Replacement Theology: The Theology I Didn’t Know I Had
Wait, that verse is not referring to me?
Like many of us who grew up in the faith, I was taught to memorize Bible verses from an early age. One of my absolute favorites was Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” What an incredible promise, right? I memorized it, prayed it, and wrote it at the end of cards to friends and family.
It wasn’t until Bible college that more was required of me. Now I was not only memorizing Scripture, I was learning to study the Bible in context with logic and newly-acquired Bible study methods. This was when I suddenly, and heartbreakingly, realized Jeremiah 29:11 was not a promise to me directly. I was crushed.
Context is king in terms of understanding the Word of God. In context, Jeremiah was writing a letter from Jerusalem to the Jewish people who were in exile in Babylon.
In Jeremiah 29:1-14 we see the LORD encouraging His people that they will not be in exile forever. He reminds them that He will fulfill His promise to them to restore their fortunes and gather them from all the nations and all the places where He has driven them. Verse 11 is the key wherein God tells the exiles that His plans for them are good, and He has a good future in store for them.
When I innocently applied that verse to my life as a kid, I did not realize I was replacing Israel… with myself.
What is Replacement Theology?
At its core, Replacement Theology is the belief that the Church is the “new Israel”; or that the Church has replaced ethnic Israel in terms of God’s calling and His promises. So, whenever one reads the Bible and the term “Israel” is mentioned, one simply replaces Israel with the “Church”, whether they realize it or not.
Replacement Theology asserts that the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3) has been either completely or partially abolished, thereby severing God’s eternal relationship with the Jewish people. Israel is no longer the witness of God to the nations, Israel is no longer chosen, Israel is no longer necessary.
This is extremely problematic because the Abrahamic Covenant has an eternal status according to Genesis 17:7-8, “I will establish my covenant between me and you [Abraham] and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”
I thought there was “neither Jew nor Greek”?
The defense of Replacement Theology stems from a misinformed reading of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Their reasoning is that in Messiah, Jews and Greeks are now indistinguishable. Better yet, there are now no Jews or Gentiles whatsoever. These labels and their connotations are no longer relevant. But is this what Paul is claiming?
Once again – context!
Paul is speaking of the universality of access to salvation through belief in Yeshua for all persons, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or status. “For in Messiah Yeshua you are all sons of God, through faith… There is neither Jew nor Greek… slave nor free… no male and female, for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua” (Galatians 3:26-28). In context we see that Israel’s unique calling is not in question. (See also Romans 10:9-12, Colossians 3:10-11)
Does the Church have promises?
All of this talk about promises that are just for Israel, and verses that are contextually directed to ethnic Israel can be daunting if it is new information. After all, where does the Church fit into God’s design? Does the Church have promises as well? Doesn’t God love the ‘whole world’?
Yes, yes and yes! The Bible holds many promises for the Church! Jeremiah 29:11 promises a hope and a future for the Jewish people. Likewise, Ephesians 1:18-19 promises hope, a glorious inheritance, and power to all believers, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and His incomparably great power for those who believe.”
The glory of the Gospel and the Kingdom of God is displayed to the world when we (Israel and the Church) preserve the beauty of our various callings, while also having a unity only the Holy Spirit can create. The one is not meant to replace the other, they are meant to work together. (Romans 11).
For further information about Replacement Theology, please reference the following resources produced by Members of FIRM: