The Replacement Myth – Galatians 3

espresso machineThe other day a box arrived at our front door. The days of anticipation were over, as the long awaited replacement espresso machine was carefully exposed to the light of our dining room lamp. We were thrilled! The machine it replaced was a good one, but it died and we were left alone, espresso-less. In the beginning of our journey toward great coffee, my wife carefully researched online to find the best machine for us – because we take coffee seriously. She found what we both agreed was the perfect machine, but unfortunately someone forgot to tell the assembly line to make it perfectly. After two years, we found ourselves with a kitchen counter “boat anchor” – a machine that wouldn’t produce the coffee we bought it to make. Because we had it for a couple of years, we thought we were just going to have to bury it, move on past the period of mourning, and go buy another one. We are a tough lot, so we thought we could just bare it and move on. My sweetheart decided she would try to see if repairs could be made, and she called the company that made the machine. Answering the call was a thoughtful man who was obviously passionate about his morning espresso. She shared that our machine never seemed to quite work properly, and that it was now dead. He asked about the lot and registration number. “Were there parts?” my wife asked. The customer service representative’s answer stunned her. “No, but I am sending you a label. Box the old unit and send it back to us. We are replacing the machine with a new one at no cost to you!” WOW! We were excited. Weeks passed… at long last we were unboxing a new one, and it works very well! My point: some replacements are thrilling.

On the other hand, some replacements aren’t a GOOD thing.

If you are a starting quarterback and you are moving the ball successfully down the field, you don’t WANT to be replaced. If you are a middle child, a pet, or a spouse – you probably don’t want to be replaced by someone or something else. It is a painful turn of events, and requires some justification – if any can even be made.

The strange thing is that so many Bible students and believers think God replaced His people. They think that His people, Israel, misbehaved and He replaced them with the church. Yet God expressed an undying love for that people. He spoke of her as a bride, and (because of what I believe is a mishandling of Scripture) they have concluded that God tossed out His wife when her behavior became so wrong, and she was replaced by Him. This isn’t a new teaching, but it is a WRONG TEACHING. The Scripture says otherwise…

Key Principle: God the Father has a permanent irrevocable call to Israel that is entirely separate from the call of the Savior to His church.

Think about that principle, and don’t drop away at this point. What has God’s choice of Israel to do with YOU? Perhaps you are encountering God’s Word today and you have a physical problem that your doctor cannot easily diagnose and resolve. Perhaps this month seems much bigger than the pile of money you have to cover the needs of it. Maybe you are worried about a child or grandchild, and you aren’t sure they are making good decisions. Perhaps you are struggling with God about a blow you have had to your life recently. How is learning about myths and misunderstandings from Galatians 3 going to help you with anything YOU REALLY CARE ABOUT?

The answer is both simple and direct: God’s call and God’s promises are what you stand in, and what you need to be able to unreservedly trust in order to walk in confidence this week. If God is true to His Word, and His Word is not some kind of shell game or Ponzi scheme – you will be able to rest and face your problems with the confidence of His words like: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” However, if His Word is steeped in some unrecognizable code, and that simple promise we just stated is a cryptic reference to “I will never leave someone who may or may not be you but may forsake you if you don’t behave”, then let the worry begin.

In the simplest terms, God keeps His Word to the One He gives it to. He isn’t fickle, and He isn’t trying to be unduly complicated. That doesn’t mean the Bible is full of monosyllabic words, but it does mean He isn’t intentionally misleading people. The story of sin and redemption is complex, I will admit. At the same time, the promises of God are clear, trustworthy and straightforward. The twisting of God’s Word has largely been due to either the misunderstanding of the poorly taught, or the torqueing of the text by those who have an agenda, and find an ally in the enemy of God’s people – the Deceiver. Let’s look at the myths, and remember they are much more relevant than they first appear. To begin, let’s look at a popularly believed myth rooted in a misreading of Galatians 3:1-14…

Myth #6: There are New Jews- the Gospel permanently cancelled the Jewish marriage contract and replaced them! By faith the Law was rendered meaningless and the Spirit made believers in Jesus into the new Jews, the new chosen people.

Where would one get such an idea? Many reformers of yesteryear thought it was, at least in part, the point of these words…

Galatians 3:1 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed [as] crucified? 2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain– if indeed it was in vain? 5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 6 Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, [saying], “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.” 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer. 10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” 11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” 12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us– for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”—14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Look closely at the text and what it DOES say:

• It begins with some questions. The first is “Who tricked you?” (3:1). You heard of the Crucifixion when we preached it to you, and now you seem to have need of something else. Who convinced you of that need?

