Engrafted Into The Story: Romans 11 And Reconciliation

WHY SUPERSESSIONISM IS PROBLEMATIC AND A HERESY

Image taken from Seattle Pacific University

Today, I would like to take the time to discuss my view of Romans 11, and the problem with historic approaches that I shall briefly allude to. The most infamous of approaches to Romans 9-11 is the allegorical reading of Romans 9-11. The Allegorical approach to reading Scripture has its strengths but when it come to these passages, its limits are exposed. Augustine of Hippo was one of the first Christians to apply this technique to these 3 chapters, and in the process, theological determinism was given birth. The debate starts with Romans 9:13, the oft quoted verse by Augustinians and Calvinists, “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.” In the context of the chapter, God’s election, God choosing special people over others, starts inside a woman’s womb, Rebecca, Isaac’s wife, the daughter-in-law and relative of Abraham. Reading Romans 9:10-13 by privileging a Greek/Gentile literary reading strategy over and above unique revelation from YHWH (the Hebrew Bible)is problematic; it is a practical way in which supersessionism, the idea that Gentile-lead Christianity overtakes Judaism as the household of God, manifests itself. Augustine, and those who claim to be his heirs in Protestantism, the Reformed tradition with modern-day neo-Calvinists and the like do not in fact practice “Sola Scriptura” as they claim, or using Scripture to interpret Scripture first, but rather tradition and individualism to do so.

The implications from this interpretation are this: Jacob is the elect chosen before the creation, and Esau, in this ALLEGORY, is the reprobate, chosen by God before creation. Just when does God choose them to their fates, before or after the fall? Well that’s up to debate between our theological determinist friends. I’ll let them sort that out.

So, if we go by just the Reformation tradition, and its own standard of Sola Scriptura, there is conflict in the popular, predestination, individual election reading of Romans 9-11. The subsequent debate of Arminians proposing “corporate election” as opposed to “individual election” misses the point of my criticism. This isn’t about the nature of election; in the Hebrew Bible, there is both. This is about interpretation of Scripture, and the relationship of our Messianic Pharisee friend Paul’s writings with that of the canon. Using the Hebrew Bible/First Testament to understand the New/Second (biblical scholars call this practice intertextuality) is an important part in understanding God’s mission of to the world through God’s Son Jesus the Anointed One, and the Holy Spirit.

Supersessionism and its fellow heretical teaching, that of Marcionism (the belief that there is 2 God in the Christian canon, an evil violent God in the “Old” and a “peaceful”, loving God in the “New.” What perpetuates supersessionism is well meaning pastors and professors continually essentializing Judaism as a warmongering religion of revenge. Have you ever heard or read someone say that “the Jews were waiting for a violent messiah to overtake their enemies”? The idea that God evolved (that being God’s character) from violent to non-violent being taught by white Emergent Church leaders is just another form of this supersessionism, with a nice, smiling face. Amy Jill-Levine points out, for example, that the oft-cited Psalm of Solomon chapter 17, where Israel’s Messiah is supposed to have a “blitzkrieg” versus the Gentiles, verses often times get ignored. The nations are destroyed by “the words from his mouth.” Does this sound familiar? This is exactly the same concept that the author of Revelation says about Jesus, that a sword will come from Christ’s mouth in chapter 19, verse 15.

The example of Psalm of Solomon compared to Revelation is an example of just how dependent on Israel’s story Jewish and Gentile Christians alike really are. “Spiritualizing” Israel’s historic encounter with the One, True God is a supersessionist anti-Judaic practice. Let’s go back to Romans 9-11. It is my belief that the apostle Paul is utterly, hopelessly reliant on the words of the prophets, and in Romans, this is no different. Romans 9:10-13 cannot be understood apart from the stories of Jacob and Esau as well as Israel’s concrete relationship with Edom, the nation that descended from Esau. Malachi 1 for example addresses Israel implicitly as Jacob, and Edom (explicitly) as Esau:

“I have loved you,” says [YHWH].

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?”
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.” But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!’

Throughout the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, if you pay attention to the details, Edom has a special place in God’s plan. Edom is a stand-in for the rest of us Gentiles and our stories. In Deuteronomy 23, YHWH orders the Israelites: “Do not despise an Edomite, for the Edomites are related to you. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you resided as foreigners in their country.” In the time of Solomon’s reign, as punishment, YHWH raised up opposition, from guess where? Edom! So just as the Gentiles have historically been resistant to YHWH, so has Edom rebelled against the reign of Israel.

