|Why the Church Has Rejected ``Replacement Theology''|
|by Jared L. Olar|
In the previous installment we examined several marvelous prophecies found in the Hebrew Scriptures. We saw that according to those divinely-inspired utterances the nation of Israel would always exist as long as God's Creation exists, and that Israel would enter into a New Covenant with God. But we also found ourselves confronted by two paradoxes: first, in order to inaugurate the New Covenant, the God of Israel would have to become a mortal human being and die. Second, despite the fact that the New Covenant is a thoroughly Israelite or Jewish covenant, and was never explicitly promised or announced to any Gentiles, we found prophecies that at the inauguration of the New Covenant great numbers of Gentiles would flock to Israel so they could join them in their New Covenant.
To explain these paradoxes, in this installment we will turn to the Christian Scriptures, commonly known as the New Testament-i.e., the New Covenant. By examining the New Covenant in the very process of being unfolded and fulfilled, we will see that everything that the writings of the New Covenant have to say about Israel is in perfect agreement with the writings of the Hebrew Scriptures. But most important for the purposes of this study, we will see that neither the writings of the Old Covenant nor the writings of the New Covenant lend any support to Replacement Theology. In contrast to a theological approach that places great stress upon a suppositious dichotomy between Torah and Gospel, I believe it is of the greatest importance for Christians to understand that the New Covenant is an integral and inseparable part of the Sinaitic Covenant. This we have seen from the prophecies that we examined last time. Christians often make much of how the Sinaitic Covenant is fulfilled by the New Covenant. And that is entirely correct-but ``fulfillment'' of a covenant no more involves its abrogation, abolition, annulment, or obsolescence than filling a cup with water makes the cup unnecessary or dispensable. If that were true, then maybe the Replacement Theologians are correct to teach than God has abrogated and annulled most (if not all) of His promises to Israel. So, before we go any further, we must understand that according to the unanimous testimony of the Old and New Testaments, the New Covenant is a part of the Old Covenant, and the Old Covenant is taken up into the New-and is thereby transformed and remade into something even greater than it was before.
That being made clear at the outset, let us turn our attention to the writings of the New Covenant to see what they have to say about the current and future status of the Chosen People of Israel. Did the replacement of the Old Covenant with the New Covenant involve the replacement of Israel with a non-Israelite Chosen People? What did the Messiah, the Mediator of the New Covenant, have to say about these things?
|``Rather, go to the lost sheep of the House of Israel . . . .''|
Not long after the start of His 31/2 year ministry, the Messiah of Israel chose twelve men and ordained them as His ``apostles'' (Greek apostolos, ``one sent forth,'' i.e., an emissary), so that they could be full participants with Him in His mission of spreading the Gospel of His Kingdom. When Jesus ordained the twelve apostles, He told them:
But some may object that these examples are not relevant to the dispute regarding Replacement Theology because Jesus addressed them to Jewish men who saw the world through ``Old Covenant eyes.'' Supposedly Jesus took into account that His People were ``in bondage'' under the Sinaitic covenant, and tailored His teachings accordingly. In this scenario His instructions to the apostles were in fact temporary in nature, only to be in force until the Old Covenant came to an end at the crucifixion. But this scenario fails to take into account that the teachings of Jesus were compiled years after the Old Covenant had come to an end, collected in documents that were specifically addressed to New Covenant Christians. It is unlikely at best that the four evangelists would tell their Christian readership things about Jesus that had no relevance for the New Covenant People of God. In any case, the twelve apostles did not believe that the termination of the Old Covenant had cancelled or in any way modified Jesus' commandments of Matt. 10. We know this because of what the Apostle Paul said in Gal. 2:7-9.
