Read the series so far.
A Little More on the Reality of “Replacementism”
Theologian R. Kendall Soulen opens his book about supercessionism in church history with an explanation of what supercessionism is:
According to this teaching, God chose the Jewish people after the fall of Adam in order to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus Christ, the Savior. After Christ came, however, the special role of the Jewish people came to an end and its place was taken by the church, the new Israel. (The God of Israel and Christian Theology, 1-2)
This description matches our basic definition of supercessionism as “the switching out of “old Israel” with “new,” true Israel.” I think I have already proven that this teaching exists. I add to previous quotes this one from the Adventist theologian Hans LaRondelle. He is referencing Matthew 21:43:
This solemn decision implies that Israel would no longer be the people of God and would be replaced by a people that would accept the Messiah and His message of the kingdom of God. Which new “people” did Christ have in mind?… In short, His Church (“My Church,” Matthew 16:18) would replace the Christ-rejecting nation. (Hans K. LaRondelle, The Israel of God in Prophecy, 101. Author’s emphasis)
Someone might object to my citing a Seventh-Day Adventist to support my position, but before they do I think they should look up how many times this book is recommended by covenant theologians (I got the book after seeing it recommended by O. Palmer Robertson). Another scholar who recommends LaRondelle is Dennis Johnson. Along with this endorsement Johnson also seems comfortable with the term “supercessionism”. He defines it as follows:
“Supercessionism” refers to the New Testament’s assertions and implications that the church is the legitimate heir to the benefits once promised ancient Israel (Dennis E. Johnson, Him We Proclaim, 6 n. 7).
He does not question this definition. He believes it.
Different & the Same
Even though Johnson’s view of supercession may fairly be said to differ from my definition, his approval of LaRondelle’s book, which, as I have stated, is hardly unique, shows that the basic ideas of the two coincide. We had previously seen the same sort of thing in Monergism’s and Greg Beale’s support of Charles Provan. This is one of the things that makes it so difficult to separate one from the other. Here is another prominent voice:
On the surface of it this is the end of the nation of Israel as the chosen people of God. They have been tried and found wanting. God’s patience has been exhausted. (John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, 2nd ed., 216)
So one main teaching of supercessionism is that God has done with the nation of Israel. He has not, please note, done with the Jews as sinners who need saving. But He is through with national Israel. God once was concerned with Israel as a nation, but things have changed. National Israel has been superseded by the multi-national church. Gerstner provides more information on this by focusing on the spiritual nature of the new Israel:
[T]rue membership in Israel is ultimately a matter of spiritual rather than physical relationship… Paul teaches that Israel and the church constitute an organic unity. They are the same olive tree with the Gentiles of the church being grafted into the tree that was Israel (Romans 11:17-21). (Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, 2nd ed., 212; cf. also 225, 236)
A similar sentiment can be found in a more recent Reformed Baptist work:
By gospel reformation Christ spiritually transforms God’s people from Hebrew Israel under the old covenant to Christian Israel under the new. (Greg Nichols, Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptist Perspective on God’s Covenants, 115)
What CT’s like to call “transformation” looks very like another word for types of supercession. For this position to have purchase the national promises to Israel must be seen, not as univocal pledges to those Israelites who trusted in Yahweh in OT times, which included the national, geographical, monarchical and cultic aspects of the various covenants. These covenant promises must be altered. If they are altered then they are to a large extent superseded.
Obviously, some writers are better at explaining themselves than others, and it is easy to pick on the worse expressions of these ideas. I intend to feature more nuanced views in this series where CT’s make it clear that they believe the church continues Israel. Nevertheless, a difficulty for covenant theologians is that if they are going to equate Israel with the church they must address the expectations that God’s prophets raised in the minds of Jews who heard and read them, at least before the time of Jesus. But if you change the expectation, doesn’t that say something about the one who raised the expectation in the first place? Notwithstanding, this is what representative CT’s claim that God has done:
Perhaps one of the most striking features of Jesus’ kingdom is that it appears not to be the kind of kingdom prophesied in the OT and expected by Judaism. (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 431; my emphasis)
Mark 10:45 depicts Jesus as beginning to fulfill the Daniel prophecy [i.e. Dan. 7:13] in an apparently different way than prophesied … in a hitherto unexpected manner. (Ibid, 195)
[E]arlier expressions point to things beyond themselves that are greater than the meaning that would have been perceived by those receiving these earlier expressions.” (Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 123)
For good communication to occur the speaker must impart his meaning to his hearer by using the right words. If the hearer comes away with a false interpretation and expectation, it may be that the words imparted misled the hearer. A real problem here, it seems to me, is that the promises God made to Israel were covenantally bound and were not open to reinterpretation or transformation (see Heb. 6:16-18). The meaning garnered from the original wording has been replaced hundreds of years down the line with another meaning—one that, as Beale says, “appears not to be the kind of kingdom prophesied in the OT and expected by Judaism.” The first expectation has given way to another expectation. What is wrong with admitting that one expectation or meaning has been replaced by another?
CT’s must deal with these promises in their given contexts if they are going to deal with this issue fairly and squarely (these passages include, as I have said, Jeremiah 31, 33 and Ezekiel 36-48). But they very seldom do!
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.