MembersHow the Church Became Israel: The History of Replacement Theology

In Part 3 of our look at “The Mystery of the Olive Tree,” we learn how the Church replaced Israel.

By David Lazarus | | Topics: Mystery of the Olive Tree
Replacement Theology has cut the Church off from its roots.
Photo: Doron Horowitz/Flash90

In this series we will publish extracts from a new book by Johannes Fichtenbauer, an Archdeacon and part of the Charismatic Renewal of the Catholic Church.

The Jews separate themselves from the Nazarenes 

In the year 66 AD, about 40 years after the death of Jesus, the Jews revolted against the Roman occupation, unleashing a long and bloody war. Under the command of Titus, the Romans invaded, besieged the city of Jerusalem and then crushed the rebellion in 70 AD and, in doing so, destroyed the Temple. This was in fulfilment of the prophecies of Jesus in Matthew 24 and Luke 21. 

Several decades later, around the year 132 AD, the Jews began a second uprising. A man called Bar Kokhba led the rebellion.  He presented himself before the Jews as the promised Messiah claiming he had been appointed by God to free Judea from Roman oppression. However, the Roman soldiers returned, this time under Emperor Hadrian, and again devastated the entire city of Jerusalem. They expelled the Jews from the city and large parts of Eretz Israel. The Romans uprooted the Jews from the land and left them stateless. Giving a new name to the Land – Palestine (‘land of the Philistines’) – they declared the time of the Jews was over.

As a result of these wars, the Jews began to hate the Romans and their collaborators. And, vice versa, the Romans hated the Jews and wanted to crush this “small tribe” completely. For Jews who believed in Jesus, or Messianic Jews, the situation was even worse as they were in the crossfire. Both parties – the Jews and Romans – hated them. The Jewish side blamed the Messianic Jews for the defeat by the Romans. The Messianic Jews had refused to fight against Rome convinced that this rebellion was not ordered by God but was God’s judgment against the Jewish people for their unbelief.  As a result, nationalistic Jews slaughtered many Messianic Jews.

Around the year 92 A.D, after the destruction of the Temple, a synod was held in Yavne, a city near Jaffa (now part of Tel Aviv) on the Mediterranean Sea. This synod brought together most of the leading Pharisaic rabbis of the time, both from Israel and the Diaspora. The synod ended with a declaration that the Messianic Jews, called “The Nazarenes,” would be removed from the people of Israel. From that time onward, this became the rule. If a Jew believes that Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah, he automatically ceases to be Jewish. This principle prevails until this day. If someone with Jewish blood wants to return to the Nation of Israel, the immigration authorities will always ask questions about their faith. If the applicant believes in Buddhism or even declares himself an atheist, this will not be a problem. But if the applicant confesses his faith in Jesus Christ, he will be prevented from entering the state of Israel as a Jewish citizen. With this exclusion from the Jewish people, the Messianic Jews have lost their homeland, their nationality, and their birthright to be regarded as part of the Jewish people.


The First Division in the Church 

The Messianic Jews were left between a rock and a hard place. There was an anti-Jewish climate that had developed throughout the Roman Empire. On one hand, the Romans considered the Messianic Jews as a part of the Jewish people without any differentiation. Like all other Jews, they had to be crushed and scattered throughout the world. On the other hand, they were even more dangerous than the traditional Jews as their faith in the Messiah pushed them into opposition to the Roman Emperor and his almost god-like position. Consequently, because the Messianic Jews were Jewish, it became dangerous for anyone to have any kind of a relationship with them. As a result, the Gentile Christians increasingly avoided mixing with “these Messianic Jews.” The Gentile Christians already had enough problems with the Roman state as persecution of Christians was rampant. Avoiding the Jews eliminated at least one reason for the Romans to persecute the Christians. 

Around 250 A.D., outside of Judea, nearly all Messianic synagogues or congregations ceased to exist. The few groups that remained lived secretly, without any outside influence, and, due to their isolation, many of them developed strange or even sectarian tendencies. 


