Replacement Theology: NT Priority

This is the sixth 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, and Part 5).

I’ve hit chapter nine in this book. Dr. Vlach is now beginning to evaluate the theological arguments made in support of replacement theology, also known as supersessionism.

You may recall that this is the belief that the church is the “new” or “true” Israel. The supersessionist sees the church as the “sole inheritor of God’s covenant blessings originally promised to national Israel in the OT” (12).

9328203bThe author (of whom I’m in complete agreement with) sees Scripture teaching nonsupersessionism. He argues that “the hermeneutical beliefs of supersessionism are not accurate and have led to erroneous views regarding Israel and the church” (91).

Part of the problem is with how the supersessionist interprets the New and Old Testaments. They use what is called “NT priority,” the belief that the New Testament interprets/reinterprets the Old Testament.

I appreciated how the author approached this problem—by explaining ways in which we (nonsupersessionists) would see the New having, in a sense, a priority over the Old. By understanding in what ways the NT can actually have a form of priority over the OT, one can then begin to see where it should not and cannot. Vlach gives four areas of agreement1:

First, nonsupersessionists acknowledge the concept of progressive revelation in which God gives inspired revelation that adds to, clarifies, and expands on revelations previously given. [We] believe that the NT is a more complete revelation than the OT and offers information and insight not found in the OT. For example, the NT gives us much more detail concerning the fates of the saved and the lost than the OT does. What is revealed about heaven and hell in the NT does not contradict what was in the OT, but it adds to previous revelation.

Second, nonsupersessionists acknowledge the authority of the NT to cancel temporary commands, covenants, or institutions in the OT. For example, Leviticus 11 established various food laws for the nation of Israel. These food restrictions have clearly been revoked by the NT (see Mark 7:19). So today we are no longer bound by the food laws of Leviticus 11. What about the Mosaic law? The NT clearly states that the Christian is no longer under Mosaic law (see Rom 10:4; Gal 5:18). So then, Mosaic law as a unit is not binding on the Christian today… So nonsupersessionists believe the NT, at times, revokes practices and institutions that were in effect in the OT era.

In addition, nonsupersessionists acknowledge the right of the NT to add applications and referents to OT revelation. Clearly, there are times when NT writers use and apply the OT in ways that were unforeseen by the OT writers (see Matt 2:15 and Hos 11:1), This is not disputed. But must we conclude that the NT meaning becomes the OT meaning? Not necessarily. The NT could be making analogies or drawing on principles. Or the NT may be adding new referents to OT promises, prophecies, and covenants but not at the expense of the original referent.

For example, if an OT promise or covenant is given to Israel in the OT and the NT includes Gentiles of the church in that promise or covenant, then perhaps a new referent to the OT promise or covenant may have been added… The new covenant, for instance, is clearly related to the church. Jesus inaugurated the new covenant with His death (see Luke 22:20), and Paul indicated that Christians are “ministers of a new covenant” (2 Cor 3:6). But Paul clearly states in Rom 11:26-27 that the new covenant will be fulfilled with Israel. In 11:26, Paul says “all Israel will be saved” and then links this promise with Isa 59:21 in Rom 11:27: “And this will be My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.” This “covenant” of Isa 59:21 is the new covenant. Isaiah 59:21 says, “My Spirit who is on you [Israel].” So Paul clearly links Israel’s salvation and the coming Redeemer with a new covenant passage for Israel in the OT. Thus, the new covenant is in effect for the church now and will be fulfilled with Israel’s future. This is a both-and situation.

Finally, nonsupersessionists understand there are divine correspondences or even typological connections between the Testaments. For example, there is a correspondence between Adam and Jesus Christ (see Romans 5). There is a connection between the Levitical priesthood and the priesthood of Jesus Christ as Hebrews indicates. There is a connection between the Passover and the death of Christ (see 1 Cor 5:7). Those who reject supersessionism believe in types and their significance.

Each of these points are excellent. Whether you support or refute supersessionism, you will have to deal with the issue of NT priority. testament-1160069-639x960

As the points above show, there is a real sense in which nonsupersessionists believe in a form of “New Testament priority.” Nonsupersessionists, though, disagree strongly with the supersessionist understanding of NT priority. For supersessionists, NT priority means that the NT must be the interpretive lens for understanding OT passages. Thus, the primary meaning of an OT passage is found not in the OT passages themselves but in the alleged NT interpretations or reinterpretations of those texts… The supersessionist approach defangs the OT and does not allow the Hebrew Scriptures to speak to the issues they address such as God’s plans for the nation Israel.

The supersessionist understanding of NT priority is one of the main reasons that I do not see supersessionism (replacement theology) as a biblical doctrine.


 Vlach, Michael J. Has the Church Replaced Israel? A Theological Evaluation (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2016). 92-96.