Last month I decided to spend some time having a look at replacement theology. But before we do that, I thought it would be helpful to write an article asking the question, what is replacement theology?
Too often we simply assume that everyone knows what terms such as ‘replacement theology’ mean. However, as with a lot of things in life, we can often be familiar with the concept without necessarily being aware of the terminology. Others are not even aware of the concept, or might not realise that what they believe includes the concept. Either way it is a good idea to make sure we are all on the same page from the beginning.
What is replacement theology?
In essence, replacement theology is the view that the Church has in some way replaced the nation of Israel. I say ‘some way’ because there are different versions of replacement theology.
Some don’t like the name ‘replacement theology’ as they see it as having negative connotations. ‘Replacement’ – replacing the Jews or replacing Israel – can convey a negative sense, so they prefer to call it by another name. No-one wants others to make assumptions about their position based purely on how the term ‘sounds’ in the ears of some hearers. Instead, a theological position should be assessed on the actual merits of the position itself.
The most prominent term in academic circles is ‘supersessionism’. The Church is seen as superseding Israel; in other words, taking its place. The belief is that God revoked his covenant promises to Israel due to their rejection of God’s work in Christ. Israel’s disobedience meant its position as God’s people was transferred to the Church.
…or fulfilment theology
Another term often used is ‘fulfilment’ theology. Israel and its promises are seen today as all fulfilled in the Church. The Old Testament covenants and promises made with national Israel are given to a different entity, the Church. The Church is now said to be the ‘true’ or ‘new Israel’. Christians are said to be Jews ‘spiritually’.
Israel’s divinely pre-planned role is believed to have been completed and is now obsolete since the first coming of Christ. In the Old Testament, national Israel prefigured the coming Christ; Israel prepared the way for God’s salvation in its universal and spiritual form. This is now manifest in the Church. God’s promises to Israel are all fulfilled in Christ, who in Himself is the definitive Israelite. All those who are in Christ, the Church, are now said to be the true or spiritual Israel.
Whichever flavour of replacement theology that is adopted, the physical nation of Israel or natural Jews are seen as having no independent part to play in the purposes and plans of God, either in the present or in the future. Having said that, some replacement theologians do believe that the Jewish people will experience salvation through Christ and join the Church at some point in the future. All replacement theologians are united in their belief that God’s future purposes do not include Israel’s restoration as a physical nation to the land.
Clearly all these different versions of replacement theology can’t all be correct as elements within the different theories contradict each other. So which one is correct, or which ones are correct (or are any correct?!)?
The road ahead
The first step in examining a theological position is to test its exegetical basis. In other words, is replacement theology in any of its various guises consistent with what the biblical text actually says? Alternatively, is it a non-biblical idea that has been read into the Bible?
Secondly, If we widen our ‘field of view’ from the exegetical (i.e., examining relevant individual passages) to the theological level (i.e., how it fits with scripture as a whole), does replacement theology sit comfortably with the rest of the Bible? Alternatively, does it raise possible issues?
So, an exegetical examination of the passages used to support replacement theology is the first step. I will begin this in the next post of this series.
In the meantime, I would like to sign off by emphasising that the purpose of Karpophoreo.com is not to tell people what to think, but to help and inspire people to think. The hope is that at the end of the day, even if we come to different conclusions, we will remember that we still remain brothers and sisters in Christ.