As I said before, the roots of Replacement Theology and its fruit of Anti-Semitism go back to the very beginning of Christianity.
As I’m sure all of you are well aware, the Church began as a Jewish institution. It was founded in Judea by Jews who were followers of a Jewish Messiah, and all its founding documents were written by Jews.
A Jewish-Christian Symbol
The Jewish nature of the early church is attested to by this symbol. It is the oldest Christian symbol that has ever been found. It is carved into artifacts found in Jerusalem that date back to the First Century.
As you can see, it shows the fish, the symbol of the Church, emerging from Jewish roots, represented by the Menorah and the Star of David. The fish became a symbol for Christians because the word for fish in Greek is ICTHUS — an acronym for Jesus Christ, God’s Son and Savior.
The Gentilization of the Church
Now, as the Church began to spread beyond its Judean origin, and as it embraced more and more Gentiles, it quickly lost touch with its Jewish roots. This process was accelerated by the destruction of the mother church in Jerusalem during the Second Jewish Revolt against the Romans that ended in 136 AD.
Another key to the Gentilizing of the Church was the development of an allegorical hermeneutical approach to the Scriptures that enabled the Church to appropriate Israel’s promises for itself. Thus Tertullian, writing in the 3rd Century, was able to argue that the promise of Genesis 25:21-25 that “the older will serve the younger” (speaking, of course of Esau and Jacob), was really a prophecy that Israel would become subservient to the Church!6
V. The Evolution of Replacement Theology and Anti-Semitism
As a result of these historical developments, Christian apologists, starting as early as the Second Century, began to turn against the Jews, characterizing them as “Christ Killers.” Consider the following examples:
The Epistle of Barnabas (100 AD) — This writing was a contender for inclusion in the Bible. It is a good demonstration of how profoundly Greek methods of interpretation had already impacted Christians. The writer insisted that the Old Testament was never meant to be read literally, but was to be interpreted allegorically.
The writer argued that “only the Christian could make sense of the Bible.” The “carnal Jews,” with their “earthly mind-set,” had failed to recognize the hidden message of their own Scriptures, and as a result, had eternally forfeited their entitlement to the covenant promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.7
Ignatius of Antioch (c. 50-117) — He said that “those who partake of the Passover are partakers with those who killed Jesus.”8
Justin Martyr (100-165) — He claimed God’s covenant with Israel was no longer valid and that the Gentiles had replaced the Jews.9 Additionally, he was the first to identify the Church as “the true spiritual Israel.”10 And he declared that the plight of the Jews — their exile and persecution — had happened “in fairness and justice” because they had “slain the Just One.”11
Melito of Sardis (died c. 180) — Also focused on deicide when he proclaimed, “The King of Israel slain with Israel’s right hand! Alas for the new wickedness of the new murder.”12
Irenaeus (130-202) — He was a student of Polycarp who, in turn, was a disciple of the Apostle John. He declared that “the house of Jacob and the people of Israel are disinherited from the grace of God.” And he argued this because they “have rejected the Son of God ” and “they slew Him.”13
Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 – c. 215) — Claimed that Israel “denied the Lord” and thus “forfeited the place of the true Israel.”14
Hippolytus of Rome (170-235) — He is considered by many to be the most important theologian of the 3rd Century. He was a student of Irenaeus. He declared that the Jews had been darkened in the eyes of their souls “with a darkness utter and everlasting.” He further stated that they were destined to be “slaves to the nations, not for four hundred years as in Egypt, nor seventy as in Babylon, but… always.”15
Tertullian of Carthage (155-230) — He blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus and argued they had been rejected by God.16
Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200-258) — He was a student of Tertullian. He wrote:17
I have endeavored to show that the Jews…departed from God and lost God’s favor… while the Christians succeeded to their place, deserving well of the Lord by faith, and coming out of all nations and from the whole world.
We Christians when we pray, say “Our Father” because He has begun to be ours, and has ceased to be the Father of the Jews, who have forsaken Him.
Origen of Alexandria (185-254) — He was responsible for much Anti-Semitism, all of which was based on his assertion that the Jews were responsible for killing Jesus. In one of his treatises he wrote:19
We say with confidence that they [the Jews] will never be restored to their former condition. For they committed a crime of the most unhallowed kind, in conspiring against the Savior of the human race… It accordingly behoved that city where Jesus underwent these sufferings to perish utterly, and the Jewish nation to be overthrown, and the invitation of happiness offered them by God to pass to others — the Christians…
The Council of Elvira (305) — This was an ecclesiastical synod of Spanish clerics that was held in what is now known as the city of Granada, located in southern Spain. The council voted to prohibit Christians from sharing a meal with a Jew, marrying a Jew, blessing a Jew or observing the Sabbath.20
In the fourth part of this study on how Replacement Theology has resulted in the historical abuse of the Jews by the Church, we’ll look at examples from the time when Constantine converted to Christianity.
6) Ibid., p. 33.
7) Andrew D. Robinson, “The Error of Replacement Theology, Part 2: Roots and Shoots,” Magazine of the Prophetic Witness Movement International, September 2012, p. 5.
8) John G. Gager, The Origins of Anti-Semitism (London: Oxford University Press, 1983), pp. 127-129.
9) Center for the Study of Historical Christian Antisemitism, “Justin Martyr,” www.hcacentre.org/JustinMartyr.html.
10) Vlach, p. 27.
11) Justin Martyr, “Dialogue with Trypho,” contained in Anti-Nicene Fathers by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, 1885, volume 1. The writings of the Anti-Nicene Fathers can be found online at the website of “The Online Library of Liberty,” http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1968.
12) Melito, “On Pascha,” Anti-Nicene Fathers, volume 8.
13) Iranaeus, “Against Heresies,” Anti-Nicene Fathers, volume 1.
14) Clement, “The Instructor,” Anti-Nicene Fathers, volume 2.
15) Hippolytus, “Treatise Against the Jews.” Anti-Nicene Fathers, volume 5.
16) John T. Pawlikowski, Journal of Religion & Society, “Christian Anti-Semitism: Past History, Present Challenges,” http://moses.creighton.edu/JRS/2004/2004-10.html.
17) Cyprian, “Three Books of Testimonies Against the Jews,” Anti-Nicene Fathers, volume 5. The Evil of Replacement Theology p.19.
18) Cyprian, “On the Lord’s Prayer,” Anti-Nicene Fathers, volume 5.
19) Origen, “”Against Celsus,” Anti-Nicene Fathers, volume 4.
20) California State University at Northridge, “Canons of the Church Council at Elvira (Granada) ca. 309 AD,” www.csun.edu/~hcfll004/elvira.html.