Most every Public Servant who has his or her ear to the ground knows that the Bible enjoins individuals and nations to bless Israel. In Genesis 12:3 God states in His covenant to Abraham (Israel’s Patriarch), “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse.” Many believers today are right to think that, if for no other reason, God has been slow to judge America because we have been a faithful ally to modern Israel.
Not all however, who follow Christ are pro-Israel. Within Evangelicalism there is a camp known in theological circles as the “Supersessionists.” They believe the Church supersedes Israel; they embrace what is also referred to as “Replacement Theology.”
They believe God is done with Israel, having replaced her with His Church; the Church is the new Israel and so the above conditional promise in the Abrahamic Covenant now applies to the Church.
What does the Bible say about all this? What do you believe? How an American governing authority reasons this issue from Scripture has huge implications in American foreign policy and as many conclude, if or not God will continue to bless America. Read on.
THE BIBLE AND POLICY: ISRAEL
This study should prove quite intellectually challenging to most who read it. Do not let that deter you from persevering through and understanding what follows, as this is a critically-important subject for someone holding office. As usual, I have attempted to alliterate in a way that makes the study bite sizeable and digestible so as to aid in your comprehension. Stay with me.
II. CHALLENGES FACING SUPERSESSIONISM
If the conditional promise of the Abrahamic Covenant is true, then God’s blessing on individuals and nations is in part predicated on how one treats Israel as a nation. That being the case, one’s theology for not supporting/blessing national Israel need be air-tight; the biblical position of Supersessionism better be very, very explicit, universally convincing and beyond a shadow of a doubt—given what results. The difference between God either blessing or cursing demands one’s best analytical abilities. Again…
TO ERRONEOUSLY ADHERE TO REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY COULD JEOPARDIZE AN INDIVIDUAL’S OR A NATION’S FUTURE
Supersessionists have a tall order to fill if they are going to confidently promote “God is finished with national Israel” because theirs is the scriptural burden of proof. They must convincingly argue from God’s Word at a minimum the following:
A. THAT THE PROMISES GOD HAS MADE TO ISRAEL ARE NO LONGER APPLICABLE TO ISRAEL
Does Scripture clearly enunciate that the obvious promises God made to Israel no longer inure to Israel—but instead to His Church? How can God make numerous unconditional promises to Israel as a nation in the Old and New Testament and then not fulfill them?
B. THAT THE CHURCH IS THE NEW ISRAEL
They must demonstrate that Scripture clearly teaches that the Church supersedes and eclipses Israel. Is the Church specifically referred to as the replacement of national Israel?
C. THAT THE CHURCH INHERITS ISRAEL’S COVENANTS AND BLESSINGS
Does Scripture clearly teach that in blessing His Church, God will no longer bless ethnic Israel as a nation? The Supersessionists have the responsibility to convincingly prove from biblical passages that Israel as a nation no longer has a place in God’s future. Again, theirs is the burden of proof.
They must provide sound exegetical support for each of these three propositions in order to make their point. Anything less is to play with fire (per Genesis 12).
III. CLARIFYING SUPERSESSIONISM
A. THEY DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN SPIRITUAL ISRAEL AND NATIONAL ISRAEL
In order to construct and defend their position Supersessionists will often suggest that what the respective Bible writer had in mind when mentioning Israel (relative to passages that are problematic to their position) is this: “Israel” is a reference to Jews who came to Christ, versus the ethnic nation of Israel. That convenient distinction will become more clear and evident as this study progresses.
B. THEY UNABASHEDLY AND MUNIFICENTLY CHANGE THEIR HERMENEUTICAL APPROACH TO INTERPRETATION
When confronted with straightforward, plain passages promising Israel’s national return, they are quick to suggest that it has a non-literal meaning. This is somewhat similar to a referee changing the way he calls the game in the final two minutes.
C. THEY ARE SOMETIMES MOTIVATED BY ANTI-SEMITISM
To do justice to the topic, unfortunately I need mention that anti-Semitism is sometimes the real driving force behind those who hold to a “God has rejected the Jews” viewpoint.
