Supersessionism, also called replacement theology or fulfillment theology, is a Christian theological view on the current status of the church in relation to the Jewish people and Judaism.[1] It holds that the Christian Church has succeeded the Israelites as the definitive people of God[1][2][3] or that the New Covenant has replaced or superseded the Mosaic covenant.[4] From a supersessionist's "point of view, just by continuing to exist [outside the Church], the Jews dissent".[5] This view directly contrasts with dual-covenant theology which holds that the Mosaic covenant remains valid for Jews.

Supersessionism reaches its culmination in Islam and the doctrine of Tahrif, which "sees itself as the final successor to and the completion of the Abrahamic faith tradition of ethical and prophetic monotheism."[6]

Supersessionism formed a core tenet of the Church for the majority of its existence, and it remains a common assumption among Christians and Muslims. Subsequent to and because of The Holocaust, some mainstream Christian theologians and denominations have rejected supersessionism.[7]:2–3


The word supersessionism comes from the English verb to supersede, from the Latin verb sedeo, sedere, sedi, sessum, "to sit",[8] plus super, "upon". It thus signifies one thing being replaced or supplanted by another.[9]

The word supersession is used by Sydney Thelwall in the title of chapter three of his 1870 translation of Tertullian's Adversus Iudaeos. (Tertullian wrote between 198 and 208 AD.) The title is provided by Thelwall; it is not in the original Latin.[10]

Christian views

Many Christian theologians saw the New Covenant in Christ as a replacement for the Mosaic Covenant.[11] Historically, statements on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church have claimed its ecclesiastical structures to be a fulfillment and replacement of Jewish ecclesiastical structures (see also Jerusalem as an allegory for the Church). As recently as 1965 Vatican Council II affirmed, "the Church is the new people of God," without intending to make "Israel according to the flesh", the Jewish people, irrelevant in terms of eschatology (see "Roman Catholicism," below). Modern Protestants hold to a range of positions on the topic.

In the wake of the Holocaust, mainstream Christian communities began the work of "undoing" supersessionism.[12]:64–67

New Testament

In the New Testament, Jesus and others repeatedly give Jews priority in their mission, as in Jesus's expression of him coming to the Jews rather than to Gentiles[13] and in Paul's formula "first for the Jew, then for the Gentile."[14] Yet after the death of Jesus, the inclusion of the Gentiles as equals in this burgeoning sect of Judaism also caused problems, particularly when it came to Gentiles keeping the Mosaic Law,[15] which was both a major issue at the Council of Jerusalem and a theme of Paul's Epistle to the Galatians, though the relationship of Paul of Tarsus and Judaism is still disputed today.

Paul's views on "the Jews" are complex, but he is generally regarded as the first person to make the claim that by not accepting claims of Jesus's divinity, known as Christology, Jews disqualified themselves from salvation.[2] Paul himself was born a Jew, but after a conversion experience he came to accept Jesus's divinity later in his life. In the opinion of Roman Catholic reformer James Carroll, accepting Jesus's divinity, for Paul, was dichotomous with being a Jew. His personal conversion and his understanding of the dichotomy between being Jewish and accepting Jesus's divinity, was the religious philosophy he wanted to see adopted among other Jews of his time. Christians quickly adopted Paul's views.[16]

For most of Christian history, supersessionism has been the mainstream interpretation of the New Testament of all three major historical traditions within Christianity — Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant.[17] The text most often quoted in favor of the supersessionist view is Hebrews 8:13: "In speaking of 'a new covenant' [Jer. 31.31-32] he has made the first one obsolete."[18]

Church fathers

Many Early Christian commentators taught that the Old Covenant was fulfilled and replaced (superseded) by the New Covenant in Christ, for instance:

Augustine (354–430) follows these views of the earlier Church Fathers, but he emphasizes the importance to Christianity of the continued existence of the Jewish people: "The Jews ... are thus by their own Scriptures a testimony to us that we have not forged the prophecies about Christ."[22] The Catholic church built its system of eschatology on his theology, where Christ rules the earth spiritually through his triumphant church. Like his anti-Jewish teacher, St. Ambrose of Milan, he defined Jews as a special subset of those damned to hell, calling them "Witness People": "Not by bodily death, shall the ungodly race of carnal Jews perish (..) 'Scatter them abroad, take away their strength. And bring them down O Lord". Augustine mentioned to "love" the Jews but as a means to convert them to Christianity.[23] Jeremy Cohen,[24] followed by John Y. B. Hood and James Carroll,[25] sees this as having had decisive social consequences, with Carroll saying, "It is not too much to say that, at this juncture, Christianity 'permitted' Judaism to endure because of Augustine."[26]

