Replacement Theology: Is it Wrong to Use the Term? (Pt.8)

Part Seven

My stated intention in these posts is to try to settle whether or not it is proper to speak in terms of theologies of supercessionism or replacement theology.  It is not my design to argue for the opposite view (which I have done many times before).  I am coming towards the end of my article, with probably one post left to go.  I said that I wanted to take a look at two OT passages to discover how those holding to one or more forms of supercessionism handle them.

Jeremiah 31:31-37

The first passage is the famous New covenant prophecy in Jeremiah 31:31-34.  It involves a prediction of cleansing and salvation for Israel and Judah and their reunification.  The passage is repeated in Hebrews 8:8-12.  But attached to the original prophecy is a crystal clear guarantee that if man can tinker with the ordinances of creation,which stand fast (Psa. 33:9), “then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.” (Jer. 31:36).  That sounds like a rock solid affirmation of the perpetuity of the existence of Israel as a nation!  

But God then underscores the promise by speaking of His secret counsels (cf. Deut. 29:29) in establishing the dimensions of the heavens and earth, and stating that if human beings can fathom them then Israel as a distinct people will be cast off for their disobedience (31:37).  Yet this is exactly what several of the writers I have quoted have claimed.

How do covenant theologians (whose theology is usually identified with replacementism), deal with verses 35 to 37?

Gary DeMar writes,

Jeremiah’s prophecy was given more than 2500 years ago. Prior to 1948 and after A.D. 70, Israel had not been a nation. So we have a few interpretive choices regarding the Jeremiah passage: (1) God lied (impossible); (2) the promise was conditional (not likely); the promise was postponed (always the dispensationalist answer and untenable); (4) or the fulfillment was fulfilled in the new nation that grew out of the New Covenant made up of Jews and non-Jews(most likely). Consider what Jesus tells the religious leaders of His day:

“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust. When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them” (Matt. 21:43–45). –

DeMar ignores the details of the vow God made and moves straight to sort through the alternatives as he envisions them, using Matthew 21:43-45 to transform the unconditional language of continuity (remember Jer. 33:37) into conditional language threatening termination.  The NT is brought in to nullify the solemn vow of God in the OT.  Is that how Scripture should be used to interpret Scripture?  One might employ a little irony here by pointing out that if one waits long enough God will change the apparent meaning of what He has said, no matter how strongly it was put, and the expectations will change along with it.  As Michael Brown has observed in his commentary on “Jeremiah” in the revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary, this dissolves any fixity of meaning in Divine Revelation.  Can Jeremiah 31 really be redirected by Matthew 21? or is DeMar guilty of trivializing a Divine pledge?

Notice the equivocation on the word “nation” in DeMar.  When he writes of a “new nation” growing out of the New covenant does he reference the promise of national and ethnic permanence which accompany it?  He does not.  Israel the nation becomes “Israel” the “nation.”

Jeremiah 33:14-26

As if to drive His covenant dependability home, this long section, which begins with a prediction of the Messianic rule from Jerusalem (not New Jerusalem) over a righteous earth, proceeds with a promise that the Davidic covenant and the ministration of the Levites (doubtless related to the covenant with Phinehas in Num. 25:10-13) will continue (33:17-18).  This is followed by avowals of fidelity to the Davidic covenant and the Priestly covenant based on God’s constancy to the Noahic covenant (cf. Gen.8:21-22) and then the creation ordinances (Jer. 33:19-22).

What appears next is most informative for our discussion:

Have you not considered what these people have spoken, saying, ‘The two families which the LORD has chosen, He has also cast them off’? Thus they have despised My people, as if they should no more be a nation before them. – Jeremiah 33:24

In replacement theology, the very thing that is at issue is the continuance of Israel as a nation.  And that is what this form of theology denies!  Another instance of this is when John Frame expressly says that through unbelief Israel “lost its special status as God’s elect nation.” – The Doctrine of God, 49 n. 3.

Jeremiah closes off his chapter by reiterating the fixity of God’s purposes for ethnic Israel (33:25-26).  How do CT’s respond to such a God-proffered bond?  I’m afraid they regularly ignore Jeremiah 33:14-26 completely.  But there it sits, witnessing against them.

