Replacement Theology: Is it Wrong to Use the Term? (Pt.4)

Part Three

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 and 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!


6 thoughts on “Replacement Theology: Is it Wrong to Use the Term? (Pt.4)”

  1. I think it is possible to show that the NT writers, if your method is correct, mishandled Scripture in the very same way that CTs do. I don’t think that is your intention. But that seems to me to be the inevitable consequence of your thesis.

    The issue isn’t replacement terminology. The issue is a dispensational hermeneutic versus the hermeneutic employed by the writers of the NT.

    A cursory examination of Luke 4:18-22 and and its referent, Isaiah 61, demonstrates that it was Jesus who first shattered the expectations of the Jews, not CTs. And his apostles only made things worse with how they handled these prophecies.

    I think if I were to take the approach you are suggesting, mystery would be read right out of the prophecies…something God has placed there intentionally.

    Beale points this out clearly. The parable of the wheat and the tares shows the wrong-headedness of a national kingdom. The wicked and the sons of the kingdom will dwell together all the way until the end.

    Hermeneutically speaking, the New Testament toothpaste is out of the Old Testament tube. Any attempt to put it back in seems to me to be misguided. Why would we retreat to the darkness when the light now shines so brightly upon the text? 🙂

    1. Well Ed, this indeed shows up an important issue, not just with DT and CT, but with differing viewpoints generally (e.g. conservatism vs. liberalism; Christianity vs. atheism). That has to do, as you know, with ones own position and how one arrived there.

      Neither one of us has had a ‘normal’ route to our respective beliefs, and I don’t know if that helps or not. At least we have some insight into presuppositions.

      Now, while I of course don’t agree with the conclusion you draw re. the Apostles’ hermeneutic, I think that I can show (though in the book I am writing, not in this series) that the Apostle’s hermeneutic actually is in complete agreement with the Prophets. What I mean by this is that Christ and the Apostles interpret the OT in direct continuity with the expectations which the Prophets invited.

      Your thesis hinges on the apparent dilemma that emerges from what I have said in the last post about God’s promises and their supposed ‘fulfillment’ in the NT as far as CT is concerned (a matter that still needs to be joined). But I think the dilemma is posed prematurely.

      You state, “The issue isn’t replacement terminology. The issue is a dispensational hermeneutic versus the hermeneutic employed by the writers of the NT.”

      Well, that seems to me to beg the question. But it is understandable if one stands where you stand. And by claiming that the issue isn’t replacement terminology you are redirecting this article. I have shown that such an animal exists, and am in the middle of showing how it infuses CT. After that I shall try to deal with the matter of continuity between “Israels” by recourse to John Owen and Sam Storms, but ending with the in-through-the-out-door realization that supercessionism of one form or another is endemic to CT; just as much as is the giving of priority to the NT over the OT which is exemplified in your last paragraph.

      As for Luke, I cannot go into his use of the OT themes, but I use him as my linchpin in describing the hermeneutical continuity between the Testaments.

      For me the biblical covenants dictate interpretation. That is not so much the case with DT. With CT the theological covenants dictate interpretation. These basic assumptions form the ways we see the relationship between the Testaments.

      1. I can’t wait until you complete your project. I will have to request a signed copy once it is published.

        I suppose that I would ask if Paul’s treatment of this subject especially in Romans 9-11 would not have to be considered “replacement” in your understanding of the term. It seems to me that this would unavoidably be the case.

        In terms of the covenants, I would probably tend to say that all the covenants within the reformed baptist covenant scheme are biblical covenants, even the ones that you call theological covenants. Covenant theology would say that the “theological” is nothing more than collecting and arranging the “biblical.” But I do understand how you are making the distinction even though I tend to disagree with it. I am not a dogmatist on that point.

        Finally, I think the focus or emphasis on natural Israel is far to narrow. It constricts what is seemingly a much broader, redemptive-historical approach employed by the NT, even Jesus Himself. Beale makes a point that I think is overlooked by DT, namely that history is unified by a wise and sovereign plan so that the earlier parts are designed to correspond and point to the later parts.

        From my vantage point, national Israel should have never been the focus. It was never about her. It was always about the one who would crush the serpent’s head. It was always about Christ. It was always about the covenant that he would usher in, in his blood, and it was always about those whom he would call to himself. Israel was always a type, to include her promises and prophecies.

        I don’t mean to sidetrack things. Continue on. I will hold off future comments until your finished with the series if that would help.

  2. This is another useful comment. It encapsulates your thinking and concerns well, and it helps me. I cannot enter into the broader themes that you highlight. I see your point. I also agree with Beale that there are creational matters going on which a narrow focus on Israel cannot fully deal with; although in BC (as opposed to DT) this creational element is prominent and Israel is viewed as a lens through which ‘the Creation Project’ is seen, especially in the Prophets. I in no way see it as a type. I am actually very skeptical of typology. I do not deny that it exists, but I think it is limited and, more to the point, I believe all typologies assume certain theological stances as subtexts, and that therefore they ought not to play any part in hermeneutics.

    The book is a long way from being complete. I hope to have complete the OT portion by the end of this year. But who knows?

    1. I suppose the statement that puzzles me the most is that concerning typology. It seems to me that a great part of the NT calls upon the patterns we see in the OT for its proof or validity. From the covenant with Adam, to the flood, the calling of Abraham, the exodus, to the serpent in the wilderness and the cross, to God’s presence in the the temple and now the church being the living temple of the living God, to the sacrifices and Christ’s atonement, to divine punishment, etc. The OT laid down the types repeatedly, over and over again for what we would realize in the antitypes of the New.

      It would also seem impossible to me to rule out typology as a valid component in hermeneutics without a prior theological commitment of some sort. In other words, typology is not ruled out as a valid component in hermeneutics by rules of hermeneutics, but rather by theological commitments that serve to give those rules their meaning. This is the problem of the criterion as it is known in philosophy. We bring our theological baggage to the hermeneutical terminal and it is checked as we board the plane for our destination. The point is that we already know where we are going and the path we will take before we ever put the key in the ignition.

      For me, this is why Scripture must interpret Scripture, and it must be from Scripture alone that we construct our hermeneutical paradigm. This is why the Old being earlier in the history of progressive revelation must be understood through the brighter light of the New, to which it has pointed all along. The blocks of the foundation of a house are not there for any other purpose than to support the floor and structure which is built upon it. To understand why the foundation is what it is, study the structure. It will shed more light on the foundation than studying the foundation alone could ever do. The guiding principle for understanding the former revelation is always found in the latter. And since both center around Christ, both are pointing to Christ from their respective directions, not a physical nation regardless of how important that nation might be in its respective role.

      I look forward to your next post.

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