Why I am a replacement theologian... and so are you!
Why I believe in Replacement Theology: And so do you!
by Bob Mendelsohn
Given at LCJE
Stanwell Tops (Sydney) NSW
“Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. But no one puts a patch of un-shrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out, and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9.14-17)
“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard and put a wall around it and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and rented it out to vine-growers, and went on a journey. And when the harvest time approached, he sent his slaves to the vine-growers to receive his produce. And the vine-growers took his slaves and beat one, and killed another, and stoned a third. Again he sent another group of slaves larger than the first; and they did the same thing to them. But afterward he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vine-growers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and seize his inheritance.’ And they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine-growers?” They *said to Him, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers, who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.” Jesus *said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures,
‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES’?
Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be 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.” And when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. (Matthew 21.33-45)
Controversy is not my favorite drink, but it does seem to accompany us in Jews for Jesus. Given that, in the collegiality of the LCJE, you would think I would avoid it here, if I could. Yet, the assignment of the topic was my own doing, and I’m going to help you understand some particular beliefs you and I actually share about the community of faith, and the work of the cross, and see if we can agree on some terminology in due course. And all the while, I know the controversy this title brings.
So you know that George Eldon Ladd (G Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, page 65) in light of similar passages says, “Jesus affirmed that Israel, the natural ‘sons of the kingdom’ will be rejected from the Kingdom and their place taken by others (Matt 8.12) The true ‘sons of the Kingdom’ are those who respond to Jesus and accept his word (Mt. 13.38)”
Ladd carries this further in saying “Jesus solemnly announced that Israel would no longer be the people of God’s rule, but that their place would be taken by others who would prove trustworthy (Mk. 12.1-9)” (Ladd, page 114) Then Ladd cites this passage in Matthew 21. This is classic replacement theology. And your initial reaction to my reading this is…”What? Wait! Jews are still in God’s heart. God still loves the apple of His eye. He still has a place for Jews. Didn’t you read Romans 9, 10 and 11?” And my answer is yes, so let’s work on this one.
The MJAA website (mjaa.org.au) has a paper about replacing replacement theology and says, “Replacement theology is the idea that the Church has replaced Israel. This idea has had devastating effects on the historical Churches interactions with the Jewish people, even at times causing Christians to believe that to make a Jew suffer was to do the will of God. The worst consequence of this theology is that it has largely caused the divorce of the Church from its Jewish roots. It has, arguably, caused the Church to fall into the conceit that the Apostle to the Gentiles warned them not to fall into. (Romans 9)”
In Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology, published by Baker Books in 1983-85, we read, “Some Reformed theologians see literal Israel as virtually swallowed up or displaced by the church or spiritual Israel.” (Quoting Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pp. 570-571) There is nothing left to be fulfilled in relationship to literal Israel; consequently there is no need for a millennium in which Jews will be restored to a prominent place in God’s work.” (Page 1042).
Erickson continues by citing passages where promises to Israel in the Older Testament are clearly fulfilled in church language in the Newer Testament, “ …the church is the new Israel…”
Alex Jacob, an LCJE member in the UK, and a good friend, who also is a golfer and CEO of CMJ in the UK, writes very well about this topic in his 2011 book The Case for Enlargement Theology. He takes the time to define what he means as Replacement Theology as “the belief that the New Covenant replaces or supersedes the Old Covenant given to the Jews. The church replaces Israel within God’s purposes. The promises given to Israel are either now dead or transferred to the church.” Then he interprets this to mean “Such an understanding severs the church from her Jewish roots; consequently greater emphasis is placed on issues of discontinuity which the ministry of Jesus brings in relation to the Jewish biblical narrative, rather than with issues of continuity.” (Jacob, Case for Enlargement Theology, pages 31-32)
Alex then puts the history of anti-Semitism into the mix and the issue of supersessionism into three categories (economic, punitive and structural) which I don’t have time to unpack.
Against that backdrop of classic Reformed theology comes the argumentation about unfulfilled prophecies and Israel yet to be coming together, about who is the True Israel (Not a Biblical phrase at all) and the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16)
So you say, Mendelsohn, how can you be a replacement theologian?
Let me explain …by using both the new wine imagery and the cloth imagery.
