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The Orthodox Church and Supersessionism

supersessionism replacement theology

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Poll: Is Supersessionism Orthodox? (5 member(s) have cast votes)

Does Orthodoxy teach Supersessionism?

  1. Yes, at least a variety of Supersessionism. (2 votes [40.00%])

    Percentage of vote: 40.00%

  2. No, it does not even teach a variety of Supersessionism. (3 votes [60.00%])

    Percentage of vote: 60.00%

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#41 H. Smith

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 06:10 AM



You write:

It is obvious that God’s covenant with Abraham and the Hebrews was fulfilled (as Christ said) – replaced or superseded if you will inasmuch as Christ’s sacrifice was not an animal sacrifice - by Christ’s once-and-for-all sacrifice on the Cross.  This is not ‘supercessionsism’ as that term is meant.


Wikipedia defines Supersessionism this way:

Supersessionism, fulfillment theology, and replacement theology are terms for the biblical interpretation that the New Covenant supersedes or replaces the Mosaic Covenant...[it views] the Christian Church as the inheritor of the promises made with the children of Israel.

The idea that Christians inherit the promises made to Israel is a big part of St Paul's discussion in Galatians I think, about the promises made to Abraham flow to his children and that Christians are adopted into Abraham's line through Christ. So this basic definition of Supersessionism is what Orthodox teaches.


The entry goes on to say that the term "Supersession" comes from the title a translator put on Tertullian's writing. This provides further evidence to me that this term refers to an idea in Orthodoxy. If a European explorer finds a new island for the first time ever and calls it Greenland", then that's what Greenland means. The vikings could make all kind of misleading reports home about the (few if any) pastures they found there. And some people might later show up and ask: "Really, this place is Greenland? Where's all the green I expected? It's practically a huge glacier." But the name sticks to "Greenland", because that's how it was identified.


Likewise, if a scholar gets a piece of literature from the Church fathers and sticks the name "Supersession" on it without further explanation, that might be what Supersessionism really means, even if a protestant were to show up later, read a Church father, and misconstrue his views- and Supersessionism along with it.


This writing by Tertullian says in part:



Therefore, in this general and primordial law of God, the observance of which, in the case of the tree's fruit, He had sanctioned, we recognise enclosed all the precepts specially of the posterior Law, which germinated when disclosed at their proper times. For the subsequent superinduction of a law is the work of the same Being who had before premised a precept; since it is His province withal subsequently to train, who had before resolved to form, righteous creatures.


CHAP. Ill.—OF CIRCUMCISION AND THE SUPERCESSION OF THE OLD LAW.  [The translator added this title]

Whence we understand that the coming cessation of the former circumcision l then given, and the coming procession of a new law (not such as He had already given to the fathers), are announced: just as Isaiah foretold, saying that in the last days the mount of the Lord and the house of God were to be manifest above the tops of the mounts: "And it shall be exalted," he says, "above the hills; and there shall come over it all nations; and many shall walk, and say, Come, ascend we unto the mount of the Lord, and unto the house of the God of Jacob," -not of Esau, the former son, but of Jacob, the second; that is, of our "people," whose "mount" is Christ, "prµcised without concisors' hands, filling every land," shown in the book of Daniel. In short, the coming procession of a new law out of this "house of the God of Jacob" Isaiah in the ensuing words announces, saying, "For from Zion shall go out a law, and the word of the Lord out of Jerusalem, and shall judge among the nations,"—that is, among us, who have been called out of the nations,—"and they shall join to beat their glaives into ploughs, and their lances into sickles; and nations shall not take up glaive against nation, and they shall no more learn to fight." ...Therefore as we have shown above that the coming cessation of the old law and of the carnal circumcision was declared, so, too, the observance of the new law and the spiritual circumcision has shone out into the voluntary obediences of peace.



Therefore, since it is manifest that a sabbath temporal was shown, and a sabbath eternal foretold; a circumcision carnal foretold, and a circumcision spiritual pre-indicated; a law temporal and a law eternal formally declared; sacrifices carnal and sacrifices spiritual foreshown; it follows that, after all these precepts had been given carnally, in time preceding, to the people Israel, there was to supervene a time whereat the precepts of the ancient Law and of the old ceremonies would cease, and the promise of the new law, and the recognition of spiritual sacrifices, and the promise of the New Testament, supervene;



Another of Tertullian's writings says:

Therefore the entire purport of this epistle is simply to show us that the supersession (ie. the "Discessionem") of the law comes from the appointment of the Creator—a point, which we shall still have to keep in mind.


Take care.

#42 Lakis Papas

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 06:10 AM

Dear H. Smith,


I think that apostolic and patristic tradition does accept the idea of progressive course where the past is exceeded by the future events. But this is a phenomena of the human realm,


Reality, as it is experienced by the Church, is transcendent and eschatological. I think the main anti-supersessionism phrase is: "the perishable being will be clothed with the imperishable and what is mortal clothed with immortality". The concept of "clothed" is substantial as what is dressed is man's identity which remains intact and preserved as time rolls forward. So what is important and is the core of things is not replaced, but dressed. 

Edited by Lakis Papas, 06 April 2013 - 06:10 AM.

#43 Owen Jones

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 12:55 PM

I think we need to be careful about extracting certain phrases from Scripture and the Fathers and literalizing and dogmatizing them.  If you take Scripture that way, it is a bundle of contradictions.  For example, is the Eucharist a "memorial" or is it His flesh and blood? 

Edited by Owen Jones, 06 April 2013 - 12:56 PM.

#44 H. Smith

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 03:12 PM

For example, is the Eucharist a "memorial" or is it His flesh and blood? 

That's a good example, Owen. Can the Eucharist be both a memory of His sacrifice and also His flesh and blood?


Couldn't one thing that supersedes another replace, transform, and fully continue the same thing?



Edited by H. Smith, 06 April 2013 - 03:18 PM.

#45 Owen Jones

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 09:11 PM

What is the point?

#46 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 06 April 2013 - 10:23 PM

I also cannot see where this thread is leading.