Just to make the point even more, allow me to reproduce a few other samples.  In another book Frame writes,

The promises given to Israel are fulfilled to us in Christ… We are the heirs of Israel… Indeed, we are the Israel of God (Gal. 6:16). Paul even describes Gentile Christians as wild branches grafted into the tree of Israel in place of the unbelieving branches that have been cast out.” – John M. Frame, Systematic Theology, 75

And Anglican theologian Michael Bird writes in a similar vein:

In sum, the promise of a universal blessing made to Abraham and inherited by Israel is fulfilled in the church of Jesus Christ, which constitutes the elect from every nation. – Michael F. Bird, Evangelical Theology, 715

This is then smoothed over with some soft words:

The existence of the church, then, is not an abandonment of God’s promises to Israel; rather, it is the remnant chosen by grace, which is the first order proof of his faithfulness to Israel. – Ibid, 716

But how can this be squared with God’s language in Jeremiah 31 and 33?  These statements are perhaps the two most strongly worded promises in the entire Bible!  How can they be circumvented?  Several things to notice in the above quotes: 1. Frame uses a proof-text (Gal.6:16) whose support for his position is very questionable (and at the very least debatable).  2. He wrongly (though not untypically for CT’s) refers to the olive tree in Romans 11 as Israel, when the native branches are Israel.  3. Bird uses the third part of the Abrahamic covenant to completely swamp the first two promises (i.e. of national and territorial inheritance).

The Organic Route Won’t Work

I have said that those CT’s who are more careful cannot break free from Jeremiah.  The great Geerhardus Vos wrote,

It is one church that is built on the foundation of the prophets and the apostles; as a matter of course the spiritual Israel, the true Israel, grows out of Israel according to the flesh.” – Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 5, 297  

You cannot have a non-Israelite nation grow out of the Israelite nation.  You cannot rename the church “true Israel” without coming up against God’s solemn promises to the “old” nation of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Jer. 33:26); oaths which God fully intends to follow through upon exactly as He has sworn to do.  He will renew and restore national Israel to their land (cf. Ezek. 37:14, 21-28).



18 thoughts on “Replacement Theology: Is it Wrong to Use the Term? (Pt.8)”

  1. You see, Paul, the problem is that you want to interpret the OT promises in the absence of the NT light in which they were intended to be understood. The promises were never to physical Israel. Israel was, from the beginning, a signpost of something greater that was to come. Most of national Israel for most of its history has been wholly given to idolatry. She has always with rare exceptions, consisted of mostly idolaters and a few elect. Nevertheless, God used that nation to point men to the true holy nation that was to come. That nation would be the one seed promised in the garden, in Abraham, to David, a Son that would occupy his throne forever. And so He does. I am going to take a closer look at your arguments and perhaps I will interact with them if I can find the time.

    This is why I object to the term “replacement” theology as employed by the dispensationalist position. It assumes that CT holds that a replacement actually took place when that is not really what CT is saying. Since CT is reformed top to bottom, we hold that this was the plan from the beginning. Israel had a purpose in God’s program. It was a very special one. But it was not the end game that dispensationalists claim it was. The OT does not revolve around Israel. It points to Christ and his Church. They are sign posts. Look through the light of the New if you want to truly understand the Old.

    1. You see, Paul, the problem is that you want to interpret the OT promises in the absence of the NT light in which they were intended to be understood.

      This seems akin to stating, “the problem is that Christians want to interpret the NT promises in the absence of the Book of Mormon (or Koran–take your pick) in which they were intended to be understood

      No, the OT promises stand quite sufficiently on their own merit and normative understanding. Even for hundreds of years–without a dependence of NT revelation to be understood. Otherwise, those who received them could hardly have been chastised for their failure to understand what they clearly state.

      This is at the core of this issue: does OT revelation lie lame and disabled until the NT comes along to its rescue? To say it did is to demean God’s ability to communicate sufficiently to hold those who received the revelation accountable for a correct response.

      That’s how I see it 🙂

      1. ” The OT does not revolve around Israel. It points to Christ and his Church.”

        Also: I guess it depends on what is meant by points to. If it means that the Church could be understood in any meaningful way from the OT, then that would contradict what the NT teaches concerning the Church, the body of Christ–Jew and Gentile on equal footing–being a mystery–not before revealed.

        It seems strange “revelation” indeed for the OT to be on about things that were divinely hidden until the NT. A much simpler solution is to take the OT at face value, believe the NT when it says the Church is not to be found therein, and put the two testaments together using an approach of progressive revelation based on normative hermeneutics where the NT augments and enhances–but never replaces or subverts–what has already been said in the OT.

