Is Supersessionism Biblical?

HomeChristianity and the BibleIs Supersessionism Biblical?

Supersessionism is the idea that the old covenant has been replaced – superseded – by the new covenant. By itself, this idea is entirely biblical. However: some other ideas are often lumped together with supersessionism, so we need to examine each idea separately.

Supersessionism

To supersede is to replace one thing with another thing. This idea, in context, is that the old covenant has been replaced by the new covenant. To be more specific, the Mosaic covenant – the agreement that God made with the ancient Israelites after rescuing them from slavery in Egypt – has been replaced by the new covenant that Jesus instituted by His death and resurrection. This idea is entirely biblical. Without question, the clear teaching of the New Testament is that the old covenant – which only applied to ancient Israel and foreigners who chose to live in the promised land – is no longer valid. It has been replaced by the new covenant. Moses, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel wrote about a new covenant, and observant Jews looked ahead to the time when God would make that change.

At the last supper, Jesus said, This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. Keep in mind that Jesus was talking to His disciples, all of whom were observant Jews living in the promised land.

In Hebrews 8:6-7 we see clearly the idea that the new covenant supersedes the old: …the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs [the Jewish high priests] as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another.

The biblical idea that the new covenant has replaced the old is how we know the following:

… and more. The unique way that God interacted with ancient Israel no longer applies to Israel. The old covenant has been replaced by the new, and Gentiles have been included. That’s everybody.

Replacement Theology

An idea commonly associated with supersessionism is replacement theology. It’s the idea that the church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people… that we have ‘superseded’ them. This idea is entirely unbiblical. Christians have not replaced Israel. We have been grafted in. The image is of a fruit tree: a gardener can attach to a fruit tree the branch of another tree, and it can live and grow. It doesn’t replace the original tree, and it doesn’t become a different kind of branch. They have simply been joined together. Israel is the tree, and Christians have been joined with them in God’s plan of salvation. Jew and Gentile alike are both under the new covenant.

The apostle Paul explains this in Romans 11. You should read the whole chapter.

You might also read Ephesians 2:14-18. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Christians have not replaced Israel as God’s chosen people, nor has the church become ‘true Israel.’ We have joined them, but we have not become them… and we are all participants in the new covenant.


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7 responses to “Is Supersessionism Biblical?”

  1. Jeannette says:

    Thank you for explaining this so clearly. I always had the (rather vague) idea that the two things were different words for the same thing!

  2. PJ Moore says:

    Recently, Ben Shapiro, an observant Jew, asked Bishop Barron if he, Ben, should remain as he is, or become a Christian. How would you have answered that? And what is Ben’s eternal fate if he remains a follower of the Mosaic law, in the honest belief that this is God’s will for him?

    • Tony says:

      PJ:

      A good question! Thanks for asking.

      We should look at the question logically. If Judaism, and the old covenant, were enough… well, then Jesus didn’t need to come. If Judaism, as practiced in Jesus’ day, were sufficient to accomplish God’s plan, they wouldn’t actually need a Messiah. They could just go on doing what they had done for centuries, and there would be no Christianity. No cross, no resurrection, nothing. The law wouldn’t need to be fulfilled by the Anointed One because the law would be considered sufficient.

      BUT: Jesus is the promised Messiah. Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenant promises made to Israel. He instituted the new covenant we read about in Jeremiah. Millions of sincere, God-fearing Jews who died before Jesus was born looked ahead to the fulfillment of the prophecies about the Messiah. Now, Jews would argue that Jesus isn’t the Messiah… but observant Jews would never tell you that Judaism, as it is, could be permanent, let alone sufficient. They’re waiting for the day when God keeps His promises, when God makes all things new, as He told Isaiah He would.

      I have great respect for Ben Shapiro. He works hard, studies hard, thinks well, and speaks clearly. We can all learn some valuable lessons from his example. If he and I were having lunch, and if the discussion turned to spiritual things, I would want to know whether he has considered the evidence that Jesus is the Messiah that he’s waiting for.

      As for his eternal fate, that’s in God’s hands. I’m not Ben’s judge… but we can go to Acts 2 for some basic information. In that passage, Peter was speaking to observant Jews like Ben:

      “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

      I would confidently put Ben into this scenario. My answer to him would be the same as Peter’s, in the hope that Ben would also be added to our number.

      What would you say, PJ?

      • PJ Moore says:

        I am still a little baffled. I know what to say to non-Christians and atheists, I quote John 14:6, where Jesus says that no one comes to the Father except through Him. But when it comes to Jews, and particularly to observant ones, they seem to me to be already close to the Father. In Romans 11, Paul says that they are beloved (by God, I assume) for the sake of the fathers, and that because the fathers, the root, were holy, so are the branches. (Romans 11:28b, 11:16b). And Paul also says that “all Israel will be saved”, v.26, and that the “gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” v.29. And vv. 7-10 seem to me to say that it is God’s plan that most of the Jews do not recognize the Messiah because God has made them temporarily blind, thus not by their own choice, so I don’t see that they should receive eternal punishment.
        Anyway, I am no theologian, so I may be off base here. I was tremendously struck by Paul’s statement in Romans 9:3, when he says that he would be willing to lose his own salvation ( “be accursed from Christ”, as the KJV has it) if it would save his people, the Jews. That must be one of the most remarkable statements in the Bible!

