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Christians believe that Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant (see Hebrews 8:6). Depicted is his famous Sermon on the Mount in which he commented on the Law. Some scholars (see Antithesis of the Law) consider this to be an antitype of the proclamation of the Ten Commandments or Mosaic Covenant by Moses from the Biblical Mount Sinai.

Supersessionism and replacement theology or fulfillment theology are Christian interpretations of New Testament claims, viewing God's relationship with Christians as being either the "replacement" or "fulfillment" or "completion" of the promise made to the Jews (or Israelites) and Jewish Proselytes. Biblical expressions of God's relationships with people are known as covenants,[1] so the contentious element of supersessionism is the idea that the New Covenant with the Christians and the Christian Church replaces, fulfills or completes the Mosaic Covenant (or Torah) with the Israelites and B'nei Noah.


The word supersessionism comes from English supersede, first known to have been used with the meaning replace in 1642.[2] Prior to this time the word is attested in Scottish legal English to describe restraining orders against debt collection, restraint being its original Latin sense.[3] (The Latin for replace is succedere.) The preposition super is applied to intensify the verb sedere, as in English hold up. Both forms can mean to delay. Hence the term supersessionism does not come from the Latin Church Fathers' description of their own views but as the application of a modern term to older views.

The word supersession is used by S. Thelwall in the title of chapter three of his 1870 translation of Tertullian's Adversus Iudaeos (written between 198 and 208). The title is provided by Thelwall; it is not in the original Latin.[4]

Types of supersessionism

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Both Christian and Jewish theologians have identified different types of supersessionism in Christian reading of the Bible.

R. Kendall Soulen notes three categories of supersessionism are identified by Christian theologians: punitive, economic, and structural.[5]

  • Punitive supersessionism is represented by figures such as Hippolytus, Origen, and Luther. It is the view that Jews who reject Jesus as the Jewish Messiah are consequently condemned by God, forfeiting the promises otherwise due to them under the covenants. (Although, both Origen and Hippolytus expected the Jewish people to be restored as a whole alongside the Gentiles in the last days.) [6]
  • Economic supersessionism does not refer to money, rather it is used in the technical theological sense of function (see economic trinity). It is the view that the practical purpose of the nation of Israel in God's plans is replaced by the role of the church. It is represented by writers such as Justin Martyr and Augustine. (Again, Augustine explicitly expected a restoration of the Jewish people alongside the Gentiles in the last days.) [7]
  • Structural supersessionism is Soulen's term for the de facto marginalization of the Old Testament as normative for Christian thought. In his words, "Structural supersessionism refers to the narrative logic of the standard model whereby it renders the Hebrew Scriptures largely indecisive for shaping Christian convictions about how God’s works as Consummator and as Redeemer engage humankind in universal and enduring ways."[8] Soulen's terminology is used by Craig A. Blaising, in 'The Future of Israel as a Theological Question'.[9] See also Biblical law in Christianity, Antinomianism, and Marcionism.

These three views are neither mutually exclusive, nor logically dependent, and it is possible to hold all of them or any one with or without the others.

Jewish theologian and rabbinic scholar David Novak suggests that there are three options:[10]

  1. The new covenant is an extension of the old covenant.
  2. The new covenant is an addition to the old covenant.
  3. The new covenant is a replacement for the old covenant.

He observes, "In the early Church, it seems, the new covenant presented by the New Testament was either taken to be an addition to the old covenant (the religion of the Torah and the Jewish Pharisaic tradition, summarized in the Ten Commandments), or it was taken to be a replacement for the old covenant."[10]

Novak considers both understandings to be supersessionist. He designates the first as "soft supersessionism" and the second as "hard supersessionism". The former "does not assert that God terminated the covenant of Exodus-Sinai with the Jewish people. Rather, it asserts that Jesus came to fulfill the promise of the old covenant, first for those Jews already initiated into the covenant, who then accepted his messiahhood as that covenant's fulfillment. And, it asserts that Jesus came to both initiate and fulfill the promise of the covenant for those Gentiles whose sole connection to the covenant is through him. Hence, in this kind of supersessionism, those Jews who do not accept Jesus' messiahhood are still part of the covenant in the sense of 'what God has put together let no man put asunder' [emphasis original]."[10] See also Dual-covenant theology.

