Thus says the LORD, ‘If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the descendants of Israel for all that they have done’ says the LORD – Jeremiah 31:37
The Word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: ‘Have you not observed what these people are saying, “The LORD has rejected the two families which He chose?”’ Thus they have despised my people so that they are no longer a nation in their sight. Thus says the LORD: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth, then I will reject the descendants of Jacob and David my servant... – Jeremiah 33:23-26b
In his commentary on these scriptures, Hebrew scholar C.F. Keil draws attention to the significance of the little word ‘if’, which he correctly observes “betokens the impossible.” God’s challenge to man to fathom the unfathomable should therefore bring a smile to our lips. With scientists estimating that “there are ten times more stars in the night sky than there are grains of sand in the world’s deserts and beaches,” man’s best attempt at measuring the vastness of the natural world can be compared to that of the little girl who, after a visit to the sea shore, was asked by her family what she had in her bucket; she proudly declared, “the ocean!” Only when the terms of God’s Herculean challenge are met, will He “cast off all the descendants of Israel for what they have done.” And as if that were not challenge enough, the LORD appeals to the covenant He has established with “day and night and the ordinances of heaven and earth” as a witness to His faithfulness, that “while the earth remains, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). Writing long before the modern State of Israel was founded Keil observed:
the establishment [and] institution of the order of nature is a work of divine omnipotence. This omnipotence has founded the covenant of grace with Israel, and pledged its continuance, despite the present destruction of the kingdom of Judah and the temporary rejection of the guilty people.
The case presented by Jeremiah is watertight, and yet the early Church fathers obstinately refused to believe that God could ever restore to nationhood, a people who had rejected and crucified His Son. Using philosophical arguments, unbiblical allegory, and highly-charged anti-Semitic reasoning, the doctors of the Church were determined to sever the umbilical covenant cord that inextricably and eternally binds the Jewish people to the God of Israel. Their method was profoundly simple: reinterpret the Hebrew Scriptures in favour of the Church and condemn the despised Deicide (killing of God) race to God’s irreversible judgment by caricaturing them in the worst possible terms. This is the bedrock upon which the seemingly impregnable fortress of Replacement Theology was built, and from its battlements the bishops of the fourth and fifth centuries wielded supreme power over the Church. The impact of their rigorous anti-Jewish legacy resonates through history, and the bitter after-taste of their caustic sermons lingers on in the writings of Protestant and Catholic a-millennialists. To give just one example of the unsavoury fruit of Replacement Theology I quote Dom Prosper Guéranger, Abbot and Superior Géneral of the Benedictions of the Congregation of France whose guide to Church liturgy passed through more than thirty French editions:
For eighteen centuries, Israel has been without prince or leader.... After all these long ages of suffering and humiliation, the justice of the Father is not appeased.... The very sight of the chastisement inflicted on the murderers proclaims to the world that they were deicidists [God killers]. Their crime was an unparalleled one; its punishment is so too; it is to last to the end of time.... The mark of Patricide [murder of the Father] here fastens on this ungrateful and sacrilegious people: Cain-like, they shall wander fugitives on the earth. Eighteen hundred years have passed since then: slavery, misery and contempt have been their portion: but the mark is still upon them.
The Anti-Jewish Agenda of the Early Church
These vile sentiments, like malignant boils, have scarred the face of Christianity throughout its long chequered history, and can be traced directly back to the early Church fathers. In their desperate effort to distance themselves from such venomous anti-Semitic rhetoric, many of today’s a-millennialists have tried to ditch the pejorative label “Replacement Theology,” plumping instead for the less offensive tags of Fulfilment Theology and Messianic Fulfilment. By re-packaging their age-old ideology in more acceptable ‘fulfilment’ terms, today’s neo-replacementists have duped some of their pre- millennial critics into believing that the leopard has changed its spots. They may not serve up their doctrine á la Chrysostom or Luther, but the recipe is essentially the same.
