"Replacement Theology" - Is It Wrong to Use the Term? (Part 3)

Read the series so far.

Replacement of Concepts?

In the book The Meaning of the Millennium (ed. Robert G. Clouse), the well known postmillennial scholar Loraine Boettner said,

The land of Palestine…was given to Abraham and his seed “for an everlasting possession” (Gen. 17:8). But the same thing is said of the perpetual duration of the priesthood of Aaron (Ex. 40:15), the Passover (Ex. 12:14), the Sabbath (Ex. 31:17) and David’s throne (2 Sam. 7:13, 16, 24). But in the light of the New Testament all of those things have passed away. (98)

It stands to reason that if Israel’s promises have passed away, they have to be replaced by something else. But according to many Presbyterian covenant theologians the church has always existed, so they object to being called supercessionists. R.C. Sproul, Jr is a representative voice when he says,

The Reformed perspective takes a different tack. It affirms that that Israel which is actually Israel, just as with the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3, applies to those who are in Christ, who trust in His finished work. Though we deny the moniker, this is what our dispensational friends call “replacement theology.” The Reformed, however, see this is as the outworking of the truth of Galatians 3:7- “Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” We who are Reformed do not believe God replaced Israel with the church. We believe instead that there has always been only one people of God, those who believe. (R.C. Sproul, Jr.)

An older work by W. J. Grier makes this abundantly clear:

Let us here insist that there was a Church in Old Testament times; and that the Old Testament and New Testament believers form one Church – the same olive tree (Romans 11). (The Momentous Event, 33)

Seeing that this is the position of at least some covenant theologians, is it fair to label them as replacement theologians? Well, not in the sense that they believe the church has replaced Israel in toto, (although not a few of these men do slip into that kind of rhetoric on occasion). But I would argue that an identifiable form of supercession is still going on.

Grier’s opinion that “Israel” equals believers stripped of the accoutrements of a designated land, with cities, a temple, priesthood and a king looks overly simplistic. These key OT themes are swept aside with a wave of the hand.

Consider this statement from Edmund Clowney:

The greatest promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled in the church – we are the temple of the living God. (Edmund P. Clowney, “The Final Temple,” in Prophecy in the Making, ed., Carl F. H. Henry, 84)

And again this by Steve Motyer:

[Paul] consistently applies to the church – that is, the mixed Jewish and Gentile congregations to whom he writes – the great covenant ideas and terms which had previously belonged to Israel. They are the elect (1 Thess. 1:4-5), the people called to holiness (1 Cor. 1:2), the justified who are objects of God’s saving righteousness (1 Cor. 6:11; Rom. 3:22-24), the redeemed (Rom. 3:24; Eph. 1:7), who inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10; Col. 1:12). They are the children of God (Rom. 8:14; cf. Exod. 4:22), on whom the glory of God rests (Rom. 5:2; 8:30), who offer pleasing worship (Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 5:1-2), and who can rightly appeal to the covenant faithfulness of God (Rom. 8:31-39). In all likelihood, when Paul calls God’s peace and mercy upon ‘the Israel of God’ in Galatians 6:16, he is referring to the church. (S. Motyer, “Israel (nation),” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed., T. Desmond Alexander, et al., 585-586.)

Clowney takes all the best promises to Israel in the Bible and gives them (though in a greatly altered condition) to the church. Motyer, like so many who take this line, thinks that God’s speaking about the church in similar terms to the way He speaks about Israel is decisive in equating the two. In the Boettner quote we can see that the “perpetual duration” of the OT promises to Israel of land, king, priesthood etc., are not, in fact, perpetual; at least not in the way they would have been understood in OT times. The notion of perpetuity changes, as do the ideas of land, king, priesthood, temple, Jerusalem, and other associated matters.

Picking through the Assertions

I have defined “replacement” as meaning “to take the place of” and “supercession” as a switching out of one thing for another. In the essay by Clowney from which I have pulled the quotation above, the writer calls the church the true temple. The physical temple in Jerusalem was just a foreshadowing of the church. What was said about the temple can be applied about all the other items on the OT covenant list: king, land, Zion, priesthood, the preeminence of the nation among other nations, etc.

Let me concede the point about Israel being the church at present for the sake of argument, it remains true that the church is not a physical building or a nation in the usual sense (this category error will be revisited). So it would appear, for example, that the word “temple” in Clowney’s statement is being used to refer to two different things. And it looks like the non-physical “temple” is superseding the physical Jerusalem temple. If so, then in the minds of OT believers, the idea of the temple as a physical structure on Mt. Zion is replaced by the idea of a called-out multitude of people. If we move on to land we shall find either that rather than referring to a designated territory separate from other territories, “land” now refers to heaven, or that it refers to the whole globe (usually on the new earth). The “king” does not reign over the nation of Israel in Jerusalem but instead is reigning now from heaven over the international church. Zion becomes another name for heaven, the Zadokite line of Levites become mainly Gentile Christians, and there is no such thing as the preeminence of Israel since “Israel” is the church and the church is all there is! So even though we don’t have replacement of one people group with another (because Israel = the church), we do have many replacements of important concepts with others.