Roman Catholicism

In this Torah, which is Jesus himself, the abiding essence of what was inscribed on the stone tablets at Sinai is now written in living flesh, namely, the twofold commandment of love. ... To imitate him, to follow him in discipleship, is therefore to keep Torah, which has been fulfilled in him once and for all. Thus the Sinai covenant is indeed superseded. But once what was provisional in it has been swept away, we see what is truly definitive in it.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Many Religions, One Covenant[27]

Supersessionism is not the name of any official Roman Catholic doctrine and the word appears in no Church documents, but official Catholic teaching has reflected varying levels supersessionist thought throughout its history, especially prior to the mid-twentieth century. Supersessionist theology is extensive in Catholic liturgy and literature.[5] The Codex Justinianus (1:5:12) for example defines "everyone who is not devoted to the Catholic Church and to our Orthodox holy Faith" a heretic and Catholic liturgy contains echoes of supersessionist theology. The Second Vatican Council (1962–65) marked a shift in official Catholic teaching about Judaism, a shift which may be described as a move from “hard” to “soft” supersessionism, to use the terminology of David Novak (below).[28]

Pope Pius XII held supersessionist views.

Prior to Vatican II, Catholic doctrine on the matter was characterized by “displacement” or “substitution” theologies, according to which the Church and its New Covenant took the place of Judaism and its “Old Covenant,” the latter being rendered void by the coming of Jesus.[29] The nullification of the Old Covenant was often explained in terms of the “deicide charge” that Jews forfeited their covenantal relationship with God by executing the divine Christ.[30] As recently as 1943, Pope Pius XII stated in his encyclical “Mystici corporis Christi”:

By the death of our Redeemer, the New Testament took the place of the Old Law which had been abolished; then the Law of Christ together with its mysteries, enactments, institutions, and sacred rites was ratified for the whole world in the blood of Jesus Christ… [O]n the gibbet of His death Jesus made void the Law with its decrees fastened the handwriting of the Old Testament to the Cross, establishing the New Testament in His blood shed for the whole human race.[31]

At the Second Vatican Council, which convened within two decades of The Holocaust, there emerged a different framework for thinking about the status of the Jews’ covenant. The declaration Nostra aetate, promulgated in 1965, made several statements which signaled a shift away from “hard supersessionist” replacement thinking which posited that the Jews’ covenant was no longer acknowledged by God. Retrieving Paul’s language in chapter 11 of his Epistle to the Romans, the declaration states, “God holds the Jews most dear for the sake of their Fathers; He does not repent of the gifts He makes or of the calls He issues… Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures.”[32] Notably, a draft of the declaration contained a passage which originally called for the “the entry of that [Jewish] people into the fullness of the people of God established by Christ;”[33] however, at the suggestion of Catholic priest (and convert from Judaism) John M. Oesterreicher,[34] it was replaced in the final promulgated version with the following language: “the Church awaits that day, known to God alone, on which all peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and ‘serve him shoulder to shoulder’ (Zeph 3:9).”.[32]

After the death of Pope John Paul II, the Anti-Defamation League stated that "more change for the better took place in his 27-year Papacy than in the nearly 2,000 years before."[35]

Further developments in Catholic thinking on the covenantal status of Jews were led by Pope John Paul II. Among his most noteworthy statements on the matter is that which occurred during his historic visit to the synagogue in Mainz (1980), where he called Jews the “people of God of the Old Covenant, which has never been abrogated by God (cf. Romans 11:29, "for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" [NRSV]).”[36] In 1997, John Paul II again affirmed the Jews’ covenantal status: “This people continues in spite of everything to be the people of the covenant and, despite human infidelity, the Lord is faithful to his covenant.”[36]

The post-Vatican II shift toward acknowledging the Jews as a covenanted people has led to heated discussions in the Catholic Church over the issue missionary activity directed toward Jews, with some Catholics theologians reasoning that “if Christ is the redeemer of the world, every tongue should confess him,”[37] while others vehemently oppose “targeting Jews for conversion.”[38] Weighing in on this matter, Cardinal Walter Kasper, then President of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, reaffirmed the validity of the Jews’ covenant and then continued:

