For the past 150 years, the evangelical church has given great emphasis to God’s promises to the nation of Israel. Christians were those who rejoiced the loudest when Israel became a nation on May 14, 1948. Evangelical Christians understood that God would be faithful to these irrevocable promises to Israel. As the ever-faithful God, He has bound Himself to His Word! He will not forsake His people. The apostle Paul reminds us, “I say then, hath God cast away His people? God forbid” (Rom. 11:1).
However, in recent years, more and more Christian leaders are beginning to turn their backs on Israel. Christian radio preacher Hank Hanegraaff argues in his 2006 book Apocalypse Code that Israel has no future in the plan of God. Reformed writer Keith Mathison in his 2010 book Post-Millennialism: Eschatology of Hope, denies that God will fulfill His promises to Israel. In a recent sermon on Romans chapter eleven, prominent Calvinistic Bible teacher John Piper stated:
The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the Land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel…the promises cannot be demanded by anyone just because he is Jewish…Being born Jewish does not make one an heir of the promise—neither the promise of the Land nor any other promise.1
Christian leaders, such as the late R. C. Sproul, John Piper, and others, argue that because Israel has been unfaithful to God, these Old Testament promises are now given to Christians. This doctrine is called Replacement Theology or “Supercessionism” by academics. Replacement theology is the view that the church has permanently replaced or superseded Israel as the people of God. The church will inherit all these Old Testament promises. In recent years, replacement theology has gained more and more popularity among evangelical Christians. Throughout history, it has been the fuel that has energized violent anti-Semitism, Eastern European pogroms, the Holocaust, and disdain for the modern state of Israel.
Definition and Description
Replacement theology teaches that God has rescinded all His promises to Israel and has bestowed these promises on the Church. Bible teacher and author Dr. Renald Showers explains:
Replacement theology is a theological view of the world that claims God is forever finished with Israel as a nation. Therefore, God’s promises in the Abrahamic Covenant to give the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the land of Canaan as an eternal inheritance are no longer in effect with national Israel.2
According to this view, God is finished with Israel and is working only with the church of God. Replacement leaders teach that the church of Jesus Christ replaces racial, national Israel and becomes God’s sole focus for the rest of biblical time. Israel has no future in the plan of God. All the blessings of Israel in the Old and New Testaments have become the blessings of the church for the rest of time. The Church inherits all the blessings, while Israel is meant to endure only the curses.
The Rise of Replacement Theology
The New Testament Church began during the first century in the decade between A.D. 30 and 40. It was first centered in Jerusalem and, initially, was predominantly Jewish. Many of these early Jewish believers had little desire to turn their backs on Judaism. They saw Christianity as the fulfillment, not the enemy, of the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They expected that all Jews would embrace Jesus of Nazareth as the true Messiah, as they had done. Sadly however, the Jews in Israel would reject Christ and in time, take up arms to severely persecute the early Christians. This persecution forced these Christians to scatter to nearby cities and villages. As a result, many Samaritans and Gentiles were reached with the gospel. These Gentile believers did not view the Old Testament promises to Israel with the same passion as the early Jewish believers. These Gentile Christians began to teach that because the Jewish people, by and large, had rejected God, God had rejected them, and the church now had become the chosen people. They claimed that God had permanently ended His unique relationship with Israel and had replaced it with the Church.
By the second century, replacement theology had become entrenched in the minds of many Christian leaders. Although the church leaders at this time were predominantly pre-millennial in their understanding of future things, they embraced the idea of replacement theology. Around A.D. 160, early Christian apologist Justin Martyr (A.D. 100-165) was the first to write that the Christian church was the true spiritual Israel. In a work called Dialogue of Justin Martyr with Trypho a Jew, he explained that Christians are the true Israelite race and that the “seed of Jacob,” when properly understood, referred to Christians. Justin’s views laid the groundwork for the growing belief that the church had replaced Israel. By the end of the third century, replacement teaching became anchored in most of the churches in Europe and the Middle East.
Today, non-evangelical churches have embraced replace-ment theology. Roman Catholic churches since the time of Augustine have rigidly held to this view, along with Lutheran, Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, and most Reformed and Calvinistic denominations, and the Emerging Church movement. Fortunately, for the last 150 years, dispensational and evangelical Bible churches have vigorously resisted the inroads of replacement theology.
Replacement Theology and Anti-Semitism
Replacement theology has had a devastating effect on the Jewish people, as well as on many important biblical doctrines. From its earliest days to the present time, replacement theology has been a catalyst for violence and anti-Semitic attitudes in the church. Replacement Christians, since the third century, have been active in persecuting the Jewish people throughout the world. This persecution first began under anti-Semitic Roman Catholic bishops. Later, Lutherans led by the reformer Martin Luther were involved in stirring up strong anti-Jewish prejudice in Germany.
Adolf Hitler read and deeply appreciated Luther’s anti-Jewish tracts. His doctrine provided Hitler with many suitable texts for his extermination program. The most vicious, Jew-hating statements Luther ever made were to be found in his tract entitled Concerning the Jews and Their Lives. In it, he stated:
“Let me give you my honest advice. First, their synagogues or churches should be set on fire. And whatever does not burn up should be covered or spread over with dirt so that no one may ever be able to see a cinder or stone of it. And this ought to be done for the honor of God and of Christianity in order that God may see that we are Christians… Secondly, their homes should be broken down and destroyed. Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayer books and the Talmud in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught. Fourthly, their rabbis must be forbidden under the threat of death to teach anymore…Fifthly, passport and traveling privileges should be absolutely forbidden to Jews…”3
Two days after writing this tract, Martin Luther died! Sadly, however, replacement theology’s practice of anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish attitudes is still active in the world.
Although Replacement Theology has had its champions in the church since the second century, in this case, time does not improve doctrinal faithfulness. Replacement Theology has corrupted and degraded both the church’s doctrine and practice. Replacement Theology has resulted in some of the darkest periods of persecution and anti-Semitism. Today, in many ways, Preterism, Covenant Theology, Amillennialism, and Calvinism continue this unfortunate tradition of prejudice and unsound Bible doctrine. May we be aware of the dangers of replacement theology and exhort Christians to be faithful to Bible doctrine and sensitive to the Jewish people.
Renald Showers, The Coming Apocalypse, (Friends of Israel, Bellmawr. NJ, 2010), p. 7-8
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, The Christian in Society, vol. 4, (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1971), pp. 268-293
by David Dunlap