      2. The book of Mormon? You really think that this comparison is something that should be included in this discussion?

        The OT promises were NEVER intended to stand on their own. Without the NT they would have made no sense…like one hand clapping. The unfolding revelation of God is one, not many stitched together. The Bible is one book, not two. God’s plan is one, not two. God’s people are one, not two.

        The OT revelation is indeed less clear, obscure, veiled, hidden until the New Testament coupled with the necessary enlightenment of the Holy Spirit shines its light on it.

        The problem with this view is that it places Israel at the center of God’s program. She was always only a type of that which was to come.

        I cannot help but wonder how exactly Dispensationalists think God blinded the eyes of the Jewish leaders if the OT revelation was so simple and straightforward. The NT tells us that God hid these truths somehow, so that they would not see them. And indeed, they didn’t. He hid them in the types and foreshadows, but make no mistake, the NT says he hid them. There is no mystery whatsoever if I take your approach.

      3. Agree, Tony. The OT is clear about Israel future in many passages. These do not need the NT to clarify (or change).

        Good to see you.

    2. Ed,

      I hope you can find time to interact more closely with the specifics of these articles. I understand that it is not always possible to commit to such a thing, and I won’t hold you to it. I think I would benefit from some closer examination from your perspective.

      Your first paragraph shows the selectivity which I think hamstrings CT interpretations of the OT. You say that Christ’s occupying of David’s throne (which you take to be in heaven) fulfills Gen. 3:15 and the promise to Abraham, so you do extract some literal correspondence from prediction to fulfillment as you see it. But so much specific OT language is jettisoned in the process, that to declare any true correspondence between what God took pains to say and how He has supposedly done what He said He would do looks like a singularly unimpressive declaration of the veracity of God’s promises.

      I cannot follow you in reading the Bible backwards brother. I tried to address this matter here:

      God bless,


      1. Hey Paul,
        I will attempt to interact in more detail over the next week or so. Will let you know when I am able to do so.

        I trust all is well with you, the family, and the church. I appreciate your labors and hold you in only the highest regard my dear brother. May your tribe increase even if it may disagree with mine on matters such as this.

      2. I think the primary key to this issue is going to be the examples, the numerous examples we have in the NT that, given your principles, would earn the NT author a bit of a slap on the hermeneutical wrist so to speak. In my estimation, I wonder if you do not assume your own principle while attempting to prove it. What I am interested in is what Matthew, or Luke, or Paul did with these texts and if what they did with them squares with what you say CT must do with them. If your principle is good for CT, then it must also be good for Paul, or Matthew or the others. That is the test that carries the true weight in my opinion. Stay tuned. I will see what I can do to interact in more detail in due time.

  2. Great. Thanks Ed. I look forward to looking over what you say about how the NT handles the Old. But I fear we will not be too much closer to agreement when we have done. No matter, the consideration involved will be worth it to me.

  3. Hi Ed,

    “The book of Mormon? You really think that this comparison is something that should be included in this discussion? The OT promises were NEVER intended to stand on their own. Without the NT they would have made no sense…like one hand clapping.

    Firstly, the comparison I was on about was not so much that the Book of Mormon is comparable with the NT (it most obviously–to a Christian–is not), but that your line of reasoning is very similar to that of Mormons or Muslims who, likewise, want to say that the NT is incomplete without follow-on revelation (the later books which they hold as divine and which “complete” or correct that which is revealed in the NT). In other words: your stance about the NT in relation to the OT is much like their stance about their books vs. the NT. And the answer to both is that God’s revelation is not given in ways that require additional revelation before it can stand on its own for that which it deals with.

    Also: consider the function of a covenant which is close to a formal legal document as we can find in Scripture. It seems pretty odd to me to think that God’s formal agreements–which He highlights as covenants–“would have made no sense… like one hand clapping.” How could they function as solemn promises/contracts if additional documents–hundreds of years later–were required to understand them. I sure wouldn’t want to be having to sign on the dotted line–or understand something God had solemnly promised to me–with the idea that he was going go, after the fact, slip in addendums that radically altered the meaning of our agreement.

    Anyway, I’ll leave it to you and Paul to hash out more of the issues.

    Blessings – Tony

  4. Oh, I did also want to respond to something else you said Ed:

    And indeed, they didn’t. He hid them in the types and foreshadows, but make no mistake, the NT says he hid them. There is no mystery whatsoever if I take your approach.