#47 H. Smith

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 12:24 AM

Dear Lakis,


Thanks for posting St Maximus' writing on the Old and New Testaments:

Zechariah 4:1-3


In an exegesis of Zechariah 4:1–3, st Maximus the confessor writes:
The Church of God, worthy of all praise, is a lampstand wholly of gold, pure and without stain, undefiled and without blemish, receptacle of the true light that never dims…. The lamp above her is the true light of the Father which lights up every man coming into this world, our Lord Jesus Christ, become light and called such.
Then st Maximus says:
I believe that the olive tree to the left means the Old Testament, because Old Testament cares more about practical philosophy, and that the olive tree to the right means the New Testament, because New Testament is a teacher of a new mystery and creates in every believer the will to see God. The first one teaches ways of virtue, the second offers words of knowledge to those who philosophize about the divine. The one grabs the mind from the fog of visible and raises it to noetic, after being cleaned from every material fantasy. The other clears him of any attachment to the materials and with the power of bravery, like a hammer, breaks the nails that hold the intention being towards the body.
The Old Testament elevates the body to the soul making it to become sensible through the virtues, and prevents the mind to descend into the body. The New Testament elevates the mind to God by setting it to fire by the flames of love. The one is making the body similar to mind according to the will. The other is making the mind similar to God by obtaining grace and much resemblance to God, so as God to be recognized through it, similar to the way that we recognize the original from its image.
The Old Testament, because it symbolizes the pursuit of virtue, it causes the body to match the mind in motion. The New Testament, because it creates knowledge and vision of God, illuminates the mind  with divine meanings and qualities. The Old Testament provides to the knowledgeable man the modes of virtues. The New Testament gives the practical man the words of true knowledge.


Here, St Maximus values both the Old and New Testaments, saying that the Old Testament raises the body to the mind, and the latter raises the mind to God.  Naturally, if the body and been elevated to the mind, it seems that the New Testament could raise the body to God as well, which points to ideas about a lack of decay (as in Psalm 16 or the self-preservation of relics).


To show a table of St Maximus' explanation:


The Two Trees



Old Testament Olive Tree                 |--------------|   New Testament Olive Tree: teaches a "new mystery"

cares about practical thinking          |---------------|         focuses less on practical thinking




The Process



Mind similar to and at level of God. Mind set to fire, has grace

Cleared of attachment and intention to the material



/  \


 ||   New Testament: raises and cleans, illuminates



Mind in the noetic.

But still in attachment and intention to the material.


Body similar to and at the level of the soul.  Body becomes sensible and matches the mind in motion.



/  \


 ||     Old Testament: raises and cleans; prevents mind from going back to body



Mind in "fog of the visible", material fantasies, attachment and intention to the material.




In St. Maximus' portrayal, hasn't the Old Testament raised the person up to a higher status, and the new mysteries of the New Testament raised the person to a level even higher than before? The person's new status in both cases "sits on top of" the old one.


This status at a higher level does not mean the value or lessons of the Old Testament are lost, but rather continued and built upon. To give another example, if you drive up a mountain, your new height has replaced the old one, but not in a way that your gains from driving there are lost. The Old Testament transforms the mind from being in a fog to being noetic and virtuous, but the mind is not lost. The New Testament raises that mind with its attachment to the material to the level of God, but the virtues are not lost.


To give an analogy: even when I was a student in advanced economics (and sometimes particularly so), I found it valuable to go back and review earlier books, even if the presentation and concepts were different or more fundamental. Our new knowledge and studies superseded what we learned before on a subject, but the earlier presentations and lessons remained valuable.


To return to St Maximus' writing: a person who has knowledge about God but still needs help with basic practical virtues finds help in the Old Testament, and a person who has practical abilities but still needs knowledge finds it in the new one. Thus, St. Maxmimus describes a process where new statuses, ways of thinking, and processes "sit on top of", or supersede, old ones. The new ones retain valuable elements of the earlier ones, which retain value as well.



I agree with you when you write:

I do not disagree with the chronological arrangement you propose. But the Bible goes beyond the  chronological determinism.

I saw the chronological aspect as only one way of looking at it. Another way, I think that comes out from St. Maximus' writing is a vertical arrangement of one thing being "higher" and leading to something "higher" (from simpler to greater), as opposed to only a "left to right" chronological view (old to new). Does that go along with what you are saying?


It sounds right when you say that "All the writings in the Bible have an eschatological reference."

One can find in all the Biblical books something that can be associated with the Messianic era, particularly when it comes to shared ideas of redemption. But doesn't that also fit in with the chronological perception, since you say in a predictive way (future tense):

"Christ follow what is written in the Old Testament to reveal the love of God for man, as will be revealed fully and directly in the Eschaton."


By the way, your sentence above also makes sense: the idea of Christ following the Old Testament, eg. following the predictive prophecies that were ro reveal God's love. This is like an architect following his own blueprint to build his own house. In case he came up against difficulties, he has the authority to supersede problems in the blueprint that would prevent him from building the house. Those problems would not in fact be things in the blueprint to build the house, but might hinder it. Can't it be said that by superseding the law with his authority, and in some situations going over what the old law itself might say, the Creator of the law was able to fulfill its instruction to show love and build His house?


Can you please give an example of the kind of limit you have in mind when you write: "it is a mistake to limit the law system of the Old Testament."

For example, the rule to honor parents is still followed today, and it applies to broad range of unlisted ways: one can show honor by giving flowers on mothers day, or by following their instructions. So it is not limited to one situation. On the other hand, this rule can also be superseded by greater things: Christ talked about giving up family in general to follow Him.


It makes sense when you say: 

The Old Testament is a type and image of the Eschaton, and also the New Testament is a type and picture of the Eschaton. Since, however, they take place in human timeline they are adapted to human condition. 

Then Christ said in the "Rich Man and Lazarus" parable(Luke 16:27-31): 
So, my point is that Old Testament is self-sufficient to show humans the way of repentance. And indeed, Old Testament has led the nation of Israel for centuries to bring the very important result of the birth of Maria, who became worthy to become the Mother of God by following the rules of the Old Testament.

