Replacement (Supersession) Theology

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By Raymond Harris

First Entry: Theology: A Root of Argumentation
Second Entry: Dispensational Theology

NOTE: Remember that it is not my intention to compose a thesis giving a critical examination of theological perspectives; my reasoning is somewhat simple, doing such an investigation seems to appeal to a small audience. Instead, I am attempting to reveal how I believe the theology is attempting to process biblical teachings. Within that framework, I will reveal some of my thoughts about why I agree or disagree about the theological perspective.

 
What is Replacement Theology?
Replacement Theology (RT), like Theology itself, has variations and in-depth discussions, but for me, RT seems fairly easy to define. The core of RT is that the NT fulfills the promises of the OT and that the Church replaces Israel as God’s chosen people.1 But we should be aware that RT is also referred to as: Supersessionism Theology.2

 
Replacement Theology’s Process of Biblical Teachings
Replacement Theology seems to assert that since Jesus fulfilled the OT, He must have ushered in the NT and either established New Law or Modified the Old Law. Thus, the church must determine what doctrine is based upon this New/Modified Law. Since RT asserts that the NT replaced the OT, RT requires a systematic examination of the NT in order to determine the “law of Christ,”3 which determines how the disciple and the church are to act in the “Christian Dispensation.”

For brevity’s sake, it is my supposition that RT seems to be one of the driving forces behind many of Christendom’s fractures and divisions, the reason for my thoughts on this should become evidenced during the next few paragraphs. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, one of the problems that arises from RT is that if the NT actually replaces the OT, then the disciples and the church must find the “law of Christ” in order to fulfill the “law of Christ”. As one who was given RT, I am certain that finding the “law of Christ” became a major guidepost for the Church and the Christian.

As mentioned, RT seems to base its search for “law of Christ” on Paul’s use of the phrase in Galatians thus requiring believers to search the Gospels and the Epistles to determine the Worship and Practice of the church and disciple. This reasoning of the “law of Christ” urges the church and Christian to identify and define ecclesiastical concepts and terms like: accountability to God, to Jesus and to the church; baptism, church, Christ, Christian, disciple, kingdom, messiah, miracle, new, old, repentance, sacrifice, signs, sin, wonders, worship, et al., all from the pages of the NT. What I have found experientially true is that no two individuals, or two churches/congregations who read the NT find the exact same “law of Christ.”

One of the difficulties of RT is that depending on which aspect of RT is being promoted, RT will put forward the rationale that the OT has no purpose for the Church or Christians; or that the OT has some purpose, but the OT seems not to govern the Church or Christian. Again, my experiential evidence is that some churches and/or Christians have taken “law of Christ” so emphatically literal that they look not for “law” (lower case) but “Law” (upper case) and systematically label and condemn those who do not agree.

So, with the assertion that the NT replaces the OT, that the Church replaces Israel, RT must adequately answer the dilemma of how much or to what degree the OT’s influence is either negated or abolished with the NT. Unfortunately, this is a dilemma that is not easily resolved.

Replacement of the OT
For sake of brevity, I want to limit my examination of RT, otherwise we will get stuck examining detail after detail. So, let us make the assumption that RT seeks to suggest that the OT is fully, one hundred percent, fulfilled and thereby abrogated.4 Since we are using this definition of RT, it means that RT excludes the need of the OT; and means that the NT implies or emphatically states that the OT has absolutely nothing for the Church or Christian.

It seems proper to conclude that in having the NT fully replace the OT, this would have a two-fold purpose: 1) NT replacing the OT removes the need to study the OT because the OT is not intended for the Church or Christian; and 2) if the NT fully abolishes the OT this removes the responsibility of answering how much of the OT influences the NT.

One interpretation of Jesus’ statement, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill”5 is that Jesus is proclaiming that he fulfills the OT and part of Jesus fulfilling the OT is the abrogation of the need for the OT and thereby suggesting the removal of the need for the OT for the Church and Christian. This seems to be done in part, by insinuating that the ultimate purpose of the OT was to prophesy about Jesus and that with Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, ascension and establishment of the church6 the OT is no longer needed.

By using two statements from Paul, RT supports its conclusion, those passages are found in Colossians (KJV) and Galatians.

“Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;” (Colossians 2:14 KJV).

24Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. 27For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:24-27 KJV)

RT interprets Colossians (KJV) as removing the need of the OT and finds Paul’s statement in Galatians as the reason why: the OT points to Jesus and since Jesus has been manifested the OT has served (fulfilled) its purpose and therefore has no governing influence for the Church or Christians. While RT interprets other NT passages as implying or directly stating that the OT is abrogated because the OT served its purpose, for brevity’s sake, the above three passages, used by RT, reveal the theological direction of RT.

Testing the Replacement of the OT
One of the means of testing any Biblical word, passage or verse is to find its literary context. Literary context examines the placement of a Bible word, phrase, statement or sentence among the words, phrases, statements and sentences that surround it.

While there are other contexts (culture, history, linguistic, rhetoric, social, and theology) that should also be taken into account, literary context provides a quality starting point.

We should also keep in mind that the literary context (as well as all other contexts) could, quite possibly, reveal a substantially different intended meaning for a biblical word, passage or verse.

Matthew 5.17
It was shown previously that RT interprets Matthew 5.17 as saying the OT has served it purpose. But it seems that when 5.17 is examined with the verses that follow it, there is at least one problem:

17Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. 18For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5.17-19 KJV, emphasis mine)

Verse Seventeen is not a standalone statement; it is conditioned by Verse Eighteen. In Verse Eighteen Jesus makes it plain that everything must be fulfilled; part of making everything fulfilled is that heaven and earth must pass. The challenge is for RT to explain why it interprets the OT as abrogated, having no authority for the Church or Christian, when Jesus seems to claim that the OT will not be abrogated until “heaven and earth pass.” It seems, at best, portions of the OT have been abrogated, like animal sacrifices, but based on Verse Eighteen it does not seem proper to conclude the entirety of the OT abrogated.

Colossians 2.14
The literary context (which goes back into Chapter One and continues into Chapter Three) is far more detailed than our examination permits. But what is significant to our discussion here is that, in context, Paul says that the Colossians should not permit someone to judge the Colossian church if the Colossian church wanted to observe holy days, new moons, or Sabbaths (2.16) all of which have foundations in the Law of Moses.

Another interesting issue with Colossians 2.14 is that the NIV varies tremendously from the KJV; this is why in the previous section the KJV was quoted. The NIV does not lend the reader to interpret the verse as Jesus nailing the OT to his cross, but nailing trespasses (sin) to his cross; this concept is also supported in the ESV and NASB translations. This leaves RT with the issue of determining: What does Colossians 2.14 actually mean? Interpreting Colossians 2.14 to indicate that Jesus nailed sin to his cross helps Paul’s claims makes sense when he states that the Law (OT) is good, holy, just, and spiritual.7

Paul tells believers in Romans Chapter Seven that the Law (OT) is not against believers, because it reveals what is displeasing to God, otherwise known as sin (Romans 7.7). Additionally, by inspiration Paul claims that the Law is not sin (7.7) there seems to be no possible way that Colossians 2.14 should be interpreted as “nailing the law” to the cross. Therefore it becomes manifestly interesting that Paul tells Timothy that the Law is profitable for those who know how to use it properly.8

Galatians 3.24-27
In order to keep it very brief about Galatians 3.24-27, I ask the reader to find the literary context, and then ask one major question: Why does RT interpret that because we are under Christ we are to abrogate the teachings taught by the schoolmaster (the OT)?

Here is my answer to the question. In no field of human experience (whether mathematic, scientific, or spiritual) does the advanced studies ask or require the student to abrogate all prior learning, in order to learn all new rules before coming to the new advanced level. If anything, the student is to build on the previously learned material and to grow in capability and maturity. Interestingly enough, there are times that students have to back up and reaffirm/retouch the earlier principles from the teachings of the schoolmaster in order to understand the advanced level.

Allow me to add a thought about Galatians 3.24-27 when using the NIV. Here is the NIV translation:

24So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (emphasis mine)

Having the NIV translate Paul’s description of the OT as being a guardian still, in no way, negates Paul’s teaching that Christians are to use the OT in order to be taught by the OT, thereby receiving understanding and gaining hope; this is the whole power of Romans 15.4. Neither the Law nor adherence to Law gives righteousness; if the Law could have given righteousness the Messiah goes unneeded.