Hard supersessionism, on the other hand, asserts that "[t]he old covenant is dead. The Jews by their sins, most prominently of rejecting Jesus as the Messiah, have forfeited any covenantal status."[10] See also Antinomianism.

This classification provides mutually exclusive options. Hard supersessionism implies both punitive and economic supersessionism; soft supersessionism does not fall into any of the three classes recognized as supersessionist by Christian theologians, instead it's associated with Jewish Christianity.

Christian views

A Greek language inscription from Herod's Temple, late 1st century BC. It warns Gentiles to refrain from entering the Temple enclosure, on pain of death. Gentiles were restricted to the Court of the Gentiles.

The early Christian theologians saw the New Covenant in Christ as a replacement for the Mosaic Covenant (see "Roman Catholicism", below). Historically, statements on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church have claimed her ecclesiastical structures to be a fulfillment and replacement of Jewish ecclesiastical structures (see also Jerusalem as an allegory for the Church). As recently as 1965 Vatican Council II affirmed, "the Church is the new people of God," without intending to make "Israel according to the flesh", the Jewish people, irrelevant in terms of eschatology (see "Roman Catholicism, below). Modern Catholicism continues to affirm these spokesmen as authoritative for doctrine, alongside the New Testament. Modern Protestants hold to a range of positions, some with more emphasis on continuity (covenant theology) and others with more emphasis on discontinuity (dispensationalism).

The Jewish-Christian dialog has changed dramatically since the early centuries. In the first century Gentile (non-Jewish) inclusion was the significant issue, see Circumcision controversy in early Christianity, while two millennia later Jewish exclusion is the issue (though Jewish exclusion may have begun as early as the exclusion of Jews from Aelia Capitolina c.135, see also Jewish Bishops of Jerusalem and Anti-Judaism).

The New Testament repeatedly gives Jews preeminence, as in Jesus' expression of his central mission as being to the Jews rather than Gentiles[11] and in Paul's formula "first for the Jew, then for the Gentile."[12] Yet after the death of Jesus, the inclusion of the Gentiles as equals in this burgeoning sect of Judaism also caused problems, particularly when it came to Gentiles keeping the Mosaic Law,[13] which was both a major issue at the Council of Jerusalem and a theme of Paul's Epistle to the Galatians.

By contrast, in modern discourse, the term supersessionism arises as a criticism of a (perceived) Christian belief in Jewish exclusion, not as a Christian articulation of their own understanding of the relation between the Christians and Jews. Modern Christian descriptions of the New Testament teaching in this area focus on Gentile inclusion in God's plans, without much if any consideration of Jewish exclusion. Although modern Christians, nearly all of whom are Gentiles, naturally believe in Gentile inclusion, they are divided in their understanding of whether the New Testament teaches Jewish exclusion. In short, some modern Christians believe in supersessionism and others don't. There is also some disagreement among Christians in regard to what, precisely, is superseded: the Old Covenant, or the Jewish people themselves.

