Replacement Theology

 

Have you ever encountered the term, "replacement theology," in your reading or in listening to sermons? Frankly, I do not remember ever reading or hearing the expression until recently. John Hagee's latest book, Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World (Lake Mary, FL: FrontLine, 2006), uses the term several times and severely criticizes those of us who believe in and preach "replacement theology." He defines what he means by "replacement theology." "Adherents of replacement theology believe that the Jews are no longer God's chosen people, and God does not have specific future plans for the nation of Israel" (p. 72). Hagee recognizes that most religious groups in America preach replacement theology. He says: "Replacement theology means that Israel failed, and God has replaced Israel with the church" (p. 165). Hagee believes that Paul's argument in Romans "demolishes replacement theology, specifically Romans 11:1 and 11" (p. 185).

 

David Brog, a devout Jew and one of John Hagee's staunch supporters, employs the term dozens and dozens of times in his book, Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State (Lake Mary. FL: FrontLine, 2006). Incidentally, John Hagee wrote the Foreword to Brog's book. Hagee writes: "Standing with Israel is a comprehensive expose’ of the roots of Christian anti-Semitism, the birth and development of Christian Zionism, and the death of replacement theology written by a Jewish author" (p. xi of the Foreword). Before reading to you a few brief excerpts from David Brog's book, I must comment on the title, "standing with Israel." It may come as a surprise both to Brog and to Hagee, but Christians have no obligation to stand with Israel any more than they would stand with any nation that is striving to provide for the safety and security of its people. The Israel of today is not and never has been God's chosen people. The Israel that was God's chosen nation disappeared many centuries ago. They failed to live by God's commandments and they ceased being his people. Today Jews and Gentiles stand on the same footing with God. Is that not what Paul meant when he told the Roman Christians: "For there is no difference" (Rom. 3:22)?

 

David Brog concedes that the majority of those who identify themselves as Christians "embraced the teaching of contempt and a 'replacement theology' which held that the church had superseded the Jews as God's chosen people" (p. 3). Brog quotes Hagee as teaching that the Bible mandates an obligation of God's people to bless the Jews. He also quotes Hagee as affirming that "every word of the Bible was written by Jewish hands" (p. 4). Did John Hagee not know that the largest block of material in the New Testament—Luke and Acts—was written by a Greek a physician—not by a Jew? Brog thinks that John Hagee's view of the Jews is the dominant strain of Christian thinking. He says: "Replacement theology is on the decline" (p. 5). I am not sure where he learned that idea, but I strongly suspect that most reputable scholars—whatever their denominational affiliation—would strongly disagree with Brog and Hagee. Brog asserts: "Replacement theology led inexorably to anti-Semitic opinion, legislation and action. "Rejected by man, the Jews found little mercy from God" (p. 14).

 

The assertion that replacement theology led to anti-Semitic opinion, legislation and action is pure fiction. Were there people who embraced replacement theology who were anti-Semitic and persecuted the Jews? Of course there were and are. But their belief in replacement theology was not the cause. I have preached what Hagee and Brog call "replacement theology" for more than sixty years. I am not anti-Semitic. I do not know one gospel preacher who is anti-Semitic. It is irresponsible for anyone to accuse believers in replacement theology of being anti-Semitic or of encouraging anti-Semitism. Do I know people who are anti-Semitic? Absolutely! Most of the anti-Semites I know are not religious at all and could not define replacement theology if their lives depended on it.

 

David Brog foolishly affirms: "None of the earliest Christians believed they were starting a new religion" (p. 18). I have no idea about David Brog's understanding of the New Testament, but all the New Testament writers who spoke on the topic believed they were starting a new religion. They do not use the modern term, "replacement theology" or the expression, "starting a new religion," but there is not the slightest doubt they believed the new covenant was replacing the old—that the church was replacing Israel as God's chosen people.

 

Since John Hagee argues that the book of Romans destroys the idea that the new covenant has replaced the old, let us turn to the book of Romans. You will recall that Hagee teaches: "Paul's description demolishes replacement theology, specifically Romans 11:1 and 11" (p. 185). The following are probably the best-known words in the book of Romans: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein (that is, in the gospel) is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:16-17). If the gospel of Christ is God's way of making men righteousness —the meaning of the expression, "the righteousness of God"—both Jews and Gentiles must obey the gospel. Did you take note of the definite article? "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation." The definite article means there is one way and only one for men to be saved—"the gospel of Christ."

