"I think we do not attach sufficient importance to the restoration of the Jews. We do not think enough of it. But certainly, if there is anything promised in the Bible it is this."
--Charles H. Spurgeon
"To argue that God replaced Israel with the church is to depart from an enormous body of biblical evidence."
--Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.
Supersessionism is the view that the New Testament Church supersedes, replaces, or fulfills the nation Israel’s place and role in the plan of God. I am convinced that supersessionism / replacement theology is an unbiblical doctrine that violates clear statements in both the Old and New testaments that teach and affirm a national salvation and restoration of Israel. Below are twelve reasons why supersessionism violates the biblical witness:
1. The Old Testament explicitly teaches the restoration of the nation Israel.
a. Deuteronomy 30:1-6: Israel would experience dispersion because of disobedience but would one day be saved as a nation and experience restoration to its land.
b. Jeremiah 30, 31, and 33: This prediction of the New Covenant promises a restoration of Israel that includes spiritual blessings and physical blessings.
c. Ezekiel 36–37 This passage promises the future salvation and restoration of the nation Israel to its land.
d. Amos 9:11-15
e. Zephaniah 3:14-20
f. Zechariah 12–14
g. NOTE 1: Even if the NT never discussed the restoration of Israel, the many explicit texts about Israel’s restoration in the OT give enough reason to believe in the restoration of Israel.
h. NOTE 2: Since the Abrahamic (Gen. 12:1-3; 15:18-21) and New Covenants (Jer. 31) are eternal and unconditional covenants we should expect God to fulfill these covenants with Israel, the people with whom the covenants were made. John Murray is correct that Israel’s restoration is linked to the covenants of the Old Testament: "Thus the effect is that the future restoration of Israel is certified by nothing less than the certainty belonging to covenantal institution."
2. The Old Testament explicitly promises the perpetuity of the nation Israel (see Jer. 31:35-37).
"Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day, And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The LORD of hosts is His name: "If this fixed order departs From before Me," declares the LORD, "Then the offspring of Israel also shall cease From being a nation before Me forever." Thus says the LORD, "If the heavens above can be measured, And the foundations of the earth searched out below, Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel For all that they have done," declares the LORD" (Jer. 31:35-37).
Have you seen the sun, moon or stars today? If so, you can know that the nation Israel still has a place in God’s plan.
3. The New Testament reaffirms the Old Testament expectation of a salvation and restoration of Israel.
a. Matthew 19:28 -- Apostles to rule over 12 tribes of Israel.
According to E. P. Sanders, Matt 19:28 "confirms the view that Jesus looked for the restoration of Israel."
b. Matthew 23:37-39 / Luke 13:34-35-- Israel one day will accept her Messiah. Donald Senior states, "In Matthew’s perspective, the rejection of Jesus by the leaders is indeed a grave sin, one that brings divine judgment. Yet the story of God’s relationship to Israel is not concluded, and the day will come when Jerusalem will again receive its Messiah with shouts of praise."
c. Luke 21:24-- Times of the gentiles will come to an end. J. Bradley Chance states, "Close examination of L. 21:24b,c provides a strong hint that Luke did foresee the restoration of Jerusalem."
d. Luke 22:30-- Apostles to rule over the 12 tribes of Israel.
e. Acts 1:3-7-- Apostles believed in a restoration of the nation Israel after 40 days of kingdom instruction from Jesus. Scot McKnight states: "Since Jesus was such a good teacher, we have every right to think that the impulsive hopes of his audience were on target. This is not to say that they, at times, drew incorrect references or came to inaccurate conclusions about time or about content, but it is to admit that Jesus believed in an imminent realization of the kingdom to restore Israel and that he taught this with clarity."
f. Acts 3:19-21 -- Restoration is preached to the leaders of Israel.
g. Romans 11:26-27-- Salvation of "all Israel" will occur in accordance with the New Covenant promises given to Israel in the Old Testament.
i. C.E.B. Cranfield: "It is only where the Church persists in refusing to learn this message, where it secretly-perhaps quite unconsciously-believes that its own existence is based on human achievement, and so fails to understand God's mercy to itself, that it is unable to believe in God's mercy for still unbelieving Israel, and so entertains the ugly and unscriptural notion that God has cast off His people Israel and simply replaced it by the Christian Church. These three chapters [Rom. 9-11] emphatically forbid us to speak of the Church as having once and for all taken the place of the Jewish people."
ii. Jonathan Edwards: "Nothing is more certainly foretold than this national conversion of the Jews in Romans 11."
iii. In his comments on Rom 11:26–27, Ernst Käsemann rightly states that "Christianity is already living in the new covenant" while "Israel will begin to do so only at the parousia."
4. The New Testament explicitly states that the Old Testament promises and covenants to Israel are still the possession of Israel even during this church age and even while the nation is currently in a state of unbelief (see Romans 9:3b-4).
