“God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.” (Romans 11:2)
The apostle Paul and several others testify that God grafted followers of Christ Jesus into the Jewish people, God’s chosen people. The Bible makes this tenet very clear. Yet, many people of faith still believe that the Christian church has replaced the Jewish people as God’s chosen people. Such a belief stems from some churches promoting an idea called Replacement Theology.”
Replacement Theology says the Christian church has replaced the Jewish people and refutes that Christians are grafted. Sadly, far too many people believe it. One only needs to watch the news regarding Jewish persecution for proof. As a result, many believe they can ignore the Old Testament entirely. Worse, some believe in the extermination of Jews and the destruction of Israel, and they attribute it all to Jesus.
It is absolutely vital to understand that “replacement theory” is categorically incorrect and why. Otherwise, we risk developing or exacerbating antisemitic attitudes, not to mention an incorrect understanding of the Bible.
First, we need a proper interpretation of the concept of eschatological grafting, which Paul writes about in Romans 11. We do that by examining the parts of a tree and what they symbolize.
“For if the firstfruit is holy, the lump is also holy. And if the root is holy, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast. Remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.” (Romans 11:16–18)
Paul writes here about a root, branches, and a wild olive tree. Each biblically represents a particular group of people.
Root = The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob
Branches = The patriarchs’ descendants: the nation of Israel
Wild Olive Tree = Gentiles: Christians and any non-Jewish group of people
Paul utilizes common agricultural knowledge about cultivating olive trees, a significant commodity in the ancient world. Though olive trees can live for hundreds of years, individual branches eventually stop producing fruit. When it occurs, farmers take branches from younger trees and graft them in to help the tree continue producing fruit.
Biblically speaking, Paul explains that God made the founders of the Jewish faith (the root, the patriarchs) and their descendants (the branches) holy. He then says in Romans 11:16 that “some of the branches were broken off,” which means God pruned certain rebellious Jewish descendants. In their place, He grafted a wild olive tree into the root, meaning He grafted believing Gentiles into the Jewish people through Jesus’ shed blood.
Those who put their faith and trust in Jesus automatically share the same covenant blessings as the Jewish people as spiritual heirs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In no way does it mean the wild tree has replaced the root. On the contrary, God desires them to grow together.
Joint Partakers with the Root
Notice in verse 17 that both the branches and the grafted wild olive tree are joint partakers “of the root and fatness of the olive tree.” This part of the tree is different from the root (patriarchs). Rather, it is the place where God first gave His divine blessing. It refers to His original promise of salvation to Abraham (see Genesis 12:1–3; 15:1–21; 17:1–27).
Paul then reminds us of something essential: Christians do not support the root. It is the patriarchs who support us as the founders of our faith. They are the root and original source of God’s divine blessings and covenant promises.
“Just as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Therefore, know that only those who are of faith [Gentiles] are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you, all the nations shall be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.” (Galatians 3:6–9, with addition)
Paul expounds on this essential lesson in Galatians 3:14.
“The blessing of Abraham [has] come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
Galatians 3:6 appears to say that only Gentiles are “sons of Abraham” who are blessed, but that would be a misinterpretation.
All the promises God gave the Jewish people through Abraham are still in effect, and we, as the church, now share in those promises because of our covenant with Christ Jesus. We share God’s blessings and have not supplanted the Jewish people.
Grafting and Replacement Theology
Even in the first century, Paul knew there would be some Christians who believe in what is called Replacement Theology today. He already knew some would misinterpret his message. He addresses the matter in Romans 11:19–22.
“You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.’ Well said. Because of unbelief, they were broken off, and you stand by faith.” (v19–20)
Paul says it is correct for us to understand that God broke branches off His tree so that the wild Gentile tree could be grafted into the healthy remnant. But then, he gives a warning in verses 20–22.
“Do not be haughty [arrogant, prideful], but afraid. For if God did not spare the natural branches (Israel), He may not spare you either. Therefore, consider the goodness and severity of God: On those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.” (additions)
God automatically gives the same blessings He gave Abraham and his descendants to those who have salvation through Jesus Christ. The caveat is that they must “continue in His goodness.” not will be dealt with severely. Jesus spoke of this consequence during His Sermon on the Mount.
“On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and cast out demons in Your name, and do many mighty works in Your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:21–23)
Paul echoes Jesus’ grave warning. God promises to cut off Gentiles who do not continue in His goodness and behave conceitedly in His name, thinking they are better than His chosen people. He will not allow them to enter heaven.
Sadly, the last words they will hear on the day of judgment will be the most dire and tragic words God could ever speak. They will hear, “I never knew you; depart from Me,” rather than, “Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:23).”
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31)
Old Testament Proof
Before Paul preached against Replacement Theology in Romans 11, the prophet Jeremiah predicted Israel’s salvation and confirmed her rightful place in God’s kingdom hundreds of years earlier.
Jeremiah 30–33 foretells how the Jewish people will return and regather in Israel (make Aliyah) in the last days and fully claim the Promised Land in the millennial kingdom. Specifically, chapter 31 — the Old Testament counterpart to Romans 11 — distinctly expresses that Israel is God’s chosen people based on His covenant with Abraham.
“I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.” (Jeremiah 31:1)
The prophet Zechariah confirms Israel’s salvation through Jesus Christ in the Old Testament.
“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication. Then they will look at Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. In that day, there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem.” (Zechariah 12:10–11)
“And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in again. For if you were cut out of the olive tree, which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?” (Romans 11:23–24)
In His sovereignty, God will one day save all of Israel in His perfect timing and power and happily graft them back into “their own olive tree.” It was theirs from the beginning.
Replacement Theology is unequivocally a false theology and should be rejected wholeheartedly. In no way has the Christian church replaced Israel, nor have the Gentiles replaced the Jewish people. In truth, believers in Christ are grafted into them. They are God’s root; they are His chosen people, and we are partakers of the same blessings.
“Remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.” (Romans 11:18)
One magnificent day, Jews and Gentiles will enjoy God’s covenant blessings of grace and eternal presence together in His kingdom as one beautiful tree.