Among Christians, the subject regarding the Jews is not an easy one to deal with. Oftentimes what we believe regarding the Jews is reflected, not just in our eschatology (doctrine of the last things), but also, on the character and reliability of God’s promises, including the New Covenant.
The traditional Christian narrative regarding the Jews has oftentimes been as follows: when the Messiah was rejected by the people of his nation, God in turn rejected them; then formed a true or “spiritual” Israel, found only in the Christian Church.
This would mean, that all of the “everlasting” promises in the Old Testament regarding the descendants of the Patriarchs have been either abolished or transferred to the Christian Church. This doctrine is known as Supersessionism, Replacement Theology and/or Fulfillment Theology. Lutheran eschatology is traditionally based on this method of interpreting the Old Testament.
Ironically, this is a fundamental problem that contradicts the Christian tenet regarding the eternal reliability of God’s Word, (Isaiah 55:10-11), and the main tenet of Lutheranism: SOLA SCRIPTURA (Scripture Alone).
Replacement Theology is not explicitly taught in the New Testament. The destruction of the Temple and the Jewish dispersion that followed, easily became the interpretive lens through which the promises to the Nation of Israel were understood to have been transferred to the Christian Church.
A more fundamental reason that led to a theology of replacement, was the mutual resentment among Rabbinical Jews and Jewish followers of Jesus Christ. This mutual resentment is reflected in the direct preaching of the Apostles towards the Pharisees and Saducees (Acts 3:12-16; 7:51-53) and the persecutions that they endured from their Jewish counterparts from the very beginning of the Christian movement (Acts 4:1-3; 15-21; 5:17-20, 40-4; 8:1-4; 9:1-3, et. al.). Neither Jews nor Christians are free from guilt.
The mutual resentment between Rabbinical Jews and Christians is reflected in many of their non-canonical writings. For instance, the Talmud makes the following remarks regarding Jesus:
Sanhedrin 43a relates the trial and execution of a sorcerer named Jesus (“Yeshu” in Hebrew) and his five disciples. The sorcerer is stoned and hanged on the Eve of Passover.
Sanhedrin 107 tells of a Jesus (“Yeshu”) who offended his teacher by paying too much attention to the inn-keeper’s wife. Jesus wished to be forgiven, but [his rabbi] was too slow to forgive him, and Jesus in despair went away and put up a brick [idol] and worshipped it.
Gittin 56b, 57a says that Onkelos summoned up the spirit of a Yeshu who sought to harm Israel. He describes his punishment in the afterlife as boiling in excrement.
In his debates with the Christian Origen, the Platonist philosopher of Jewish descent known as Celsus (150-200 AD), criticized the Virgin birth of Jesus by claiming that he was the result of a an adulterous affair with a soldier known as “Pandera.” (Origin Contra Celsus, Book 1.28, 32)
As a reaction to these harsh criticisms, early Christian documents such as the Didache makes constant references to the Jews as “The Hypocrites.” For instance, it says in the Didache, chapter VIII. 1, 2:
1. Let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and fifth day of th week; but ye shall fast on the fourth day, and the preparation day (Friday).
2. Neither pray ye as the hypocrites, but as the Lord commanded in his Gospel, so pray ye: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy Name…”
Replacement theology is also reflected by some of the Church Fathers.
Justin Martyr (about 100 to 165): “For the true spiritual Israel … are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ.” (Dialogue With Trypho 11)
Hippolytus of Rome (martyred 13 August 235): “[The Jews] have been darkened in the eyes of your soul with a darkness utter and everlasting.” ( Hippolytus, Treatise Against the Jews 6)
At the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, Dr. Martin Luther had a good disposition towards the Jews in order to win them for Christ, but after many years of conflict and health issues, he became embittered and impatient with them. In his tractate known as “The Jews and Their Lies,” Dr. Martin Luther said the following in section XI:
“What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews? Since they live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy. Thus we cannot extinguish the unquenchable fire of divine wrath, of which the prophets speak, nor can we convert the Jews. With prayer and the fear of God we must practice a sharp mercy to see whether we might save at least a few from the glowing flames. We dare not avenge ourselves. Vengeance a thousand times worse than we could wish them already has them by the throat. I shall give you my sincere advice…”:
Then Dr. Luther advises to do the following things:
1. To burn down Jewish synagogues and schools and warn people against them;
2. To refuse to let Jews own houses among Christians;
3. To have Jewish religious writings be taken away;
4. To forbid rabbis to preach;
5. To offer no protection to Jews on highways;
6. To forbid usury, and for all silver and gold to be removed, put aside for safekeeping and given back to Jews who truly convert; and
7. To give young, strong Jews flail, axe, spade, spindle, and let them earn their bread in the sweat of their noses.
This mutual resentment over the years has affected greatly the place and identification of Jews who believe in Jesus, known as “Messianic Jews.” For the most part, while Atheist and Secularist Jews are considered to be Jews by right, regardless of their unbelief, a belief in Jesus as the Messiah, generally disqualifies a person from Jewish descent to be considered a true Jew. (see articles in JewsforJudaism.org)
Among Christians themselves, especially since the birth of the Jewish Nation of Israel in 1948, many Christians have moved away from “Replacement Theology,” to one that considers its modern inception to be a significant, eschatological sign. Many of the Old and New Testament passages that had been interpreted allegorically have come to be understood in a more literal sense. Some of these passages include:
Ezekiel 36:13-36; 37:24-28; 38:1-9; 39:25-29
Zechariah 12:1-5; 10-14; 14:1-9, 16
God does not change, nor does his promises falter (Malachi 3:6; Numbers 23:19). If this were so, then nothing would be able to guarantee the promises of the New Covenant through Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Apostle Paul tries to uproot and dispel the beginnings of Replacement Theology. We shall see a synopsis of his teachings on this subject in part two of this lesson. But let us end with this thought:
Isaiah 40:8 (NIV)-“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.”
God is greater than our theologies…greater than our denominations…greater than our pride. God is in charge, and he does what he wants with HIS creation.
This is the point that St. Paul makes in Romans 9-11 and throughout his other Epistles.