New Testament

  • Matthew 5:17-20: Mat 5:17-20 “Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished. Whoever, therefore, shall break one of these least commandments, and teach others to do so, shall be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven; but whoever shall do and teach them shall be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, there is no way you will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven."[14]
  • John 4:22: "'You worship that which you don’t know. We worship that which we know; for salvation is from the Jews.'"[15]
  • Romans 1:16-17: "For I am not ashamed of the Good News of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes; for the Jew first, and also for the Greek. For in it is revealed God’s righteousness from faith to faith. As it is written, 'But the righteous shall live by faith.'" [Habakkuk 2:4]"[16]
  • Romans 2:28-29: "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not from men, but from God."[17]
  • Romans 3:29-31: "Or is God the God of Jews only? Isn’t he the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith, and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then nullify the law through faith? May it never be! No, we establish the law."[18]
  • Romans 9:6-8: "But it is not as though the word of God has come to nothing. For they are not all Israel, that are of Israel. Neither, because they are Abraham’s seed, are they all children. But, 'In Isaac will your seed be called.' That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as a seed."[19]
  • Romans 10:12-13: "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich to all who call on him. For, 'Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.'[Joel 2:32]"[20]
  • Romans 11:1-6: "I ask then, did God reject his people? May it never be! For I also am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God didn’t reject his people, which he foreknew. Or don’t you know what the Scripture says about Elijah? How he pleads with God against Israel: 'Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have broken down your altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.' But how does God answer him? 'I have reserved for myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to Baal.' Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work."[21]
  • Romans 11:26: ". . . and so all Israel will be saved."[22]
  • Galatians 2:14-16: "But when I saw that they didn’t walk uprightly according to the truth of the Good News, I said to Peter before them all, 'If you, being a Jew, live as the Gentiles do, and not as the Jews do, why do you compel the Gentiles to live as the Jews do?' We, being Jews by nature, and not Gentile sinners, yet knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law, because no flesh will be justified by the works of the law."[23]
  • Galatians 3:29: "If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to promise."[24]
  • Ephesians 2:11-22, especially Ephesians 2:14: "For he [Jesus] is our peace, who made both [Jews and Gentiles] one, and broke down the middle wall of partition . . ."[25]

The parable of the Wicked Vinedressers (Matthew 21:33-45), addressed to "the chief priests and the Pharisees", is often invoked as providing scriptural support to some form of supersessionism: "'When therefore the lord of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?' They told him, 'He will miserably destroy those miserable men, and will lease out the vineyard to other farmers, who will give him the fruit in its season.'"[26]

Church fathers

Many Early Christian commentators taught that the Old Covenant was fulfilled and replaced (superseded) by the New Covenant in Christ, for instance:

  • Justin Martyr (about 100 to 165): "For the true spiritual Israel ... are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ."[27]
  • Hippolytus of Rome (martyred 13 August 235): "[The Jews] have been darkened in the eyes of your soul with a darkness utter and everlasting."[28]
  • Tertullian (ca.160 – ca.220 AD): “Who else, therefore, are understood but we, who, fully taught by the new law, observe these practices,—the old law being obliterated, the coming of whose abolition the action itself demonstrates. . . . Therefore, as we have shown above that the coming cessation of the old law and of the carnal circumcision was declared, so, too, the observance of the new law and the spiritual circumcision has shone out into the voluntary observances of peace.” [29]

Augustine (354–430) follows these views of the earlier Church Fathers, but he emphasizes the importance to Christianity of the continued existence of the Jewish people: "The Jews ... are thus by their own Scriptures a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ."[30] Jeremy Cohen,[31] followed by John Y. B. Hood and James Carroll,[32] sees this as having had decisive social consequences, with Carroll saying, "It is not too much to say that, at this juncture, Christianity 'permitted' Judaism to endure because of Augustine."[33]

Various forms of supersessionism have been the mainstream Christian interpretation of the New Testament since the inception of all three main historical traditions within Christianity — Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant.

Protestant views

Protestant views on supersessionism revolve around their understanding of the relationship between the various covenants of the Bible, particularly the relationship between the covenants of the Old Testament and the New Covenant. The most prominent Protestant views on this relationship are called Law and Gospel, Covenant Theology, New Covenant Theology, and Dispensationalism. These views are not restricted to a single denomination.

Law and Gospel

The approach among many early Protestants that predominates today in Lutheran churches and some Reformed churches emphasizes the discontinuity between the old covenant and the new and sees the Mosaic Law primarily as negative. Most of the early advocates of this approach, such as Martin Luther (1483–1546), rejected the Jews as having a continuing positive relationship with God.[34]

Covenant theology

Covenant theology, while sometimes mixed with Law and Gospel, is a framework for thinking about biblical ideas typical of (but not exclusive to) the Reformed churches (see also Roman Catholic Covenant Theology). The Protestant Reformer John Calvin is typically credited with establishing the basic principles of covenant theology in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (2:9–11). The three covenants Calvin saw implied by the Bible are the covenant of redemption, the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.

In the view of Calvin, and those who follow him, the first is a covenant between God the Father and God the Son and states that the Son would be the ruler of a people he would personally redeem. Covenant Theology deliberately views the rescue of humanity as part of God's plan, prior even to creating the world. This idea is as objectionable to some Christians, as it is loved by others, its most common name being predestination. A key New Testament passage is Romans 9, which also deals with the place of Israel.

The covenants of works and grace, on the other hand, refer to God's covenants with human beings, not the Godhead per se, and these occur later in time, during human history. Briefly stated, both covenants are conceived of as "gifts" from God to humankind. They differ in that the covenant of works is a gift received by obedience — God promises good to those who do good. The covenant of grace, however, is an unconditional gift that can only be received by faith — God promises good even to those who have done bad.

In Calvin's scheme, the idea of supersession does not even arise. Because his reading of the Bible saw Jesus as God the Son and Redeemer from even before creation, those saved under Old Testament revelation, and those saved under the New are more properly, in his view, understood as saved under the same, eternal covenant of redemption. All salvation depends on a pact between Father and Son, before creation, independent of humanity. We become aware of the covenant of redemption progressively, through the revelation of various manifestations of the covenants of works and of grace. Calvin says:

Since God was pleased (and not in vain) to testify in ancient times by means of expiations and sacrifices that he was a Father, and to set apart for himself a chosen people, he was doubtless known even then in the same character in which he is now fully revealed to us.[35]

In Calvin's view, the difference between old and new revelation is a difference in clarity, not kind. As such, it is not conceived of as a replacement in any sense. Calvin's ideas were startling and unprecedented, and he is still controversial within Protestantism today. Whatever subsequent covenant theologians may have said, Calvin himself is explicitly against replacement:

Inasmuch as the term Gospel is applied by Paul to the doctrine of faith (2Timothy 4:10), it includes all the promises by which God reconciles men to himself, and which occur throughout the Law.[36]
Here we must guard against the diabolical imagination of Servetus, who, from a wish, or at least the pretence of a wish, to extol the greatness of Christ, abolishes the promises [of salvation in the Law of the Old Testament] entirely, as if they had come to an end at the same time with the Law.[36]


The early development of Dispensationalism is generally attributed to John Nelson Darby (1800–1882), initially of the Plymouth Brethren denomination, but later the founder of the Exclusive Brethren. Although Darby's ideas started in the United Kingdom, they became much more widespread in the United States, perhaps due to population, and the non-exclusive nature of the American denominations that valued the teaching. The notes of the Scofield Reference Bible (1909 revised 1917) are frequently considered to have been particularly influential in establishing the popularity of Dispensationalism.

Millennial views.gif

Like Covenant Theology, Dispensationalism is an interpretive or narrative framework for understanding the overall flow of the Bible. It perceives the biblical description of God's manner of dealing with mankind to fall into seven epochs known as dispensations:

  1. of innocence (Gen 1:1–3:7), prior to Adam's fall;
  2. of conscience (Gen 3:8–8:22), Adam to Noah;
  3. of government (Gen 9:1–11:32), Noah to Abraham;
  4. of patriarchal rule (Gen 12:1–Exod 19:25), Abraham to Moses;
  5. of the Mosaic Law (Exod 20:1–Acts 2:4), Moses to Jesus;
  6. of grace (Acts 2:4–Rev 20:3), the current church age; and
  7. of a literal, earthly 1,000-year Millennial Kingdom that has yet to come (Rev 20:4–20:6).[37]

A natural misunderstanding of Dispensationalism sees the covenant of Sinai (dispensation #5) to have been replaced by the gospel (dispensation #6). However, Dispensationalists believe that ethnic Israel, distinct from the church, and on the basis of the Sinai covenant, are featured in New Testament promises, which they interpret as referring to a future time associated with the Millennium of Revelation 20 (dispensation #7). In Dispensational thought, although the time from Jesus' resurrection until his return (or the advent of the Millennium) is dominated by the proclamation of the gospel, the Sinai covenant is neither terminated nor replaced, rather it is "quiescent" awaiting a fulfillment at the Millennium (click to expand diagram). This time of Jewish restoration has an especially prominent place within Dispensationalism.

Dispensationalists do not base this view on the New Testament alone, but consider that certain Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel will also be fulfilled in a return to the Promised Land, and ultimately a large-scale conversion of the Jews to Christianity.[38] Those who hold this view often note that the Bible does not promise that every individual Jew will be saved, but that the nation (or family) as a whole will be saved. It will still be up to individuals to accept Jesus as Messiah, but the nation as a whole will be blessed, because many (or most) will do so.

A distinctive feature of the dispensationalist scheme is that it conceives of the church age as primarily an arrangement through which God gathers in the Gentiles, a parenthesis in his dealing with the Jews, instituted due to many first century Jews having rejected the Messiah at his first coming.

  • Romans 11:11–12: "Hence I ask, did they stumble so as to fall? Of course not! But through their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make them jealous. 12Now if their transgression is enrichment for the world, and if their diminished number is enrichment for the Gentiles, how much more their full number."

In the dispensationalist view, the Jewish restoration and acceptance of the Messiah will be as a people distinct from the Christian Church. Some believe the church will have actually ceased to exist on the earth at this time, having been removed by a miracle called the Rapture. Most dispensationalists believe that the 144,000 from the tribes of Israel, spoken of in the Book of Revelation, are either the literal or symbolic number of ethnic Jews who will be followers of the Messiah during a Great Tribulation. In the meantime, dispensationalists typically hold that the promise "I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse" (Genesis 12:3) has abiding reference to the Jewish people; and some apply this to the modern, political state of Israel. Such ideas are often used in support of Christian Zionism.

With regard to supersessionism, then, Dispensationalism's key contribution to the history of Christian interpretation is this view that the fulfillment of God's covenant with Israel is postponed until the end of history. Traditional Christian interpretation, on the other hand, has seen the fulfillment of the covenant as progressive — starting with the apostles and early Jewish Christians and continuing throughout subsequent history in Messianic Judaism, until finally complete at the return of the Messiah. In either view, individual Jews are anticipated to accept Jesus as Messiah, and not by becoming Gentile Christians first, but directly on the basis of the original promises to ethnic Israel. Neither of these interpretations is, as such, viewing the promises to Israel as either terminated or replaced.

Roman Catholicism

In this Torah, which is Jesus himself, the abiding essence of what was inscribed on the stone tablets at Sinai is now written in living flesh, namely, the twofold commandment of love. . . . To imitate him, to follow him in discipleship, is therefore to keep Torah, which has been fulfilled in him once and for all. Thus the Sinai covenant is indeed superseded. But once what was provisional in it has been swept away, we see what is truly definitive in it.

Joseph Ratzinger, Many Religions, One Covenant[39]

In contrast to Protestantism, Roman Catholicism has an intricate formal system of checks and balances on biblical interpretation. In an effort to safeguard reliability, it provides a hierarchy of sources, stretching from the absolute authority of the Bible and ex cathedra papal declarations, through approved Church Fathers, right down to authorized, active theological researchers. In this way, Catholicism seeks to serve its members with trustworthy official positions on biblical issues.

Supersessionism is not the name of any official Catholic doctrine and the word appears in no Church documents; however, the Catholic Church does officially teach that the Mosaic covenant was fulfilled and replaced by the New Covenant in Christ. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church does not teach an extreme or "crude" supersessionism (see: Avery Cardinal Dulles) that considers the Jewish people themselves as effectively irrelevant in terms of eschatology and Biblical prophecy. For the Catholic Church, the Jewish people are a reminder that the “gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29).[40] The persevering presence of Israel on earth is perhaps that best proof that God exists and that His covenant extends “to a thousand generations” (Deut 7:9). The Church recognizes an ongoing and unique relationship between the Jewish people, God and the Church. [2] Additionally, the Church teaches that there is an integral continuity between the covenants rather than a rupture. [3]

The Church's teaching regarding the fulfillment and replacement of the Mosaic Covenant by the New Covenant in Christ can be found in the Scriptures, the Fathers and various Magisterial documents:

At a Jewish synagogue, St. Paul preached the following: “Let it be known to you therefore, brethren, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him every one that believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.” (Acts 13:38–39) In the book of Hebrews, it is written: “On the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect).” (Heb. 7:18)

St. Justin Martyr states in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, “We do not trust through Moses or through the law” because there is “a final law, and a covenant, the chiefest of all, which it is now incumbent on all men to observe,” and “law placed against law has abrogated that which is before it, and a covenant which comes after in like manner has put an end to the previous one.”