In the ancient and desert-like Near East with its scarcity of water, wine was a necessity rather than a luxury. Throughout the Bible, wine became a symbol of sustenance and life. It often took on the meaning and represented covenant blessings to the Jewish people, and sometimes even carried eschatological imagery as well. Joel the prophet said, “In that day the mountains will drip new wine.” (3.18)
To be fair, sometimes wine carried eschatological judgment as well. God instructed Jeremiah to “take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it” (25.15, also 13.12-14)
Wine could be either an image of a man who would lose self-control by imbibing (Prov. 20.1) or alternatively as a symbol of joy, celebration and festivity. Consider the wedding in Cana where Yeshua performed his first miracle, turning water into the best wine.
All this background seems to put Jesus’ statement today in Matthew 9 in perspective about new wine. Wine is not bad in the story; it’s a good thing. But don’t be distracted. The issue is the container, not the item to be contained.
(For other ‘new wine’ references, consider this. Job’s 3 friends had spoken for 30 chapters, and finally in chapter 32, the 4th friend, the young Elihu is ready, seriously ready to address the issues and says, “I am full of words; the spirit within me constrains me. Behold, my belly is like unvented wine, like new wineskins it is about to burst. Let me speak that I may get relief; Let me open my lips and answer.“ (32.18-20))
In fact there are 33 references in the Older Testament using the phrase “new wine.” But only in this story, repeated in both Mark and Luke, do we see the phrase “new wine” used in the Newer Testament. At issue then for me, is not the item, but the container. That seems to be what Jesus is highlighting.
Let me tell you a Talmudic story. (Nedarim 50b) “The Emperor's daughter said to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah: ‘What beautiful Torah in an ugly vessel.’ He replied, ‘Learn from the house of your father. In what is the wine stored?’ ‘In jars of clay,’ she answered. ‘But all the common people store their wine in jars of clay! You use them too? You should keep your wine in jars of gold and silver!’ She went and had the wine placed in vessels of gold and silver, and it turned sour. ‘Thus,’ he said to her, ‘It is the same with Torah!’ She asked, ‘But are there not handsome people who are learned?’ He replied, ‘If they were ugly they would be even more learned!’ ”
Now I’m not exactly sure about the application the rabbis wanted the Jewish people to make in the 5th century, but I can tell you for sure what the phrase ‘jars of clay’ is.
Listen to this passage from the Apostle Paul, “God is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves;” (2 Corinthians 4.6-7) The earthen vessels, the jars of clay, are you and me. We are ordinary people, and it’s the glory of God to hide a matter, even in us! It’s the common thing, the available and common jar, the ordinary bowl, the Melmac, not the good Wedgewood China, with which God wants to adorn his house, this house.
How do I know this? By reading the double symbolism in our story today. We see that in the reading of the story of the used old garment and the allegory of the wineskins. The story is about people.
Here’s the reading, again, in the four verses:
Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. But no one puts a patch of un-shrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out, and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both preserved.” (Matthew 9.14-17)
Simply put, the new wineskin is his disciples; it’s people. I’ll get to that soon. For now, imagine the scene. People are eating together, we learn later in Matthew’s house. He’s a tax collector. Outside the house are some of John’s followers and some Pharisees who are sorting out the issues associated with Jesus. They wonder aloud why Jesus eats with sinners. Especially a taxman like Matthew. So they ask him about eating and fasting. A reasonable question. And Jesus doesn’t really answer it except to say, there will be time later to fast. It’s as if he’s saying, “For now, they are learning. Real disciples are hanging out with me. Real disciples are enjoying my presence. There will be time for sorrow and fasting and other such activity, but for now, it’s a good time.” And I wonder if he didn’t then ask, “Do you guys get that? Do you understand what I’m saying? Do you have ears to hear?”
Now I know that most Bible expositors interpret this passage to be talking about the end of Judaism and the beginning of the Kingdom of God in the Church. It’s so binary and so easy. This gives rise to supersessionism and the antagonism to historic Judaism. Be careful.
And it’s close, but it’s not on. There was no church that Jesus could have invited others to join; there was no Baptist or Lutheran or Hillsong… there were Jewish and only Jewish places to attend. So the either/or nature of most commentators sounds an alarm to me in their supersessionist conclusions.
