Hebrews 8-9 – Old Israel, New Church?

Hebrews 8-9 are theologically more controversial than the rest of Hebrews because it appears the writer of Hebrews says the Jewish people have been replaced by the Church. The New Covenant has replaced the Old just as Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is superior to the old sacrifice in the Temple. As such, chapters 8 and 9 have been used to teach that the Jewish people are no longer God’s people and the church replaces them completely. This would therefore imply that any promises made to Israel in the Hebrew Bible are either cancelled or to be reinterpreted as applying to the Church.

Star CrossThe theological term for this is supersessionism, the view that church supersedes the Jews as the people of God. For some types of theology, the idea that the Jews were replaced by the Church is an assumption, the proof for which is found in Hebrews, especially chapters 8-9. This historic view argues the church is a new Israel and the promises of the Hebrew Bible are fulfilled in the church, often in a spiritual sense.

For example, Jeremiah 31 seems to indicate that at some point in the future, the city of Jerusalem would be rebuilt. Possibly this is fulfilled when some Jews return after the exile, but it may point to a future restoration of the Jews as well. But since this prediction is in the context of the New Covenant, older writers therefore re-interpreted spiritually.

The “wall great and high” is of no earthly material; the extension is not one of yards on miles, but of nations and ages; the consecration of the unclean places is but typical of the regenerative force of Christianity, which reclaims the moral wastes of the world, and purifies the carnal affections and sinful tendencies of human nature; and no material city could ever “stand for aye.” Only the kingdom and Church of Christ could satisfy the conditions of such a prophecy. A. F. Muir, in The Pulpit Commentary on Jeremiah 2:28.

However, when one reads Hebrews without the modern church in mind, the book does not argue Israel has been replaced and all, but that the promises made to Israel, including the New Covenant, have their fulfillment in Jesus the Messiah. Here I am following Richard Hays (“We Have No Lasting City,” pages 151-173 in The Epistle to the Hebrews and Christian Theology, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009). Hays looks back at his work on Hebrews which indicates the book is supersessionist, but he then shows how a proper reading of Hebrews will show the book is not actually teaching the Christian Church has replaced Israel.

In fact, to put the question this way is a modern theological question which Hebrews does not really address. The writer is interested in demonstrating a proper understanding of the Hebrew Bible in the light of Jesus’ work on the cross will result in Christian faith. And that faith, according to the writer of Hebrews, is a kind of natural development out of Judaism to something new and different.

Although this is similar to Paul (the church is not new Israel but something new entirely), the problem of the status of the Gentile in the present age is absent from the book of Hebrews. Although this is a common theme in the Pauline letters, is entirely absent in this book since the writer is concerned with the status of Jewish believers in Christ.

14 thoughts on “Hebrews 8-9 – Old Israel, New Church?

  1. I think that this is an interesting topic. I have always wondered about the Jews in todays time and then the modern Church. Our Christian Bible says that the Jewish law and old covenant are no more and that there is a new covenant put in place by Christ’s death. Hebrews is written to a Jewish audience trying to show them these facts about Jesus being the Messiah and the reasons that he died on the cross and became the high priest and is the Son of God come down in human form to save us from our sins. This does leave out the Gentile people, as you mentioned in the blog post, but when describing the ins and outs of the Jewish customs, it would make the most sense to say these things to a Jew and not an outsider. What you were saying about Paul in the last stanza of you article, the church not being a new Israel, but something entirely different was thought provoking as well. If I am not mistaken, i believe the Bible says the Messiah will return for his bride, who in earlier texts is thought of as Israel, so this confuses me to as where the modern church fits in if they are entirely different things? I am not sure of the soundness of my statement, but if it is true it raises a question that I do not know the answer to.

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  2. I grew up hearing teachings like the Church is the new Israel, and it never really made sense to me. Why would God set aside his chosen people. But in reading both Hebrews and the Jobes text, it makes much more sense to view Hebrews as a primer for Jewish believers, presenting Christ as the fulfillment of the Law as Messiah. The writer of Hebrews is very tactful with the passages he selects and the arguments he make so that those who make up his audience will understand. It is in this belief in Messiah where Jews and Gentiles find common ground through the blood of Jesus. I think that the whole of those who believe, both Jews and Gentile, constitute the Bride of Christ.

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  3. I seem to remember when reading Paul, Galatians 3:5-9, that the Jewish people themselves are not the true descendants of Abraham. Instead, those who had faith just as Abraham did are counted as the actual sons of Abraham. I may be reading this out of context but that may support that the Church did replace the Jews as “God’s People” by faith rather than bloodlines.

    Also though, Revelation describes the protection of a number of people from the Jewish tribes. I assume this refers to bloodlines but with how obscure the book is I can’t really say. Frankly though, the Jews were God’s chosen people to do what? Minister to the world? That is the church’s job since Christ. As for what God will do with the Jewish nation now, that’s simply over my head.

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  4. This is an extremely interesting topic, not to take from Anthony. My Church had a sermon talking about blessings in the Bible and if they were inclusive only to the original audience. I cannot remember the verses they used but, in the end, the final verdict went along the lines of it also applying to modern day Christians.
    It is interesting thought because most dispensationalists say that the body of Christ was something new and did, in fact, replace the old existing rules with the new dispensation. If that was the case would that point to the Church being a new separate entity?
    That being said in the book of Revelation it talks about Israel being the chosen group again.This seems to follow the idea that Israel was separate from the Church if it is being reinstated.
    In the end, with what you said about the bride and the Church being bride makes sense. It is hard to make a call. But if I was gonna, I would say we do replace it, but the blessings can be used as a way to see what God wants for us.