The drama of Replacement Theology

Around the year 200 A.D., a new theological conviction began to sweep Gentile Christianity. This theological foundation had to rationalize and justify that which was already happening. In later centuries, this theological system was called “Supersessionism” or “Replacement Theology.” According to Replacement Theology, in His anger with the Jews for killing the Messiah, God revoked his covenant with Israel. Since they were no longer the covenant people, the Jews lost their birth right and, as a people, were deprived of Divine Grace. No longer the Chosen People, they had to remain in a state of collective sin under condemnation from God. In their place, there was a new “Chosen People,” the Church, seen as the “New Israel” – replacing “Israel of the flesh.”


Church Fathers turn against Israel

The Letter to Barnabas written around 100 A.D. and not officially part of the Bible, was understood to be inspired by God and considered important document of the apostolic times. The letter speaks about the loss of the Jewish birth right and, because they had killed the Messiah, the Jews were excluded from the people of God and the Church.

Irenaeus (135 – 202 A.D.) strongly emphasized that Christians should avoid any kind of relationship with Jews in order to prevent confusion in their faith. He wanted the Church to be cleansed from all Jewish elements. 

For Ambrose (337 – 397 A.D.) it was not enough to affirm that the Jews were no longer a part of the Church. The Church must also exert the judgment of God upon them. 

Augustine (354 – 430 A.D.) wrote that Christians were not allowed to kill Jews. However, God had to keep the Jews alive to use them as a negative example of divine judgment on a nation that abandons him. Thus, Christians felt authorized to persecute the Jews, without killing them. 

John Chrysostom (344 or 355 – 407 A.D.) hated Jews and preached eight famous sermons full of venom against them. He warned his listeners to have nothing to do with the Jews, neither in their daily contact, nor by visiting their synagogues or participating in religious occasions. For him, it was necessary that Christians avoid any kind of contact with Jews, in order not to get “infected with the Jewish disease.”

All of these theologians had great revelations concerning the Kingdom of God. But concerning the role of the Jews in God’s plan for salvation, they were blind. The devil fomented it, knowing that as long as Christians fail to understand the “mystery of   Israel,” he would remain dominant in the world.


Replacement Theology becomes antisemitic politics

The Replacement Theology of the Church Fathers established principles which guided Christian practice and politics for centuries. Church and State legislation against the Jews followed. From the third century onward, a systematic “cleansing” of the Church from all its Jewish heritage began. From synod to convention, antisemitic legislation became stricter to make sure that nothing of Jewish life remained in the Church.

Emperor Constantine, who stopped all persecution against Christians and began to use the Christian Church as a unifying factor for the Roman Empire, forced all Gentile bishops at the First Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) to “cleanse” the Church from all things Jewish. He ordered (321 A.D.) Sunday instead of Shabbat (Saturday) as the holy day of the week and changed the dates for Easter so that its relationship with Passover would be lost. 

In 365 A.D. the Synod of Laodicea ordered all Christians who still kept Shabbat in their private homes were to be publicly excommunicated from the Church and, in some cases, even sentenced to death.

There were more than 600,000 Jews in Spain and Portugal before 1492 when they were expelled from their countries or forced to convert to Christianity. The Jews who were forced to convert and be baptized were called Marranos. Most lived a double life. Acting as Catholics outwardly, they remained Jews in the privacy of their homes. Terrorized by the Holy Inquisition, they fled in their thousands to the colonies of the Americas in hope of freedom. But the Inquisition followed them to South America and the persecution continued there. Based on the Nicene decision, the Inquisition forced the new converts to deny any link with Judaism.

 Anti-Jewish ideology is also found in almost all streams of Protestantism, beginning with Martin Luther (1483-1546) and his antisemitic rhetoric during the later years of his ministry. Frustrated about the small number of converted Jews after years of biblical preaching and reformation, he finally ordered the persecution of Jews and justified these atrocities in his sermons and writings influencing future Protestant generations. The poison of Replacement Theology is still working in many Protestant denominations.


