What’s the difference between a “Messianic Jew” and a “Christian”? Beats me.

Many Jewish believers in Yeshua – “Messianic Jews” – don’t like to be called “Christians,” because they reject much in traditional Christianity, claiming that it has been corrupted by Greek/pagan thought. For them, the appellation “Christian” is pagan and should be replaced by the term “Messianic. They also maintain that the term “Christian” in the New Testament is used only as a derogatory term.

I disagree with this view. “Christ” is merely Greek for “Messiah,” and, so, a “Christian” is a follower of Christ. I am proud to be called “Christian;” and if people call me a Hebrew Christian or a Jewish Christian or a Christian Jew, that would be nice too. In the time of Christ, many literate Jews read and wrote Greek, because Greek continued to be a major language (which had been so since Alexander the Great) after the Roman occupation of “Palestine” in 63 B.C.E. Furthermore, many Jews had Greek (or Hellenised) names; for example, Nicodemus and the historian, Josephus, who wrote his history of the Jews in Greek. So, in order not to rebuild the wall of partition between Gentile Christians and Messianic Jews, I prefer to call all followers of Jesus/Yeshua simply “Christians,” and don’t mind specifying, if necessary, or if the person likes it, that s/he is a Jewish/Hebrew Christian. I do know one rabbi who says that I am a Christian Jewish man but not a Jewish Christian ish – “man” in Hebrew is ish. If I were drunk, I’d say: “man” in Hebrew ish ish.

Hope that this has  helped in some small way to make my Jewish antimissionary friends be nicer to me.

But, and this is a big but, what are my (real) Messianic Jewish friends going to say?

Messianic Jew : What d’ya mean the wall of partition is broken down and all that “one new man” stuff?

Christian Jew: Oh, do you mean that bit in Ephesians about  he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed? Is that what you mean?

Messianic Jew: Exactement. Where does Israel fit into all of this?

Christian Jew: It doesn’t.

Messianic Jew: I knew it. You blew it! As soon as you started talking about one new ish – eish! I knew that you were a replacementist.

Christian Jew: Whazzat?

Messianic Jew: You’ve replaced ethnic Israel with the Church.

Christian Jew: Ah, I get it. Not at all. The “one new man” in Ephesians and the “all Israel will be saved” of Romans 11 are talking about two different things. Look; I’m an ethnic Jew; I now believe in Jesus Christ. Calvin was a Gentile; he also believed in Christ. So, the two of us are one in Christ. As for the future of ethnic Israel, that still stands. So, you see, I am, like our great Apostle Paul, no fan of “replacement theology.” Now, here’s a thing; and most Calvinists are going to scratch my eyeballs out: Calvin – and he would be the first to admit that it was by God’s grace alone – rejected replacement theology.

Messianic Jew: Calvin was horrible to Jews.

Christian Jew: What’s that got to do with the price of Roman or Ephesian pork?

Messianic Jew: And he also didn’t believe in free will.

Christian Jew: I have a confession to make. I’m a Calvinist robot.

Messianic Jew: Shaaaaaaa-lom.

Augustine, Replacement Theology and Soteriology (Salvation)

Some Jews refer to Christian theology as a “replacement” theology, because it replaces the God of Israel with a Trinity of Persons and makes God a man. Some Christian groups such as Religious Zionism, with John Hagee at its vanguard, teaches a Dual Covenant where Jews do not need to accept Jesus Christ. A theology that requires them to convert would be regarded as “replacement” theology.

Some Messianic groups reject much in traditional Christianity claiming that it has been corrupted by Greek/pagan thought. For them, the appellation “Christian” is pagan and should be replaced by the term “Messianic. Furthermore, they claim that the term “Christian” is the pagan label for “Messianics.” Some refer to any doctrine that (they believe) replaces a correct doctrine as “replacement” theology. For example, here is a comment from a Messianic Jew who rejects the (pretribulation) rapture of the Church. He says: “The so-called “rapture” is also a myth. The notions that the Jews will stay and suffer but the Church is going to a party in the sky is replacement theology of the first degree” (Dan Benzvi at the RoshPinaProject). (The Church, of course, consists of both Jews and Gentiles, which most, if not all, Messianic Jews understand – and accept. I think Dan Benzvi accepts this, so I’m not sure what he meant. But what he meant is not relevant here; what is relevant here is that he uses the term “replacement theology” very loosely).

