This is the seventh in a series of blog posts on my reading journey of Dr. Michael J. Vlach’s Has the Church Replaced Israel? A Theological Evaluation (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6).
One of the reasons there are now seven posts from a single book is because of the scope of Dr. Vlach’s work (in just 224 pages). Kudos to the professor for thoroughly walking his readers through the subject of replacement theology (supersessionism). While there will likely be a few more related posts, it is safe to say that I highly recommend this book—or any book from the author.
Here in chapter ten1, Vlach makes the biblical case as to why he holds to the nonsupersessionist view. He does so by explaining four essential beliefs. Four important observations as to how we are to study and interpret this doctrine in the Bible (hermeneutics):
1. THE STARTING POINT FOR INTERPRETATION IS THE PASSAGE ITSELF
He begins where all studies should begin: that the starting point for any passage found in the Bible (including those in the Old Testament) is the passage itself. This is foundational to developing a theology of Israel.
OT texts, as understood within their historical-grammatical-literary contexts, must be the starting point for understanding God’s plans for national Israel. This is the only way to maintain the integrity of the OT.
2. UNCONDITIONAL PROMISES ARE NOT CANCELED BY PROGRESSIVE REVELATION
Next, a common-sense approach to reading one’s Bible: God is a promise-keeper, not promise-breaker.
God may do more than what He promised, but He cannot do less… [quoting Ryrie] “New revelation cannot mean contradictory revelation. Later revelation on a subject does not make the earlier revelation mean something different.”
The concept of progressive revelation can be likened to a building in progress: [Ryrie again] “The superstructure does not replace the foundation.”
3. ISRAEL IS NOT A TYPE
When studying last things (the end times, eschatology, etc.), the issue of typology will come in to play. A typology is a representation of an actual reference—something that is stated in the Old Testament which prefigures something more significant in the New. One such example is seen with Adam as a type of Jesus.
What is debated… are the implications of types in Scripture and whether the presence of types means that we must adopt an approach to the Bible called “typological interpretation.”
Supersessionists often argue that the presence of types means we should understand the OT as mostly a Testament of types, shadows, and pictures… Thus, Israel is understood as a type of the Christian church…
Nonsupersessionists, to the contrary, approach typology differently. They argue that types must be understood on a case-by-case basis… What determines a type is whether Scripture actually connects something in the OT with something in the NT.
4. MULTIPLE FULFILLMENTS AND APPLICATIONS OF OLD TESTAMENT PROMISES
Some supersessionists believe that the quoting of Old Testament texts in the New point to a complete fulfillment of the promises made by God with Israel. Whereas nonsupersessionists generally see these passages as having what is called a “double fulfillment.” Vlach defines this:
…a double fulfillment or application—one for the church in the present and one for national Israel in the future.
For example, with texts such as Acts 2:16-21 and Acts 15:15-18, nonsupersessionists believe that a fulfillment or application of OT prophecies is being made with the church, but they also affirm that there will be a future fulfillment with national Israel.
[Quoting Feinberg] “Double fulfillment, then, is necessitated by the NT’s application of the passage to the church and by maintaining the integrity of the OT’s meaning, especially in view of the unconditional nature of the promises to Israel.”
Ultimately, the hermeneutics of a nonsupersessionist involve literal interpretation. It means that the reader will apply a grammatical-historical method to the biblical text. He will interpret Scripture normally, understanding the words in their normal meanings as one would in normal communication. This is also my discipline—or approach to studying Scripture; and it is why I believe that God is not done with Israel.
Dr. Vlach has deftly demonstrated that one’s hermeneutical assumptions will determine one’s position, especially as it relates to the relationship between Israel and the church. That’s my greatest take-away from this chapter.