An Old Question Not Yet Settled

An Old Question Not Yet Settled February 21, 2013

An issue for conversation, an issue I find arising more and more often in New Testament discussion. That issue is often called “supersessionism.” At work here is a simple question: What happened to Israel (or to Judaism, or to faithful Jews) when Jesus came? Did Jesus “replace” Israel with his kingdom people, the church? (That word “replace” is the debate and it is what “supersessionism” is all about.)

The question then is this: Does the church replace Israel as the locus of God’s People or is there a separable Israel within the one people of God? Now put in a different way: if Jesus is the Messiah, and if that means there is one means of redemption (through Christ), is there within the church a bi-lateral arrangementJewish believers who trust in Jesus and follow the Torah, and Gentile believers who trust in Jesus but who do not follow the Torah in the same manner that Jewish believers follow the Torah?

More questions: Are the promises and covenant with Israel irrevocable in an ethnic or fleshly sense? Or are these promises irrevocable with only the “new” Israel (the church)? Are Jewish believers to follow Torah? Or, are they to be mixed into the church and abandon their Jewish-ness? Ramped up to a new level: Are Jews “saved” by following the Abrahamic/Mosaic/Davidic covenant while Christians are saved by the covenant with Christ? (A kind of pluralism.)

To engage this conversation I’d like to dip again into D. Rudolph and J. Willitts’ Introduction to Messianic Judaism and the important essay by Kendal Soulen, whose discussions of supersessionism have become the frontrunner. He finds three kinds at work in the church:

1. Structural: creation, fall, covenant, and redemption move from Israel to the whole world, and so leave Israel behind structurally in the redemptive plan of God. This standard canonical narrative, Soulen once said, was unredeemable — he now thinks the Tetragrammaton as sacred in both eras can give rise to a non-supersessionistic canonical narrative in which Israel’s covenant is eternal. [I’m unconvinced his theory of the Tetragrammaton resolves much. Supersessionism must be resolved another way.]

2. Economic: the covenant with Israel was all along meant to be fulfilled in Jesus and thus the new covenant and Jesus and Spirit … each supersedes the terms of the older covenant. Thus, circumcision is superseded by baptism and circumcision is no longer a covenant marker.

3. Punitive: Israel is punished by YHWH for its sins and that leads to God’s formal covenant with the church.

There is another element here that I have learned in conversations. Let us say we don’t want to be supersessionist. Let’s also say Jewish believers are still to follow Torah alongside Gentiles believers, in one Body of Christ, where Gentiles don’t have to become Jews. That is, Jewish and Gentile believers are together the church.

The issue remains: is the New Covenant one that “fulfills” the Old Covenant in such a way that redemption is now found only in Christ and the new covenant? If that is the case, what happens to “Israel after the flesh” that doesn’t believe in the Messiah? Is the new, fulfilled covenant — fully continuous with the old but concretely now realized in Yeshua so that redemption is in him alone — not a form of “covenant supersession” within Israel?

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  • Jaymes Lackey

    great questions… I would love to know what you think.

  • Mickey

    If the scriptures are understood from through the paradigm of covenants, then Jesus and his body can be understood as the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to Israel (Acts 24:13-15; Acts 26:6-8 and 19-23; Acts 28:23 and 30-31).
    When adding in the eschatology, it can be understood that God is finished with Israel according to the flesh (Galatians 4:21-31). God passed judgement on the nation of Israel in the First Century when she rejected her Messiah.
    This is an exact parallel to the judgement of Judah the led to the Babylonian Captivity. This First Century judgement of Israel fulfils what Jesus said would happen (Mark 12:1-12).

  • Regarding “covenant supersession”–how would we distinguish “covenant supersession” from “covenant renewal” or simply “new [as in additional] covenant”? Covenant renewal is a biblical pattern appearing in Tanakh (i.e. Joshua and the next generation before entering the land). New covenants are made therein as well (Pinchas, David). So what of Jeremiah’s “new covenant”?

    BTW, Messianic Jewish scholar/Rabbi John Fischer has an essay arguing for the “renewed covenant” understanding of the new covenant (“Covenant, Fulfillment, and Judaism in Hebrews”) in The Enduring Paradox: Exploratory Essays in Messianic Judaism.

    As to the question of “What about Israel after the flesh?”, I think Introduction to Messianic Judaism‘s essay by Darrell Bock on “The Restoration of Israel in Luke-Acts” makes a great contribution to New Testament theology on this question. This is also the question Paul is wrestling with in Romans 9-11; there are two essays on that passage in the book (William S. Campbell’s and Scott J. Hafemann’s) as well.

  • scotmcknight

    Yahnatan (nice name), I like your categories of renewed, but that focuses narrowly — for me the question becomes “How is someone saved?” If one is saved by faith in Yeshua alone, that is in the terms of the (re)new(ed) covenant, will not the pre-new covenant people think their covenant has been superseded? (See what I’m asking at the level of redemption?)

  • Scot:

    If I understand the “rubber meets the road” part of your inquiry correctly it is this:
    … if conscious faith in Jesus is the crux for a final destiny of salvation
    … and if the Jewish people today largely do not have this Jesus-faith
    … are not the covenants with the Jewish people superseded in some sense by what Jesus brings?

