The teachings of supersessionism, the idea that the Church has replaced Israel, have ingrained themselves so deeply into mainstream Christianity that they are almost inescapable. Children’s biblical education literature is no exception. Because of deep-rooted supersessionist traditions and interpretations, a type of supersessionism that I call “subconscious supersessionism” can become prevalent, especially during childhood. Very often, children have no idea that what they are being taught is supersessionist, they just know these teachings are Christian. This subconscious supersessionism forms the foundations for what children will likely think as adults. These adults then teach supersessionist views or give the same learning material to their children and so on down the line. This article attempts to demonstrate some of those teachings and provide a more accurate interpretation so that alienation from or, in extreme cases, hatred of the Jewish people are not the dominant views. Naturally, children’s books will explain things more simply and not dive deeply into theology, but there are still numerous points that need to be examined and which should not be ignored.
Children’s Biblical Literature
Biblical explanation books for children are widespread in the Christian community, and rightly so. The content of these books, however, is subject to their authors and publishers, who are more than likely to hold supersessionist viewpoints. This does not mean that publishers should throw out these books. They are almost always filled with wonderful content that will enlighten children on a variety of subjects such as “what is the Bible,” “who was King David,” or “how did God create the universe.” What these authors get wrong much of the time are topics that deal with just how Jewish the Bible really is (mainly for the New Testament).
Possibly one of the most basic forms of supersessionism concerns the name of our Lord. It is becoming more and more well-known over time, but there is still a large number of people, both Jews and gentiles of all ages, who do not know that Jesus’ Hebrew name is Yeshua. Jesus came from the Greek Iesous, which made its way through the Latin and ended with what is now Jesus in English. Whether Chinese, English, or Swahili, what different cultures call Yeshua is not an issue. What makes Yeshua’s name a problem of supersessionism is the ignorance or non-acknowledgement of his real name having a Jewish origin. Ignoring the Jewish background of Yeshua’s name starts small and seems insignificant, but eventually snowballs to the point where his name is Jesus, and he has no Jewish identity. Children’s biblical literature seldom recognizes that Yeshua is Jesus’ real name. For a Jewish child who knows of him as only Jesus, he seems like a foreign gentile god who is contrary to the Jewish God and his teachings. For a gentile child, he seems like a God without any Jewish connections at all, only gentile Christian ones.
Jewish holidays are common topics in children’s books explaining teachings and events. Passover is often taught as a Jewish, pre-Yeshua celebration that ceased when Yeshua died on the cross. Some recognize that Yeshua had a Passover meal before his crucifixion, but then tack on clarifications like, “Today, Jews still celebrate Passover. Christians celebrate the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion) rather than Passover,” or they will not mention the Passover foundation at all. This interpretation teaches children that Passover ceases to be celebrated when a Jewish person becomes a Christian, or that gentile children would have needed to observe Passover, but the sacrifice of Yeshua abolished it. In reality, the observance of Passover was not something gentiles had to worry about in the first place. God told Moses and Aaron in Exodus 12:14, “This day is to be a memorial for you. You are to keep it as a feast to Adonai. Throughout your generations you are to keep it as an eternal ordinance” (TLV). God later reiterated to Moses, “Bnei-Yisrael [the Children of Israel] is to observe Passover at its appointed time. You are to celebrate it at its appointed time, at twilight on the fourteenth day of this month, with all its rules and regulations” (Num 9:2–3 TLV). The Passover celebration is given to the Children of Israel as an eternal celebration for their exodus out of Egypt. It is never commanded to the gentile nations, and God gives no indication in the Hebrew Bible, nor does Yeshua or Paul in the New Testament, that this festival is to be discontinued. A Jewish person who follows Yeshua would continue to keep Passover just as their ancestors had, with a new understanding of who the Passover lamb is.
