The Error of Replacement Theology - Part 2
Roots and Shoots
In a lecture entitled The Restoration of the Jews-A Comprehensive Bible Study of Israel’s Past, Present, and Future,delivered at Blackheath on April 26th 1864, Adolph Saphir, a Jewish Presbyterian minister, asked his audience if the crucifixion of Christ had changed God’s heart towards the Jews. He posed the question, “Guilty of the greatest crime, and burdened with the enormous sin of shedding the blood of the Holy Child of God, may not God justly cast off Israel and remember them no more?” Saphir appealed to the “testimony of the risen Saviour” for his answer:
Forty days after His resurrection He appeared to His disciples and spoke to them of the things ‘pertaining to the kingdom of God.’ He opened to them the Scriptures and from Moses and the Prophets showed them the divine plan of His suffering and glory. The last day has arrived, and He is about to part from them, and leave His disciples to begin a great and arduous work. But before He ascends, the question most deeply engraven on their heart, is uttered: “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” Now, it has been said, they asked in ignorance, in Jewish prejudice, in the carnal blindness of their heart. But what right has anyone to say so? Think you, that after witnessing the death of the Lord, and after receiving His blessed instructions for forty days, and listening to His infallible exegesis, and that with regard to this very point of the kingdom – that in this most solemn moment, when the Lord was to be taken from them, and the fullness of their loving souls urged them to ask Him the last question - they would speak of a restoration of Israel if it was a childish, carnal, and deceptive fancy? I say it is preposterous to assert it. How natural the question: We understand now that the cross had to precede the crown, that Israel had first to reject the corner- stone; but now, that Thy sufferings are past, Thy agony endured, the cup emptied, the grave conquered, ‘wilt Thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel...?”
And what does the Lord answer? Does He correct their question? Does He deny their supposition and expectation of a Jewish kingdom? Does He say to them, ‘O fools and slow of heart, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?’ No; but He confirms the kingdom by speaking of the ‘times and seasons” not being revealed to man, and telling them the divine order- first, the Church and testimony among all nations, then the kingdom of God and of His Christ. A Jewish idea, indeed! And how could it be otherwise? For by a Jewish Messiah... and out of the Jewish Scriptures they had been taught to believe the truth of God.
In Defence of Israel
In his noble defence of the doctrine of Israel’s restoration, Adolph Saphir, “a Hebrew of the Hebrews,” ably addresses the time-worn clichéd charge of "ignorance," "Jewish prejudice," "carnal blindness" and "childish, deceptive fancy" which has characterised the attitude of a-millennial Christianity towards pre-millennialism for generations. Such derogatory language sours the sermons and writings of today's anti-Zionist, anti-Christian Zionist Church, but where does it originate, and why have so many "celebrated" ministers of the Gospel resorted to its use in their defence of Replacement Theology? In order to answer these questions, we must journey back to the early Church and meet those responsible for designing a theological system that outlaws belief in the literalness of God’s Word, robs the Jews of their rightful inheritance, and grants to the Church a spiritual legacy to which she is not entitled. It is a necessary journey, from which I pray we will learn much. As J.C. Ryle (1816-1900), Liverpool’s first Anglican bishop, and a champion of pre-millennialism, wisely wrote: “there are matters in which knowledge of the past may teach us wisdom for the present and the future.” May we indeed gain knowledge from our study of the past and may God be pleased to grant us wisdom in knowing how best to tackle this most difficult subject.
In this second article on Replacement Theology, we will examine the roots and shoots of a doctrine that elevates the Church by denouncing Israel, meet the principal prime- movers involved, and consider the key factors that gave it shape and form. As we turn back the pages of Church history, we will discover that Replacement Theology is rooted, not in the rich soil of biblical truth, but in the allegorical seed beds of Greek philosophy. Our journey will include a visit to the highly influential Christian School in Alexandria, which propagated and nurtured a belief system that has had the most profound, prejudicial effect on the way the Church thinks and acts towards the Jewish people. We will explore the a-millennial bedrock upon which the School is founded, sample the writings of its more illustrious tutors, and discover a sophisticated anti- Jewish, anti-Judaism, anti-Old Testament curriculum that has indoctrinated generations of Christians into believing that the Church has replaced Israel in the affections of God.
