SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
7. Christ in Biblical and Systematic Theology: Part 7a,
Christ and Systematic Theology
From the things we have already said it is not difficult to see that by placing Jesus Christ at the center of Biblical Theology – a position advocated in these posts and called “Biblical Covenantalism” – it becomes natural to move on to formulating doctrines.
Many both within and without the evangelical tradition have written about the connection between Biblical and Systematic Theology. In fact, perhaps most scholars who are not evangelicals are less than confident that Systematic Theology is a viable exercise at all. The reason for this is their findings in Biblical Theology.
The first post stepped right into matters of Christology (unsurprisingly), Creation, and Ecclesiology. By the end of the second we were on firm Eschatological ground. In the third post I could write:
Hence, the Plan of God outlined in the biblical covenants converges on the crucified Jesus and emerges from the resurrected Jesus!
My contention in Part Two was that the other unconditional covenants were channeled through the New covenant, because the salvation realized under the New covenant ensures covenantal continuity into the kingdom era. Thus, both Soteriology and Providence were in view.
In Part Three: “The Covenant God Incarnate,” I of course dealt with the Incarnation. But I also referred to the interesting surmise of Meredith Kline that the pre-incarnate Christ was the antitype of the bodily form of Adam. Hence, we were dealing with Anthropology.
My discussion of Christ as the Logos in Part Four brought me round again to Creation and the doctrine of God. Included in this chapter was something about the connection of the Word as God with the Bible. I was writing concerning biblical interpretation (Hermeneutics), and so was in the realm of Bibliology. The hermeneutical question; tied as it is with the Person of Christ as Revealor and New covenant; with the Person of the Father as covenant-Maker; and with the Holy Spirit as the Author of Scripture and agent of eschatological new life, points inevitably to the doctrine of the Trinity, and the doctrine of the veracity of God.
In all this I was always on Eschatological ground, as every good Theology is. This led into the important theological issues to do with Israel and the Church, as well as the Nations, and their part in reflecting the Triunity of God (Part Five).
Then in Part Six we returned to the Cross and the offices of Christ. Finally, the Resurrection was viewed as “a glorious anachronism” which points us all to the fervent hope of His appearing and Kingdom.
Although this series could not go into much detail in connecting Biblical Theology to Systematic Theology, I truly hope that I have done enough here to arouse the interest of those who want the Lord Jesus Christ to be central to both disciplines, but who, like me, are not impressed by the pretensions of Covenant Theology, with its overwhelmingly inferential way of “Christotelic” formulations – stuffing Christ into texts where He doesn’t fit; and most Dispensational Theology, where Christ only pops His head in now and again under certain categories of the system.
Biblical Covenantalism brings Christ forward in both disciplines in two main ways. Firstly, by simply paying heed to what is plainly said about Him in the Bible. To recall something said in Part 4a:
I want to make sure that we have established a very strong connection in our minds between the Bible, the world, and the personal Savior who is our Lord. Just as the Bible is His, this world is His and we are His; and all these things exist, in the first place, for Him. He is the judge of all of His creation and He shall rule over all of the creation. This world is of Him, for Him, by Him, to Him. If we’re going to have a scriptural doctrine of the Creation it will bear some correlation to Jesus Christ. I don’t say we must “find Him in it,” only that we must relate it to Him.
The same applies then to the doctrine of the Revelation of God. Here the danger of abstraction becomes a very real one. The teaching about the Bible has got to be in accord with the worldview which springs from the Bible. And, as we hope we have begun to make clear, a world and life view that is a truly biblical one will have to be centered in the Person of Christ.
The Bible puts the Lord Jesus in the middle of everything!
In the second place, and this point calls for some reflection: Christ has been “set forth” (cf. Rom. 3:25) by the Father and exegetes Him (Jn. 1:18). Christ is witnessed to by the Spirit; so that to know the first and third Persons one must go through the second Person. What this yields, I believe, is a starting assumption of doing Systematic Theology first Christo-centrically. Many theologians have started Trinitarianly, and I am not decrying that. But the makeup of Scripture places the access to the Divine Trinity through Jesus Christ. He is the Designer, Creator, Sustainer, Archetype, Savior, Covenant Guarantor, Restorer, King and Judge over all Creation. The Father has willed it be so. The Spirit makes sure it is so. So the Lord Jesus is the means by which Biblical and Systematic Theology live in harmony. As Word and Covenant Jesus Christ puts all around Him in its proper place!
SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
Jesus Christ in Biblical and Systematic Theology
Christ and Biblical Theology
As I bring this study to a close I want to do two things. First, I want to recap on where we’ve been, and to show how Biblical Covenantalism is extremely Christ-focused, but not through any forced theological predetermining or eisegesis. Christ fits within the Story of the Bible so naturally because of His function at the very core of it from beginning to end. One doesn’t have to go looking for Him in every verse, determined to see Him whether He is present or not. I am not advocating such a fallacious course of action. And we must guard ourselves from those who, with pretensions to piety, speak to us about finding Jesus in each verse of each Book of Scripture. Our imaginations were not given us to overlook the obvious while collecting a useless and confusing melange of types, allusions, and the like. These things we have often brought with us and our searching will inevitably be productive if we pretend to discover those things which we have spread so liberally. The truth is, Christ is not in every verse. Nor indeed is he to be found in very many chapters and verses. It is not impious to speak the truth. But the truth can sometimes sound impious to those with a manufactured piety.
These studies have sought to show that Christ’s Person and offices lie behind the Plan and Purposes of God, and that though there are many verses where He is absent, still He cannot be removed from any Act in the Story.
I started out in Colossians 1, There I aimed to show how Paul makes Jesus Christ preeminent, not by employing religious rhetoric, but by simply stating the reality of who Christ is: Creator, Upholder, Owner. Further, the future regeneration of the whole of creation depends on Christ. Thus far the Introduction. But although the apostle is writing of the church’s relation to its Head in Colossians 1, it would be a mistake to limit the fallout of his words to the Church alone. There is more to the Plan of God than the Church, and Christ’s relationship to the New Covenant in His blood proves this (Part 2). We saw that the covenant promises of the Old Testament are guaranteed literal fulfillment through their association with the Coming of Christ to reign on earth. The Second Coming is more important fulfillment-wise, than the First coming, crucial as that was. This is because covenant fulfillment centers in Jesus Himself, who encapsulates the New covenant upon which the other covenants rely. Since the covenants name this world as essential to their purposes, the roles of Christ as covenant guarantor and Christ as Second Adam combine in His earthly reign.
Here we encounter our main thesis (Part 3):
Our main thesis is that Christ will perform all this restorative and promissory work by the New Covenant, which in Him (Isa. 49:8) provides the requisite cleansing unto righteousness that obligates God to fulfill His covenants. This Christ-centered approach is what I call “Biblical Covenantalism.”
The incarnation does more than just make it possible to “kill” the Second Person of the Trinity. It highlights the importance of creation to God, especially God’s image-bearer. Simply put, if there were no incarnation there could be no resurrection. If no resurrection, then no hope would remain for us, and God’s telos in making the world would have fallen into nothingness.
Part Four now displays the worldview implications of all this. He is the measure of all things. But He is also the way of seeing all things correctly. The last two posts in Part Four try to tie together the outside world as created and upheld and redeemed by Christ with the actual hermeneutics of Christ as found in the Gospels; the one confirming the other. This sets us up for Part Five where the teleological and eschatological goals of creation and redemption take on a triadic appearance in the coming Kingdom. This is in line with covenant expectations too. The triadic peoples of God image the Trinitarian God whose stamp appears on everything.
In Part Six I rehearsed the Cross and Resurrection work of Jesus to remind us that all our value and all our hope is in Christ.
Thus, Christ is ubiquitous, even if He is not in every verse of Scripture. Big things as well as small things find there anchor in His Person and covenant work. And it is this fact of the pervasiveness of Christ in a Biblical Theology built mainly upon the covenants of Scripture that lends ‘Biblical Covenantalism’ its coherence and its power. These two things, as we shall show, make it natural to go from biblical Theology into a Christ-centered Systematic Theology.
