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The Promised Land, part 3: Supersessionism = Antisemitism?

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English: John Chrysostom (Georgian miniature, ...

John Chrysostom, who used antisemitic rhetoric (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we’ve seen in the previous parts of this series, Christian Zionism is a new theology; it did not exist in the early church and has in its current version only existed for about 150 years. Before that, supersessionism was basically the universal teaching of the church. This is the teaching that Christ has fulfilled the promises to Israel and welcomed Gentiles into God’s people while those who do not believe in Him has been excluded from this people. Thus, the promise of the land does not refer to the Jewish people any more but to the church, which supersessionists interpret as the promise of Heaven.

We will look at the biblical foundation for this teaching in the next parts of this series. For now, I want to discuss whether this theology is antisemitic, which some Christian Zionist claim. When they talk about how the early church was “hijacked” by Gentiles that replaced Zionism with supersessionism (which was hard to do since there is no evidence for Christian Zionism in the early church to begin with), they often quote other church fathers, like John Chrysostom, who were downright antisemitic, and jump to other periods of church history when Christians have done horrible things towards Jews and argued that this is rooted in supersessionism. You can see example of this reasoning here and here.

The problem with this argument is that it fails to show how supersessionism would lead to antisemitism. All the texts I have read just assumes that this is the case rather than proving it. Instead of showing a logical connection between supersessionist and antisemitic thought, they merely point to antisemitic rhetoric and action through church history and say that since they were supersessionists, supersessionism causes antisemitism.

But of course, I could quote supersessionists throughout church history that weren’t antisemitic. Correlation doesn’t equal causality. As I mentioned in my previous post, supersessionists actually identify themselves with Israel. And of course, as Christians, they believe that the Son of God was a Jew. Antisemitic Christianity is just incredibly stupid, rather than supersessionist.

However, doesn’t the fact that supersessionism isn’t viewing the Jewish people as God’s chosen people anymore, make it antisemitic? Of course not. Hardly any Christians believe that Ugandians are God’s chosen people – does that make us anti-Ugandian? Jews do not believe that Christians are God’s chosen people that should inherit the land of Israel, does that make them anti-Christian?

It is reasonable to believe though that someone who believes that the Jewish people is God’s chosen people, i.e. a Jew or Christian Zionist, will not fall into the sin of antisemitism. While many antisemitic Christians have been supersessionists, very few have been Zionists. However, Zionists are not immune to other forms of hate. On the contrary, I have encountered many Christian Zionists that are extremely hostile towards Muslims and Palestinians on an islamophobic and sometimes even racist level. This is of course just as horrible as antisemitism.

To conclude: just as a Ugandian is not immune to racism just because s/he probably doesn’t hate black people, Christian Zionists are not immune to various forms of hostility towards people just because they are not antisemitic. And furthermore, even if there are tragic examples of antisemitic supersessionists, supersessionism in itself does not create antisemitism, nor endorse it.

In the next part of this series, we will finally dig into what the Bible says concerning God’s chosen people.

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9 Comments

  1. Johannes says:

    Hi Micael!

    With the risk of being nagging, I wonder if you have not made a leap over New Testament Theology when you conclude your previous work with: “Christian Zionism is a new theology; it did not exist in the early church”, since you have not yet discussed that. Not many passages in the New Testament speak directly of the return of the Jewish people to the land. But there is a clear statement in Luk 21:24, which the last verse in the following:

    “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

    This clearly indicates that “the people (the Jews)” … “will be taken as prisoners to all the nations” and Jerusalem be “trampled on by the Gentiles” until a day when that will no longer be the case. How do you interpret this, not the least given that the context gives that the diaspora from which there will be a return is the one initiated AD 70? I would be happy to know, before we move on in your series.

    Blessings,
    Johannes

    • Hello Johannes!

      Well, it may seem unusual to wait with the actual Bible study for so long, but the reason I chose to structure the series this way is to prevent people to think that Zionism and supersessionism are equal competitors in Bible interpretation. Since the former did not exist among the church fathers, while these universally believed in the latter, it is very unlikely that a Zionist interpretation of the Bible is correct. That is what I want us to have in mind before we look into the texts.

      As you say, the NT doesn’t talk much about a Jewish homecoming to Israel. More precisely, it is not mentioned at all. Even though Jesus is talking a lot about His second coming, and even though the whole book of Revelation, together with several parts of the epistles, cover this subject; a Jewish homecoming to Israel is never mentioned as an eschatological event. That includes the text you refer to. It does say that the time of Gentiles will end, but it does not say that this means a homecoming of the Jewish people. Based on the context in the following verses, I would say it merely means the apocalypse itself. Interpreting the statement as a prophecy of the homecoming of the Jews is rather to read things that aren’t actually there.

      God bless you!
      Micael

  2. Johannes says:

    Hi Micael! Thank you for your answer!

    WIth all respect, I think you are bending the text when you state that Christ should have been referring to ‘the apocalypse itself’ as the end of ‘the times of the Gentiles’. It all depends on the term Gentiles. It is just a denotation of ‘non-Jewish- people’ with neither positive or negative connotations attached. It is used throughout Luke-Acts in this sense – both for ‘pagan’ Gentiles, ‘godfearing’ Gentiles and ‘Christian’ Gentiles. The Gentiles who will trample Jerusalem is then the non-Jewish people who would come to have dominion over the city, starting with the Romans in AD 70 and ending with the end of the Jordanian control in AD 1967. Since 1967 Jerusalem is under Jewish domination. Now, Christ promised that the Gentile ‘trampling of the city’ would last until a certain point in history. With the clear allusion to Isa 63:18, where possession of the temple is contrasted by the ‘trampling of the sanctuary’ by the enemy, Christ’s saying, with is not about the temple per se, but about Jerusalem as a city, should rather be taken as a statement about political control than anything else. For your interpretation that the apocalypse occurs when the city is no longer “trampled on by the Gentiles” to hold, either Christ was wrong in his prophecy – since in fact a time came in history in 1967 when Jerusalem came in Jewish control without the apocalypse occurring – or your interpretation is wrong. The problem is this: Christ said that “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled”. Jerusalem is no longer under Gentile (non-Jewish) control. The prophecy seems to have come through. Or what do You think?

    As always,
    Johannes

  3. Johannes says:

    Dear Micael,

    If you are right, and the Jewish people is like any other people, what do you do with a saying like rom 3:1-2:

    “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God.”

    Or Rom 9:4f:

    “Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.”

    Both sayings, of course, said in the time AFTER Christ’s arrival.

    Or, to be more precise regarding their ‘different’ ‘nature’ or ‘status’ as a people (Rom 11:24):

    “After all, if you were cut out of an olive tree that is wild by nature, and contrary to nature were grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much more readily will these, the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree!”

    Best wishes, as always,

    Johannes

  4. […] discussed how important it is to realize that just because one isn’t a Christian Zionist, one isn’t necessarily an anti-Semite (and shouldn’t either). Now, we will turn to exegesis to see what the Bible has to say about […]

  5. […] But this idea about supersessionism being non-Jewish and even antisemitic is a popular misconception. Hence, I am going to tackle that issue in the next part of this series. […]

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The author

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Micael Grenholm - a Swedish charismactivist residing with the Jesus Army in the UK.

Check out my YouTube channel!

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