Replacement Theology: It’s Not True – Part 5 (Why people have believed this error.)
By Steven J. Hogan
Our primary subject in this blog site is eschatological prophecy, what God predicts will be taking place before, right at, and after the return of Jesus Christ to this earth. God’s Word gives us a great deal of extremely profitable and relevant information that we need to understand, believe, and proclaim to the church. But sadly, many Christians don’t know what the Bible so clearly teaches regarding the future for Jews and Gentiles, and for believers and unbelievers. And those who don’t know or who are in error, need to be properly instructed and / or corrected. Since we live in the end times, then now’s the time to discover and tell others what God says in His Word about our future.
My primary focus the past two months has been the Jews. And we see that the Old Testament has a whole lot to say about their past, but also about their future. In fact, close to 1500 Old Testament verses tell us about God’s future for the Jews. These prophecies were given to the Jews between 2000BC–450BC, and have never been changed or nullified. But many people believe these promises have been changed, have been reformulated and re-categorized, and are no longer relevant to the Jews, but are only applicable to the church. That is, the church has replaced the Jews in terms of being recipients of these Old Testament promises. This is what many call Replacement Theology. But this is an error – it is wrong, it’s not true, and it’s a lie of the devil.
With regards to prophecy, Jesus said, “See to it that no one misleads you” (Matthew 24:4). And Paul said, “Let no one in any way deceive you” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). You need to make sure you’re not misled, mistaken or in error with regard to God’s promises to the Jews. Now in my previous articles, I’ve not focused on why this error is wrong, but rather on the enormous amount of evidence that shows why what God says about the future of the Jews is right. There is, without question, an overwhelming and incontrovertible number of Bible verses proving that God will fulfill His promises to the Jews.
But today I want to talk about why people would think this way? Why would people believe this error of Replacement Theology? And how and when did this erroneous thinking about God’s word with regard to the future of the Jews begin? Let me list six major reasons:
1. The devil is chiefly responsible, for he’s the author of the lies that deny the truth of God’s Word, and specifically this error that God nullified His promises to the Jews.
2. Proponents of this error wrongly say that since the Jews killed Jesus, since they crucified Christ, since they were such wicked people, then they had to forfeit the promises God had given them.
2. Those who believe in this error say that the Jews being driven from their homeland in 70 AD, and being led captive to all the nations, is solid and substantiating evidence proving that God has revoked His promises to the Jews. This is wrong thinking.
4. Many Christian leaders throughout the centuries have believed and publicly promoted this lie that God has taken away His promises to the Jews and then given them to the church. Their false teaching about the Jews has been written up in many position papers and doctrinal statements in various denominations and churches all over the world.
5. Many Christians leaders in the first four to five centuries were allegorically and symbolically interpreting the Bible in a way that made it possible for them to redefine these Jewish promises, and transfer them to the church. This then was their “Biblical” means by which the church could replace the Jews as recipients of these Old Testament promises.
6. The Jews were not in the land of Israel from 70 AD up until the late 1800’s, further strengthening and buttressing, and wrongly so, the position of those who believed in Replacement Theology, that God’s plans for the Jews were finished.
Let me go through each one of these:
1. The devil is the main reason for this error of Replacement Theology. 1 Timothy 4:1-3 tells us that the devil uses “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” to wrongly influence people who then go on to proclaim his errors. There’s no doubt that the devil is behind this lie of Replacement Theology, for he doesn’t want the promises regarding the Jews, to be believed. The fact that the devil wants people to believe that a massive volume of Old Testament verses regarding the future of the Jews has been rescinded shows the great magnitude of this error. The devil then is largely responsible for deceiving so many people in this area. Not only that, but Revelation 12, the primary chapter in the Bible that describes the devil’s opposition to the Jews, makes it very clear how he has tried to destroy the Jews throughout the millennia. The devil is the chief enemy of the Jews, and we’ve seen this in the past, we see this in the present, and we’ll see it in the future.