    In other words, some kind of supersessionism cannot be avoided if faith in Jesus is a requirement now (without exception).

    So, this question presupposes that we are certain no one has a final destiny of salvation unless they confess Jesus in this life.

    But how solid is that assertion? How well does it stand up to scrutiny scripturally and based on the character of God? Isn’t the usual proof-texting for “believe before you die” rather dubious?

    Are you not open to some kind of inclusivism or at least agnosticism about final destinies?

  • What if our perspective was that Jesus was Israel. In his birth, in his baptism, in his wilderness, in his teaching & life, in his death, in his resurrection, in his reign – Jesus is the new Israel. I think the gospel writers, as well as the whole of the NT, put forth this perspective. It’s not about ‘replacement theology’, it’s about fulfilment theology. One and one alone is the true son.

    Therefore, all those in Christ, Jew & Gentile, are the Israel of God. But it all comes down to Messiah being Israel.

  • Scott:

    Biblical metaphors are not either-or but both-and.

    It would be odd biblically for the New Moses to mean the Old Moses is invalid, or the New David to replace the Old David. The New Israel theme should not invalidate Old Israel. Paul seems to have grasped this in Romans 11.

  • PJ Anderson

    I’m an economic supersessionist (I don’t enjoy the title.) Ultimately, Israel of the OT had disappeared by about 400 BC and had been replaced by the returning exiles who were largely identifying as Jews.

    There is simply, in my opinion, no basis for saying there has ever been ethnic salvation of Israelites in the OT. Within the text of the OT there is always a test for faithfulness, or way of showing faithfulness, as a means of appropriating the covenantal blessing in the OT. So this notion that there will be a final days ethnic salvation for Israel is a misnomer. Any of Abraham’s descendents had to show faithfulness to appropriate the blessings of his covenantal promise.

    In general, when I see Paul or any of the non-Gospel discussions of Israel in the NT it seems to be a discussion of how the Church has become the True Israel. Jews can become part of that covenant salvation, but they need to be faithful and accept Jesus as Messiah.

  • Hi Scott,

    Thank you for raising this subject. Supercessionism takes on many expressions, both overt and implied.

    Supercessionism says overtly that God has finished blessing Israel, and that God’s promises to the Jews were all fulfilled in Jesus. Anyone can now receive the fruit of God’s promises, not just Jews. To think that God has any relationship with the Jews still, would be to confine God to one nation, rather than letting him bless all nations.

    You will find the subtler form of supercessionism, were a Christian to read Jeremiah 29:11, and apply this verse to his own life as a comfort:

    For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

    However, if the same reader were to consider the chapter as a whole, they would see that it is a letter from Jeremiah to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. The blessings are only promised to those who will come back from exile. This is what will happen to those who stay in the city:

    “I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten.”

    Clearly there is more happening in this verse, than a simple blessing for Israel. What often happens, is that Christians can take Jeremiah 29:11 as a universal promise to all Christians (who have escaped the exile of sin), and Jeremiah 29:17 as a curse to specific disobedient Jews – whom they now associate as the Jewish nation as whole.

    For supercessionists, the blessings that God promised to Israel are now passed to the Church, whereas the threats that God made to Israel apply in full to Israel, because most Jews do not believe in Jesus. They would assume that Jews in Israel should fear another exile from their sins. Yet following each exile, there has been restoration.

    Supercessionists cannot allow for a physical restoration of Jews to Israel, as they think that restoration is a spiritual matter for Christians.

    The problem of replacement theology, is that it creates a filtering process, whereby curses are offloaded onto the Jews, and blessings are received by the Church, even though those same blessings and curses were spoken to the same people gathered at the same time in the same place.

    It is an issue that Messianic Jews must contend with in love as we seek to show how supercessionism itself ought to cease.

  • As a Messianic Jew, I have struggled with this very question. I am no fan of supercessionism on both theological grounds as well as practical ones, as it often leads to anti-Semitic action in its adherents. On the other hand, even if “fulfillment” language is used, I have the conviction that supercessionism in some form is the conclusion of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, applying to both Jew and Gentile. But my conviction is weighted with questions, and a bit of agnosticism on the issue serves as additional ballast.

    I’m looking forward to more discussion on this issue!

  • PJ Anderson – which covenant do you see as fulfilled in Jesus – the Abrahamic or the Mosaic?

  • These types of questions only (seem to) make sense in the context of a flawed and misguided theory of revelation.

    misnomer as used above should = misconception. pet peeve, sorry.

  • How do you mean, Mark?

  • scotmcknight

    OK folks, we’re going for a spelling clarification: supersessionism not supercessionism. Unless one finds it so in a UK dictionary, I think there’s no “c.”

    Joseph W, here’s my question right back to you: Derek nailed it with this:

    … if conscious faith in Jesus is the crux for a final destiny of salvation
    … and if the Jewish people today largely do not have this Jesus-faith
    … are not the covenants with the Jewish people superseded in some sense by what Jesus brings?

    And his last line is understood as fulfilled by Jesus and that means that redemption is in Christ. If redemption is found now in Christ, and prior to Christ it was not, is that a kind of covenant supersession? Your illustration about using Jeremiah’s words illustrate your point but beg the question about substantive fulfillment in Christ and the impact of that fulfillment for those not believing in Christ.

