With all the numerous and varied “winds of doctrine” that are blowing around us these days, without examining Scriptures to see what is true, (Acts 17:11) many Christians find it difficult to discern the difference between truth and error.

One error frequently taught to unlearned Christians is Replacement Theology—The belief that God rejected Israel and replaced her with the Church. Elements of Replacement Theology can be traced as far back as Marcion (A.D. 160), who carried on a theological crusade to purge the Church of what he perceived to be dangerous Jewish errors and influences. Later, many of these same anti-Judaic sentiments found their way into the thinking (and writings) of the early Church fathers. Irenaeus (c. 180) for instance, wrote, “The Jews have rejected the Son of God and cast Him out of the vineyard when they slew Him. Therefore, God has justly rejected them and has given to the Gentiles outside the vineyard the fruits of its cultivation.” (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, [1885-1887], Volume 1, p. 493)

Over time, statements like these became the basis for full-blown anti-Semitism in some sectors of Christianity. Anything Jewish was renounced as an attempt to subvert and “Judaize” the Church. The Early Church, which was clearly and undeniably Jewish, was described as “primitive,” unenlightened, and beset by erroneous notions that were carry-overs from ancient Judaism.

Justin Martyr once proclaimed: ”The true spiritual Israel, and descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham . . . are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ.” (Justin Martyr, “The Anti-Nicene Fathers” by A. Roberts and J. Donaldson vol. 1 1885) That erroneous statement was made as Justin Martyr and his Jewish opponent, Trypho, debated about Christianity almost 1,900 years ago. (A.D. 155) Some anti-Semitic Christians had already come to believe that their church had replaced the Jewish people and that the only thing the Jewish nation could look forward to was condemnation.

The dangers of replacement theology

Martin Luther articulated this position when he wrote: “For such ruthless wrath of God is sufficient evidence that they [i.e., the Jewish people] assuredly have erred and gone astray. Even a child can comprehend this. For one dare not regard God as so cruel that he would punish his own people so long, so terrible, so unmercifully … Therefore this work of wrath is proof that the Jews, surely rejected by God, are no longer his people, and neither is he any longer their God.” (“On the Jews and Their Lies,” p. 265) Near the end of his life, Luther said that “synagogues and Jewish schools should be burned to the ground, Jewish people run out of their homes, their prayer books and Talmudic writings burned, and the rabbis forbidden to preach or teach on penalty of death.” (“On the Jews and Their Lies” pp. 268-271) Luther also declared that Jewish people in Germany should be confined to their own homes and neighborhoods—a plan the Nazis implemented literally when they quarantined Jewish families in ghettos in Poland and other places before shipping them to the death camps for extermination.

But what does the Bible say about Replacement Theology?

Romans 11:1-2: I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

Isaiah 49:15-16: Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.

Jeremiah 31:37: Thus says the Lord: “If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the Lord.”

Psalm 94:14: For the Lord will not forsake his people;he will not abandon his heritage;

Romans11: 25-27: Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;  “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

Romans 3:3- 6: What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world?

The point that Paul was making in Romans 3 was that, despite the fact that some Jews didn’t believe in God, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God in the matter of keeping the promises He made with Israel that are contained in the unconditional covenants that He made with them. Paul states plainly, “By no means!” God is not unrighteous so as to break His word, is He? Absolutely not!

Numbers 23:19: God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?

After reading these verses we must conclude that followers of Jesus could not possibly have replaced Israel as God’s “new” covenant people or “spiritual Israel”. Paul states plainly in Romans 11:1-2, “has God rejected his people? By no means!” Followers of Jesus are people of God, but they have not replaced Israel, which is also a people of God. Since the Day of Pentecost God has been orchestrating his plan to bring Jew and non-Jew together for the benefit of them both, for his own divine purposes, and the glorification of his Name.

The danger of Replacement Theology is that it misrepresents God as one who breaks His promises. If God breaks His promises, then how can we know that God will not find another people to replace the Church for the great sins that she has committed? And if God can break his promises then how is one to know that his salvation is secure? (Which is the whole point of Romans 9-11)

Is there such a thing as Spiritual Israel,” or a Spiritual Jew?Similar to the belief that the Church has replaced Israel as God’s covenant people are the beliefs that the Church is now spiritual Israel and its members are all spiritual Jews. Whatever the reasoning, there is nothing in Scripture that agrees with this.