The Old and New Testaments both have redemptive prophetic images of the Eschaton, which is also redemptive. The idea of a promised land is like the idea of a future, Messianic world, and Revelations also gives such visions, like the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven like a bride. I can see this as a metaphor for the Church in the NT era, as well as its status in the future one. They're adapted to human conditions, because in the OT the promised land was realized as a physical land people could physically see. And would it be correct to see the Church in the Christian era as human in the sense that there is a visible institution associated with it?


The passage with Lazarus' parable shows that the OT was enough to teach repentance, because Jesus concludes by saying that the greater miracle of a resurrected person saying to repent would not teach people to repent if the OT prophets did not. And I agree with your larger point that the OT was enough to teach repentance, because this was one of the main messages of the propehts to their people. On the other hand, the OT remained a guiding document, particularly for the OT righteous, who followed God even when the OT portrayed the people collectively as temporarily rejecting God. It makes sense that the incarnation in turn was a response to the prayers of OT righteous people like Daniel, who received a prediction of the Messianic era.

However, how do Christ's words in Matthew 19:7-8 in particular show that the OT was enough to teach repentance? In that passage, Christ says that Moses' law allowed divorce because people's hearts were hard. To me, that sounds like an accommodation made in the OT because of people's hardness of hearts, rather than an announcement to people that they must repent of their failed marriages. perhaps I am misunderstanding what the people should have repented for about the marriage.


You write: "New Testament is not a set of legal rules." With the New Testament there comes a higher understanding of God, according to St Maximus. There is a process of becoming like God. So it seems like that is more than legal rules, but also allowances, forgivess, and freedom. On the other hand, does the New Testament also include legal rules? I read that Jesus giving central teachings in the Sermon on the Mount is analogous to Moses giving the Law on Mount Sinai. And it seems like there is a rule to love others, although perhaps this is too subjective to be a "legal rule"?


Also, I sympathize with your description on the New Testament when you say: "it is the historical record of the life of the Church, it is the revelation of what is the meaning that the people of God give to the reality of life after Pentecost." In fact, a big part of the books that we refer to as the New Testament are narratives describing this historical record and the revelation of its meaning.


It's nice thinking about this. Take care.

Edited by H. Smith, 08 April 2013 - 12:24 AM.

#48 Owen Jones

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Posted 08 April 2013 - 02:16 PM

As far as I can tell from a quick search, "supercessionism" is a word that captures the interest of certain Protestants who are involved in "replacement" theology, dispensationalism and "covenant theology."  The primary issue seems to be the Jewish people and modern day Israel, and do they still have a role in the economy of salvation or not.  In other words, is God's covenant with Israel still in place?  Are they still His Chosen People in some sense?  Or is that Covenant now null and void? 


While many Fathers comment on the people of Israel, there has never to my knowledge been developed some kind of Patristic dogma on the subject, nor has there been a conciliar dogma, although I am certainly not an expert on the Councils and perhaps someone here who is can enlighten me.  And we need to be careful because sometimes when the Fathers speak of the Jews or Israel they are speaking in an analogical or allegorical sense.


But what seems to be clear is that the term itself is a fairly contemporary Protestant formulation of which there is no exact Orthodox counterpart.  And in any case, the Orthodox Church doesn't really speculate about historical things in the same manner that Protestants do.  The modern day persecution of Jews has an impact on all of this, as well as the huge reversal over the past forty years or so among American Protestants toward Jews, Judaism, and the State of Israel.  Among more "conservative" or fundamentalist and "evangelical" Protestants, a complete change of attitudes has taken place, and among some this is all tied up in the theory that you can predict the Second Coming by understanding events in Israel. 


But one thing is for sure, we do not approach theology in the vein of:  It's nice thinking about this.  Theology, for Orthodox Christians, is a way of transforming the intellect (nous) so that we begin to see things as they really are, the spiritual realities behind physical appearances so to speak.  Even speculative theology is focused on contemplating the underlying spiritual nature of created things.  And credal theology is not just about avoiding heresies, although that is why we have them.  But in reciting the Creed together we are all as one united to God and His creation.  We are not doing this to solve a puzzle. 

#49 H. Smith

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Posted 09 April 2013 - 08:20 AM

Dear Lakis,


I would like to briefly return to your message on the many intertestamental cross references

For a literary analysis let me suggest the following textual cross references found in the Bible  :  


It becomes obvious that you may not distinguish the old from the new testament, because their cross references are so entwined.

As I mentioned earlier, an enormity of cross references between two things, thereby entwining them, does not mean they are indistinguishable. In US law, new court decisions are based on citing court precedents, and they often are based strongly on their precedents or cite a multitude of them. Yet they are distinguishable from the earlier precedents. The Old Testament is distinguishable from the New one, for example, in that they are composed of books written before and after Christ's ministry.


You wrote that:

New Testament does not supersede Old Testament, but fully illuminates it with a eschatological light.

However, I think both are possible. For example, one of the main rites of the Old Testament Law was that the chief priest would enter the Temple once a year on the sacrificial Day of Atonement. This has an eschatological meaning, pointing toward a Messianic entrance into heaven. However, Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews shows how it was specifically the New Testament events of Christ's resurrection and entrance into heaven that illuminate this meaning. In Christianity, Christ's sacrifice is the new sacrifice, and there is not a need for continued Temple sacrifice as a result, so I would say this rite has been superseded by Christ's sacrifice in that sense. But for me the old sacrifice retains instructional value about Christ's death as a kind of "sacrifice". Does that make sense?


It makes sense when you say: "what is essentially the Old Testament, and what is essentially the New Testament, is revealed by the Comforter." After all, we consider that the prophets were inspired by God in writing the Old Testament. You based that on John 14:25-26 and John 15:26-27, which predicts the Holy Spirit coming tot he apostles at Pentecost. Even though that does not spefically mention the Old Testament, it doesn't go against your overall point either about the Old Testament being inspired. In fact, it shows that both testaments were inspired by the same divine spirit.


But why do you say that the two Testaments "are not legal provisions that are complementary, overlapping"?  I can see that the New Testament is not written in a legalistic way. On one hand, it makes radical pronouncements saying that one must give up one's things to follow the gospel. But on the other hand, it puts these in the form of sayings, rather than a long, compact list of rules. Granted, the Sermon on the Mount reminds me of the giving of the law by Moses on Mount Sinai, but even this has a positive, descriptive element (eg. "blessed are those who...") instead of a prohibitive element (eg. "don't do..."). In any case, there does seem to be an element of rules in the New Testament, nonetheless, like the instruction to "do this in remembrance of Me", referring to the Eucharist.