Here is Greg Beale:

Here [Gal. 6:16], as in 2 Cor. 5:14-7:1, it needs to be emphasized that the church in fulfilling Israel’s end-time restoration prophecies is also fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecies of new creation. (G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 724)

So the church fulfills the prophecies given to Israel over and over again in the OT. These fulfilments are not often literal (i.e. what would have been expected by hearers of the original words), but rather the concepts are substituted for other things. OT concepts (e.g. land, king, priesthood, temple in this world) are replaced by others in the world to come. But in Jeremiah 31, 33 and Ezekiel 36-48 we find some of the most strongly worded promises of God to national Israel. These are New covenant promises, not conditioned on adherence to the law of Moses.

(More to come…)

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There are 17 Comments

J. Baillet's picture

 A temple is a dwelling place of God with man where man can approach and get to know God, and commune with and worship Him. Is this an un-Biblical definition of temple?

JSB

Paul Henebury's picture

Yes.  In Biblical Times a temple was not necessarily a dwelling place of God.  See, e.g., Rodney Stark, Discovering God, 64-66.  It appears that the glory of God which left the temple in c.586 in Ezekiel 11 did not return to the Second Temple (There is no record of it).  But it is said to return to the temple at the end of Ezekiel.  

Moreover, a temple was not a place where people could approach and commune with the deity.  In many cases only a very few could step foot in the temple.  Even the Jerusalem temple was not a place of communion with God.  

It is better to think of these temples as centralized places of worship, especially God's temple.  

 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

TylerR's picture

Bro. Henebury beat me to it, but I would say essentially the same thing.

The Book of Hebrews makes a very stark distinction between those precious few who could come near to God in the tabernacle/temple, and the vast majority who could only stand afar off, relying completely on a priest as a mediator - even to the point where they could not even directly offer any sacrifices to God. They had to give their offering to the priest, who did it for them. Now, in the New Covenant, we can come boldly to the throne of grace ourselves (figuratively); there is no temporary intermediary any longer.

The temple system has been abolished for now. It will be re-established later.

Our bodies are temples of God in the sense that God dwells within us, as believers.  

I've never considered definitions of "temple" similar to yours as valid. You could say that God dwelt among men in a temple in the Old Covenant in order to make Himself known to men, but that's about it. You can't approach God in the temple. You can't get to know God in the temple. You do worship Him at the temple, in the sense that it is where He reveals His presence. But, even then, your sacrifices were really only the outward reflection of an inward devotion and love (cf. Prov. 15:8).

I'm genuinely interested why you see things differently.  

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

TylerR's picture

Probably my favorite example of replacement theology in action is from Calvin's commentary on Amos. I came across this several years ago. In Amos 9, the prophet spoke about how God will rebuild David's tabernacle, bring the Israelites back, and give them everything He had promised to them. Calvin did not take the descriptions of agricultural plenty literally; he believed they were figurative references to the blessings of Christ's spiritual kingdom in the hearts of the elect. For example, consider his remarks on Amos 9:13:

At the same time, the Spirit under these figurative expressions declares, that the kingdom of Christ shall in every way be happy and blessed, or that the Church of God, which means the same thing, shall be blessed, when Christ shall begin to reign.

Behold his comments on Amos 9:15:

Further, what is here said of the abundance of corn and wine, must be explained with reference to the nature of Christ’s kingdom. As then the kingdom of Christ is spiritual, it is enough for us, that it abounds in spiritual blessings: and the Jews, whom God reserved for himself as a remnant, were satisfied with this spiritual abundance.

If any one objects and says, that the Prophet does not speak here allegorically; the answer is ready at hand, even this, — that it is a manner of speaking everywhere found in Scripture, that a happy state is painted as it were before our eyes, by setting before us the conveniences of the present life and earthly blessings: this may especially be observed in the Prophets, for they accommodated their style, as we have already stated, to the capacities of a rude and weak people

Of course, many people agree with Calvin; he was a genius and his commentaries are extraordinarily helpful. But, right here, you have the hermeneutical divide. What would the original audience have thought about Amos 9? If God's revelation did not have communicated objective, understandable truth to the original audience, then how is it even "revelation?" I just cannot get past the idea that the original audience would not have understood it Calvin's way, so he must be wrong.

I'm not a blind dispensational advocate; I see many issues with the system. But, this is a bridge too far.

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

Paul Henebury's picture

I just cannot get past the idea that the original audience would not have understood it Calvin's way, so he must be wrong.

