What is replacement theology?

Replacement theology (also known as Supersessionism) asserts that the Church—followers of Jesus from all nations—has replaced the Jewish people as God’s chosen people. Those who hold to replacement theology might say things like, “The Church is the true Israel” or “The promises God made to Israel have been transferred to the Church” or “The Church is God’s chosen people, not Israel.”1

Replacement theology is dangerous because it undermines the Bible’s message that God has an enduring covenant with the people of Israel and casts doubt on God’s faithfulness to His promises. Replacement theology has historically fostered hatred against the Jewish people and has been used to support centuries of persecution and violence against them. Promoting replacement theology risks perpetuating this harm and stands in the way of reconciliation between Christians and the Jewish people.

Does Paul teach the Church is the “True Israel” in Romans 9:6?

Those who claim “The Church is the true Israel” often base their position on Romans 9:6, which states, “It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.”2 About this verse, Christian biblical scholar Thomas Schreiner says, “It seems legitimate to conclude that Paul sees the church as the true Israel, and all ethnic Jews and Gentiles who believe in Christ belong to the Israel of God.”3

We should first note that “true” does not appear in the Greek text of Romans 9:6, or in many translations of Romans 9:6. Nor does ekklesia, the Greek word usually translated as “church,” appear in the Greek text. In fact, ekklesia does not appear in Paul’s letter to the Romans until Romans 16:1, and Paul never equates the ekklesia with Israel in any of his letters. The burden of proof is on the one claiming Romans 9:6 teaches the Church is the true Israel, since the text itself does not explicitly say this. We must look at the wider context of Romans 9:6 to help us better understand what interpretive options we have for this verse.

The Immediate Context of Romans 9:6

The immediate context of Romans 9:6 casts doubt on understanding Romans 9:6 as espousing replacement theology. In Romans 9:1–5, Paul expresses his heart’s deep desire to see Jewish people recognize that Yeshua (Jesus) is their Messiah. When reading Paul’s lament, pay careful attention to Paul’s use of the present tense:

I am speaking the truth in Messiah—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Messiah for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Messiah, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.4

Are these statements compatible with believing the Jewish people are no longer Israel and that the promises of Israel no longer belong to the Jewish people and now belong to the church? If Paul held to replacement theology, we would expect a negation of the things he mentions in these verses, not the strong affirmation we see here.

If Paul taught replacement theology, he would have said, “they are no longer Israelites” and “to them no longer belong…the promises” and “to them no longer belong the patriarchs” and “from their race, according to the flesh was the Messiah.” But we do not see any of that.

Paul is clearly speaking about Jewish people who do not follow Yeshua as their Messiah and yet, he says, “they are Israelites” and “to them belong…the covenants…and the promises.” Paul is speaking of all these things in the present tense, after the resurrection of Jesus, and after noticing a widespread rejection of the gospel by the Jewish people. Israelites are still Israelites; therefore, Israel is still Israel.

The Intermediate Context of Romans 9:6

The intermediate context also challenges a supersessionist understanding of Romans 9:6. In Romans 11, Paul makes clear, unequivocal statements insisting ethnic Israel remains God’s covenant people, even while in unbelief. These verses include Romans 11:1–2 and 11:28–29:

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.

As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Paul clearly states that God has not rejected Israel who are “his people” and that, even while they are hostile to the gospel, Israel remains beloved regarding election because the gifts and the calling of God cannot and will not be lost.

Paul’s use of “Israel” and “Israelite” throughout Romans

Every time Paul uses “Israel” or “Israelite” in Romans, he refers to ethnic Israel, and every time Paul refers to non-Jews, he uses “Gentiles” or “nations.”5 Paul is unambiguous in his distinction between Israel and the nations and Jews and non-Jews throughout Romans.

In Romans 11:11, Paul specifically spotlights the distinction between unbelieving Israel and the believing nations. He says, “So I ask, did they [Israel] stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their [Israel’s] trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.” Paul calls believing Gentiles “the Gentiles” and unbelieving Jewish people “Israel.”