JEWISH RACISM AMONGST THOSE WHO NAME THE NAME OF CHRIST IS NOTHING NEW—AS DESPICABLE, UNGODLY, AND LACKING IN CHRIST-LIKENESS AS IT IS
Whereas the former two caveats can be argued with objectivity, this one is a matter of one’s heart and Scripture warns us not to judge another’s heart. What is discernible however is an individual’s intractable inability to be persuaded by cogent reasoning. Sometimes that is due to the fact that they are anti-Semites.
IV. CONDENSING SUPERSESSIONISM
Lastly by way of introduction, what follows is not a study on Eschatology per se; this is not a critique of Pre, Post, or Amillennialism; even though, granted, there is a strong correlation between these camps and one either holding to non-Supersessionism or Supersessionism. Such a broadened discussion would overwhelm the title, focus and intent of this week’s study. But suffice to state the following…
V. COUNTERACTANTS TO SUPERSESSIONISM
American Evangelicalism in terms of its best-known national seminaries, radio preachers, parachurch ministries and popular-audience authors have unreservedly promoted a pro-Israel theology for many decades. The Dispensational seminaries, such as Dallas, Western, Denver, Talbot and Moody; the national radio and TV preachers, such as DeHaan, McGee, Wiersbe, Swindoll, Rogers, Jeremiah, Stanley and Falwell; the parachurch ministries such as Campus Crusade, Navigators, Youth For Christ and Capitol Ministries; the writing ministries of Hal Lindsey, in The Late Great Planet Earth, and Tim LaHaye in his Left Behind series, have all combined to inauspiciously affect the Supersessionists viewpoint in our day, “to the point of [it] vanishing altogether” (Blaising, The Future of Israel as a Theological Question, JETS 44 ).
Nevertheless, regardless of marketplace momentum in one direction or another, the policymaker should root his or her convictions for or against Replacement Theology based on his or her personal exegesis of the Word of God. This study is an attempt to aid that.
VI. COMPREHENDING SUPERCESSIONISM’S HERMENEUTICS
More about former point III.B is in order. Supersessionists rely on several principles of interpretation in order to arrive at their conclusions. They are worth further mention so as to further broaden understanding, background, and insight into their way of thinking when they examine the pivotal passages that constitute the debate. Their differing principles are as follows with a brief explanation of each.
A. THE NT HAS AN INTERPRETIVE PRIORITY OVER THE OT
More than providing additional and greater insight, the NT, they believe, is not only an interpreter of the meaning of OT texts, but it can reinterpret them. More specifically, physical promises made to Israel by OT Prophets, they believe, are often reinterpreted by NT writers to have a spiritual fulfillment in the Church. Accordingly, actual OT predictions pertaining to Israel’s future, physical restoration are discounted.
In suggesting that God in this way is now offering something greater—something that transcends the authorial intent of the OT writer—is to rewrite and/or reinterpret what the OT author meant to the audience he communicated to at that time.
PRACTICING THEIR HERMENEUTIC BRINGS INTO QUESTION THE INTEGRITY, INFALLIBILITY AND IMMUTABILITY OF SCRIPTURE AS A WHOLE
Bottom line: The biblical author really didn’t mean what he said at the time he said it!
B. OT TEXTS HAVE SPIRITUAL, VERSUS LITERAL FULFILLMENTS
A forthright reading of Amos 9:11-15, Zechariah 14:16 or Joel 3:17-18 indicates that God has a plan to restore national Israel. Israel will once again someday possess the land. The intended meaning of these texts is hard to miss. Again, the Supersessionists argue that God fulfilled these promises in “non-literal ways” (Hoekema, Amillennialism, p. 172), but the problem with this solution is revealed by the fact that other OT prophesies that are already fulfilled are fulfilled physically and literally.
C. NATIONAL ISRAEL IS A TYPE OF THE NT CHURCH
Both Supersessionists and non-Supersessionists believe in OT Types. A Type is a prefigurement. For instance OT animal sacrifices portend Christ’s future, ultimate sacrifice on the Cross. The later is termed a Superior Antitype. In this way Supersessionists reason that Israel is a Type and the Church is the Superior Antitype. However, belief in Types and Typological Interpretation are quite different. Better explained, one cannot read into the Bible the existence of a Type when the Bible does not specifically identify something as a Type; to do so is to begin traveling down the slippery slope of subjective interpretation of Scripture—reading Types into everything imaginative. Herein the interpreter becomes the power and force of a passage, versus the passage itself. (This is quite similar in spirit to the Supreme Court interpreting something as a “tax” when the authors never intended such a meaning). Such is to superimpose a meaning that was unintended by the author(s). There is no biblical evidence to indicate that Israel was intended by God in the OT to be a Type relative to the Church. To do so is to read into the text something that is not there in order to support one’s predeterminations.