Exactly.  That is why I say that those who believe you interpret the OT by the NT have to believe the OT is written for US, not those to whom it first came.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Steve Davis's picture

[quote=Paul Henebury]

I just cannot get past the idea that the original audience would not have understood it Calvin's way, so he must be wrong.

Exactly.  That is why I say that those who believe you interpret the OT by the NT have to believe the OT is written for US, not those to whom it first came.

[/quote

Looking at Amos 9:13 in the context of the initial restauration of the Davidic monarchy in the church (Acts 15:15 ff). Did the hearers understand they'd be working in the fields? If they did, and if in the future their ethnic descendants do work as laborers in the fields, might they have tractors instead or do we have agricultural regression? Did the hearers expect wine from the mountains? I think not. These are poetic expressions. The NT shows us its fulfillment. The original audience may've understood something about future restauration, abundance, and peace. But I don't think for a minute, at least at this time, that they understood it in terms of dispensational literalism.

Paul Henebury's picture

Steve has flown over the context of Amos and settled in Acts, where he thinks James says the passage in question was fulfilled.  Of course he did nothing of the sort.  The issue raised by Tyler was countered with a little disbelief.  Surely there would be tractors in the kingdom, since dispensing with them would be a retrograde step.

But how does Steve know if God would want a kingdom pictured as like Eden (in e.g. Ezekiel 35) invaded with tractors and such?  He doesn't of course, but it serves to add a little ridicule to taking Amos 9 at face value.  He knows well that the Lord did not think Adam and Eve were inconvenienced by not having a John Deere on hand to till the ground with.

He asks if we really believe that mountains will drip wine.  This is poetic expression he says.  He is right, and since poetic language can very easily convey "literal" facts (e.g. they will make tons of wine on the mountains) what is the problem?  The problem is that the details in the OT are unimportant.  The NT's the thing.

Look, I respect the fact that Steve and others don't see things my way.  That's fine.  But this skirting the issues addressed in the posts and in the comments on OT passages helps nothing.  It only encourages folks like me to think CT has a dual-level approach to revelation.  Does Steve not see that the issue Tyler and I were discussing was how the OT revelation (in the approach advocated by those believing the NT interprets the OT), could be FOR OT saints.  That was the question, and it shouldn't be swept aside by saying that he thinks what Amos wrote couldn't be actual because it would be a regression.

I am not being personal as I do respect Steve and I wish him every blessing in his ministry and on his Africa trip, but this comment did not further the discussion. 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Steve Davis's picture

No rididule intended. I fail to see how using inspired NT revelation, commentary, and fulfillment can be considered flying over from Amos to Acts. You and Tyler are discussing how OT revelation could be "For OT saints" in CT. In this case the prophecy was given to them. But how was it "For OT saints?" It wasn't, at least not for the original audience. It was prophecy for a future time. I'm wanting to understand how dispensationalists think Amos 9 was "For OT saints." At best, in a millennial scheme of things, you have Tribulation believers enter the Millennium to work in the fields in an Edenic paradise. I'm not sure if that includes OT saints raised at the end of the Tribulation in glorified bodies. Is that how it works? Or if the "tons of wine" turns out to be grape juice? If so I'll go back to poetry and apostolic interpretation rather than try to make a text fit a system. I think we can disagree on this. Let others who read the comments determine what better explains Scripture.

Paul Henebury's picture

Yes Amos 9 is prophecy, and Amos is a prophet.  But how can one test a prophet whose "prophecy" turns out to be "fulfilled" in a way totally different than the words he used would lead people to expect?  How can the tests of a true prophet be of any use?  In fact we can go further.  What use is it even saying something like this when it all turns out so utterly different?  There is no connection between the content of the communication from Amos and the way you claim (not James) it was fulfilled.  Amos might just as well had said nothing for all the use it was.  Ditto the majority of OT prophecy if CT is right.  

Which brings us back to how you know that the promises of God in the NT, which raise certain expectations in the reader, will not be "fulfilled" completely at variance with what we've been led to believe?  What are we to believe?  What the words say or something other than what they say?  CT interpretation would seem to say that in all probability these promises will be fulfilled very differently than the words indicate (if the OT 'fulfillment' is anything to go by).

You say Amos 9 wasn't for the original audience because it was prophecy.  By that yardstick the NT prophecies are not for us (i.e. the early church and those who have not seen fulfillment) either.  You can't be arbitrary about this. 

You again introduce things which show you have problems with believing what the words say.  This time you talk about tribulation saints etc.  But that has nothing to do with the question under review.  You claim to follow apostolic interpretation.  But that really begs the question since I would claim the very same thing.  Rather i think you are following your interpretation of the Apostles.  It is that which is being read back into the OT.  