  • Paul


    When I read the scriptures I sense a tension in places like Romans 11 for those under the “old” covenant as not fully replaced or forgotten. At the same time the NT seems to put a huge emphasis on Jesus as the key to salvation. How do you see salvation working for those who are in the old Israel and have no understanding of Jesus (and in a sense reject the need for Jesus)?

  • Sumit Sen

    Often biblical exegesis is impacted by the socio-political happenings of our day. In this case it it the holocaust that impacts how we deal with the question of Church and Israel. But still we have to faithful to the scripture. I do not think either Jesus or Paul would agree with either two-covenant theology or replacement theology. Paul viewed himselg suffering for the hope of Israel, and regarded Jesus as Israel’s messiah. Paul saw the coming of the gentiles as the fulfillment of Israel’s vocation to be the light to the gentiles. In fact the term ekklesia used by Paul is a term used in the Septuagint for Israel. In fact the olive tree imagery places gentiles right into God’s covenant with Israel. In essence the gentiles did not come to belong to the church when they became Christians, they became a part of Israel. Not replacement theology there. On the other hand Paul would say that not all physical born Israelites are Israel (Rom 9:6). For Paul only those who put their faith in Jesus, Israel’s messiah are truly Abraham’s descendent meaning truly belong to Israel. No two covenant theology there.

  • Scot, it is a UK/US spelling difference. Ben Witherington and Calvin Smith spell it with a “C”, for example, but it’s unimportant.

    Regarding the question about what is replaced, I believe the following:

    1) Jesus replaced the Temple, and so a new system and a new law replaced the previous system – now rather than having to keep the Torah (and the supporting halachah) and make sacrifices in the Temple, a sacrifice was provided once-and-for-all. Because of this new sacrificial system (a better high priest, no need to repeat sacrifices) – according to Melchizedek and not according to Levi – a new “law” was introduced too, in which Messiah gave new strength and new focus to Torah – so he crystallised the Torah by underlining “love your neighbour as yourself” and “love God with all your strength, all your heart, all your might”, and focusing on inner attitudes over the outward observance – whilst maintaining a call to a holy life. I would call this old system “the Mosaic covenant.” This covenant was breakable – God outlined consequences for disobedience (temporary exile, civil punishment for persons breaking laws, personal estrangement from God).

    2) God promised to bless Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, through “the Abrahamic covenant”, which promised a people to Abraham, the people of Israel, whom God would take as a special people to himself, whom he would bless the whole world through, and through whom would come kings. This people would receive land and could count on God’s eternal faithfulness. This covenant was unbreakable – God knocked Abraham out in order to initiate it!

    2) Israel existed for 430 years, before the initial Torah and priestly system were established. In that time, Israel was “in covenant” – it was because of God’s covenant promises that He remembered them in Egypt and took them out of Egypt. But this relationship exists independently from the Mosaic covenant.

    3) Whilst Jesus’ New Covenant replaced the Mosaic covenant, the Abrahamic covenant remained in tact. Indeed, the replacement of the Mosaic with the New affirms God’s original covenant love for Israel – because even though Israel could not obey God through the Mosaic, he had compassion and gave Israel an opportunity to obey God through the New covenant. But the Abrahamic covenant does not hinge on obedience – God will continue to love Israel, because God himself is the God of Israel – his name is attached to Israel.

    4) Supercessionists/supersessionists make the mistake of believing that the people of Israel have no special place in God’s plans today, because of the replacement of the Mosaic covenant with the New. But crucially, the Abrahamic covenant has not been replaced, therefore God’s original promises to Israel are untouched, and his love to the Jewish people remains ongoing.

  • (Also, I can’t count. I meant 1/ 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 , not 1 / 2 / 2 / 3 / 4)

  • “How do you mean, Mark?”

    1st, sorry, i was run down by a driver tues, broke wrist, typing 1 handed very hampering.

    revelation of god isn’t something that happens in a book, rather in jesus properly speaking. books are written tradition. as paul says, if jesus isn’t risen …

    if not jesus risen , what reason is there to privilege israelite scriptures over any other nation, much less early christian writings?

    revelation is about who god is, and in full sense that happens in person of jesus, not in gospels per se, but if not risen …

    pls excuse shorthand again. i’ve written at great length, & from various aspects on my blog.

  • Derek (comment #7) –

    What’s interesting to note is statements like in Hebrews (written to Jews) saying that the old covenant was passing away, being made obsolete.

    Of course, you can’t wipe out from the mind anything of the old covenant. And I’m not saying it doesn’t teach. But it has no bearings in the economy of God. Jesus chooses a new 12. Jesus says he is the temple. Jesus comes a sacrifice. Jesus is the true vine (Israel was identified as a vine). Jesus was baptised (so was Israel). Jesus was drawn into the wilderness. The theme is greatly focused on a new Israel, a new son of God, a new son of David.

    So, the others existed, no doubt. But they have no sway in the economy of God. To build a temple today would be counter-productive. To set-up an old covenant priesthood would be counter-productive. To get a certain ethnic people to return to a certain land in the middle east would be counter-productive (since this thing, in Messiah, has busted out to the 4 corners of the world).

