Raymond L. Gannon, Ph.D., Vice President for Academic Affairs, MJBI
Supersessionism (a.k.a., replacement theology) is a second-century and post-apostolic, theological invention based upon a Platonist (Greek) philosophical reading of Scripture. Christian elitists over the next three centuries would manipulate biblical revelation by extensive allegorical method to claim that the Church had replaced Israel in God’s divine economy. This method of “interpretation” was devoid of sound biblical hermeneutic, reading into the text ideas not contained in Scripture (e.g., eisegesis), and pagan in its source.
Supersessionism became the “mother of all heresies” as it laid the foundation for an extensive range of heretical notions and historical catastrophes for the next the two millennia. Innovative terms were employed such as “new,” “true,” or “spiritual Israel,” which had no basis or precedent in either the Hebrew Bible or Greek New Testament. Newly invented terms were theologically pooled to create the illusion that biblical Israel had been divinely repudiated and discarded in favor of faithful Gentiles, the NEW Israel. The Hebraic-oriented texts of the full Bible and classical Jewish themes were discounted in favor of viewing God’s revelation through a Greek philosophical lens.
In spite of the glaring absence of “replacement theology” from either the Gospels or first-century apostolic teaching, Supersessionism has continued to be the majority opinion within Christendom particularly since the fourth-century. There were hopeful challenges among the 16th-century Reformers, 17th-century Puritans, and 19th-century advocates of Dispensationalism. In more recent generations following the Holocaust, there have been theological thunderings against classical Christian anti-Semitism in several circles.
Many have entertained new theological paradigms that would allow for the biblically-promised Israel-Church Kingdom partnership ultimately to coordinate in space and time. This relationship is to be much preferred to the perpetuated antagonism that has characterized much of classical Christian poor thinking and traditional misbehavior toward “All Israel.” Against the onslaught of today’s new anti-Semitism (stemming from radical Islam, the Far Left, world political entities, and misguided university systems) a sound theology of Israel needs to be formulated that will not feed but rather repudiate classical Christian anti-Semitism.
The need exists to confront modern Supersessionism to avoid simply perpetuating the theological blunders of the past that have led to the endangerment of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. These ideas have caused Christians to suffer colossal distortion of the meaning of both Hebrew and Greek testaments and resulted in both Israel and the Church to posture in militant resistance to the advance of the Kingdom of God and the very missio Dei (mission of God). Theological predisposition to Israel’s irrelevance has served as theological fodder for political propaganda and abuses of the Jewish people particularly in the West.
The second-century philosophically-based social agenda was motivated by Christian desire to distance Christianity from Israel and the Jewish people. Gradually this morphed into theological treatise and then actualized in political anti-Semitism over the centuries. It ignored God’s own Word of eternal commitment to the central and ongoing involvement of Israel in the missio Dei: greater revelation of God as well as international redemption and reconciliation to the Creator. Paul makes it clear the Church is to partner with, not replace, Israel in salvation history (Romans 9-11).
Evangelical enthusiasm for the restoration of Israel is in keeping with biblical prophecy in spite of frequent and strong opposition from contemporary theologians, clergy and para-Church groups. Sound exegesis of the word “Israel” in the New Testament refers alone to the ethnic nation of Israel. Particularly noteworthy here is Romans 11:26, “All Israel will be saved.”
We do well to abandon Plato-inspired allegorical interpretations and replacement theologies and return to the Jewish-styled hermeneutic of Jesus and the apostles’ own day. This would not only allow for a better understanding of biblical truth, but recognize Israel’s ongoing and central role in the eschaton (end times) and Israel’s perpetual importance to salvation history. It could also combat the current widespread Christian tendency to delegitimize Messianic Jewish identity which militates against the success of Gospel proclamation within the Jewish world.
The present Messianic Jewish Movement (Jewish people embracing Jesus) is the brightest illustration we have today of the fully removed and cross-annihilated wall of partition that separated those who are now to aspire to function in harmonious unity. Any continuing rabbinic and Christian socially fortified or theological walls today between Israel and the Church are impure human fabrications. Anti-Jewishness is so woven into the fabric of Christian society that Messianic Jews suffer ongoing slander from both Jewish and local Christian communities.
The inbuilt Christian dread or suspicion of everything Jewish prevents the Messianic claims of Jesus from needed consideration in the Jewish world. Israel’s national embrace of Jesus is the apostolic conviction (Romans 11:25-26). This can only be done by “provoking” Israel to spiritual jealousy, not by negating the Jewish right to exist.
There can be little doubt that national Israel has still to submit to God’s appointed Anointed One, Jesus, the One who will lead “All Israel” into her national destiny and effective international ministry of reconciliation. But how tragic it is that conventional Christian Supersessionists promote the biblically unsupportable posture that Israel has been fully replaced by the Church and that the Jewish people therefore have no claim to ongoing Covenant relationship to God or to Eretz-Israel (Land of Israel). In this manner, misguided Christian spokesmen mislead Christians, misrepresent the teachings of Scripture, and perhaps unintentionally but simultaneously encourage Islamic terrorism against the Jewish people and State of Israel.
Equally dreadful are related theologies that espouse “two covenant” notions that conclude Jewish people do not need Jesus to find personal or national salvation. But Israel will only continue to stall on her biblical mission track until Israel is prepared to follow Yeshua, God’s Engineering Power, for Israel’s ultimate success.