This past Sunday Dr. David Reagan of Lamb and Lion Ministries began a series in which he proposed to explain why so-called “replacement theology” is wrong. For those who do not know what this theological concept is, it is basically the understanding that the Christian Church (meaning Christianity in all of its forms from the beginning to today) has replaced and supplanted Judaism and the favoritism that “God” showed toward the ancient Hebrews/Israelites. Christianity, instituted by Jesus himself, who was a Jew, was, according to this theological concept, expressly meant to replace Judaism in all of its forms (for there was no monolithic Judaism either) as “The Way”. In fact, the earliest followers of Jesus called their movement “The Way”, literally meaning the ONLY way.
That said, Dr. David Reagan (along with others) takes issue with this theological stance, pointing out that it has been at least a contributing cause of Christian anti-Semitism throughout the centuries. Indeed, he is at least partially correct that this mode of thinking has indeed contributed to exactly that. However, in his (theologically incorrect) diatribe he made it almost seem as if, had it not been for this theological concept, Christianity as a whole would not have proceeded down the path of anti-Semitism and would never have persecuted Jewish people in any way. In his world, Christianity would have embraced Judaism as a brother religion, standing side-by-side with Christianity, marching toward the return of Christ together, anticipating exactly the same reward in each case (and this is exactly the thought process of those who try to embrace Judaism while still calling themselves Christians today). However, the sad fact of the matter is that he is simply wrong. In addition, he completely misunderstands a very basic concept of Christianity here. That basic concept is exactly that the favor of “God” toward the Hebrew/Israelite/Jewish people has been transferred to the Church established by Jesus. There is no logical or sound theological way to get around this. Otherwise, what would be the point of even having a church that would embrace all peoples over the entire earth? After all, the church does not teach that people are saved by way of Judaism, but by way of Jesus, whom they call “Christ”. Does not the New Testament make it abundantly clear that a person does not have to become a Jew as a prerequisite for becoming a Christian?
I do have to give Dr. Reagan credit for one thing. No Christian preacher/evangelist I have ever heard speak (or read the writings of, for that matter) has gone through such a thorough (although some was indeed left out) litany of anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic statements made by so many of the greatest and most important Christian theologians as he did in this first in a series of lectures to come. After listening to Dr. Reagan, one would naturally begin to question whether, indeed, there were ANY important early Church theologians who did not express some level of hatred toward the Jewish people and their religion. And one would be, perhaps, correct to question that. Indeed, having studied this very subject myself, I can attest to the fact that there were very few who did not openly express such hatred. But some were more vile than others.
However, the cause and effect relationship can be questioned here. Did the theology cause the hatred or did the hatred cause the theology to be developed – or is there some other explanation? Dr. Reagan maintains that the theology caused the hatred. Logically, for that to be so, then Jesus himself who, again, was a Jew and followed the Jewish religion, and/or his earliest apostles, who were also Jewish, would have had to have developed this theology. The reason I state this is quite simple – traces of anti-Semitic concepts can be found in the earliest Christian theology. Just read the New Testament for yourself! It was by no means foreign to the earliest church any more than initial hatred of the “Gentiles” was. In so many words, the Church was busy differentiating itself from other Jewish sects while at the same time struggling with the concept of including “Gentiles” into its membership. This was all happening at the same time and difficulties arose in both instances. In fact, the Church, at first, strove to remain predominantly “Jewish” in character while admitting non-Jews at the same time. Because of this, the ancient Romans did not recognize Christianity as a separate religion for some time. Frankly, Christianity was not a separate religion. It, however, became a separate religion only when it had to, following the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple there in 70 CE.
All of this simply means that the earliest Church considered itself to have been the “true Judaism” and expected other Jews to convert to it in droves while they also accepted “Gentiles” into it, which other branches of Judaism had already been doing also. However, most people of other Jewish sects simply did not convert to the branch called “The Way” or “Christianity”. This, along with rather hateful New Testament gospel writings, lent toward a certain hatred toward those Jewish people who simply would not convert. Therefore, it is NOT the theological concept that caused the hatred of Christians toward the Jews, but the rift that was created due to the fact that most would not convert that caused the hatred. Add to this the sickening statements made by the earliest Church theologians through the ages and their insistence that the Jewish people were “Christ killers”, and you have exactly the mix needed to cause hatred of the Jewish people and persecution of them to take root and grow over the centuries.
Again, the early church was not trying to “replace” other forms of Judaism, it was trying to “include” them and, thereby, eliminate them. That may seem to be too fine a point, but if not for this point then one will naturally fall into the sort of trap in which Dr. Reagan finds himself. His thought process is just too simplistic here. He does not appear to understand that the early church did not automatically separate itself from other sects of Judaism, but instead tried to absorb them. If Christianity had done the former, then we could logically conclude that they actually held the concept of replacement theology and could also conclude that it was likely THE catalyst for persecution of the Jewish people by Christians over the ensuing centuries. It is more logical to conclude that hatred of the Jewish people who would not convert caused the persecutions that followed.