NPP Righteousness versus Pauline Righteousness: The “Works of the Law”
In an excellent piece for Christianity Today entitled, “What Did Paul Really Mean?”, (w/thx to Filops!) Simon Gathercole called attention to the way New Perspective scholars interpret the phrase “the works of the law.” He writes:
According to the new perspective, Paul is only focusing on these aspects of Jewish life (Sabbath, circumcision, food laws) when he mentions “works of the law.” His problem isn’t legalistic self-righteousness in general. Rather, for Jews these works of the law highlighted God’s election of the Jewish nation, excluding Gentiles. Called by God to reach the Gentiles, Paul recognizes that Jews wrongly restricted God’s covenant to themselves.
Gathercole’s comment matches Dunn a little more than Wright, but neither scholar thinks “works of the law” means the achieving of merit through religious deeds. Certainly we can say it is doubtful if many Jews in the Second Temple period were ‘legalistic’ in the sense that they truly believed their works were good enough. But they were still going about to establish themselves by the law:
For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. – Romans 10:3-4
The plain fact is, the righteousness the Jews were striving for was not what God would call righteousness because it wasn’t the righteousness of God in Christ. “Grace” was not viewed within Second Temple Judaism in the Pauline sense:
To say that salvation in Judaism was by grace and imply that ‘works’ in the Lutheran sense were excluded is simply not true to Judaism. Nor should one expect that a Judaism that did not see humanity as fundamentally lost, nor requiring the death of God’s Son for its redemption, would construe the relation between divine grace and human works in the same way Paul did. – Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics, 443-444
Because of this misunderstanding of grace, the Judaism’s interpretation of “the works of the law” was indeed that religious works were required for salvation. Hence, the offense of the Cross.
Furthermore, there is a big difference between the idea of imputed righteousness (Reformers) and inclusive communal righteousness which is not imputed (New Perspective).
If we take a passage like Romans 9:30-32 perhaps we can see this illustrated better:
What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone. – Romans 9:30-32
Again, Dunn and Wright would say, “Yes, but the ‘works of the law’ are these external badges of status within the covenant, not religious works or works of merit.” If true, this would entail the verses underlined above would mean that because Israel’s faith was directed toward the emblems of the covenant and not the Lord [Christ] of the covenant, Israel had stumbled over the issue of Jesus and the salvation of the world. They did not realize that faith in the covenant and Messiah was not restricted to Israel. All nations now had access to the covenant people of God in Christ through the exercise of an ongoing faith in Him.
Faith, though, is not accounted as righteousness in a one-time legal sense because imputation is deemed absurd. Even N. T. Wright, for all his language about the propitiatory nature of Christ’s death, cannot accept the doctrine of imputation. As Waters writes,
Wright frequently avers that God at the cross ‘dealt once and for all with the sin of the world.’ A study of his comments on Christ’s death…in his recent commentary on Romans shows Wright’s consistent refusal to articulate Christ’s death in terms of an imputed righteousness…While Christ’s death may be said to be atoning, punitive, even propitiatory, Wright consistently refuses to detail the mechanism by which Christ’s death comes to be applied to the individual believer in time and history. – Guy Prentiss Waters, Justification and the New Perspectives on Paul: A Review and Response, 141-142.
However, in Romans 4:4-5 grace is equated with faith in Jesus Christ and is opposed to works. This then means that the supposed ‘grace’ that, according to the New Perspective, the Jews were thinking of when they were speaking of their privileged position within the covenant (i.e. their boundary markers of Sabbath and circumcision and so on), is not the same grace that Paul is speaking about. The grace that he is referring to is something given to a person when they accept Jesus Christ as Savior! Because of this grace, the sinner passes from death to life. Something happens to them; they are taken out of Adam and they are put into Christ! Grace does this, not works. Read more »
SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
Jesus and the Restitution of All Things: Part 6a
Jesus is supremely an eschatological Figure. By “eschatological” I have in mind a broad definition including God’s Plan in Christ, not just a message about End Times. Eschatology is bound to teleology and should therefore be studied progressively.
The resurrection, although it occurred in our space/time, does not “belong” in this history, but in our future history. It signals the future. The glorified body of the man Christ Jesus awaits the time when the Lord returns and brings to pass the “regeneration.” This regeneration will see the 12 Apostles seated on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. The need for judgment in the regenerated kingdom is seen in many OT places, like Isaiah 11 and Micah 4. The regeneration cannot be the New Heavens and Earth, because no judging is required in that perfect kingdom.