Of course, there is truth in the assertion that Jesus spoke as an ordinary Jew to His fellow Jews. All Christians should be able to readily accept that Jesus was ``born under the Torah,'' and that ``He came to His own.'' This explains in part His sole focus upon His brothers and sisters of the nation of Israel that we see in the above scriptural passages, though there is more to it than that. But Christians who adhere to Replacement Theology have commonly reasoned that because ``His own received Him not'' and murdered their own Savior, God rejected the Israelites and started over with the Gentiles. Therefore, in their minds it is right that the Church should be a Gentile institution, with little or no interest in Jewishness, nor in the evangelisation of the Jewish people. Granted, there are passages in the four Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles that can be used in support of their scenario (e.g. Acts 13:46; 28:25-28). Fortunately, there are even more passages that clearly contradict this view. For example, in the Acts of the Apostles we find that whenever the Apostle Paul came to a Gentile city, he customarily sought out the Jewish community and preached the Gospel to them first. In fact, in His letter to the Roman church, Paul characterises the Gospel as:
In the previous installment we saw that God chose Israel to be His means of bringing all the peoples of the earth back to Him. The New Covenant was not the abandonment of Israel as God's chosen means of bringing salvation to the Gentiles-rather, it was the equipping of a renewed, reborn Israel, so that they could succeed in the mission that God had originally given them in the days of Moses. That is the real reason that Jesus directed His entire ministry to Israel, and instructed His original apostles to focus their energies upon preaching to the Jews-it was to prepare a faithful remnant of the Chosen People to spread the Kingdom of God over all the earth. Long, long before, Israel started out with the twelve sons of Jacob-under the New Covenant, Israel Reborn would start out with twelve Israelite apostles and about 120 Israelite disciples. At first the Church thrived in its Jewish setting, attracting thousands of converts from Israel. Sadly, it soon became clear that Israel as a body was not receptive to the Gospel. In fact, Jesus Himself warned His disciples that they would not have much success in their efforts to evangelise the Jews (Matt. 10:23). What then? Why did the Jews not accept the Gospel? Why is it that most Jews today not only do not acknowledge their own Messiah, but are not even faithful to their own beliefs and traditions? Are those Christians who adhere to Replacement Theology correct after all? To find out, we must turn to Paul's Letter to the Romans.
|``Has God cast away His People . . . ?''|
Three whole chapters of the Apostle Paul's letter to the Romans (Rom. 9-11) are devoted to a discussion of the rejection of the Gospel by the general body of Israelites. If ever a single section of Scripture could be said to be a conclusive argument against Replacement Theology, these three chapters would be it. For instance, in Rom. 9:3-5 Paul describes the Chosen People of Israel as (emphasis added):
In fact Paul does much more than simply imply that Gentiles must become New Covenant Israelites in order to be saved. In Rom. 11:16-24 he says so very clearly. In that place, Paul likens the conversion of the Gentiles to the grafting of branches into an olive tree. In Paul's analogy, the olive tree is the Chosen People of Israel (cf. Jer. 11:16). Those Israelites who refuse to accept their promised Messiah are removed from the Chosen People (Deut. 18:15, 18-19) the way diseased branches are broken off an olive tree (cf. Jer. 5:10). A consistent interpretation of Paul's analogy leads to the inevitable conclusion that Gentiles can be saved only by becoming members of the nation of Israel. Even more, Paul's analogy is not easily reconciled to Replacement Theology-God did not abandon the Israelite olive tree and start over fresh with wild olive plants. Instead, He pruned His Israelite tree of all the bad branches and then started grafting wild olive branches into His tree. Yet the tree remains an Israelite tree, no matter how many wild olive branches are grafted into it. It works the same way in Judaism: Gentile proselytes to Judaism are lawfully regarded as Jews, despite their genealogy, so Judaism is still Jewish regardless of the number of Jews who have Gentile ancestry. The difference, of course, is found in what it takes to become and to be a Jew or a Christian (though even here there is a great deal held in common between the two religions).
Obviously in Paul's mind God's olive tree is an Israelite tree, not a Gentile one. Throughout this context Paul proclaims in the clearest of terms that God did not replace Israel with the Church. Notice that in Rom. 10, Paul discusses Israel's rejection of the Gospel, after which we find these words:
And yet, sad to say, despite Paul's plain and clear teachings on the subject, most Christians interpreted Israel's rejection of the Gospel-and subsequent divine chastisements-as evidence that God had cast away His People. This departure from biblical truth led them to conclude that the murder of Christ meant that God's unconditional promises to Israel (including the one in Jer. 31:35-37) had been abrogated, and/or were to be interpreted as promises to the Church, the New Israel. In their minds, unbelieving Israel simply had no future. In my studies I have even learned that some Christians went as far as to claim that the general body of Israelites would suffer eternal death at the Second Coming of Christ. Contrast that ugly belief to Paul's words (emphasis added):
|``The New Israel''-It's not just a metaphor!|
One very unfortunate consequence of the false doctrine of God's rejection of Israel is an incomplete and faulty understanding of the true doctrine that the Church is the New Israel. Christians who adhere to Replacement Theology make much of the fact that the Church is the New Israel, and they are able to glean many edifying truths from the Bible by figurative and allegorical interpretations of Old Testament prophecies about Israel. But their belief in the great discontinuity between Old Covenant Israel and New Covenant Israel prevents them from attaining a more complete understanding of those Old Testament prophecies about Israel. Having concluded that Israel's important part in salvation ended with the coming of Christ, they find it necessary to apply a figurative or allegorical hermeneutic to vast portions of the Hebrew Scriptures. In practice, of course, when viewed through lenses colored by Replacement Theology, much of the Old Testament tends to be seen as obsolete or irrelevant-at best having only a figurative application to the Church.