2. The Jews killed Jesus, and therefore forfeited their rights to inherit the Old Testament promises God had given them. The Bible clearly tells us that the Jews, aided by proud Jewish leaders, were all screaming for Jesus Christ to be killed, “Crucify, crucify Him” (Luke 23:18-25). Peter himself indicted the Jews, “You nailed Him to the cross” (Acts 2:23). There’s no question that the Jews were guilty of murdering Jesus. Here’s the Creator, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, and He was rejected by His own people, with the result that many Gentiles at that time began to think that the Jews were the worst people on earth. They were thinking that these Christ killers deserved the wrath that God was pouring out upon them, and they did, but only for awhile. Therefore, many people believed that the church was permanently replacing the Jews, and would therefore inherit their Old Testament promises.
As time went on, it was obvious that more and more Jews were rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ. The book of Acts gives numerous accounts of how the Jews vociferously and violently opposed the Christians and the gospel of Christ. But you also need to understand that during this time more Gentiles were getting saved than Jews, and many Gentiles were then beginning to develop wrong attitudes towards the Jews, with the result that a huge rift was growing between the two.
Many Gentiles thought that the Jews’ horrific and heinous sin of crucifying Christ, along with their continued unbelief, had forced God’s hand and made Him forever turn His back on those who were once His chosen people. The Jews had just killed their chance of any future blessing from God. These Gentile Christians could see the Jews’ widespread rejection of Christ. They could see the Jews holding on to the Old Testament priesthood, their offerings and sacrifices, which were now all but shadows. Therefore, they believed God had completely rejected the Jews as a national entity, and had permanently taken away their Old Testament promises, and had given them to the church, to the Christian believers.
Many Christian scholars used Matthew 21:43 as their primary text for why they believed God had rejected the Jews. There it says, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” Yes, this was true for a time, but they did not understand the unconditional and eternal love of God, and that He would faithfully keep His Old Testament promises to the Jewish people, regardless of their great sin and rejection of Christ and the gospel. In fact, it was just two chapters later, in Matthew 23:38-39, where we read that Jesus is speaking about the Jews. “Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ” Until. Until is a timing word, and it’s just a matter of time before a remnant of Jews will say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
3. A major event that cemented the wrong attitude many Gentiles had toward the Jews was the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish temple in 70AD, the killing of hundreds of thousands of Jews, and the Diaspora, the dispersion of a great many Jews to all parts of the world. In the minds of many Gentiles, the fulfillment of God’s predictions about His punishment of the Jews (Luke 19:41-44, 21:20-24, 23:27-31) was unmistakable evidence that He was forever finished with them. They couldn’t believe and didn’t believe God would keep His promises to the Jews. They believed the Jewish state had been eliminated, that the nation of Israel was no more.
In a previous post and article we have talked extensively about the gathering of the Jews back to their land, and we see that this has now happened. But Luke 21:20-24, a passage where Jesus predicts the desolation of Jerusalem, also makes it clear that the Jews will return. These five verses sum up the history of the Jews for the past 1940+ years. In particular, verse 24 says, “They will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” Do you see what this says? That there’ a time limit to this trampling of Jerusalem, for it will end when the “the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” Now this trampling of the Gentiles is still going on, for the times of the Gentiles won’t be fulfilled until the end of Daniel’s 70th week, and then all the Jews will be saved (Romans 11:25-26 speaks of the fullness of the Gentiles coming in, and then “all Israel will be saved.”)
The apostle Paul also spoke of God’s vengeance upon the Jews: “wrath has come upon them to the utmost” (1 Thessalonians 2:14-16). But Paul knew that God’s wrath upon the Jews and their being scattered to the nations was only for a limited time, for in Romans 11, he makes an airtight case for the future salvation of a Jewish remnant. And this was not just Paul’s word, but more importantly, this was God’s word that would come to pass in the end times. The desolation, destruction and trampling of Jerusalem was not permanent, but only temporary. “Israel has been saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation; you will not be put to shame or humiliated to all eternity” (Israel 45:17)
4. Many leading Gentile Christians, throughout the church age, have come out openly in their opposition to the Jews. Justin Martyr (160 AD), an early church father, was very strong in his condemnation of the Jews. In speaking to a Jew, he said, “The Scriptures are not yours, but ours.” Some of his writings were instrumental in the origin of Christian anti-Semitism. Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon (177 AD), spoke against the Jews by saying, “Jews are disinherited from the grace of God.” Tertullian (160 AD-230 AD), another leading Christian of the day, was teaching that God had rejected the Jews in favor of the Christians. Origen (185 AD-254 AD), an outspoken Gentile said, “We say with confidence that they (the Jews) will never be restored to their former condition, for they committed a crime of the most unhallowed kind, in a conspiracy against the Savior of the human race.” And Jerome (347 AD-407 AD) described the Jews as “serpents, wearing the image of Judas, their psalms and prayers are the braying of donkeys.”
