The Errors of Replacement Theology

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Much of the anti-Semitism in the world today can be traced to a concept called “Replacement Theology”.

by Editor:
This principle presents the thesis that the church has replaced Israel in God’s plan. Replacement Theology teaches that the church is the replacement for Israel and that the many promises made to Israel in the Bible are fulfilled in the Christian Church, not in Israel.

AugustinusAurelius Augustinus, the bishop of Hippo (354–430), better known as Saint Augustine, was a leader of the Church during the fourth and fifth centuries AD. Under his influence, Christianity embraced a doctrine of anti–Semitism.

From Augustine teachings, the Church came to a view that the Jews were a lost race without hope of redemption. The Church determined that Israel had forfeited her covenants by rejecting Christ. This concept produced a dramatic shift in early Church politics, worldviews, and eschatology.

The leaders of the Church of Rome began to teach that all the future messianic promises of natural Israel were transferred to the new spiritual Israel—the Church.

What follows is Part One of a two part series on the errors of Replacement Theology.

The author, Dr. William Welty, is the Executive Director of the ISV foundation and also serves as Research Analyst in Advanced Communication Technologies and Adjunct Professor of Middle Eastern Studies on the faculty of Koinonia Institute.

All Biblical citations are taken from the International Standard Version (ISV) translation of the Bible.

by Dr. William Welty
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View 1: Conservative, evangelical Christian tradition teaches that Jesus the Messiah will one day establish a worldwide empire with Jerusalem as the international federal district, or capital city, of the entire earth. This restored and expanded national Israel will serve as the Messiah’s seat of power for a period of one thousand years. The technical term of theology that is traditionally used to describe this hegemony over the earth is the Millennium, a term that descends from the Latin word meaning one thousand, a direct reference to a specific time period mentioned in Revelation 20:1–10. The establishment of Messiah’s rule over the earth is clearly stated by the larger context of this passage from the book of Revelation as occurring subsequent to his coming. That’s why this view of the rule of the Messiah is called Pre-Millennialism.

View 2: But some Christian groups claim that since the only reference to a specific duration for the rule of Messiah as lasting 1,000 years is contained in Revelation 20:1–10, and since the book consists of apocalyptic symbols, the reference to a reign lasting for exactly ten centuries must also be symbolic. Those who believe that the Millennium will be of an indefinite, or non-ending, duration are called A-Millennialists. This group also considers the rule of Jesus from Jerusalem as the capital city of the earth to be symbolic.

View 3: A third view of the Millennial reign of the Messiah, one which today seems to be held only by theonomists and other aberrant Christian groups, holds the view that the world will gradually be conquered by the Gospel, after which time Jesus will return to assume the reins of world hegemony. This view is called Post-Millennialism.

cross-Post-MillennialismWe reject Post-Millennialism for the very pragmatic reason that the world isn’t getting better and better. Quite the opposite, the New Testament makes it clear that the world will become worse and worse until the time of world-wide judgment commonly called the 70th week of Daniel begins.

cross-A-MillennialismWe reject A-Millennialism on the grounds that it misunderstands the meaning and purpose of apocalyptic symbolism. The events described in apocalyptic literature by symbols are described as symbols, not because they are less literal than normal life, but because they transcend normal life. Apocalyptic images are, in a word, more literal than “real” life.

Tick1The Pre-Millennia view of the rule of Jesus the Messiah over the earth with Jerusalem as his capital city fits the natural context of the book of Revelation. Accordingly, we endorse that view.

The Rise of Replacement Theology: A Consequence of Rejecting Pre-Millennialism

But one of the consequences of rejecting a Pre-Millennial view of end time events has been the rise of Replacement Theology, which claims that God is finished with his dealings with Israel.

The erroneous doctrine of Replacement Theology springs from the false view that the existence of modern Israel was not brought about in 1948 as part of a divine plan for Israel. Replacement Theology traditionally has been embraced by groups such as the Anglican Church. Certain anti-Semitic, pro-Palestinian, and anti-Israel groups that claim to be Christian are also known to embrace this view of modern Israel.

In the Bible, the prophetic books of Daniel and the Revelation to John consist primarily of apocalyptic literature. This literary genre arose to popularity and prominence during the time period between the close of the Hebrew Scripture canon in the mid-fifth century BC and the completion of the New Testament canon in the mid-first century AD.

While it’s true that end-time prophecies address the entire non-believing inhabitants of the earth, a restored Israel and its enemies are the primary focus of the Bible’s prophecies regarding end time events.

Apocalyptic literature discusses how God is going to defeat Israel’s enemies and fulfill the promises made to Israel about the reign of Messiah HaNaggid, the Messiah-Prince of Israel, over all of the earth.

Is the United States or any other nation Israel?

No. Irrespective of what you may think of the uniquely American doctrines of manifest destiny and American exceptionalism, the United States of America is not Israel.

Is the United States or any other non-Muslim nation state an enemy of Israel?

No. Not at present, at least, despite what some perceive as the best efforts of the currently sitting President of the United States to change that status.