The Logic of Resurrection
The resurrection of Jesus Christ does not really belong in this age. In an important sense, it is an anachronism. When the atheist assures us that people do not rise from the dead we have to agree with him – at least in general. Of course, if they assert it like some scientific law we will beg to differ. Jesus is risen! But what a strange declaration. Amid the countless human beings who have come and gone upon the stage of history only One has had His physical Body resurrected. This singular event; which occurred very many years before we were born, is the anchor of our Christian hope. Without it, as Paul says it, “we are of all people the most pitiable.” Contrary to some points of view, the uniqueness of an event does not invalidate its credibility. In the strictest sense, every event, or, if that is too much to contemplate, very many events, are unique, just because they often include things which are not repeated in similar events. Just so, as there is only one Savior of the world, and all restoration hope is tied to Him, one would not expect another to be resurrected independently of his resurrection or, indeed, His timetable. The Christian Story is predicated upon such a simple logic.
But the resurrection does not merely fit nicely inside the Christian Story as a necessary article of faith; it actually fits within a necessary world and life view. I might say it is pivotal to any accurate world and life view. This is not at all to say that the resurrection is recognized for what it is in the world, any more than Christ Himself is accorded the recognition which is His due. It is just to say that the explanatory value of the Empty Tomb, at the level of the Big Questions of Life is immense.
This earth is cursed and will stay cursed. God’s curse on the material realm cannot be ameliorated. Notwithstanding, the resurrection of Christ does counter its affects. Resurrection is from death. It follows from this that the resurrection only makes sense in a cursed world. Its necessity and powerful counter-influence are only needed in this world. No resurrection is necessary in the New Creation. While it is true that the resurrected body must go into the New Creation, the New Heavens and Earth are maximally physical, as well as maximally spiritual. Thus, God doesn’t need a reason to create another pure physical realm to replace the present cursed one other than the fact that He has to do away with what He had cursed.
Could God make a new material realm by fiat and create glorified bodies for the saved souls of the saints in conjunction with that creative work without the requirement of resurrection? Conceivably yes, but then there could be no place for the resurrection. The logic of Resurrection requires a state of physical imperfection which is renovated or restored by dint of its connection to resurrection.
Some systems of eschatology treat this present material realm as a mere transportation system for the bodies of the elect. Or, more pointedly still, it is treated as a stage for the outplaying of history with no primary importance to God other than to deliver the elect into heaven. After that it is to be cast off and destroyed. Hence, in amillennialism particularly, wherein the planet serves in a reductionistic sense only as a mere carrier, the Christian worldview is impacted in the area of the purposes of this present earth.
A Glorious Anachronism
It could also be shown that any proper acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord and Christ brings with it a corresponding acceptance of and exalting in His bodily resurrection in heavenly glory. And it is just this fact which makes the resurrection a sort of anachronism.
Jesus is the only Savior of sinners because He Himself is without sin. Moreover, to no other man could Divine attributes be spoken about. It is these attributes of full deity which qualified Jesus to bring sinful mankind to God. But bringing mankind to God must include God’s original intention for man and woman. Nothing can be left out. Human beings were created to combine spiritual and physical qualities in a unique combination, and in so doing, to reflect the spiritual and material realms of creation within the image they had been given. But the material was cursed, and death has wrought its dismal effects upon our physical frames until they can be remade.
As I write this I look out at a great many various changing shades of green – in the leaves and the grass and the surrounding hills. But for all its splendor I look at bearers of the curse with which God struck the ground for Adam’s sake. Created from that earth, his body was doomed to fall back into it, until the time the material creation was ready to be restored. That event would itself be triggered by the physical glorification of the Church when the savior came for it near the end of this “present evil age.” But the transformation of believing humanity and the repristination of our environment does not have its source in a mere decision to act from the Throne of Glory. It finds its source in the historical fact of the empty tomb and the declaration “He is not here, but is risen!” And because He is risen we shall rise and this earth shall be pervaded with peace and its languishing beauty, so rarely glimpsed as its Creator wanted it to be experienced, shall come through under the hand of the King who reigns from Jerusalem. Read more »
Is Lack of Righteousness the Problem?
In the various presentations of the New Perspective on Paul or NPP, the centrality of the call upon sinners to repent and believe in the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ, and the promise of forgiveness and eternal life with God when they do is seriously compromised. Think about these words from the end of John 3:
“He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” – Jn. 3:36.
