Book Review: Has the Church Replaced Israel? by Michael J. Vlach
Michael J. Vlach, Has the Church Replaced Israel? A Theological Evaluation (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2010). 228pp. $19.99. Paper.
Michael J. Vlach argues against supersessionism in Has the Church Replaced Israel? A Theological Evaluation, defining it as "the view that the New Testament Church is the new and/or true Israel that has forever superseded the nation Israel as the People of God” (12). He states that three interrelated beliefs control a supersessionistic hermeneutic: (1) the belief in the interpretive priority of the New Testament over the Old Testament; (2) the belief in non-literal fulfillments of the Old Testament texts regarding Israel; (3) the belief that national Israel is a type of the New Testament church (79). Vlach argues that Reformed exegetes who hold to these beliefs introduce “change, alteration, or reinterpretation to the original meaning,” of the Old Testament text, and they “do not allow” Old Testament passages “to be the reference points for their own meaning” (92). Thus, “over two-thirds of the Bible is not to be approached in a straight forward manner,” and this method fails to take “into account the authorial intent of the Old Testament authors as determined by historical-grammatical-literal hermeneutics” (94).
In reality, Reformed Christians see no replacement of Israel because there are not two particulars in the first place. The New Testament assumes corporate unity between Israel and the church. Christ is presented as the representative of the true Israel of the Old Testament, and the true Israel—the church—in the New Testament. The Bible presents a unified history controlled by a wise and sovereign God, who planned the early parts of his Word to correspond and point to the latter parts. Geerhardus Vos states in Biblical Theology that “revelation does not stand alone by itself,” rather it is “inseparably attached” to the activity of Redemption. Revelation is the interpretation of redemption. Because of this, it unfolds itself “in installments as redemption does” (5–6). Hermeneutics therefore should come from a canon that allows the latter parts of biblical history to function as the broader context. Christ and the Apostles of the New Testament interpret the Old Testament in light of redemption. Jesus Christ is the center of history, and the key that unlocks the early portions of the Old Testament promises. The canon does interpret the canon.
Vlach’s authorial intent and so-called literalism is a doctrine that lies outside the canon. These doctrines come out of the Enlightenment , assuming that we have access to the author’s mind. We do not have access to his thoughts, all we have access to is the text. Fortunately, the Divine mind gives us the authorial intent of the Old Testament in the New Testament. Nevertheless, the Old Testament has to be mined in its original context using history and grammar before moving into the Divine horizon.
This work has more fallacies and caricatures than this review can cover. For example, the author continually refers to the supposed dualism of supersessionism as Platonic, yet gives no proof of its connection to Plato. Not every dualism is Platonic. Is the Creator–creature distinction Platonic? Vlach would help his cause by concentrating on the positive arguments for his position. In addition, it would be better to spend more time in exegesis, rather than in appealing to authorities. For example, in dealing with the “Israel of God” phrase in Galatians 6:16, he appeals to Timothy George, who concludes that it is unlikely that Paul was including Gentiles believers in this statement. His proof is that the phrase is at the end of the book and not in the body, and that Paul was dealing with Judiazers. Paul supposedly only refers to Jews with this phrase to congratulate them for not succumbing to the Judiazers. Finally, Vlach should avoid anachronistic fallacies when doing history. He argues that supersessionism’s priority in history was due to anti-Semitism. Carl R. Trueman, in History and Fallacies, exposes this fallacy in demonstrating that the world before Darwinian theory had different conceptions of race than we have today. The world of the past was a world of religious categories, not biological (136). The Reformers, Medieval, and Patristic writers attacked the Jews not out of some supposed racial hatred, but because they saw Judaism as a false religion. They attacked a religion that denied the Savior.
In the end, I cannot recommend this book. It is not a work for the serious biblical theologian, but rather a rallying cry for those within Vlach’s camp. Its scholarship is lacking. I would recommend in its place a reading of Geerhardus Vos, Greg Beale, or Meredith Kline.