The above uses of the term “replacement theology” are confusing because they are not using the term in its strict theological meaning, where it refers only to the doctrine that the Church has replaced Israel and has become the “New Israel.” Now that I have clarified the term “replacement theology,” I’d like to discuss Augustine of Hippo in terms of two distinct theological positions: 1. Soteriology (salvation). 2. Replacement theology (the Church has replaced Israel).

1. Salvation

There is the monergistic view (salvation 100% of God), which contrasts with the synergistic (cooperative) view, which ranges from pelagianisn to arminianism to “blinkism” (blinkism – Christ does everything; all you need do is blink that you accept Him. When, though, you get to heaven, don’t brag about your blinking self; but I am digressing. With regard to salvation, that is, how a person comes to Christ, here is Canon 6 from the second Council of Orange, 529 A.D. (which has the heavy stamp of Augustine of Hippo): CANON 6. If anyone says that God has mercy upon us when, apart from his grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask, or knock, but does not confess that it is by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith, the will, or the strength to do all these things as we ought; or if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, “What have you that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7), and, “But by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). In other words, grace and 100% of faith are both gifts of the Lord. Why 100% of faith and not say, one little blink from me to protect my human dignity – my free will? Because: And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:1-10) The (Augustinian) Council of Orange is the same as Reformation Doctrine. To summarise, the above view of the human will in salvation is Augustine’s connection to Reformation soteriology (salvation). Let us look at Augustine and replacement theology and their connection to Reformed theology.

2. Replacement theology and Augustine

In a review of Barry Horner’s “Future Israel,” the writer says: “Barry Horner is a convert to Reformed theology, a Bunyan scholar and a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary. Although a convinced five point Calvinist, Horner rejects the standard Reformed doctrines of supercessionism and amillennialism, under which the Old Testament promises of a glorious future for the nation of Israel are spiritualised and applied to the Christian Church.” Well and good. Further on in the review, he writes: “Few of the great Reformed theologians and thinkers, including John Calvin and Francis Turretin, were able or willing to extricate themselves from Augustine’s legacy.” I hope it was the reviewer, and not Horner, who got it wrong about Calvin being a “replacementist.” Most Reformed theologians follow Roman Catholic replacement theology (readjusted in Nostra Aetate). There is an good number of Reformed believers/theologians that REJECT replacement theology.

But CALVIN – surprisingly to many – was one of these rejecters. Here is Calvin: “Paul quotes this passage, (Rom. xi. 26,) in order to shew that there is still some remaining hope among the Jews; although from their unconquerable obstinacy it might be inferred that they were altogether cast off and doomed to eternal death. But because God is continually mindful of his covenant, and “his gifts and calling are without repentance,” (Rom. xi. 29,) Paul justly concludes that it is impossible that there shall not at length be some remnant that come to Christ, and obtain that salvation which he has procured. Thus the Jews must at length be collected along with the Gentiles that out of both “there may be one fold” under Christ. (John x. 16). . . . Hence we have said that Paul infers that he [Christ] could not be the redeemer of the world, without belonging to some Jews, whose fathers he had chosen, and to whom this promise was directly addressed.” (John Calvin, “Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah,” Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 8, 269). But, I suppose, all Calvin is saying is that some Jews will become members of Christ’s body, the Church. There is nothing in Calvin about a restoration of ethnic Israel as a separate entity from the Church. His view seems to be, which is the view of most Calvinists, that ethnic Israel will be absorbed into the Church. Modern amillenialists (like most Calvinists) eschew the term “replacement” and prefer the term absorption (into the Church); but this is a semantic sop (slop?).

The following Reformed theologians do believe in a restoration of ethnic Israel – they are not replacementists/absorptionists/swallowed-upnists – are Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, and in modern times Lewis Johnson, Wayne Grudem and John Macarthur. In a nutshell; Reformed theology and replacement theology are not intrinsically two sides of the “shame” coin. I’m a Spurgeon/Jonathan Edwards, if not a Turretin, fan on this replacement issue – AND a fan of theirs on the issue of how one comes to faith as well. God draws me and I come. After I come, I know the truth and I become free. Nothing robotic about that. On the contrary – that’s what true freedom is; when God replaces my inclination to follow self with the desire to follow him and obey him in all things.