Around 400AD, a famous theologian named Augustine said, “Judaism, since Christ, is a corruption; indeed Judas is the image of the Jewish people; their own understanding of Scripture is carnal; they bear the guilt of the Savior, for through their fathers they have killed Christ.” It was also in the 4th century that Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion in the Roman world. While the persecution of Christians had for the most part come to an end, the persecution of the Jews was only increasing.
At the end of the 4th century, John Chrysostom, another critic of the Jews, wrote this: “The synagogue is not only a brothel and a theater, it is also a den of robbers and a lodging for wild beasts. No Jew adores God… Jews are inveterate murderers, possessed by the devil, their debauchery and drunkenness gives them manners of the pig.” There’s no doubt that the Jews were sinners and had rejected Christ, but it was sad to see so many Christians hating them instead of loving them. Their animosity towards the Jews only fueled their thinking that God had altogether nullified His promises to them. And yes, the church was growing, but anti-Semitism was also growing, among both Christians and non-Christians.
This wrong attitude towards the Jews gave rise to anti-Semitism in both Christian and Catholic churches. Moving through the centuries we come to Martin Luther and John Calvin and other reformers. And yes, they were reformed in their teaching of soteriology, of salvation in Christ alone, by faith alone, and through grace alone. But they held on to the baggage of the early church fathers and of the Catholics when it came to eschatology and the future of the Jews. We read that Martin Luther, a man zealous for God, was wrongly zealous in his animosity towards the Jews, for he wasn’t loving his enemies, those Jews opposed to the cross of Christ. He was in error in his heart and in God’s word when it came to the Jews, and he turned out to be one of their fiercest critics. We have now seen this hatred of the Jews for about 2000 years, since the early days of the church, and on up to the present day.
But God’s word does shed some light on what has been taking place during this church age, not excusing the Gentiles’ hatred toward the Jews, but explaining the Jews’ hatred toward God. “If their (Jews) transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be?” “If their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” “Behold, then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness.” “A partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:12, 15, 22, 25).
Paul tells us that we are to expect this hardness of the Jews and their rejection of Christ, for God had predicted it. But in the same chapter he also promised their future salvation, and this is what many Christians have failed to see. They haven’t understood God’s overall working with the Jews, that His plans for them were never canceled, but only temporarily suspended, and that in the end times, He would renew His work with them, saving a remnant of them at the end of Daniel’s 70th week. “And so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob. This is My covenant with them when I take away all their sins.’” Romans 11:26-27. The Jews’ sin, their turning away from Christ, was necessary for the Gentile’s salvation, their trusting Christ. After the end of this age, God will again show forth His great power and glory by again pouring out His mercy upon the Jews.
5. In the first few centuries Christians began to interpret the Bible symbolically, allegorically and figuratively, with the result that they were coming up with deeper spiritual meanings of the texts, many of which were wrong. This new method of Bible interpretation was the primary means by which many thought they could now negate God’s promises to the Jews and then transfer them to the church.
But you first need to understand the literal method of interpreting the Bible, which means interpreting the Bible in a natural, normal and customary sense, in what is also called a face value hermeneutic. This literal method was and is the correct method of interpretation, and is the only way you can truly discern the historical meaning of a passage, the meaning the authors intended at the time of its writing. This method of interpretation doesn’t mean you ignore obvious figures of speech, but it does eliminate trying to come up with some symbolic or deeper spiritual meaning.
