The Church and its New Covenant took the place of the Jews and the Old Covenant. That is what Supersessionism, also known as Replacement Theology, teaches. That the Jews insist on viewing themselves as the Chosen People, the Supersessionists will argue, means holding them accountable for neglecting the Mosaic Covenant. Why is the precise phrase “Netzach Israel” – The Eternity of Israel – not found in any Christian translation of the Bible?
Supersessionism has always been attractive. Its arguments are compelling and cannot be easily dismissed. For instance, if the Mosaic Covenant remains valid, then it’s only natural to question the legitimacy of a secular Jewish state.
Christians who were both for and against Supersessionism all played vital roles in realizing the dream of the Jewish return to Zion. Early Christian Zionists in Britain pushed for the Balfour Declaration. And Christian anti-Zionists did their part by turning later British governments against the idea of a Jewish home in “Palestine.”
Christian opposition to a modern Jewish state sounded then much as it does today. F.W.G. Blenkinsop, then-deputy commissioner for the southern district of Jaffa, wrote in 1944 that “the sober fact is that Palestine is no longer the Land of Promise for the Jews. Those supporters of Zionism who base their arguments on a literal interpretation of the Bible appear to forget that Jehovah’s promise to His Chosen People was strictly conditional upon their observance of the Law. From the events of the last two thousand years one can only conclude that the Law has not been observed … the Dispensation of Law has been superseded by a new Dispensation of Grace … reflect that … the promises of God have been thought to include the whole human race.”
Compare Blenkinsop’s remarks with those of Evangelical theologian Gary Burge, who argued in a recent piece for The Atlantic that Christians like himself “recognize that when biblical Israelites failed in their moral pursuits, they … became subject to ejection from the Holy Land … How, we wonder, can anyone build a bridge from ancient Israel to modern Israel today? Amos would hardly recognize in Tel Aviv a city based on biblical ideals.” Like Blenkinsop, Burge draws a classic Supersessionist conclusion by asserting that his thinking is anchored not in “the Old Testament’s land-based promises, but in the gospel, where the tribal or local theologies about Israel become global and universal.”
Why were our people exiled for two thousand years, and what does the resurgence of the Jewish people today mean? Such questions have been the daily bread of Bible-believing Jews since long before Christians were asking them, and the answers to them have helped sustain the Jewish faith to this very day.
One who best articulated the “anomaly” called Israel was the great 16th century scholar Rabbi Judah Loew, commonly known as the Maharal of Prague. The title of his book Netzach Israel (The Eternity of Israel) speaks for itself. Unsurprisingly, the exact phrase “The Eternity of Israel” is not found in Christian translations of the Bible. They instead render netzach as “glory”: “The Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind” (1 Sam. 15:29). Fortunately, Paul had no such biased translations at his disposal, and so had no problem insisting that “God’s gifts and his call [to the people of Israel] are irrevocable.”
The Maharal went to great lengths to explain the Eternity of Israel, and his arguments are much more compelling than those offered by the Supersessionists. Lack of space permits us to offer but one short example.
The concept of exile is key to Supersessionist theology, for it supposedly establishes the Church’s moral supremacy. But the Maharal argued that exile is only one side of the coin. The other is ingathering. One does not exist without the other. To make his point, the sage referred to the prophecy given to Abraham: “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own.” The phrase “know for certain” means it can be taken with confidence that just as God scattered Israel, so He would ingather them. Exile is meaningless unless it is from the Land of Israel. The Maharal noted that no nation can survive without land. The fact that Israel survived as a nation in exile for so many years, he stressed, could only mean that it has a land that awaits its return.
Moreover, wrote the Maharal, while the exile was a negative thing, it was also a blessing for the world. Consider Zechariah 2:6. Some translations correctly read “dispersed you like the four winds of heaven.” Others wrongly read “scattered you to the four winds of heaven.” That second rendering is negative, suggesting that God scattered Israel all over the place for no good reason. The first is more positive, describing God using the dispersal of the Jewish people as He would the very winds of heaven, without which the world can’t survive. A world without Jews, the sage concluded, is a barren, uninhabitable world.
With this in mind, the Maharal would agree that denying Israel the right to exist as a Jewish state in the Promised Land is detrimental to the whole world. Contrary to what Burge and others like him would have us believe, the Maharal would argue that Supersessionism can never bring peace and justice. Vilifying the Jews has only ever produced war and injustice, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
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