What is Supersessionism?

I got a wonderful opportunity this weekend to guest blog on Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog (see my post here and the Jesus Creed blog here). Jesus Creed is one of the most widely read Christian blogs and Scot McKnight is a theologian whose thoughts are worth following (try reading his books The Blue Parakeet and A Community Called Atonement if you’d like to experience some of his work).

My post was about Richard Harvey’s Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology, which I am reviewing here chapter by chapter. The reason it thrilled me to review Harvey’s book on Jesus Creed is that I want to see more Christians interact with the idea of the Jewish response to Yeshua.

One thing always to be kept in mind in Jewish-Christian relations is that people saturated with church theology and culture often will take a less than glorious view of the present and future role of Israel in God’s ongoing work of completing and redeeming his creation.

Another thing to keep in mind is patience and a charitable attitude. It is not as if Christians, including those who are very bright and well-read, have an animus against Jewish people, per se. Rather, the defeat and obsolescence of Judaism at the hands of a triumphant and superseding Christianity is embedded into the core ideas of most Christian theologies. To root out supersessionism requires questioning core ideas and commitments, rethinking and reconfiguring the very canonical narrative that supports most Christian theology.

Supersessionism comes from the word supersede (also spelled supercessionism in some places). To supersede means to replace, take the place of, take over from, succeed; supplant, displace, oust, overthrow, remove, unseat. Supersessionism is more popularly known as replacement theology. It is the idea, which comes in many forms, that the Church has replaced the Jewish people as the people of God.

One of the things my blog post on Jesus Creed revealed is that even among the exceptionally bright and informed of the Christian community, supersessionism remains an unexamined assumption of life and theology. And I am not condemning any of the commenters from Jesus Creed, all of whom (except perhaps one) commented with the measured humility that is fitting for all of us who dwell in the shadow of the Almighty.

I would also say in defense of the Jesus Creed community that these people are caring for widows and orphans and the issue of the Jewish people has not risen to the forefront for many. I will also say that a few commenters already did get it and not all Christians by any means retain supersessionist assumptions.

I will be blogging about supersessionism along with other topics (such as continuing my review of Harvey’s Mapping Messianic Jewish Theology.

For one thing, I will introduce readers to the definitive book on the subject, The God of Israel and Christian Theology by R. Kendall Soulen. If I could require all budding theologians to spend a week in the woods with only a Bible and Soulen’s book, I am ashamed to say I would usurp dictatorial powers to make it so.

I will post this week, for example, about three kinds of supersessionism. One commenter on Jesus Creed mentioned that supersessionism should be defined only as “the OT promises to the Jews have devolved upon the Church, and the Church should continue to expect that God will treat the Church the same way as the Jews before Jesus, with the same privileges, etc.” If supersessionism only means this sort of thinking, then, it was argued, other views such as the idea that Judaism was fulfilled in Jesus and no more expresses God’s will, would be free of the taint of supersessionism.

I will examine Soulen’s three categories of supersessionism and suggest practical examples of these working out in church theologies and popular statements about the Bible, the work of Messiah, and the future.

I will also examine what Christian theology freed from the mess of supersessionism looks like.

Meanwhile, if anyone would like to discuss the issue, here is a conversation starter:

If you are involved in Messianic Judaism, how widespread do you feel supersessionism is and how damaging is its influence? Specific examples are helpful. Language respectful of churches and denominations is preferred as we in Messianic Judaism are no better in God’s sight even if in one area of theology we might have grasped an essential truth. So, if you can gently and humbly answer this question and discuss it, we will all profit.

If you are a Christian and not so involved in Messianic Judaism, what things cause you to question the prevailing tide of opinion that Christianity has superseded Judaism and Christians have superseded Jews as God’s people?

If you are a Jew and not involved in either Christianity or Messianic Judaism, how has the Christian attitude toward Jewish people affected you? Does the word triumphalism register with you? Are you optimistic about improvement in Jewish-Christian relations in the future?

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About Derek Leman

Rabbi, writer, Weight Watchers leader, blogger, geek. My main blog is DerekLeman.com/Musings and my health blog is LemansLoserBlog.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, R. Kendall Soulen, Replacement Theology, Supersessionism, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to What is Supersessionism?

