Is “replacement theology” becoming the newest fad among Christians? Lately I run across more and more Christians who claim the Church has replaced Israel as God’s people. The sad thing is that most of them don’t know why they believe what they claim. As I dig deeper speaking with these individuals, they all share the same defect – they are sadly deficient in their knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures.
For those who teach Israel has been replaced by the Church, Romans 9:6 is an essential verse in their arsenal. On the surface, the verse can be confusing. The verse reads, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” It’s like saying, “Not all players wearing a LA Dodger uniform on the field at Dodger Stadium and sitting in the dugout are really Dodgers.”
The replacement theologian would say, “Not all Jewish people who are wearing the Jewish uniform and sitting in the Jewish dugout are really members of the team. In fact, the real Jews consist of members of the Church who have placed their faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah.”
Replacement theology can be very confusing. If you follow their line of thinking, in some passages “Israel is the Church” and in other texts, “Israel is the Jewish nation.” Israel keeps switching leagues. Sometimes they are in the National League; then at other times they are in the American League. I don’t know who to root for because I don’t know who is who.
The Disaster of Believing the Church has Replaced Israel
The usage of Romans 9:6 in the hands of replacement theologians makes it seem that because the Jewish nation did not accept Jesus, it shows they are not “true Jews.” The true Jew is one who believes in Jesus – and even Gentiles fit under that category. In fact, to replacement theologians the true Israel is the Body of Christ, the Church.
The biggest problem is the categorization of “true Jews” in contrast to “false Jews.” Where does Paul make this kind of distinctive? For many who believe the Church has replaced Israel, Romans 9:6 is the verse they use to make their quantum leap to state, “the gentiles who did accept the Messiah of the Jews, showed they are ‘true Jews’ and members of the ‘true Israel’ also known as the Church.
Once the pro-Palestinian evangelicals get a hold of this theology, they use it to argue the Israel now living in the state of Israel is not the Israel of the Bible. Instead, modern Israel is a secular state created by ardent Zionists and God has nothing to do with the establishment of Israel. Why would God support a nation that has rejected the Jewish Messiah and give them their own homeland if they are out of His will by rejecting Jesus?
You can see that replacement theology in the hands of those who are already anti-Israel becomes a dangerous theological and political weapon.
Yet one is going to have to search high and low among the text of Romans 9 to find the replacement theological argument being taught. Nowhere in Romans 9-11 does Paul say, “Gentiles who accept Jesus are the ‘true Jews’ or the ‘true Israel.'” There is not even a hint in Romans 9-11 that the Church has replaced Israel.
I’ve divided this article into two parts since the issue is so important. This passage raises so many issues that must be dealt with and clarified. I find that the majority of Christians are very confused when it comes to God’s plan for Israel and many followers of Jesus have been exposed to replacement theology unknowingly.
The Starting Lineup for Understanding Romans 9:6
In baseball, the manger of each of the opposing teams must hand the umpire the starting lineup for the game prior to the first pitch. By using the scorecard, the umpire knows who is coming to bat on each team and what positions each player will be stationed at. If an umpire at a NY Yankee game views the starting lineup and see shortstop Derek Jeter playing center field, he’ll call manager Joe Girardi over to ask him if he made an error listing Jeter in the outfield.
In looking at Israel in the New Testament, we have been given the starting line up through reading the Jewish Scriptures. Israel is God’s elect nation. We read in Romans 11:28-29, “but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” The New Testament view is that Israel is still God’s elect nation. Their spot in God’s lineup cannot be changed. Regardless of their batting performance or fielding skills, they will not be removed from the Lord’s team even if He benches the nation for several innings.
Next, we learn that God does not change names in his start lineup. Can you imagine if Derek Jeter is batting third, and up comes Robinson Cano to bat? The umpire will call the manager over and ask, “What’s going on, Joe? You’ve penciled in Jeter for the third spot in the batting order, and Cano is on deck.” What if Girardi says, “Well, we’ve decided that Cano is the “new Jeter.” Jeter is in a slump lately so we’ve given Cano Jeter’s number and name. You’ll get used to it.”
