Replacement Theology

Alan said something fascinating in his most recent post, that merits further discussion. He wrote:

I really do wonder if part of the hostility towards Jews, incubated from the early (but not the first) days of the Church, isn’t an expression of fear. Fear that Jews might claim Jesus back.

He has touched upon a point that is discussed with not nearly enough depth. It has been assumed that Jewish-Christian relations can be dealt with, if we say “my faith works, your faith works, and we don’t need to actually discuss any issues in great depth.” This approach is simpler, leads to less arguments, and people can cope with it.

Then something like EAPPI “suddenly” happens, and we wonder how it could come about. Contrary to what the British government assumes, EAPPI is not an unbiased group of observers. Rather, the group has metaphysical ideas about the way God treats Jews, which they then map onto the physical landscape of the Middle East.

When Alan speaks of the “fear that Jews might claim Jesus back”, I think that the fear is specifically, that if God maintains a covenant relationship with Israel, it would have negative implications on Christians.

The idea of the Church fearing Jews is often summed up in the term “replacement theology”, or to give it its proper theological terminology, “supercessionism”.

Supercessionism does not simply mean that Christians think they have replaced Israel. It is more subtle than this. I would say there is overt supercessionism, and implied supercessionism.

Supercessionism says overtly that God has finished blessing Israel, and that God’s promises to the Jews were all fulfilled in Jesus. Anyone can now receive the fruit of God’s promises, not just Jews. To think that God has any relationship with the Jews still, would be to confine God to one nation, rather than letting him bless all nations.

You will find the subtler form of supercessionism, were a Christian to read Jeremiah 29:11, and apply this verse to his own life as a comfort:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

However, if the same reader were to consider the chapter as a whole, they would see that it is a letter from Jeremiah to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. The blessings are only promised to those who will come back from exile. This is what will happen to those who stay in the city:

“I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten.”

Clearly there is more happening in this verse, than a simple blessing for Israel. What often happens, is that Christians can take Jeremiah 29:11 as a universal promise to all Christians (who have escaped the exile of sin), and Jeremiah 29:17 as a curse to specific disobedient Jews – whom they now associate as the Jewish nation as whole.

The blessings that God promised to Israel are now passed to the Church, whereas the threats that God made to Israel apply in full to Israel, because most Jews do not believe in Jesus.

For an example of this thought process, we can consider the words of the Bishop of Bradford, complaining about Zionists:

In the afternoon we visited the archaeaological sites at the City of David. This is run by Zionists. It was great to see Warren’s Shaft and Hezekiah’s Tunnel (which I realise sound like medical complaints) and see the work done to uncover these ancient ruins. But the preceding 3-D film presentation and accompanying guide narrative were shocking to many in our group who had come here with sympathetic and open minds.

We were given a perfect example of teleological story telling: start with your conclusion (the land belongs to the Jews and Jerusalem was, is and always shall be the ‘eternal capital city’), then fit the story to justify your end point. Not only was history re-written, the Bible selectively appropriated and political assumptions dripped in throughout, but there was a startling blindness to the inconsistencies in front of our eyes.

Jerusalem is a city of peace and a city of justice, we were repeatedly told. Yet, in all the hours we were there, not one mention was made of the Palestinians on the other side of the valley, those who had been removed from their homes in order to allow the excavations to be done or the injustices being done to Palestinians in relation to their land

If the people do not live justly, they will lose their city, said our guide – without either a hint of irony or any awareness of what was obvious to us observers.

For the Bishop, what was “obvious”, and ironic, to observers, was that religious Jews should fear another exile from their homeland because of the way that Israel treats Palestinians and others. Presumably the Bishop takes this theology from the Bible’s pattern of Jewish exile. He is clearly thinking of Leviticus 18:28:

And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.

Yet following each exile, there has been restoration. The Bishop makes no mention of a physical restoration of Jews to Israel, presumably because he thinks restoration is a spiritual matter for Christians.

The problem of replacement theology, is that it creates a filtering process, whereby curses are offloaded onto the Jews, and blessings are received by the Church, even though those same blessings and curses were spoken to the same people gathered at the same time in the same place.

The point of this post, is to show that Replacement Theology is more than simply replacing Jews with Christians. Rather, Replacement Theology is the assumption that all the curses in the Old Testament to God’s People, apply to Israel, whereas all the blessings in the Old Testament to God’s People, apply to the Church – and what I call the “filtering process” that accompanies that assumption.

In the next post, I hope to demonstrate some sound theological reasons why Replacement Theology ought to be rejected.