  1. tiqun says:

    i am a member of a wonderful church here, a mennonite community. there is much we have in common, and there is much engagement in favor of “widows, orphans and strangers”, ad people are very warm-hearted and friendly/caring.

    and yet, for example, i find myself not going to bible study anymore because each and every time, at least once or twice, there will be a remark to the extent that the church is the ‘true Israel'; if it is asked who is meant by people who are in the darkness, or blind (in the bible) the immediate answer is “the Jews”… there have been remarks (by a leader!) stating that Jews (Judaism) are incapable of truly loving G-d…

    which means that these kind of attitudes are still very much alive and well, even amongst the most charitable christians. and honesttly, it disturbs me very much and i don’t know how to deal with it anymore. directly in such situations, i want to scream out; but i don’t want to say angry words which would hurt someone. i know that i am not meant directly, but each time there are such remarks i feel like someone slaps me in the face, or stabs me. this, combined with certain theological issues makes that i don’t feel at home there anymore.

    there are a couple of us Jews who feel this way, which is slowly leading to establishing a messianic jewish service, maybe even assembly. this is something about which i am happy (the messianic get-together), yet the reasons are partially not so happy. most don’t feel happy in the churches for some thological and liturgical questions, and others are being estranged by this kind of super-sessionism.

    i know of at least one elder, and a pastor, who would like to get rid of such superssionism, but is deeply rooted and not easy to get rid of, and not only amongst the older generations.

    • bigbloggur says:

      Tiqun
      Thank you for your honest words. I have felt the same pains through similar words, attitudes, and deafness. I am not even jewish! The blindness amazes my wife and I as its all there in the scriptures to be seen. There is a patronising spirit of tolerance towards our “weird or hobby horse leanings” really in truth a sound theology on our part. When the patronising fails to shut our mouths they become bristly then angry.
      You must know how hard it is to continue to be a voice, but be one we must, ‘for if we dont Adonai will find someone else’. Our battle is partly within our selves to find the right spirit in which to speak the truth, to declare the facts as they are in the scriptures, when we can do so in love and compassion.
      For the time we feel we must stay put, to be that voice, how has your situation developed now?

  2. tiqun:

    Thank you for sharing this. These Christians are well-meaning, no doubt, but saturated with Christian triumphalism and not even aware of it.

    Imagine if people were to make such statements about other groups (e.g., “Africans are incapable of loving God”). Ironically, the centrality of Israel in the Bible, which should lead to theologies aware of God’s ongoing relationship with Israel, instead causes a sort of anti-Judaic prejudice. Christians must feel loved more by saying that the Jews are kaput. (Forgive me, Christians who think better of Israel or who would not intend this anti-Judaic attitude.)

    Derek Leman

  3. siseleanor says:

    As a Messianic it has been devastating when my own church leaders and many of those around me have held, or assumed, supercessionist views. The reason is the way it comes out again and again in teaching, like a drip effect, repeatedly undermining the way I’m raising my children to feel happy and affirmed as Jews and focussed on Torah and mitzvot. It basically aims at destroying the Jewishness of our children and the cohesion of our family life. Because people who hold these views don’t think this matters and they don’t value the Covenant, they are unaware of how we would feel about it and the degree of alienation that results.

  4. Looks like you had a great discussion over at Beliefnet!

  5. As a Christian I am definietly not supercessionism or anti Israel. From what I have seen in Churches is that not all but most of supercessionism comes from either a amillenialist or post-millenialist viewpoint (although some pre-millenialist also share this view). It is mainly from eschatology that I developed a love for Israel and all things hebraic and also a love of History which made be go back and look at the roots of my faith. I used to be what you would call ultral fundamentalist when it came to things of faith and I remember being asked by a teacher at Bible College how what changed my views. I said that it was my own study, for if someone had come up to me and started telling me to believe some of the things that I now believe I would probably have chased them.

