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Joel Richardson Issues Challenge to Hank Hanegraaff Over “Replacement Theology”

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The following is reported on WND’s website:

“It could shape up to be a battle between theological titans. Religious teacher, human rights activist and New York Times best-selling author of “The Islamic Antichrist” Joel Richardson is calling for a public debate with Hendrik ‘Hank’ Hanegraaff, president of the Christian Research Institute. The subject would be ‘replacement theology,’ a concept Hanegraaff recently confronted on his popular broadcast Bible Answer Man. . . . Hanegraaff stated: ‘This moniker is inaccurate because those who are labeled replacement theologians neither believe that the church has replaced Israel nor the other way around. Instead they hold that all who are clothed in Christ constitute one congruent chosen covenant community connected by the cross. And that’s precisely what you read in Galatians 3: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.” If you belong to Christ says Paul, then you are Abraham’s seed and you are an heir according to the promise. It’s not a matter of race, it’s a matter of relationship.’”

Accusing a fellow-Christian of teaching Replacement Theology is like someone pulling the race card in a debate about race or the war on women card in a debate about women’s issue. Pulling one of these cards most often happens when an argument can’t be made based on the facts of the case. A person charged with “replacement theology” is really being accused of being anti-Semitic or, more accurately, anti-Jew. I’ve seen it happen many times. Some prophetic critic will begin an argument over eschatology with something like this: “Well, he holds to replacement theology.” End of debate.

Read more: The Rise of the Islamic Antichrist: Fact or Fiction?

The people who make the charge of Replacement Theology rarely do any real exegetical work. They’ve heard someone else play the Replacement Theology card. No Bible study is needed since any number of big-name prophecy teachers play the Replacement Theology card to great success. They begin with the unproven claim that the Bible teaches an Israel-Church distinction, and one day God will “rapture” His church and deal with ethnic Israel again during a great tribulation where millions of Jews will be slaughtered (Zech. 13:8-9). In this way, so the argument goes, “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26). Anyone who teaches a different view is said to be involved in grave theological error.

What does the Bible say? Let’s examine the Scriptures to see whether the charges made by those who play the Replacement Theology card are so (Acts 17:11).

The first New Covenant believers were from the nation of Israel (Luke 1–2) with hints of a later expanded redemptive role for Samaritans (John 4:7–45), Greeks (John 12:20–22), the nations (Luke 2:32; see Isa. 9:2; 42:6; 49:6, 9; 51:4; 60:1-3; Matt. 4:16; Acts 13:47; 26:23), and the broader world (John 3:16; 4:42).

“To the Jew first” predominates in Scripture: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16; 2:9-10; John 4:22; Acts 3:26). Jesus told His apostles, “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:5-6; 15:24). “To the Jew first” is evident at Pentecost where “there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). These Jews would be the first to hear the gospel in great numbers and the first to make up the New Testament church (ekklēsia):

“Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.’ And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’ So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. . . . And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:37-47).

Like Jesus, Peter’s message was first to “all the house of Israel” (Acts 2:36). When these Israelites asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37), Peter told them: “For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, [1] as many as the Lord God shall call to Himself” (2:39). There is no mention of a postponement of the covenant with Israel and making a different “mystery” covenant with a new redemptive group called the “church.” As we’ll see, the use of the word ekklēsia, most often translated “church,” wasn’t a new word or new concept to the Jews.

A Jewish Church

The New Testament ekklēsia (church) was made up exclusively of Jews: “And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:11; also 8:1-3; 9:31). Nothing said or indicated that the church was a new thing because Israel rejected Jesus. The remnant of Israel embraced Jesus (see Rom. 11:1-5) and comprised and was identified as the “church” (ekklēsia) just like Israel had been the church (ekklēsia) under the Old Covenant (see Acts 7:38: “the ekklēsia [KJV: church] in the wilderness”).

Michael Brown writes the following in his book Our Hands our Stained With Blood: “Let’s go back to the Book of Acts. The early Church was exclusively Jewish. It was almost ten years before a group of Gentiles received the gospel, and this created shock waves in Jerusalem.”

God did not reject His people. Jews were being saved by the thousands throughout the then known world (Acts 2:41, 47; 4:4; Matt. 24:14; Rom. 1:8; 16:25-27; Col. 1:6, 23; 1 Tim. 3:16).

At the same time, there were Jews who rejected Jesus as the promised redeemer (Acts 13:46-52). This should not surprise us since we are told, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved” (Rom. 9:27; see 11:5; Isa. 10:22). The Jews were the first to believe and disbelieve. Here’s the point: The Jews were the first to make up the New Covenant church (ekklēsia). When the gospel went to the Gentiles, the Gentiles did not replace Israel. The Gentiles were grafted into an already growing New Testament assembly of believers made up of those from “the house of Israel.”

Church, Assembly, Congregation

The entire “Replacement Theology” construct is built on a faulty exegetical foundation that was laid with the faulty translation of ekklēsia. The Greek word ekklēsia, most often translated “church,” was not new to the New Testament and neither was its meaning.

