It was 1970 and I was twenty three. I had just entered Dallas Baptist University as a religion major. I had been following Jesus as my Messiah and Lord for about a year and was anxious to start Bible College and pursue a path to seminary for ministry training. I couldn’t wait to learn more of the Bible and gain a deeper knowledge of God’s dealings with and promises for the people of Israel.
Boy was I surprised! I enrolled in one theology class and an additional seminar in biblical interpretation (aka hermeneutics). As I soon discovered my professors held to a theological system called “amillennialism.” They believed the messianic kingdom promised by the Hebrew prophets to Israel had arrived on earth and was here in its fullest form in the Church. I couldn’t believe my ears.
I raised my hand in my hermeneutics class, “Professor, have you been to downtown Dallas lately? The last time I was there I observed strip clubs and several ‘ladies of the night’ out on the streets selling their talents. And not only that, according to the Dallas Morning News, there are a rash of homicides in Dallas. Isn’t it also true that this is the city in which President John F. Kennedy was assassinated? I am not buying your teaching that the kingdom of God is here on earth right now especially in Dallas. Furthermore, several churches in downtown Dallas are still practicing racial segregation. Where is the kingdom of God? Certainly not in the church and not here in Big ‘D’!”
My professor was shocked by my outspokenness. Perhaps he’s never met a Jewish person who was courageous enough to challenge his beliefs.
The professor continued to argue the kingdom of God is realized in its fullest in the church. I couldn’t keep my mouth shut, “Do you mean to tell me that churches where racial segregation is still practiced here in Texas and where antisemitism still exists is a manifestation of God’s promised kingdom? According to Revelation 20:2 the devil is supposed to be thrown into a pit and bound for a thousand years with the result that justice and righteousness will rule the earth under the rule of the Messiah. Either the thousand years are up and Satan is on the loose or he’s a Houdini and escaped his shackles. I still don’t get it. Maybe the kingdom of God is here, but God forgot to include Dallas.”
I was getting upset. These Christians were living in a dream world if they thought we were living in the kingdom of God on earth as described in the fourth chapter of prophet Micah:
In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.
I boldly declared, “If we are in the kingdom of God right now, then where are the promised fulfilled to Israel? Only three years ago the Six Day War was fought in the holy land, and Israel is still surrounded by her enemies. Where are God’s promises to the Jewish people to have the Messiah ruling His kingdom from a throne in Jerusalem? Professor, you are ignoring the prophetic message that Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel and all the Hebrew prophets uttered to the Jewish people throughout the centuries.”
With even more boldness [or chutzpah) my Bible teacher said, "The church is Israel, Louis. Christians are the true seed of Abraham. The church has replaced Israel as God's chosen people. God is finished with Israel as a nation and only works with them on an individual basis regarding personal salvation. He will offer Israel a chance to accept Jesus when He returns. The Lord does not deal with Israel as a nation anymore. We as Christians are the true Jews. We are spiritual Jews."
I was ready to plotz. I was not about to let my professor's last statement go unanswered, "You're telling me you're Jewish. You're about as Jewish as a ham sandwich on Wonder bread with mayonnaise. With all due respect professor, but you're making God out to be a liar. He promised Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 to make him a great nation, to give him the land of Israel and to bless the world through him as the father of many nations as described in Micah 4:1-4. Now you're telling me Jews are no longer Jews, but Christians are the true Jews. God lied to Abraham and everyone else in the Bible. The word church or ekklesia is not even in the Jewish Bible. Is this what Christianity teaches . . . that God pulled off a bait-and-switch regarding His promises to Israel?That theology class was not the end for me. It was the launch of my continued study of replacement theology. For the next four years of Bible college I wrote papers and researched this belief that the "Church has replaced Israel" .
For over forty years I have been faced with the doctrine of replacement theology in many forms. Most recently, replacement theology was boldly taught at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference at Bethlehem Bible College. Though the conference claims its purpose is to inform Christians about the dilemma of Palestinian Christians and to promote social justice for these brothers in Christ, some of the speakers had another agenda: to propagate the anti-Israel doctrine of replacement theology.
One of the speakers at the CATC2012 coonference was Gary Burge, New Testament professor at Wheaton College. He spoke to hundreds of evangelicals who attended this conference and in his talk entitled, "Theology of Land in the New Testament," Burge said “I am hungry for Christians who come to this land and promote the values of Jesus … I can recognize the political legitimacy of Israel, while not seeing it as a spiritual fulfillment of prophecy.”
Burge does not want to be known as a replacement theologian as he stated in a debate with Michael Rydelnik, the head of the Jewish studies program at Moody Bible College. Yet when one reads Burge's books or listens to his lectures, 90% of the theology that comes out of his mouth can be characterized as replacement theology.