It seems to me the Testaments are complementary because we read both of them in our Bible, and they sometimes overlap, because as you pointed out one of the things Christ told the rich young man was to follow the Old Testament commandments. So like you said, they are not "mutually abolished" either, especially because the Old Testament looks forward to the new one, and as you point out, "Orthodox worship includes both Old and New Testament", (eg. reading of the Psalms and the gospels).


You wrote that "both the Old and the New Testament are complete by themselves." It makes sense that each is complete as a Testament. However, isn't it also true that the New Testament "completes" the Old one, as Fr. Gilquist writes: "The covenant God made with Abraham... was called "everlasting" because it would be fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who reigns forever.The old covenant is complete. It is fulfilled"?


Even if they were not both complete, I think saints could "rely on both to talk about the revelation of God". If a friend sends me a letter and one of the paragraphs is illegible, I could still rely on the letter to talk about my friend's message to me, although depending on what paragraph was missing I might not be completely certain what he meant. This issue about possible uncertainty reminds me that in the Old Testament era, I think there was uncertainty among some saints about exactly who the prophesied Messiah would be, since at one point John the Baptist has his followers ask Jesus whether He was the Messiah or not. If he and his good followers were 100% certain on this issue, perhaps they wouldn't have needed to ask the question. To give a better example, the apostles were not certain either about the exact meaning of the Messiah's resurrection until it happened. So one can have some uncertainty on a writing and yet still rely on it to talk about the writing.


In any case, it makes sense when you say that saints

rely on both to talk about the revelation of God. For example, Gregory the Theologian as he writes about deification brings as an example the life of Moses, choosing a saint of the Old Testament. So they do other Church Fathers, and they need no references to New Testament as they speak for Moses and how he was illuminated by God, Old Testament provided all that was necessary for their purpose.
The chronological preexistence of the Old Testament gives the impression that the New Testament supersedes Old Testament. This is something that
seems logical.
Just as one could rely on the Old Testament to make predictions about Christ, in whom one could become in communion with the divine, it makes sense that one could also rely on it to describe the idea of deification- becoming like God. Just as God creates and does good in the Old Testament, one can follow those ways and act and become like God. Nonetheless, it seems that the New Testament either gives the full picture or fllls it in. Due to the redemption, one becomes more like God. As I understand it, the Eucharist and Communion offer an ability to have communion or one-ness with God, and this is a step beyond the thinking in the Old Testament, or at least what was offered in it. But then again, even in the Old Testament there were instances of the Holy Spirit (God) being in people.
And as you say, if something is later in time, then it is logical one takes the view that it supersedes something earlier in time. And chronology is not the only reason to think this. One could publish two books in a series at once, and in the sequel one could even reveal something about what happened before the events of the first book. In that case, any misunderstanding or lack of clarity in the first book is superseded by the second book, even if the two books were published at once and the sequel describes something that happened earlier in time. So when you have an "old" book and a "new" one, it makes sense that the new one takes precedence and supersedes the latter, regardless of chronology.


Going beyond the issues of chronology and old and new, another indication that the New Testament supersedes the old one is that it is a fulfilmment of it. This is like the idea of a car fulfilling the description of a car or an architect's house fulfilling his blueprint for it. In both cases, the correct fulfillment supersedes the instructions for it. Once you have the car or house, the instructions are not needed to make it anymore, although they can still be helpful in other ways (like to give an added understanding of the reality).

I was surprised to hear you say: "I think, that when we read the writings of the Fathers we realize that many of them use Old Testament more in their writings/homilies." Is there a certain Church father who you feel overall uses the Old Testament more in his writings? On a sidenote, I think that does not prevent the idea of supersession- a mid-19th century American scholar might focus alot on Roman and British law in understanding US jurisprudence, and yet consider American laws to supersede them.
You see an analogy to their greater focus on the Old Testament in Christ's advice to the young rich man:


They do that in a way that reminds us of the incident when Christ counceled the rich young (Matthew 19:16-30):
Christ suggested the Old Testaments ways as the 'way' to 'enter into life' and then He added something more that was needed for 'perfection'. You may
say that this addition is new and supersedes the Old Testaments ways. This is not true. Abraham was asked the same thing in the Old Testament:
(Genesis 12:1)
End even Christ asked from Abraham even more than he asked from the rich young (this request is recorded in Old Testament): 
(Genesis 22:2) 

It's true that as you say Christ said to follow the OT commandments to "enter into life." He then says that to gain perfection, the man must give all to the poor and follow Christ. You see this as being the same thing as what Abraham was asked in the Old Testament, and so you conclude that Christ's advice about gaining perfection was nothing really "new" or beyond the Old Testament instructions to Abraham.


However, aren't there important differences between what Abraham was told and what the young man was told for perfection?

Abraham was living in tribal societies, where supposedly there was sometimes child sacrifice. So Abraham's initial instruction was going along with that sacrificial custom. God stopped that and ordered Abraham perform animal ritual sacrifice instead. This ritual animal sacrifice became part of the OT law.


Christ's instruction to the youth mentioned following Christ, who was a substitute for the OT sacrifice. Although one element of following Christ is self-sacrifice, which not only is different than sacrificing one's child or animal, it is not all there is to following Christ, since there is also an element of actively helping others in the latter.


A second difference between the instruction to Abraham and Christ's instruction to the young man was that Abraham was asked to give up his house and move to a new physical land. However, Christ's instruction to give up everything was specifically directed to giving it to the poor, and following Him meant entering a new "land" in the sense of a heavenly kingdom. This is reminiscient of the heavenly "New Jerusalem" in Revelations and contrasts with the earthly land in the Old Testament. So isn't the New Testament instruction of giving everything to the poor, following a sacrificial king, and entering a spiritual "heavenly kingdom" something new that goes beyond the Old Testament idea of merely sacrificing something else, giving up a house, and moving to a promised physical land?