St. Augustine writes: “Instead of the grace of the law which has passed away, we have received the grace of the gospel which is abiding; and instead of the shadows and types of the old dispensation, the truth has come by Jesus Christ. Jeremiah also prophesied thus in God’s name: ‘Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant which I made with their fathers, in the day that I took them by the hand, to bring them out of the land of Egypt.’ [Jer 31:31–32] Observe what the prophet says, not to Gentiles, who had not been partakers in any former covenant, but to the Jewish nation. He who has given them the law by Moses, promises in place of it the new covenant of the gospel, that they might no longer live in the oldness of the letter, but in the newness of the spirit.” (Letters, 75, 4)

Pope Pius XII, enyclical Mystici corporis (1943) states: By the death of our Redeemer, the New Testament took the place of the Old Law which had been abolished; then the Law of Christ together with its mysteries, enactments, institutions, and sacred rites was ratified for the whole world in the blood of Jesus Christ. For, while our Divine Savior was preaching in a restricted area - He was not sent but to the sheep that were lost of the House of Israel - the Law and the Gospel were together in force; but on the gibbet of His death Jesus made void the Law with its decrees fastened the handwriting of the Old Testament to the Cross, establishing the New Testament in His blood shed for the whole human race. “To such an extent, then,” says St. Leo the Great, speaking of the Cross of our Lord, “was there effected a transfer from the Law to the Gospel, from the Synagogue to the Church, from the many sacrifices to one Victim, that, as Our Lord expired, that mystical veil which shut off the innermost part of the temple and its sacred secret was rent violently from top to bottom.” (paragraph 29)

In Lumen Gentium (1964), the Church stated that God “chose the race of Israel as a people” and “set up a covenant” with them, instructing them and making them holy. However, “all these things . . . were done by way of preparation and as a figure of that new and perfect covenant” instituted by and ratified in Christ (no. 9). In Notes on the Correct Way to Present the Jews and Judaism (1985), the Church stated that the “Church and Judaism cannot then be seen as two parallel ways of salvation and the Church must witness to Christ as the Redeemer of all.”

And in Dominus Iesus (2000), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith states, “There is only one salvific economy” (no. 12), and “God has willed that the Church founded by him be the instrument for the salvation of all humanity. . . . The certainty of the universal salvific will of God does not diminish, but rather increases the duty and urgency of the proclamation of salvation and of conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ” (no. 22)

While acting as prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “God, according to the Prophet, will replace the broken Sinai covenant with a New Covenant that cannot be broken . . . . The conditional covenant, which depended on man’s faithful observance of the Law, is replaced by the unconditional covenant in which God binds himself irrevocably.” [41]

Catholic theologian Brian Harrison has offered the following definition of "supersessionism" that he believes to comport with Catholic teaching:

"What, then, is supersessionism? The word designates the traditional Christian belief that the covenant between God and the People of Israel, established through the mediation of Moses at Mount Sinai, has been replaced or superseded by the 'New Covenant' of Jesus Christ. This implies that the Mosaic covenant, with its ritual and dietary requirements, Sabbath observance, etc., is no longer valid for the Jewish people, since God’s revealed will is for Jews, as well as Gentiles, to enter into the New Covenant by baptism and faith in Jesus as the promised Messiah."[42]