The word ekklēsia was used many times in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament called the Septuagint (LXX) for the Hebrew word qāhāl. Both qāhāl and ekklēsia are best translated as “congregation” or “assembly.” Even modern-day Hebrew translations of the Greek New Testament translate the Greek ekklēsia as the Hebrew qāhāl. Earl D. Radmacher writes, “[T]his Greek version of the Hebrew Scriptures was the Bible of the early church. . . . Thus, when the writers of the New Testament, whose Bible was the Septuagint, used ekklēsia, they were not inventing a new term. They found the term in common use and simply employed what was at hand.” [2]

Following the LXX, the sacred assembly of Israel was the “ekklēsia of the LORD” (Deut. 23:1). “The people of God” are “in the ekklēsia” (Judges 20:2). Solomon took “all the ekklēsia” to Gibeon where the ark was (2 Chron. 1:3). There the ekklēsia inquired of the Lord (2 Chron. 1:5). When the temple was completed, Solomon blessed “all the ekklēsia of Israel” (1 Kings 8:14; cp. 8:22, 55; 2 Chron. 6:3). If this verse were in the NT, it would read “all the church of Israel.” When Solomon stands before the altar and prays, he is “before all the ekklēsia of Israel” (2 Chron. 6:12). The “ekklēsia of the LORD” was the covenantal assembly of Israel (Deut. 4:10).

William Tyndale’s translation makes this point, and it got him in big trouble with the Roman Catholic Church. The Tyndale New Testament, the first English translation to use the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, did not use the word “church.” Tyndale (1494–1536) chose the words “assembly” and “congregation” [3] to translate ekklēsia. Here is how Tyndale’s translation handled the first two appearances of ekklēsia in the New Testament (spelling modernized):

  • “And upon this rock I will build my congregation: and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18).
  • “If he hear not them, tell it unto the congregation: if he hear not the congregation, take him as an heathen man, and as a publican” (Matt. 18:17).

Ekklēsia is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word qahal and means “assembly” or “congregation.” It’s the way William Tyndale wanted to translate ekklēsia but was put under pressure by the Roman Catholic Church to translate it as “church.”

One of the requirements of the translators of the so-called Authorized or King James Version was that ekklēsia had to be translated as “church.” One of the Rules to be Observed in the Translation of the [King James] Bible required the following: “The old Ecclesiastical Words to be kept, viz. the Word Church not to be translated Congregation &c.” [4]

William Stafford writes, it was understood by the laity and church officials that “it was the clergy who were the ecclesia, the church.” [5] But as Tyndale saw it, “the church was not the clergy, nor was it the hierarchical, legal, and ceremonial edifice sustaining the clergy, but rather the congregation of all who responded to the word of God.” [6]

The Hebrew translation of the New Testament translates the Greek ekklēsia as qahal (קָהָל), meaning “assembly” or “congregation.” The TLV Bible translation, published by the Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society, translates Matthew 16:18 as “community” and 18:17 as “Messiah’s community” and not “church.”

With this background, we can understand why Stephen could describe “the children of Israel” as the “ekklēsia in the wilderness” (Acts 7:37-38). Now try saying that the “assembly replaces Israel” or the “congregation replaces Israel.” It doesn’t work.

In Hebrews 2:12 there is a direct quotation from Psalm 22:22. The Old Testament Psalm used the word qahal and the Septuagint translated it as ekklēsia:

I will tell of Your name to my brethren;
In the midst of the assembly [קָהָל/qahal]I will praise You.

The Septuagint translates qahal in Psalm 22:22 as ekklēsia. Hebrews 2:12 reads this way in the King James Version:

I will declare thy name unto my brethren,
in the midst of the church [ekklēsia] will I sing praise unto thee.

The ekklēsia was identified with Israel long before the inauguration of the New Testament Church (ekklēsia) that was initially made up exclusively of Jews (Israelites).

The Nations are Grafted In

The first Christians were Jews. The gospel was preached to “Israel” (Acts 2:22, 26).

We later learn that the gospel extended “also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16; Acts 3:26; Rom 2:9) as Peter’s encounter with Cornelius shows (Acts 10). Notice Peter’s evaluation of these events and the response of his fellow Jews:

“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as He did upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how He used to say, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles [lit. nations] also the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:15–18).

“The Gentiles also.” The word translated “Gentiles” is the Greek word ethnos — “nations.” Gentile believers — a remnant from the nations — were grafted into the Jewish assembly of believers and were given “the same gift,” the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1:8; 2:38). Jews and Gentiles (nations) together making “the two into one new man” (Eph. 2:15) made up the congregation (ekklēsia) of God.

The charge of “Replacement theology” obscures the obvious. The charge is a tactical red herring to get people’s attention away from what the New Testament shows about the relationship between the promises of the Old Covenant and their fulfillment in the New Covenant with Israel and how Gentiles are grafted into an Israelite assembly (ekklēsia) of believers.

A quick reading of the New Testament will show that no one makes the case that there is an Israel-Church distinction. There are Jews and Gentiles. There is one people of God. There aren’t two olive trees; there’s one olive tree made up of believing Israelites and believing non-Israelites from the nations (Rom. 11:17-24).

olive tree

So with this background, the charge of Replacement Theology is bogus. It has no grounding in Scripture.

In my next article, I’ll look at the dark side of premillennialism and what it means for the future of Israel.

  1. Possibly a reference to the diaspora: John 7:35; James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1; Ps. 147:2; Isa. 11:12; 56:8; Zeph. 3:10.[]
  2. Earl D. Radmacher, What the Church is All About: A Biblical and Historical Study (Chicago: Moody Press, [1972] 1978), 121, 132.[]
  3. William Tyndale, “Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue” in The Works of William Tyndale, 2 volume work (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, [1849–1850), 2:13–16.[]
  4. Quoted in David Daniell, The Bible in English: It’s History and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 439.[]
  5. William S. Stafford, “Tyndale’s Voice to the Laity” in Word, Church, and State: Tyndale Quincentenary Essays, 105.[]
  6. Stafford, “Tyndale’s Voice to the Laity,” 106.[]

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