Watchman Newsletter

Replacement Theology: Parts 1-3

Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3) - James A. Showers (June 28, 2010)

Divestment involves withdrawing investments from companies doing business with a particular nation in order to put economic pressure on the government. It was a technique used against South Africa to break apartheid. Over the years, some Protestant churches have asked people to stop investing in companies doing business with Israel based on their claim that Israel is a racist nation. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Israel is a democracy that freely gives the vote to both Jews and Arabs. Apartheid occurs when a minority race uses its power to take economic advantage of the majority of another race. Such is not the case in Israel.

In 2007 a Methodist women’s group wrote a report, sponsored by and paid for by the Methodist church, that referred to the founding of the State of Israel as the “original sin,” thus equating modern Israel with Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God. The report implied humanity sinned against God in creating the modern nation. It was a shocking statement.

The same report claims, “The Holocaust, and the impact of the Holocaust on Israel’s society, has caused hysteria and paranoia amongst Israelis.” The report not only treated the murder of 6 million people casually, as if it were a minor event, but also claimed Jewish people have blown it out of proportion. If an event in history had put 6 million Methodists to death, these women probably would have a different outlook on the Holocaust.

Then, of course, there is Jimmy Carter. The former U.S. president’s 2006 book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, distorted facts, demonized Israel, and contained hundreds of falsehoods and fictional statements.

In light of all these events, perhaps you’ve asked yourself, Why are all of these Christians picking on Israel? What’s behind these attacks?

The answer is Replacement Theology, the belief the church has replaced physical Israel (the Jewish people) in the plan of God. Those who hold this view believe the church has become “spiritual Israel” and the inheritor of all the covenant promises God made to Israel. But they say the Jewish people retain all the curses.

Effects on the Church

In the Old Testament God often said, in effect, “Keep My covenant, and I’ll bless you; I’ll do all these good things for you. But if you do not keep My covenant, I will curse you; and these judgments will come upon you.” Replacement theologians take the blessings for themselves and leave the curses with Israel. Therefore, whenever they read Israel in Scripture, they replace it with church. The leadership of most mainline Protestant churches and the Roman Catholic Church hold to Replacement Theology.

Here are some implications of this belief:

  • The Jewish people as a nation have no place in God’s future plan, and Israel has no future as a nation.

  • There is no Tribulation or Millennial Kingdom. In fact, such prophecies become problematic, which is why Replacement theologians want us to see Israel not as a physical nation but as the church.

  • The church begins with Abraham in Genesis 12, not at Pentecost in Acts 2. Old Testament Israel (not physical Israel, but only those who put their faith in God) are defined as the church.

  • Old Testament Law still applies to the church because, if the church began with Abraham and continues today, then everything in the Old Testament still relates to the church.

(The church, in this discussion, includes all denominations.)

Some churches, for example, have altars up front, in the center. Why? Because the Law requires sacrifice, and sacrifices go on an altar. Consequently, they view communion as the re-sacrifice of Christ, believing the elements mutate into the physical body and blood of Christ through transubstantiation.

Under the Law, a man needed an intercessor between himself and God. He could not go to God directly. Hence, some churches have priests rather than pastors.

Infant baptism replaces circumcision that, under the Law, placed a child under God’s covenant.

Have you ever heard Christians refer to Sunday as the Sabbath? In Scripture, Sabbath is sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. God defined it that way, telling Israel, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work” (Ex. 20:9–10). So church leaders thought, Because we worship on the first day of the week, we’ll redefine Sabbath to be Sunday. It is commonly referred to as the “day of rest.” However, Sunday is the first day of the week, not the seventh. To refer to Sunday as the “Sabbath Day” is contrary to Scripture. There was a reason the church began to meet on the first day: it was the day our Lord arose from the dead.

All these church practices came about because of the belief that God replaced Israel with the church and that the Old Testament Law still applies to the church.

Replacement theologians make the grievous error of interpreting the Old Testament by reading the New Testament back into it. Doing so is the only way they can make their argument. However, if you take God’s Word progressively, in its literal and historical context, as God revealed it to us, you will not believe in Replacement Theology.

Clearly, Replacement theologians believe the State of Israel has no theological reason to exist. They call it a “mistake in history” and see its creation as the “original sin.” Dispensationalists know better. And Dispensationalism makes better sense.

