“Wherever replacement theology has flourished, the Jews have had to run for cover,” notes biblical scholar Thomas Ice.  “Wherever such a view has gone it has always led to anti-Semitism.”[1]  Another scholar says, “Replacement Theology has provided the basis for all sorts of mischief, persecution, and atrocities against the Jewish people throughout Christian history.” (www.hethathasanear.com/ReplacementTheology.pdf)

 It is clear from their resolutions and other official statements that the numerous Western church denominations and religious organizations supporting BDS share a common assumption in their theology. Sometimes they state it explicitly, and sometimes the underlying theology is tacitly assumed.

This assumption is based on a particular method of interpreting the Bible, a doctrine called supersessionism, an older name for replacement theology. The idea is that God is finished with the Jews, and that in his unfolding linear program of history, the New Testament Christian church has replaced the Jews as his chosen people of promise. The Church is now the “New” or “True Israel,” and the Jews no longer have a special status or a divine role. That idea comes from the belief that the Jews forfeited their role as the people of God when they rejected Jesus as Messiah, supposedly voiding their biblical covenant with God.

 Replacement theology has been around for a long time. We can trace it as far back as the second century when Justin Martyr put forward the idea that the Christian church is “the true spiritual Israel.” Around the same time, Marcion and Irenaeus contributed to the same thinking. Mainstream Christianity started slipping away from its original Jewish roots around the end of the third century. “The Gentile powers-that-be in early institutional Christianity wanted to distance themselves from Christianity’s Jewish origins.”  (www.hethathasanear.com/ReplacementTheology.pdf) In the fourth century, the church leader and historian Eusebius, together with an assembly of bishops and Emperor Constantine, formed a church-state alliance.  Eusebius considered the unified Church and Empire to be the Kingdom of God on earth.  That contrived unity, in Walter Kaiser’s words, “nicely evacuated the role and significance of the Jewish people in any kingdom considerations.”

Most of the church denominations and religious organizations subscribing to replacement theology have signed on to a shared manifesto called the Kairos Palestine document, which was composed by a group of Palestinian Christians in December 2009.  Kairos calls for “churches and Christians in the world” to oppose the “oppression, displacement, suffering and clear apartheid” of Israel, “the occupying state.”  In carefully crafted wording, Kairos blames Israel for anti-Zionist terrorism and declines to denounce it. (Kairos 4.3)

So many church and religious organizations promoting BDS have endorsed the Kairos document that it stands as a common denominator among them for the movement, expressing the common BDS themes that run through the respective denominational statements. Calling for flexible methodology in Bible interpretation, Kairos characterizes literalist interpretations as “petrified” rather than “living,” and “a theological cover-up for injustice.” What that amounts to is simply advocating one theology over a different one while substituting name-calling for argument.   (www.kairospalestine.ps)

 This rejection of literal meaning goes back to the turn of the fifth century, when Bishop Augustine of Hippo introduced a problematic method for interpreting the Bible through allegory. Intended allegory is not unknown in the Bible, as the Bible itself shows in the letter to the Galatians. There is a place for figurative language; but logically, the literal meaning of a text should be taken before jumping to the conclusion that the passage is representative of something else.  Augustine, though, was inclined to find allegory everywhere he looked in Scripture, whether the text warranted it or not. Even if the straightforward reading of a passage was clear enough on its face, Augustine would work out an allegorical meaning that changed the original meaning into some total abstraction. Replacement theology relies heavily on such allegorical “spiritualizing.”

This method is dangerous because the literal meaning and intent of the writing become obliterated. As a result, anything goes. Allegory is unconstrained, not grounded in objectivity. Words and sentences become empty vessels that the interpreter can fill with whatever meaning he likes in order to support his own preferred belief system. This method is very convenient for those who don’t want accept the obvious doctrines as stated in the original text.  It is akin, in fact, to the postmodernist “death of the author” methodology in which the author’s intended meaning is irrelevant.

The more the church accepted Augustine’s allegorical method of interpretation, the more it became removed from the verbal content of the Bible.  For centuries the Roman Catholic Church relied heavily on Augustine, calling him “the blessed Doctor.”  Then during the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin picked up Augustine’s teachings and infused them into much of mainstream Protestantism at the expense of face-value interpretation.

Thomas Ice writes, “The Church often allegorizes many portions of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, in order to teach that since the time of Christ, Israel has no claim to the land of Israel.”  He quotes Bible scholar and Holocaust survivor Arnold Fruchtenbaum (PhD, NYU): “While the church is said to be a partaker in Israel’s promises in the New Testament, nowhere is she said to be a taker over of Israel’s promises.”

The anti-Semitic character of replacement theology shows through in the irony that while it calls itself “the true Israel of God,” it selectively and arbitrarily claims to inherit all the divine blessings promised to Israel – but none of the curses. The judgments and curses stay with Israel.  According to replacement theology, God has rejected the Jews and they are no longer his chosen people. The church has entirely replaced ethnic and national Israel in God’s plan, and there is no longer any reason to ascribe any special consideration or unique significance to the Jews as a people.  The Jews have no national future in the divine program of history and no more claim to the Land of the Bible than any other nation.

On the contrary, if one reads the Bible without the presuppositions or replacement theology, it will be impossible to find an example anywhere in the Bible where the word Israel refers to anything but the Jews.[2] Interpretations of “the Israel of God” as referring to the church turn out under scrutiny to be extremely problematic. Throughout the Bible, Israel means Israel, the Jewish people.

“Replacement theology,” writes Ice, “has been the fuel that has energized Medieval anti-Semitism, Eastern European pogroms, the Holocaust, and contemporary disdain for the state of Israel.” This approach, with its problematic interpretation of the Bible also energizes the current BDS movement.  As Ice says, “They do not believe that there is a future for national ethnic Israel, nor do they think the modern state of Israel has anything to do with Bible prophecy.”  The BDS movement, at its core, is anti-Semitic and promotes delegitimization of Israel.

[1]           Ice, Thomas.   The Case for Zionism:  Why Christians Should Support Israel.  106.

[2]          The Abrahamic Covenant of Genesis 12 and 15 to Abraham and his descendants through Jacob is unilateral and unconditional; i.e., it does not depend on Israel’s performance but only on God’s faithfulness to His unilateral promise.

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