    I think it is plain from what Paul says about the mystery related to the body of Christ that the information was not previously revealed. That is, omitted from OT revelation. This can be seen from that fact that when Paul reveals the mystery in the NT, he gives completely new revelation.

    If the mystery referred to things “mysteriously hidden within OT revelation,” then Paul would have spent many paragraphs explaining all these types and shadows. But that is not his focus or technique. Instead, he simply describes new information. The “mystery” is not about clever interpretation “reading between the lines.” Rather, it is about information that was previously not available in any form.

    So the mysteries are revealed by new plain-sense revelation–not by going back and explaining/reinterpreting/spiritualizing things that were in already in the OT, but cleverly hidden in the text.

    Nor do I see how “my approach” does away with the mystery? I’m saying there is no body of Christ, no Spirit baptism, no Church in the OT. It was not revealed until new revelation was given in the NT. The antidote to biblical mysteries is revelation (apocalupses), not typological cleverness and insight. Biblical mysteries are not “mysterious” in the sense we use the term today. They were completely unrevealed. Types and shadows are a different animal altogether.

    As to how the Jews could be blinded, I don’t see a dilemma there. Lots of folks read the OT even now–including straightforward passages about Jesus such as Isaiah 53–and still can’t see it. They aren’t blinded by types and shadows. They are blinded by hardness of heart and lack the ability to see what the text simply states. The blindness isn’t an inability to understand types and shadows, its an inability to see what is plainly on the surface–just like I myself experienced prior to the “veil being lifted in Christ.”

    1. Concerning Jer. 31:35-37
      Jer. 31:35-37 seems best understood by considering Romans 11:2 Israel will be saved and continue as a nation but only insofar as the elect of Israel, true Israel, are saved by grace. The offspring of Israel must be interpreted according to the light of the New Testament, especially Romans 9. Here Paul clearly tells us that the offspring of Israel is not to be understood literally in a physical sense. Romans 9:6-8 could not be more clear that the offspring are the children of the promise, not the children of the flesh. Hos. 2:23 confirms this fact as Paul clearly brings into view in 9:25-26, and Peter alludes to as well in 1 Peter 2:10. The people of God consisted on the elect of Israel prior to the Christ event and the ushering in of the New Covenant. But now, Christ builds his church, the church purchased with his blood without distinction for ethnicity (Rom. 10:12; 3:22, 29; Gal. 3:28-29). Reading the new back into the old brings clarity where previously there was a certain degree of ambiguity.

      Concerning Jer. 33:14-26
      We know that the Righteous Branch is Christ. We know He is the Son of David that was to come. We know that Jer. 14:16 is alluded to in 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9. David will never lack a Son to sit on the throne because Christ has taken his rightful place and there He shall remain forever. To understand this passage literally is to opt for a return to priestly offerings. Not only do I find such a position untenable, I find it absurd and contradictory to the clear writings of New Testament revelation. For instance, Heb. 10:10, 14 informs us that sacrifices have ceased permanently. When did this occur? It occurred at the enacting of the New Covenant according to 10:16-17. We have now a great high priest over the house of God (v. 21). These things were imposed until a time of reformation (Heb. 9:10). That word reformation, διόρθωσις, is a hapax legomenon. It means a process leading to a new order as something yet to be realized. The very next phrase, “But when Christ appeared” sets forth the clear idea that the reformation has taken place in the Christ event. The offspring mentioned in Jer. 33:26 is Christ, the same seed of the woman mentioned in Gen. 3:15, the same seed of Abraham mentioned in Gen. 12, 15, 17. The New Testament interprets that offspring in just this way in Romans, 4:13, 16; 9:6-8; Gal. 3:29; 4:28.

      God has made a nation out of a people who are not a nation! Since that nation springs from Christ, the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, the Son of David, and since we are legally now the offspring of God, we are the true offspring, the true nation, the true Israel of God. (Eph. 1:3-11; 1 Peter 2:9)

      This only gives you a glimpse into how I think the New Testament uses the Old. I intent to respond in greater detail at my blog in the near future as time permits.

  5. Great. Thanks Ed. I will study what you have written. I too am busy, but I like the idea of a couple of articles on our respective blogs. Let’s try to learn from one another (I am sure I will be helped by you).

    I will probably post the final part of this series before turning to your work.

      1. Kelly is on my to-do list. So many theology texts, so little time. The only reason Grudem is on my list is due to the level at which he writes. I thought about replacing him with MacArthur’s new work.

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