Since I've been studying this system for over forty years, I feel qualified to recognize a replacement theologian regardless of the nuances and revisionism being applied. A replacement theologian is defined as a person who believes Christians are the true receipients of the promises given to Israel and have therefore replaced Israel as God's chosen people. As Burge says over and over in his CATC2012 lecture, "Christians are the true chldren of Abraham," not those who claim to be connected to Abraham by mere ethnicity or DNA.
I will discuss the errors in Burge's theology in these blogs by examining the passages the Wheaton professor refers to as part of his proof-texting to support his rejection of Christian Zionism [which Burge and others at the CATC2012 conference believes provides theological justfication for the oppression of Palestinians.]
In his lecture at CATC2012 Burge referred to several New Testament passages to support his thesis Christians are the true seed of Abraham. To Burge, “Faith not DNA makes one a seed of Abraham.”
One of the main passages Burge uses, like so many other replacement theologians. is Galatians 3:6-9. This passage is used to support the belief a gentile who accepts Jesus is now is part of a spiritual Israel. Here is the passage for your reading:
So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”[b] 9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Galatians 3:6-9 speaks of the method by which Abraham was declared righteous by God
“Abraham believed God”, says Paul. The act of faith in the person of God as His shield as expressed by Abraham was accredited to Him by the Lord as righteousness. Righteous is not based on any deed of Abraham. Rather, it is based on the trust and confidence Abraham has in the Lord.
Genesis 15:1-5 provides us the detailed narrative and context regarding the interchange between God and Abraham in which the patriarch was declared righteous:
After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward.”
But Abram said, “Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”
Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
God came to Abraham and declared Himself to be a shield to the patriarch. Yet God’s promised presence was not sufficient for the patriarch. Abraham immediately felt he needed to give or do something to help the Lord to enable God to fulfill the covenant God made with him in Genesis 12:1-2:
The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
Look at the text In Genesis 15 once more, “What can You [Lord] give me since I remain childless.”
To Abraham he had no child who could inherit the promises contained in the Abrahamic Covenant which included the land of Israel and a great physical nation that would come forth from Abraham. Who would receive and pass on the promises God made to Abraham since the fulfillment of the promise is solely dependent on having a physical descendant not spiritual followers of the Lord.
The Lord responded to Abraham and told him He will give him a son – not a spiritual heir or a spiritual people such as the Church. The Lord said He would give him “a son who is your own flesh and blood” to be his heir. In fact, the number of Abraham’s offspring will be like the innumerable stars of the sky.
I ask my readers where does it say in the text that God meant that “the SPIRITUAL seed of Abraham” would be sufficient to fulfill these promises? God makes it clear He is speaking about flesh and blood descendants as a necessity to fulfill the commitment the Lord makes to the patriarch.
In no way am I ruling out the importance of the spiritual seed of Abraham as found in the New Testament. However, we must read what it says in the Jewish Scriptures before we go snorkeling in the New Testament digging out passages to help us interpret the Old Testament. Burge is guilty of ignoring the original context of the promises made to Abraham, and how Abraham himself [not Gary Burge] understood these promises to be fulfilled literally.
In Abraham’s willingness to believe God will bring him a physical heir, God was pleased with the patriarch’s trust and declared him to be justified with the Lord.
With this last statement from Genesis 15:6 Paul picks up the theme of how Abraham was declared to be righteous – by faith or confidence in the person of God and in what He has promised He would do.
Paul says nothing about the rest of the Abrahamic Covenant in this passage. For Burge to even hint that the “spiritual seed of Abraham” or Christians inherit all the Abrahamic blessings promised to the physical seed of Abraham is to ignore the context and narrative in Genesis 15:1-6. Like many New Testamnt theologians, when trying to interpret the Old Testament in light of the New Covenant they reveal a weakness for understanding the original context of the Jewish Scriptures.
Galatians 3:6-9 teaches those who trust in the Lord are just like Abraham
Galatians 3:7 reads, “Know therefore that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” In the context of the argument presented by Paul in Galatians 3, Paul is making it clear gentile Christians experience the blessings of Abraham by faith. That is the only point Paul is making.
But what do the blessings of Abraham refer to? This is the KEY question. Do they refer to the land of Israel? Do they refer to the expansion of the nation composed of the children of Abraham? Not in this context or any other New Testament passage.
Nowhere in the New Testament can any replacement theologian find support to maintain the belief that God has given Gentile Christians the land of Israel or that they will be like the sand of the seashore like He spoke to Abraham in the Book of Genesis.