In the parallel Gospel in which the double word picture is repeated, Luke relates how Jesus chose his disciples. All of chapters 5 and 6 string together several stories, which deal with the calling and selection of the disciples. Luke records the story of the miraculous catch of fish during which Jesus invites James, John, Peter (and by inference Andrew) to become his disciples. (Luke 5:1-11) The section concludes with the fishermen leaving their boats, their nets and the miraculous catch to follow Jesus alone. (5.11) The story returns to the calling of the disciples with the call of Matthew (Luke 5:27-28). Like the fishermen, Matthew the tax collector, leaves everything and follows Jesus. Then the disciples have the dinner at which we saw the conversation.
Following our double word picture, Luke chapter 6 begins with a short story (Luke 6:1-5) where the Pharisees challenge Jesus on Sabbath issues, but it is in fact the disciples' behavior that the Pharisees criticize, not the behavior of Jesus. They accused the disciples of breaking the Sabbath by picking the heads of grain and winnowing them in their hands. Luke closes the section with the choice of the twelve apostles (Luke 6:12-16).
There is another Talmudic tale (Pirkei Avot 4.20) which sounds similar. I don’t have time to repeat it here but suffice it to say some of the Pharisees might have known what Jesus meant.
Like the larger Gospel context of our story, the Talmudic passage is comparing different types of teachers, disciples and teachings. That is, the vessels for containing wine are not institutions, religious movements or teachings. The vessels containing the wine are individuals. The wine is the teaching that the individual consumes or contains. Thus:
I believe the new garment is previously uneducated students, while the old garment are the previously educated students, whom we usually call the Jewish leadership. The patch is the teaching. In the other story, the new wineskins are previously uneducated students, that is, the apostles, and you and I, while the old wineskins are previously educated students. The new wine is new teaching, based on Jesus’ instruction while the old wine is previous teaching with rabbinic interpretation.
Thus, the Judaic Meaning: New teaching requires previously uneducated students in order to be received. Or you might be more familiar with what Jesus said, again and again, “He that has ears to hear, let him hear.” This way of looking at this does not pit Jesus against Judaism nor does it imagine a conflict between New Covenant Grace and Old Covenant Torah. Instead, it pits Jesus's choice of disciples against the Pharisees' choice of disciples. And get this, it allows for you and for me to be a part. We can be part of God’s Kingdom now. Welcomed by His love.
Thus I am a replacement theologian. I believe the Jewish leadership in the new community of faith, which down the road is labeled the Church, is the new wineskin. The Church is the new wineskin and the Church (Not the institution, but the people) is made up of Jews and non-Jews. It would make no sense at all to say the Gentiles replaced the Jews, since the Church is made up of Jews and Gentiles. And it would make no sense to say the promises of God to Israel, to the Jews, are done away in Messiah, since the testimony of the Jewish and non-Jewish members of the Church shout of continuity and promises past, present and future. The Church includes Gentiles, but it’s not the Gentile church. That’s a bad term; please don’t use it. The Church includes us, never replaces us. We are the us. The Gentiles who believe are grafted into the promises of God along with us. The issue is the individuals and not the institution.
And remember it’s all about Yeshua. What those labeled supersessionists get right, and often we forget, is that all the promises of God in Him are yea and amen. (2 Cor. 1.20) They cite Romans 4.13 “For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.” They see Yeshua’s promises going well beyond the land of Israel, and see His being Lord of all, and many anti-supersessionists often get that wrong.
I return to Ladd and cite his understanding this himself: “The parable clearly affirms that because Israel as represented by her religious leaders has rejected God’s offer of the Kingdom, God has rejected the nation Israel, whose place as God’s people is to be taken by others… Jesus regarded his disciples as the remnant of the true Israel because they have accepted God’s offer of the Kingdom, the ‘others’ must be the circle of Jesus’ disciples.” (Ladd, page 199)
Erickson also says this, “There is a future for national Israel. They are still the special people of God. The future is bright. Yet Israel will be saved by entering the Church just as do the Gentiles. There is no statement anywhere in the New Testament that there is any other basis of salvation.” He finishes the conversation on the Church and Israel with “the church is the new Israel. It occupies the place in the new covenant, which Israel occupied in the old. Whereas in the Old Testament the kingdom of God was peopled by national Israel, in the New Testament the church peoples it. There is a special future coming for national Israel, through large-scale conversion to Christ and entry into the church.” (Erickson, page 1043)
The Gospel demonstrates the apparently wrong choices Jesus made in disciples. They are fishermen, tax collectors and "sinners." They are feasting and drinking instead of fasting and praying. They appear to be bungling Sabbath observance to feed their stomachs. They are not the pious types. They have not been educated with the sages. In this regard, they are like a clean slate, a fresh, piece of paper for Jesus to write on. The double image is not a polemic against Judaism; it is simply an explanation of his choice of disciples. In essence, Jesus was saying to the Pharisees, "Look, You can't teach an old dog new tricks."