As we move into the fourth and fifth centuries and encounter bishops Augustine, Ambrose and Chrysostom, to name just three of the most influential characters in the story of replacementism, we will discover that they are responsible for cementing into place the key elements which underpin this most pernicious doctrine. Across the great East/West Church divide, these bishops, along with their contemporaries, represent to different degrees a wholesale agreement in their doctrine of the Jews. To these prime-movers in the development of Christian theology, the continued existence of the Jews symbolised one thing: God’s protracted judgment on the ‘Christ-killers’ as a vindication of New Testament teaching, a view that echoes down through the ages. For example, in the words of the high Anglican Bishop of Rochester, Francis Atterbury (1663-1732), “Could there be a plainer, and more irrefragable proof of the divine mission of our Lord, than the fulfilling of this curse on His murtherers [murderers].” Atterbury’s views, like many of his Anglican classmates, were drawn from the same polluted waters that men like Chrysostom and Augustine had drunk from centuries earlier. There is no originality: just the repetition of the base lie that God has rejected His people, closed His ears and eyes to their divinely-inflicted suffering, and destined them to wander as outcasts from the society of God and man, like “so many scattered herds of vagabonds.”
It may be helpful at this stage to recap on the principal reasons which governed the anti-Jewish agenda of the early Church, many of which drive today’s anti- Israel bandwagon. They can be broken down into the following broad areas.
The Jews had failed to understand the underlying allegorical, ‘Christian’ message of their own Scriptures. They had either been blinded by carnality or wickedness, or led astray by the devil and were deemed incapable of ever gaining insight into what were considered to be ‘Christian Scriptures.’ (This sentiment is prevalent today with leading theologians trying to persuade us that the Bible is a Christian book and must be read through Christian eyes).
Jewish religious and cultural festivals, feasts and traditions were regarded as superstitious and fleshly, and were to be avoided by Christians at all costs.
The Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah, so God rejected them. The Church becomes the ‘New’ or ‘True’ Israel.
“The rejection and crucifixion of the Messiah continues the persecution and murder of the Old Testament prophets and as ancestral guilt, is a burden on the whole Jewish people for ever.” The Jews are therefore to be regarded as enemies of God, never to be restored to nationhood.
The Jews had come under God’s “just and irreversible divine punishment” and “...become slaves... of the Christian Gentile peoples” destined to “wander homeless over the earth, burdened with the curse of their deed, until the end of the world. Diprose points out that the “almost universal consensus of Christian interpreters in the early centuries” took Romans 9:13 “the older [Esau] shall serve the younger [Jacob]” to mean that the Jews were destined by God to serve the Christians.
It is important at this point to make some comment on the formative role played by Constantine the Great, whose rule as emperor from AD 306-337 saw the introduction of a series of religious policies which would define Christian belief and practice. His ‘presidency’ over matters spiritual and temporal marked the beginning of a Church-State system, which played such a critical role in the development of creedal Christianity. Although Constantine’s ‘conversion’ is a matter of divided opinion, he believed that God had appointed him to the position of pontifex maximus (supreme priest) of the Church, and “he therefore took it upon himself to maintain order in the church and to convene church councils to resolve doctrinal disputes.” What is perhaps little known is that the early councils also legislated in the area of Christian-Jewish relations, a subject of great importance in understanding the origins of Replacement Theology, and one which we will examine in more detail in the next article.
With these components in mind, let us consider how they helped shape what was to become a highly institutionalized, Church-sanctioned theology which favoured the Christian at the expense of the Jew.
The Patron Saint of Replacement Theology
Turning our attention first to Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430), the architect responsible for systematizing the doctrine of replacement, we discover a theological giant of a man whose impact on the Western Church cannot be over-estimated. Unlike some of his Greek contemporaries who did not favour the use of allegory, Augustine, a Latin father, thrived in allegorical waters, and because of his phenomenal influence, his system of biblical interpretation became the dominant model for future generations. Turn to any major reference work, and the eulogies pour off the page. A colossus in the theological field, he has been described in the most effusive terms: “Second to none, first place among church fathers;” “the greatest Christian since New Testament times” and “assuredly the greatest man that ever wrote Latin;” “probably the greatest and the most influential mind of the Christian church throughout its long history;” “the greatest theologian among the Latin fathers and one of the greatest of all time;” “no other Christian after Paul was to have so wide, deep, and prolonged an influence upon the Christianity of Western Europe and those forms of the faith that stemmed from it as had Augustine;”“a philosophical and theological genius, towering like a pyramid above his age, and looking down commandingly upon succeeding centuries;” and “second founder of the Christian faith.”
