Book Review: Israel and the Church

Israel and the ChurchEvery December, the square of the Nuremberg market place becomes home to the most famous Christmas market in the world. It is also the site where the Jewish quarter of the city once stood. Before the city walls were built, about the year 1100, the Jews were given a swampy piece of ground in what became the middle of town. They developed it into a habitable spot and grew as a community. In 1349, the city council leveled the Jewish quarter and burned 562 Jews alive. Where the synagogue once stood there is now a large church. The destruction of the Jewish quarter in Nuremberg is just one of hundreds of tragedies experienced by the Jewish people through the centuries. Christian churches share the blame.

At the outset of his book, Israel and the Church, Ronald Diprose, an Italian evangelical theologian points out that the Vatican (in Vatican, II) and the World Council of Churches (1948) have already admitted the woodcut of Jewish persecutiondestructive nature of a wrong theological concept and repudiated it. Diprose feels it is time that evangelicals do the same. The concept the Vatican and the WCC have rejected is “Replacement Theology.” Replacement Theology teaches essentially that the Church has taken the place of Israel and that God has no future plan for this nation. Wayne Grudem makes a typical formulation of this position, “The church has now become the true Israel of God and will receive all the blessings promised to Israel in the Old Testament” (Systematic Theology, 863). In 2002, Knox seminary wrote a very strongly worded statement upholding the position of Replacement Theology (see www.knoxseminary.org/Perspective/Faculty/WittenbergDoor/index.html). In a footnote, Diprose notes that of 16 modern conservative volumes on Systematic Theology he surveyed, only five give significant mention to the nation of Israel. As one might expect, Replacement Theology is very distasteful to Jewish people: Christian and non-Christian alike (see, for example www.bethmessiah.com/topic7.htm, http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/comment-batyeor091803.asp, Todd Pitok and Paul Kirby, “England’s Anti-Israel Crusaders, Jewsweek, July 21,2006 or David Horovitz, “Evangelicals Seeing the Error of Replacement Theology,” Jerusalem Post, Mar. 20, 2006). Discussion of Replacement Theology has stirred up a fair amount of controversy between covenant theologians and dispensationalists in recent years. This is not, however, Diprose’s interest. He would like the concept to be considered for itself apart from theological positions (after all, the World Council of Churches hardly opposes Replacement Theology out of a desire to promote one type of theology).

After his introduction, Diprose lays out in 40 pages his argument for why the New Testament teaches the continuation of Israel in God’s plan (pp. 29-68). He deals with passages commonly used to establish the replacement of Israel by the Church. He also uses Romans 9-11 plus passages in the book of Acts to positively establish the continuation of the physical nation. Diprose does an effective job of interacting with those who oppose his conclusions.

The exegetical work is, in the opinion of this writer, well done. The real strength, however, of Diprose’s book is his grasp of Latin, Greek, and Italian documents of the church fathers. Through his analysis, he demonstrates how their thinking developed into a rejection of Israel. “The negative stance of Christians toward Jews and Judaism,” he states, “eventually consolidated into an Adversus Judaeos tradition” (p. 71).

In the second century A.D., Justin Martyr described Christians as “the true Israelite race” and called Abraham, Elijah, and Daniel’s three friends “barbarians” (p. 73; Dialogue with Trypho, cxxxv). By Origin’s time “an attitude of contempt toward Israel had become the rule.” (p. 84). In his writings, Origin effectively disinherits physical Israel (p. 84). Augustine, citing Jeremiah 13:23, “considered the Jews to be irrevocably perverse and incapable of any good thought” (p. 88; Augustine, “Six Days of Work,” Sermons, ix). John Chrysostom, who was famous for his anti-Semitic expressions, taught that God hated the Jews and that Christians should as well (p. 90; Patrologia Graeca, 48:904-905). In his statement within the final document of the Council of Nicea, Emperor Constantine dictated, “We ought not, therefore, to have anything in common with the Jews” (p. 126; Eusebius, The Life of Constantine, III, 18-20). Diprose quotes the conclusion of James Parkes. “There is no other adequate foundation for modern anti-Semitism than the theological conceptions built up in the first three centuries. But upon these foundations an awful superstructure has been reared, and the first stones of that superstructure were laid, the very moment the Church had power to do so, in the legislation of Constantine and his successors” (p. 127, Joseph Parkes, The Conflict of the Church and Synagogue, 375).

There is no question that Christian evangelism among Jewish people virtually ended after the second century A.D. Ronald Diprose’s book explains why. As Doug Kennard states, “[Diprose] accurately unpacks the post apostolic history of replacement theology” (JETS, December, 2001, 734). Thirty years ahead of Diprose’s book, Michael Green wrote, “The systematic way in which the Christians robbed the Jews of their holy books, their Law, their status and history as Israel … is in itself explanation enough for the failure of the Jewish mission” (Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, p. 108). Both for the Church’s failure in evangelizing Jewish people and in its contribution to Jewish persecution through the centuries, Diprose argues, blame can be laid at a wrong theological concept: Replacement Theology.

Diprose has done a scholarly work. His writing is aimed at dealing squarely with a theological concept, not a theological position. The contents of his book are valuable information for studious Bible believers, regardless of their theological leanings.
Jeff Brown———–

Jeff Brown was born in Muncie, Indiana and studied Biology at Ball State University (Muncie, IN). After college, he trained for the ministry at Central Baptist Theology Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He is also pursuing a Ph.D. at Central. He has served as a teacher, a pastor in Michigan for seven years, and a church-planting pastor in Germany for 17 years. He and his wife, Linda have four grown children.

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