    Again, the gospels and NT were making it clear a new son, a new Israel was here. He became the exiled one that we might step into the true land of milk and honey.

  • joseph: 2) God promised to bless Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, through “the Abrahamic covenant”

    any particular reason you think abe was real person and not simply part of “founding narrative”?

    think of revelation in terms of nature/grace. grace (revelation of god in jesus) cooperates with nature (man’s efforts to understand reality, including in israelite writings). keep eye on revelation, “scriptures” are ancillary, vary in genre, purpose, etc.

  • Abraham was a real person, not least because Jesus thought he was a real person!

    “Before Abraham was, I am”

    This is an affirmation of Abraham’s existence, and Yeshua’s pre-eminent existence.

    But if Abraham did not exist, then Yeshua’s statement is false, and with that his claim to have existed before Abraham is dodgy too.

  • Scott #20 – how does the upgrading of the Mosaic covenant affect God’s Abraham-based covenant love for Israel? There is no new Israel, just the Israel whom God has loved since he chose her.

  • Sorry Mark to hear of your accident 🙁 get well soon

  • “The theme is greatly focused on a new Israel, a new son of God, a new son of David.”

    important to distinguish voice of evangelists and other early christians from jesus presented speaking in his own voice. “new” is not really something jesus says about himself (altho christian theologs writing what came to be called “scriptures” may have), but “true” is–different. again, revelation in proper sense isn’t a book.

    jesus speaks as one having authority all his own as compared to books. books are referenced as part of polemical rhetoric, usually.

  • Marshall

    As the children mature, the parent changes the way he/she talks to them. New freedoms and new responsibilities. Superficially things change radically, especially from the child’s point of view, but in reality the deeper principle, the parent’s hopes and plans, remains the same.

    Joseph W: We are all living in exile: Genesis 2:24. And the Lord also promised a people to Cain, to Ismael, and so on. Personally I doubt whether the people of the covenant can be identified with the political entity in Tel Aviv any more than with the rulers of the second temple: we shouldn’t conflate the theological problem with the worldly one.

  • Hi Marshall, the political capital of Israel is Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv – it’s not an entity but it’s a state and it is called the State of Israel, home of 6 million Jews who speak Hebrew.

    I would consider Israel to be a blessing, and not a problem.

    The Lord did promise other nations to other people, you’re right, and there were specific promises about the nation of Israel, that it would be a peculiar nation belonging to God, and special to him.

    God promises different things to different people occasionally, as he might well!

    We are not in exile by leaving our parents, rather that is what everyone does really.

  • “Sorry Mark to hear of your accident get well soon”

    tx. prolly 5 wks. very frustrating.

    “Before Abraham was, I am”

    This is an affirmation of Abraham’s existence

    i don’t think so. Jesus is primarily speaking of his identity–important and explicit theme in john, but not offering history. other evangelists quote baptist approving: god can raise children to abe from stones–relativizes abrahamic “ancestry.” jesus also relativizes israelite scriptures and ethnicity (cf. e.g. re divorce, but elsewhere in other ways too). jesus in his own voice sounds almost modern, deconstructive.

  • Joseph W (#23) –

    The idea of ‘new’ is not completely different. It’s the fulfilled plan of God. The new heavens & new earth are not a completely rebuilt one. It speaks of restoration into the fulfilled purpose of God.

    I’m not saying God despises physical Israel, nor has he replaced them. He simply had his Messiah fulfil what they could not fulfil. And, from that, the mark of those who belong to God is faith in the faithfulness of Messiah. A true Jew is one circumcised in heart, by the Spirit of God. A true child of Abraham is one who follows in Abraham’s footsteps – faith, which is now in the Son of God.

  • I’m not saying God despises physical Israel, nor has he replaced them. He simply had his Messiah fulfil what they could not fulfil

    Right-o, fair enough. I do think there is still Jew/Gentile, man/woman distinctiveness, even though we are all one in Messiah (perhaps this is a “separate” issue, see what I did there…)

  • @29

    necessary to distinguish paul’s theolog rhetoric from history, compare & contrast jesus in his own voice (albeit mediated by evangels).

  • Joseph W –

    Yes, looking at things with the eye, I agree. My wife is female; I am male. But that has no bearing on how the rule of God is made known on earth as in heaven.

  • I agree too. You might have a men’s meeting sometimes where you discuss male concerns, use men’s toilets, etc. On some functional level, there are practical reasons why Jews should carry on worshipping Yeshua in community when they believe in Him – in doing so they are not contradicting the new covenant but affirming it. But I don’t feel we are really disagreeing.

  • Scot #20:

    In my newest book (which I am trying to get you to read), Yeshua Our Atonement, I have two chapters on Hebrews. I find it to be a very pro-Torah midrashic homily showing how Yeshua is the next chapter of Torah (not Torah’s abolisher). In a short blog comment, it is hard to be clear and not be misunderstood. Let’s say the Yeshua-gospel is Torah 2.0 (like version 2.0 of software) and it contains within it all the functionality of Torah 1.0.

    The change in Torah Hebrews refers to is not surprising (there are changes in Torah within Torah, between Leviticus and Deuteronomy — and there are changes in Torah before Jesus, such as the reassignment of Levites as musicians and guards). The change Hebrews discusses is the Melchizedek priesthood, which is already a new thing before Jesus. (I explain all this in my book).

