When the Messianic Church was moved by force from Jerusalem to Rome, the need arose to reconcile what was happening in front of them.
They began to reconsider what the Bible says about God keeping his promises to Israel. Since Israel wasn’t on the map anymore, the idea took root that the Gentile church must be a new, spiritual, Israel. As time went on, it appears that the common explanation for this was rooted in passages of the Bible where the crowd against Jesus cried for him to be crucified and for his blood to be on their heads and the heads of their children. Obviously, people can pronounce curses on themselves all they want but what matters is what God decides. It is clear the early church fathers had become convinced that God was punishing the Jews and that the Church were His new favourites. Take the following quotes as an example:
We too, would observe your circumcision of the flesh, your Sabbath days, and in a word, all you festivals, if we were not aware of the reason why they were imposed upon you, namely, because of your sins and the hardness of heart.
The custom of circumcising the flesh, handed down from Abraham, was given to you as a distinguishing mark, to set you off from other nations and from us Christians. The purpose of this was that you and only you might suffer the afflictions that are now justly yours; that only your land be desolated, and you cities ruined by fire, that the fruits of you land be eaten by strangers before your very eyes; that not one of you be permitted to enter your city of Jerusalem. Your circumcision of the flesh is the only mark by which you can certainly be distinguished from other men…as I stated before it was by reason of your sins and the sins of your fathers that, among other precepts, God imposed upon you the observence of the sabbath as a mark.
Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho (Between 138A.D. and 161 A.D.)1
Perhaps no quote better summarises Replacement Theology than this one from Origen of Alexandria:
We may thus assert in utter confidence that the Jews will not return to their earlier situation, for they have committed the most abominable of crimes, in forming this conspiracy against the Savior of the human race…hence the city where Jesus suffered was necessarily destroyed, the Jewish nation was driven from its country, and another people was called by God to the blessed election.
Origen of Alexandria (185-254 A.D.) – A ecclesiastical writer and teacher who contributed to the early formation of Christian doctrines.2
The sentiments – expressed by a number of the early church fathers – all at once seem to forget that, A) it was necessary for Jesus to be crucified for the redemption of mankind, and B) God had made an everlasting covenant with all the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This everlasting covenant specifically imparts the land of Israel to them and their descendants forever as an everlasting possession. By the 4th century, relations between Jews & Gentiles had become very sour.
When did early church attitudes turn so sour?
From my research, it appears that a shift in attitudes toward Messianic Jews happened around the Bar Kokhba revolt3. According to Justin Martyr, in First Apology Rabbi Akiva convinced the Sanhedrin to support the revolt and later declared Kokhba the Messiah. Messianic Jews had seemed sympathetic to the cause and wanted to show their loyalty to Israel. Akiva’s declaration would obviously have been a step too far for Jewish followers of Yeshua. As Justin Martyr records, Kokhba ordered that those who would not pledge their full support to him be ‘led to cruel punishments’. The revolt failed. Akiva and Kokhba were slain and Messianic Jews were again excoriated as traitors because they did not fight. How could they? They simply could not follow a false messiah. On the topic of the Messiah and the deity of Jesus, it should be remembered that the idea of a plurality within God was once present and widespread in Judaism. Orthodox Jewish Scholar Daniel Boyarin presents evidence that there came a strong reaction to the deity of Yeshua which resulted in the idea of the plurality of God being cleansed from tradition.4 This is important. It eventually led to the collapse of the ‘bridge’ of understanding provided by Messianic Jews between Jews and Gentile believers. One significant long term result of this was the separation of Yeshua from his Jewish identity. My question would be; how much less anti-semitism would there be if the Church had managed to keep sight of this fact?
The Church now exists in a fractured, divided and in some cases antagonistic state, due in no small part in my belief than this overlooked ‘First Schism’. This is the division which Deacon Johannes Fichtenbauer describes as a virus which enables further schism in the Church. We now find ourselves in much confusion over Israel, the Jewish people (who either believe in Yeshua or not) and their place in the eschatological plans of God. This will be the topic of another post which will hopefully cover more about the theology of the olive tree found in the letters of Saint Paul.