So, while it is definitely true that righteousness cannot be gained because one does everything in the Law, the Law should not be interpreted as being against the promises of God9 nor should the Law be interpreted as against providing instructions in righteousness.10 Therefore, it seems proper to conclude that the Church and the Christian are to refresh their hearts and minds with righteousness by studying the things written aforetime11 as evidenced by Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians.12

Application of Testing
While RT has its attractions, RT becomes less capable of addressing some passages in the NT, as seen above, but consider also Matthew 7.12. Many know “The Golden Rule” but I was not aware, until recently, that The Golden Rule is a proverb spoken by Jesus encapsulating the entirety of the OT: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (KJV, emphasis mine).

Another problem for RT seems to be Acts 21.17-27. This passage clearly states that James required Paul to perform a vow to demonstrate to the believing Jews who were zealous of the Law (21.20) that Paul himself walked orderly, keeping the Law (21.24). To RT, it seems contradictory for Paul to be both a Christian and an observer of the Law of Moses.

One last item is from Paul and unfortunately, I have yet to find someone who can adequately address this statement made by Paul in Romans Thirteen:

8Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. 9For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 10Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13.8-10, KJV, emphasis mine)

Aspects of RT postulate that NT verses that incorporate OT teachings become applicable to the Church and Christian. Here in Romans, Paul, in one phrase, “and if there be any other commandment,” implies incorporation of the entirety of the OT.

 
Conclusion
What has been mentioned is that RT seeks to have the NT replace the OT and thereby the Church replaces Israel. It was demonstrated that RT seeks to negate the influence of the OT on the Church and Christian; but as we have seen with Matthew 5.17, Colossians 2.14, and Galatians 3.24-27, there are several questions that arise that RT fails to sufficiently address. Additionally, what was shown is that RT has difficulty resolving passages like: Matthew 7.12, Acts.21.17-27, and Romans 13.8-10.

The goal of this article is to simply reveal that RT seems inadequate to the task. As we have seen, the OT does have a proper influence for the NT, and the NT does not seem to indicate abrogation of the entirety of the OT. But the NT does reveal a paradox that seems resolved only by Covenant Theology and Olive Branch Theology.

If there is no other reason why no one has been able to successfully persuade me back to RT, it is because of Paul’s simple phraseology “and if there be any other commandment” (Romans 13.8) through which he implies and incorporates the teachings not just of the Books of Moses, but also that of the entire OT.

 
Still to come, thoughts about:
Cessation Theology
Covenant Theology
Olive Branch Theology
Continuation Theology
My Conclusions
Where Do We Go From Here?

 
Endnotes
1. “Core of Replacement Theology”, Wikipedia.com.
2. “Replacement Theology a.k.a. Supersessionism”, Wikipedia.com.
3. “Determine the ‘law of Christ’.” Galatians 6.2, NIV.
4. “Abrogated.”, Wikipedia.com.
5. “Jesus statement of fulfilling OT.” Matthew 5.17, NIV.
6. “Establishment of the church.” Acts 2, NIV.
7. “Law (OT) being good, holy, just, and spiritual.” Romans 7.12, 7.14, 7.16, NIV.
8. “The Law is profitable for those who know how to use it properly.” 1 Timothy 1.8, NIV.
9. “The Law is not against the promises of God.” Galatians 3.21, NIV.
10. “The Law [is not] against providing instructions in righteousness.” 2 Timothy 3.16, NIV.
11. “Refresh their hearts and minds with righteousness by studying the things written aforetime.” Romans 15.4, KJV.
12. “Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians.” 1 Corinthians 10.1-13, NIV.

 
SOME RESEARCH LINKS
The links are not provided to affirm or deny my perspective; they are, however, provided so that my readers can continue their study drawing their own conclusions.

“Replacement Theology”, Google Search.
“Replacement Theology” Wikipedia.com.
Abrogation, Wikipedia.com.
Is Replacement Theology Biblical?, Free Bible Study Lessons.

Marcion, Wikipedia.com.
Twelve Reasons Why Supersessionism / Replacement Theology Is Not a Biblical Doctrine, TheologicalStudies.org.
What is replacement theology / supersessionism?, GotQuestions.org.

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