Joseph Farah of WND (WorldNetDaily) has written the following in an article titled “To those Israel-rejecting Christians. . .”:
“[A]n evil doctrine known as Replacement Theology, every bit as ugly as Liberation Theology, has taken root in the church. I’m sorry to say it, but you’ve got to discard or allegorize much of the Bible to adopt either one of these views and still call yourself a Christian.”
Here’s a challenge, Joseph. Set up a debate with Joel Rosenberg and me on the meaning of Ezekiel 38 and 39 to see who “allegorizes.” Like the “Replacement Theology” straw man, someone who does not agree with the modern-day, end-time approach to Bible prophecy is labelled an “allegorizer.”
Replacement Theology is defined as the belief that the Church has replaced Israel and that God is finished with the Jews. Joseph Farah leaves the impression that there is a causal relationship between his straw man version of Replacement Theology and the rise of anti-Semitism and the persecution of Jews. The next sentence that follows his “evil doctrine” claim above is this gem:
Meanwhile, Jewish children are being executed in cold blood on videotape in France. Some of the most well-known “Christians” in America are trying to find common ground with Muslims, who they claim worship the same god.
Because of my work on this topic, I was asked by WND Commentary Editor Ron Strom if I had “any interest in writing a response” to Joseph’s article. In fact, I had been working on a response before I received Ron’s email. There is so much I would like to say about what Joseph has written, but I’m going to restrain myself and deal with the theological heart of the issue: why the charge of Replacement Theology is a cover for fuzzy theology and for hiding the fact that modern-day prophetic speculation has distorted the Bible, not only on the topic of Bible prophecy, but on its impact on culture as well.
This article can’t begin to do with all that needs to be discussed. If you are truly interested in this topic, take a look at my books Last Days Madness, Is Jesus Coming Soon?, The Early Church and the End of the World, Left Behind: Separating Fact from Fiction, and 10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered (among others).
The charge of Replacement Theology is a cheap way to end any discussion on the relationship between Israel and Christianity. Notice I did not say “Israel and the Church.” It’s like calling someone a “racist” in a discussion about race, or a “homophobe” in a discussion about homosexuality. “Replacement Theology” is a more discreet way of calling someone an anti-Semite without ever sitting down to discuss the real issues. Here’s a typical definition:
[A] theological perspective that teaches that the Jews have been rejected by God and are no longer God’s Chosen People. Those who hold to this view disavow any ethnic future for the Jewish people in connection with the biblical covenants, believing that their spiritual destiny is either to perish or become a part of the new religion that superseded Judaism (whether Christianity or Islam). ((Randall Price, Unholy War: America, Israel and Radical Islam (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2001), 412.))
As anyone who is familiar with the Bible knows that Christianity does not “supersede Judaism” and Christianity is not a “new religion.” Messiah-anity is about Jesus as the promised Messiah, the fulfillment of the Scriptures. Did Jesus fulfill His mission, or didn’t He? Did He “redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21) or didn’t He?:
And [Jesus] said to [His disciples], “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. . . .
Then [Jesus] told them, “These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:25–27, 44–45).
The genealogies found in Matthew and Luke clearly show that Jesus is “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt. 1:1). 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), and the world (John 3:16; 4:42; 1 Tim. 3:16). At Pentecost, we see that the gospel was preached to “Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). This was no new thing; it was Jesus’ mission. It’s why He was born and predestined to die (Acts 2:23).
Gentile believers were grafted into the Jewish assembly (ekklēsia) of believers (Rom. 11:17–24) and were given “the same gift,” the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8; 2:38). There’s one olive tree, not two; one Spirit, not two; “one new man” in Christ, not two (Eph. 2:15). Pentecost was not the beginning of the “church” since Peter declares that the events of that day were a fulfillment of a prophecy given to Joel, an Old Testament prophet: “this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:17; Joel 2:28–32). Peter’s message was to “all the house of Israel” (Acts 2:36). When these Israelites asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (2:37), Peter replied: “For the promise is for you and your children, and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord God shall call to Himself” (2:39).