For the purposes of this study, one of the most illuminating accolades paid to the North African bishop comes from the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. The entry makes the proud but true boast that “without St. Augustine’s massive intellect and deep spiritual perception Western theology would never have taken the shape in which it is familiar to us.” The most cursory glance through Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion supports the truth of these words, with, by my reckoning, over four hundred direct references and quotes from Augustine’s works. Claimed as the ‘Father of the Western Church’ by Protestants and Catholics alike, this is the man who gave us the catchy jingle “the New Testament is in the Old concealed, the Old Testament is in the New revealed,” and the oft- quoted motto “our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.” But as the applause subsides, we need to take sober account of the fact that Augustine drew copiously from the writings of Origen, a Neo-Platonist, immersed himself in Greek philosophy, and was “one of the first to place the authority of tradition on a level with the Bible.” In matters of church discipline he was a totalitarian, advising Marcellinus, an African governor, to punish the Donatists (who objected to certain Church practices), “not by stretching them on the rack, nor by furrowing their flesh with iron claws, nor by scorching them with flames, but by beating them with rods.” This ‘benevolent’ father also advocated the use of military force to compel church attendance and to crush the practice of adult re-baptism (Anabaptism), and it is noteworthy that John Calvin, a ‘pupil’ of the Latin father adopted the same brutal methods in sixteenth-century Geneva, even to the point of sanctioning the death penalty for ‘heretics.’
Augustine, as has already been stated, was deeply indebted to Origen, and their joint impact in developing a biblical hermeneutic for interpreting Israel is unsurpassed in the annals of early theological thought. In his general assessment of their contribution to Christian theology, Philip Schaff writes, “How far both towered above their times, is most clearly manifest in the very act that they alone, of all the theologians of the first six centuries, became the creators of distinct systems, each proceeding from its definite idea, and each completely carried out.” Schaff’s comments reveal how immensely formative the teachings of these Church fathers were in the development of Christian theology, a connection modern day a-millennial scholars cannot deny. Augustine, who was born one hundred years after Origen’s death, followed in the footsteps of his ‘philosophical’ counselor and his indebtedness to his Alexandrian hero can be plainly seen in his writings. Take for example, his virtual replication of Origen’s interpretation of the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) in which, to borrow words used in a different age of a different preacher, Augustine tortures the text “to confess that which was never in it.”
A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho = Adam
Jerusalem = the heavenly city of peace, from which Adam fell
Jericho = the moon, and thereby signifies Adam’s immortality
Thieves = the devil and his angels
Stripped him = namely, of his immortality
Beat him = by persuading him to sin
And left him half dead = as a man he lives, but he died spiritually, therefore he is half dead
The priest and the Levite = the priesthood and ministry of the Old Testament
The Samaritan = is said to mean Guardian; therefore Christ Himself is meant
Bound his wounds = means binding the restraint of sin
Oil = comfort of good hope
Wine = exhortation to work with a fervent spirit
Beast [donkey] = the flesh of Christ’s incarnation
Inn = the Church
The morrow = after the Resurrection
Two-pence = promise of this life and the life to come
Innkeeper = Paul.
We may wonder how anyone could derive such nonsensical meaning from such a plainly defined text, but Greek-style allegory had, by Augustine’s time, become one of the chief prisms through which the theologians in the Western Church viewed the teaching of the Bible. He used the same interpretive tools to revise the message of the Hebrew Scriptures, and because of his head-and-shoulders seniority in the formulation of Christian dogma, his allegorical methods were ensured safe passage through to the Reformation and beyond.
Ambrose: The Best of Men?