The end of the Jewish part of the Church and the consequences

It was no longer possible to believe in Christ and remain a Jew. A Jew who believed in Yeshua had to deny all his Jewishness. Replacement Theology, therefore, brought two very tragic consequences: 

• The first was the persecution of the Jews in general. 

• The second consequence was the extinction of the Messianic Jewish presence in the Church. 

This extinction was catastrophic, not only for the Jewish part of the Church, but also for the Gentile part. As a result of this loss, the Gentile Church became disoriented and incomplete. The separation between Jews and Gentiles was the Church’s first division. 

Numerous other divisions followed. This separation worked like a virus and contaminated the Church. It was perpetuated in every following division according to the model of Replacement Theology. Even though it may not be apparent at first sight, this Replacement strategy is a fundamental characteristic operating within every Christian division. There are more than 30,000 different denominations – and in some way all of them believe about themselves that they are “the true Church.”

The loss of the Jewish component not only caused divisions, but also produced many other negative consequences. If it is true that we are now part of the commonwealth of Israel” (Eph.2:12), and if it is true that our identity as Gentile Christians lies in the fact that we have been grafted into the Olive Tree (Rom. 11), Replacement Theology has robbed us of our foundations.


Can Christians understand the Bible without the Jews?

The lack of a Hebraic mindset resulted in misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures of both Testaments. Although the New Testament scriptures were written in Greek, the original text was construed according to the Hebrew worldview of its original authors. In the following centuries, this fact provoked endless and unresolved debates between theologians. 

As a consequence, many divisions within the Church occurred because each stream had a different mindset when it came to interpret the Scriptures. Like Karl Barth (1886-1968), other theologians of the 20th century stated that the Jewish issue is at the heart of many of the ecumenical problems we face. Unless this first division is addressed and healed, all the efforts to foster unity in the divided Body of Christ will continue to be frustrated.

All articles in this series can be found here: Mystery of the Olive Tree

Extract prepared by Paddy Monaghan, founder of Christian Friends of Israel, Ireland.


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One response to “How the Church Became Israel: The History of Replacement Theology”

  1. Arthur McGeorge says:

    The Rev Frank Andrews wrote a full account of the history of replacement theology in his book “Is There Death in the Pot” ISBN: 9781907509421 (PB)

    The Early church fathers sought to protect the church from contemporary Graeco-Roman secularism, but they fell short of reconciling Hebraic theology and instead used the Allegorical hermeneutic, that is what the story means after someone had told you their version.
    So carnal sacrifice becomes spiritual sacrifice and is expressed by praise and worship. It is not the living sacrifices of being a living temple who serves God in the body, 1 Cor 3:16; Rom 12:1. They were unduly influenced by Plato’s philosophy that regarded all material things as evil. Whereas those in whom Christ dwells are required to serve God in the body. “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” 1 Corinthians 6:20

    Ignatius of Antioch 50 – 117 AD said those who partake of Passover are partakers of those who killed Jesus. Given that the Communion table is in fact a mini Passover ceremony where Jesus took the third cup of redemption to institute a memorial of His sacrifice, Ignatius’s comment shows ignorance as well as antisemitism.

    Irenaeus (135 – 202 A.D.) Also declared the Jews were disinherited from the grace of God. Yet the Lord refutes this antisemitic remark in scripture. “Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for a light by day, The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, And its waves roar (The LORD of hosts is His name): If those ordinances depart From before Me, says the LORD, Then the seed of Israel shall also cease From being a nation before Me forever.” Jeremiah 31:35,36

    Ambrose of Milan (337 – 397 A.D.) followed the neo-Platonic philosophy of Plotinus, which basically regarded the rational mind as having a higher and lower function that pretty much made god a self creation. The Jews wouldn’t want to be part of his church, and neither did the biblical Christian who rejected this aspect of Catholicism at the Reformation. He taught that God always hated the Jews but this is refuted by scripture. “For I am a Father to Israel, And Ephraim is My firstborn.” Jeremiah 31:9 Also see Romans 11:1 and Rev 7:4-8