Nonetheless, your idea also makes sense when you say:

This is what Church Fathers say to us in their writings: those things and laws that are revealed in the New Testament all are already revealed in the Old Testament.  But, we need the Spirit to make this clear for us.

Inside the idea of Abraham making a sacrifice and moving to a new land, a person with a New Testament understanding can see in it the idea of giving up things for God- part of following Christ, and also moving to a special spiritual place that He promises. That is because a spiritual place can have as a poetic metaphor a physical promised land. With the spirit, this can be made clear to us, and this can come by reading the Church fathers, who passed down inspired teachings about the Old Testament.


This is like the idea of the things about a house revealed in its blueprint, and a knowledge of architecture and the architect's intent being important to seeing those things. When the instructions are fulfilled correctly, the real house supersedes the blueprints, since you have already built the house at that point. Yet the blueprints still have value.


Kind Regards.




Edited by H. Smith, 09 April 2013 - 08:29 AM.

#50 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 09 April 2013 - 09:40 AM

We certainly can say that Christ's sacrifice has superseded the Temple sacrifice. There are aspects and explanations where the term "supersession' may indeed be appropriate, but that does not in any way mean that Orthodoxy supports the theological and modern concept of supersessionism en toto. The word supersession has its purpose. But within an Orthodox theology, "supersessionism" is not helpful at all, it brings with it simply too much baggage. I am not sure that trying to rehabilitate it and bend it into an Orthodox context is a good idea.

Supersessionism carries with it the idea that the Church has replaced Israel, and that the Jews have been replaced by the Gentiles. This is simply not true. The Church is the continuation of Israel. We call it the New Israel, not because it no longer includes the Jewish people, but because it now includes ALL people. It goes beyond what it was; it does not replace what was before.


#51 Lakis Papas

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Posted 09 April 2013 - 08:21 PM

Nicene Creed:

I believe ... And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Creator of life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke through the prophets


At the Commemoration Of The Restoration Of The Holy Icons, we Celebrate the "Sunday of Orthodoxy", and we read the passage from the Synodikon of the Seventh Ecumenical Council:

As the Prophets beheld,
As the Apostles taught,
As the Church received,
As the Teachers dogmatized,
As the Universe agreed,
As Grace illumined,
As the Truth revealed,
As falsehood passed away,
As Wisdom presented,
As Christ awarded,
Thus we declare,
Thus we assert,
Thus we proclaim Christ our true God
and honor His saints,
In words,
In writings,
In thoughts,
In sacrifices,
In churches,
In holy icons.
On the one hand, worshipping and reverencing Christ as God and Lord.
And on the other hand, honoring and venerating His Saints as true servants of the same Lord.
This is the Faith of the Apostles.
This is the Faith of the Fathers.
This is the Faith of the Orthodox.
This is the Faith which has established the Universe.


Above, the report of the prophets is not only historic and chronological, it is essential so that the confession of our faith is complete. It is not enough to refer only to the New Testament. 
Orthodox Church and salvation is based on the teachings both of the Prophets and of the Apostles. (Old Testament & New Testament)
Whatever is written in the Old Testament is Christian, not Jewish. Christianity is not the development of the Jewish religion.
The righteous of the Old Testament preserve the salvation process, that is the way that one can ask for and participate in God's grace. So we consider them as Christians before Christ, who arrived in theosis, same as the Holy people of the New Testament. The relationship with Jesus before and after the Incarnation is not intellectual, but empirical, existential. The Old Testament is in fact the liberating experience for humanity in the period before the Incarnation.
Although the paradigm of blueprint / implementation can be useful, it should not be considered as absolute. It is written In Exodus 3:6

Moreover He said, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.


This is one of the cornerstone "phrases" of Old Testament, which does not follow the paradigm of "blueprint / implementation". Old Testament describes by its own right God's revelation to Holy Israel. This is not a mere description (blueprint) of future events and actually it is a foundation on which Church stands. It happens that this revelation had extensions in the future.

Edited by Lakis Papas, 09 April 2013 - 08:26 PM.

#52 H. Smith

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Posted 09 April 2013 - 09:35 PM

Dear Owen,


Thank you for reading up on Supersessionism. I think you make a good point about it being a term used in Western theological discussions. However, I do not think that makes the term incorrect. For example, the ideas of vicarious atonement and substitutionary atonement, as I understand it, come principally from western discussions. Yet the idea that Christ’s sacrifice was vicarious or substitutionary- in our place- is part of Orthodox thinking based on St Paul and Isaiah 53. Nonetheless we would not limit ourselves to thinking about salvation in terms of that atonement. For us, salvation is a process of deification as Lakis mentioned. And Christ’s vicarious atonement is part of that process in that it is part of cleansing and forgiveness of sins.


Similarly, one issue with Supersessionism could be that it might not fully describe the Orthodox way of thinking about the relationship
between the covenants, even if it is a real way of looking at it within Orthodoxy. For example, it can be true that what St Paul calls the “circumcision of the heart” supersedes the “circumcision of the flesh”. Yet the concept of the circumcision of the flesh can still have instructional value to show the spiritual idea of circumcising the heart.


I think it would be helpful here to give some more definitions of Supersessionism, to see if Orthodoxy matches one of its meanings.


Wikipedia defines Supersessionism, to mean that the New Covenant supersedes or replaces the Mosaic Covenant... viewing the Christian Church as the inheritor of the promises made with the children of Israel.” It adds that this reflects an Orthodox teaching. The definition makes sense, because in Galatians St Paul describes Christians as being adopted as Abraham’s descendants, which naturally means they receive his blessings.


Theopedia defines Supersessionism as

“the traditional Christian belief that Christianity is the fulfillment of Biblical Judaism, and therefore that Jews who deny that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah fall short of their calling as God's Chosen people… The traditional form of supersessionism does not theorize a replacement; instead it argues that Israel has been superseded only in the sense that the Church has been entrusted with the fulfillment of the promises of which Jewish Israel is the trustee.”

In other words, there are different forms of Supersessionism. Does this passage’s interpretation make sense? Wouldn’t the full calling as God’s Chosen People be to recognize the Messiah, and isn’t it true that God entrusted ancient Israel with certain promises and the Church is entrusted with fulfilling them?