This is what the replacement theologian wants us to believe.
In Romans 10:1 Paul prays, “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” The Apostle recognizes that the nation of Israel needs to accept Jesus as their Messiah and accept His offer of redemption. But according to the replacement theologian Paul is really praying for the church. That’s impossible. The church is composed only of people who are saved; so why would Paul pray for the church, the “new Israel” to be saved? The same question is raised in Romans 11:26 where Paul promises, “And in this way all Israel will be saved . . . ”
Now if the Church is the “new Israel” then the reader of the Bible is forced to interpret “Israel” in one passage as referring to the nation of Jewish people and in another passage the word “Israel” would point to “Gentiles and Jews who accept Jesus” and comprise the church. The adherent of this confusing viewpoint is forced to perform all kinds of exegetical acrobats to prove his point.
Furthermore, when one reads the Book of Acts, both Peter and Paul keep referring to their fellow Jewish people as “Israelites” and admonishes them to accept Jesus. But if the Church is the “new Israel” calling “Israelites” to repentance is redundant.
In Acts 2:22 Paul calls for his hearers to repent and accept Jesus. Listen to how he addresses them, “his fellow Israelites.” Is he speaking to Jewish people or Church people? Acts 2:29 presents the same dilemma. In Acts 3:12 Peter speaks to his “fellow Jewish countrymen”. But if the Israel is now the Church, why would he call unbelieving Jewish people, “fellow Israelites”?
I can go on and on quoting one passage after another to demonstrate the New Testament always maintains a distinctive between Israel and the Church. The disciples were not confused on this issue, but Christians today are both dazed and confused when it comes to defining Israel and the Body of Christ.
If one is honest with the New Testament text, Israel always remains the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who are distinct from the “Church”, the body of believers (consisting of both Jews and Gentiles) who have chosen to follow Jesus as Lord and Redeemer. Israel is a national body of people and the Church is a spiritual body of people.
Dissecting an Overview of Romans 9
The focus of Romans 9 is election, There are two elections that comes into play in this chapter.
On one hand, we have the national election of Israel that started with Abraham and then extended to Isaac, Jacob and his sons and the entire nation. In Romans 9:4 Paul writes that God’s covenants belong to the people of Israel. One of those covenants is the the pact He made with Abraham in which the nation is chosen by God. In Romans 9:4 Paul also adds that to israel belongs “adoption to sonship.” Regardless of their relationship to Jesus, the God of Abraham still considers His nation as His children.
Secondly, Romans 9 speaks in depth about individual election, which is an “election unto salvation.” The “election unto salvation” has to do with a person’s choice to accept Jesus as Lord and Redeemer.
Therefore, we have a national election , which is an election to the outward blessings given to the nation as seen in Romans 9:4-5. Israel is the only nation that has been the object of a national election. Then we have the individual election unto redemption in Messiah which knows no national boundaries.
However, there is is a further difference between the two elections. In the national election, it is possible for the unbelieving to partake of the blessings of the national election. The righteous within Israel can also partake of the judgment that falls on the wicked within the nation as in the Babylonian Captivity. Yet no one loses membership in the nation and none of the covenants are revoked by the Lord.
In Romans 9:3-5 Paul speaks of the election to privilege, but within national Israel there is is “an individual election within a national election.” In summary, this is what Paul means, “Not all Israel is Israel.” Another way of saying this is that “not all members of the nation of Israel partake in the individual election to salvation.” Membership in the nation of Israel is by birth but individual election to salvation is by choice.”
Here we see Paul’s heartbreak in Romans 9:1-4a, ” I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel.”
Then he lists the privileges given to the nation that are intended to provide the outward blessing to bring the Israelites to an inward faith in the Messiah. This is why Paul begins with his disheartening cry over the unsaved status of Paul’s fellow Jewish kinsmen.