Who will replace the replacers?
Christianity claims to be the logical continuation of Judaism - Judaism Plus. Which ends up with it trying to replace Judaism. I’ve discussed many of the problems I see with this claim in previous posts.
But I think for Christians who hold it there’s one more glaring problem: How do they know their religion hasn’t been similarly replaced by another religion?
Christians claimed the Truth would set Jews free, while condemning Jews who refused to accept that Truth to Hell. They swept aside or re-purposed Judaism’s eternal covenants, and they wrote new scriptures to prove their interpretation right. Their very religion is founded on the idea that their God can replace one religion with another, no matter how strong the covenants he made with the first religion. So how can they possibly know their religion is the final version?
Perhaps Christianity has already been replaced by Christianity Plus? Perhaps those currently Christians still have a veil over their eyes to prevent them seeing the truth? Perhaps those who died Christians are already burning in Christianity Plus’s Hell for their hardness of heart not accepting the new religion?
Obviously, since I don’t believe in Hell I don’t accept any of this - but if Christians want Jews to be scared of the Christian Hell, why shouldn’t Christians be equally scared of a future Hell? They may think Christianity is the last True Religion which will never be replaced - but how can Christianity possibly have a “No replacements permitted” clause stronger than the ones they already rejected in the Old Testament?
The importance of new revelation
When talking of Jews accepting Christianity, Paul talks about a remnant saved by grace. But in reality the foundation was not grace, but new revelation. How many would have interpreted the Old Testament in a “Christian” way without the assistance of the original Christian writers? How many would have followed the recorded teachings of Jesus as gospel without having the gospels to refer to?
This is why, particularly in the first few hundred years of Christianity, there was debate not just about how to interpret scripture, but which books should be counted as scripture. Obviously now much of the debate over interpretation takes the Protestant 66-book canon for granted - but it was not always so.
Two replacement candidates
So, if Christianity claimed to replace Judaism on the basis of new revelation, what could replace Christianity? I think there are at least two good candidates today: Islam and Mormonism.
Consider: Both of them claim to have new revelation. Both of them acknowledge Jesus, though they don’t give him exactly the same role Christians do. Both claim to worship the One True God (though Mormons are perhaps less clear on that).
For Jews, Moses is probably the key figure as the giver of the law. For Christians, Jesus is the key figure, predicted by Moses and bringing a new religion, a new way of life, and the hope of salvation. For Muslims, Muhammad is the key figure, the final prophet of Allah, while Jesus is just one of the prophets. And for Mormons, Joseph Smith is the first of their prophets, though he claimed to be preaching Jesus, with the Book of Mormon labeled “Another Testament of Jesus Christ”.
Christians will probably argue that neither the Book of Mormon nor the Qu’ran are close enough to the New Testament to be accepted (though I’ve heard them both called “Bible fan-fic”). But these are exactly the same arguments as Jews use against Christianity (I saw a Jew quoted as saying “Why are there Mormons? So the Christian would know what the Jew feels like.”)
How can Christians write the rules in such a way as to make their own appropriation both right and virtuous, while also dismissing every other attempted appropriation as out of bounds? Personally, I don’t think they can.
The book of Hebrews certainly implies that Jesus is the final revelation of God, replacing prophets and priests (strangely, this did not replace the need for humans to write scripture describing and justifying Jesus’ claims). Near the end of the book the author doubles down on this, claiming Jesus is unchanging and the covenant he has mediated is eternal (Hebrews 13:8, 20).
However, this is the same book that systematically appropriates the various elements of the Mosaic law and re-purposes them to Christian ends. This in spite of Moses in Deuteronomy telling Israel to keep all the commands, with nothing to be added or removed (Deuteronomy 12:32). In my opinion, Hebrews both adds and removes at the same time - so if it is allowed to do that, why not other replacing religions?
Consider what the official Australian Mormon Newsroom wrote about the Book of Mormon:
This doesn’t mean the Book of Mormon replaces the Bible as scripture for members of the Church. The Bible and the Book of Mormon are used side by side in their preaching and personal study.
This sounds to me exactly like what many Christians say about the Old Testament: They didn’t replace it with the New Testament. Members read both the Old Testament and the New Testament side by side. So what makes that OK for Christians and wrong for Mormons?