Theopedia goes a step further and adds:

“This belief has served not only as the explanation for why believers in Christ should not become Jews, but is also the reason that Jews are not exempted by the Christian churches, from the call of the Gospel to believe in Jesus Christ for salvation from sin and from the penalties due to sin.”


Doesn’t it make sense that if Christianity is the fulfillment, then Christians should not go back to practicing the Mosaic rites that the Church has dropped since then? (eg. the Church does not require Jewish Christians to undergo ritual circumcision anymore)

Michael Forrest, a Catholic scholar, says that

“Supersessionism… has no established, Catholic definition.  Not unlike ‘proselytism,’
it's a loaded term that can and does carry very different connotations, implications and nuances”


This makes sense to me. Proselytism, according to Wikipedia, normally means simply converting someone to another religion. However, Wikipedia adds that some people define it narrowly to mean only converting Christians from one sect to another. In that case, depending on the definition in play, I could see some Christians agreeing or disagreeing with it.


Rev. Brian Harrison, a Catholic, defines Supersessionism as

“the traditional Christian belief that the covenant between God and the People of Israel, established through the mediation of Moses at Mount Sinai, has been replaced or superseded by the ‘New Covenant’ of Jesus Christ.”


He adds that

“God’s revealed will is for Jews, as well as all Gentiles, to enter into the New Covenant by means of baptism and faith in
Jesus as the promised Messiah.” He concludes that this fact means that Supersessionism “implies that the Mosaic covenant, with its ritual and dietary requirements, Sabbath observance, etc., is no longer valid for the Jewish people.”


The Mosaic covenant said that if Jewish people followed God’s will and obeyed certain rituals, God would protect them. Since Christianity sees God’s will as desiring Jewish people to become Christian, and the Church does not have Jewish people follow circumcision or similar Mosaic rites, it makes sense that this is no longer valid. So does it make sense when Tertullian
comments on Galatians that St Paul “invalidate[s] ‘the old things’ and confirm[s] ‘the new’?” (The editor of Tertullian’s
writing connects the passage with 2 Cor. 5:17: “The old has gone, the new is.”)

But perhaps supersessionism does not “imply” that the old covenant is no longer valid like Rev. Harrison says? After all, if a king makes a new law giving everyone a tax break, it supersedes an old one giving only some people a tax break- yet the older law is still valid because the tax breaks continue. Or perhaps the “old” is “invalidated” as an absolute legal demand, yet retains instructional value?

#53 H. Smith

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Posted 09 April 2013 - 11:34 PM

Michael Vlach, an Evangelical scholar, defines Supersessionism as

“the view that the New Testament Church supersedes, replaces, or fulfills the nation Israel’s place and role in the plan of God.”

I think part of that makes sense. Israel, transformed into the Church, could “fulfill” the goals made for ancient Israel to bring knowledge of God to gentiles.

Vlach adds that

“supersessionism… can encompass the concepts of ‘replace’ or ‘fulfill.’”

However, I find this possibly misleading: “fulfilling” something is different than “replacing” it.

Another problem I can see with Vlach’s definition, is that someone might often assume “replacing” one thing with another means the two things are completely separate and noncontinuous. For example, if you say “I made a new chair to replace the stool under my table”, I would assume you meant that they were completely separate. But in fact, you could have taken all the parts from the old stool and used them to build the chair.

But in any case, perhaps Vlach understands that Supersessionism can mean a continuation. He claims: “Supersessionists have failed to show that the New Testament identifies the church as “Israel.’”
Well, if Supersessionists did show that the Church is ‘Israel’, it would mean a continuation between the two. And I think the New Testament identifies the Church as Israel because in Galatians St. Paul describes non-Jewish Christians as being adopted into Abraham through Christ, while in Romans he says that not everyone who is from Israel is Israel, referring to the idea that belief is what counts. So on one hand St Paul opens membership into Abraham’s line to non-Jewish believers, while on the other hand limits membership to believers when it comes to Jacob’s physical descendants.

Vlach sees the Old Testament Israel as a nationality and says that according to Supersessionism

“God chose the Jewish people after the fall of Adam in order to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus Christ, the Savior. After Christ came, however, the special role of the Jewish people came to an end and its place was taken by the church, the new Israel.”

Granted, Soulen says “its place was taken”, and I think it would be better to say “subsumed” or “picked up by”, because its role was not erased but continued.

In any case, is that what we believe? At this point, as a national group the Jewish people do not have a unique theological or salvific role outside of the Church? Or would you say that as a national group they still play a role in pointing others to the Messiah of the spiritual Israel, and consequently we should promote it? After all, St Paul said that there is no longer “Jew or Greek, but all are one” in Christ. This spiritual non-nationalism would seem to “replace” the idea of a special national group in Christian thinking.

Besides that, a monotheist who disagrees with Christianity could only be partly fulfilling the mission to bring knowledge of God. Instead, the Church is filling that role of spreading the full, correct knowledge.

In other words:

                 OT era                                               NT era

Role: Bring knowledge of God                       Bring knowledge of God

People: national Israel                                 inner spiritual Israel, AKA the Church

William Krewson, a Protestant professor, writes in his book strongly criticizing Justin Martyr, that:

Christian supersessionism is the belief that the Jewish people and religion have been entirely replaced by the Christian people and religion, and divine favor rests only with those (both Jew and Gentile) who follow Jesus as God's messiah. Jews therefore can find religious legitimacy only as members of the Christian church.

I think this definition might be inexact, because “supersede” and “entirely replace” have different connotations. Furthermore, throughout the Bible there are examples of God showing favor to people who did not have the right beliefs (like the poor Samaritan man), so I think even hypothetical proponents of Supersessionism would still accept the idea God can show favor to other people.

Krewson calls Supersessionism

the thread of Christian replacement of and supremacy over those who had earlier been the people of God, [a] theology of displacement, [that] was for Jerome a standard narrative of the Christian church.” http://udini.proques...-goid:746116677

What do you think? Is Supersessionism a broad term, are there different meanings of Supersessionism, and does Orthodoxy match one of them?

Edited by H. Smith, 09 April 2013 - 11:39 PM.