• A second question followed. “When did you receive the empowering work of the Spirit of God?” (3:2-3) If the Spirit moved at the time of coming to Christ, than why would they seek another form of justification, or go backwards into the now cancelled atonement system (remember the context of the verses is set in verse one in relationship to salvation through the Crucifixion). If a relationship with God is found at Calavary, than the atonement system is a step backward.

• A third question was posed: “Was all the suffering to stand apart in the teaching of salvation through Jesus alone a waste?” (3:4).

• A fourth question followed: “Did God require you to keep or even know about the works involved in the atonement system for you to have both His Spirit and His miracles?” (3:5)

• From the four questions emerge an underlying principle that Paul wanted to make plain: God used simple trust in His revealed Word as the standard of justification long before there ever was a set of revealed atonement laws (3:6). The only way to God has always been a matter of surrender to His Word and its truth – but the content of that truth has been expanded carefully over the ages. Belief, the surrender that God is telling the truth and I must live accordingly, has ALWAYS been the standard by which God accepted man.

• Because the issue has always been trust in what God revealed to a particular generation that they must believe, you Gentile believers are spiritually “children of Abraham” by means of your surrender to God’s promises apart from any system God gave to anyone else. (3:7)

• Despite claims of Judaizers, there were promises found in Genesis that show that God is not acting outside of His Word saving people outside the atonement laws given to the Jewish people (3:8).

• Gentile believers today, Paul said, are offered justification (a relationship with God whereby He is utterly satisfied by the payment for sin) just like Abraham was – because of surrender to God’s Word to them (3:9). Abraham didn’t need any atonement system beyond trusting what God said, and neither do Gentile believers who are reading this Epistle in Galatia.

• Joining the atonement law system of the Temple, where there is always a continued need for more sacrifices and more observances for justification is stepping backward into the curse of continuity that has been fully satisfied (3:10). In the Temple atonement system, the minute you stop doing it, God’s satisfaction is left unsatisfied, and the penalty of sin is left upon you.

• The simple fact is that the atonement system has been replaced, because it did not have the ability to justify – it simply atoned (and even that was temporary). Your FAITH in Messiah’s completed work is the key to God’s full satisfaction (3:11).

• At the heart of the atonement law is a series of continuous performances – practices of the law. They were fine to cover sin in atonement, but there are many who mistook the practice for what energized God’s satisfaction. That is, and has always been, faith – the belief in what God said. Perfectly good bulls and goats, carefully sacrificed, were of NO EFFECT on God’s satisfaction over man’s sinful mutiny in the Garden if the spilling of their blood was not done by someone who truly accepted God’s Word, and practiced in faith. The WORK of sacrifice wasn’t designed to replace the FAITH surrender to God’s truth (3:12).

• Jesus’ work fully purchased us, removing us from the temporary atonement system by becoming the sin-laden sacrifice – and in that He removed the “curse” of needing constant new installments to satisfy God throughout our life (3:13).

• Jesus paid for sin as a substitute in order that God may fulfill His promise to offer a direct blessing to the world by faith that did not require coming under the atonement Temple system of the Jewish people (3:14).

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the point that Paul was making to the Galatians is to look at a candle or an oil lamp.

For cecandle1nturies, if you wanted to light your home, you used an oil lamp or a candle. They work well – so well that we measure light output in candlepower. Yet, they had a troublesome shortcoming. They didn’t work well in drafty rooms or outside in the wind. A wind screen lantern was developed, but that cut down significantly the amount of light one obtained from the candle or lamp. More recently, inventors offered us the more reliable alternative of the flashlight. It works indoors and out, and it doesn’t flicker in the wind. It is a BETTER LIGHT. That is not to say that lamps and candles are BAD – they aren’t. It does mean they were temperamental in a way that flashlights are. I know the analogy has a breakdown because flashlights have bulbs that break and batteries that fail – but I think you get the point. The atonement law was fine to save someone, but it was part of a system that required constant maintenance. That had the benefit of allowing people to feel deeply connected to the constant maintenance of their soul, but it also meant that many things could go wrong in their ability to truly maintain their standing before a satisfied God. Jesus came to end all of that uncertainty, and offer a single sacrifice permanent solution. He didn’t replace His people, He replaced the atonement system they trusted in to satisfy God.

