The Truth About Replacement Theology
“There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28
A debate over the idea of “replacement theology” (also called supersessionism) is becoming increasingly popular. Supporters believe it is a biblical principle, while non-supporters call it antisemitic and false teaching. In today’s post-Christian culture, all Christians need to understand what this theology is, if it is biblical, and how to defend the truth.
What is Replacement Theology?
Christians and Jews primarily lived in harmony for hundreds of years before replacement theology began in the early second century. Replacement theology primarily teaches the modern church has replaced Israel. It is based on four central ideas:
- God has revoked His promises to Israel because they rejected Jesus the Messiah, and they now belong to the Christian church
- The Jews are no longer God’s chosen people
- God has no future plans for Israel
- God condemns the Jews for the Messiah’s death
An originator of replacement theology is Greek philosopher and apologist Justin Martyr. In 155 A.D., he published Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, in which he advocated for a “New Israel” and a “True Israel” instead of the biblical Israel. In his opinion, the biblical Israel needed replacing. His ideas continued to spread when Constantine at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. formally separated the Christian celebration of Easter from the Jewish observance of Passover.
Later, early church leaders such as Augustine, John Chrysostom (archbishop of Constantinople), the unknown author of the extant-biblical Epistle of Barnabas, Martin Luther (creator of the Protestant Reformation), and Pope Paul IV also perpetuated replacement theology. Each of these and many more men, including the Bishop of the Evangelical Church of Thuringia in Germany in 1938, taught that Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death. They taught Jews are evil, governments should withdraw their rights, they should be shunned, persecuted, or killed, and their synagogues should be burned.
These false and vitriolic teachings led to antisemitic beliefs that have spread across the world. It is also one of the many driving forces behind Hitler’s heavily skewed Christian faith and desire to exterminate the Jews.
Sadly, believers in replacement theology continue to spread these lies today, which have resulted in most Jews becoming resistant to receiving the gospel of Christ.
Replacing the Jews
The central doctrine of replacement theology is the church has replaced the Jews. This idea is entirely false. Though God loves the church, the Jews continue to be God’s chosen people. Evidence of His love for them is evident throughout the Bible.
From Abraham to Moses to David and Old Testament prophets, God’s love is apparent. It is also why He sent Jesus the Messiah to Israel. God could have sent Jesus anywhere in the world, but He chose to present His Son to His chosen people first.
We continue to see evidence of God’s love for the Jews in the book of Revelation, most especially in chapters seven and fourteen. In these two chapters, we see that God will preserve 144,000 Messianic Jews, 12,000 from each tribe of Israel. He will seal them and protect them from the antichrist until their mission of spreading the gospel is complete.
“And I heard the number of those who were sealed. One hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel were sealed.” Revelation 7:4
“These were the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God.” Revelation 14:4–5
God intends to preserve and redeem the Jews through the end times, keeping His promise to always care for them. The church has not taken their place.
We find additional evidence of God’s faithfulness to Israel in Jeremiah 31. The entire chapter describes God’s desire and intent to keep His promises to His chosen people just as Jeremiah prophesied.
“I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.” Jeremiah 31:1
“Again, I will build you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel!” v4
“I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters, in a straight way in which they shall not stumble. For I am a Father to Israel, and Ephraim is My firstborn.” v9
God has already declared He will fulfill His promise of preservation in the end times.
God’s Unceasing Faithfulness
Why would God preserve the Jews if they continue to reject Jesus the Messiah? The apostle Paul asks and answers this question in the book of Romans.
“For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true, but every man a liar.” Romans 3:3–4
Though some reject the gospel, God will never cease in His faithfulness to Israel.
We also see evidence of God’s faithfulness during Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel. As Gabriel tells Mary what will happen, he describes who the Child is.
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom, there will be no end.” Luke 1:32–33
God has established Jesus as the king over Israel. And because Jesus reigns forever, He will preserve His people forever. He is eternally faithful to them.
Paul further confirms the Jews are God’s chosen people in his letter to the Messianic Jews in Rome.
“…Who are the Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises.” Romans 9:4
“I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.” Romans 11:1–2
Paul also verifies that God will not break His promises to Israel.
“And so, all Israel will be saved as it is written…Concerning the gospel, [unbelieving Jews] are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election, they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Romans 11:26, 28–29
God repeatedly states the Jews are still His chosen people, even in their disobedience. Despite all the Jews have endured through history — Roman destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. and the subsequent diaspora, the Holocaust, continuing skirmishes with nations surrounding Israel — God has not and will not abandon them. He will forever keep His covenants with them because of His commitment to the patriarchs — Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The books of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy detail God’s covenants. Some are eternal, and some are considered conditional. The Jews can break a conditional covenant if they disobey God’s law. But Deuteronomy 28–30 states God will restore the covenant if Israel repents.
An example of God’s eternal covenants with Israel is with Abraham and how God would make him the father of many nations and that He would give the Israelites the Promised Land. God has not yet fulfilled His promise, but we know He is working at it based on the establishment of Israel as a sovereign nation in 1948.