Israel’s spiritual destiny is the same as it is for non-Israelites: Repent and believe in Jesus as the Messiah! No one said anything about a postponement in the promises that had been made to Israel. In fact, Peter clearly told his fellow-countrymen that the promises were for them and their children right then and there (2:38). They didn’t have to wait 2000 years for God to renew His covenant for a later remnant. Jesus said as much when He met His disciples on the road to Emmaus.
The Church could not replace Israel because the Greek word ekklēsia translated “church” is not something new to the New Testament. 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. ((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).)) They found the term in common use and simply employed what was at hand.” ((Earl D. Radmacher, What the Church is All About: A Biblical and Historical Study (Chicago: Moody Press,  1978), 121, 132. Radmacher argues that “although the etymological associations of ekklesia have their unquestionable bearing upon the significance of the term, the deciding evidence must be drawn from the exhaustive investigation of its actual use in the New Testament. While it is true that historical continuity seems to demand that the early appearance of the word ekklesia in any new literature should simply suggest ‘assembly,’ it is also true that the Holy Spirit frequently lifts words from their current usages to a higher plane of meaning and packs into them such vast new content as their etymologies will scarcely account for. Whitney states: ‘Philologists agree that the final authority of any word does not lie in its etymological or historical connotation but in its actual use’” (132). That is the question. What is its actual use and meaning in the New Testament?))
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” ((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.)) 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).
Stephen describes Israel as the “ekklēsia in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38). Most translations get it right by translating ekklēsia as “congregation.” Ekklēsia appears again in the next chapter: “And on that day a great persecution began against the church [ekklēsia] in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (8:1).
Thomas More protested Tyndale’s use of “congregation” as the proper translation of ekklēsia because it called into question the entire ecclesiastical structure of the church’s hierarchy. For his efforts, Tyndale was strangled and burned at the stake in 1536 for defying church authority, opposing the Church by promoting doctrines such as sola Scriptura, justification by faith alone, the denial of purgatory, questioning the number of sacraments, and translating particular words that could lead the laity to believe that the Church’s authority was limited. That included his more accurate translation of ekklēsia as “congregation” and not “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.” ((Quoted in David Daniell, The Bible in English: It’s History and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 439.)) This time “the Anglican establishment,” ((Alister McGrath, In the Beginning: The Story of the King James Bible and How it Changed a Nation, a Language, and a Culture (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 172.)) wanted to impose on ekklēsia a contemporary “ecclesiastical” understanding of the word rather than its biblically contextual definition. Because of Rule 3, the hands of the translators were tied since they were in the employ of the king.
This means that the argument that there is a distinction between Israel and the church is false. The first believers in Jesus were Jews and they made up the first members of the New Testament ekklēsia which was an extension of the Old Testament ekklēsia. There is redemptive continuity between the testaments. Jesus didn’t come to start something new. We know from the book of Acts that probably tens of thousands of Jews came to Jesus as the Messiah. Remember, the gospel was to be preached throughout the cities of Israel before the destruction of Jerusalem (Matt. 10:23). We also know that the gospel was preached throughout the Roman Empire where probably a million or more Jews embraced Jesus as the promised Messiah (Rom. 1:8; 10:11–21; 16:25–26; Col. 1:6, 23).
The way Joseph Farah and other prophecy writers tell the story, the promises made to Israel have been postponed until a future time when God will once again deal with Israel as a separate redemptive people. We were told that this happened in 1948 and the “rapture” would take place within 40 years. You can read about the math in Hal Lindsey’s 1970 bestseller the Late Great Planet Earth and in the prophecy writings of Chuck Smith and others. For nearly 2000 years, so the theory goes, God has being dealing with His “church,” but one day He will get back to Israel. The Bible does not teach anything like this. God does not postpone His covenants.
Consider God’s covenant with Noah. He promised never to flood the Earth again like He did in Noah’s day. But what if God decided to postpone the covenant, to put it on hold for a time, so he could work with another group of people? During the time of the postponement, God sent another flood. Would God have been a covenant breaker? Not if we follow the logic of those who argue that we are living in a time when God is dealing with His “church” and not Israel.
