20 Nov 2023

[This week, I’d like to post an open letter, written by a friend, that exposes the theological biases of people that want to spiritualize biblical promises made to the Jews. This problem has exploded in public since the satanic Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7. I think the letter is excellent and, like the author, I invite you to share it with others.—JF]

An Open Letter to Those Who Have Been Taught That the Church Has Replaced Israel

Dear Brother or Sister in Christ,

If you are a member of a Catholic or mainline denominational church, you have probably been taught something called replacement theology (and perhaps you don’t even know it has that name). Replacement theology leads those who have adopted it to believe that Israel is no longer God’s people and that the modern regathering of the Jews in their historical land is theologically meaningless. Please know this is an error, and I write this letter to alert you to it so you can study God’s Word and reach your own conclusion.

Replacement theology, sometimes called supersessionism or fulfillment theology, is a doctrine stating either that the Church took Israel’s place as God’s people when Israel rejected Jesus as its Messiah or that the “old” Israel was set aside in favor of a “new” Israel, the Church, upon Jesus’s first coming. No matter how it got there, the Church is now God’s people and the beneficiary of the promises God made Israel in the Old Testament. Consequently, Jacob’s blood descendants have no unique destiny, and modern Israel’s existence has no significance.

Because replacement theology is often woven into otherwise sound teachings on redemptive history, many believers aren’t even aware that it is a separate doctrine with its own name. Nonetheless, replacement theology is enshrined in Catholic dogma and runs rampant in mainline denominations, even among those that otherwise take the Bible seriously.

Replacement theology raises troubling implications about God’s character, not the least of which are: if God revoked his promises to Israel, what keeps him from revoking them again, and does God really change not (as Malachi 3:6 says)? Many who have been taught replacement theology have not considered these implications. Perhaps you have, too, but have dismissed them out‐of‐hand or rationalized them away, possibly because they are too dreadful to imagine. Unfortunately, ignoring the implications does not make them go away.

Rather than addressing these (and other) broader implications, this letter will instead tackle the assumption that lies at the very heart of replacement theology: did Israel really forfeit its blessings? Did God really forsake or move past Israel? Fortunately, if you read the Bible without bias, it gives a clear answer.

One point is worth making before proceeding: I don’t have the ability or the moral duty to force you to reject replacement theology. Only the Holy Spirit can convict. All I can do is call relevant scripture to your attention and invite you to check it out yourself. That is what I will now do.

To keep this letter short and clear, I will rely only on two passages: Isaiah 6 and Romans 11. (If you are a Reformed believer, you tend to read Revelation figuratively, because you have been taught that it is “apocalyptic literature.” I will therefore deliberately avoid Revelation’s many passages affirming Israel’s destiny, knowing that you will be unwilling to read Isaiah and Romans figuratively.) I will cite the King James Version, but any good version will do.

Isaiah 6 contains the well‐known “Here I am. Send me” passage in which Isaiah volunteers to convey a message God has for his people:

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. (Isaiah 6:8‐10)

God informs his people not only that they are hardened (deaf, blind and without understanding) and he is the one hardening them, but also that he has hardened them to delay their repenting and being healed. Note that God does not tell them why he wants a delay.

When the disciples ask Jesus why he speaks “to them” in parables in Matthew 13, he quotes this passage of Isaiah 6:

He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:” (Matthew 13:11‐14)

Paul also quotes this same passage of Isaiah 6 in Acts 28, reminding the local leaders of the Jews that they are hardened.

And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not. And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. (Acts 28:24‐27)

Paul then discloses the reason why God hardened Israel, delaying its repenting and being healed:

Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it. (Acts 28:28)

According to Paul, God hardened Israel so the Gospel could be taken to the Gentiles.

However, Isaiah 6 continues after the passage quoted in both Matthew 13 and Acts 28. God has more to say to Isaiah about his people. Returning to Isaiah 6, after hearing God’s decree against his people, the prophet begs God for an answer in verse 11, and God gives it to him:

Then said I, Lord, how long? And he answered, Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate. And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land. But yet in [the land] shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof. (Isaiah 6:11‐ 13)

God promises that he will lift Israel’s partial hardening during or just after a widespread devastation. This may be a great war, even a nuclear war given the extent and degree of damage. However, it may be a direct act of God, acting in wrath. Only he knows.

Why then did Jesus and Paul’s quotations from Isaiah 6 stop short of verses 11‐13? The answer is that they were speaking in the First Century. Isaiah 6:11‐13 would be fulfilled in the future. They were only talking about Israel’s hardened condition in those days, and not about when it would someday repent. Remember, Jesus was only answering a question from his disciples as to why he was teaching in parables, and Paul was only making the case for taking the Gospel to the Gentiles.

Now, let’s look at Romans 11, in which Paul answers the question his earlier chapters in Romans begged: if Christ is the answer and the law is not, what about the Jews, to whom God had given the law? Has God turned his back on Israel?

I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel, saying, Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life. But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal. (Romans 11:1‐4)

The answer is an emphatic “God forbid!” God will save an elect remnant of Israel, and God will save them by grace, not the law. To keep the Gentiles from being feeling superior to the Jews, Paul goes on to say:

I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness? For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead? (Romans 11:11‐15)

Then, after describing how the holy firstfruits of lump of dough renders the whole lump holy, how a holy root can render the entire tree holy, and how branches grafted onto a holy tree become holy, even branches that had previously been cut off, Paul reveals a mystery in verse 25:

For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gen􏰁les be come in. (Romans 11:25)

Though he does not outright quote Isaiah 6:11‐13, he affirms the promise God made in those verses to end Israel’s hardening. The mystery Paul reveals is that the partial hardening of Israel’s elect will end when the “fulness of the Gentiles be (has) come in.”

It is important to note that none of these passages are talking about the Church. God has never hardened the Church. He has only hardened Israel, and only temporarily, for the express purpose of taking the Gospel to the Gentiles and building a Church that encompasses all peoples, nations, and languages. This he did at Israel’s great expense, but he will resurrect and magnify Israel because of it. Consider the supreme irony: God hardened Israel to benefit the Gentiles, and so many churches have returned the thanks to Israel by teaching replacement theology.

God’s reply in Isaiah 6 and Paul’s teaching in Romans 11 raise two questions: when will this widespread devastation occur, and when will the fulness of the Gentiles come in? The Bible gives no clear answer; God wants us to depend on him alone for the timing.

However, we can be sure of this – God will restore the elect of his people Israel. That unambiguous Biblical truth, stated explicitly both to Israel in the Old Testament and the Gentiles of the Church in the New Testament, exposes replacement theology as bad doctrine. Now it’s up to the Holy Spirit and informed believers to purge the Church of this sad error.

If replacement theology now troubles you as much as it does me, please do me a favor. Consider giving a copy of this letter to a brother or sister who has been mistaught. You will be helping them and doing a good work for God’s kingdom.

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