Understanding the Differences

Dispensationalism is a system of biblical interpretation that sees God working with mankind in different ways at different times in history. It is based on a consistent, literal interpretation of Scripture. While salvation has always been by grace through faith, dispensationalists believe the Bible teaches the ultimate purpose of history is not the salvation of man but, rather, the glorification of God. Dispensationalists believe God has two distinct programs for history: one for Israel and one for the church.

DISPENSATIONALISM. God began birthing Israel by calling Abraham and leading him to Canaan, often called the Holy Land. Then He brought the Israelites down to Egypt where they grew into a nation. By the time they fled Egypt, they numbered in the millions.

God led the Israelites into the wilderness and gave them the Mosaic Law, which covers the period of Old Testament history in which they were in the Promised Land. Then they were exiled because of disbelief and idolatry. Later God returned them to their land, where they remained for several hundred years before Christ’s First Coming. All this time, the Gentiles were in a period of ignorance.

Then came Christ’s First Advent, His death on the cross, and His burial and resurrection. Shortly thereafter the Jewish people were scattered, and the church began (Acts 2). Today we are in the Church Age. But the Bible says the church will be caught up and taken out of this world. We call that the Rapture. And with it, the Church Age will come to an end.

Many will come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ after the Rapture, but they will not be part of the church. The church (also called the bride of Christ) will be in heaven with its Bridegroom, Jesus.

After the Rapture, the seven-year Tribulation will begin.

I would like to point out that I do not agree with a pre-tribulation catching away of the bride of Christ. I believe scripture points to a slightly different perspective based on further definition of terminology and a more detailed look at the timing laid out in the Bible. My particular view is more in line with a pre-wrath harpazo view. While the distinctions between these two views may seem trivial on the surface, I believe they are fundamentally different and are worth distinguishing from each other. They also affect the expectations of the believer  and somewhat change the perspective of Dispensationalism as defined here.

It has two purposes: (1) to bring Israel to repentance, reconciliation with its Messiah, and restoration as a nation; (2) to judge the Gentile nations for their rebellion against God and their treatment of the Jewish people.

At the end of the Tribulation, Christ will return to Earth and set up His Millennial Kingdom. He will confine Satan, restore Israel and elevate it above all nations, establish His throne in Jerusalem, and rule the world from there. Believing Gentiles who survive the Tribulation will enter the Millennial (1,000-year) Kingdom.

At the end of the thousand years, Satan will be freed and allowed to lead a final rebellion against God and the reigning Messiah, but he will be defeated and destroyed. Then will come the Great White Throne judgment of all unbelievers, followed by the appearance of the new heavens and new earth.

REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY. It teaches there are not two programs for history but only one and that Israel and the church began with Abraham’s call. Therefore, the Mosaic Law did not end with Christ but still applies to the church today.

Replacement theologians say that in Old Testament times, God worked through physical Israel; and in the New Testament He worked through so-called spiritual Israel, meaning the church. The Jews once were God’s Chosen People, but now they are the rejected people of covenant curses. The Gentiles who were ignorant in the Old Testament are now the chosen people.

There is no Tribulation or Millennium. They are not needed. In fact, the Millennial Kingdom becomes a real problem for churches that embrace Replacement Theology. They wrestled with it, and out of that struggle came Amillennialism: the belief that the Church Age is the Kingdom of God on Earth and that, at some point, Christ will return to judge sinners and take us to the eternal state— the new heavens and new earth. Amillennialism projects a negative outlook on life because it provides no resolution. The world continues until Christ comes back and judges it before taking believers to the new heavens and earth, and that’s that.

Later in church history, Postmillennialism came along. It contends the church is the active agent of change in the world; and as the church’s impact grows, the entire world will eventually believe in Christ, opening the doors for Christ’s return. This seems to be a more positive outlook, but it is not what the Bible teaches.

Replacement Theology has been the “black sheep” of Christendom because, over the past 2,000 years, it has led to countless acts of anti-Semitism by some in the church— and I cannot overemphasize the word countless. A tremendous amount of anti-Jewish violence has been committed by people who claimed to be doing it “for the Lord.” Jewish people have lived for centuries with the legacy of Christians persecuting them in the name of Christ. And it is because of Replacement Theology that Christians have justified their actions.