Another common theme in supersessionist writings is the idea of Jews vs. Christians. Children’s biblical literature often exemplifies this motif. For example, see the stoning of Stephen from Acts 7. These books write things like, “In fact, he [Paul] watched and approved when a Christian named Stephen was killed for believing in Christ.” This phrasing is misleading because it is incorrect. In the sense of the literal meaning of the word “Christian” as a follower of Yeshua, then yes, Stephen was a Christian. This is rarely what is meant when “Christian” is used, however, because it carries with it notions of gentile Christianity and unbiblical beliefs such as Jews who follow Yeshua must give up their Jewish identities and essentially become gentile. This is precisely what is meant by Stephen being a Christian in this context.
Nevertheless, Stephen was not a “Christian,” in the latter sense. He was a Jew who believed in Yeshua as the Messiah. Instead of saying that the Jews killed Stephen for being a Christian, they should say that a group of Jews killed another Jew who was part of a different Jewish group because of a dispute over Jewish beliefs. Likewise, when some books assert things like, “People who believe in and follow Christ are called Christians (Acts 11:26),” they mislead their readers into thinking that Christians are those who follow Yeshua, and Jews are those who do not. Historically for the Second Temple Period and theologically, Jews who believed in Yeshua remained Jews. Authors often neglect the Jewish beginnings of Christianity as well with teachings like, “The early believers were originally called followers of ‘the Way’ because they followed the way of Jesus (Acts 9:2 NIV).” In this quote, there is no mention that “the Way” was a group of Jewish believers in Yeshua.
The dichotomy between Christians as those who believe in Yeshua and Jews as those who do not persists within children’s teachings. In a chapter entitled “What is the Difference Between a Jew and a Gentile?” the answer reads that Jews are the people of Israel and a gentile is “any person who is not Jewish. Today there are many Gentiles who love God very much!” While it is true that gentiles are not Jews, this answer lacks any mention of Jews being the people of God or that many Jews also love God. This omission puts the two groups at odds with each other, with gentiles (i.e., Christians) being those who love God and Jews being those who do not because they rejected the Messiah. This presentation creates a false understanding in children that if you are Jewish, you do not love God. It also demonizes Jews. While many Jews still reject Yeshua as the Messiah, they retain, as they did historically, a loving and obedient heart for God and his teachings.
Paul’s names are often a source of misinformation among the Christian church, especially with children. This is due to a lack of knowledge of naming a Hebrew child in a Hellenized city. Christian writers, preachers, students, and laymen very often claim that “one of the most famous conversion stories is that of the apostle Paul. Paul was first called Saul. . . . Saul was a Jewish religious leader. . . . Saul’s life was so turned around that he changed his Jewish name to the Greek name Paul,” or, “Saul was a changed man [after his ‘conversion’]. Even his name changed to Paul.” This is misleading because 1) Saul did not change his name to Paul and 2) Paul did not “convert” to Christianity. During the Second Temple Period, when a Jew was born in a Hellenized city (like Tarsus), he would be given at birth both a Greek name and a Hebrew name (such as Paul and Saul). Because of this, Saul never changed his name. He was always Saul/Paul. Furthermore, Paul did not “convert” to Christianity when he had his Damascus Road experience in Acts 9. Paul was a Jew who had an experience that changed his mind about Yeshua. Instead of persecuting Yeshua’s followers, he began to follow Yeshua himself. This is not a Christian conversion; it is simply a Jew believing that Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah and remaining Jewish afterwards. As is the case with all Yeshua’s disciples, they were Jewish before him, and they were Jewish after him. Christian “conversion” did not exist during the time of the Apostles. It came later when gentiles who had false or misunderstood beliefs about the Jewish people began to be the majority and took control of the hermeneutical process and the Scriptures as a whole.
The explanations of what the Church is frequently disregard its Jewish origin and Jewish participation during the time of the Apostles. When many writers talk about the Church, they speak of its gentile membership only. While the church eventually became almost solely gentile, the early church during the time of the Apostles included many Jewish believers in Yeshua who lived and worshiped as Jews. Many thousands of Jews came to faith in Yeshua during the early church as well. The Apostles, along with other Jewish leaders, argued in Acts 15 over how best to incorporate gentiles into the Jewish church, not how to incorporate Jews into the gentile church. Without the knowledge that both Jews and gentiles worshiped together in the same setting during the early church period, it leads to the misconception that Christians (i.e., gentiles) worshiped Jesus in church, and Jews rejected him and continued in their unbelief in synagogues.
