Supersessionism, the Holocaust, and the Modern State of Israel

Written by Michael Vlach.

Perspectives concerning supersessionism have been seriously affected by two twentieth-century developments—the Holocaust and the establishment of the modern state of Israel. These events have pushed questions and issues concerning Israel and the church to the forefront of Christian theology.[1]

More than any other event, the Holocaust has been the most significant factor in the church’s reevaluation of supersessionism. According to Irvin J. Borowsky, “Within Christendom since the time of Hitler, there has existed a widespread reaction of shock and soul-searching concerning the Holocaust.”[2] Peter Ochs asserts that Christian reflections on the Jews and Judaism after the Holocaust “have generated theological questions of fundamental significance.”[3] 

These questions include: (1) “What are Christians to make of the persistence of the Jewish people?”; (2) “Is the Church the new Israel?”; (3) “What of Israel’s sins?”; and (4) “What of Israel’s land and state?”[4] The answers to these questions in recent years indicate a reaction against supersessionism. Clark M. Williamson states, “Post-Shoah [Destruction] theology” among contemporary theologians “criticizes the church’s supersessionist ideology toward Jews and Judaism.”[5] 

 

The establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 has also raised questions concerningIsrael and the doctrine of supersessionism. Herman Ridderbos lists some of them:

 

The existence of Israel once again becomes a bone of contention, this time in a theoretical and theological sense. Do the misery and suffering of Israel in the past and in the present prove that God’s doom has rested and will rest upon her, as has been alleged time and again in so-called Christian theology? Or is Israel’s lasting existence and, in a way, her invincibility, God’s finger in history, that Israel is the object of His special providence (providential specialissima) and the proof of her glorious future, the future that has been beheld and foretold by Israel’s own seers and prophets?[6]

 

    Commenting on the events of the Holocaust and the establishment of the Jewish state, R. Kendall Soulen states, “Under the new conditions created by these events, Christian churches have begun to consider anew their relation to the God of Israel and the Israel of God in the light of the Scriptures and the gospel about Jesus.”[7] This includes a “revisiting [of] the teaching of supersessionism after nearly two thousand years.”[8]



[1] “Since the tragic events of the Shoah and the birth of the modern State of Israel on May 14, 1948, the interest shown in God’s ancient people has been widespread and sustained.” Ronald E. Diprose, Israel in the Development of Christian Thought (Rome: Istituto Biblico Evangelico Italiano, 2000), 1.

 

[2] Irvin J. Borowsky, “Foreward,” in Jews and Christians, 11. According to Peter Ochs, “Christian theologies of Judaism have been stimulated, instructed, or chastened by the memory of the Holocaust – the Shoah (‘Destruction, Desolation’).” Peter Ochs, “Judaism and Christian Theology,” in The Modern Theologians, ed. David F. Ford (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1997), 607. Boesel says, “Overcoming the tradition of supersessionism constitutes the heart of what is commonly understood as responsible Christian response to the Holocaust.” Christopher Jon Boesel, “Respecting Difference, Risking Proclamation: Faith, Responsibility and the Tragic Dimensions of Overcoming Supersessionism” (Ph.D. diss., Emory University, 2002), 11.

 

[3] Ochs, 607.

 

[4] Ibid.

 

[5] Clark M. Williamson, A Guest in the House of Israel (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1993), 7.

 

[6] Herman N. Ridderbos, “The Future of Israel,” in Prophecy in the Making: Messages Prepared forJerusalem Conference on Biblical Prophecy, ed. Carl F. H. Henry (Carol Stream, IL: Creation, 1971), 316.

[7] R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996), x.

 

[8] Ibid.

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