These past few weeks we have been studying the lectionary texts from the book of Exodus. We have been taking a closer look at the people of Israel, their community, their journey, and their God who happens to also be our God. As we read these stories and study the meanings and texts, I want to warn against the idea of supersessionism.
Supersessionism is the theological belief that Christians, via the church universal, have succeeded the people of Israel as God’s chosen people. Supersessionism is the belief that the New Covenant in Christ somehow negates the Mosaic Covenant or Sinaitic Covenant God made with Moses and the people of Israel. To be clear, this is not the case, Christians have not succeeded or replaced or negated the people of Israel.
In fact, the theology and belief of supersessionism has been at the root of theologies that lead the way to white supremacy. For more on that topic I highly recommend Willie Jennings’ fantastic book The Christian Imagination. In short, we as Christians are to see ourselves as engrafted into the story of Israel. Jesus was born Jewish, died Jewish, and rose again ascending into heaven Jewish. The Apostle Paul was also Jewish as were the disciples. At no point did Paul or any of the other disciples become “Christian” as we understand the term. Instead when we read the letters of Paul in the New Testament, we find Paul trying to universalize Judaism, not begin a new religion.
Of course we can begin to have theological conservations with our Jewish sisters and brothers about these differences and who Jesus was and is to both faiths. I am not trying blur the lines of differences between our faiths. I am, however, cautioning against the misguided temptation of viewing the Bible, the story of Israel, and the church today through a lens that puts supersession for Christianity over against Judaism.
We as Christians only have the Old Testament as part of our canon of scripture because of Jesus who was Jewish. And through Jesus we are given many gifts, one such gift is the engraftation into God’s salvation story for God’s people.
When we read and study these texts about the people of Israel and about their relationship with God, we should pay attention to the details of the community and pay attention to God’s actions towards them. We should ask questions about what do these stories teach us about the character of God, and how can our own faith be continually transformed, and our minds renewed?
Just as the Abrahamic Covenant made between God and Abraham did not negate or replace the covenant God made with Noah, and just as the Sinaitic Covenant God made with Moses did not negate or replace the covenant God made with Abraham, so too the New Covenant with Jesus does not replace or negate God’s covenant with the people of Israel.