The Alexandrian School occupied a position of phenomenal theological power in the post-apostolic era, defining and shaping the contours of Christian belief through a system of allegorical interpretation, by which the Bible was forced to yield ‘hidden’ or ‘secret’ messages, which only the enlightened Christian mind could uncover. Allegory, as defined by the Greek philosopher Heracleitus, is “saying one thing, and meaning something other than what is said,” and that is precisely how the Alexandrian tutors viewed the biblical text. The School, from which “proceeded a peculiar theology,”was therefore ‘fated’ to become the doctrinal fountainhead from which the ‘emerging’ second- century Church would draw its allegorical inspiration, but before we delve deeper into its murky depths, we need to set our subject in its wider Jewish-Christian context.
One of the factors that contributed to the rise of Replacement Theology was the gulf that existed in apostolic days, between Jews and Christians, Judaism and Christianity, Synagogue and Church. Matters worsened considerably during the Jewish War of AD 66-70, a period which Edward Flannery asserts was the “turning point for Judaeo-Christian relations.” Church historian Eusebius reports that when the Roman legions advanced on Judea, “the whole body of the church at Jerusalem ...removed from the city and lived at a certain town beyond the Jordan called Pella,” leaving their fellow Jews to face the wrath of the Roman legions. With over one million dead, and thousands enslaved, the actions of the Jerusalem Church were seen as a blatant betrayal of their patriotic duty. Tensions rose and in AD 80, the Sanhedrin introduced a prayer into the daily Eighteen Benedictions (birkat ha- minim), calling on Jews to curse the followers of Jesus, that they “may perish in an instant...be blotted out of the book of life and not be counted among the righteous.” I have spoken to orthodox Jews who sheepishly admitted that this prayer is still recited in some of their synagogues.
The next significant turning point in Jewish-Christian relations came with the second Jewish revolt of AD132- 135, which was led by Simon Bar-Kokhba, who succeeded in recapturing Jerusalem and establishing a Jewish state. Bar-Kokhba was hailed as “King Messiah” by Rabbi Aqiba, and thousands of men, women and children followed their ‘messianic pretender.’ The Jerusalem Church suffered terrible persecution under Bar-Kokhba, who massacred those who refused to deny Christ. Such brutal reprisals entrenched positions further, effectively slamming the door closed to any future Jewish-Christian dialogue. Bar- Kokhba’s short-lived ‘reign’ was brutally quashed by the Roman legions, and in order to sever Jewish connections with the holy city, Jerusalem was renamed Aelia Capitolina in honour of Emperor Hadrian, and the Jews forbidden to return on penalty of death. As Eusebius records,
“...the whole nation from that time was totally prohibited by decree... from even entering the country about Jerusalem, so they could not behold the soil of their fathers, even at a distance... The city of the Jews was thus reduced to a state of abandonment for them totally stripped of its ancient inhabitants, and inhabited by strangers.”
Hadrian’s edict spelled the end of Jewish religious life in Judea for the foreseeable future, and with it came the demise of the Jewish leadership of the Jerusalem Church. With the appointment of Marcus, the first Gentile bishop of Jerusalem, Greek believers began to outnumber their Jewish brethren in what was fast becoming a predominantly Gentile-member Church. This had a dramatic effect on the way the Bible was read, as traditional Jewish methods of interpretation gave way to Greek allegory. By the end of the first century, the process of theological assimilation was complete, as we can see in the early post-apostolic writings. For example, The Epistle of Barnabas (AD 100), a contender for inclusion in the Bible, shows how profoundly Greek methods of interpretation had affected Christian attitudes to Scripture. The writer, thought to be an Alexandrian Jew, insisted that the Old Testament was never meant to be read literally, but interpreted allegorically of Christ and the Church, as we can see from his exposition of Exodus 33:1.