"my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises" (Rom. 9:3b-4).
5. The New Testament indicates that God is faithful to Israel because of His promises to the patriarchs of Israel (Romans 11:28).
From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God's choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers (Rom.11:28).
6. The New Testament indicates that Israel’s election/calling is irrevocable (Romans 11:29; see also Deuteronomy 7:6-8).
for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29).
a. Jürgen Moltmann: "There can be no question of God’s having finally rejected the people of his choice—he would then have to reject his own election (11.29)—and of his then having sought out instead another people, the church. Israel’s promises remain Israel’s promises. They have not been transferred to the church. Nor does the church push Israel out of its place in the divine history. In the perspective of the gospel, Israel has by no means become ‘like all the nations.’"
b. Wolfhart Pannenberg: "How could Christians be certain of their own comparatively new membership in the circle of God’s elect if God for his part did not remain faithful to his election in spite of Israel’s unbelief? This is the apostle’s point when he advocates the inviolability of the election of the Jewish people (11:29; cf. 9:6). He has in mind also Christian assurance of election."
c. The more one believes in the sovereignty of God especially as it relates to election, the more one should be committed to a salvation/restoration of Israel based on God’s election of this people.
7. The New Testament never uses the term "Israel" for those who are not ethnic Jews. Thus, the church is never called "Israel."
a. The title "Israel" is used seventy-three times and always refers to ethnic Jews: The vast majority refer to national, ethnic Israel. A few refer specifically to Jewish believers who are ethnic Jews.
b. The New Testament still consistently refers to national Israel as "Israel" even after the establishment of the church (Acts 3:12; 4:10; 5:21, 31, 35; 21:28).
c. The book of Acts maintains a distinction between Israel and the church. In Acts, both Israel and the church exist simultaneously. "Israel" is used twenty times and ekklesia (church) nineteen times, yet the two groups are always kept distinct.
8. Supersessionists have failed to show that the New Testament identifies the church as "Israel."
a. Romans 9:6 – Believing Jews are those who are the true spiritual Israel. As William Sanday and Arthur C. Headlam state: "But St. Paul does not mean here to distinguish a spiritual Israel (i.e. the Christian Church) from the fleshly Israel, but to state that the promises made to Israel might be fulfilled even if some of his descendants were shut out from them. What he states is that not all the physical descendants of Jacob are necessarily inheritors of the Divine promises implied in the sacred name Israel."
b. Galatians 6:16 – Paul is referring to Christian Jews in his reference to the "Israel of God." Paul scolded the Judaizers who said circumcision was necessary for salvation, but he acknowledges those Jews in Galatia who had not followed the Judaizers in their error. These Christian Jews are the true "Israel of God." Ronald E. Diprose: "Galatians 6:16 is insufficient grounds on which to base an innovative theological concept such as understanding the Church to be the new and/or true Israel."
c. Romans 11:26 – There is very little chance that "Israel" here refers to the church, something even many supersessionists acknowledge. Like the other ten references to "Israel" in Romans 9–11, Israel in 11:26 refers to ethnic Israel.
9. Supersessionists have failed to show that the New Testament reinterprets or alters the original OT prophecies in regard to Israel. The alleged "NT Priority" approach of Supersessionism is really ‘structural supersessionism’—a hermeneutic that does not allow the OT passages to speak to the issues they address.
a. How can the NT reinterpret or alter the OT expectation for Israel when the NT actually reaffirms the OT expectation? (see point #3 above).
b. Hebrews 8:8-13 and Jeremiah 31:
i. The Old Testament never indicated that the New Covenant would only be for the nation Israel. Isaiah uses the New Covenant concept of "sprinkling" in regard to salvation in Isaiah 52:15.
ii. Paul quotes New Covenant passages in Romans 11:27 to show that the nation Israel will be saved (see Rom. 11:26). Thus, even after the church began Paul sees Israel as still related to the New Covenant.
iii. The purpose of Hebrews 8 is not to address the issue of who is and is not the people of God. Hebrews 8 is directly addressing the superiority of the New Covenant over the Mosaic Covenant, not whether the church is now the true Israel.
iv. Only the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant are mentioned in Hebrews 8:8-13. If the New Covenant were being fulfilled in its entirety we should expect the physical blessings of the New Covenant to be mentioned as being fulfilled with the church. The New Testament never links the church with the physical blessings of the New Covenant.
v. It is best to conclude that the church is participating in the spiritual blessings of the New Covenant while the full eschatological fulfillment of the New Covenant will take place with Israel in the millennium.
c. Acts 15:13-18 and Amos 9:11-15
i. The main point of the quotation of Amos 9 in Acts 15 is to show that Gentiles becoming the people of God is consistent with or agrees with what the OT prophets like Amos predicted. It is not discussing the complete fulfillment of the Davidic kingdom or calling the church Israel.
ii. Discussion of Israel’s place in the plan of God is not even the focus of Acts 15.
iii. Acts 15 says "agree" not "fulfill."
iv. William D. Barrick: "Note, first of all, that James never says that Amos 9 is ‘fulfilled.’ Secondly, James’ reasoning is that the Gospel should continue to go out to the Gentiles because God included them in his redemptive plan according to Amos 9. Amos 9 mentions Gentiles as recipients of God’s kingdom blessings, so how could the early church ever take action to exclude them?"
