by Richard Harvey | August 27 2021
The Torah states that God made an eternal covenant with the Jewish people. Yet maybe you are a Christian and have heard that God is finished with the Jewish people and that the Christian church is now the “new Israel.” If you’re Jewish, maybe you’ve heard that some Christians believe your covenant with God is no longer valid. Where did these claims come from?
Early church leaders such as Irenaeus, Augustine, and Athanasius perpetuated faulty teaching such as:
These views are called “replacement theology” or “supersessionism” (Latin super-sedere: to sit above or in the position of someone else). They were (and are) frequently used to persecute the Jewish people. Figures such as John Chrysostom and Martin Luther taught that Christians should have nothing to do with Jewish people unless they converted and renounced their Jewish identity. Our loss of and exile from the land of Israel was seen as an ongoing punishment for crucifying Jesus and a testimony to our rejection by God. Such teaching is closely linked to historic and present-day antisemitism. Jews for Jesus strongly repudiates such views, which sadly, are still prevalent today.
A covenant is a solemn and binding agreement which leads to a mutually committed and beneficial relationship between the covenant partners, one often superior in power to the other.
The Scriptures contain hundreds of references to God’s enduring love for His people Israel, His eternal and un-cancelled covenant with them, and His commitment to the restoration of the Jewish people. But supersessionists argue that the Jewish people no longer represent the people of God and that the promises made to Israel physically in the Hebrew Bible are now only to be interpreted spiritually and metaphorically as applying to the Christian church. Passages like Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Greek”), Galatians 6:16 (“the Israel of God”), and Romans 9:6 (“Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel”) are often taken out of context and interpreted to spiritualize and universalize God’s irrevocable gifts and calling of Israel (Romans 9:4, 11:29) while denying the particular election of the Jewish people.
We must correct this deeply rooted misunderstanding of God’s purposes for the Jewish people. While it is true that all believers are now grafted into the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12), this does not mean that God has abandoned, rejected, or replaced His people Israel, or that His covenant promises have been cancelled or transferred to another.
Throughout both the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament, we find God’s ongoing faithfulness to the Jewish people and His covenant with us, even when we are unfaithful. While the covenant is renewed and re-affirmed at key points in the history of Israel, we should not see one part as cancelling out previous parts, but rather, see the many statements of God’s faithfulness to Israel as one covenant, progressively revealed and linked together, and given full expression in the New Covenant. A few key passages are:
It’s not just the meaning of individual passages that matter, but the way they are interpreted and combined to form an overall pattern to describe God’s ongoing dealings with Israel and the nations.
A canonical narrative is an interpretive instrument that provides a framework for reading the Christian Bible as a theological and narrative unity.1
The unconditional covenant God makes with Abraham through which He calls Israel to be His people continues today and is not replaced by the coming of Messiah. Rather, it awaits complete fulfillment in his return with the restoration of Israel, the nations, and all creation in the kingdom of God. The return of Yeshua to establish his prophesied purposes will be the ultimate demonstration of God’s faithfulness to Israel.
1. R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1996), 14.