Series: Response to “Fulfillment” Theology as presented By Dr. Gary Burge
Dr. Burge starts out by explaining Supersessionism—the idea that something has been replaced by something far better, as in Israel has been replaced by the Church.
No one would argue that faith in Yeshua is not a major upgrade from endless sacrifices. The New Covenant is better in so many areas:
The law cannot save, but only point to the Savior. (Gal. 3:24)
The law cannot give life. (Gal. 3:21)
The law cannot empower, whereas in the New Testament the Law is written on our hearts. (Jer. 31:31ff)
Better promises. (Heb. 8:6)
A high priest who constantly intercedes on our behalf. (Rom. 8:34)
And of course, the easy access of the Gentiles to this great grace without converting to Judaism. (Eph. 2:13)
However, Dr. Burge seems to believe that the advent of the New Covenant means that God is no longer bound by His promises to the natural descendants of Abraham. I submit that this is not what the New Testament teaches and we will visit the proof of this shortly.
Supersessionism or Replacement Theology teaches that all the promises of the God of Israel are fulfilled in Yeshua and now transferred to his followers only. In other words, the promise of the Land, really means Christians going to heaven or inheriting the earth (depending on who is teaching).
Replacement Theology: We get the Promises, Jews Keep the Curses
It should be noted, that Replacement Theology teaches that the curses are still Israel’s. Oh joy!
Eusebius (ca 275-339 CE) – Taught that the promises of Scripture were meant for the Gentiles and the curses were meant for the Jews. [He] asserted that the Church was the ‘true Israel.’[i]
Burge rightly states that the Church fathers believed that Israel had been superseded by the Church. However he only gives us the gentler quotes. Here are a few of the harsher ones.
“Jews are a perverse people, accursed by God forever.” Hilary of Poitiers (CE 291 – 371) “The Jews are a brood of vipers, haters of goodness.” Gregory of Nicia (died CE 394) “[Jews] are serpents, wearing the image of Judas, their psalms and prayers are the braying of Donkeys.” St. Jerome (CE 347 – 407 Note: St. Jerome seems to have forgotten that the other 11 disciples were also Jews who spread the Gospel to the nations so that he could partake in it…)
This last quote comes from a man called the Goldenmouth, so passionate were his sermons. Twenty-Five years ago in my Church History class, the textbook presented him as a deeply godly man. You be the judge…
“The synagogue is worse than a brothel…it is the den of scoundrels and the repair of wild beasts…the temple of demons devoted to idolatrous cults…the refuge of brigands and debauchees, and the cavern of devils. It is a criminal assembly of Jews…a place of meeting for the assassins of Christ…a house worse than a drinking shop…a den of thieves, a house of ill fame, a dwelling of iniquity, the refuge of devils, a gulf and a abyss of perdition…I would say the same things about their souls… As for me, I hate the synagogue…I hate the Jews for the same reason.” John Chrysostom (CE 344 – 407)[ii]
Rooted in Anti-Semitism and Jealousy
This is a mere sampling of the anti-Semitic posture that the Church embraced because of Supersessionism or Replacement Theology. While Burge and others claim that you can be Replacement and not anti-Semitic, history would testify that eventually it always leads to the death of Jews!
And this should be no surprise—Replacement Theology is deeply rooted in anti-Semitism and jealousy. It comes from a lack of understanding of God’s unending love for the nations. So many of its proponents admit to being offended at God’s choice of Israel and feeling second class because of it. It is in that state of insecurity that false revelation comes—the Church has replaced Israel—and therefore everywhere there is a promise to natural Israel, it really means the Church.
But in truth the Gentiles become co-heirs with Israel—not instead of. They are adopted as full sons into the household of God and there is no second-class status there. It is for fear of this second-class status that Replacement Theology is embraced.
Sadly Burge’s summary of St. Augustine’s views is simply not a full portrayal. The ancient sage’s words are whitewashed to fit an argument.
Burge: “Augustine believed that the Jews continued to have a valid role in history, only since they were a witness to the Scriptures which foretold Christ.”
And what is that “valid role”? Get Ready…
In reality, Augustine, in his “Sermon against the Jews,” seeks to answer a deeply troubling question: If God has cursed the Jews, why are they still here? Could it be that God has not cursed Israel and that their perseverance as a people is due to His covenant with them? (Jer. 31:35-37) Does God foresee along with Paul (Rom. 11:26), Ezekiel (Ez. 36:24ff) and Zechariah (Zech 12:10, 13:9) a future Jewish revival? No, says Augustine. They are merely left here to see the Church’s triumph over the synagogue:
“Jews deserved death but were destined to wander the earth to witness the victory of the Church over the synagogue.”[iii]
Burge shares that Augustine was likely thinking of Romans 3:2, where Paul says that the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God or Romans 11:28, that the Jews are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. While that would fit Burge’s idea of honoring Israel (which I do appreciate), instead of replacing her, such sentiments can hardly be imagined in the mind of a man who believed the “Jews deserve death.”
The apple had not fallen far from the tree. Augustine’s spiritual father believed:
The Jews are the most worthless of all men. They are lecherous, greedy, rapacious. They are perfidious murderers of Christ. They worship the Devil. Their religion is a sickness. The Jews are the odious assassins of Christ, and for killing God there is no expiation possible, no indulgence or pardon. Christians may never cease vengeance, and the Jew must live in servitude forever. God always hated the Jews. It is essential that all Christians hate them. (St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan CE 340 – 397)[iv]
Burge quotes Justin Martyr as coining the phrase “true spiritual Israel” referring to the Church, but fails to mention that in Justin Martyr’s form of Replacement Theology the plight of the Jews — their exile and persecution — had happened “in fairness and justice” because they had “slain the Just One.”[v] The Jews suffered so much carnage and bloodshed from that endearing accusation, often coming from the supposed godliest of men: “Christ-Killer!”
Burge admits that some did teach a punitive Supersessionism, but fails to share that its adherents included the very Church Fathers he quoted. It was the dominant view—if not the only view! Augustine, as shown above, held to it, and he is often referred to as the greatest of the Church Fathers.
Burge argues that “Supersessionism does not always lead to anti-Semitism.” I know how en vogue it is today to say, “I don’t hate Jews, I simply don’t see Israel as a prophetic fulfillment. I am merely anti-Israel, not anti-Semitic.”
I say, give it time!
He gives one example, John Calvin, one who was both Replacement and loved the Jews. He could not quote even one Church Father (those whom he quoted as the proponents of Supersessionism) who both embraced Replacement Theology and had a heart for Israel, speaking kindly of the Jews and seeking to “provoke them to jealousy.” (Rom. 11:11)
Sadly, he must not have seen this quote from Calvin:
[The Jews’] rotten and unbending stiffneckedness deserves that they be oppressed unendingly and without measure or end and that they die in their misery without the pity of anyone.[vi]
His one example was faulty!
[i] David Regan’s paper, Anti-Semitism: Its Roots and Perseverance
[iii] David Regan’s paper, Anti-Semitism: Its Roots and Perseverance
[iv] Gabriel Wilensky, Six Million Crucifixions: How Christian Teachings About Jews Paved the Road to the Holocaust, (San Diego,CA: QWERTY Publishers, 2010), p. 98.
[vi] Excerpt from “Ad Quaelstiones et Objecta Juaei Cuiusdam Responsio,” by John Calvin; The Jew in Christian Theology, Gerhard Falk, McFarland and Company, Inc., Jefferson, NC and London, 1931.