Covenant Theology is Not Replacement Theology

R. Scott Clark addresses this too-frequent criticism of Reformed theology:

Recently I had a question asking whether “covenant theology” is so-called “replacement theology.” Those dispensational critics of Reformed covenant theology who accuse it of teaching that the New Covenant church has “replaced” Israel do not understand historic Reformed covenant theology. They are imputing to Reformed theology a way of thinking redemptive history that has more in common with dispensationalism than it does with Reformed theology.

First, the very category of “replacement” is foreign to Reformed theology because it assumes a dispensational, Israeleo-centric way of thinking. It assumes that the temporary, national people was, in fact, intended to be the permanent arrangement. Such a way of thinking is contrary to the promise in Gen 3:15. The promise was that there would be a Savior. The national people was only a means to that end, not an end in itself. According to Paul in Ephesians 2:11-22, in Christ the dividing wall has been destroyed. It cannot be rebuilt. The two have been made one in Christ. In Christ there is no Jew, nor Gentile (Rom 10:12; Gal 3:28; Col 3:11). According to Galatians 3 (and chapter 4), the Mosaic covenant was a codicil to the Abrahamic covenant. Dispensationalism reverses things. They make the Abrahamic covenant a codicil to the Mosaic. Hebrews 3 says that Moses was a worker in Jesus’ house. Dispensationalism makes Jesus a worker in Moses’ house.

Second, with respect to salvation, Reformed covenant theology does not juxtapose Israel and the church. For Reformed theology, the church has always been the Israel of God and the Israel of God has always been the church. It’s true that we do distinguish the old and new covenants (2 Cor 3; Heb 7-10). It recognizes that the church was temporarily administered through a typological, national people, but the church has existed since Adam, Noah, Abraham, and it existed under Moses, David, and it exists under Christ. 

Third, the church has always been one, under various administrations, under types, shadows, and now under the reality in Christ, because the object of faith has always been one. Jesus the Messiah was the object of faith of the typological church (Heb 11; Luke 24; 2 Cor 3) and he remains the object of faith.

Fourth, despite the abrogation of the national covenant by the obedience, death, and resurrection of Christ (Col 2:14), the NT church has not “replaced” the Jews. Paul says that God “grafted” the Gentiles into the people of God. Grafting is not replacement, it is addition.

It has been widely held by Reformed theologians that there will be a great conversion of Jews. Some call this “anti-semitism.” This isn’t anti-semitism, it is Christianity. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The alternative to Jesus exclusivist claim is universalism which is nothing less than an assault on the person and finished work of Christ. Other Reformed writers understand the promises in Rom 11 to refer only to the salvation of all the elect (Rom 2:28) rather than to a future conversion of Jews. In any event, Reformed theology is not anti-semitic. We have always hoped and prayed for the salvation, in Christ, sola gratia et sola fide, of all of God’s elect, Jew and Gentile alike.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Gabriel on February 28, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    Hello,
    Is the Israel of Rom. 11 and the Israel of 11:26 the same. If not can you explain where in the text Paul began to differentiate?

    Thanks,
    Gabe

    Reply

  2. Posted by Gabriel on February 28, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Hello again,
    I messed up the question and just wanted to clarify. Is the Israel of Rom. 11:11 and the Israel of 11:26 the same. If not, can you explain where in the text Paul began to differentiate?

    Thanks,
    Gabe

    Reply

    • Posted by sheepfodder on March 6, 2009 at 3:43 pm

      First, I must apologize for my tardiness in replying to your comment. On February 27 I underwent a total knee replacement, and only recently was able to begin resuming my normal routine.
      Understanding the identity of the Israel mentioned in Romans 11 hinges on understanding the relationship of Israel to the Church (that is, all true believers), as revealed in the New Testament, as well as what Paul said in other Scriptures concerning Israel and/or the Jews .
      There are many New Testament verses that appear to view the Church as the “new Israel” or the “new people of God.” The historical position of both Protestant and Catholic theologians, other than Dispensationalists, has regarded the Church in that way and considered it a continuation of God’s plan expressed in the Old Testament to call a people to Himself. In that connection Paul says, “For he is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal” (Romans 2:28-29). Paul fully recognizes that there is a literal, natural sense in which people who physically descended from Abraham are to be called Jews, but there is also a deeper, or spiritual, sense in which a true Jew is one who is inwardly a believer and whose heart has been cleansed by God. Furthermore, Paul calls Abraham “the father of all who believe without being circumcised…and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had” (Romans 4:11-12; cf. vv. 16, 18). Therefore, Paul can say, “Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants…it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are reckoned as descendants” (Romans 9:6-8). Paul implies here that the true children of Abraham, those who are in the most true sense “Israel” are not the nation of Israel by physical descent from Abraham, but those who have believed in Christ. Those who truly believe in Christ are the ones who have the privilege of being called “my people” by the Lord (Romans 9:25, quoting Hosea 2:23); therefore, the Church is now God’s chosen people. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology).
      In Ephesians 2 Paul strongly emphasizes the uniting of Jews and Gentiles into one body, a new body. You might also read Hebrews 8, which makes a strong case for the identification of Israel with the Church, or more accurately, the Church as the new Israel. In that chapter the author speaks of the New Covenant to which Christians belong and extensively quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34 which says, “The days will come, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…. This is the covenant that I will make after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” Obviously, the New Covenant the author of Hebrews regards the New Covenant as the same covenant prophesied by Jeremiah and the same covenant to which the Church belongs. In other words, the author is viewing the Church as the true Israel of God in which the Old Testament promises to Israel find their fulfillment.
      As to the analogy in Romans 11 that Paul draws of the tree indicates that there very well could be a future large-scale conversion of the Jewish people (Romans 11:12, 15, 23-24, 25-26, 28-31), yet this conversion will only result in Jewish believers becoming part of the one true church of God—they will be “grafted back into their own olive tree” (Romans 11:24).
      Considering these New Testament Scriptures, it would seem that in the whole passage, Romans 9-11, Paul is referring to Israel as the “true Israel,” i.e., those Jews who have been converted, who have been circumcised in their hearts—not national Israel.
      I hope this clarifies the issue. I would be most interested in seeing your paper when it is completed. ~JB

      Reply

  3. Posted by Gabriel on February 28, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Sorry,
    It’s late and I have been working on a paper about the subject and my brain has crossed its wires. Is the Israel of 10:21 and the Israel of 11:26 the same? If not, can you explain where in the text Paul began to differentiate?

    Thanks again,
    God Bless!
    Gabe

    Reply

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