In the next article we will travel back through history to see how Replacement Theology became established in the church.

Part 2 - June 23, 2010

How did this belief become so deeply established in the church, particularly when it was not the theology of the apostles or the first-or second-generation church leaders? Because it justified prejudice against the Jewish people.

Replacement Theology began developing in the second and third centuries of the church, becoming established about 200 years after the church began. It did not arise from a careful study of Scripture. In fact, the position was formulated first, and then Scripture was located to support it. This is the wrong way to devise a theology. Theology should result from a thorough study of God’s Word. People should not define their theology first and then go on a Scripture hunt to find justification for it.

One reason Replacement Theology has become so prevalent is its great intellectual charm, so to speak. Arguing for it requires doing mental gymnastics with God’s Word to develop a complex argument. Even then, Scripture does not fully support it. But for many people, the exercise is appealing.

Initially, Replacement Theology developed to justify prejudice against the Jewish people in the years of the early church. It became a core doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church; and though the Reformation fathers corrected much bad theology when they formed the Protestant movement, they brought Replacement Theology with them.

From Jewish to Gentile

The church began in Acts 2 in Jerusalem with the coming of the Holy Spirit, and its early leadership was Jewish. It was a Jewish body composed primarily of Jewish people who had placed their faith in Jesus the Messiah. But around A.D. 70 a transition began. Jerusalem and the second Temple were destroyed, the church in Jerusalem was scattered, and Gentile leaders began to take over. By the end of the first century, there were an estimated 100,000 Christians in the Roman Empire and about 6 million Jewish people.

But by the end of the second century—a mere 100 years later––the church had grown to about 7 million Christians, equal to the number of Jews then. Almost all church growth had occurred among the Gentiles, who were now dominating Christianity.

Meanwhile, a Roman law contributed to the Christian animosity toward Jewish people. According to the law, any religion that predated the Roman Empire was legal and could function openly. But any religion that began afterward was illegal and needed to be snuffed out. Christianity began long after the Roman Empire, but Judaism predated it by many centuries. So Rome considered Judaism legal but Christianity illegal and began to persecute the Christians.

Christian leaders argued that Christianity was merely a sect of Judaism. But since Jewish leaders did not support the position, Rome disagreed; and great persecution came on the church. Christians resented the fact their Jewish neighbors did not come to their defense and began to view Judaism as a threat. They thought all Jews should embrace Jesus Christ as Messiah and that Judaism should cease. Their animosity grew; and about 150 years after the church began, it clearly manifested itself within the church leadership.

Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons (c. A.D. 177–195), told the Jewish people, “The Scriptures are not yours but ours.” He claimed the Jews were disinherited from God’s grace and that the church was the new, or true, Israel.

A few years later Tertullian (c. A.D. 160–225) wrote Answers to the Jews, where he said God had rejected the Jewish people and made Israel a servant of the church. Based on his bizarre interpretation of the phrase the older will serve the younger (Gen. 25:23), he wrote that God rejected the Jews and concluded that, if Israel has any continuing role, it is as a servant of the church. The verse has nothing whatsoever to do with the church and, in fact, really means Esau’s descendants would serve Israel.

Three hundred years after the church began, Eusebius (fourth century A.D.) wrote that the Hebrew Scriptures were for Christians, not Jews, and that only the curses applied to Israel. Everything else applied to the church because, according to him, the church was the continuation of the Old Testament and thus superseded Judaism.

The Rise of Allegory

The early church fathers distanced themselves from everything Jewish, seeing the Bible as a wholly Gentile document. And they searched Greek culture to find a way to take Scriptures that clearly show God still has a plan for Israel and use them to argue exactly the opposite. To accomplish this feat, they turned to allegory.

Allegory ascribes nonliteral, spiritualized meanings to literal words and phrases. It became popular in the Roman Empire when intellectuals began using it to reinterpret various Greek classics, like Homer’s Iliad, to make them more appealing to the society of the day. Some church fathers began applying the same method to Scripture, especially unfulfilled prophecy. Origen (A.D. 185–254) was the first to develop a system that systematically applied allegory to unfulfilled prophecy. He argued that Scripture has two meanings: the literal and the so-called spiritual; and he gave higher value to the “spiritual.” Consequently, literal interpretation became associated with weaker Christians, and allegorical interpretation became associated with “deeper,” more “intellectual” Christians.