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  5. This is a critical issue for a great many Christians, mainly within several large Evangelical denominations and “associations” (fundamentalist, charismatic, etc.). Their confused views about literal interpretation of Hebrew prophecies have long helped push the US (via elected and appointed officials) to ridiculous unquestioning support for extremist Israeli politics (such as West Bank settlements as one example). These are often anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab and anti-peace ones which are NOT fitting for followers of The Prince of Peace.

    And amazingly, without real coherence, they hold such positions about contemporary national Israel alongside strong supercessionist theology. Go figure!

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    • I think literal interpretation gets a bad rap because of abuses by people who never understood it in the first place. I will have a few things to say later in the year about strategies for reading Daniel and Revelation (I am teaching a class in May on those books), but for now I will simply say reading the Bible with the grammatical-historical method (which used to be “literal interpretation”) takes into account symbolic language and first-century methods, trying to get at what the author intended.

      There is still room within that method to get to the sort of political positions you mention, as well as their opposing views since those are applications of the text to new situations. Hebrews (or Revelation) has nothing to say about building a Wall to separate West Bank from Israel, or settlements, etc. But they could be used to support those things (or not) depending on the political presuppositions of the reader. I do not think complete objectivity is possible, but some of the people you are alluding to do not even try!

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  6. I agree with what was said about how Israel and the Jews are not literally being replaced by the church. What needs to be remembered is that the messiah was a promise to Israel and the Jews and the invitation was extended to even the gentiles! The New covenant is a continuation of the covenant made with Israel. I still do think Israel is distinct from the rest of the word because of the fact they were God’s chosen people, but the New covenant replaces the old not by considering the Jews obsolete but rather inviting them to be a part of the next step in God’s redemptive plan. As a matter of fact the apostles were given instructions to preach to the Jews first and then the Gentiles! The Jews had the first opportunity to continue to be part of God’s people. I think people get confused because of the labels “Jews” and “Christians” the only reason we still have that distinction is because of unbelief and lack of faith on the Jews part. The new covenant makes the old Mosaic Law obsolete, not the people. If the Jews truly understood that the Messiah had come and invited them to be a part of the continuation of his kingdom, they would understand that their Law is not capable of saving them anymore. The only thing it’s good for now is conviction and realization of the need for a savior! (Romans 7).

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  7. Great read, however, I don’t believe the Jews are being replaced by anything. In order for this to happen, I think other events leading up the New Israel have to be false. The city of Jerusalem would not be rebuilt or if it did, would be rebuilt for the new Kingdom where Jesus would rule. Yes, the Jews are God’s chosen people, but at the same time I don’t think Hebrews would allude to the fact that they are getting everything taken away from them. In reading both chapters, there is a foreshadowing between Salvation and Eternal. Jobes comments on the Salvation aspect underlining the importance of it and the importance that it had for the Jews (Jobes, 120). Jobes also makes a comment on eternal damnation and the implications of this, which can raise quite a lot of other concerns. The book of Hebrews and chapters 8-9 are in essence foreshadowing what could happen to each of us if we don’t accept the gift of Salvation. The author uses the Jews as an example, but I don’t think they are necessarily loosing everything.

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  8. This is a very interesting topic and something that has never really crossed my mind when reading through Hebrews. When I first read it I was not thinking of the modern church so as you stated in your post the book does not seem to argue that Israel has been replaced at all. But now when thinking of modern church after reading it again I can see where this argument can be made. According to Jobes’ book, she talked about how the Israelites failed to keep God’s covenant with its moral demands (Jobes, 119). Maybe this is why some think Israel is being replaced because they failed to keep the covenant. I also do not believe that Jews are being replaced rather they may just be getting left behind. Since they did not fully accept Him as the Messiah because He did not follow through with what they believe He should have. Something else to me that stood out in these chapters was that it was stated by the author that the old covenant is obsolete and that new one should be followed (Hebrews 8:13). I truly feel like God did not just make the old covenant obsolete rather He just built or improved on it. By doing this it seemed that God wanted the Jews to be the next step in His plan.

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  9. I guess personally I struggling with really defining what I believe about the difference between the Church and the nation of Israel. But I think that Karen Jobes book, and this blog post pair nicely together in talking about this issue. While there are many things in question when it comes to the Church and Israel, I think one thing is abundantly clear: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are all essential to everyone’s salvation, and everyone needs a Savior.

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  10. I think that it was not so much that Israel was being replaced by the church as it is God setting the nation of Israel aside and turning to the gentiles (Acts 13: 45-46). The nation of Israel rejected Jesus as the Savior so God set Israel on a shelf and had Paul turn to the gentiles who were open and willing to hear what they had to say. The nation of Israel is still God’s chosen people group not the gentiles. With Jesus’ sacrifice, people no longer have to offer up animal sacrifices in order to purify themselves of their sins. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for all not matter if they were Jewish or gentile.

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  11. As we all know, Israel is God’s chosen nation. That being said, I always thought it was natural that the Church would be looked at as the new Israel. Are we not God’s children once we accept Christ as Savior. Hebrews was trying to tell the Jews that Jesus was the New Covenant. There was no need for animal sacrifices anymore. The author of Hebrews truly wanted the Jewish people to believe in the New Covenant. “This deliberate decision to no longer be a Christian is what theologians call apostasy,” (Jobes 135). Letting Israel see their value in Christ, saying they are the second church, might have helped them realize they need God. And through that not turn away from Jesus as Savior so that apostasy would not happen.

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