Be that as it may, replacement theology is actually a relatively new concept in and of itself and simply was not extant in the ancient mind as an actual, formulated, concept. What they would have, and did, attest to was that, in their minds, the Jews were just as much damned as any Gentiles who did not convert to Christianity. In so many words, all favoritism toward the Jewish people for being special or chosen had been eliminated once the Christian movement came into being. Special hatred toward the Jews took root simply because the earliest church theologians expressed their hatred of the Jewish people openly based on their warped understanding that they had killed Christ. All blame for the death of Christ was shifted from the Romans to the Jews. This was necessary because, seeing that most Jews would not convert, reaching out to others within the Roman Empire simply became necessary and no Roman was going to convert, one would have to have supposed, if the New Testament blamed them for his death. One has to remember that none of the apostles, including Paul, went out directly to Gentiles at first, but instead went out into the Jewish Diaspora in an attempt to gain converts. When the New Testament speaks of Paul going out to the Gentiles it simply means that he went out into the world of the Gentiles – into the Jewish Diaspora there. The “Gentiles” who were converted to Christianity during these initial efforts had been those who had first become proselytes to Judaism and who were already members of Jewish Synagogues. This is partly why the controversy concerning whether one had to become a Jew first before becoming a Christian came into being to begin with. Most had, and they expected others to follow suit. But it quickly came to be understood that if Christianity really wanted “Gentile” converts, most would not be willing to become Jews first because of issues such as circumcision. Therefore, this initial requirement was eliminated so that the Church could grow faster.
So it is really with this effort toward increasing Gentile participation that caused the Church to begin to write the Jewish people off. But even with this, the theological concept of replacement was not actually formulated. This is because all of the earliest church congregations had started out having memberships formerly from Synagogues.
But let us return to the litany of hateful remarks made by the earliest church theologians as cited by Dr. Reagan. I am not going to rehash them here simply because they are so easily found in any search that can be made today. That said, I submit that most Christians have never read nor heard of these statements simply because (1) most preachers will not mention any of it and (2) because most Christians don’t want to know. After all, who would willingly want to follow any religion that has exhibited such vile hatred and has had so many leaders, including many of the earliest ones, express such hatred? For some, not knowing is clearly preferable to knowing, for if one knows then one has to deal with this. And I would be remiss if I did not also mention that the same sort of vile, hateful statements were made against the Hellenes who preferred to practice their ancestral rites and ways by many of the earliest theologians and Christian politicians too. And such statements were made for exactly the same reason – because they would NOT convert! And, certainly, no one (as far as I know) has come up with any sort of “replacement theology” concerning the Greeks and, therefore, no one claims that hatred toward the Hellenes was because of some theological concept. No, the hatred in both cases stemmed from a refusal of some to convert, period.
The earliest Byzantine emperors saw to it that the temple mount in Aelia Kapitolina (formerly known as Jerusalem) remained in ruins specifically because they wanted it to remain rubble in order to display for the entire world that Christianity was superior to Judaism and that “God” had forsaken his people. THIS can be seen as a more solid example of the idea that Christianity had replaced Judaism. At the same time, these emperors began ordering the destruction of Hellenic and other Pagan temples throughout the empire, again, in order to demonstrate the superiority of Christianity and the fact that Christianity had overcome all that had come before it. BUT, the hatred toward Jews, Greeks, and others who would not convert was present PRIOR TO these events. The hatred stemmed in both cases from a refusal of some to convert, period. It did not stem from some theological concept that Christianity had replaced either.
But, you know, the hatred goes even deeper than this, after all. It goes to the very heart of humankind, if you will. The fact of the matter is that it is much easier to hate than to love. AND, Christianity has done absolutely NOTHING over the centuries to change this. Christianity has FAILED to change the hearts of people. So the fanatical Christian types, who actually know this history, will still adhere to their religion while hating those who will not also do so (and some will grasp for theological concepts to base their hatred on). They will ridicule anyone who follows Islam, for example, because they find writings in the Quran and the Hadith that express hatred of the “other” (often Jews also) while ignoring the fact that it is practically a hallmark of their own religion too. The reason for this is simple – hatred for and rejection of the “other” is a basic concept of every monotheistic religion that has ever existed. It has ALWAYS resulted in persecution of whomever the “other” was seen to be at any given time. At one time or another it would be the Jews, at another time it would be the Greeks, at another time it would be black Africans, at another it would be homosexuals…. Monotheism does not change the heart of man any more than it changes itself, for it is the same in every single case. And hatred and persecution do not stem from theology so much as from the concept of the “other” who will not yield to what the monotheist considers to be the only truth.
But, today, end-times theologians find it necessary to embrace Judaism in one form or another, and to embrace the nation state of Israel because, otherwise, their twisted theology falls apart. So, like the early Christians die concerning the Romans, today’s end-times preachers absolve the Jewish people of all blame as Christ killers (not that they ever should have been blamed to begin with) in an effort to bring them into the church by any means possible. In addition, Israel can simply do no wrong and cannot be criticized in any way because to do so would be to stand against “God”. After all, the concept goes, these are still “God’s” special people. And virtually all of them are still destined to be saved one way or another because, otherwise, all of “God’s” promises toward them will have failed. This theology is, in fact, an excellent example of accepting belief over reason and logic. Frankly, neither theological stance actually works without fault, but if one is a Christian and one does not posit that the Church was supposed to “replace” Judaism by absorbing it into itself, then one has missed the entire point.