These are three differing-from-the-norm interpretive principles that Supersessionists regularly employ.
VII. CONTESTED PASSAGES OF SUPERSESSIONISM
What follows are their most common arguments from Scripture that are used to justify their belief that God is finished with Israel and, among other things, perhaps infer that Israel is not worthy of America’s special care.
A. NATIONAL ISRAEL’S SUPOSSED PERMANENT REJECTION: MATTHEW 21:43
Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.
This passage, wherein Jesus is addressing the Jewish leaders of His day, is widely used to support this position. Replacement Theology reasons that Israel permanently forfeited its blessing because of her rejection of Jesus. States Gerstner “They have been tried and found wanting” (Wrongly dividing the Word of Truth, p. 190-91).
Notice however that the you is not clearly indicative of the nation Israel, Jesus could simply be addressing the present rejecting leaders. In fact, later in the passage, Matthew 21:45, the Jewish leaders indicate that Jesus was specifically addressing them. (This is the conclusion of Saldarini, Matthew’s Christian-Jewish Community, p. 59).
Secondly, there is no reference to the Church being the replacement. given to a people could be a reference to individuals who are responsive to Jesus—or better Israel in the future. (This is the position of Vlach, Has The Church Replaced Israel? p. 143, and Fruchtenbaum, Israelogy: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, p. 40 and McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, p. 296-97).
Even if given to the people were a reference to the Church, the passage does not rule out a future restoration of the nation Israel. Accordingly this passage should not be used to roundly suggest that God is finished with Israel.
B. ISRAEL LANGUAGE SUPPOSEDLY APPLIED TO THE CHURCH
Supersessionists believe that language depicting of Israel is applied to the Church in the NT; they conclude that the NT therefore identifies the Church as Israel. Let us take a careful look at a sampling of some of those passages in order to gain a better understanding of this assumptive error.
1. GALATIANS 6:16
And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
This is the primary text cited by Replacement Theologians to supposedly indicate that the Church is called Israel in the NT. The problem with this conclusion however is the context of the Epistle. The thesis of the Galatian epistle is the refutation of the Judaizers: those Jews who were teaching a wrong view of true salvation. Near the end of this strong polemic, Paul throws a “bouquet” to those Jews who had not been corrupted by the Judaizers—those individuals who were trusting in Christ alone for their salvation. He appropriately calls them the [true] Israel of God in contradistinction to those Israelites whom Paul had already anathematized for their salvation-doctrine heresy (cf. Gal. 1:6-9). Contextually, Paul is closing his letter and in part commending genuine Jewish Christians who possessed a proper understanding and belief in what he and the other Apostles taught about what it actually means to be saved. Commentator George (Galatians, p. 440) aptly further states in this regard,
“It is strange that if Paul intended simply to equate the Gentile believers with the people of Israel that he would make this crucial identification here at the end of the letter and not in the main body where he developed at length the argument for justification by faith.”
In fact, the Scriptures always mention Israel in the context of national Israel—not in a confusing sense as the Church (and in violation of the principle of the perspicuity of Scripture). Including Galatians 6:16…
THERE ARE NO PASSAGES IN THE WHOLE OF THE NEW TESTAMENT THAT SUPPOSEDLY SAY THE CHURCH IS ISRAEL
2. 1PETER 2:9-10
But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; 10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.
The capital letters in the Lockman Foundation’s New American Standard Bible (the NAU above) are intended by the translation team to serve to indicate OT passages (in this case Deut. 7:6-8) that are being utilized and quoted by the NT author. In this sense, in the above passage, Peter is using OT terms used by Moses to identify Israel to describe those who have trusted in Christ for salvation—folks who in the NT are a part of the Church.