    The “passing away” of the Old is now and not yet in Hebrews. When sin and death are abolished, no ritual purifications would be needed anymore for God to dwell among Israel in a Temple or in any other method of national indwelling.

    Whew! It’s easier to say, “Please read at least those two chapters in my book.”

  • Wade

    Thank you for this post. Two years ago I graduated seminary and began to notice that a great number of people in the church were incredibly confused about the relationship between the Old and New Testament. I gave some young members some basic questions and they were all settled most closely with supercessionism. I took my findings to some scholars and they thought the problem was resolved centuries ago. I thought I might be crazy, so I began to note what people would say when I asked questions, “What does Jesus mean when he says ‘new covenant’?” When I moved churches, the problem existed there as well. I found that Brueggemann thought this was a problem as well that seemed to be coming back again as he states in his newest edition of “An Unsettling God.” I found a number of factors which seem to propel people to be supercessionist.
    1. They are anti-authoritarian and think that Jesus is in on their cause.
    2. They are dualistic platonist who have somehow attached that to the Lutheran teaching on Law and grace.
    3. Their platonism sees only heaven as the goal and earth as what must be endured. (NT Wright’s pet pieve)
    4. They are not at all familiar with Jeremiah 31 or any of the prophets
    5. Unfamiliar with the layers of covenants in the Old Testament and complete attachment of Pauline theology on the Abrahamic covenant.
    6. They want to distance their faith from the current political issues.

    There are a few more, but those are fairly major problems I have come across in my groups. I am always looking for more input like this to help replace replacement theology with fulfillment theology and Jesus as the new Israel which I think Paul argues for in Romans. The reason it is all “good news” is because it is the fulfillment of a promised hope.

  • CJ

    Does the idea that Gentiles are held to the Law of Noah, not the Law of Moses, come in to this discussion at all? It kept coming to mind as I read the original post and all of the comments.

  • Scot #20:

    Yes, the gospel shows Jesus as New Israel and disciples as New 12. The gospel that shows this most clearly is Matthew. Which happens to also be the gospel which shows the most continuity of Old in the New (Matt 5:17-20, Matt 23, etc.). I think Matthew would say to you, “Please don’t read my New Israel and New Moses theme as either-or, so philosophical. Be more midrashic and both-and. We Jews see re-use of scriptures and metaphors over and over again as a good thing.”

    NOTE: I got caught in the “you are commenting too quickly algorithm. Probably won’t be allowed to comment again for 10 minutes or something.

  • Matt Edwards

    Thanks for promoting this discussion, Scot. It’s important.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but it seems like in academic biblical studies, the term “supersessionist” has the power that “fundamentalist,” “bigot,” and “liberal” have in the wider world. It’s a label you don’t want to have. Guys like Wright and Dunn seem to want to avoid being labled supersessionist at all costs.

  • John 14:6 should resolve most of this “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV) That stands for everyone Jew and Gentile alike. The original disciples were Jewish and the only way the make it to heaven is through faith in Christ those that follow are no different.

  • Paul #15:

    You asked the MILLION DOLLAR question: “How do you see salvation working for those who are in the old Israel and have no understanding of Jesus (and in a sense reject the need for Jesus)?”

    I am an agnostic when it comes to the question of final destiny for anyone, Paul. When I accepted the soterian gospel (as per Scot’s terminology in The King Jesus Gospel) it all seemed so easy. What I see now in Yeshua’s teaching and in Paul’s desire for Israel’s salvation is not directly equatable with a decision-prior-to-death gospel. I think there is mystery in the question of anyone’s final destiny, not just Israel’s. I see the warnings to believe and to obey as being of benefit for this present life and no bottom line, clear-cut boundary for final destinies. Meanwhile, I would agree with this statement: “To know Yeshua (Jesus) as his follower is to be justified before God.” I am simply not prepared to add: “and there is no hope for those who fail to become his followers before they die.”

  • Matt, sadly NT Wright’s theology is deeply antisemitic and I would not recommend it:

  • Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see anyone mention the fact that Paul seems to think the Abrahamic Covenant was actually a covenant between YHWH and Jesus all along. (See Paul’s distinction between seeds and Seed in Gal 3:16)

    If so, then the land was promised to Jesus, now belongs to Jesus, has been expanded to included the whole universe under Jesus’ sovereign rule, and is now fully accessible to all people everywhere who are in Jesus.

  • Be careful, Evan #41, because maybe this salvation you believe in is promised to Jesus and not to you or the Church. You see, replacement makes a liar out of God.

  • Evan, if God made a promise to Abraham of a great nation of Israel, then you can’t rewrite Jesus back into it. Jesus was included with God’s promises to Abraham, but he was not the only promise God gave to Abraham.

    But have a look at the following verses, Galatians 3:17-18!

    What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

    Israel failed to keep the Mosaic covenant to God’s perfect standard (no-one could), but this did not annul God’s promises to Abraham, spoken about Israel.