The solemnity of these words strikes everyone who reads them. The difference between everlasting life and abiding wrath is belief in the Son. What is it that must be believed? The answer to that question is the reason why John wrote his Gospel. After recounting the crucifixion and resurrection John focuses upon Thomas’s doubt and the Lord’s answer to that doubt. Jesus stresses belief in Him in that context. Then John adds his summary:
And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. – Jn. 20:30
So what is the Gospel? Venema quotes N.T. Wright as saying,
“Let us be quite clear – the gospel is the announcement of Jesus’ Lordship which works with power to bring people into the family of Abraham; now redefined around Jesus Christ and characterized solely by faith in him. Justification is the doctrine which insists that all those who have this faith belong as full members of this family on this basis and no other.” – Cornelis Venema in By Faith Alone, edited by Gary LW Johnson & Guy P Waters, 43.
What Wright appears to be saying is that the Gospel which we must believe is that Jesus is Lord. There is no mention here of the cross and Christ becoming sin for us. There is nothing said about His death and resurrection for us. All that needs to be done, so it seems, is that people believe that Jesus is Lord and that includes them in the covenant family in Him. No word about our sin and God’s judgment! Venema introduces this quotation with the following words:
“If the gospel is not about how people get saved but the proclamation that Jesus is Lord, this is implications for our understanding of what Paul means by justification. This doctrine, though an essential, albeit subordinate theme in Paul’s preaching, does not address the issue of how guilty sinners can find favor with God. This would be to assume that Paul’s gospel focuses upon the salvation of the individual rather than [as the NPP would have it] upon the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the consequences of that Lordship for the realization of God’s covenant promises to Israel.”
The Gospel according to the NPP in Sum
This is the Gospel of the New Perspective:
As it was proclaimed to Israel by Jesus and by Paul and others, the Gospel was that Israel’s exile was over. Important to Wright is this view that ever since the Babylonian captivity Israel had been in exile. Even though they were in their own land, they were still in exile because they were under Roman rule, and so did not have self-sovereignty. The proclamation of the death and resurrection of Messiah, is for Wright the solution to Israel’s exile. They are to believe that Jesus is the Messiah; that Jesus is Lord. Having that badge of faith acts as the new and only badge of entrance into the covenant and is what justifies them.
Clearly there has been a radical shift of emphasis!
Clarity on Justification
Wright likes to say this idea of justification as a kind of ‘gas’ or a substance that can pass from one person [Jesus] onto another person [the sinner] is nonsense, unbiblical, and is, in fact, mythological. Before dismissing everything in that statement it should perhaps be admitted that this is the way certain schools of thought (and some in the Reformed churches come to mind), have sometimes construed justification. It is not uncommon in certain types of Reformed theology to be taught a view of justification as ‘transformative’ of the person who believes in Christ. In this teaching justification and sanctification merge or overlap. The classical view of the Reformers was that justification was just ‘forensic’ – a one-time legal decision made by God on behalf of the believing sinner. This approach does indeed view justification as an ongoing power: as a continual justifying faith to final perseverance. Read more »
The Affect on Exegesis
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” – Galatians 3:10
From what has been said already we may view the NPP as an attempt to adjust Christian understanding of the way First Century Jews saw themselves in relation, first to God and second to the Gentiles. To God they apparently did not think, like the Reformers believed they did, that they could earn merit with God. Instead it is claimed, they held that by grace they were in the grace covenant which assured national blessing to Israel. Hence, by observing the rites and solemnities of circumcision, Sabbath observance, kosher practices, etc., they were showing fidelity to the covenant. Hence, when they read “works of the law” as in Gal. 3:10 above, the Jews understood it to mean these exclusivistic observances.
But that is not all. The New Perspective also urges us to reinterpret the Apostle Paul’s mindset in these same terms. Once we do that, we are told, we will see that Paul was not speaking about works of merit at all in Romans and Galatians. Rather, he was speaking about these badges of exclusivity.
You see, the real problem Paul was writing about was that the Jews would not allow that through Christ’s work on the Cross the Gentiles too were invited to become covenant people along with Israel. Just as the Jews believed they were partakers of God’s covenant grace, so also they must accept that Gentiles likewise would be included with them if they believed the good news that God had opened the covenant up to them as equal sharers of covenant grace with Israel, but without the need for Israel’s badges – which, remember, as markers of exclusivity, would be rendered unnecessary and redundant.