Therefore from the standpoint of apocalyptic literature, all nations other than Israel and its enemies are not mentioned by name in biblical prophecy for the same reason that Australia, Costa Rica, Nauru, New Zealand, the United States of America, or even Zimbabwe are not mentioned: these nations are not* the focus of end time events.

The Apostle Paul’s Refutation of Replacement Theology

Romans 9–11: The Apostle Paul answers the errors of Replacement Theology in the ninth through the eleventh chapters of his letter to the Christians who were living in Rome. He writes in

Romans 9:4–5 that to the Israelis alone:

4 … belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To the Israelis belong the patriarchs, and from them, the Messiah descended, who is God over all, the one who is forever blessed. Amen.

In the post-Crucifixion world of the first century, A.D., the Apostle Paul reminds us that God’s plan for Israel has never been abandoned. Paul informs us in Romans 9:6–8:

6 Now it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all Israelis truly belong to Israel, 7 and not all of Abraham’s descendants are his true descendants. On the contrary, “It is through Isaac that descendants will be named for you.” 8 That is, it is not merely the children born through natural descent who were regarded as God’s children, but it is the children born through the promise who were regarded as descendants.

His comments in Romans 9:7 that “not all of Abraham’s descendants are his true descendants” serve as a reminder that there is more to being Jewish than merely being a descendant of Abraham. It will be this truth that forms the basis for the salvation of the non-Jews to whom Paul directed the majority of his evangelistic efforts. Paul also reminds us that God is righteous to take this posture with respect to belief in him. In Romans 9:14–16, he writes:

14 What can we say, then? God is not unrighteous, is he? Of course not! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will be merciful to the person I want to be merciful to, and I will be kind to the person I want to be kind to.” 16 Therefore, God’s choice does not depend on a person’s will or effort, but on God himself, who shows mercy.

God’s willingness to base salvation on the requirement to believe stands opposed to being related to Abraham. In Romans 9:23–26, the Apostle Paul asks the following not-so-rhetorical question:

Can’t he also reveal his glorious riches to the objects of his mercy that he has prepared ahead of time for glory— including us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but from the gentiles as well? As the Scripture says in Hosea,

“Those who are not my people
I will call my people,
and the one who was not loved
I will call my loved one.
In the very place where it was told them,
‘You are not my people,’
they will be called children of the living God.”

Distinguishing Including Gentiles from National Abandonment of Israel

The Apostle Paul asks his Roman Christian audience in Romans 11:1-12 this important question, and also provides his answer to the query he poses:

1 So I ask, “God has not rejected his people, has he?” Of course not! I am an Israeli myself, a descendant of Abraham from the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected his people whom he chose long ago. …

5 So it is at the present time: there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if this is by grace, then it is no longer on the basis of actions. Otherwise, grace would no longer be grace.
7 What, then, does this mean? It means that Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking, but the selected group obtained it while the rest were hardened. 8 As it is written,
“To this day God has put them into deep sleep.
Their eyes do not see, and their ears do not hear.”

9 And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a punishment for them.
10 Let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and keep their backs forever bent.”
11 And so I ask, “They have not stumbled so as to fall, have they?” Of course not! On the contrary, because of their stumbling, salvation has come to the gentiles to make the Jews jealous. 12 Now if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their fall means riches for the gentiles, how much more will their full participation mean!

Do note, won’t you please, how the Apostle Paul ends this section of Romans 11 by using the future tense verb to describe the coming “full participation” (to use Paul’s own words) in the unfolding plan of God for the world.

The only way that this final sentence in verse twelve can carry any existential meaning at all is if God has not abandoned Israel permanently.

There remains a future place for national Israel, and therefore Replacement Theology is a false doctrine with no biblical support. Also, please notice how Paul concludes Romans 11 with the following argument:

15 For if their rejection results in reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance bring but life from the dead? … 17 Now if some of the branches have been broken off, and you, a wild olive branch, have been grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not boast about being better than the other branches. If you boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you. …
23 If the Jews do not persist in their unbelief, they will be grafted in again, because God is able to graft them in. …
25 For I want to let you know about this secret, brothers, so that you will not claim to be wiser than you are: Stubbornness has come to part of Israel until the full number of the gentiles comes to faith. 26 In this way, all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion;
he will remove ungodliness from Jacob.
27 This is my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”

Summary and Conclusions

Replacement Theology is false because it fails to make a distinction between the temporary setting aside of God’s dealings with national Israel so as to bring the Gospel to the ends of the earth, where the gentiles live, and a permanent setting aside of God’s dealing with Israel, which cannot happen due to the promise that God made to his original covenant people. The gentiles have been grafted into God’s family through the faith requirements of the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah, and as the end of days sees the fulfillment of God’s plan concerning Israel as a nation, we will again see the hand of God moving on behalf of the modern nation. Indeed, it’s already evident from even the most cursory of examinations of the history of conflict in that nation between the Jews and their enemies that the same God who sovereignly moved to protect his own people in the past is doing so again.

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