An Israel within Israel

In contrast to the supersessionist understanding of Romans 9:6, Paul has two groups within Israel in view: the faithful and the unfaithful. Like he explains later in Romans 11, Paul refers to the distinction within Israel between Jews who follow Yeshua and those who do not.6

In Romans 11:1, Paul says, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite…God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” Paul uses himself as evidence against the claim that God has rejected Israel because they have not followed the Messiah. For Paul, if God rejected Israel, God would be rejecting him. God has not rejected Paul; therefore, God has not rejected Israel.

Continuing in Romans 11:2–4, Paul recounts the story of Elijah asking God if he is the only Israelite still faithful to Him, and God replies that He has “kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal” and referred to this group as “a remnant, chosen by grace” in 11:5. With this, Paul shows a historical precedent of there being a distinction between the faithful and the unfaithful within Israel.7

Then, in 11:7, Paul says, “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.” Paul refers to those Jewish people in Israel who accepted the gospel and “the rest” who did not receive the gospel, but both constitute Israel.

We see similar language regarding gentiles in the introduction of the letter. In Romans 1:13, Paul writes,

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.

Just as there is a distinction between the faithful and the unfaithful among the nations, there is a distinction between the faithful and the unfaithful within Israel.

Paul never revoked the titles of “Israel” and “Israelite” from the Jewish people and never applied those titles to non-Jews who follow the Messiah. The immediate, intermediate, and greater context of Romans all make it extremely unlikely that Romans 9:6 means the Church is the true Israel. Israel remains Israel.


  1. This kind of language goes as far back as Justin Martyr, writing in the early 2nd century. In chapter 11 of his Dialogue with Trypho, Justin writes, “for the true spiritual Israel, and descendants of Judah, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham (who in uncircumcision was approved of and blessed by God on account of his faith, and called the father of many nations), are we who have been led to God through this crucified Christ, as shall be demonstrated while we proceed.” (https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/01282.htm). And further on in chapter 135 he writes, “Christ is the Israel and the Jacob, even so we, who have been quarried out from the bowels of Christ, are the true Israelitic race” (https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/01289.htm).
  2. All translations are from the ESV. Justin Martyr does not appeal to Romans 9:6 to support his claim about the Church being the true Israel. He relies on an allegorical reading of Isaiah 42:1–4 in chapter 135 of his Dialogue with Trypho (https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/01289.htm).
  3. Michael F. Bird and Thomas R. Schreiner, eds., Four Views on the Apostle Paul (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 42.
  4. This translation is the ESV with “Christ” substituted for “Messiah.”
  5. Paul’s use of “Israel” in Romans 9:6, 27, 31; 10:19, 21; 11:7, 25–26. Paul’s use of “Israelite” in Romans 9:4; 11:1. Paul’s use of “gentiles” or “nations” in Romans 1:6, 13; 3:29–30; 9:24–30; 11:11–13; 15:9, 16, 27; 16:4.
  6. Douglas Moo writes, “There is, Paul suggests, in keeping with the OT ‘remnant’ theology, a spiritual Israel within a larger ethnic Israel . . . he is thinking only of Jews.” Douglas J. Moo, “Romans,” in New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson et al., 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1143. Michael Brown writes, “There is an Israel within Israel. It really isn’t that complicated! We can draw a similar parallel with the ‘Church.’. . . In the same way, Paul never said that Gentile believers were ‘true’ or ‘spiritual’ Israel. (Actually, the terms ‘true Israel’ or ‘spiritual Israel’ never occur in the Bible, and it might be helpful to completely avoid them.). Many people have feelings and impressions about what the Scriptures teach. But the facts are the facts: While the New Testament often describes Israel and the Church in similar terms—both are pictured as the children of God, the bride of God, the chosen people, etc.—on no definite occasion does the New Testament ever call the Church, ‘Israel.’” Michael L. Brown, Our Hands Are Stained with Blood: The Tragic Story of the Church and the Jewish People, Revised & expanded edition (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, Inc, 2019), 180–81.
  7. Later rabbis make a similar distinction in m. Sanhedrin 10:1 which explains that “all Israel” will experience the world to come, except for those who reject the resurrection of the dead is taught in Torah, teach that the Torah is not from heaven, pronounce the divine Name, and others.