Fast forward to Romans 11, Israel’s story is one where the descendents of Abraham lived in a cycle of faithfulness and unfaithfulness, and then exile and return. God is given credit with liberating the Israelites and Judeans time and time again with judges and kings, and even after God sends God’s people into exile, God makes a way for them to return, and even choose the empire that allows them to do so according to Ezra and Chronicles. Just as the imagery in Romans 9 about stressing God’s sovereign freedom and love, so is the image of God as a gardner, engrafting the Gentiles in to the roots and branches of Israel. Much like the author of Hebrews, Paul is arguing that the Gentiles have been included fully in the new plan. This is what makes the New Covenant better than the “old”: more people for God to call beloved. The election and call to service to YHWH as well as the gift of the Promise (which includes the Law) is irrevocable (Romans 11:28). The problem with supersessionism is that it is first and foremost, a rejection of God’s plan that includes the strategy of engraftment. Understanding our Gentile place is crucial part of understanding the mission of YHWH, the Word that YHWH sent went to Israel and Judah first, and then the Gentiles.

The Resurrection faith in Yeshua the Messiah does not permit us to ask, “who will go to heaven?” or “who will go down to the abyss?” (Romans 10:5-7). These questions are not what the covenantal relationship between God and humanity is about. The specific details of the afterlife are for God to know, and God is God’s own mystery and power decides alone (Romans 11:25-36). When it comes to living in fellowship with Jews, Jewish and Gentile Christians exist as a testimony that Israel’s covenant has been opened up, that God has reconciled Jew and Gentile.

“But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.”- Genesis 33:4 (NIV)

h00die_R (Rod)

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29 thoughts on “Engrafted Into The Story: Romans 11 And Reconciliation

  1. Great post Rod! I have a couple of questions/ points of concern:

    a) with the dissent towards the view that “the Jews were waiting for a violent messiah to overtake their enemies” in mind, what was/is the significance of Palm sunday/ Jesus’ riding of the donkey into Jerusalem – many ( as I’m sure you realize) teach this to be a sort of dramatic irony of sorts- the “triumphant” as militaristic/forceful triumph over Roman rule (i.e. violent messiah to overtake the enemy)

    b) i suspect many retreat to supersessionism simply because they believe the non-violent Christ of NT to be horribly inconsistent with the OT God. Even with this faithfulness of God to Israel framework/ New perspective on Paul, how would you respond to someone who yet brings up such things as the OT slayings , in which God is recorded to have ordered the brutal killing of innocent children/babies and women?

    • Excellent questions, Harry!

      Re: Palm Sunday:

      I think the use of the donkey for Jesus is more of a parody of the Roman Empire. Its more of commentary on Jesus being a humble king in the midst of arrogant Roman empire. Also Jesus may be fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy about a king’s entry.

      RE: Nonviolent Christ:

      Another good point. Sure Jesus in nonviolent, but its more in line with the Jewish way of shalom like Ezra and Solomon. Plus God is still violent in Revelation, the book of Acts.

  2. Additionally, is it supersessionist to believe that people’s perceptions of God in OT evolved, as opposed to God Himself
    i.e. everytime someone wrote “The Lord commanded…” , it may not have actually been God?

  3. Rodney,

    I just have one question:

    How many covenant communities has God chosen, today—since the incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus—to be God’s sign and sacrament of the age to come: One or Two?

    • There’s one covenant TC, the First covenant that has been opened up. And i don’t believe your use of sacrament is correct. Im a baptist. Sorrynotsorry

      • It’s okay that you’re a baptist; no one’s perfect.

        So, you didn’t exactly answer my question. I didn’t ask how many covenants there are, though your answer is fascinating. (I’ll get to that in a moment.) I asked how many covenant *Communities* you believe there are. How many different groups of people does God currently have a covenant relationship with, in light of the incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Messiah Jesus of Nazareth: One or Two?

        Now to your claim that there is only one covenant—the “First covenant.” Would you mind explaining how you understand Jeremiah and Jesus and the author of Hebrew’s use of the language of “New Covenant”? Help me understand how something “new” is also the “same.”

        Thanks!

        • I did answer your question, TC, dont try to pull that. Your question as i said before, had “sign & sacrament” to your notion of community. That’s a theological, partisan notion. The community as I said was: Israel with the church inside of it, you know, engrafted.

          As for new vs old, I already answered this, but heres the biblical precedent: God renews the covenants, just as he did during the time of Samuel (1st Samuel 1). Same way, the Messiah renews the 1st Covenant, only difference is opening up/fully including the Gentiles.

          • I’m left to conclude that you don’t want to answer the question, because it would undermine your entire argument. That’s unfortunate. I thought we could just have a straightforward interaction about this.

            So, instead, I’ll just say what your options are and which one is faithful to the biblical witness:

            1) There is only one covenant community in light of who Jesus is: the Church (made up of peoples from every tribe and every nation, including Gentiles and Jews).

            2) There are two covenant communities: Israel and the Church.

            Option #1 is biblical, according to the New Testament. Option #2 is unbiblical according to the New Testament.

          • I did answer your question; “Israel+the Church”. What is there not to understand? It’s all one community. Israel Engrafted.

            I said there was one; sorry, i dont work in the millenialisms/dispensationalist frame work. You have no passages to cite for your beloved supersessionism because its embedded theology.

  4. Describing “Israel+the Church” as “one” community is completely incoherent. Unless your aim to create some kind of paradox like the Trinity (they are both two and one).