  • Hey Scot, my understanding of Covenant Theology – shaped and informed s it is by O Palmer Robertson and N.T. Wright (Climax of the Covenant) – essentially converted me over from Dispensationalism. A part of my research into Covenant Theology led me to read Israel and the Church: The Origins and Effects of Replacement Theology by Ronald Diprose (still available in Kindle). What I discovered there is that Diprose uses “Covenant Theology” and “Replacement Theology” synonymously. I then discovered that most Dispensationalists that I’ve read do this to some extent (Ryrie, MacArthur, etc).

    I think it is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of what Covenant Theology teaches about Israel and the Church (the Church does not replace to supersede Israel). I believe the Church is Israel and Israel is the Church. We can speak of an ecclesia of God in the Old Testament as well as the New. Being born into the line of Abraham was never an automatic entrance way into glory. Torah observance had to come by faith for it to have effect (following Krister Stendhal et. al).

    In my mind the question of what Jews need to do to be saved is clearly spelt out in the New Testament. Answer: the same as everyone else – Faith in the Faithful Messiah. If someone wishes to observe Jewish customs, I believe there is freedom to do that. But I also believe that those customers are not required by anybody, neither the Jew nor the Gentile (Col. 2).

  • Derek, I don’t see typical modern salvation language in the Abrahamic Covenant. It seems to be a broader blessing/familial thing. The work of Christ, not any OT covenant, has always been the only way to salvation. I think your warning might only be confusing the issue.

  • Evan #46, no I knew what I was saying. You assert: “God’s promises to the people of Israel are actually only promises to Jesus, the New Israel.”

    So I asserted: “By the same logic, should God decide Christianity is unfaithful, he could say the promises were to Jesus and not to Evan or to Christians.”

    Replacement is a dangerous game. Those who play it assume they will not be replaced. Kind of reminds me of the Olive Tree analogy in Romans 11 and something about the wild branches not looking down on the natural.

  • Mickey

    He is a quote from a recent post by Andrew Perriman. I think it answers several of the questions that are being raised about how Paul and the other NT writers use the OT. Perriman says, ““Justification by faith” in Paul has in view not a final judgment of all humanity but the particular set of historical circumstances faced by the early churches. It answered the very practical and pressing question: Would the followers of Jesus be found to be in the right for having defied the leadership of Israel, for stubbornly predicting judgment on the nation, for having given up their absolute reliance on works of the Law, for sitting down to eat with Gentiles, for loving their enemies, for recklessly provoking Rome with their confession that Jesus and not Caesar is Lord. Would they be publicly vindicated for their radical, self-sacrificing belief that Israel’s God had raised his Son from the dead and given him the name which is above every name? No less than Isaiah they expected God to prove them right in the eyes of the watching world. The entire artice is here:

  • But Derek, Jesus cannot be replaced. According to Paul, the Covenant buck stopped with him, not us.

  • Evan #49, I didn’t say your logic would lead to Jesus being replaced. I said it might lead to Evan or Christians in general being replaced. That’s the hermeneutical trick you played on the people of Israel.

  • This is somewhat related to where I was going with this post:
    Worse Than A…What?

  • CMA

    Didn’t Jesus, as the second Adam, finally do what Israel could not do with respect to it’s covenant with God – that is to say, fulfill it? Therefore, there is a sense in which Jesus Himself, as the second Adam, stood in the place of Israel.

    So our union with Christ is our participation in His covenant fulfillment. And this union can be had by both ethnic Jew and non-ethnic Jew alike. This union with Christ is what Paul in Romans 2 called having a circumcised heart. The law without union with Christ is death – whether one is physically circumcised or not – again, Romans 2.

  • As a Jew (non-Messianic), I read this post and nearly all of the comments, and feel a terrible sadness.

    I fully understand supersessionism, and if pressed into this service, I could defend the Christian need for this doctrine. Moreover, as a Jew living in a Christian land, I want my Christian neighbors to be good Christians. I have no problem with Christians preferring Christianity over Judaism, not only as a personal choice but also in an evangelical sense, as the desired state for all humankind.

    But at the same time, it is tragic (I can find no gentler word) to read such a heartfelt discussion of God’s plan for Israel, and seemingly no recognition of a divine plan in the continued survival of the Jewish people. By “divine plan”, I do not mean the pre-Shoah idea that our suffering and persecution was intended as an example of what comes in not following Christ, not am I referring to a “Left Behind” variant of eschatology where we serve as something of a powder keg to bring forth the last days. I’m talking about a divine plan where God continues to love and care for the Jewish people, not as potential Christian converts or potential Jewish Christians, not solely out of recognition of our pre-Easter service to the word of God, but as present-day Jewish Jews, with a vital post-Easter history and a destiny of our own.

    I also want to suggest the idea that Christianity needs Judaism, perhaps a Judaism within the church, but also a Judaism outside of the church. If you do not see this in the reality of your present-day – in the resurgence of the concept of a “Jewish Jesus” or in the importance of the modern-day State of Israel to many Christians – then I doubt I could argue anything here to make this point. But I’d like to suggest that the divine plan for the continued survival of Judaism and the Jewish people is a plan for the benefit of Christians as well as Jews.