Now the early church leaders were often contrasting the literal sense with the spiritual sense, debating then the real and true meaning of a word, verse or passage. During this time there were two main schools of interpretation, the Alexandrian school which favored allegorical interpretation, and the Antiochene school, which favored a more literal interpretation. This resulted in a growing confusion and conflict in the early church as to how to interpret the Bible.
As time went on, many early church leaders were moving towards this allegorical means of interpretation. Clement, an early church father, wrote, “Finding the deeper meaning is the process by which God gradually, by means of parable and metaphor, leads those to whom God would reveal Himself from the sensible to the intelligent world.” Dan McCartney in his survey of Origen’s interpretative methods said, “It should be clear from this survey that Origen lived in a complex hermeneutical environment… Certainly, it is not surprising that Origen allegorized the Bible.” John Franke said this about Origen, “Origen inherited a strong belief in allegory as a tool to communicate the deepest and most profound philosophical and theological truths, as well as the assumption that the Bible, the inspired word of God, must be subject to such allegorical interpretation in order to grasp it’s spiritual significance.”
You also read that Augustine was increasingly allegorizing parts of the Bible, particularly as it related to the Jews. In his paper, Against the Jews, Augustine wrote, “Christ, then, did not change the ancient signs to come by censoring them – He changed them through their fulfillment.” Augustine went on to explain his “theory of substitution whereby the new Israel of the church be a substitute of ancient Israel”. From church history, it’s obvious that Augustine and many other early church fathers believed that God’s promises to the Jews had been permanently transferred to the church. By means of allegorical interpretation, they could now validate their belief that the church had inherited the Old Testament promises to the Jews. Replacement Theology was rapidly becoming an official position in the church.
We are talking about principles of interpretation. And literally interpreting a passage versus spiritualizing it makes all the difference when it comes to understanding the true meaning of a Bible passage. For example, this new allegorical and symbolic way of interpreting the Old Testament meant that there were times when the word Israel in the Old Testament didn’t mean Israel anymore, it meant church. This word Israel appears about 700 times in the Bible, and it always means Israel. But you’d find these Bible interpreters going through the Psalms and Prophets saying Israel meant the church, and that’s error. They’d also talk about the word Jerusalem and say its meaning had been changed. And they’d talk about the word forever, and say forever didn’t mean forever with regard to Israel and Jerusalem, but that it meant forever with regard to the church. Again, their thinking was wrong.
It was during these early years of the church that this new way of interpretation was getting stuck in the minds of many Christians. But dismissing the Jews for the church in this way was and is error. God didn’t change His mind concerning His promises to Israel. He cannot and did not lie. Old Testament promises given to the Jews were not changed one iota – they most definitely will be fulfilled in the future, and it won’t be long from now. “The Lord said to Abram after Lot had separated from him, ‘Now lift up you eyes and look from the place where you are, northward and southward and eastward and westward; for all the land which you see, I will give to you and to your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth'” (Genesis 13:14-16). Descendants means Abraham’s physical descendants, land means land, and forever means forever.
J.C. Ryle, a great Christian pastor, scholar and teacher in the 19th century, had much to say about God’s promises to the Jews. In his message, Scattered Israel to be Gathered, he said this about Bible interpretation as it related to the Jews: “What I protest against is the habit of allegorizing plain sayings of the Word of God concerning the future history of the nation of Israel, and explaining away the fullness of their contents in order to accommodate them to the Gentile church. I believe the habit to be unwarranted by anything in Scripture, and to draw after it a long train of evil consequences… Cleave to the literal sense of Bible words… Beware of that system of allegorizing and spiritualizing, and accommodating, which the school of Origen first brought in, and which has found such an unfortunate degree of favor in the church.” Ryle is right.
We know that the Jews were primarily responsible for the crucifixion of Christ. We’ve seen that the Jews were defeated in Israel and scattered all over the world. We’ve seen that the attitudes of the Gentiles were changing towards the Jewish people, that there was increasing hatred towards them. We’ve seen that many church leaders were speaking out against the Jews, saying that God’s promises to them were no longer valid. We’ve seen that there was a major change in how the Bible was being interpreted, from a literal sense to an allegorical sense. You put all this together and it’s not hard to see why many Christians were no longer believing God’s promises to the Jews were true. But they were wrong in their thinking back then, and they are wrong in their thinking today.
