chosen People.
Some two centuries later God thought it was important that the House of Judah be reminded of this very Plan of Salvation, so He sent this message to them by His servant Zechariah:
|``My covenant I will not break....''|
But all of this raises a troubling question. The Bible teaches that when God makes a covenant, it is unbreakable and eternal. The reason God's covenants can never be abrogated is that He is the almighty,immortal, and unchangeable Eternal God. The weak, mortal, fickle human parties who enter into His covenants invariably fail to keep up their ends of the agreements, but God has no such limitations, and always keeps His word. Remember also that God's covenant with Israel was like a marriage: ``for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as the both of you shall live.'' Seeing that these things are so, how can the Sinaitic Covenant ever be replaced by a New Covenant? Yes, Israel broke the covenant and offended their Divine Husband in the worst ways imaginable, but God declared that none of that mattered to Him. True, He had to ``divorce'' Israel and send her out of His Presence, but the Bible teaches that divorce is of itself incapable of dissolving a marriage in God's eyes (Matt. 5:31-32; Mark 10:2-12; Rom. 7:2-3). As long as both of the parties in a valid marriage covenant are still living, the marriage remains binding.
Jeremiah the Prophet announced that God would ``re-marry'' His People Israel, and enter into a New Covenant with them. But such could never happen as long as the first Covenant were still in force-and it would remain in force until either God or Israel died. We are faced with a very difficult problem: God promised Israel that she would never die, as long as the Laws of Physics continue to operate. Therefore we find the immortal Eternal God permanently bound to immortal Israel. That in itself is not a bad thing-for God has made abundantly clear that He desires with all His heart to be permanently bound to His People. But the Almighty God said that His marriage to Israel that was consummated at Mount Sinai would someday end, after which He would offer Israel a new,better marriage covenant.
God is faithful. He always keeps His promises and fulfills Hiscovenantal duties. But there is only one way He could fulfill both His promise that Israel would never die and His promise to re-marry Israel ina New Covenant: God would have to die.
That is exactly what God said would happen. Read it for yourself in Zech. 11:10-13, where God announces that He would do something dramatic that would ``break'' (in the sense of ``dissolve,'' not ``violate'') His covenant with the families of Israel. Ironically, to fulfill His covenantal promises to Israel, He had to ``break'' His covenant with them. Notice that this covenant-breaking involves God Himself being sold for thirty pieces of silver. The Church has understood from the very start of Her Mission that this is a prophecy of the betrayal of the Messiah by the Apostle Judas Iscariot, who was bribed for exactly thirty pieces of silver (Matt. 26:14-16; 27:3-10). As we read in Psa. 45:1-7, the Messiah of Israel is in fact none other than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-incarnate as a human being by King David's royal daughter Mary! Through the death of Jesus the Messiah on the cross, the God who had entered into a binding marriage covenant with Israel was loosed from that covenant.
To an unbelieving eye, it might look as if God had painted Himself into a corner. To be freed from His covenant with Israel, who He had promised would never die, He Himself had to become a mortal man and die. How then could He offer a new marriage covenant to His People? To the believing eye, the answer is clear to see: by the resurrection of God Incarnate on the third day, the Messiah was able to confirm the New Covenant with Israel. True to the promise that He had uttered through His prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, God entered into a new marriage covenant with His Chosen People Israel (Matt. 26:28; Acts 2:1-47).
Next time we will turn our attention to the writings of Israel's New Covenant (commonly and misleadingly known as the New Testament), so that we may understand how the New Covenant is not only completely compatible with, but actually inseparably tied to, the Sinaitic Covenant.
|To be continued ....|
|Part Two of this article|