These two aspects of the Abrahamic Covenant are not repeated in the New Testament in relation to Christians. The best the replacement theologian can do is to spiritualize these promises as Burge does in his CATC2012 lecture.
Burge tries to apply the land promise to Gentile Christians and falls flat on his face. He quote from the beatitudes (Matthew 5:5) where Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inheritant the earth.” Burge claims “earth” refers to the “land” and then adds, “the holy land.” Is this evangelcial saying the holy land of Israel belogns to all Gentile and Jewish followers of Jesus right now? Is He claiming the Christian will inherit the land of Israel in the messianic kingdom?
The only particulars of the Abraamic covenant repeated in the New Testament have to do with the blessings of Abraham being spread throughout all the earth as stated in Genesis 12:3:
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you
This solely refers to spiritual blessings that come to the peoples of the earth through Abraham, which Paul tells us has come through the one seed of Abraham- the Messiah Yeshua. Through Him [Jesus] all the nations of the earth are blessed with the spiritual gift of salvation not the land of Israel or the propagation of the nation of Israel.
All the prophetic passages that refer to any nation inheriting the land of Isael in the Messiah’s kingdom is the nation of Israel alone. Yet in the messianic kingdom all the nations of the earth come to the land of Israel to be blessed by the Messiah as seen, for example, in Zechariah 14:16:
Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Festival of Tabernacles.
Galatians 3:6-9 recognizes God would save Gentiles not by works but by faith
If one stands back and looks at the context of this passage, the reader is struck with the fact the context has to do with the question whether salvation is by works or by grace through faith (Galatian 2;15-16; 3:3, 5). Burge ignores the argument of the book of Galatians. The letter is written to correct the false view that salvation and all the spiritual blessings of God are given by works.
Paul concludes in the verses we are looking at that Abraham was declared to be rightoeus based on faith and not on that of works. The true children of Arbaham in the spiritual sense are those who are declared to be righteous on the same basis as Abraham – faith and not works. Gentile Christians are children of Abraam because they are declared righteous by God the same way Abraham was – by faith. This passage has nothing to do with any transformation of ethnic identity.
Just because gentiles are the seed of Abraham, that does not make them members of the nation of Israel. Ishmael was the descendant of Abraham -a seed of Abraham by birth. But Ishmael was not a member of the nation of Israel. In the physcial realm not all the children of Abraham are Jewish. So a gentile can be a child of Abraham on the spiritual level but that does not make that person a spiritual Jew. What is true on the physical level is true on the spiritual one. It would be just as valid for me to say gentiles as the seed of Abraham are spirtual Arabs.
If one follows the seed line of Abraham, the Bible student notices Abraham had two sons: Isaac and Ishmael. God made it clear in Genesis 21 that His promises were to be passed down to Abraham and continued through the line of Isaac and not Ishmael.
After Isaac the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant was given to Jacob and then to his twelve sons. If one wants to claim to be a spiritual Jew and if Paul wanted to teach that doctrine, he would have called Gentles who accept Jesus “children of Jacob” not merely”the children of Abraham.” By including Jacob, Paul would have made it clear that Gentiles are now spiritual descendants of Isaac, Jacob and the twelve tribes. Paul stops with Abraham only because of the similarity of the path of faith to be declared righteous.
Galatians 3:6-9 recognizes God would bless gentiles with Abraham
Of course, Gentile Christians are blessed with Abraham. Didn’t God tell Abraham in Genesis 12:2 that He would make His name great? Listen to the Word of God:
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
Burge proves absolutely nothing in his lectures regarding the view that Christians are the true Israel. All he can say is Gentile and Jewish Christisn are spiritual descendants of Israel because we come to God the same way Abraham came to faith. In that act of faith alone we are related to Abraham.
I close with Romans 15:27 which Paul wrote in reference to a monetary gift that was given from Christians in Macedonia and Achia to poor Jewish believers in Jerusalem.
Paul writes, “They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.” Paul had a perfect opportnity here to declare Gentiles “as the true seed of Abraham” or the new Israel, but instead Paul maintains the distinction between Gentiles and Jewish believers. He is very clear that Gentile Christians “share in the spiritual blessings of the Jews” but do not become Jews or spiritual Israel. Paul does not say the gentile Christian is now given all the blessings found in the Abrahamic covenant which includes the holy land and the expansion of the Jewish nation but only the “spiritual blessings.” I cannot make this point any more clear.
What are those spiritual blessings Paul refers to? Answer: the blessing of salvation and justfication before God by faith like Abraham. In light of progressive revelation, we now know that our faith in placed in the finished work of Israel’s Messiah and the Light of the World – our Lord Jesus.