How Does This Affect Jewish People?
While supersessionism is common among most Christian teachings, the above-mentioned points are the main supersessionist views within much of children’s biblical literature. Children’s Bible-related books do not usually exegete passages or go into detail on doctrine, so the supersessionist teachings remain generalized. The problem with these views is that they are biblically incorrect, and they affect Jewish people. Raising children to believe that Yeshua was a white man named Jesus, Passover was a Jewish celebration that was abolished by Jesus in favor of the Last Supper, Christians are not Jews, Saul was a Jewish man but then changed his name to Paul when he converted to Christianity, and the church is only composed of gentiles creates generations of ignorance and antisemitism. Children’s biblical literature needs to be revised, and these few beliefs need to be at the forefront. If new generations of children grow up learning the biblical and historical truths of the New Testament, it will go a long way toward sharing the true Gospel of Yeshua haMashiach with the Jewish people, as well as accepting that Jews who do follow Yeshua can maintain their Jewish roots.
Justin Wheaton currently attends Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and is pursuing both a master’s degree in Old Testament & Semitic Languages and a Master of Divinity. He has published numerous articles with Chosen People Ministries and co-runs a small ministry called Who Is Like You Ministries with his wife, Kei-Lynn, where they write articles on various Bible topics focused on sharing the Gospel.
1 “Are Jesus and Yeshua the Same Person?” Chosen People Ministries, .
2 See for example David R. Veerman, James C. Galvin, James C. Wilhoit, Daryl J. Lucas, and Richard Osborne, Amazing Questions Kids Ask About the Bible (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 1994), 59; Bruce B. Barton, Jonathan Farrar, James C. Galvin, Daryl J. Lucas, Rick Osborne, David R. Veerman, and James C. Wilhoit, 801 Questions Kids Ask About God with Answers from the Bible (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2000); Kathryn Slattery, If I Could Ask God Anything (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 50; Kathryn Slattery, Dear God, I Have a Question: Honest Answers to Kids’ Questions About Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020), 33; Nancy I. Sanders, The Bible Explorer’s Guide: 1,000 Amazing Facts and Photos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 42–43, 59. When researching for this article I read numerous question and answer books, fact books, and kids study Bibles. Not one of them mentioned that Jesus’ name is Yeshua or even said that he had a Hebrew name.
3 Veerman, et al, Amazing Questions, 70; Barton, et al, 801 Questions, 85.
4 Slattery, If I Could Ask God, 175.
5 See also Exod 12:24–27; Deut 16:1.
6 Veerman, et al, Amazing Questions, 81; Barton, et al, 801 Questions, 88.
7 A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, ed. Frederick William Danker, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 1090.
8 The doctrines of the Trinity, substitutionary atonement, the Incarnation, etc. are foundational to orthodox belief in Jesus. I am speaking more about the belief that Jewishness ceases to exist when a Jew is “converted.”
9 Slattery, If I Could Ask God, 129.
10 Slattery, Dear God, 151.
11 Slattery, Dear God., 69.
12 Slattery, If I Could Ask God, 179; Slattery, Dear God, 95.
13 Sanders, The Bible Explorer’s Guide, 66. I have personally heard preachers preach that Saul changed his name to Paul when he became a Christian. See also Lawrence O. Richards, NKJV Adventure Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 1254–1255.
14 “Paul,” Easton’s Bible Dictionary, ed. M.G. Easton (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1897); “Saul, Otherwise Paul,” in W.M. Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1907); Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum, and Charles L. Quarles, The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016), 458.
15 See “The Church and AntiSemitism,” Who Is Like You Ministries, for examples of Church conversion liturgies forced upon Jewish people.
16 Slattery, Dear God, 157.
17 While there were many Jews who did reject Yeshua, many thousands did not, as I mentioned above.
18 Paintings and illustrations of Yeshua as a white man can be found throughout Christian history, children’s books, and children’s illustrated Bibles.