  6. Great job on the Jesus Creed post, Derek.

  7. Hi Derek,
    I am a Messianic Believer, a Jew by birth, and have been attending Christian Churches most of my adult life. We have traveled through the military and the places we have been located don’t have any Messianic Congregations nearby.

    Throughout my lifetime, I have heard many well-meaning Christians make comments concerning the Jews as Gods chosen people being “replaced” by the “New Covenant Church”. They sight that this is because the Jews failed to keep “their part” of Gods Covenant with our Father Abraham.

    I have shared with many Christians that their confusion is naïve and comes directly from their lack of understanding the Jewish culture and customs.

    In Gen 15 we read that our God entered into Covenant with Abraham, but this particular Covenant has a name. It is “The Covenant of Parts.”

    If Christians had a better understanding of The Covenant of Parts, they would then see that God actually never required the Jews to fulfill any portion of that Covenant. They would realize that God had always fully intended to cover not only his ‘part’, but also the ‘part’ of the Jews. (Abram never walked between the flayed offerings, only God walked between them—indicating he will keep ‘both parts.”)

    They would further see that since God had always intended to fulfill ‘both parts’ then there is nothing for the Jews to ‘fail to keep’. If God has kept our part, then we have NOT failed at anything, and therefore don’t ‘need’ to be ‘replaced’.

    We know that God had always planned to keep both parts because when it was time to walk between the offerings, God caused Abram to fall asleep so that he could not walk between the offerings.

    Had God wanted Abram to walk the offerings, then God would’ve kept him awake for that important venture, rather than being the cause of his sleep.

    I often hear Christian leaders discuss the Later Days and say that everywhere you find in the Word the topic of “Israel” it is really an indication of the New Covenant Church and not the physical Israel.

    I am saddened to think that my Christian brothers believe we serve a God who is a liar! A God who does not keep his word.

    Why do some Christian’s believe that we get to ‘pick and chose’ which of the Covenants we claim and which we throw out?

    I hear Christians say that the Covenant of Noah is great—they’re happy to claim that God won’t flood the earth again; yet refuse to accept the Covenant of Abraham remains intact.

    If the “New Covenant” destroys the Old Covenants—then ALL of the old covenants are done away with. You can’t pick and chose. And sadly IF all of the old Covenants are done away with—then God himself is a liar and we cannot trust him.

    Since it’s safe to know that God is not a liar, then it is safe to know that which he declared would remain forever is infact forever and therefore remains fully intact.

    Since God said his Covenant with Abraham is forever, then it stands to reason it too remains fully intact and therefore God has not turned his back on our Jewish Brethren and replaced them with others.

    A friend of mine writes on her checks “It’s all about the Jews; we’re just along for the ride.” I love that. She’s got it correct. God is not finished with the Jewish nation and has promised that the end-time exodus will be far greater than the one from Egypt!

    In Isaiah 11, we find several mentions of different ‘people’—these are “The Remnant” and “Judah”, which are all Jewish people who have been dispersed throughout the world—most of them don’t even know they are Jewish (just as Hosea’s prophesy declares); and “Ephraim” are those who know they are the Israel nation. (We find other examples throughout Isaiah.)

    Isaiah declares these two peoples will be brought back together and stop their petty behavior toward one another. Notice that they are ‘both’ Jewish peoples. God is not finished with us yet. The Jews will finally accept the Messianic Jews; and the Messianic’s will finally stop taunting the non-Messianic Jews.

    I encourage everyone to remember that it is the Church who has been “grafted in” not the Jews who are grafted in to the Church.

  8. Supersessionism. Who are God’s people? As a Christian Pentecostal Minister I have always been taught that we are ingrafted into Judiasim by Christ. We are Abraham’s seed by faith in Jesus Christ. People who hold to this Supersessionism theory are (I believe) wrong. Gal 3:13 & 14 and later in vv25-28 below. Then again in Romans 4.

    Galatians 3: 13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. 25 But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

    Romans 4: 13 For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, 15 because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression. 16 Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; 18 who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.”

    Thank you for this opportunity to join in your discussion.

    Larry Spencer
    All scripture from The New King James Version. 1982 Nashville: Thomas Nelson

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