    I’m not expecting you to see things my way, but it would be tragic not to reconsider your discussion of covenants appearing and disappearing without also considering the nature of God, and the facts on the ground. We Jews are still here. Our continued survival is an argument for the continued survival of the covenants we made with God. How these covenants can survive and (in the Christian view of things) be superseded – well, that’s a divine mystery. I know that I am an outsider, so I make this next suggestion as gently as I can … but could failure to wrestle with this mystery risk misunderstanding the divine plan?

  • Derek Leman, a side note: I’m not merely talking about “final destinies”. I’m talking about service to God in the here and now. I’m also talking about service to each other. If you recognize in this some recent teaching of the Catholic Church – in particular, ideas from Kurt Cardinal Koch in his 2011 address to the Council of Centers on Christian-Jewish Relations – then you probably have a pretty good idea of what I’m thinking.

    Scott, a side note: the importance of a distinction between replacement and fulfillment theology has always escaped me. Or more precisely: from a contract standpoint, I get that there’s a difference between a breach of contract and full performance under that contract, but in either event the contract ceases to state an ongoing relationship between the parties. If fulfillment took place with the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Resurrection, then those events rendered moot the OT covenants. In other words, regardless of whether it’s replacement or fulfillment theology, it’s supersession.

  • Larry #54:

    A pleasure to make your acquaintance (na’im me’od). You said: “I’m not merely talking about “final destinies”. I’m talking about service to God in the here and now. I’m also talking about service to each other.”

    I’m on the same page with you. I do think daily and often about the life to come. But I do it, as Yeshua instructed in his parables, with repair of this world in mind. And Christian theologians like Scot have helped many to see that being “heavenly-minded” first means being “earthly good.”

  • Aaron

    My question is this: How were the Jewish people ‘saved’ or redeemed in the ‘Old Covenant’ in the first place? As has been mentioned above it was a circumcision of the heart and faith, but faith in what? Faith in the promised seed – the future Messiah.

    If we agree the promised seed is Jesus then is it not possible for a modern, practicing Jew who has full faith in God and in His promise of Messiah to be saved just as Abraham was by that same faith? I would venture then, that for the Jew, it is only by rejection of the Messiah, Jesus, that redemption would be revoked. Abraham was not saved or redeemed by sacrifices, neither were Israelites under Moses and neither are we today. Salvation comes through belief in the Messiah. In the same way Abraham looked to the future Messiah and what He would do, I look to the past Messiah and what He did. In light of this, I am thankful for a God who had the foresight for one plan all along – past, present and future. There isn’t a replacement or the need for it – there is coherency all the way through that points to Messiah at every single step. Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it!

  • Stephen Hesed

    It’s a difficult subject to discuss given that “supersessionism” and “replacement theology” are thrown around as slurs and that the moment you start to move toward that kind of position you get accused of being anti-Semitic. We need to turn down the heat on this conversation in general and be able to set aside politics when engaging with the relevant texts as much as possible.

    For me, what the NT says on this topic is pretty clear: the renewed Israel consists of those who believe in Jesus, both Jew and Gentile. Those who are “in Christ” are the heir of the promises in the Hebrew Bible from Genesis 12 through all the prophets. Jews who reject Jesus find themselves outside the Covenant inaugurated in Gen. 12-22. There is only one people of God, who are justified by faith apart from works of the Law. This theme starts with John the Baptist’s ministry, “re-initiating” Israelites into the renewed Israel, and carries through Jesus’ ministry, Romans and Galatians, Hebrews, 1 Peter, etc.

    At the same time, in Romans 11 Paul writes that God still has something in store for unbelieving ethnic Israel, that one day they will all recognize Jesus as Messiah and re-join the Covenant. And “if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?”

  • Norman

    I’m not sure the Biblical beginning of saving faith starts with Abraham from even the Jewish perspective. It appears Abraham is illustrated to develop more fully the concept of an acceptable faith in God that had already been patterned previously in Gen 2-11. We know this is a Jewish understanding from the account of faith found in Hebrews chapter 11 which includes the patriarchs Abel, Enoch and Noah who predated Abraham as prime examples.

    It seems then that people of Faith have a long history well before the formal establishment of Judaism. The story of Gen 2-11 sets the stage before the arrival of Israel to demonstrate IMO that God’s covenant faithful have always been out there even in ancient times but we simply may not recognize them due to our limiting filters.

    The question begs then is Christianity a replacement of Abrahamic/Mosaic Judaism or simply a return to the simplicity and purity of people of faith in God. The implications of the Garden story is that was the case before faith seeking humans who were the forerunners of later Judaism came in and begin adding more than what was needed to be in right standing with God. That is the essence of what Paul is teaching in Romans IMO.

    The renewal/replacement question is not just pertinent to Israel but is taken by Paul all the way back to Adam who represents all faithful God seeking people regardless of added traditions. Adam number one was the one who was replaced with the last Adam. In fact the story of Adam in Gen 3 states prophetically that through the “woman” would come the “seed” that would redeem this problem. That “seed” can be followed through from Eve, Sara and Mary to its arrival through Messiah/Christ. Hebrews 11 says that those OT worthies of faith saw messiah from a distance. So they had faith in the God of the OT that pointed to Christ for redemption yet they never laid eyes on Him physically but saw him through faith. Since Christ and God are one then perhaps people even today see Christ still through faith in the living True God just as the OT worthies did.