But the truth is that it is no mere metaphor or allegory to say that the Church of God is the New Israel. No, the Church is the Israelite olive tree described by the Prophet Jeremiah and the Apostle Paul. She is Israelite not only in origin, but in fact. Despite the miraculous renewal and transformation that has taken place through the Messiah Jesus, there is great continuity between Old Covenant Israel and New Covenant Israel. That means that we do not need to settle for figurative applications and allegorical reinterpretations of Old Testament prophecies pertaining to Israel. In most cases the prophecies may be taken at face value and still be taken as pointing to the Church.
Consider Jeremiah's New Covenant prophecy as an example. As we saw in the previous installment, Jeremiah quoted God Himself foretelling the day when He would make a New Covenant ``with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah'' (Jer. 31:31). All throughout this context `Israel' and `Judah' are meant to be understood literally, not as allegorical symbols of `the Church.' And history shows that this prophecy was indeed fulfilled literally-when the Incarnate Son of God inaugurated the New Covenant, He did it in Israel's capital city Jerusalem, selecting only Israelites to join the New Israel. Regardless of Israel's failings and faithlessness, God kept the promise that He made with Israel, choosing them not just once at Sinai, but a second time in Zion. In no way could Jeremiah's New Covenant prophecy admit an allegorical interpretation. Really, how could God in reality be talking about making a New Covenant with `the Church' when it is the inauguration of the New Covenant that enabled God to give birth to the Church?
Again, God's promise that Israel would continue to exist until the End of the World (Jer. 31:35-37; 33:25-26) is not an allegorical reference to the Church. God spoke these words to Israel and Judah, and He meant what He said. Jesus explicitly reaffirmed this unbreakable promise in Matt. 24:34-35. That is why Israel still exists today. However, that in no way excludes an application of these prophecies to the Church of God. Jesus' promise that the Gates of Sheol would never prevail against the Church that He would found on the Apostle Peter (Matt. 16:18) is inseparably linked to these promises that God made to His People Israel-but it is not a figurative or allegorical connection. No, the literal interpretation of God's promise to Israel is nothing less than the very foundation of Jesus' promise to the Church.
In other words, God promised His People Israel than they would always exist, and the Church is Israel-literally, not just allegorically. Israel's promises did not pass to the Church because Israel had forfeited the promises (thereby making it necessary for the Church to interpret much of the Old Testament allegorically). Many, many times God clearly told Israel that they collectively could not forfeit the promises (individually it is another matter). Moreover, how can we Christians ever trust God's promises to us if He broke all the promises that He made to Israel? Who could ever be confident that God fulfills His promise to send us His grace and forgive our sins if He would not even keep His promises to Israel? In its very essence Replacement Theology erodes the foundation upon which Christianity is built. No, it is because the Church is organically united to Israel and grew from her that the Church inherited the promises. Remember, God did not shower His blessings on Israel out of favoritism-He'd always intended those blessings to spread from Israel to all other peoples. In the Church, the New Israel, all of Israel's blessings can come to their most beautiful perfection, and all of Israel's promises will have their greatest fulfillment-but the blessings and the promises still belong to Israel.
In case you do not understand what I am saying here, let me make it all clear: Salvation is Israelite (John 4:22). Christianity, the Gospel, Atonement, Redemption, Sacrifice-these are all very, very Jewish things. In fact, the message of Jeremiah the Prophet is that the salvation of the Gentiles actually hinges on the continued existence of Israel . No Israel, no Church. No promises to Israel, no promises to the Church. For what else can we conclude when we find Jeremiah's prophecy of the New Covenant-the very covenant that has brought salvation to the Gentiles-being buttressed and reinforced by the powerful promise that Israel would never die? Also, we should consider that we Gentiles must have our hearts circumcised (Rom. 2:28-29) and must enter into Israel's New Covenant if we hope to be saved. Of course the same goes for Jews-the only difference being that Gentiles receive the divine inheritance as it were by adoption, while Jews are ``the natural branches,'' the natural-born heirs whose hardness of heart will cost them their inheritance unless they repent (Luke 15:25-32).
|How the Church can ``hasten the coming of the Day of God'':|
As Paul said in Romans 11, only Israel's refusal to accept her Messiah prevents her from receiving the literal (not just figurative) fulfillment of the promises that she longs for and continually prays for. I have endeavored to show that the writings of the New Covenant contain the same message about Israel found in the writings of the Old Covenant. In particular, Paul's message in Roman 9-11 meshes perfectly with the things that the holy Spirit told Israel in earlier days. To illustrate this point even further, let us turn once again to the Prophet Isaiah. As will become clear, several centuries before the lifetime of the Apostle Paul, the Prophet Isaiah foretold everything that Paul would eventually describe in Roman 9-11. Even more, Isaiah joins with the Apostles Peter and Paul in providing us with crucial information about the Church's mission: These three servants of the Lord actually explain how we Christians can help to speed the day of Christ's Return. First, let us consider the words of Isaiah.
