Replacement Theology – what’s wrong with it?

This theology has been held by various churches right from the early centuries. It says that God changed his mind and now all promises and blessings made to Israel go to the Church. Israel totally lost God’s favour and they have no place in God’s future plan as a nation, except as part of the Church.

This theology, however, totally ignores the nature of covenants. Covenants are never nullified, but extended, renewed as long as the parties exist. Thus, the covenant God made with Israel is still valid. Even the writer of Hebrews argues:

Heb 7:21 “Those who formerly became priests took their office without an oath, but this one was addressed with an oath, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest for ever.'” 22 This makes Jesus the surety of a better covenant. 23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever.”

You see, here covenants are compared. One is the new covenant the other is the mosaic one. The new covenant is said to be better, which means the other is also good. The author explains it further:

Heb 8:4 “Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. 5 They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary; for when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain.” 6 But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry which is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. 7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second. 8 For he finds fault with them when he says: “The days will come, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; 9 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; for they did not continue in my covenant, and so I paid no heed to them, says the Lord.”

The fault referred to above was with the people (“he finds fault with them“), not with the covenant. The covenant had good promises and blessings. The law of God is holy and good, as Paul himself said (Rom 7:12), and James (correctly Jacob) himself calls it “the perfect law of liberty” (James 1:25), thus the problem was not with the law, but with the people. God gave them the law and told them to put it into their hearts. Many of them failed to do so. In the new covenant it is God who puts his laws into the hearts of the people.

Of course, the law had blessings and curses, and, according to Paul, Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law (Gal 3:13), which does not mean the law is curse, but that it brought curse upon the disobedient.

Thus, the new covenant is better than the mosaic covenant, but the new doesn’t replace the old, it builds on it, it renews it, it improves upon it, just as the mosaic covenant did with the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the old the law was given on tablets of stone and the people had to make effort to put it into their hearts, in the new God puts his law into the hearts of the people.

If you like, the mosaic covenant is the first, the new covenant is the second phase of the very same thing. It is like an improved version of MS Windows with better stability and security, and no Blue Screen of Death. You notice that according to the prophecy of Jeremiah the new covenant’s recipients are “the house of Israel” and “the house of Judah”, and according to Paul Gentiles are only partakers of the new covenant.

Eph 2:11 “Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision [i.e. the Jews], which is made in the flesh by hands — 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility…”

Thus, it is not the Gentiles who are the recipients of this covenant, but the Jews, and we are only brought near the commonwealth of Israel.

The author of Hebrews then continues:

Heb 8:13 “In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”

When you have an old computer that worked reliably all its lifetime, and you buy a new one, the first becomes obsolete. It can still deliver what it did at the time you bought it, but the new one is better with more power and better features. And as you move your work to the new computer, the old is ready to vanish away. It is no longer needed.

The same way in the first century it was hoped that Israel would accept the new covenant, and as they came into the new covenant relationship the old covenant relationship would vanish away as no one would remain under it. Since it didn’t happen, the mosaic covenant is still as valid for those who are under it as it was when given.

The book of Hebrews strikes a blow not only to the so-called Replacement Theology, but also to exclusivism that teaches that only those who believe in Jesus are saved. Perhaps we need to look at what the NT actually teaches about it. The key to understanding correctly the relevant biblical passages are hidden in the Tanakh.

Go, find it.


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