Augustine came to faith largely through the influence of bishop Ambrose of Milan (c. AD 339-397), and was baptized by him. Ambrose had strong anti- Semitic leanings and was instrumental in fomenting persecution through his preaching. Augustine spoke so highly of his mentor that we can safely argue that he would have incorporated into his own system of theology, Ambrose’s doctrines on Israel and the Jews. Although, as Diprose points out, “there is no record that Augustine used his office [as a bishop] to sanction anti-Jewish activity as Ambrose had done” he did write a Tract Against the Jews, “which was one of the most influential anti-Judaic writings emanating from the centuries following Origen.” Augustine recorded his debt to Ambrose in the most glowing terms, and even making allowances for the literary conventions of the day, the reader is left in no doubt that Augustine was infatuated with his theological teacher. In his auto- biographical Confessions, he wrote:
I came to Milan and Ambrose the bishop, known to the whole world as among the best of men.... That man of God received me as a father.... Thenceforth I began to love him .... I listened diligently to him preaching to the people... and I hung on his words attentively... and I was delighted with the sweetness of his discourse.... And while I opened my heart to admit ‘how eloquently he spoke,’ there also entered ‘how truly he spoke....’
What Augustine does not tell us in his gushy eulogy is that Ambrose “manifested a violent anti-Judaism, both in practice... and on the theological level, by several polemical epistles.” Although Augustine appears to have had no contact with Jews himself, his own reputation for violent anti-Israel teaching is well documented. To illustrate the influence exercised by bishops like Ambrose, let us consider the case of his excommunication from the Church of the despotic emperor Theodosius I (c. AD 346-395), who fell from grace for his massacre of thousands of innocents during a riot in Thessalonica. An outraged Ambrose refused the emperor access to the communion table until he had publically repented, a course he humbly followed. When it came to the looting and burning down of a synagogue in Callinicum (on the Euphrates) in AD 388, at the instigation of the local bishop, Theodosius ordered reparations and the punishment of the perpetrators, instructing the bishop to rebuild the synagogue at the cost of the Church. Ambrose, who “considered the Jews to be irrevocably perverse and incapable of any good thought,” vehemently opposed the proposal and wrote to the emperor in the strongest terms: “Shall, then, a place be made for the unbelief of the Jews out of the spoils of the Church.” Theodosius capitulated and paid for the rebuilding work out of municipal funds; to avoid excommunication from the Church, he also suspended prosecutions against the arsonists and we are left wondering just how much anti-Semitism was forged in the burning ashes as a result. This entire episode, which “exemplifies the fierce hatred felt by the church against the Jews in the fourth century,” is an example of episcopal autocracy at its worst. It is therefore fitting that Theodosius should die in the arms of Ambrose, his beloved bishop.
The City of God
Returning to Augustine, the sack of Rome by the Goths in AD 410, which signalled the beginning of the end for the empire, was, for the bishop of Hippo, the decisive turning point in history. The demise of Roman supremacy provided the inspiration for his monumental treatise The City of God (De Civitate Dei), a twenty-two volume work, which took him several years to complete (AD 413-426). In what is arguably the greatest assault on the doctrine of Israel’s restoration, Augustine “... became the first person to teach that the organized catholic (universal) church is the Messianic Kingdom and that the Millennium began with the First Coming of Christ.” In so doing, Augustine established the spurious doctrine of ‘spiritual millennialism’ upon which the monolithic Roman Catholic Church would rule the nations, and which would provide the template from which all the major Protestant creedal statements would be patterned. We do well to remember however, that the foundation stones which support Augustine’s colossal City of God were not hewn from the Scriptures as he claims, but quarried from the allegorical hills of the Stoics. Augustine, who once held to a literal ‘Christian’ millennium, rejected the idea on the basis of its earthly, carnal nature, and, following Origen, favored instead an allegorical, ‘Christian’ interpretation of the Scriptures. He explains his rationale in The City of God:
And therefore we ought to take this saying, ‘And I will bring you into your own land’, and what he says shortly afterwards, as if repeating himself, ‘And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers,’ not literally, as if they referred to Israel after the flesh, but spiritually, as referring to the spiritual Israel. For the Church, without spot or wrinkle, gathered out of all nations, and destined to reign forever with Christ, is itself the land of the blessed, the land of the living....