Finally, you say that you'd prefer to go back to poetry, as if doing that automatically supports CT interpretation.  No more discussion necessary.

Yes we can and will disagree and that is fine.  But I still don't think the issues Tyler raised have been joined.  

 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Larry's picture

I'm wanting to understand how dispensationalists think Amos 9 was "For OT saints." 

Given that Amos was writing during the days of Uzziah and Jeroboam (Amos 1:1), how is it disputable? I suppose we could dispute whether it was for "OT saints" or the "covenant community" at large. But it was certainly for the OT people, wasn't it? Amos seems to make that clear both in his introductory comments about the dating of his message and in the content of his message.

If we compare Amos 9 and Acts 15, it seems evident that James wasn't intending to say the early church was fulfilling Amos 9. The issue in Acts 15 is whether or not Gentiles have to become like Jews to be Christians. James cites Amos 15 as evidence that the salvation of Gentiles was not unexpected. He says that the prophets "agreed" with this. He does not say that the occasion fulfills Amos.

He also changes the text in some ways, such as "after these things" instead of "in that day," which seems to indicate that "in that day" (the day of Amos 9) is "after these things" (the church period in which James is speaking). James also adds "I will return" showing that the events in question happen after the return of Christ. So James is showing that God was calling Gentiles to salvation without their first becoming Jews (Acts 15:14). He cites Amos for support that such activity is not in contradiction to God’s prophecies in the OT. What God was presently doing in the church was exactly what he had promised to do in the Kingdom at the return of Christ and the resurrection of the Davidic throne. 

J. Baillet's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

Yes.  In Biblical Times a temple was not necessarily a dwelling place of God.  See, e.g., Rodney Stark, Discovering God, 64-66.  It appears that the glory of God which left the temple in c.586 in Ezekiel 11 did not return to the Second Temple (There is no record of it).  But it is said to return to the temple at the end of Ezekiel.  

Moreover, a temple was not a place where people could approach and commune with the deity.  In many cases only a very few could step foot in the temple.  Even the Jerusalem temple was not a place of communion with God.  

It is better to think of these temples as centralized places of worship, especially God's temple.  

I am a little perplexed. A temple without the presence of God? In regard to the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting,

The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the people of Israel, ... And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst."

(Exodus 25:1, 2a, 8)(ESV). In Exodus 19:6, God had already said of the people of Israel, "you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."

At the dedication of the Temple which replaced the Tabernacle as the dwelling place of God with His people, King Solomon said,

I have indeed built you an exalted house, a place for you [the LORD] to dwell in forever.

(I Kings 8:13)(ESV). Not necessarily a dwelling place of God? Perhaps, but that that is certainly the intended and ordinary purpose for a temple in Scripture; its raison d'être. When the glory of God left the Temple, it became merely a building and not a temple in any meaningful and substantive sense.

The people of Israel could and did enter the outer court of the Temple. In Psalm 65:1-4, David sang,

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed. 
O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come. 
When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions. 
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!

And again in Psalm 27: 4,

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. 

Finally, in II Kings 23:1-2,

 Then the king [Josiah] sent, and all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem were gathered to him. And the king went up to the house of the LORD, and with him all the men of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the prophets, all the people, both small and great. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the LORD.

I again commend the following definition of a temple as used in Scripture: A temple is a dwelling place of God with man where man can approach and get to know God, and commune with and worship Him. This may not be the only definition but it is a Biblical one.

JSB

Paul Henebury's picture

Yes but none of these references counters anything that was said.  The Psalms of David were written before the temple was built, and Josiah's acts were prior to Ezek. 11

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

J. Baillet's picture

The important point is the function of the temple not the form. The form changes. The Tabernacle is replaced by Solomon's Temple which is replaced by the Second Temple which is superseded by the greatly expanded Temple of Herod. The form changes but the essential intended function remains the same.

JSB

Paul Henebury's picture

Even a New covenant theologian like A. Blake White says that Herod's temple did not have the Shekinah in it.  See God's Chosen People: Promised to Israel, Fulfilled in the Church, 45

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

TylerR's picture

God's glory left Solomon's temple in Eze 8-10, and we have no record it ever came to the post-exile temple or to Herod's massive expansion. As far as Scripture tells us, it has not returned since the departure in Eze 8-10. The only time I am aware of it returning was on the Mount of Transfiguration (see Mk 9:7), and that was but for a moment.   

Tyler Robbins is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist

J. Baillet's picture

Not sure what New Covenant theologians have to do with Covenant Theology. 

A church building without any Christians inside is in some since still a "church" but it is not serving its intended purpose, and therefore, is not the or a "Church" in any meaningful, substantive sense.

JSB

Paul Henebury's picture

New covenant theologians employ all the same supercessionist opinions as CT and usually rely on and rehash their arguments. 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

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