If you examine all the phrases in the entire Bible in which “spiritual” is used, you will have to come to some obvious conclusions: spiritual gift or spiritual gifts (Romans 1:11; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Corinthians 14:1,12; 1 Timothy 4:14); the Law is spiritual (Romans 7:14); spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1); spiritual things (Romans 15:27; 1 Corinthians 19:11); spiritual thoughts (1 Corinthians 2:13); spiritual words (1 Corinthians 2:13); he who is spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:15); spiritual men (1 Corinthians 3:1); spiritual food (1 Corinthians 10:3); spiritual rock, spiritual drink (1 Corinthians 10:4); if anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual (1 Corinthians 14:37); spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44-46); you who are spiritual (Galatians 6:1); every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3); spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16)); spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:12); spiritual wisdom (Colossians 1:9); spiritual house (1 Peter 2:5).

Notice that:
1. “Spiritual” is never used in conjunction with one’s race.
2. “Spiritual” is never used in reference to a believing Gentile being a spiritual Jew.
3. In reference to people, “spiritual” is used only of one who has a mature walk in the Lord irregardless of whether he or she is a Jew or Gentile. In fact, according to scriptural usage, even a believing Jew whose walk is not mature should be not called a spiritual Jew. How then can the Church be called Spiritual Israel and all of its members Spiritual Jews? There is no reference anywhere in Scripture of Gentile believers being referred to as a “Spiritual Jew”.

Although many misinterpret Romans 2:23-29 to refer to this, the circumcision of the heart renders one inwardly righteous, not inwardly Jewish. This is consistent with what we read in Acts 6:5 when Nicolas, who after converting to Judaism had come to believe and was inwardly circumcised, was still not called a Jew in any sense, but a proselyte.

Another Bible passage used by those who believe that the Church has replaced Israel is Romans11:13-29. (Emphasis mine throughout)

13 For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, 14 if by any means I may provoke to jealousy those who are my flesh and save some of them. 15 For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?16 For if the first-fruit is holy, the lump is also holy; and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 17 And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them became a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18 do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you.19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. 22 Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off. 23 And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. 24 For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, who are natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree? 25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; 27 For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” 28 Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. 29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Many mistakingly believe that the olive tree represents physical Israel and that the believing Gentiles are the wild olive branches that are grafted into Israel on the basis of their faith and are therefore Spiritual Jews; and that the Church is now Spiritual Israel—the New Israel.

The key question we need to answer is, does the tree really represent Israel?

Let us consider:

  1. Paul is speaking to Gentiles. (verse 13)
  2. He is speaking about literal Israel. (verses 15, 25-27)
  3. He identifies his Gentile audience as being cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and being grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree. (verse 24)
  4. Believing Jews (verse 17) and believing Gentiles (verse 20) are presently attached to the olive tree and are partakers with believing Jews. *Notice that Paul says that SOME Jewish branches were broken off, but not all.

If the olive tree represents physical Israel as many believe, Israel does not belong to Israel; Israel belongs to God. “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”(Deuteronomy 7:6) And if the wild branches grafted in represent Gentile believers who are now Spiritual Jews, as some take it, Gentile believers do not belong to Israel; believers belong to God. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Remember all the branches represent Jews and Gentiles who were either cut off or grafted into the root. Since the olive tree (the root) is not physical Israel in any sense, then the believing Gentiles grafted into the olive tree cannot be said on the basis of this passage or any other, that they have been added to Israel in any sense, or that they are now Spiritual Jews that have replaced Israel. Not only can the tree not be Israel, it cannot be Messiah, the Gospel, or the Church either. Because Israel does not own any of them either.

What, then, is the cultivated olive tree?
I believe that the cultivated olive tree represents a place of peace and blessing, providing nourishment to those who are attached to it—something that can be given to believing Jews and Gentiles alike. What else can be derived from the passage without contradicting any Bible fact except that the cultivated olive tree is the place of spiritual blessing of which both Jewish and Gentile believers are partaker of on the basis of their faith, (Ephesians 3:6) and that is rooted in the unconditional covenants that God has made with Israel?

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