    Ambrose taught Augustine (354 – 430 A.D.) He was the author of Amillennialism that said the church age was the millennium. This is nonsense because Ezekiel 40-48 is not fulfilled. The world has not yet gone through the tribulation with its Antichrist world leader.
    He said the Jews were destined to wander the earth to witness the victory of the church over the synagogue. History says differently. The anti-Semitic church he advocated were complicit in the Crusades, the Inquisition and the Holocaust. None of these things glorified God, whereas the consistent devotion to scripture and observation of a biblical lifestyle and feasts in the synagogue did.

    Martin Luther 1483 – 1546 was Augustinian monk. Luther had a spiritual intolerance of Jews not a racial one. However, his views were influential in strengthening antisemitism.
    He successfully opposed the Roman Catholic Churches penitential system saying it was fundamentally wrong in its understanding of the nature of salvation. He preached that personal faith frees the Christian from being controlled by the clergy through the sacraments. He recognised that even the believer still carried a fallen nature that needed crucified daily, 1 Cor 15:31, in his saying, Simul Justus et peccator; will always be simultaneously righteous and a sinner.
    Luther reformed the spiritual pretensions of the heart, not religious power. He taught that worldly shortcomings do not eternally damn the soul, but the bondages of fallen spirits do.
    His Thesis 3 advocated that unbiblical doctrines and practices in churches need challenged and changed. This is what messianic Judaism is doing. It is undoing the errors of antisemitism in the church that has led to schism after schism. It is teaching Jews and Gentiles how to be the one new man on Christ Jesus, Ephesians 2:15.

    John Chrysostom (344 or 355 – 407 A.D.) Archbishop of Constantinople was openly antisemitic. He blasphemed the Holy Spirit when he said claimed that Jews worship Satan. Abraham, Moses, David, those in the book of remembrance (Mal 3:16), Peter, Paul and other messianic Jews all worshipped God in Spirit and in Truth.

    Emperor Constantine, 272 – 337 AD. In ordering (321 A.D.) Sunday instead of Shabbat (Saturday) as the holy day of the week and changing the dates for Easter so that its relationship with Passover would be lost, he showed himself to be an antichrist. “He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, Shall persecute the saints of the Most High, And shall intend to change times and law.” Daniel 7:25
    He had been converted in 306 AD but still retained his lifelong devotion to Sun worship, hence the feast that celebrated the rebirth of the sun god replaced Tabernacles for the birth of Christ. Easter, the worship of the pagan goddess Ishtar, replaced Passover. Easter Sunday replaced First Fruits in celebrating the resurrection of Messiah.

    In 321 AD Replacement theology was officially enacted into Roman law. The Council of Nicea established antisemitism when it declared that “It is unbecoming on this holiest of festivals we should follow the custom of the Jews.”
    They failed to recognise that the bible calls these feasts The Feasts of the Lord (Lev 23:2) and that they were all fulfilled by Jesus in Him becoming the Passover Lamb (1 Cor 5:7); The firstfruits of those who rise in the first phase of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:23); The Feast of Weeks, Pentecost when Christ poured His Holy Spirit on His people (Acts 2); His shofar will sound at the Feast of Trumpets (1 Thess 4:16); He is our Atonement who took His own blood into the Most Holy Place for us (Heb 9:12); And he is the Tabernacle of God we celebrate being part of in earth and in eternity. (Rev 21:3)

    This first division can be healed by recognising natural Israel as spiritual Israel in preparation. This gives the one new man in Christ a common national and spiritual identity. Biblically we already have this identity as the Commonwealth of Israel, Eph 2:12. Like Joseph, Christ has a coat of many colours that displays the many cultures that worship Him. Isaiah 49:3 gives Christ the title Israel, “And He said to me, You are My servant, O Israel, In whom I will be glorified.’ So Israel’s Messiah and the Christian Christ and one and the same. Let the church repent of her ignorance and antisemitism and embrace the biblical version of Israel.

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