However, it should also be noted that the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, introduced the idea that, although all salvation comes from Christ, those non-Christians "who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience" may still attain salvation. Those outside of the formal boundaries of the Church may be considered inside the informal boundaries of the church, and hence saved, if their separation from the church is a result of invincible ignorance and if the people nevertheless try to love God and follow the laws that they understand to be His. As God alone is the judge and God alone knows the exact criteria, man has no way of knowing whether any individual has reached salvation through this “extraordinary” means. The statement "no salvation outside the church" has been clarified to mean that anyone who attains salvation, even if they are not Catholic (even if they do not believe in Catholicism), has attained salvation because of Jesus (who is tied to the church), and despite their personal non-Catholic religious beliefs. In other words, they may possibly attain salvation, not because of those beliefs that make their particular religion different from Catholicism (in the case of Islam, Judaism, etc.), but despite those different beliefs, through Jesus (and the church's) mercy. It is those beliefs such individuals hold that are in common with the Catholic faith along with a sincere response to the natural law written on all men's hearts that would aid toward the possibility of salvation in this circumstance. In such a case it is assumed that the individuals are implicitly part of the Church-but outside of its formal bounds-because the reason they are not Catholic (and would otherwise be Catholic) is through invincible ignorance (such as never hearing about Catholicism or being raised in an environment hostile to Catholicism or in a family of a different religion). Nevertheless, the possibility of such “extraordinary” salvation does not at all diminish the necessity of the Church for salvation. Explicit, visible membership in the Church through Baptism is understood as the one certain means and path of salvation on earth for all men, as stated in Dominus Iesus (2000) and Redemportis Missio (1990):

“There is only one salvific economy” (no. 12), and “God has willed that the Church founded by him be the instrument for the salvation of all humanity. . . . The certainty of the universal salvific will of God does not diminish, but rather increases the duty and urgency of the proclamation of salvation and of conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ” (DI, no. 22)

The possibility of salvation for “followers of other religions . . . by Christ, apart from the ordinary means he has established does not thereby cancel the call to faith and baptism which God wills for all people . . . the Church is the ordinary means of salvation . . . she alone possesses the fullness of the means of salvation” (RM, no. 55).

Other views

Eastern Orthodox and Pentecostal groups, although quite different, have in common a focus on the work of the Holy Spirit in defining church membership. It has long been noted by theologians that pursuit of a dynamic, experiential and personal experience of faith has been typical of eastern theology, where legal and logical formulations have dominated in the Western churches. When articulated in formal ways, Orthodox theology looks very similar to Catholicism; Pentecostalism, on the other hand, is often associated with Dispensationalism. However, in practice, the focus on personal spirituality rather than intellectual assent, means detailed analysis of covenantal issues is considerably less a feature of these traditions.

A few groups assert that their group is literally descended from Abraham, and has a better claim to being considered the chosen people than the Jewish people. In adopting the identity of "the true Israel," they necessarily see the Jewish people as false Israel (see, for example, Anglo-Israelism, Christian Identity and Black Hebrew Israelite, Abrahamic religions).

Some Evangelical Christians[who?] hold to a "Fulfillment Theology" that simultaneously rejects replacement theology and yet maintains there is no racially elect status for today's descendants of those ethnic Jews who do not accept Jesus as Israel's Messiah. They understand the Old Testament to categorically declare corporate Israel as the God's eternal chosen people. Yet since many individual Israelites throughout the Old Testament were "excommunicated" out of Israel and had no more covenantal status, these Christians understand racial heritage alone to be insufficient to be in covenant with God. They view the status of being elect as being dependent upon, not just heritage or ritual, but true belief and submission to God.

Thus these Evangelicals view Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies of the renewal of Israel by incorporating non-Jewish believers into vital Israel. Christians, in this view, are the continuation and completion of Judaism. The elect people, which is depicted as a tree in Romans chapter 11, has its unfaithful (or "dead") branches broken off and faithful Gentile converts grafted in. The tree itself is not replaced but pruned.

Jewish view

Supersessionists understand their view as a theology of fulfillment in which no Jew who truly believes the Gospel is ever replaced and in which any unbelieving Jew (like Ahab or Judas Iscariot) was never truly part of God's chosen people because he or she had never followed God. Even as Judaism anticipates its own fulfillment in a coming Jewish messiah, Christianity claims that Jesus is the expected Jewish Messiah, that in Him the expectations of Israel were fulfilled, and that his Second Coming will be the final consummation of this hope, rather than a replacement for it.