Unfulfilled prophecy, taken literally, threatened Replacement Theology because it speaks of a glorious future for Israel and a coming Tribulation and Millennial Kingdom on Earth.

A problem with allegory is the absence of uniform rules for applying allegorical interpretation to literal Scripture. One person may say a passage means one thing, and another may say it means something else. And neither individual can prove the other wrong.

In the fourth century, Augustine (A.D. 354–425) came along. He was strongly influenced by both Ambrose of Milan, a church leader who argued that the Jewish people were irrevocably perverse and not worthy of any good thought, and Origen’s use of allegory to interpret Scripture. Augustine used allegory to formulate the system we today call Amillennialism.

Augustine’s book The City of God still influences the church today. He also wrote Tract Against the Jews in which he argued that Jewish people should be treated unmercifully because they have no value and deserve no consideration.

Augustine’s contemporary, John Chrysostom (A.D. 347–407), a famous preacher and great orator, preached a series of sermons against the Jewish people, accusing them of murdering their off-spring and worshiping devils. He called their synagogues brothels and dens of robbers and claimed God hated the Jewish people because, in his view, they murdered Jesus. Here was his conclusion: since God hated the Jews, Christians are obligated to hate them as well. Do you want to be a good Christian? Then you had better hate the Jews, he said, because God does. Sadly, anti-Semitism and Replacement Theology overtook the church.

However, until this point, Christianity was still illegal in the Roman Empire. The church had no power to do anything about what it believed. But all that was about to change.

Part 3 - June 28, 2010

Young Constantine, a member of Emperor Diocletian’s court, was preparing to lead his troops at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in a.d. 312 when he claimed to have a vision of a cross in the sun. So he prayed to the Christian God, put Christian symbols on his banners, and won an astounding victory over an older, more experienced general.

Soon Constantine became emperor of the Roman Empire and issued the Edict of Milan (a.d. 313) that legalized Christianity and brought the church under the authority of Rome. This was a dramatic turning point in church history. Clergymen were put on the empire’s payroll, and the church went from being ruthlessly persecuted to being part of the state.

Eight years later, Christianity became the official religion. And a mere 60 years later it became the exclusive religion of the Roman Empire.

The Rise of Roman Catholicism

Because Rome was the seat of power, the church in Rome rose to prominence; and the bishop of Rome became the most powerful leader of the western half of the empire. Later he became known as the pope, with more power than the emperor. As the Roman Catholic Church spread in influence, it grew more powerful even than the governments of Europe. Believing the Jews to be cursed and the Christians to be God’s new chosen people (the teaching of Replacement Theology), it instigated the persecution of the Jewish people.

First, legislation arose outlawing synagogues and giving permission to burn Jews who broke the law. Jewish people were excluded from high office, restricted in other positions, and forced to shut their businesses on Sunday. Since religious Jews also closed on Saturday, the law helped Gentile merchants.

Furthermore, Jewish people were forbidden to live in Jerusalem, and Sunday was declared the Sabbath even though God’s Word makes the seventh day (Saturday) the day of rest (Exodus 20:9–11). The church also forbade Easter to be observed during Passover, when Christ actually died and arose. Jewish people were forbidden to sue Gentiles, and Christians were forbidden to give their children in marriage to Jewish people. Yet all these restrictions were not enough.

In 415 another turning point came, and anti-Semitism went from being merely verbal to being physical.

Violence and Death

In 415 Cyril, head of the church in Alexandria, led a brutal anti-Jewish riot in the city’s Jewish quarter. Christians beat Jews, raped women, murdered men, stole Jewish property, and drove the Jewish people from the city. From that point on, anti-Semitism mushroomed. It is literally impossible to count the number of cruel, violent, and merciless things done to God’s Chosen People.