Another example is God’s promise to David that his seed would forever sit on Israel’s throne. Some people believe this is not an eternal covenant because of the Babylonian takeover of Israel in 586 B.C. This has led many to believe that David’s seed would only rule in Israel if they observe the original covenant’s obligations.
But we know David’s seed already took the throne when Jesus was born. As a direct descendant of David, He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and He alone sits on the Davidic throne forever. God has kept His promise to David as He has with all of Israel.
“For thus says the LORD: ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel.” Jeremiah 33:17
There is No Condemnation
Another tenet of replacement theology is God condemns the Jews because of their rejection and crucifixion of Jesus the Messiah. First, it is unfair to blame the Jews for Jesus’ death when we know we are the ones who put Him on the cross because of our sin. Further, no one can be assigned blame for His death. Only He can allow Himself to die.
“No one takes [my life] 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 10:18
Jesus’ sacrificial death was a part of God’s plan before the beginning of creation. He always had the power to save Himself or prevent His crucifixion completely, but He did not. He alone has the power to live or die, which He demonstrated when He rose to life again three days later.
Second, though many Jews continue failing to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah, God has not rejected His people. He promised He would keep His covenant with them, and He is. He has definite plans for them, and He will protect them through the end times (Revelation 21).
The Jews are still God’s chosen people. He has not condemned or rejected them nor broken His covenant with them. And He certainly has not removed His blessings from them and given them to the church. The Bible clearly shows the church is a distinct entity from the nation of Israel, one that receives its own covenant of grace. Though Judaism is the church’s foundation, with Jesus being the fulfillment of Mosaic Law, they should not be used interchangeably (which Covenant Theology teaches).
Replacement Theology and Antisemitism
When Constantine established Christianity as the official religion of Rome in the fourth century, church leaders took it to mean Judaism was wrong, and those who practice it are against God because they “murdered” Jesus. As a result, antisemitism was born.
Many theologians continued to spread the belief that Jews are murderers and disloyal to God. Two of the more prominent supporters are John Chrysostrom and Martin Luther.
John Chrysostrom (354–407 A.D.) was a Greek theologian and archbishop of Constantinople. He preached eight derisive sermons to the Church in Antioch concerning the Jews. In his seventh sermon, he stated, “I hate the Jews for they have the Law, and they insult it” Other excerpts from his sermons declare Jews “… murderers, destroyers, men possessed by the devil … They know only one thing, to satisfy their gullets, to get drunk, to kill and maim one another….”
Remarkably, the Orthodox Church continues to read Chrysostrom’s sermons and prayers, and they inducted him into their canon. His teachings were one of the main reasons for the Christian Crusades (1095–1291 A.D.) and the subsequent death of thousands of Jews.
Martin Luther’s Theology
Martin Luther is another well-known supporter of replacement theology and antisemitism. Though an initial supporter of the Jews, their resistance to the gospel slowly caused him to become bitter toward them. He eventually believed Germany should eject the Jews, and they should destroy everything they owned. In 1543, he wrote On the Jews and Their Lies, where he says:
“First their synagogues should be set on fire and whatever is left be buried in the dirt so that no one may be able to see a stone or cinder from it … Jewish prayer books should be destroyed … then the Jewish people should be dealt with, their homes smashed and destroyed.
“Jews should be banned from the roads and markets, should be drafted into forced labor and made to earn their bread ‘by the sweat of their noses’… They live by evil and plunder; they are wicked beasts that ought to be driven out like mad dogs.
“In the last resort, they should be kicked out ‘for all time.’”
Martin Luther, the author of the Protestant Reformation, is one of the biggest reasons why Hitler wanted to exterminate the Jews during World War II. His mental condition aside, his Christian faith was highly skewed because of replacement theology. And he was not alone. Other early Lutherans also believed the Jews deserved death. As a result, the largest persecution of Jews in the world’s history ended in the death of over 6 million people.
False and Evil Theology
Replacement theology has fueled antisemitism for centuries. The Jews’ historical sufferings and rejection of Jesus as the Redeemer of Israel are a direct result of those who have fallen for such dangerous teaching. In fact, the theology’s teaching has caused the suffering the Jews have endured.
Father Edward H. Flannery says it well in his book The Anguish of the Jews.
“The sin of antisemitism contains many sins, but, in the end, it is a denial of Christian faith, a failure of Christian hope, and a malady of Christian love.”
Believers in Jesus the Messiah would do well to stay clear of replacement theology. It is entirely false and highly dangerous. Sadly, many people will continue to believe it. Even so, God has not abandoned His chosen people. He will forever keep His covenant with them, and Gentiles have the blessing of being grafted into that covenant. And one day, when the Lord Jesus returns, we will enjoy His presence and glory together.
“For I will cause their captives to return and will have mercy on them.” Jeremiah 33:25–26