At the end of the book of Isaiah, God announces:
We Christians earnestly long for the return of our Savior and King Jesus Christ. We cannot know the day and the hour of His Coming (Matt. 24:36), but Jesus has assured us that the Gospel of His Kingdom must first be proclaimed in all the world before the End of the World can come (Matt. 24:14). ``All the world'' means just that-all nations and peoples, including the Hebrews. Shamefully, the Church's mission to the Jews has been a grand failure for most of our history-because Gentile Christians came to deliberately set up barriers that discouraged Jews from even considering the claims of Jesus. Most ridiculous of all, the Gentiles insisted that Jews must become Gentiles if they wanted to believe in their Messiah, just as Jews had once insisted that Gentiles become Jews if they wanted to believe in Messiah. Neither approach is acceptable to God-that sort of thing is in fact the fastest way to be broken off the olive tree of the Israel of God. As I mentioned above, salvation is of the heart, not of the foreskin. Jews can remain Jews, and Gentiles can remain Gentiles-just as long as both of them enter into the New Covenant and become Renewed Israelites.
To explain just how much an affront to Jesus Christ it is for Jews and Gentiles to throw obstacles into each other's paths as they have done, we should consider once again the will of God for the human race. God's whole Plan from the start has been to gather all of His faithful servants together into one holy nation (Eph. 2:11-22). He does not discriminate between Jew and Gentile, and He does not break any of His promises. In His sovereign will and unsearchable wisdom, He banished His beloved People Israel from their own land and let most of them become mingled in with the pagans around them. But we should remember the promises that God uttered in Amos 9:8-12, and again in Jer. 16:14-21. Though God began to scatter Israel among the Gentiles in 721 B.C., so that most of them were cut off from the covenant, a day would come when the dispersed Israelites would be gathered together again and brought back to God and to their land.
In the fourth century Eusebius Pamphilii wrote a treatise called The Preparation of the Gospel, in which he argued that God sent the sinful Israelites out to the Gentiles in order to expose the Gentiles to traces and elements of the True Religion, and also to give every nation on earth a strain of the bloodline of Jacob. In this way God planted seeds all over the world, seeds that sprouted when Christian evangelists came with the Living Waters of Christ's Gospel. But also, as Dr. Scott Hahn has recently suggested, God would thus give every people on earth at least a trace of Hebrew heritage. As God said through His Prophet Amos, ``not the smallest grain shall fall to the ground''-every descendant of Jacob is precious in His sight, even (or I should say especially) those who are no longer aware of their true heritage. According to Jeremiah and Amos, and many other prophets, one of the major reasons God intended to give Israel a New Covenant was to facilitate the restoration of Gentiles of Israelite descent to the People of God. (James the Lord's Brother seems to have understood Amos' prophecy in this way-cf. Acts 15:13-17.) In this light, we Christians, whether Jew or Gentile, must ever be on guard against erecting barriers that prevent our united fellowship with our Lord and God Jesus.
But now we are beginning to witness exhilarating events. Many encouraging things are taking place in the various branches of Christendom. Some Christians have calculated that more Jews have accepted their Messiah in the past three decades than seem to have done so in the previous two millennia. This is very exciting to consider, because according to the Apostles Peter and Paul, Jesus Christ will not-indeed, cannot-return until Israel in general repents and submits itself to its rightful King. That is exactly what we are taught in Acts 3:17-21 and Rom. 11:12, 15.
Seeing that the two greatest Apostles of Jesus Christ tell us these marvelous things, I can only say that we Christians need to repent of some very serious sins. First, we must repent of the centuries and centuries of disobedience, in which the House of Judah and the House of Israel were tyrannically oppressed in the name of Jesus Christ. Thank God that the Church as a whole has been doing just that in this century! The Church's renunciation of the Christ-killer heresy, and of its close cousin Replacement Theology, is an important aspect of that repentance. Then, we must repent that we members of God's Church have not obeyed a non-negotiable instruction from our Lord's own mouth: He told us to go to the lost sheep of the House of Israel and plead with them to accept the One that they pray would be sent to them, the Messiah of the House of David, Jesus the son of Mary. But it is clear that most of us have done nothing, or next to nothing, to reach the Jews with the Gospel. My brothers and sisters, Jesus will never return until we who claim to serve Him fulfill His deepest longing to turn the hearts of His kinsmen to Him. If we ever wish to see the arrival of the New Heavens and New Earth mentioned in Isa. 66:22, we must play our part in the fulfillment of Isa. 66:20. Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us commit ourselves today to the evangelisation of the whole House of Israel. Of old they called down upon themselves the Blood of the Savior-may it now descend upon them a laver of redemption and of life!