"[B]ecause as Christians we know that God’s covenant with Israel by God's faithfulness is not broken (Rom 11,29; cf. 3,4), mission understood as call to conversion from idolatry to the living and true God (1 Thes 1,9) does not apply and cannot be applied to Jews…. This is not a merely abstract theological affirmation, but an affirmation that has concrete and tangible consequences; namely, that there is no organised Catholic missionary activity towards Jews as there is for all other non–Christian religions.”[39]

Recently, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii gaudium (2013), Pope Francis’s own teaching on the matter closely mirrored these words of Cardinal Kasper:[40]

God’s grace, which is the grace of Jesus Christ according to our faith, is available to all. Therefore, the Church believes that Judaism, [as] the faithful response of the Jewish people to God’s irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, May 2001[41]

In 2011, Kasper specifically repudiated the notion of “displacement” theology, clarifying that the “New Covenant for Christians is not the replacement (substitution), but the fulfillment of the Old Covenant.”[42]

These statements from Catholic officials signal a shift away from a “hard” supersessionist model of displacement. Nevertheless, the references to the Church as the “new People of God” and the New Covenant as “fulfilling” the Old Covenant (irrevocable though it might be) imply a clear Christian superiority and thus comport with a “soft” supersessionism. It should be noted that fringe Catholic groups, such as the Society of St. Pius X, strongly oppose the theological developments concerning Judaism made at Vatican II and retain “hard” supersessionist views.[43] Even among mainstream Catholic groups and official Catholic teaching, elements of “soft” supersessionism remain:


Protestant opinions on supersessionism vary.[47][48] These differences arise from dissimilar literal versus figurative approaches to understanding the relationships between the covenants of the Bible, particularly the relationship between the covenants of the Old Testament and the New Covenant.[47] In consequence, there is a range of viewpoints, including:

Three prominent Protestant views on this relationship are covenant theology, New Covenant theology, and dispensationalism. Extensive discussion is found in Christian views on the Old Covenant and in the respective articles for each of these viewpoints: for example, there is a section within Dispensationalism detailing that perspective's concept of Israel. Differing approaches influence how the land promise in Genesis 12,[47] 15[52] and 17[47] is understood, whether it is interpreted literally or figuratively, both with regard to the land and the identity of people who inherit it.[47][52]

Adherents to these various views are not restricted to a single denomination, although covenant theology is particularly important within the Presbyterian and Reformed traditions.[52] In the US, a difference of approach has been perceived between the Presbyterian Church and the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and the United Methodist Church which have worked to develop a non-supersessionist theology.[53]

Paul van Buren developed a thoroughly nonsupersessionist position, in contrast to Karl Barth, his mentor.[1] He wrote, "The reality of the Jewish people, fixed in history by the reality of their election, in their faithfulness in spite of their unfaithfulness, is as solid and sure as that of the gentile church."[54]


The Latter Day Saint movement rejects supersessionism.[55]

Jewish views

From a Jewish perspective, the Torah was given to the Jewish people as an eternal covenant (for example Exo 31:16-17, Exo 12:14-15) and will never be replaced or added to (for example Deut 4:2, 13:1). For religious Jews and other critics, supersessionism is usually perceived as a theology of replacement, which substitutes the Christian church, consisting of Christians, for the Jewish and B'nei Noah people. While some modern Jews are offended by the traditional Christian belief in supersessionism,[56] a different viewpoint has been offered by Rabbi and Jewish theologian David Novak, who has stated that "Christian supersessionism need not denigrate Judaism" and that some subsets of Christian supersessionism can affirm that God has not annulled his everlasting covenant with the Jewish people, neither past nor present nor future."[57]

Islam and supersessionism

See also: Tahrif

Much as Christianity sees itself as superseding Judaism, Islam sees itself as superseding both Judaism and Christianity. For Judaism, such supersessionary ideas do not present a challenge; Judaism was the first revealed religion and rejects any claim that a subsequent revelation, whether Christian or Muslim, renders it obsolete. For Christians, however, the situation could not be more different. Since Christianity is explicitly based on the claim of having superseded Judaism, it cannot reject the idea of supersessionism, but it also cannot accept it as an absolute principle, since then it would either have to deny the legitimacy of Islam at any level or acknowledge that Islam has indeed superseded Christianity. The various Christian approaches to understanding Islam mentioned by Mr. Besançon flow directly from this dilemma.[58] Islam is quite explicit about its own triumphalist supersession of its two predecessor faiths in Abrahamic monotheism.[59]

