What Is Replacement Theology or Supersessionism?

by Dr. Michael L. Williams · Print Print · Email Email

A common belief among many Christians is that Israel holds no special place anymore in the heart of God. Unfortunately, this has led to many outright rejecting the legitimate existence of modern day Israel. No matter what anyone says, this belief gets harder with each passing day to substantiate, given Israel’s place in prophetic world affairs since the nation’s rebirth in 1948. However, many continue to believe in replacement theology or Supersessionism. What is Replacement Theology or Supersessionism? A short study will answer this question.

Where did Replacement Theology or Supersessionism originate?

Replacement Theology, or Supersessionism, is the belief that the church, replaced or superseded Israel in God’s plan for humanity. Most often it is linked with the destruction of Israel in 70 AD. Its origins can be traced back to the early church theologians who taught that God’s Old Covenant with Israel was fulfilled and replaced by the New Covenant in Christ. Examples are as follows:

  1. Justin Martyr (2nd century AD) believed that the “true Spiritual Israel” is no longer made up of Jews, but the church “who have been led to God through this crucified Christ.” (1)
  2. Hippolytus of Rome (3rd century) believed the Jews “have been darkened in the eyes of your soul with a darkness utter and everlasting.” (2)
  3. Augustine (4th-5th Century) echoed these views. But, he also believed that the Jews “Are thus by their own Scriptures a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ” (3)
  4. Martin Luther wrote: “For such ruthless wrath of God is sufficient evidence that they [i.e., the Jewish people] assuredly have erred and gone astray. Even a child can comprehend this. For one dare not regard God as so cruel that he would punish his own people so long, so terrible, so unmercifully … Therefore this work of wrath is proof that the Jews, surely rejected by God, are no longer his people, and neither is he any longer their God” (4)

Many other examples can be found, but these teachings were very influential to what would become the adoption of these beliefs by the Catholic Church and numerous other denominations in history.

Replacemet Theology Supersessionism

Is Replacement Theology or Supersessionism Biblical?

Entire books have been written on this topic, but the fact that Israel exists today is a miracle, given this tiny nation of only about eight million people. Only about 75% or six million people in Israel are Jews, 21% or about 1.7 million people are Arabs, and the rest are neither (5). Given these small numbers, it is a wonder how many can claim that this tiny nation that is smaller than the peninsula of Florida and having less Jews than the United States (6), can have so much influence in the world for good or bad, depending on one’s perspective. Those who argue in favor of Replacement Theology or Supersessionism use the following Scriptures, among others, to defend their position:

  1. Belief that the promises made by God to Israel have been fulfilled: Joshua 21:43-45; 2 Chronicles 9:26; Nehemiah 9:8; Hebrews 6:13-15
  2. Belief that the promises of God have been passed to the church from the Jews: Malachi 1:11; Matthew 21:43; Romans 1:16; Romans 2:9-10; Galatians 3:16;

Despite this teaching being around for over 1800 years, the Bible says the following about Israel:

  1. God blessed Abraham and His descendants: Genesis 12:3; Galatians 6:12-16
  2. Israel is God’s elect: Isaiah 45:4; Matthew 24:29-31
  3. Not all descendants of Israel are of Israel: Romans 9:1-9
  4. All the nations of the world will be blessed through Abraham: Genesis 12:2-3; Galatians 3:8;
  5. Christians become children of Abraham and heirs to the promise by faith in Christ: Acts 3:25; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:6-18
  6. God has not forsaken His people and still has a plan for Israel: Romans 10-11:1-32; 1 Corinthians 10:32; 1 Peter 2:10; Hebrews 8:6-13
  7. Jesus will return to earth with the church to rescue a remnant of Israel after the Tribulation Period: Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 10:20-22; Jeremiah 23:3-8; Joel 2:28-32; Matthew 24:3-44; Romans 9:27; Romans 11:25-26; Revelation 7; Revelation 19

Does it really matter what one believes about Israel?

This is where Replacement Theology or Supersessionism gets dangerous. Whenever you have bad doctrine, it results in bad practice. The belief that the church has replaced Israel has resulted in great atrocities to Jews since just after the time of Christ. Of particular note is its influence that can be found in the anti-Semitic writings and actions of Martin Luther, a whole host of popes, Adolf Hitler, and many theologians and denominations today. In fact, many groups in the last few centuries have claimed that their group or denomination was chosen by God to replace Israel. They often use this belief to make the claim that Jews today are imposters and should be forcibly removed from the land that Israel presently occupies. Most often, these claims are used to support promotion of a master race that was selected and blessed by God.

Likewise, many who believe this theology will not admit it, but since there is often a belief the replacement took place in 70 AD, the book of Revelation, written about 96 AD, is often considered as heresy because it was written after the alleged replacement. Likewise, prophecies written in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 are used to accuse people today that do not agree with replacement theology that God has deluded them to believe a lie because He did not choose them to be saved. I have personally witnessed this tactic when lovingly presenting the truth using the Bible when it does not agree with their teaching of Replacement Theology.

Conclusion

Replacement Theology, or Supersessionism, is the belief that the church, replaced or superseded Israel in God’s plan for humanity. Many theologians, church leaders, and churches still embrace this theology that has been promoted for over 1800 years. Attempts to justify this theology scripturally are weak at best and deny the whole teaching of the Bible. Many believers in Replacement Theology have adversely influenced Jews since its inception. Replacement Theology is a false doctrine. Understanding God’s plan for Israel is an important part of understanding God’s plan for humanity.

Here is another similar article for you: What is the Emergent Church?

Resources: (1) Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 11, in Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:200. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ante-Nicene_Fathers. (2) Hippolytus, Treatise Against the Jews 6, in Ante-Nicene Fathers 5.220. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippolytus_of_Rome. (3) Augustine, The City of God 18.46, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 2:389. Retrieved from: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.iv.XVIII.46.html. (4) Luther, Martin. On the Jews and Their Lies, Trans. Martin H. Bertram, in Luther’s Works, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, (1971), p. 265). (5) WPR (2015), World Population Report, Israel Population 2015, Retrieved from: http://worldpopulationreview.com/countries/israel-population/. (6) Jewish Virtual Library (2014), Vital Statistics: Jewish Population in the United States, by State, Retrieved from: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/usjewpop.html

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Sam October 13, 2015 at 3:17 pm

Wow… What an informative and well written article. Thank you very much.

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