Let us take another look at Galatians 3:10a with these things in mind:
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.
Reformation interpreters and their followers would read the verse like this: – For as many as are of the works of the law [that is Jews and those who follow their lead, who are seeking their justification in works of merit, trying to establish their righteousness by obeying the law] are under the curse. [The curse that comes because the law can do nothing but condemn us, and therefore put us under a curse.]
The standard NPP interpretation would be: – For as many as are of the works of the law [now seen as those Israelites who are looking to their external ‘badges’ or emblems, trying to find their justification in them] they are under the curse. [Because of failure to see that justification through covenant membership is extended to non-Jews]. “They” here is Israel generally. This is a national curse which has come upon them. (This also explains why NPP advocates tend to use strong replacement language).
The Nationalistic Problem
So NPP advocates believe the problem is not with individuals, but with the nation of Israel, which believes itself to be safe in the covenant because of these grace emblems that they’ve been given by God and which set them off from the Gentiles. In actual fact, we’re told, those very things, Paul would say to the Jews, “do not justify you if you exclude Israel.”!
Conversely this means that justification would not be interpreted as individual justification because that’s not what is needed. Rather, “justification” is that Israel embraces Messiah, understands that Messiah has come, and that the true ‘badge’ of the covenant is faith and not these external markers. As Westerholm represents the NPP writers as teaching:
“Justification meant for Paul what it meant for other Jews; the decisive vindication of God’s people when God as a court of law pronounced in their favor. Righteous or justified here designates those in whose favor the Divine Judge has pronounced. But for Paul, the people of God destined for justification were not those demarcated by the works of Torah. Justification, a divine verdict at the end of history, known in anticipation by God’s people in the present, is for those who have faith in the gospel. What Paul was at pains to demolish was the national righteousness pursued by those who imagined that their place in the covenant people of God was secured by their loyalty to the signs of Jewish ethnic identity.” – Stephen Westerholm, Perspectives Old and New on Paul, 182-183
What of Faith?
Does this focus on the corporate nature of salvation alter the doctrine of justification by grace through faith? We must answer this question with a resounding “Yes”, although it is important not to overstate the case. Someone such as N. T. Wright will not discount individual salvation, but he would still say that the main issue in Paul’s Gospel is the inclusion of the Gentiles into the covenant community. Read more »
I include this piece because the influence of this movement is increasing within Evangelicalism, and I believe many people are in the dark about it. The subject is important also because we tend to view Scripture through the lens of the Reformation instead of the other way round. Although the Reformers got the Gospel right, their successors have sometimes appealed to them and not the Bible. At least the New Perspective on Paul (NPP), whatever its merits or demerits, has directed us back to the Bible again.
The so-called “New Perspective on Paul” would be better called ‘New Perspectives on Paul.’ But in whatever variation, and whatever its problems, the New Perspective offers an important and robust challenge to traditional Reformation views of justification and Pauline theology. I should say that I do not dismiss everything the New Perspective has to say. While I am completely in agreement with the Reformers on justification by grace through faith, I am not ready to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”
The main protagonists of the so-called New Perspective on Paul begin with E.P. Sanders and his book Paul and Palestinian Judaism in 1977. This was the one that really drove the wedge between the modern understanding of Second Temple Judaism and the Judaism exemplified by Luther and the Reformation. According to the New Perspective scholars, Luther and Calvin and others got Second Temple Judaism wrong. They thought the Jews of Jesus’ and Paul’s era believed in a ‘works’ righteousness and therefore in justification by works. Whereas, going back to the sources, Sanders brought forward evidence to show that such was not in fact the belief held by scribes and Pharisees of the first part of the First Century A.D.
It is important that we understand that over the last 40-50 years, in fact the last 10-20 years, there has been a tremendous increase in our knowledge of the Judaism of Jesus’ and Paul’s day, and so there is a great deal more information to sift through arising a great deal earlier than the information people like Edersheim and Rosenmuller used when they were teaching about Judaism. (Of course, this has implications also for Messianic Judaism, which very often does not take this new information into account when it seeks an inside track into understanding Jesus and the apostles).