If both Israel and the Church are God’s people, does it not follow that the same descriptors could apply to each? Such is the case here. But here’s the point: Just because “Israel terms” are applicable as well to the Church does not mean that the Church is Israel. Importantly, the passage makes no claim that the Church has replaced Israel.
3. ROMANS 11:16-24
This is the crux passage in the debate. (Rather than quote this lengthy passage herein relative to space considerations, just make sure you take the time to read it). It speaks about the Gentiles being grafted-in with the literary device of a metaphoric olive tree. Gentiles are depicted as the “wild olive branch” being grafted into “the rich root of the olive tree” i.e. Israel. This is beautiful language depicting an easy-to-understand parallel seemingly underscoring the proposition of Replacement Theology.
The later portion of the passage however works against their position. Paul goes onto reason that the Gentiles should not feel superior to the “natural branches” i.e. the Jews because “God has the power to graft them in again” (11:23). Such will be the case per 11:26…
C. DISCOUNTING “ALL ISRAEL SHALL BE SAVED” (ROMANS 11:26)
SUPERSESSIONISTS MUST SOMEHOW OVERCOME THE CLEAR NEW TESTAMENT PRONUNCIATION “ALL ISRAEL SHALL BE SAVED”
In the context of the earlier portions of this passage, the meaning is quite evident—national Israel will someday be grafted back in by God! This understanding is underscored by the beginning of Romans 11, wherein in verse 1 Paul states, “I say then, God has not rejected His people has He? May it never be!” The meaning of this passage, with a due, normal reading is not hard to comprehend. Supersessionists believe however that all Israel means believing Jews and Gentiles…I.e. the all Israel Paul is speaking about is the Church. Context however does not support such an expansive understanding, especially in light of 11:27 which states, “This is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” This passage serves to underscore that God has not, nor will He forget, the promises He made to Israel in Genesis 12!
Accordingly, it is difficult to understand why Supersessionists view Romans 11 as favorable to their position.
D. THE SILENCE OF THE NT
By reinterpreting the normal meaning of Romans 9-11, Supersessionists believe that since the NT therefore does not speak to Israel’s restoration, it is proof that God is done with them. The Non-Supersessionists takes just the opposite view: Romans 9-11 does speak to their restoration, as do Acts 1:6 and Matthew 19:28. All three passages evidence Israel’s restoration, and the last two by no one other than Jesus Himself!
So when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, “Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?”
In what follows after Acts 1:6, Jesus would not provide the direct answer to their question—but neither did He correct their assumption!
And Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
In the eschatological future when Jesus returns and reigns, this passage suggests Israel will be there also! These two aforementioned passages were utilized by commentator Peters in response to the Supersessionists claim that the NT was silent about the future of Israel. So overwhelming was his exegetical argument that many of his opponents conceded the debate (cf. The Theocratic Kingdom of our Lord Jesus, the Christ as Covenanted in the Old Testament, 2:50). Similar to the OT Prophets, Jesus and the NT are not silent about the restoration of national Israel.
VIII. CULMINATING SUPERSESSIONISM
Romans chapter 9-11 categorically teaches that there is a future for national Israel! For no other reasons (and I have listed many) the arguments of the Supersessionists in their attempts to discount Israel’s future fail in light of this strong, powerful and straightforward passage. Waving the flag for this position is unsubstantiated, especially in light of the conditional promise and jeopardy that is stated in the Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 12. One must be very contemplative relative to how they treat national Israel. God has big plans for, and is protective of her!
Both the OT and NT teach that Israel will be restored as a nation; Israel has a promised perpetuity that is nowhere discounted in or by Scripture. Furthermore there is a perpetual, recurring biblical clarification and separateness between Israel and the Church. These sober facts render the Supercessionist position suspect. Accordingly…
THE ADVOCATES OF REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY ARE OUT OF BOUNDS WHEN THEY HERALD WITH PERIL “GOD IS FINISHED WITH ISRAEL!”
To the discerning, their arguments seem weak and lacking in exegetical substance. Every policymaker needs to deeply ponder the implications of Supersessionism with utmost reflection, seriousness and prayer. There exist no biblical reasons to believe that God is finished with Israel—and there are no godly reasons to justify being anti-Israel.