 

There are many passages in Romans that refute the idea that God's covenant with Israel is still in effect. I ask you to listen carefully to these words from Romans. "Do you not know, brethren, (for I speak to them who know the law,) how that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he lives; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then, if, while her husband lives she is married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress: but if her husband is dead, she is free from that law; so that she is no adulteress, though she is married to another man" (Rom. 7:1-3). Do you have any difficulty understanding the principle Paul explains in these verses? Please listen to his conclusion. "Wherefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that you should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God" (Rom. 7:4).

 

I shall briefly summarize the teaching of this powerful passage. If a husband is still living, the woman who marries another man shall be called an adulteress. Why should she be called an adulteress? Because she is an adulteress. If her husband is dead, she is free to marry another man without being an adulteress. Paul uses this illustration to show that we are not under the law of Moses but under the gospel of Christ. The Roman Christians had become dead to the law of Moses that they might be married to Christ. If they had tried to live for Christ and yet felt themselves bound to any part of the law of Moses, they were spiritual adulterers. Demanding that anyone during the gospel era must keep any of the Mosaic covenant makes one guilty of spiritual adultery. If that is not what Paul is teaching in Romans 7, what is he teaching?

 

The book of Galatians emphasizes the same truth. Paul argues that the physical children of Abraham are not God's children. If they or Gentiles want to be children of God, they must obey the gospel of Christ. Christ does not have two plans of salvation—one for Jews and one for Gentiles. Paul emphasizes that God made a covenant with Abraham—a covenant incidentally that could not be broken or replaced. "Now to Abraham and to his seed were the promises made. He says not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one. And to thy seed, which is Christ." Does that mean the law of Moses had no meaning? "Wherefore," Paul asks, "then serves the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hands of a mediator." Who was the seed concerning whom God had made the promise? The seed is Christ. Paul explains further: "But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith that should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster (or tutor) to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are not longer under the schoolmaster" (Gal. 3:16-17, 19, 23-25).

 

No true Bible believer can deny the divine origin of the Jewish covenant. God himself ordained the law and gave it through angels to Moses (Gal. 3:19). But it was given for a specific time and ended when the new covenant began on the day of Pentecost. After the day of Pentecost, everyone—both Jew and Gentile—must obey the gospel of Christ or be lost. The law served the purpose for which God gave it, but it ended when the gospel of Christ was given. The Mosaic covenant prepared men and women to receive the gospel. But after faith came, we are not longer under the schoolmaster (that is, the law of Moses). Did you notice that the definite article is used in verse 25 when Paul speaks of the gospel? Dr. Hugo McCord renders the Greek: "Now, that the faith has come, we are no longer under the guide."

 

The term, "the faith," does not refer to your faith or mine, but to the system of faith— the gospel—as revealed in the New Testament. Do you remember how Paul concludes the paragraph I have been reading to you? "For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you has have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you be Christ's, then are you Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:26-29). Who are Abraham's seed or heirs according to these verses? Who can deny that faithful Christians and only faithful Christians are the heirs God had promised to Abraham?

 

Some of the harshest language Paul uses of any group appears in his letter to the Galatians. He asked them: "O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh" (Gal. 3:1-3). Is Paul contrasting the "Spirit" (the gospel) with the "flesh" (the law of Moses)? The word "foolish" (anoetoi) in verses 1 and 3 means stupid or senseless. Was Paul speaking of their intellectual ability? He was accusing them of being stupid by seeking salvation under the law of Moses that had already been canceled and not applicable to anyone—Jew or Gentile.

 

The New Testament uses the word "Israel" many times. Most of the time inspired writers are referring the nation of Israel. But sometimes the word is used of the new Israel—the church of the living God. What did Paul have in mind when the told the Roman Christians: "Not as though the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel, who are of Israel: neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall your seed be called; that is, They who are the
children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise
are counted for seed" (Rom. 9:6-8)?                                                                                                            

 

Paul also told the Galatians: "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God" (Gal. 6:16).