#54 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 10 April 2013 - 01:26 AM

No, "Orthodoxy" does not "match" any version of supersessionism. We don't do or need any "ism". The Church is bigger than any "ism". Just about any word with an "ism" suffix is probably next to useless in any discussion of the teachings of Orthodoxy. It is extraneous, it isn't really Patristic. We do not need to rehabilitate bad Protestant theology.

#55 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 10 April 2013 - 03:38 AM

I would like to mention, gently, that this forum is for the study of Orthodoxy from its patristic, monastic and liturgical deposit.  A few quotations from a couple of early writers does not make this concept of supercessionism part of Orthodoxy.  Where is the material from the wider patristic corpus and from monastic and liturgical material?  Accordingly, I have a problem with concepts and arguments drawn from Evangelical and Protestant writers.  I agree with Herman.  I cannot see what fruit this thread is producing.

#56 H. Smith

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Posted 11 April 2013 - 08:03 PM

Dear Anna,


I agree with you when you write:

I don't think that as Orthodox we are required to define our faith in the terms offered by modern academics. Anyway, this term, from the quotes in the first post, seems to be politically loaded, as far as some people interpreting supersessionism as being "anti-Jewish" therefore they think that we as Orthodox should deny being Supersecsionist so that we don't get labeled anti Jewish - this is bad reasoning.   


If we are going to use the term, it is good to make clear that the New Covenant does superscede the Old (and the analogy with the car was something I really liked as a good way to talk about this - Hypolytus, uses an analogy of building a model before building the real thing, and that once the real thing has been built the model is no longer needed) 

I am glad you liked the analogy of finding a car! I was surprised to see how close an analogy Hypolytus drew to my own, by using the analogy of making a model of something. It sounds like you have a good background on this topic, since you knew this example as well as that of Sts. Leo and Tertullian.


The Orthodox Church can define its faith how it wants, so it is not required to use others' terms. Americans are not required to use the word "induk", nor are Russians required to use the word "turkey", although the real names for a bird, which by the way is neither from India nor from Turkey. :)  The Church must decide what terms to use, even if those terms do mean what the Church teaches, just as an induk means a turkey.


Further, the Church can and must describe the faith as it wishes without depending on modern western academic descriptions of it. It makes sense to me that Christianity doesn't discriminate against people based on their nationality, since St. Paul says there is neither Jew nor Greek, but all are one in Christ. So just because it disagrees with another religion does not really make it discriminatory about race.


In fact, the idea about being open to both peoples was your next point. And as you show next, the decree about the relationship belonging to both groups of people goes beyond the decree of it belonging to one group in particular.

What has changed with Christ is that a relationship with God is no longer the property of the Jews alone.  - it is as St Paul says, God's  "is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law."

The last part caught me, and I think it's worth citing the preceding two verses in Romans 3:

  • 27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith.
  • 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.

I think he means that the law of faith, not the law of works, excludes people from boasting about how righteous they are. In other words, the fact that faith is a "free gift" means we cannot boast about it based on our good deeds.


Next Paul says that faith makes circumcised and uncircumcised people both righteous. He asks if the idea of making people righteous without the deeds of the law (for example circumcision) means the law is void. He says No, this idea of faith establishes the law.


St Paul does not immediately explain how this is so, but he goes on to talk about Abraham being righteous before he had circumcision, and I think the idea of establishing the law could be related to the idea of "fulfilling the law".

I could propose a guess to illustrate how establishing the law without the "deeds of the law" or the "law of works" can come together. Imagine a bike club's bike manual gives instructions on how to build a certain model. People wonder if the manual's idea is possible. The manual demands certain tools. The owner of the manual shows up at a bike club meeting. Alot of non-members hear about this and start helping build the bike, but lacking experience they do not use any of the tools. Nonetheless at the end of the day, both groups work together to build the bike they believed was possible. Does the fact many of the helpers didn't use the tools make the manual void? What if everyone stopped using the tools? Either way, at the end of the day, they followed the instructions on what to do, and this establishes that the manual was correct.


Next, you cited from Ephesians, saying in part: "He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances,
that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two".
The passage shows that Christianity is open to both peoples. In abolishing the law, he allowed Jews and gentiles to both belong to it, because the latter were not kept out by ritualistic differences. It's worth pointing out here that the verse you cited does talk about "abolishing" the law. Thus, at least it makes sense to describe the Old Testament law as being abolished in at least some important way.


You make a good point when you say:

The whole "us vs them" mentality where people are defining themselves by nationality and then being afraid of looked down on,  is rebuilding the wall that Christ broke down. It is a total misunderstanding of the Gospel, and a rejection of Christ's call to become one.

If you separate Jews from gentiles in spiritual terms based on ethnicity, then it makes sense it rebuilds a wall between the two that Christian spirituality breaks down. If you say there is one set of blessings for Jewish people and a separate set for gentiles, then it means to me that there is still a spiritual distinction between the two groups. The idea that there is still in full spiritual force a covenant that gives a limited set of land to one group goes against the idea that the separation between those groups has been broken down. It makes more sense to say that one set of rules is in force at this point for both groups, and that there is not a second set of rules in force that singles out one group.


Granted, even if one did accept that there were still two covenants in force, the fact that one covenant (the New Testament) takes precedence over the latter if a problem between them arose, shows that the new one supersedes (sits above) the latter.


You write:

It is as St Leo the Great said in several of his sermons on the passion. The Jews crucified Jesus, but He still forgives those who believe in
Him, and accepts them into the Church. However,  for those who stubbornly resist the Gospel and reject Christ, they no longer are God's chosen people.

Was St. Leo explicit that those among the people who do not accept it are no longer God's people? That could make sense though, because Hosea seems to propose that depending on people's relationship toward God, God changes whether He calls them His people. Your example also goes along with the idea that whatever background someone comes from they can still join the Church.

You added:



we don't say that the Gentiles supersceded the Jews, because it is not a matter of replacement, but of expanding to something more universal and all encompassing.


You are right that it's matter of expanding God's people to a more universal and all-encompassing group. And since in terms of nationality there are both Jews and gentiles in the Church, it wouldn't make sense to talk about one nationality replacing the other.