As far as this issue of justification is at stake, what E.P. Sanders taught was that Second Temple Jews believed, not in a ‘works-based’ salvation but in a ‘grace-based’ salvation. Now certainly this ‘grace-based’ salvation was not the same as the ‘salvation by grace through faith’ which the Reformation teachers spoke of. It was “grace-based” in that they understood that collective Israel was chosen, or elected, purely on the basis of God’s grace and not on the basis of the people within Israel being special. Being part of the community of Israel; having the Scriptures and having the covenants (particularly the Mosaic Law), and having the “badges” of that covenant (like circumcision), led to the idea of identifying Jewish righteousness with these outward things. The Jews were seeing themselves as people of the covenant just because they had these tokens from God. We can see some of this indeed in Romans 2:17-3:8.
What was happening here is that the Jews were looking at their Jewishness and saying, “Well, because I’m a Jew, because I’m in the covenant, and because I have circumcision, and because I have these things by grace from God… that justifies me!” That is certainly part of what Paul is addressing in the passage.
The Problem Defined
The problem comes into focus when people like Sanders, and those who, to differing degrees follow him – James DG Dunn, NT Wright, and Scott McKnight – allege that these ‘badges’, the exclusive claims which they say are the root of the problem Paul is dealing with in Romans and Galatians, are equated with the phrase “the works of the law.” For example, in the following verses:
Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law [e.g. circumcision, dietary laws, Sabbath observance, etc.] but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. – Galatians 2:16
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” – Galatians 3:10
So then, these badges: circumcision, having the law of the covenant, and so on, become ‘ethnic’ or ‘nationalistic’ barriers which symbolize “inclusion in a grace covenant” and keep out the Gentiles.
Basically what was happening, according to writers of the New Perspective, is that the Jews were saying, “We have these covenant tokens; they are given to us by grace. We haven’t done anything to deserve them, but we have them and they are ours! They are not the property of the Gentiles! So you have to be in this covenant community in Israel in order to be saved; you have to have these badges.”
In the words of one critic of the New Perspective:
“In addition to his agreement with Sanders general description of Judaism as a non-legalistic religion, Wright also makes sympathetic use of Dunn’s interpretation of Paul’s dispute with the Judaizers and their understanding of the works of the law. The problem with the Judaizers appeal to the works of the law was not its legalism, Wright insists, but it’s perverted nationalism; the Pauline expression ‘the works of the law’ does not refer to a legalistic claim regarding how sinners can find favor with God by obeying the law but to the nationalistic Jewish claim that God’s covenant promise extends only to the Jews. The ‘works of the law’ are what Dunn calls ‘boundary markers’; those acts of conformity to the law that serve to distinguish the Jewish community from the Gentiles.” Cornelis Venema – By Faith Alone: edited by Gary LW Johnson and Guy P Waters, page 41
In the last post I cited what is often called “The Lord’s Prayer.” It would be good to have a brief exposition of it. Let us begin by dividing it up:
“Pray, then, in this way:
Introduction and First Petition: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. 10 ‘Thy kingdom come
Second Petition: Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Third Petition: ’Give us this day our daily bread.
Fourth Petition: ‘And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Fifth Petition: ’And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Doxology: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.’ – Matt. 6:9-13.
As a matter of fact, and as most of you know, this isn’t an actual prayer to be prayed (although it can be put to that use), but a model or outline of how to pray. Since it comes from the One who hears the prayers we send up, this little outline is full of interest.
“Our Father in Heaven”
After telling the disciples that they not pray long and repetitive prayers (“God does not measure prayer by the yard” – R.C.H. Lenski), the Lord Jesus tells them to address God personally as their Father. We are not to think the OT saints did not speak to God in a direct and informal way. There are clear examples of this in the Psalms for example. But we do not find them calling Him by this paternal word “Father.” The word Jesus used is an Aramaic term ‘Abba’ which was commonly used even by grown up children as an affectionate way for addressing an earthly father. This tells us that relationship is at the center of prayer. Cold formality puts God in the wrong setting and makes Him seem aloof and unfeeling. It is hard to draw near to someone like that. But real prayer does draw us close, even if it is in confession and repentance (Heb.4:14-16; 1 Jn. 1:9).