On the other hand, Muslims claim that previous revelations, while originally true, have since been corrupted, and thus the Qu’ran is the only remaining “pure” form. If Christians and Muslims cannot accept the same text, then there is no way Christians can effectively rebut this from scripture.
I’ve mentioned that both Mormons and Muslims claim new revelation. This has also led to internal debates.
For the Mormons, plural marriage was one of Joseph Smith’s original revelations. This was replaced by a ban on plural marriage after the United States threatened to confiscate Mormon temples, but some splinter groups still hold to the original revelation.
For most Muslims, Muhammad was the final prophet. However, one group, the Ahmadis, do not acknowledge this, and as a result many call them “not true Muslims”. This has been a big political issue in Pakistan (How do I come to know this? Well, they have a former cricketer as Prime Minister, and he has upheld blasphemy laws that could lead to the death penalty for Ahmadis).
This also stretches into Christianity, as various Christian denominations have claimed to have prophets among them. For example, the Adventist school I went to talked about Ellen White as their prophet. Other denominations claim their leaders have some kind of Spirit leading.
But even denominations like the Christadelphians, which officially hold to the Bible alone, may claim special privileges for their founders. For example, many Christadelphians have the idea that John Thomas must have been specially raised up by God to re-discover the Truth. Some have a very strong emphasis on studying, understanding, and using the writings of The Pioneers. While in theory it was still the Bible that was the unchanging Word of God and the Pioneers were just interpreting that Word, in practice I gather it meant that Bible interpretation had to follow the Pioneers. Almost to the extent of revering them and their writings as scripture. I don’t see a huge difference between that and the Christian “Yes, we accept the Old Testament, but it has to be interpreted through the eyes of New Testament writers”.
Society (and religion) continues to change
As I see it, society continues to change, and religions continue to change along with it. Sometimes the religion may lead the change, but nowadays I think more often it lags. Yes, religion can be counter-cultural, but there are limits to how much a religion can be both counter-cultural and mainstream, so as society changes religion does too. And that religious change forms a spectrum: Sometimes it can be due to new religious texts or even whole new religions, but more often I think it is due to new interpretations of the existing texts.
So I think anyone who claims the Bible and Christianity as God’s last, unchanging word are wrong. Even if we possessed the original autographs (and we don’t), the Bible text is interpreted differently now from when it was first written, and will probably be interpreted differently again in 50 years time. And this is not limited to Christianity - I believe Judaism now is quite different from what it was like in the days of Jesus (particularly after the removal of the temple). The Mormons bowed to state pressure over plural marriage, and I know some Christians and Muslims are seriously reconsidering their respective anti-women passages.
Personally, I think being able to change how we live and worship based on what we learn about the world is a good thing. Though I think it’s much easier to consider the change without having to figure out how to fit it into the framework of an inspired and inerrant sacred text.
But I think mainstream Christianity has a particular problem with change because it claims to be built on eternal principles, even while appropriating and significantly re-working Judaism. As a result, the founders needed to bury Judaism, not just co-exist with it. In effect, they dug its (premature) grave, read a (premature) obituary over it, then danced on the grave while inviting its adherents to leave the dead religion or face hell-fire. Anyone reminding them the former religion was still very much alive was a threat to the whole shaky edifice. Similarly, anyone refusing to accept the new religion as the last word was a threat.
Christianity now embraces a wide spectrum of beliefs, some of which have caused such damage they are ripe to be replaced. That replacement could be with a kinder, gentler Christianity theoretically holding to exactly the same texts. It could be with a different religion with new texts (though perhaps recognising some of the Christian texts). Or it could be with no religion at all, or at least by a religion without an inspired text. Changes could come from large groups changing their official position, or from one individual at a time choosing to walk (just like I did).
But I think the question Christians should worry about is “How would we know if history reached another inflection point like the one we claim replaced Judaism with Christianity?” My answer, for what it’s worth, is that I don’t think they can know - any more than I think the Jews could be expected to know back then. Maybe it’s due to happen next week, or maybe it happened a thousand years ago. The instability goes right to the core of the religion and cannot be lightly rooted out.