Supersessionism (also called replacement theology or fulfillment 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Christian Church has replaced the Israelites as God's chosen people and that the Mosaic covenant has been replaced or superseded by the New Covenant.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 which holds the Mosaic Covenant as valid for Jews while Christianity or the Noahic Covenant valid for gentiles.
While supersessionism has been common throughout the history of Christianity and remains a common assumption among Christians, since the Holocaust it has been rejected by mainstream Christian theologians and denominations.:1–5
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.
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 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." However, the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews is still openly debated today.
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, but official Catholic teaching has reflected varying levels supersessionist thought throughout its history, especially prior to the mid-twentieth century. The Second Vatican Council (1962–65) marked a shift in official Catholic teaching about Judaism, a shift which may be described as a move from “hard” to “soft” supersessionism, to use the terminology of David Novak (below).
Prior to Vatican II, Catholic doctrine on the matter was characterized by “displacement” or “substitution” theologies, according to which the Church and its New Covenant took the place of Judaism and its “Old Covenant,” the latter being rendered void by the coming of Jesus. The nullification of the Old Covenant was often explained in terms of the “deicide charge” that Jews forfeited their covenantal relationship with God by executing the divine Christ. As recently as 1943, Pope Pius XII stated in his encyclical “Mystici Corporis Christi”:
"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."
At the Second Vatican Council, which convened within two decades of the Holocaust, there emerged a different framework for thinking about the status of the Jews’ covenant. The declaration Nostra Aetate, promulgated in 1965, made several statements which signaled a shift away from “hard supersessionist” replacement thinking which posited that the Jews’ covenant was no longer acknowledged by God. Retrieving Paul’s language in chapter 11 of his Epistle to the Romans, the declaration states, “God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues… Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures.” Notably, a draft of the declaration contained a passage which originally called for the “the entry of that [Jewish] people into the fullness of the people of God established by Christ;” however, at the suggestion of Catholic priest (and convert from Judaism) John M. Oesterreicher, it was replaced in the final promulgated version with the following language: “the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and ‘serve him shoulder to shoulder’ (Zeph 3:9).”.
Further developments in Catholic thinking on the covenantal status of Jews were led by Pope John Paul II. Among his most noteworthy statements on the matter is that which occurred during his historic visit to the synagogue in Mainz (1980), where he called Jews the “people of God of the Old Covenant, which has never been abrogated by God (cf. Rm 11:29, "for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" [NRSV]).” In 1997, John Paul II again affirmed the Jews’ covenantal status: “This people continues in spite of everything to be the people of the covenant and, despite human infidelity, the Lord is faithful to his covenant.”
The post-Vatican II shift toward acknowledging the Jews as a covenanted people has led to heated discussions in the Catholic Church over the issue missionary activity directed toward Jews, with some Catholics theologians reasoning that “if Christ is the redeemer of the world, every tongue should confess him,” while others vehemently oppose “targeting Jews for conversion.” Weighing in on this matter, Cardinal Walter Kasper, then President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, reaffirmed the validity of the Jews’ covenant and then continued:
"[B]ecause as Christians we know that God’s covenant with Israel by God's faithfulness is not broken (Rom 11,29; cf. 3,4), mission understood as call to conversion from idolatry to the living and true God (1 Thes 1,9) does not apply and cannot be applied to Jews…. This is not a merely abstract theological affirmation, but an affirmation that has concrete and tangible consequences; namely, that there is no organised Catholic missionary activity towards Jews as there is for all other non–Christian religions.”
|“||God’s grace, which is the grace of Jesus Christ according to our faith, is available to all. Therefore, the Church believes that Judaism, [as] the faithful response of the Jewish people to God’s irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises.||”|
Recently, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium (2013), Pope Francis’s own teaching on the matter closely mirrored these words of Cardinal Kasper. In 2011, Kasper specifically repudiated the notion of “displacement” theology, clarifying that the “New Covenant for Christians is not the replacement (substitution), but the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.”