The point of Galatians IS NOT that the Law of God was bad, but that the atonement laws of God were deficient in the sense of permanency, which God built into the system so that He could later open a direct door to the whole world for a time, so that people could for a period be saved without direct connection to the Jewish people at all. A villager along the Coco River between Honduras and Nicaragua need not know a Jew or even truly understand much of the sacrificial system in order to come into a relationship with God in which God is fully satisfied. They need only know Jesus.

Lest we misapply Paul’s statements about the atonement law’s deficiency, and we inadvertently take a swipe at the whole of the Torah, remember that God GAVE the Law of Moses, and Jews loved that Law even AFTER JESUS CAME (Acts 21). The perfection and holiness of the Law is oft celebrated in the Scriptures. The part of that law that was wholly replaced was atonement law, how a mutinous rebel comes into communion with God and satisfies the debt of sin before Him. Jews were given a temporary system that THEY NEEDED for a time. While Moses was getting Levitical Law and plans for a Tabernacle, the people were at the bottom of Mt. Sinai making a calf and devising their own system of sacrifice – because they NEEDED ONE. It worked for as long, and as well as candles lit homes, and it was replaced by something better.

Keep a keen eye on the context of Paul’s argument. He isn’t addressing whether Jews should keep a Sabbath or circumcise their children – he is arguing whether the symbols of the atonement laws were helpful or harmful in a Gentile context. The Sabbath, circumcision and feasts of the Lord were the only ties that Jews in the Roman world outside of their homeland had to hold them together – and Gentiles joining in those symbols would find themselves entering an atonement system that placed them back under the Temple system of authority, and the sacrificial system of satisfying God. It negated one reason for the work of Jesus. It shut off the direct door between the Gentile world and God – and truncated salvation back through the Jewish people – which wasn’t what God wanted for this age.

Misunderstanding the limited argument Paul was making is what caused the next myth to flow..

Myth #7: Fulfilled: The Law has accomplished its mission! The law of Moses was just a tutor that brought the world to the Savior, but is now retired – so we can live life without the constraints of the Hebrew Law.

Galatians 3:15 Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is [only] a man’s covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it. 16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as [referring] to many, but [rather] to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ. 17 What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. 18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise. 19 Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. 20 Now a mediator is not for one [party only]; whereas God is [only] one. 21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. 22 But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. 24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor [to lead us] to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.

If what Paul was addressing in the TUTOR of Galatians was what we now call the “Old Testament”, then we can toss it out of our Bible, because it doesn’t mean anything now. I hear this all the time. “Capital Punishment”? Don’t worry, Jesus threw out the Law. The tutor is dead. “Sexual Standards”? If it isn’t repeated in the New Testament, it isn’t really something we need to worry about. Really? I would argue that Paul said those observations are 100% true of atonement law, but totally and utterly UNTRUE of the lifestyle principles derived from the rest of the Torah Law. If the tutor is the Old Testament, the sexual practice of bestiality is IN (because it is only specifically addressed in the OT) and 2 Timothy 3:16 is OUT (because those Scriptures from the Old Testament are ALL retired with the tutoring that led us to Christ). The church that teaches this view of the tutor are opening the door to a whole generation of people who will believe they are following Jesus Christ by doing things the author of Scripture completely abhorred and called despicable. The argument is: Jesus came, so all the laws that let us know we are sinners are now only important if repeated in the New Testament. That will leave us with a Christian message that doesn’t take MOST of what God said seriously, because of their misunderstanding of the argument of Galatians 3.

What DID Paul say in the passage?

• God’s words were exacting in his promise about atonement law – He promised ONE would come to open a direct door for the world to Him through a specific Jew – in place of the door only available for centuries through the atonement system of a Temple operated by and for Jewish people (3:15-16).

• The promise was made before the atonement system was set in place, and that promise was not negated by the institution of the sacrificial system that came after it (3:17-18).

• Why create an atonement system that wouldn’t last forever? (3:19-20) God’s promise lived beneath the whole sacrificial system to prepare us for the One who came to be our sacrifice. It dealt with sin at the time, and set up the substitutional atonement system so we understood the meaning of the death of Messiah when it happened.