From a Jewish perspective, however, the Torah was given to the Jewish people as an eternal covenant (for example Exo 31:16-17, Exo 12:14-15) and will never be replaced or added to (for example Deut 4:2, 13:1), and hence Judaism rejects supersessionism as contrary to the Hebrew Bible at best (see also Antinomianism) and antisemitic at worst. For Judaism and other critics, supersessionism is a theology of replacement, which substitutes the Christian church, consisting of Christians, for the Jewish and B'nei Noah people. Modern Jews are offended by the traditional Christian belief in supersessionism,[43] and some historians see supersessionism as one source of anti-semitism in western culture.[44]

See also


  1. "The notion of covenant is at the foundation of religious identity because it constitutes the primary designation of relationship between humanity and God." Michael A. Signer, 'The Covenant in Recent Theological Statements', in Eugene B. Korn (ed.), Two Faiths, One Covenant?: Jewish and Christian Identity in the Presence of the Other, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), p. 111.
  2. 'supersede', Online Etymological Dictionary.
  3. A Latin use of supersedere in context can be found in Julius Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War, Gaius Julius Caesar, Commentarii de Bello Gallico, 2:8. (Latin)
  4. Tertullian, Adversus Iudaeos (Latin) = An Answer to the Jews trans. S. Thelwall, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1870).
  5. R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996).
  6. See Origen's commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 4:272, 274 and Hippolytus - the former cited in Bray, Ancient Christian Commentary, VI Romans, page 291 and the latter cited in the same commentary, Vol. VI, page 313).
  7. For example, see: City of God, XX chapter 29 and 30
  8. Soulen, 181, n6.
  9. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44 (2001): 442.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 David Novak, 'The Covenant in Rabbinic Thought', in Eugene B. Korn (ed.), Two Faiths, One Covenant?: Jewish and Christian Identity in the Presence of the Other, (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), pp. 65-80.
  11. Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:23-30; cf. Matthew 10:5-6; Acts 3:26
  12. Romans 1:16; 2:9-10
  13. Acts 10:28; 11:1-2; 21:17-28; Galatians 2
  14. Matthew 5:17, World English Bible.
  15. John 4:22, World English Bible.
  16. Romans 1:16-17, World English Bible.
  17. Romans 2:28-29, World English Bible.
  18. Romans 3:29-31, World English Bible.
  19. Romans 9:6-8, World English Bible.
  20. Romans 10:12-13, World English Bible.
  21. Romans 11:1-6, World English Bible
  22. Romans 11:26, World English Bible
  23. Galatians 2:14-16, World English Bible
  24. Galatians 3:29, World English Bible
  25. Ephesians 2:14, World English Bible (bracketed words added for emphasis)
  26. Matthew 21:40-41, World English Bible
  27. Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 11, in Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:200.
  28. Hippolytus, Treatise Against the Jews 6, in Ante-Nicene Fathers 5.220.
  29. An Answer to the Jews, Chapter 3
  30. Augustine, The City of God 18.46, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 2:389.
  31. Jeremy Cohen, 'Introduction', in Jeremy Cohen (ed.), Essential Papers on Judaism and Christianity in Conflict: From Late Antiquity to the Reformation, (New York: New York University Press, 1991), 13–14.
  32. John Y. B. Hood, Aquinas and the Jews, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), 12f.
  33. James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001).
  34. Martin Luther, On the Jews and Their Lies, in Luther's Works 47:138–39. "The Jews, surely rejected by God, are no longer his people, and neither is he any longer their God."
  35. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by Henry Beveridge, p. 363.
  36. 36.0 36.1 Calvin, p. 365.
  37. Scofield Reference Bible
  38. Charles Hodge, 'The Conversion of the Jews,' in Systematic Theology, IV.3.5.
  39. Joseph Ratzinger, Many Religions, One Covenant, (Ignatius Press, 1999), p. 70.
  40. Taylor Marshall, The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity, (Saint John Press, 2009), p. 54
  41. Ratzinger, Many Religions, One Covenant, p. 63
  42. Harrison, Brian W. Rev. (June 2009), "The Catholic liturgy and ‘supersessionism’", Homiletic and Pastoral Review: 20 
  43. Rabbi Dow Marmur, Lecture at Regis College, Toronto, January 21, 1998, see at [1] June 28, 2008
  44. Padraic O'Hare, The Enduring Covenant: The Education of Christians and the End of Antisemitism, (Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1997)

Further reading

External links

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