Supersessionism (also called replacement theology) is a Christian theological view on the current status of Jews and Judaism. Supersessionism designates the belief that the Christian Church has replaced the Israelites as God's chosen people and that the Mosaic covenant has been replaced or superseded by the New Covenant. This view directly contrasts with dual-covenant theology.
The word supersessionism comes from the English verb to supersede, from the Latin verb sedeo, sedere, sedi, sessum, "to sit", plus super, "upon". It thus signifies one thing being replaced or supplanted by another.
The word supersession is used by Sydney Thelwall in the title of chapter three of his 1870 translation of Tertullian's Adversus Iudaeos. (Tertullian wrote between 198 and 208 AD.) The title is provided by Thelwall; it is not in the original Latin. The term "Supersessionism" was developed around the 1980s in western academia to portray traditional Christian views on the subject.
Types: Punitive, economic and structural
Both Christian and Jewish theologians have identified different types of supersessionism in Christian reading of the Bible.
R. Kendall Soulen notes three categories of supersessionism identified by Christian theologians: punitive, economic, and structural:
- Punitive supersessionism is represented by such Christian thinkers as Hippolytus, Origen, and Luther. It is the view that Jews who reject Jesus as the Jewish Messiah are consequently condemned by God, forfeiting the promises otherwise due to them under the covenants.
- Economic supersessionism is used in the technical theological sense of function (see economic Trinity). It is the view that the practical purpose of the nation of Israel in God's plan is replaced by the role of the Church. It is represented by writers such as Justin Martyr, Augustine, and Barth.
- Structural supersessionism is Soulen's term for the de facto marginalization of the Old Testament as normative for Christian thought. In his words, "Structural supersessionism refers to the narrative logic of the standard model whereby it renders the Hebrew Scriptures largely indecisive for shaping Christian convictions about how God’s works as Consummator and Redeemer engage humankind in universal and enduring ways." Soulen's terminology is used by Craig A. Blaising, in 'The Future of Israel as a Theological Question.'
These three views are neither mutually exclusive, nor logically dependent, and it is possible to hold all of them or any one with or without the others.
The early Christian theologians saw the New Covenant in Christ as a replacement for the Mosaic Covenant. Historically, statements on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church have claimed her ecclesiastical structures to be a fulfillment and replacement of Jewish ecclesiastical structures (see also Jerusalem as an allegory for the Church). As recently as 1965 Vatican Council II affirmed, "the Church is the new people of God," without intending to make "Israel according to the flesh", the Jewish people, irrelevant in terms of eschatology (see "Roman Catholicism, below). Modern Catholicism affirms these spokesmen as authoritative for doctrine, alongside the New Testament. Modern Protestants hold to a range of positions on the topic.
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In the New Testament, Jesus and others repeatedly gives Jews priority in their mission, as in Jesus' expression of him coming to the Jews rather than to Gentiles and in Paul's formula "first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." Yet after the death of Jesus, the inclusion of the Gentiles as equals in this burgeoning sect of Judaism also caused problems, particularly when it came to Gentiles keeping the Mosaic Law, which was both a major issue at the Council of Jerusalem and a theme of Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, though the relationship of Paul of Tarsus and Judaism is still disputed today.
For most of Christian history, supersessionism has been the mainstream interpretation of the New Testament of all three major historical traditions within Christianity — Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. The text most often quoted in favor of the supersessionist view is Hebrews 8:13: "In speaking of 'a new covenant' [Jer. 31.31-32] he has made the first one obsolete."
Many Early Christian commentators taught that the Old Covenant was fulfilled and replaced (superseded) by the New Covenant in Christ, for instance:
- Justin Martyr (about 100 to 165): "For the true spiritual Israel ... are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ."
- Hippolytus of Rome (martyred 13 August 235): "[The Jews] have been darkened in the eyes of your soul with a darkness utter and everlasting."
- Tertullian (ca.160 – ca.220 AD): “Who else, therefore, are understood but we, who, fully taught by the new law, observe these practices,—the old law being obliterated, the coming of whose abolition the action itself demonstrates. . . . Therefore, as we have shown above that the coming cessation of the old law and of the carnal circumcision was declared, so, too, the observance of the new law and the spiritual circumcision has shone out into the voluntary observances of peace.”