10. Supersessionists have failed to show that unity between Jews and Gentiles in the church rules out a future restoration of the nation Israel.
a. Ephesians 2:11–22 shows that Gentiles who used to be far from God have now been brought near God because of Christ. Thus, the soteriological status of believing Gentiles has changed. They now share with Israel in Israel’s covenants and promises but they do not become Israel.
b. Believing Gentiles cannot be incorporated into Israel because Paul says they are now part of a new structure—the new man.
c. Howard Taylor: "Superficial logic has continued to argue that there is no more uniqueness for the Jew and physical Israel. Since it is said Christ has broken down the barrier between Jew and Gentile [Eph. 2:11–18], Israel’s election is finished. But this is not the logic of the New Testament. Although there is only one way of salvation for both Jew and Gentile, the New Testament teaches that the Jewish people do still have a unique place in the historical working out of God’s redemption of the world in Christ.
d. Rom 11:17–24 stresses that Gentiles are now related to the promises of God. Thus, there is a soteriological unity between believing Jews and Gentiles. But it does not indicate that the church is now the true Israel. There is a difference between saying that Gentiles participate with Israel in Israel’s covenants and claiming that believing Gentiles become Israel. Gentiles are partakers of the covenants not takerovers. This passage does not rule out a future role for national Israel or indicate that the church is now Israel.
11. Israelite language applied to believing Gentiles does not mean the church is Israel.
a. 1 Peter 2:9–10 and Romans 9:24-26 – Yes, language used of Israel in the Old Testament is used of believing Gentiles in the New Testament. But similarity with Israel does not mean identification with Israel. There are occasions in Scripture when "Israel" imagery is applied to non-Israelites without these non-Israelites becoming Israel. Isa 19:24–25, for instance, predicts that Egypt would someday be called "my people." Yet, the context makes clear that Egypt is distinct from Israel since Egypt is mentioned alongside "Israel my inheritance." So, even in the Old Testament it was predicted that non-Israelites would someday carry some of the titles of Israel without becoming identified as Israel.
b. J. Ramsey Michaels says, "Nowhere in 1 Peter are the readers addressed as a new Israel or a new people of God, as if to displace the Jewish community."
c. Galatians 3:7, 29 The New Testament teaches that believing Gentiles are the seed of Abraham but this does not mean that believing Gentiles are Israel. The concept of "seed of Abraham" is used in several different ways in the New Testament. First, it can refer to those who are biological descendants of Abraham. Second, it can refer to the Messiah, who is the unique individual seed of Abraham. Third, it can refer to the righteous remnant of Israel (cf. Isa 41:8 with Rom 9:6). Fourth, it can be used in a spiritual sense for believing Jews and Gentiles (Gal 3:29). John Feinberg states, "no sense (spiritual especially) is more important than any other, and that no sense cancels out the meaning and implications of the other senses." Thus, the application of the titles "sons of Abraham" or "seed of Abraham" to believing Gentiles does not mean that believing Gentiles are spiritual Jews or part of Israel.
d. Galatians 3:7-8 links the Gentiles being "sons of Abraham" with the part of the Abrahamic Covenant that predicted that "all the nations of the earth shall be blessed."
12. New Testament prophecy refers to Israel, thus indicating that God’s plan for Israel is alive.
a. Revelation 7:4-8 – all the tribes of Israel are mentioned.
b. Matthew 24:15ff.
i. The abomination of desolation is clearly related to the Jewish temple.
ii. Jesus tells the residence of Israel what to do in the Tribulation Period.
c. Paul refers to the temple in 2 Thessalonians 2:4.
d. If the church is now Israel why do NT prophecies refer to ethnic Israel?
In conclusion, Ronald Diprose is right when he states that in order for supersessionism to qualify as a biblical doctrine there needs to be "positively, passages which clearly teach it and negatively, no passages which actually exclude it." On both counts, supersessionism fails. The New Testament does not call the church "Israel," and nowhere does the New Testament state that the nation of Israel has been permanently rejected by God. Various texts such as Matt 19:28; 23:37–39; Luke 13:35; 21:24; 22:30; and Romans 11 refute supersessionism in that they teach or reaffirm the Old Testament expectation of a restoration of Israel. Thus, we agree with Kaiser when he says, "To argue that God replaced Israel with the church is to depart from an enormous body of biblical evidence."