    Who is this “Israel”? Where is this “Israel”? Is it ethnic “Israel”? Is it national “Israel”? I have no idea what you mean by “Israel.” Are you coming out as a Zionist?

    The answer you’re clearly skirting is that there is no longer any covenant with ethnic or national Israel. The New Covenant is between God and the Church, which includes people from every ethnic group and/or national entity on earth.

    “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” – Galatians 3.23-26

    Being “baptized into Christ” is being baptized into the body of Christ: the CHURCH. Doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile. Every member of Christ’s CHURCH are co-heirs with Christ to the promise made to Abraham’s Seed (Jesus).

    “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, THROUGH THE CHURCH, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Ephesians 3.7-11

    God’s intent was that now what? “Through the CHURCH”. Full stop.

    “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

    But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” – Hebrews 12.18-24

    The writer contrasts Old and New saying the Hebrew believers to whom he writes have “come to… the CHURCH of the Firstborn… to Jesus the Mediator of a New Covenant.”

    To whom have the Hebrew Christians come: Jesus, the mediator of a New Covenant. And what is this new community called: the CHURCH of the firstborn.

    If you want to call the Church the “New Israel” or a “spiritual Israel”, fine. But this “Israel+the Church” doesn’t cut it with Scripture.

      • It was a question. Like I said, I have no idea what you mean by “Israel” now that Christ has established his Church.

        Moreover, you called me a supersessionist and I never owned that label. I merely asked you what is inherently wrong with supersessionism. I didn’t claim to adopt the view.

        Your responses have not been helpful. I do not understand your view any better than when I read this post. As far as I can tell, your view doesn’t align with Scripture.

  5. Thanks for the responses!

    I was aware of Christ’s riding of the donkey as a parody of the Roman Empire, but it’s also stated that the Jews welcomed him with laying palm leaves before him and praising him as the King/Messiah! As they were saying this, was there not some expectation that Christ would (more or less) overtake Caesar’s empire violently or by force? Can we really say they were praising his entry for the truth of what he would actually do?

    Also, many would have issues with Christ being non-violent yet God being violent- half the point of Christ is the good news about who God truly is ,so portraying the Father & Son’s character as somehow in conflict with one another presents issues ( similar to the whole objection to penal substitution atonement). Also,with Revelation, many Dominionists and Zionists use these depictions of God to promote empire and champion Him as this prize-winning warrior God – also, still inconsistent- much of Revelations, I’ve been told, is in fact, Jewish apocalyptic literature and so many of the depictions/imagery have to be interpreted in light of this (i.e. sword coming out of Christ’s mouth) “If you’ve seen me , you’ve seen the Father” – stoning gays, whiping out civilizations of women and children, and other instances of God-sanctioned brutality in the OT are not consistent with the sorts of things Jesus would do/taught, therefore, if He is the fullest representation of God, then why should we believe God would do these things? This would be the largest objection and the reason for discrediting things in the OT. It’s a bit iffy, then, to give God a pass for being violent. Also, what are some instances of God being violent in Acts?

  6. There’s nothing wrong with engrafted language, it’s a good biblical metaphor. But you can’t subordinate the Church to Israel. That’s not biblical. God in Christ has established the Church—for both Jews and Gentiles. You can think of the Church as a spiritual Israel if you like, but to speak of God still having a covenant with Israel is unbiblical according to the New Testament. Giving Jesus and the apostle’s Jewishness its proper place accomplishes your goal of acknowledging our Gentile place, and recognizing that Jesus fulfills the Covenant honors God’s faithfulness.

      • It’s not The Church that is grafted in. That’s not what Paul is getting at in Romans 9-11. Gentiles are grafted into the Covenant people of God—which is now called “the Church.” Metaphors that applied to Israel are applied to the Church in the NT.

        “It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” – Rom. 9.6

        • Yeah, no one is biologically going to inherit living in the covenant with God. People have to be taught God’s story, of course.

          This goes the same for Christians who used to teach salvation comes from their father’s biology.

  7. Christians who continue to believe the dogmatic teaching of the Holy Trinity should wonder how Jesus could be seen and nobody died, how he could die and resurrect when God is an eternal Spirit who can not be seen or people would die, but he the Creator of heaven and earth had no beginning and can not die. Jesus had a beginning and an end. He was tempted (but God can not be tempted) and proofed that a man could be truthful to his Creator. Jesus could sin but did not. He died for our sins and was resurrected by his Father who is also our Father in heaven.

    we should have Resurrection faith in Yeshua the Messiah and be thankful that god accepted his offering and took him in heaven to sit at His right hand and to be a mediator between Him (Jehovah God) and men.

    • You’re neglecting Jesus’ status being the Incarnate Logos, the one at the beginning with God, that’s John 1 + Proverbs 8, the Wisdom of God.

      The mere fact that Jesus was tempted means nothing; God was tempted by Satan (Job, ever read it?), tempting just means to test, we can’t test God, we will fail, and so with the world and Satan failed when they tested Jesus. Poor anti-trinitarian arguments there.

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