Augustine (354–430) follows these views of the earlier Church Fathers, but he emphasizes the importance to Christianity of the continued existence of the Jewish people: "The Jews ... are thus by their own Scriptures a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ." Jeremy Cohen, followed by John Y. B. Hood and James Carroll, sees this as having had decisive social consequences, with Carroll saying, "It is not too much to say that, at this juncture, Christianity 'permitted' Judaism to endure because of Augustine."
|“||In this Torah, which is Jesus himself, the abiding essence of what was inscribed on the stone tablets at Sinai is now written in living flesh, namely, the twofold commandment of love. . . . To imitate him, to follow him in discipleship, is therefore to keep Torah, which has been fulfilled in him once and for all. Thus the Sinai covenant is indeed superseded. But once what was provisional in it has been swept away, we see what is truly definitive in it.||”|
Supersessionism is not the name of any official Roman Catholic doctrine and the word appears in no Church documents; however, the Catholic Church does officially teach that the Mosaic covenant was fulfilled and replaced by the New Covenant in Christ, and that the Catholic Church is the "New Israel" and the fulfillment of Old-Testament Judaism. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church does not teach that the Jewish people themselves are effectively irrelevant in terms of eschatology and Biblical prophecy. For the Catholic Church, the Jewish people are a reminder that the “gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). The Church recognizes an ongoing and unique relationship between the Jewish people, God and the Church. Additionally, the Church teaches that there is an integral continuity between the covenants rather than a rupture.
The Church’s teaching regarding the fulfillment and replacement of the Mosaic Covenant by the New Covenant in Christ can be found in the Scriptures, the Fathers and various Magisterial documents:
- Pope Pius XII, in the encyclical Mystici Corpis Christi (1943) states:
"By the death of our Redeemer, the New Testament took the place of the Old Law which had been abolished; then the Law of Christ together with its mysteries, enactments, institutions, and sacred rites was ratified for the whole world in the blood of Jesus Christ. ... [O]n the gibbet of His death Jesus made void the Law with its decrees fastened the handwriting of the Old Testament to the Cross, establishing the New Testament in His blood shed for the whole human race."
- In Lumen Gentium (1964), the Church stated that God “chose the race of Israel as a people” and “set up a covenant” with them, instructing them and making them holy. However, “all these things . . . were done by way of preparation and as a figure of that new and perfect covenant” instituted by and ratified in Christ (no. 9). In Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism (1985), the Church stated that the “Church and Judaism cannot then be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer of all.”
- While acting as prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “God, according to the Prophet, will replace the broken Sinai covenant with a New Covenant that cannot be broken . . . . The conditional covenant, which depended on man’s faithful observance of the Law, is replaced by the unconditional covenant in which God binds himself irrevocably.”
Protestant views on supersessionism revolve around their understanding of the relationship between the various covenants of the Bible, particularly the relationship between the covenants of the Old Testament and the New Covenant. The most prominent Protestant views on this relationship are called Covenant theology, New Covenant Theology, and Dispensationalism. These views are not restricted to a single denomination. However, beginning in the 1980s, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and the United Methodist Church have worked to develop a non-supersessionist theology.
From a Jewish perspective, however, the Torah was given to the Jewish people as an eternal covenant (for example Exo 31:16-17, Exo 12:14-15) and will never be replaced or added to (for example Deut 4:2, 13:1), and hence supersessionism can be regarded as contrary to the Hebrew Bible or antisemitic. For religious Jews and other critics, supersessionism is a theology of replacement, which substitutes the Christian church, consisting of Christians, for the Jewish and B'nei Noah people.[clarification needed]
While some modern Jews are offended by the traditional Christian belief in supersessionism, Rabbi and Jewish theologian David Novak has stated that "Christian supersessionism need not denigrate Judaism. Christian supersessionism can still affirm that God has not annulled his everlasting covenant with the Jewish people, neither past nor present nor future."
Novak suggests that there are three options:
- The new covenant is an extension of the old covenant.
- The new covenant is an addition to the old covenant.
- The new covenant is a replacement for the old covenant.
He observes, "In the early Church, it seems, the new covenant presented by the Apostolic Writings (better known as diatheke ekaine or novum testamentum) was either taken to be an addition to the old covenant (the religion of the Torah and Jewish Pharisaic tradition), or it was taken to be a replacement for the old covenant.”
Novak considers both understandings to be supersessionist. He designates the first as "soft supersessionism" and the second as "hard supersessionism." The former "does not assert that God terminated the covenant of Exodus-Sinai with the Jewish people. Rather, it asserts that Jesus came to fulfill the promise of the old covenant, first for those Jews already initiated into the covenant, who then accepted his messiahhood as that covenant's fulfillment. And, it asserts that Jesus came to both initiate and fulfill the promise of the covenant for those Gentiles whose sole connection to the covenant is through him. Hence, in this kind of supersessionism, those Jews who do not accept Jesus' messiahhood are still part of the covenant in the sense of 'what God has put together let no man put asunder' [emphasis original]." See also Dual-covenant theology.
Hard supersessionism, on the other hand, asserts that "[t]he old covenant is dead. The Jews by their sins, most prominently their sin of rejecting Jesus as the Messiah, have forfeited any covenantal status." The hard supersessionists base their views on the bible passages found in Matthew 21:42-46 and Romans 9:1-7. This classification provides mutually exclusive options. Hard supersessionism implies both punitive and economic supersessionism; soft supersessionism does not fall into any of the three classes recognized as supersessionist by Christian theologians; instead it is associated with Jewish Christianity.