The people who falsely declared that the promises from God to the Jews were null and void had both the motive and the means to do it. There was the motive, the wrong attitudes they had towards the Jews, their hatred towards them, their anti-Semitism. And now there was the means, an accepted way to redefine the Old Testament promises for the Jews. Their wrong attitude plus a wrong method of interpretation made it relatively easy for people to dismiss, displace and disregard the Jews. These early error minded Gentile Christians with regard to Jewish prophecy had both the desire and the method, the motive and the means to replace Israel with the church. And that’s exactly what happened in their own minds, but not in the mind of God and in the word of God.
6. The Jews were not in their land from 70 AD to the late 1800’s, and that must have meant these Jewish promises were indeed now the church’s promises. Wrong again. Can you imagine what all the Replacement Theology people were thinking during this period of close to 1800 years? It wasn’t just that the Jews were not in their land but the fact that it went on and on and on – from the 1st century to the 2nd century to the 3rd century to the 4th century to the 5th century, and on and on up until the 15th century and then to the 16th century to the 17th century to the 18th century, and finally to the end of the 19th century. During this entire period of time the Jews were not in their land. This no doubt had to have strengthened and solidified the position many Christians had, that God was done with Israel as a nation, and that the Jewish promises had been totally and forever transferred to the church.
But then the Jews started coming back. It was the late 1800’s. And I wouldn’t doubt that many Christian leaders wondered what was going on, but most were so stuck in their thinking that they just couldn’t change, and they weren’t going to change, and they didn’t change. They had taught that the Jews had no future; their articles and doctrinal statements had been written and printed; their positions had publicly already been made known. But God, in fact, was once again working with the Jews. “‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord.’ Thus says the Lord God to these bones, ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life.” (Ezekiel 37:4-5). God’s promises to the Jews were finally starting to be fulfilled, and they will be fulfilled.
Up to this very day there are many mainline denominations – Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Mennonite, Church of Christ, Episcopalian, Orthodox, as well as thousands of independent Protestant churches that still hold on to these erroneous and heretical teachings regarding the future of Israel. There are also many good Bible based churches and reformed churches rightly preaching the gospel, but they’re not rightly teaching the truth about the future of Israel, for they don’t believe the promises of God with regard to the Jews. Estimates are that the majority of all churches in this country at the present time don’t believe there is a future for the Jews. This is one of the main reasons I’m taking the time to correct this terrible error, for it is presently affecting many people and many churches. But you know what? I’m absolutely convinced that God is going to change the thinking of many of those caught up in this error as we get closer to the return of Christ. Do you think God would let His people, the Christian believers, stay steeped in their error concerning the Jews? I don’t believe so. Just like God is going to change the minds of many Jews in the end times, leading them to repentance and forgiveness, so too I believe He will change the minds of many Christians to believe that this salvation of the Jews is going to take place. By the grace and truth of God, might you be one who believes that God will fulfill all His promises to the Jews.
Since the Jews are back in their land, then we know we live in the end times, and that the words of the prophets are no longer sealed and concealed (Daniel 12:4, 9). More than ever before, this is the time to find out what God, over 2500 years ago, predicted and promised to the Jews. This is the time to clearly understand God’s prophetic word, for it is relevant to the Jews, but also to the Christians. Don’t be lazy, don’t be ignorant, don’t be deceived, and don’t be in error. Ask God for wisdom, discernment, for insight, and then go to His word, and learn about the Jews from the Law, the Psalms, the Prophets and the New Testament (Luke 24:44-45). Romans 15:9-10 sums it up well, “Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles, and I will sing to Your name… Rejoice, Gentiles, with His people… There shall come the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles hope.” Do you see it? Jewish and Gentile believers praising God together, Jewish and Gentile believers together being ruled by Jesus Christ, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. This is our future. “Praise the Lord, all nations; laud Him all peoples! For His lovingkindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord is everlasting. Praise the Lord” (Psalm 117).