What, then, meaneth this: ‘Enter into the good land, a land flowing with milk and honey...and have dominion over it.’ He answers thus: ‘Blessed be our Lord, who has placed in us wisdom and understanding of secret things. For the prophet says, ‘Who shall understand the parable of the Lord, except him who is wise and prudent....’
Having established in the reader’s mind that the text is not to be understood historically but interpreted spiritually, Barnabas completely destroys the meaning of biblical words by declaring that,
We, then [Christians] are they whom he has led into a good land. What then, mean the milk and honey? This, that as the infant is kept alive first by honey and then by milk, so also we, being quickened and kept alive by the faith of the promise and by the word, shall live ruling the earth.
The application of Scripture is legitimate, but never at the expense of its plain primary meaning. However, like so many of his Greek-minded colleagues, Barnabas argued that only the Christian could make sense of the Bible. The ‘carnal’ Jews, with their ‘earthly’ mind-set, had failed to recognise the ‘hidden’ message of their own Scriptures, and as a result, had eternally forfeited their entitlement to the covenant promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The new people of faith (the Church) were the sole legatees of those promises, and there was no redress in the ecclesiastical courts for the Jewish people. Having captured the theological ‘high ground,’ the Church proceeded to lay siege to the Jews, incarcerating them behind walls of ignorance for their rejection of Christ, and initiating a relentless “apologetic offensive” against them. In the vanguard stood the Christian Apologists, second-century ‘defenders of the Faith,’ who subjected the Jews to an aggressive barrage of anti-Jewish sermons, dramatic dialogues, letters and treatises, in what is collectively known as the Adversus Judaeos (Against the Jews) tradition.
The True Spiritual Israel?
Justin ‘Martyr’ (AD100-165), the undisputed leader in the field of early Church apologetics, taught that the Mosaic Law had been abrogated, and that Christ was the culmination of Israel’s history, fulfilling literal prophecies, including those relating to the Land and Temple. He believed that almost any Old Testament character or historical event could be enlisted to force this connection. He also saw the plight of the Jews (their slaughter, exile, persecution, and dis-possession) as a divine punishment, inflicted on them for the death of Christ. “Accordingly,” he tells Trypho the Jew,
...you alone may suffer that which you now justly suffer; and that your land may be desolate, and your cities burned with fire; and that strangers may eat your fruit in your presence, and not one of you may go up to Jerusalem.... Accordingly, these things have happened to you in fairness and justice, for you have slain the Just One, and His prophets before Him, and now you reject those who hope in Him, and in Him who sent Him... cursing in your synagogues those that believe on Christ.
In Justin’s mind, the Jews were destined to wander through the nations as outcasts, with absolutely no hope of deliverance. They therefore came under the harshest condemnation for failing to understand their own Scriptures, and were sentenced to live forever in the shadow of the Church, which Justin proudly announced was “the true spiritual Israel.” Irenaeus (AD 130-200), a student of Polycarp (a disciple of the John the apostle), adds weight to the verdict by declaring that “the house of Jacob and the people of Israel, are disinherited from the grace of God,” leaving Cyprian (AD 195-258), famed bishop and martyr, to drive the final nails into Israel’s coffin with his arrogant assertion,
...that the Jews, according to what had before been foretold, had departed from God, and had lost God’s favour, which had been given in past time, and had been promised them for the future; while the Christians had succeeded to their place...[so that] the Gentiles, rather than the Jews [would] attain to the kingdom of heaven.