- Circumcision controversy in early Christianity
- Abrogation of Old Covenant laws
- Christians and Jews: Starting Over - Why the Real Dialogue Has Just Begun by Dr. Luke Timothy Johnson
- catholicculture.org article by Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D.
- Cassell's Latin Dictionary
- Collins Dictionary of the English Language
- Tertullian, Adversus Iudaeos (Latin) = An Answer to the Jews trans. S. Thelwall, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1870).
- See Google's NGram listing of all articles in its databases with the word "Supersessionism."
- R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996)
- Soulen, 181, n6.
- Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44 (2001): 442.
- Fonrobert, Charlotte Elisheva. "Jewish Christians, Judaizers, and Christian Anti-Judaism." A People's History of Christianity, Volume 2: Late Ancient Christianity. Ed. Virginia Burrus. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005.
- Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:23-30; cf. Matthew 10:5-6; Acts 3:26
- Romans 1:16; 2:9-10
- Acts 10:28; 11:1-2; 21:17-28; Galatians 2
- Lewis, Bill. "Sons of Issachar for the 21st Century." Google Books. 2 July 2014.
- qtd. in Levine.
- Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 11, in Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:200.
- Hippolytus, Treatise Against the Jews 6, in Ante-Nicene Fathers 5.220.
- An Answer to the Jews, Chapter 3
- Augustine, The City of God 18.46, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 2:389.
- Jeremy Cohen, 'Introduction', in Jeremy Cohen (ed.), Essential Papers on Judaism and Christianity in Conflict: From Late Antiquity to the Reformation, (New York: New York University Press, 1991), 13–14.
- John Y. B. Hood, Aquinas and the Jews, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), 12f.
- James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001).
- Joseph Ratzinger, Many Religions, One Covenant, (Ignatius Press, 1999), p. 70.
- see: Avery Cardinal Dulles, “The Covenant With Israel,” First Things (November 2005).
- Taylor Marshall, The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity, (Saint John Press, 2009), p. 54
- http://www.cuf.org/Laywitness/LWonline/ja09forrest.asp[dead link]
- Commission for religious relations with the Jews, "Guidelines And Suggestions For Implementing The Conciliar Declaration "Nostra Aetate" (n. 4)" www.vatican.va (Rome, 1 December 1974).
- qtd. in Aledo.
- Ratzinger, Many Religions, One Covenant, p. 63
- Bretton-Granatoor, Gary M. "The Presbyterians’ Judaism problem." Jewish Journal. 27 June 2014. 27 June 2014.
- According to the Book of Mormon, during his post-resurrection visit to the Americas, Christ tells his audience "[F]or behold, the Lord remembereth his covenant unto [the Jews], and he will do unto them according to that which he hath sworn." Kessler, Orin (2012-07-30). "People of the Book". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2013-04-18.
- Rabbi Dow Marmur, Lecture at Regis College, Toronto, January 21, 1998, see at  June 28, 2008
- David Novak, 'The Covenant in Rabbinic Thought', in Eugene B. Korn (ed.), Two Faiths, One Covenant?: Jewish and Christian Identity in the Presence of the Other, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), pp. 65-80.
- David Novak, 'The Covenant in Rabbinic Thought', in Eugene B. Korn (ed.), Two Faiths, One Covenant?: Jewish and Christian Identity in the Presence of the Other, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), pp. 66.
- Novak. "The Covenant in Rabbinic Thought." "Two Faiths, One Covenant?: Jewish and Christian Identity in the Presence of ...." Ed. Eugene B. Korn and John Pawlikowski. Google Books. 27 June 2014.
- Vlach, Michael J. The Church as a Replacement of Israel: An Analysis of Supersessionism. PhD Dissertation. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 2004. content: 6 pg.pdf, 1.chapter: 24 pg.pdf
- Charles D. Provan. The Church Is Israel Now: The Transfer Of Conditional Privilege. ISBN 978-1-879998-39-1 (supports supersessionism)
- Calvin L. Smith, ed. The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supercessionism: Resources for Christians (King's Divinity Press, 2009). ISBN 978-0-9562006-0-0 (challenges supersessionism)
|Look up supersessionism in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Michael Forrest and David Palm, "All in the Family: Christians, Jews and God", Laywitness magazine, July–August, 2009. An article opposing "extreme" supersessionism and dual covenant theology.
- "Why Catholics for Israel?" an article by Catholics opposing supersessionism.
- Michael J. Vlach. Supersession Info Page (opposing supersessionism)
- "The Attacks of Replacement Theology" (opposing supersessionism)
- Mikael Knighton. "False Gospel: Supersessionism (Replacement Theology)" (opposing supersessionism)