    Also I might mention that Paul says that when Christ had accomplished His work of establishing his Kingdom (the new or renewed covenant) that He would turn the Kingdom back over to God so that God may be all in all.

    This issue though is so deep and complex, that we are just scratching the surface of its implications.

  • Chris White

    In Paul’s understanding of the Abraham covenant, as he detailed in Gal. (3), there is to be no distinction between a Jewish believer or a Gentile believer. It is not as though they lose their ethnicity-for there is no distinction between male and female in the Abraham covenant and believers don’t become sexless. I echo Norman’s thought–there is one people of God. Any Gentile believers are branches that have been grafted into the Vine (which is Jesus the Messiah) alongside with the natural branches of the ethnic Jewish believers in their Messiah (Romans). The dividing wall has been abolished and together we are inhabited by the Holy Spirit as the living temple of God (Ephesians 2).

    The promises given to Abraham can be claimed by those whose faith is in Christ. Gal.3. The meek will inherit the earth. Matt.5. The promise given to Abraham includes the earth. Rom.4. The Messiah will to redeem his earth and all those in him will receive his inheritance, (for we are joint-heirs with him) Rom.8. It is everything! The earth belongs to God and everything in it. Psalms. What is left?

    What is succeeded? What is replaced? It is not replaced at all but expanded! This expansion, including Gentiles into the people of God was part of the plan all along–for Abram was going to be blessing to all nations. Sure it was hidden fro a time Eph.3. But now we know. The church of the now is not the Gentile church. There is only one church, or one body. Eph.4. We are all in Christ and being in Christ means have a part of the inheritance. This inheritance is given to the Father’s children as the Father sees fits. But it is the Father’s prerogative to give the late arrivals the same “wage” as the ones who have been there all “day”. If He so choses.

    And I don’t care if the Father blesses His Jewish children with more or different blessings in the end. He is just and He will bless as He sees fit. And that is fine with me. They are my older brothers (and sisters).

  • Phil Miller

    I know it’s already been mentioned, but I have hard time seeing how one gets around Hebrews 8:13 (well actually the whole chapter) in asserting that God’s original covenant with the Jewish offers some sort of parallel path for salvation. The way I see it, it isn’t so much that the Church replaces Israel, but more that it’s grafted into the family of God, to use Paul’s language. So both the Church and Israel are part of the same family tree, but they are both saved because of God’s faithfulness to His covenant.

    The question isn’t really if God will be faithful to Israel. He has already demonstrated through Christ that He is faithful to Israel. And because of Christ’s faithfulness, Israel’s original mission of being a blessing to all nations is coming to fruition.

  • Mike H

    The questions and discussions are fascinating. In the midst of reading through all of it, I was struck by one additional question.

    Depending on where “you” fall on the subject, what does that say for the popularly espoused view that we are still warned concerning being a friend or foe of Israel (modern Israel)?

  • Ken

    J. Reisinger’s Abraham’s Four Seeds is a good read along these lines.

  • All the theologies about covenants with Israel/The Church, in terms of “God’s Plan of Salvation”, only make any kind of sense, at best, on the presumption that Israel is (or was) indeed God’s Chosen People. Tied closely to that is presumption of a relatively short (roughly 6-10,000 year) period of human civilization or since “the Fall”.

    The following is not mainly what dissuaded me from my 45-year (since birth) Evangelical/orthodox beliefs and commitment to Christ within that theology, tho I do think it played a minor part, combined with the major one of a clearer perspective on the Bible, with deeper knowledge (than 30 Biola Bible units, plus M.Div. – Talbot, plus, plus): It is that I discovered numerous lines of corroborating evidence indicating a MUCH longer period of human civilization, and the existence of other intelligent beings with apparently (this part is relatively weaker) similar DNA. I’m talking at LEAST in the 10’s of thousands of years, and quite likely into the 100’s of thousands or more (not necessarily all spent just on earth). If one hasn’t pursued such lines of evidence, dug up or collected and published by numerous well-qualified scholars (not in biblical studies that I know), then this will probably sound outlandish and crazy. But it is not.

    I don’t usually go “on record” saying this kind of thing, but I do believe it is highly pertinent to any discussion involving the concept of a chosen people with whom God created (a) unique “covenant(s)”…. for what period of time?? … If there is a prior lengthy period, why don’t we have some clear reference to it in Hebrew/Greek Scripture, and how God related with humans then? (I DO think we have hints/clues but nothing very clear or developed). I won’t go into it, but I think there are reasonable answers why we don’t; we can safely believe humanity, in social groupings with sometimes “high” technology, has been around and likely over most of the globe, for a lot longer than standard “science” as well as Christian theology assumes.

  • TJJ

    Well, I think the response section of this post finally jumped the shark.

  • Gary Lyn

    I don’t want to get into the intricacies of the responses…more of an overall observation. I find it interesting that when the topic of a post is related to the ultimate destiny of a group or individual that is other, there is a significant increase in the number of comments, with each person offering an opinion about the ultimate destiny of the other. It is true with this post. It was true with the prior posts dealing with the doctrine of hell. There just seems to be a lot of energy on a question that, no matter how we answer, ultimately, we cannot know with any certainty that our answer is correct.