During the Crusades in the 11th through 13th centuries, Christian armies marched across Europe murdering Jewish people, raping women, and burning Jewish villages. The church fabricated vicious lies about the Jews, persuading people they were the cause of every evil. When a plague broke out, the Jews were blamed. It was common to hear that Jewish people had poisoned the water or were somehow responsible for all Gentile illnesses and deaths.

It didn’t matter that the same proportion of Jews were dying. The Jewish people were still blamed. Logic and reason meant nothing. Outrageous lies flourished continually, such as the well-known libel that Jewish people stole Christian children, drained their blood, and used it to bake matzohs for their holidays. Never was one instance of such a thing ever proven.

But these lies flooded Europe. Jewish people became the scapegoat for every economic and political woe. And they were beaten, robbed, murdered, and mutilated. A particularly terrible time for them was Easter, when passion plays vilified the Jewish people as “Christ killers” and incited Jew-killing frenzies across the continent.

Jesus Himself, however, never blamed the Jewish people for His death. He declared, “I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:17-18). In fact, it was a Gentile hand that nailed Him to the cross, not a Jewish hand. Scripture calls Jesus the perfect, sinless Lamb of God who died as a sacrifice for us all. We are all guilty of putting Christ on the cross.

But Replacement Theology had fomented such vicious anti-Semitism that more horrific, ungodly things were done to the Jewish people in the name of Christ than have been done to any other people in the history of the world.

Convert, Expel, Kill

We are all greatly indebted to Martin Luther. Luther and the other reformers stood against what was then the tyranny of the Roman Catholic Church. When Luther left Roman Catholicism he founded what later became the Lutheran Church. At first it was friendly to the Jewish community because Luther believed Jewish people had rejected Christianity due to corruption within the Roman church. If they saw true Christianity based on faith alone, he thought, they would embrace it.

But they did not. And as Luther grew older, he became a hard-core anti-Semite. His books On the Jews and Their Lies and On the Ineffable Name condemned the Jews and encouraged people to burn their synagogues, destroy their homes, take their wealth, and put them to hard labor. Several hundred years later Adolf Hitler used the writings of Martin Luther, Germany’s favorite son, to justify his spiritual case against the Jewish people in his book, Mein Kampf. Hitler followed Luther’s suggestions to a tee. But he added one more: murder.

Jewish life in Europe was always precarious. The term wandering Jew evolved as a result of organized Christendom. Historically, the church had three ways of dealing with the Jewish people: convert them, expel them, or kill them.

When Jewish people first settled in an area, they would be accepted and shown kindness. But as time passed, things changed. Christians felt obligated to convert the Jews. Eventually, their offer went like this: “Would you like to become a Christian today, or would you like to die?” Many chose death.

Converting to Christianity did not mean acknowledging that you were a sinner, believing in your heart that Jesus willingly took your punishment on the cross, and putting your faith in Him for the forgiveness of sin—as we believe. It meant being baptized and taken into church membership. When Jewish people refused, they were expelled from the country. Often they wandered from place to place, homeless and persecuted, unable to put down roots.

Wrote Jewish historian Solomon Grayzel:

In theory, Christianity and Judaism should have lived together in friendly spirit. But . . . the Jews were subjected to attack and degradation. Large numbers were killed. Then, when deprived of opportunity and of no further economic use, they were expelled and made to wander in search of new homelands. All the lands bordering on the Atlantic Ocean expelled the Jews. In Germany and Italy they were compelled to live apart in ghettos.1

When expulsion failed to satisfy Christendom, elimination began. Thousands of Jewish people were murdered. Then came Hitler, whose “final solution” to the “Jewish problem” was to kill them all.

To this day, Jewish people believe the Holocaust of World War II was perpetrated by Christians. Even though Hitler himself was not a true Christian, many who worked for him were. They were guards at concentration camps. They were soldiers. They were members of the Hitler Youth. And most good Christians in Germany did not stand up against what was going on.

While not evil in itself, Replacement Theology has been a dangerous tool in the hand of the Devil. It changed Christendom’s attitude toward Jewish people, fomented contempt for ethnic Israel, and recast the Scriptures from a Jewish book to a Gentile one. It also changed the meaning of Scripture, particularly when it comes to eschatology—the doctrine of future things—as we shall see. †

1 Solomon Grayzel, A History of the Jews, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1968), 436.

Christians ~ Israel