Does the Church Replace Israel? (Part 1)

As one who holds to New Covenant Theology (NCT) I am frequently asked this question, “Do you believe in replacement theology?  When I hear other teachers who embrace NCT try to answer this question I hear them giving rather involved answers in order to avoid receiving the label of one who holds to replacement theology.  My answer is quite clear, I do believe in replacement theology.  In fact, I would go as far as saying that I do not think that anyone who holds to NCT could answer the question any other way.

Our standard NCT definition of Israel is that it is a “temporary, unbelieving, picture of the people of God.” This definition comes from a variety of Scriptures. In Hebrews 8:7-13 we are told that the Old Covenant with Israel only produced unbelievers. Therefore, through the death of Jesus on the cross a new people will be purchased who will have their sins forgiven and will have a changed life or new heart. This work of Jesus is called the New Covenant. The Israelites, who were produced by the Old Covenant had neither their sins forgiven or had new hearts. Please keep in mind that were a remnant of believers in the Israel, but they became believers on the basis of the New Covenant to come.

On of the best places in Scripture that describes how the Old Covenant only produces unbelievers is Galatians 4:21-31. Here we find the allegory of Hagar and Sarah. Hagar is said to represent the Old or Mosaic Covenant and that covenant only produces unbelievers and is to be identified with Mount Sinai and the earthly city of Jerusalem. The verse actually says that the Israelites are in slavery. That would mean that they are slaves to sin and therefore unbelievers (Romans 6:17-18).

In Romans 9:30-10:3 the apostle Paul states quite clearly that Israel has not attained righteousness because they pursued it by works. True righteousness is described as the unconditional acceptance that believers receive when they trust in Jesus alone to save them by his death on the cross for their sins. When we believe in the saving work of Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven and therefore we have a clean record and are righteous and accepted by a holy God. Israel sought salvation by works and not by faith and were therefore viewed as unbelievers. Please note that Paul is describing Israel as a whole. The existence of a remnant of believers is not relevant to Paul’s argument. Israel is ALWAYS viewed as unbelieving.

The new covenant produces a new people of God who are the real people of God. Israel was only a picture of the people of God. That is why when Peter describes believers in the new covenant era he uses the language of the old covenant people of God.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Peter 2:9-10 NIV).

The real people of God are those for whom Jesus died on the cross. The church in the new covenant era is made up of those who profess to believe the gospel message. They are trusting Jesus to pay for their sins and they are in love with the God of heaven and earth. Membership in the nation of Israel in the old covenant era was gained simply by being born into one of the Israelite families. Israel and the church are picture and fulfillment. The church does replace Israel since Israel was placed on this earth to be a temporary, unbelieving, picture of the people of God.

15 thoughts on “Does the Church Replace Israel? (Part 1)

  1. Q: Do you believe in replacement theology?

    A: I believe in olive tree theology, citizenship theology, inclusion theology, expansion theology, and fulfillment theology.

  2. Reid, true Israel theology sounds good, but that is replacement theology. The point of part one of this blog is to set the record straight about the dispensational accusation that seems to frighten so many of our NCT brothers. There may be better ways to say it, but in the end it is replacement theology.

  3. I agree with you Geoff. Most people that ask if I believe in replacement theology are already rooted in their beliefs, but I want them to think through what the Bible says. By responding that I believe in True Israel theology causes the discussion to go immediately and directly to passages that discuss who true Israel is. I have found that many have not considered those passages and often chew on this. In fact, that is how I came to my replacement theology beliefs 🙂

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  5. Jake,
    I do appreciate the fact that you wanted to share your thoughts, but I do think that it would be better if you stuck to the topic of the blog. Geoff

  6. Geoff,

    Excellent presentation and discussion. I only recently found IDS and am enjoying browsing and making use of all the excellent resources available.

    In your opinion, what are the major differences between Classic Covenant Theology and NCT (if any) with regard to Israel?

    Your statement, “The real people of God are those for whom Jesus died on the cross.” is clear, concise, accurate and powerful.

    I’m looking foward to being blessed as I continue to explore IDS.


  7. Greg, much thanks for your comments and they are appreciated. Covenant Theology views Israel as the church in the Old Covenant era. NCT views Israel as a temporary, unbelieving picture of the people of God. Bye for now, Geoff

  8. Geoff,

    When you said, “Covenant Theology views Israel as the church in the Old Covenant era” did you mean National Israel? I would definitely have a problem with that.

    Would you consider True Israel in the Old Covenant era to be the church?

  9. Reid,
    Yes, I did mean national Israel. If by church you mean the people of God, then I would say yes. If by the church you mean the people of God in the new covenant era who are to gather together in local assemblies then I would say no. National Israel in the old covenant era is viewed as the people of God (a temporary, unbelieving picture). Please check part 2 of this blog where I address the allegory of Hagar and Sarah in Galatians 4:21-31). Thanks for interacting. Geoff

  10. Thanks for clarifying for me. I have not studied these issues as much as I would have liked to. With my limited studies, National Israel definitely cannot be the church. What I need to study more is whether True Israel can be considered the Church in the OC era, or whether the Church began sometime later (such as the day of Pentecost). I am really enjoying these posts. Keep ’em up 🙂

  11. Covenant Theology teaches that the Church today is Israel. However…

    “The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” (Gen. 48:16.)

    “Neither shall the inheritance remove from one tribe to another tribe; but every one of the tribes of the children of Israel shall keep himself to his own inheritance.” (Num. 36:9.)

    The name Israel is Ephraim and Manasseh’s inheritance. It’s non-transferable. How can the Church be called Israel when biblical law forbids transferring birthrights/inheritances?

  12. Jeff,
    Much thanks for your question. In the plan of God the promises to Israel were to be fulfilled in a spiritual Israel. The statement in Numbers 36:9 refers to the restriction of the transferring of property within the physical nation of Israel, the temporary unbelieving picture of the people of God. The fulfillment of the promise to literal Israel of the regarthering back into the land is said in the new to be fulfilled by a spiritual Israel, the church (Hosea 1,2 and Romans 9:25-26). In the original context of the promises to Israel they are not told of the “rest of the story.” It is only in the new covenant era that we get the rest of the story and are told that God’s intent was always to bring fulfillment to Israel by means of the church, a spiritual Israel. Please feel free to slice and dice my thoughts. Bye for now, Geoff

  13. I’m so glad to have found this site, as a Christian with a strong faith and a calling to love and understand God that has been present from an early , I set off to study theology at Heythrop College ( a prestigious theology institute in London, UK) however I found it’s Roman Catholic staff very pushy with their views and emphasis on pontifical teachings, so after a year I withdrew from the course somewhat taken aback and slightly disheartened, however the arguments I read on this page are exactly what I was thinking during my debates with the lecturers but just unable to word in the right way. This has really strengthened and reignited my faith in Him and encouraged me to continue to examine the Bible on a daily basis, it also answers a lot of questions I had regarding the Old Testament and New Testament when compared. So thanks a lot! I look forward to regularly checking out this page!

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