I love Acts chapter 4. It tells the story of the Sanhedrin questioning Peter and John. Peter is filled with the Spirit and answers very well about there being only one way to be saved. In Acts 4:13 Luke records, "Now as [the Sanhedrin] observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus." On that day, when two poorly educated fishermen stood before the Sanhedrin, they demonstrated the full caliber of their education under Jesus and vindicated his choice of disciples. New garments, new wineskins, new life and new students.
Friends at LCJE, and those reading via the Bulletin or the Blog here, God wants you to work together with those who are already in his family. He wants us to see others in the Body of Christ as disciples, and brothers and sisters in this healed family. We were sick; the Great Physician came to us. We were not the previous disciples; we are the new ones. And the needy ones. And the need-one-another ones.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that “new wine and new wineskins” means we cannot meet in a church building or use tambourines. It does not mean we have to write new songs each week or never repeat a sermon from the past. ‘New wineskins’ does not mean chasing after wind.
Here’s the real issue. Will you, will each of you, be a disciple? Will you learn and keep learning? Will you attend classes? Will you read and study when no one is watching, and when you have nothing you have to present? Will you sit at Jesus’ feet in prayer and enjoy him each day or at least regularly? Will you bring others into that fellowship and relationship? That’s the work of a disciple. Being taught and teaching others. Loved and loving.
Text for sermon: Matthew 9.9-26
Matt. 9.9 ¶ And as Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man, called Matthew, sitting in the tax office; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he rose, and followed Him.
Matt. 9.10 ¶ And it happened that as He was reclining at the table in the house, behold many tax-gatherers and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples.
Matt. 9.11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax-gatherers and sinners?”
Matt. 9.12 But when He heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.
Matt. 9.13 “But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matt. 9.14 ¶ Then the disciples of John came to Him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?”
Matt. 9.15 And Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.
Matt. 9.16 “But no one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results.
Matt. 9.17 “Nor do men put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out, and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Matt. 9.18 ¶ While He was saying these things to them, behold, there came a synagogue official, and bowed down before Him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay Your hand on her, and she will live.”
Matt. 9.19 And Jesus rose and began to follow him, and so did His disciples.
Matt. 9.20 And behold, a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak;
Matt. 9.21 for she was saying to herself, “If I only touch His garment, I shall get well.”
Matt. 9.22 But Jesus turning and seeing her said, “Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well.” And at once the woman was made well.
Matt. 9.23 And when Jesus came into the official’s house, and saw the flute-players, and the crowd in noisy disorder,
Matt. 9.24 He began to say, “Depart; for the girl has not died, but is asleep.” And they began laughing at Him.
Matt. 9.25 But when the crowd had been put out, He entered and took her by the hand; and the girl arose.
Matt. 9.26 And this news went out into all that land.
 God has made promises to Israel that are not related to the Church. These promises include the promise of re-gathering to the Land (Isaiah 11:11-12), of divine protection and continuity as a nation (Jeremiah 31:35-37), of the continuation of the families of Judah and Levi until the end times (Jer. 33:19-22), of non-rejection by God (Jeremiah 33:23-26), and of the re-instatement to the Land of Israel in a single day (Isaiah 66:7-9. Also that the Jewish people would return to God as a nation (Ezekiel 37:1-14; Isaiah 59:20-21; Isaiah 35:8; Isaiah 27).
 Rev Alex Jacob is CEO of CMJ. He provides leadership for HQ staff and ensures the mission of CMJ UK continues to be fulfilled. He is also the Director of Advocacy, working with many Churches and clergy training establishments, to bring awareness of the Jewish roots of Christianity.