 

Who are the people who constitute the "Israel of God?" Are they the physical descendants of Abraham? I have just read to you these plain words. "They who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for seed" (Rom. 9:8). In his very scholarly commentary on The Epistle of Paul to the Churches of Galatia (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953), Dr. Herman N. Ridderbos, Professor of New Testament at Kampen Theological Seminary in the Netherlands, says concerning the Israel Paul mentions in Galatians 6:16: "In view of what has gone before, we can hardly doubt that this Israel of God does not refer to the empirical, national Israel as an equally authorized partner alongside of the believers in Christ. As elsewhere (for example, Romans 9:7), so here, Israel designates the new Israel" (p. 227). Bishop J. B. Lightfoot of the Church of England wrote one of the most scholarly commentaries ever written on The Epistle of St. Paul to the Galatians (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957, a reprint). The original commentary was published in 1865 and republished in 1957. Bishop Lightfoot makes the following appropriate comments on the term, "the Israel of God." "The 'Israel of God' is in implied contrast to the 'Israel of the flesh.' It stands here not for the faithful converts from the circumcision alone, but for the spiritual Israel generally, the whole body of believers whether Jew or Gentile" (p. 225). I do not know of one reputable scholar—not even one—who would disagree with the conclusion of Herman Ridderbos or of J. B. Lightfoot. The church of our Lord is the true Israel.

 

Did the apostle Peter have in mind the ancient nation of Israel or the church of the living God when he wrote: "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: who in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: who had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy" (1 Pet. 2:9-10)? He cannot be speaking of the Jews because at one time they were the people of God. The apostle Peter was speaking of the members of the body of Christ. They are the elect nation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation and a people for God's own possession. At one time, Gentiles were not a part of the elect nation—that is, of ancient Israel—but now they and those Jews who have obeyed the gospel are true Israel.

 

David Brog denied that any of the earliest Christians believed they were starting a new religion (p. 18). Unfortunately and inexcusably, he was misinformed or deliberately perverted the teaching of scripture. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah specifically predicted the coming of a new covenant. He even described the nature of that new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). Brog gives no indication that he is familiar with the prophecy of Jeremiah. He almost certainly would not accept the truth that the gospel of Christ is that new covenant Jeremiah had in mind. But that is precisely what the book of Hebrews teaches. The author of Hebrews quoted Jeremiah's prophecy about the coming of the better covenant that would be established on better promises. He then added: "If that first covenant, that is, the law of Moses, had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second, that is, the gospel of Christ." He concludes his discussion of Jeremiah's prophecy of the two covenants by affirming: "In that he says a new covenant, he has made the first old. Now that which decays and waxes old is ready to vanish away" (Heb. 8:7, 13). The English Standard Version renders verse 13: "In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away."

 

There is much more in the book of Hebrews I would like to discuss with you, but time will not permit it today. However, I would like to conclude our study today with a few more passages from Hebrews. The inspired author begins his discussion of the differences between the two covenants with these familiar words: "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken unto us by his Son" (Heb. 1:1-2). The same author explains why Jesus Christ could not have been a priest under the Mosaic covenant: He came from the wrong tribe. Please listen. "If therefore perfection were by the Levitical priesthood, (for under it the people received the law,) what further need was there that another priest should rise after the order of Melchizedek, and not be called after the order of Aaron? For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also in the law" (Heb. 7:11-12). Are these passages difficult to understand? The Levitical priesthood disappeared. God has given a new priesthood. That necessitates a new law—the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

The author of Hebrews informed his readers that the sacrifices of the Mosaic covenant could not take away sins. So God determined to send his Son in the world to die for our sins. The book of Hebrews quotes Christ himself as saying: "Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God." Please listen carefully to this plain and simple conclusion: "He takes away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Heb. 10: 9-10). The blood of bulls and of goats could not take away sins, but the blood of Christ can. (Heb.10:4)  The Mosaic covenant provided for animal sacrifices. The new covenant provides the blood of the Son of God to take away sins. The animal sacrifices had to be offered on a regular basis. The blood of Jesus was offered once for all.

 

John Hagee, David Brog and others may strongly object to what they call "replacement theology," but Romans, Galatians and Hebrews plainly teach that the new covenant has replaced the old, that the church has replaced Israel. I close today with the apostle Paul's words to the people of Antioch of Pisidia: "Be in known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the remission of sins: and by him all who believe are justified from all things, from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses" (Acts 13:38-39).

 

Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334