Golden Mouthed Anti-Semitism
John Chrysostom (AD 349-407), the most distinguished Church father of the Eastern Church and a contemporary of Augustine, rejected allegory as a method of biblical interpretation, depending instead on his exegetical preaching to further his anti-Jewish views. His “pulpit eloquence” and erudite exposition earned for him the title ‘Golden-Mouthed.’ Before considering his impact on the anti-Jewish agenda of Eastern theology, I should point out that Chrysostom (the Archbishop of Constantinople), and Augustine, believed in the latter- day conversion of the Jews, although they both flatly denied belief in the restoration of Israel as a nation.
Described by Philip Schaff as “the greatest expositor and preacher of the Greek Church [who] still enjoys the highest honour in the whole Christian Church,” this “monarch” of the pulpit had “unlimited power over his hearers.” With over 600 sermons (homilies) to his name, it is disappointing that Schaff would choose to dismiss Chrysostom’s horrific eight Homilies Against the Jews in half a sentence, as if they were of little or no importance in the development of the theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church. To venture into Chrysostom’s Homilies is like entering a firing range with the reader bombarded on every side by a torrent of explosive anti- Jewish invective. Preached to the Church at Antioch early in his ministry, these eight sermons were directed at Christians, warning them not to participate in Jewish festivals, as some were in the habit of doing. Chrysostom used the pulpit to great advantage to denigrate and abuse the Jews, castigating them for their way of life in the most shameful of terms. His antagonism knew no bounds as the following sermon extracts reveal:
The synagogue is worse than a brothel... it is the den of scoundrels and the repair of wild beasts... the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults... the refuge of brigands and debauchees, and the cavern of devils... a criminal assembly of Jews... a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ... a house worse than a drinking shop... a den of thieves... a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, the refuge of devils, a gulf of and abyss of perdition.... The Jews sacrifice their children to Satan...they are worse than wild beasts... they have fallen into a condition lower than the vilest animal... Debauchery and drunkenness had brought them to the level of the lusty goat and the pig... they know but one thing: to fill their bellies and be drunk... This is why I hate the Jews.
Out of his own mouth Chrysostom condemns himself; he hated the Jews and “did his best to make the whole world hate them too....” We only have to look at the history of Jewish persecution to see the far reaching effect that his words, and those of other like- minded bishops like Gregory of Nyssa (c.AD 335-395), have had on the development of anti-Jewish church teaching. As Hay points out, Chrysostom’s homilies “were used for centuries, in schools and in seminaries where priests were taught to preach, [and]... to hate, with St. John Chrysostom as their model.” Indeed, as far as Chrysostom and Gregory were concerned “love for Jesus and hatred for his... executioners were indistinguishable.”
Only God knows the full impact that such rapacious doctrines have had on Christian-Jewish relations; He alone knows the damage these theological butchers have inflicted upon His flock, and how much Jewish blood is on their hands as a result of their teaching. Augustine’s survival-of-the-fittest belief system in which the Church evolved into the ‘New People of God’ is deadly enough, but combined with Chrysostom’s rabid anti-Semitism, it is absolutely lethal. Those who continue to uphold and promote, as fact, Replacement Theory, need therefore to seriously reconsider their position before the Lord, and would do well to heed these words of Arthur Skevington Wood, a former vice-president of PWMI (Prophetic Witness Movement International), with which we close:
Now there are many today, even among professing Christians, who imagine that God will have no further dealings whatsoever with the Jews. They regard His relationship with His chosen people as a closed chapter. They think that when the Jews rejected their Messiah they forfeited any further place in God’s purpose. How unscriptural such a viewpoint is, we have seen from Paul’s rhetorical question in Romans 11:1, ‘I say then, Hath God cast away His people? God forbid.’ That is a monstrous thought to the apostle, and he meets it with an emphatic and indeed adjurative negative. Then in v.2 he repeats that ‘God hath not cast away His people which he foreknew.’ He has laid them aside, but He has not put them away. He has further dealings in store for them. There is a future for the Jew in the designs of the Almighty. God has a program, and moreover it is being carried out before our very eyes today.
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