Dispensationalists claim that their particular brand of eschatology is the only prophetic system that gives Israel her proper place in redemptive history. This is an odd thing to argue since in the dispensational view of the Great Tribulation, two-thirds of the Jews will be slaughtered (Zech. 13:8). Charles Ryrie writes in his book The Best is Yet to Come (except if you’re a Jew) that during this post-rapture period Israel will undergo “the worst bloodbath in Jewish history.” ((Charles C. Ryrie, The Best is Yet to Come (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1981), 86.))
Dispensationalists don’t interpret “all Israel” (Rom. 11:26) to mean every Israelite who has ever lived. They don’t even understand “all Israel” to mean every Jew alive during the post-rapture great tribulation period since they believe that two-thirds of them will be slaughtered (Zech. 13:8). They mean by “all Israel” the remnant, what’s left of Israel after the antichrist has his way with the newly constituted nation. To get this remnant, two-thirds of the Jews have to be killed in another holocaust.
Joseph, you might want to see how this view of the end times affected the way some prophecy writers took a “hands off” approach when they heard how Jews were being persecuted. Like you, they argued that it was “predicted.” I tell the story in my book Last Days Madness.
John Walvoord follows a similar line of argument:
“Israel is destined to have a particular time of suffering which will eclipse any thing that it has known in the past. . . . [T]he people of Israel . . . are placing themselves within the vortex of this future whirlwind which will destroy the majority of those living in the land of Palestine.” ((John F. Walvoord, Israel in Prophecy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1962), 107, 113. Emphasis added.))
Arnold Fruchtenbaum states that during the Great Tribulation “Israel will suffer tremendous persecution (Matthew 24:15–28; Revelation 12:1–17). As a result of this persecution of the Jewish people, two-thirds are going to be killed.” ((Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, “The Little Apocalypse of Zechariah,” The End Times Controversy: The Second Coming Under Attack, eds. Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2003), 262.)) Since Joseph Farah is concerned about the Jewish people, as I am, he needs to deal with those who are predicting a new holocaust. The problem is, Joseph writes, “In fact, it is predicted.” If it’s predicted, then there is nothing that can be done to stop it.
According to the view espoused by Joseph and others, Israel has waited thousands of years for the promises finally to be fulfilled, and before it happens, two-thirds of them are wiped out. Those who are falsely charged with holding to “Replacement Theology” believe in no such inevitable future Jewish bloodbath. In fact, we believe that the Jews will inevitably embrace Jesus as the Messiah this side of the Second Coming. The fulfillment of Zechariah 13:8 is a past event (Matt. 3:7; 21:42–46; 22:1–14; 24:15–22). Those who believed Jesus’ words of warning at the impending destruction of Jerusalem that took place in A.D. 70 were delivered “from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10).
In Jeremiah 31:35–36, God promised the following to Israel: “Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The Lord of hosts is His name: ‘If this fixed order departs From before Me,’” declares the Lord, ‘Then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever. Jeremiah 31:7 continues: “Thus says the Lord, ‘If the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,’ declares the Lord.”
Jeremiah’s prophecy was given more than 2500 years ago. Prior to 1948 and after A.D. 70, Israel had not been a nation. So we have a few interpretive choices regarding the Jeremiah passage: (1) God lied (impossible); (2) the promise was conditional (not likely); the promise was postponed (always the dispensationalist answer and untenable); (4) or the fulfillment was fulfilled in the new nation that grew out of the New Covenant made up of Jews and non-Jews(most likely). Consider what Jesus tells the religious leaders of His day:
“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust. When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them” (Matt. 21:43–45).
Peter, quoting portions of the Old Testament related to Israel, raises the nation issue as it pertain to “the sons of Israel” (Ex. 19:6): “But you are ‘a chosen race,’ a royal ‘priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession,’ so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were ‘not a people,’ but now you are ‘the people of God; you had ‘had not received mercy,’ but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9–10). Does this not fulfill what is promised to Jeremiah? There is no need of a parenthesis, a postponement of covenant promises, for a future fulfillment. Peter is clear that a new nation of believers in Jesus Christ has been founded made up of Israelites and non-Israelites.
We need to stop teaching the two-people of God gospel, which is no gospel at all. There is one gospel and one people of God if they are in Jesus Christ: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17)