In its developed form, taḥrif is the Islamic teaching that the scriptures of other monotheists and/or their interpretations have been corrupted, and thus obscure the message that had been previously sent by God. The implication of taḥrif is that the Qur'an comes both to confirm and to correct errors in the teachings of the Jews and Christians, making Islam not simply another monotheistic religion, but rather, the final and most pure revelation by which all others are measured. Various authors argue the formulation of the doctrine of taḥrif gives a strong indication that Islam was from its inception supersessionist, the view that the new revelations sent by God would 'replace the corrupted scriptures possessed by other communities'. The Qur'an and the earliest teachings of Muḥammad display a clear theology of revelation that is concerned with establishing the credibility of the nascent community viz-a-viz other religions.[60]


Both Christian and Jewish theologians have identified different types of supersessionism in the Christian reading of the Bible.

R. Kendall Soulen notes three categories of supersessionism identified by Christian theologians: punitive, economic, and structural:[7]

These three views are neither mutually exclusive, nor logically dependent, and it is possible to hold all of them or any one with or without the others.[7] The work of Matthew Tapie attempts a further clarification of the language of supersessionism in modern theology that Peter Ochs has called "the clearest teaching on supersessionism in modern scholarship." Tapie argued that Soulen's view of economic supersessionism shares important similarities with those of Jules Isaac's thought (the French-Jewish historian well-known for his identification of "the teaching of contempt" in the Christian tradition) and can ultimately be traced to the medieval concept of the "cessation of the law" - the idea that Jewish observance of the ceremonial law (Sabbath, circumcision, and dietary laws) ceases to have a positive significance for Jews after the passion of Christ. According to Soulen, Christians today often repudiate supersessionism but they do not always carefully examine just what that is supposed to mean. Soulen thinks Tapie’s work is a remedy to this situation.[61]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Charry ET. Supersessionism. in Green JB, Lapsley J, Miles R, Verhey A (editors). Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics. Baker Academic, 2011. ISBN 9780801034060
  2. 1 2 Carroll, James. Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001. Print. p. 58
  3. Johnson LT. Christians and Jews: Starting Over - Why the Real Dialogue Has Just Begun. Commonweal magazine. January 31, 2003.
  4. Harrison BW. The Liturgy and ‘Supersessionism’. Ignatius Press, June 2009.
  5. 1 2 Carroll, p. 50
  7. 1 2 3 R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology, (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996) ISBN 978-0800628833
  8. Cassell's Latin Dictionary
  9. Collins Dictionary of the English Language
  10. Tertullian, Adversus Iudaeos (Latin) = An Answer to the Jews trans. S. Thelwall, (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1870).
  11. Fonrobert, Charlotte Elisheva. "Jewish Christians, Judaizers, and Christian Anti-Judaism." A People's History of Christianity, Volume 2: Late Ancient Christianity. Ed. Virginia Burrus. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005.
  12. Gary A. Tobin, Dennis R. Ybarra. The Trouble with Textbooks: Distorting History and Religion. Lexington Books, Jul 31, 2008 ISBN 9780739130957
  13. Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:23-30; cf. Matthew 10:5-6; Acts 3:26
  14. Romans 1:16; 2:9-10
  15. Acts 10:28; 11:1-2; 21:17-28; Galatians 2
  16. Carroll, p. 138.
  17. Lewis, Bill. "Sons of Issachar for the 21st Century." Google Books. 2 July 2014.
  18. qtd. in Levine.
  19. Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 11, in Ante-Nicene Fathers 1:200.
  20. Hippolytus, Treatise Against the Jews 6, in Ante-Nicene Fathers 5.220.
  21. An Answer to the Jews, Chapter 3
  22. Augustine, The City of God 18.46, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 2:389.
  23. Michael, Robert (2011). A history of Catholic antisemitism : the dark side of the church (1st Palgrave Macmillan pbk. ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0230111318. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
  24. Jeremy Cohen, 'Introduction', in Jeremy Cohen (ed.), Essential Papers on Judaism and Christianity in Conflict: From Late Antiquity to the Reformation, (New York: New York University Press, 1991), 13–14.