What is perhaps a little bewildering to our twenty-first century minds, is that Justin and his fellow Apologists believed in a literal thousand-year reign of Christ upon the earth. They are often summoned to the defence of pre-millennial truth, which, interpreted in the light of its current usage, may lead us to mistakenly conclude that they were pro-Israel. However, Justin upheld a form of ‘Gentile-Christian’ pre-millennialism, teaching that Israel’s millennial promises had been transferred to the Church, which would reign on earth from the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21. Tertullian (AD160–225), the African Church father who was the first to systematically challenge the authenticity of Judaism, also taught pre-millennialism with the same ‘Christian-Gentile’ mind-set, arguing with regard to “the restoration of Judea” that “it would be tedious to state at length how the figurative interpretation is spiritually applicable to Christ and His church, and to the character and fruits thereof.” Others could be cited in support of these views.
From Jerusalem to Alexandria
We can begin to see how quickly Christianity forsook its Jewish heritage and how readily it adopted Greek modes of interpretation in its study of the Scriptures. With the collapse of the Jerusalem Church, the Alexandrian Christian School rose to a position of enormous influence, adopting the role of mother and nursemaid to the churches. Prominent among the Alexandrian prime-movers was Christian philosopher Clement of Alexandria (AD150-215), an exceptionally gifted teacher with leanings towards Greek wisdom. He had been strongly influenced by the teachings of the Jewish philosopher Philo (20BC–AD 50), whose allegorical methods of interpretation he enthusiastically adopted; these in turn would be channeled to Origen, Ambrose and Augustine, men of colossal influence in the development of Christian thought. It is therefore to Philo, a contemporary of Paul the apostle, and a leading light in the Alexandrian Jewish community, that we must first look if we are to uncover the unstable foundations upon which the doctrine of Replacement Theology totters.
Described as “a cosmopolitan thinker, well versed in the major Greek philosophies of his time,” Philo believed that he had discovered the doctrines of Plato and the Stoics in the writings of Moses. Using Greek allegorical tools, he excavated the Old Testament text to unearth what he believed was its true ‘hidden’ or ‘higher spiritual’ meaning. In so doing, Philo interpreted the Mosaic code allegorically, maintaining that the Jewish laws were figurative of a higher ethical code. For example, he believed the Sabbath ordinance was commemorative of the birth of the universe. He even enlisted the help of the plants that grew in the Garden of Eden to further his speculative cause, claiming that they were not real plants at all but symbolized God’s gifts to man of “soul and reason,” which bore the fruit of “virtue, insight, and the wisdom to distinguish between the beautiful and the ugly.” From these examples, we can perhaps understand why Philo adopted a policy of zero-tolerance towards the literal interpreters of Scripture, and why he branded them “slow witted,” “obstinate,” and “rigid.” Sadly, these sentiments litter the sermons and writings of many of Philo’s modern-day cousins.
By subjecting the Old Testament to the authority of Greek allegory, and dismissing its plain historical and literal meaning, the Jewish philosopher laid a foundation upon which the Alexandrian fathers would build their own ‘authoritative’ models of interpretation. Clement, who succeeded to the headship of the Alexandrian School, funneled Philo’s ideas directly into his own writings, thus guaranteeing his mentor a place in the theological affections of his own students, notably Origen (AD185- 254), who took over as head of the School at the remarkably young age of eighteen. Nicknamed “The Allegorizer General” by Thomas Fuller, Origen was a prolific writer, with over 6,000 works to his credit. Renowned for his vast encyclopedic knowledge, immense academic prowess, and towering theological seniority, his impact in shaping and moulding the doctrinal thinking of the third- century Church is profound. Following in the footsteps of his illustrious tutors, he taught that, because the Bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit, “the surface meaning of Scripture was to be distinguished from its deeper spiritual meaning,” a process that transports the reader ‘above’ the literal meaning of the text into the realms of fantasy. Like Clement and Philo before him, Origen was able to make the Bible dance to whatever tune he chose to play.