• If atonement law was complete, no other way would have been opened (3:21). The message of the promise of satisfaction by trusting the payment of Jesus opened the direct door for all men without the need for the Temple atonement system (3:22).

• Under atonement law, men were in the custody of the atonement law, waiting the system that would open direct access to God from anywhere in the world apart from atonement law (3:23-24).

• The full satisfaction of sin through complete trust in the payment by Jesus’ blood has swung the door wide open to a relationship with the Living God for all who trust this message (3:25-27). All come in the same way, no distinction as to how we get to God – rather all clinging to the same promises and using the same door – the door long ago promised (3:28).

• Spiritually, we who know God through Jesus are “faith descendants” and “promise inheritors” – a position to be celebrated (3:29).

Does that mean Paul thought God was done with the Jewish people? Was this a REPLACEMENT POLICY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE?

Does that mean Paul believed that followers of Jesus became the NEW SONS OF ABRAHAM displacing the old sons of Abraham? Not at all. Paul said just the opposite in his argument in Romans 10 and 11:

The context was Israel’s rejection of the Gospel and their need to understand the justification message of the church. He wrote:

Romans 10:1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for [their] salvation. 2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. 3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Clearly, Paul said that a right relationship before God in salvation (justification) comes ONLY through the sacrifice of Jesus – no animal atonement works because that system was OVER. Jews were clinging to sacrifices of atonement and denying cleansing in Christ – and that snubbed God’s gift and continued the rebellion against following God’s Word as it became available to them in their day. He went on to point out how offensive the Gospel was, because the direct door of salvation bypassed the system that Jewish authorities continued to control…

Romans 10:12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same [Lord] is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.”

Many Jews saw this as a negative, God took them from the center stage, but the opposite was true – the Gospel is GOOD NEWS. Far more could have a relationship with God than ever before around the globe. Still it stung… because God now had a direct relationship with the world apart from them, and it made them mad…


At that point, Paul addressed Israel’s future with God. He started with a question in Romans 11:1:

Romans 11:1 I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.

He made clear that a remnant of Jews already recognized that justification (full cleansing in Jesus) replaced atonement (temporary covering of animal sacrifice). He made clear that God had long before promised a time when Israel’s eyes would be dark for a time:


Paul renewed a sense of hope for his fellow Messianic believers about their brothers and sisters in the flesh who did not yet believe in Messiah’s sacrifice, but kept pushing ahead with the atonement system. He wrote:

Romans 11:11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation [has come] to the Gentiles, to make them jealous. 12 Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!

He clarified the coming salvation of the Jewish people as a people a few verses later. He wrote:

Romans 11:25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery– so that you will not be wise in your own estimation– that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “THE DELIVERER WILL COME FROM ZION, HE WILL REMOVE UNGODLINESS FROM JACOB.” 27 “THIS IS MY COVENANT WITH THEM, WHEN I TAKE AWAY THEIR SINS.” 28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of [God’s] choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. … and then Paul breaks into praise for God’s marvelous plan!

Let’s close up this lesson where we opened it:

God didn’t replace Israel with the church – He replaced the temporary atonement system with permanent cleansing and removed Israel from the center role she played until her time comes back.

God means what He says. When He called Israel His beloved, the apple of His eye, His everlasting love – He wasn’t speaking metaphorically. He spoke of the promises as coming “from the loins of the Patriarchs” – not some spiritual hocus pocus about someone else. God promised Abraham that He would bless the world with a direct line to Him that was available after Adam and before Moses – but was truncated through Israel after Moses. God was going to open the door through One Israelite, for a period of time, before he made all Israel return to Him.

He has a future for Israel – the literal, physical children of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. He isn’t done with them yet. Paul knew it and made it clear in Romans 10 and 11.

Why should you care?

Because the God you trust for salvation and eternity is exacting in His desires, specific in His communication, and ever faithful in His delivery. He isn’t fuzzy on truth. God knows when He is satisfied with a payment for sin. God isn’t interested in our devising a different system to be acceptable to Him other than the one He laid out in His Word.

The God that is still at work over generations and thousands of years to specifically fulfill every detail of His promises is also preparing the place you are heading if you know Jesus. Look up, home is under construction and the builder won’t leave a single knob off the cabinets.

God the Father has a permanent irrevocable call to Israel that is entirely separate from the call of the Savior to His church… and that is good for all of us. It reminds us of the faithfulness God pledges to His every promise.