At one point St. Jerome does talk about this in terms of gentiles superseding Jews, as I discussed before. Considering that Jewish meant a set of rites and gentiles meant those who belonged to a different community and didn't follow all of those rites, I have a sense Jerome was referring to the idea that the Church was a community that did not follow many of those rites. Besides, St Jerome worked with and admired Jewish Christians, and at that time people- like Romans- were not defined necessarily in terms of biological ethnicity (see: "Rum Orthodox" - Roman Orthodox, the Middle Eastern name for Orthodox people).


Thanks for quoting St Leo's passage. You made a good point when you said:

he has an extended section saying that even the saints of the OT were saved by the blood of Jesus, it is just that we are saved by believing in what has happened, they are saved by believing in what they were anticipating.


This goes to Father David's point when he writes:

To say that it replaces the Old would imply that the Old is done away with, when that is not at all the case (if it were, we would not honor the Old Testament righteous ones as Saints for they would be of a different order, not continuous with the saints of the New).

Even if the old one was done away with in some sense, the Old Testament righteous could be saved by believing in the Messiah and/or New Testament that they were anticipating,


Jeremiah 31 gives an example of the anticipation of the New Testament, when it says:

  • Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah:
  • Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord:
  • But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.


Edited by H. Smith, 11 April 2013 - 08:03 PM.

#57 H. Smith

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Posted 12 April 2013 - 07:01 AM

Dear Andreas,


I agree with your suggestion to focus on Orthodox sources.


In her Orthodox Christian Mission program, sponsored by the Diocese of Ottawa, Judith Irene Matta says:

We are under the New Covenant now. St Paul explains in the book of Hebrews that the Old Testament has been replaced by a better covenant. Christ fulfilled and Replaced the Old Law and Established the New Covenant as the New High Priest Forever. Christ takes us back to the faith of Abraham… In Galatians and Romans it explains that we are part of the seed of Abraham who is Christ. We do not need to keep the old law. The law is a tutor. St Paul says we are under the tutorship of the law until we come of age, unto Christ... Please remember this: The old law is rendered null and void. That doesn’t mean it was canceled, it was fulfilled.


Next she says: "Let’s look to another picture of the Old Covenant being replaced by the New." She explains that the outer temple is replaced by the inner one. The Epistle to the Hebrews describes the Temple sacrifice ritual. The gospel talks about Jesus’ body being the temple.



In the Russian article Why was the Old Testament Replaced (or 'superseded') by the New?, Hiermonk Job points to the New Covenant prophesied in Jeremiah 31 and explains:

The New Testament instituted such relations between God and man, in which a person... entered into a completely different- in comparison to the Old Testament- stage of spiritual development, crossing from an enslaved position under the law to a free position of sonship and grace. A new principle is brought out - faith and works of faith as a means of actively acquiring the merit of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament was limited to one chosen people and expressed in an earthly theocracy. The New Testament destroyed the frames of nationalism and proclaimed a graceful law for all humanity.



In the Word of a Pastor, Metropolitan Kyrill comments on Matthew 5:21-22, which says:

21 Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:

22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.


Met. Kyrill comments:

How highly does He raise the level of moral demands for a person! The moral demands of the New Testament not only surpass ('super-higher') the analogous demands of the Old Testament in much, but are directed at forming that special relationship of a person's soul, which excludes the commission of sin.




Father Anatoly Garmaev writes:

The commandments of blessedness are the superhuman experience of morality. Whose morality? The Lord's. This is the morality of Christ. He has the morality of Adam and Eve before the Fall, a height that surpasses/goes above many of the righteous people of the time of the Old Testament.


In the Sermon on the Mount the Lord spoke about the morality that surpasses the morality of Adam and Eve, ie. that which is given by the deep grace of God. In the Old Testament times this grace was not given to people, but revealed by the coming of Christ, in fulfillment by Him of His martyrous achievement of passions on the Cross.


The Lord spoke the moral Commandments twice. First He pronounced them on Mount Sinai, the first ten commandments. And in the Sermon on the Mount He pronounced new commandments, which were superior to the first. Superior, because they may be performed only with the grace of the Gospel, only in the Orthodox Church, in its Mysteries.



Fr. John McGuckin, whose Eastern Orthodox Encyclopedia I cited in the OP as rejecting Supersessionism, replied to a letter I wrote, by saying in part:

Orthodoxy has looked in on this dialogue but is not committed to its terms and parameters – especially not to its scholastically polarized  key terms.
The patristic doctrine about the “Old Testament” is that it is definitely a shadow of the New, and that it has to be read in the light of the new, and that it stands as a type of the New


Thanks for discussing the topic with me. Kind Regards.

Edited by H. Smith, 12 April 2013 - 07:07 AM.

#58 Owen Jones

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Posted 12 April 2013 - 02:34 PM

The fact remains that supersessionism is a debate solely within certain Protestant precincts, and the arguments here are a case of special pleading.  There are plenty of Biblical (New Testament) and Patristic passages that provide a counter view to this so-called "supersessionism." 

#59 Lakis Papas

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Posted 12 April 2013 - 05:02 PM

Dear H. Smith


First, I think you have every right to search asking for answers.


I believe that most of the quotations that you provide in post #57 are genuine anti-supersessionism samples. One has to "see" them according to Orthodox perspective. When an Orthodox says :


The Lord spoke the moral Commandments twice. First He pronounced them on Mount Sinai, the first ten commandments. And in the Sermon on the Mount He pronounced new commandments, which were superior to the first. Superior, because they may be performed only with the grace of the Gospel, only in the Orthodox Church, in its Mysteries.


he gives to the word "superior" a very different meaning than Supersessionism give. Actually this is a direct anti-Supersessionism statement.


Also, something that is unthinkable for Supersessionism is that Orthodox Church will face anti-christ with two prophets from the Old Testament (Elijah and Enoch). Old Testament is alive now just like New Testament is. 

Edited by Lakis Papas, 12 April 2013 - 05:08 PM.

#60 H. Smith

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Posted 12 April 2013 - 06:10 PM



Do you know if there are materials on the internet in the Greek language discussing Supersessionism? I think they will tend to reflect the Orthodox point of view, since Greek people are generally Orthodox. That's been true for the Russian materials I found.

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