        • Tony says:

          PJ:

          You’re right: God loves the Jews. There’s no question that some of what we find in the New Testament about Israel’s future can be confusing… and I can’t claim to have understood all of it. I’m not sure that anybody other than God Himself understands all of it. I do like your thought about responsibility. If God has made individuals blind to the truth, how can He hold them morally accountable for not believing it? Just judgment can only occur when someone knows what they should do. I feel the same way, my friend. However: there’s a principle of biblical interpretation that will certainly help here:

          Use the clear verses to understand the unclear verses.

          Some like to pretend that all of the verses in the Bible are equally clear. That’s just nonsense, of course. There are some passages, and some concepts, that God has not fully explained… or that we modern non-Jews can’t understand in the way that first-century Jews would. When we read a passage that’s hard to understand, we need to use the passages we DO understand to help us. An easy example: some are confused about whether works play a part in our being saved. On one hand, Ephesians 2:8-9 is a clear statement:

          For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.

          … but then we read James 2:14 and wonder:

          What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?

          How do we reconcile two passages that appear to contradict each other? We need to make sure that we’re getting our doctrine from clear passages, and not making theology from unclear passages. So, in this case, what’s clear and what’s unclear?

          UNCLEAR:

          • Does being beloved by God equate to being saved?
          • Does being holy equate to being saved?
          • Does being called equate to being saved?
          • Does in this way all Israel will be saved mean that all Israel will be saved?
          • Do the Romans 11 quotes from Isaiah and Psalms mean that Jews are not responsible for rejecting the Messiah?

          CLEAR:

          • Jesus came for the sick.
          • Jesus came first for the Jews.
          • Jesus condemned people for not recognizing the signs that prove He’s the Messiah.
          • Peter preached to Jews that they needed to be saved.
          • Paul, in Romans, says that Jews need to be saved.

          I want to be clear: in no sense am I suggesting that we believe one passage more than another. They’re all 100% true, of course. The question is how well we understand each passage, and the answer is that we know some things with more certainty than we know others. We know with 100% certainty that Jews need individual salvation, just as Gentiles do. An entire book of the Bible was written for exactly that reason! Look at what John 20:30-31 says:

          Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

          John’s gospel was specifically and purposefully written to lay out seven major signs that Jesus is the long-awaited Jewish Messiah. As we read through the book, we see that John has actually labeled certain events as signs, like the feeding of the 5000 (6:14). When we talk about things that are clear, as opposed to unclear, this is a great example: John wrote the whole book so that people who BELIEVE THAT JESUS IS THE MESSIAH could have eternal life. If the Jews were fine as they were, John’s gospel wouldn’t exist… because the Jews wouldn’t need to see the signs and believe. That’s clear.

          Here’s a very cool video. I hope that by watching it you can see that the Jews need to be saved, and that – as Jesus and Peter and John point out – they can’t be saved while they’re ignoring, or denying, the signs. I know this probably hasn’t answered all of your questions, PJ. I’m only trying to give you a head-start on the rest of your study. The Jews need to know that God’s promises are fulfilled in Jesus. John and you and I want them to have eternal life, and they will not unless they have the Son:

          No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. 1 John 2:23

          • PJ Moore says:

            Thanks , Tony, for giving me much food for study. I think it was Ben Shapiro who popularized the phrase “ facts don’t care about your feelings”. I have to face it, my feelings want the Jews to be saved as Jews, but the plain facts are that the letter to the Romans is by far the most difficult book of the NT for me to understand, and there are large chunks of it that I have grappled with, and still don’t ‘get’! So I appreciate you directing me to other parts of the Bible to help me understand Romans.
            One more question, somewhat related to Supersessionism – I used to find Romans 10:13 very comforting (“For whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”), because it seemed to cut across denominations, since anyone who trusted in Jesus as Lord could be saved. Then I noticed that Paul was probably doing a straight quote from Joel 3:32, except the Hebrew says “Yahweh” where the Greek of Romans uses the title “kyrios”. Was I wrong in thinking that Paul was referring to Jesus, but rather to the Father, as in Joel? Or is this part of the change from the old to the new covenant?

          • Tony says:

            Sorry for the delay, PJ.

            Like you, I want the Jews to be saved. Like you, the Jews can only be saved by believing what God has said… and that includes what He has said about Jesus.

            You’re right: Romans 10:13 applies to everyone, regardless of where they go to church. The whole gospel is that way. We tend to add stuff, or to ignore stuff, but let’s be honest: if everybody was living for Jesus, doing what He taught, we wouldn’t be having a whole bunch of theological arguments. We’d be too busy sharing the gospel and loving our neighbors and praying together. I’m not saying denominations are necessarily bad, but we can be distracted from following Jesus when we’re too attached to such things.

            As for Yehovah (Yahweh) and kyrios, it’s all about context. Paul is making a point, and he’s using the Old Testament to do it. Notice that verse 11 is also a quote, from Isaiah 28:16. He’s saying that Jesus is the cornerstone from Isaiah, which is something Peter and John said to the Sanhedrin in Acts 4. If you believe what God says, you must also believe the One he sent.

            You’re probably familiar with the doctrine of the trinity. For Christians, calling on God and calling on Jesus are essentially the same. Trusting what the Father said and trusting what the Son said are identical, since they’re both God (along with the Holy Spirit). We wouldn’t say that people should call on ONLY the Father, or ONLY the Son. We should call on God, who will save. If you’re not that familiar with the trinity, let me know.

            Paul refers to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as God throughout his writings, so we shouldn’t see this as Jesus replacing Yahweh. Where we once only knew about “God,” we now see that He has revealed Himself in greater detail. Jesus is as much God as the Father and Spirit are, but Joel didn’t fully understand that yet.

            Make sense?

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