A Trail of Crimes
The following extract from his lengthy treatise Against Celsus, opens a window into Origen’s Greek-Christian mind, revealing just how deeply convinced he was that there was no future for the Jewish nation in the purposes of God. He therefore set the theological stage upon which the drama of Israel’s ‘irrevocable judgment’ would be performed, with the Church playing the lead role:
Now it has never been recorded, since the Jewish nation began to exist, that they have been expelled for so long a period...and enslaved by more powerful nations; for if at any time they appeared to be abandoned for their sins, they were not withstanding visited (by God), and returned to their own country, and recovered their possessions..... One fact, then, which proves that Jesus was something divine and sacred, is this, that Jews should have suffered on His account now for a lengthened time calamities of such severity. And we say with confidence that they will never be restored to their former condition. For they committed a crime of the most unhallowed kind, in conspiring against the Saviour of the human race.... It accordingly behoved that city where Jesus underwent these sufferings to perish utterly, and the Jewish nation to be overthrown, and the invitation of happiness offered them by God to pass to others - the Christians... (my emphasis).
As far as the Church of Origen’s day was concerned, the Jews had committed the unpardonable sin, Deicide (the murder of God), and all they could expect was unrelenting punishment and the harshest condemnation from the Christian. To justify its actions, the Church revised understanding of Jewish Old Testament history, portraying it as “a trail of crimes” which culminated in the “rejection and murder of Christ.” The anathematizing of the Jewish people had begun.
Origen profoundly shaped the way in which the Christian minds of his and future generations interacted with the Scriptures, but, as we shall see in the next article, it would fall to Augustine of Hippo (AD 354- 430), the unrivalled Patron Saint of Replacement Theology, to systematize Origen’s allegorical methods. Canonized by Protestants and Roman Catholics alike, ‘Saint’ Augustine’s harsh a-millennialism dominated the Church of the Middle Ages and “provided the most powerful stimulus to the Reformation,” exercising enormous influence on the theology of John Calvin. Others merit attention, including Emperor Constantine (AD 274 or 288-337) who, by legalizing Christianity, declared ‘open season’ on the Jews; and ‘golden-mouthed’ John Chrysostom (AD 347-407), whose virulent anti-Semitic ‘Homilies against the Jews’ find their equal with Martin Luther’s treatise On the Jews and Their Lies (1543). Men may rant and rail against the Jews all they like, but, let us make no mistake, the God of Israel will have the final word, of that there is no doubt! Let us therefore close on a brighter note, with these uplifting words, penned by Mrs. J. B. Webb in December 1840 in the preface to her novel Naomi or The Last Days of Jerusalem:
The signs of the present times point strongly towards the Holy Land and the once glorious city of Jerusalem; and the eyes of many (both Jews and Gentiles) are turned hither in anxious expectation of the approaching fulfilment of those promises of favour and restoration which are so strikingly set forth in Scripture, with reference to that land and her scattered and degraded people. The threatened judgments have been awfully and literally accomplished, and shall not the promises of God be found to be equally sure? It will be no hard matter for the same Almighty power which has turned her fruitful valleys into a desolate wilderness, to cause that ‘wilderness’ once more ‘to blossom as the rose’; and the same Hand that has scattered her inhabitants over the whole earth, and made them a mark for the scorn and reproach of the Gentile nations, can as easily gather them together and bring them again into their own Land.
About The Author
Andrew Robinson was born in Penarth, South Wales in 1951 and was raised in Christian Science. He and Pat were born again in 1987, while he was working as a senior youth and community worker in Bury, Lancashire. Married for 37 years, they have 3 grown up daughters and a son, who are all following the Lord. They also have 3 young grandsons. Andrew and Pat have served the Lord in a pastoral ministry for 22 years, ministering in Scotland and the Manchester area. Andrew holds a theology degree from Manchester University and was trained as an AOG pastor. He has taught at Manchester Bible School and for the last 15 years has pastored Hazel Grove Full Gospel Church in Stockport, an independent Pentecostal fellowship which came into being in the wake of a Jeffreys brothers’ campaign in South Manchester in the late 1920s. Andrew resigned from Assemblies of God in 2001.