These statements from Catholic officials signal a shift away from a “hard” supersessionist model of displacement. Nevertheless, the references to the Church as the “new People of God” and the New Covenant as “fulfilling” the Old Covenant (irrevocable though it might be) imply a clear Christian superiority and thus comport with a “soft” supersessionism. It should be noted that fringe Catholic groups, such as the Society of St. Pius X, strongly oppose the theological developments concerning Judaism made at Vatican II and retain “hard” supersessionist views. Even among mainstream Catholic groups and official Catholic teaching, elements of “soft” supersessionism remain:
- The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to a future corporate repentance on the part of Jews:
"The glorious Messiah's coming is suspended at every moment of history until his recognition by 'all Israel,' for 'a hardening has come upon part of Israel' in their 'unbelief' toward Jesus [Rom 11:20-26; cf. Mt 23:39]. ... The 'full inclusion' of the Jews in the Messiah's salvation, in the wake of 'the full number of the Gentiles' [Rom 11:12, 25; cf. Lk 21:24], will enable the People of God to achieve 'the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,' in which 'God may be all in all.'"
- The Church teaches that there is an integral continuity between the covenants rather than a rupture.
- In the Second Vatican Council’s 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.”
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.
- R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) ISBN 978-0800628833
- 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).
- 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.
- Gary A. Tobin, Dennis R. Ybarra. The Trouble with Textbooks: Distorting History and Religion. Lexington Books, Jul 31, 2008 ISBN 9780739130957
- 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.
- John T. Pawlikowski, Jesus and the Theology of Israel, (Michael Glazier, 1989), pp. 10-11.
- Robert Chazan, “Christian-Jewish Interactions Over the Ages,” in Christianity in Jewish Terms (Westview, 2000), pp. 7-24. Chazan refers to “the alleged Jewish role in the crucifixion. As noted, Christian theory posited that role as the decisive factor in the disruption of the divine covenant with the Jews and the transmission of that covenant to Christians, the successor people” (p. 9)
- qtd. in Aledo.
- Nostra Aetate n. 4
- “Second Declaration on the Jews and Non-Christians, 28–29 September 1964,” qtd. in Philip A. Cunningham et al (eds.), The Catholic Church and the Jewish People (Fordham, 2007), p. 195.
- John Connelly, From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965 (Harvard, 2012), p. 254.
- Pope John Paul II: 'An Appreciation: A Visionary Remembered'
- Pontifical Biblical Commission, “The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures” (2002).
- Cardinal Avery Dulles, “Covenant and Mission”, America (Oct. 21, 2002), pp. 8-11 at p. 10
- Mary Boys, Philip Cunningham, and John T. Pawlikowski, “Theology’s Sacred Obligation”, America (Oct. 21, 2002), pp. 12-16 at p. 14.
- “Reflections by Card. Walter Kasper”, Boston College, 6 November 2002.
- Cardinal Walter Kasper, Dominus Iesus
- “We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for ‘the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable’ (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9).” Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium (2013) n. 247
- “It also cannot be said that the covenant with Israel has been replaced by the New Covenant. The New Covenant for Christians is not the replacement (substitution), but the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Both stand with each other in a relationship of promise or anticipation and fulfillment…[T]he New Covenant is the final reinterpretation promised by the prophets of the Old Covenant. It is the definitive yes and amen to all of God’s promises (2 Cor 1:20), but not their suspension or abolition.” Cardinal Walter Kasper, “Foreword” in Christ Jesus and the Jewish People Today (Eerdmans, 2011) pp. x-xviii at p. xiv.
- John Vennari, “Judaism & the Church: before & after Vatican II”
- Catechism of the Catholic Church CCC 674
- 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).
- 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.
- Ralston, Joshua. "Can Christians advocate ...." ABC. 13 May 2013. 5 December 2014.
- 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.
- Tapie, Matthew A. "Aquinas on Israel and the Church: A Study of the Question of Supersessionism in the Theology of Thomas Aquinas." Wipf & Stock, 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)