  25. John Y. B. Hood, Aquinas and the Jews, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995), 12f.
  26. James Carroll, Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2001).
  27. Joseph Ratzinger, Many Religions, One Covenant, (Ignatius Press, 1999), p. 70.
  28. Michael, Robert (2011). A history of Catholic antisemitism : the dark side of the church (1st Palgrave Macmillan pbk. ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 219. ISBN 978-0230111318. Retrieved 9 February 2015.
  29. John T. Pawlikowski, Jesus and the Theology of Israel, (Michael Glazier, 1989), pp. 10-11.
  30. Robert Chazan, “Christian-Jewish Interactions Over the Ages,” in Christianity in Jewish Terms (Westview, 2000), pp. 7-24. Chazan refers to “the alleged Jewish role in the crucifixion. As noted, Christian theory posited that role as the decisive factor in the disruption of the divine covenant with the Jews and the transmission of that covenant to Christians, the successor people” (p. 9)
  31. qtd. in Aledo.
  32. 1 2 Nostra aetate n. 4
  33. “Second Declaration on the Jews and Non-Christians, 28–29 September 1964,” qtd. in Philip A. Cunningham et al (eds.), The Catholic Church and the Jewish People (Fordham, 2007), p. 195.
  34. John Connelly, From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933-1965 (Harvard, 2012), p. 254.
  35. Pope John Paul II: 'An Appreciation: A Visionary Remembered'
  36. 1 2 Pontifical Biblical Commission, “The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures” (2002).
  37. Cardinal Avery Dulles, “Covenant and Mission”, America (Oct. 21, 2002), pp. 8-11 at p. 10
  38. Mary Boys, Philip Cunningham, and John T. Pawlikowski, “Theology’s Sacred Obligation”, America (Oct. 21, 2002), pp. 12-16 at p. 14.
  39. “Reflections by Card. Walter Kasper, Boston College, 6 November 2002.
  40. “We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for ‘the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable’ (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9).” Pope Francis, Evangelii gaudium (2013) n. 247
  41. Cardinal Walter Kasper, Dominus Iesus
  42. “It also cannot be said that the covenant with Israel has been replaced by the New Covenant. The New Covenant for Christians is not the replacement (substitution), but the fulfillment of the Old Covenant. Both stand with each other in a relationship of promise or anticipation and fulfillment…[T]he New Covenant is the final reinterpretation promised by the prophets of the Old Covenant. It is the definitive yes and amen to all of God’s promises (2 Cor 1:20), but not their suspension or abolition.” Cardinal Walter Kasper, “Foreword” in Christ Jesus and the Jewish People Today (Eerdmans, 2011) pp. x-xviii at p. xiv.
  43. John Vennari, “Judaism & the Church: before & after Vatican II”
  44. Catechism of the Catholic Church CCC 674
  45. Commission for religious relations with the Jews. "Guidelines And Suggestions For Implementing The Conciliar Declaration "Nostra aetate" (n. 4)" (Rome, 1 December 1974).
  46. Lumen gentium
  47. 1 2 3 4 5 Maltz, Steve. The Real Roots of Supersessionism. in Smith, Calvin L., ed. (2013). The Jews, Modern Israel and the New Supersessionism. Kent: King's Divinity Press. ISBN 9780956200617
  48. Frankel J, Mendelsohn E. The Protestant-Jewish Conundrum: Studies in Contemporary Jewry, Volume 24. Oxford University Press, 2010. ISBN 9780199753413
  49. Provan CD. The Church Is Israel Now: The Transfer Of Conditional Privilege. Ross House Books, 1987. ISBN 9781879998391
  50. Diprose, RE. Israel and the Church: The Origins and Effects of Replacement Theology. InterVarsity Press, 2004. ISBN 9780830856893
  51. Vlach MJ. Has the Church Replaced Israel? : A Theological Evaluation. B&H Academic, 2010. ISBN 9780805449723
  52. 1 2 3 Brand, C. (editor) Perspectives on Israel and the Church: 4 Views ISBN 9780805445268
  53. Bretton-Granatoor, Gary M. "The Presbyterians’ Judaism problem." Jewish Journal. 27 June 2014. 27 June 2014.
  54. van Buren P. Probing the Jewish-Christian Reality. Christian Century. 1981;June 17–24:665-668.
  55. According to the Book of Mormon, during his post-resurrection visit to the Americas, Christ tells his audience "[F]or behold, the Lord remembereth his covenant unto [the Jews], and he will do unto them according to that which he hath sworn." Kessler, Orin (2012-07-30). "People of the Book". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2013-04-18.
  56. Rabbi Dow Marmur, Lecture at Regis College, Toronto, January 21, 1998, see at June 28, 2008
  61. 1 2 Soulen, 181, n6.
  62. Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 44 (2001): 442.

Further reading

External links

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