Reading Ephesians and Colossians After Supersessionism

Reading Ephesians and Colossians After Supersessionism March 21, 2018

Lionel Windsor
Reading Ephesians and Colossians After Supersessionism
New Testament After Supersessionism; Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2017.

Lionel Windsor is an Anglican Minister and Lecturer in New Testament at Moore Theological College, Sydney, Australia. He is the author of Paul and the Vocation of Israel (2014), Gospel Speech (2015), and Gospel Speech Online (2017).

In this volume, Lionel Windsor (Moore Theological College) offers a non-supersessionist reading of Ephesians and Colossians, influenced by Donald W. B. Robinson, Graeme Goldsworthy (and to me, Markus Barth), and Windsor argues that the apostolic mission from Israel to “the nations” forms the explicit framework for Ephesians and Colossians. Yet the concrete dynamics of this mission seldom play any significant role in modern interpretation. Scholars frequently approach these letters as if the Jew-gentile dynamics inherent in the early Christ-preaching mission are either irrelevant, or are negated by the letters themselves. This book seeks to redress this deficiency. Windsor approaches Ephesians and Colossians with an evangelical post-supersessionist perspective. By highlighting, rather than downplaying, Israel’s special place in salvation history, Windsor demonstrates that Jew-gentile dynamics and missionary concerns are highly significant for understanding the overall argument of these two letters. The resulting readings offer a deeper appreciation of the biblical, Israel-centered contours in which the theological and ethical concerns of the letters are expressed. Along the way, Windsor demonstrates how certain texts in Ephesians and Colossians, which are often read as evidence of a supersessionist perspective, are capable of more fruitful and satisfactory post-supersessionist interpretations. He demonstrates that in these letters, Christ does not negate Jewish distinctiveness. Rather, Christ’s mission proceeds through Israel to the nations, creating mutual blessing in the Messiah.

This is an interesting book, on Eph/Col, Pauline theology, and the whole supersessionist discussion. There is a good survey of scholarship on this issue, a highlighting of historical and theological issues, and it is a good up-to-date on resource on Israel-Church relationships in NT studies.

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On a side note, I am a little ambivalent about the whole anti-supersession movement and the new Society for Post-Supersessionist Theology (SPST).

For a start, what exactly is supersessionism? Is it the view that God is done with the Jews or with Israel? Or that the church replaces ethnic Israel? Those are both views I’d reject! But that is not the only way of conceiving of supersessionism.

Towards that end, the SPST offers this definition whereby post-supersessionist refers to:

“a family of theological perspectives that affirms God’s irrevocable covenant with the Jewish people as a central and coherent part of ecclesial teaching. It rejects understandings of the new covenant that entail the abrogation or obsolescence of God’s covenant with the Jewish people, of the Torah as a demarcator of Jewish communal identity, or of the Jewish people themselves”

In other words, supersession is tantamount to an abrogation of the Jews, the Torah, and the covenant.

Okay, that’s fine, but that still leads to more questions. Is supersessionism limited to abrogation? Does supersessionism include the view that Israel is expanded to include Jews and Gentiles? The Israel of the new age is distinguished by belief in the Messiah? The Jews are part of “Israel according to the flesh” while believing Jews and Gentiles are part of “Israel according to the promise”?  Or, does supersession pertain to any view that says that non-Jews access something that current Jews do not have? Some would characterize those views as supersessionist!

In addition, supersessionism is a very Jewish thing, whether that’s the Enochic “elect,” Philo’s “Israel who sees God,” Qumran’s “sons of light,” Matthew’s “little one’s” or Paul’s “Israel of God.” It is very Jewish for one group to say that we are more faithful, more righteous, or more Israel than thou. I just don’t know how to avoid this sort of sectarian banter in the study of the NT and early church!

Also, the SPST is a very peculiar coalition of dispensationalist, messianic Jews, inter-faith ecumenists, and Paul within Judaism scholars. I do not know how long such a coalition is going to hold together. For instance, there are some in the apocalyptic Paul camp who wholeheartedly reject the idea that the church replaces Israel, that might sound good, but that is because they believe that Israel’s faith was empty “religion,” and there was literally nothing in Israel worth replacing, which doesn’t sound so good. And then you have folks who think messianic Judaism is simply a mistake because Jews should never ever convert to Christianity, which is exclusively a Gentile thing.

So, a few good conversations to be had around that table. I really do respect and admire these guys, I get on well Brian Tucker, Joel Willits, and Mark Nanos, but I am rather scratching my head about the whole post-supersessionist society.

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