Calling upon God as our Father honors God’s intentions in sending Christ for us. In His great priestly prayer Jesus declared, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.” (Jn. 17:6). It is comforting to know that the Father chose to have this personal and loving bond with us through the Son and the Spirit (1 Cor. 1:4; Rom. 8:14-17).
“Hallowed by your Name”
To “hallow” something is to treat it with great reverence so as to set it apart from other things. God’s Name invokes God Himself, which is why we must not take His Name in vain or utter it in an inappropriate way. As one Puritan writer put it: “Could we but see a glimpse of God’s glory, as Moses did in the rock, it would draw adoration and praise from us.” – Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer, 50. We should have it in our hearts that God’s name may shine forth gloriously in other hearts, as it one day shall. Thus, there ought to be a sense of anticipation as well as honor in our speaking to God. We should seek to magnify Him in our lives; not by our “success” but by our efforts to, ”walk in the light as He is in the light” (1 Jn. 1:7). As Watson goes on to say, “If we do not magnify his name, we contradict our own prayers.” – Ibid, 51.
“Your kingdom come”
Just what does it mean to pray “Your kingdom come”? As a matter of fact this depends on ones theology. I find this to be quite fascinating; that the very first petition in the Model Prayer divides believers along two lines depending on how they interpret the kingdom. Some commentators combine these words with those that immediately follow, so that “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” become synonymous with “Your kingdom come.” I sympathize with this approach, but I do not adopt it because too often this can lead people to de-emphasize the meaning of “kingdom” in its context. While it is true that God’s will is done on earth by some persons (e.g. Matt. 12:28; cf. 12:50; 21:31-32; 26:42), it would be quite wrong to equate that with the prayer for the coming of the kingdom.
In its setting in the early ministry of Jesus (see for example Matt. 10: 5-7), the kingdom would mean only one thing to the disciples and the people in general. It would mean the Messianic Golden Age promised by the Prophets in Isaiah 2, 11, 62, and Micah 4 (cf. Acts 1:6). Therefore, in its proper context, this petition looks forward to the return of Christ and His righteous reign over the earth.
For those Christians whose theology tells them that Christ is ruling now, the petition has to be lifted out of its original context and deposited within a context more conducive to their doctrine of the Church. Notwithstanding, Jesus’ intention here is that we pray for Christ’s coming Millennial Reign to be set up. That of course means that we join in the hope expressed in the last prayer offered in Scripture: “Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).
Steve Hays thinks I am unprincipled. Well, he makes charges like that a lot. It’s a tactic. While I grant I may miss something here and there, I do not deliberately decide to skew people’s points – and I do not think any fair minded reader would claim I did.
4. A Metaphorical Bible
My main argument relies upon the weight of the wording of the biblical covenants. I call Steve’s interpretations prophetic bromide because they instantly wash away the meaning of words in those covenants, and associate contexts. In Steve’s vision theology Ezekiel’s temple structure (he was in it remember) is not a temple; the Levites are not Levites; the Zadokite/Levite distinctions and prescriptions are unreal; the “law of the temple” which must be done is not what it says it is; the new moon offering isn’t an actual new moon offering; the prince’s sin offering and other sin offerings aren’t; the river is not a river, and the medicinal trees aren’t for medicine and they aren’t trees; the tribes and their allocations in a regenerated land aren’t real either. It’s all emblematic Steve tells us. One gigantic “placeholder” or vehicle for the conveyance of a few truths about Christ and the Church! I’ve termed such an opinion Verbal Overkill because writing materials were expensive prior to a few hundred years ago and nine detailed chapters of script information which could have been communicated in half a page is a waste of time and paper. A huge over-the-top circumlocution (e.g. P. Fairbairn believed the entire vision could be summed up by John 17:21-23) – if Amillennialism is right.
Before some indignant person complains about what I’m saying about God let me assure them that I am not saying that about God. I don’t believe God is given to communicating in this way. Well meaning objections in the way of “God can do anything He likes” miss the point and misrepresent the biblical God. God cannot do anything He likes if that involves a contradiction in His character. God’s Word is the only access humans have to His character. Link
But things do not stop there. For all the passages from the Prophets which I cited will likewise be made metaphorical and symbolic. God’s oaths in Jer. 31:35-37 and Jer 33:15-26 mean what exactly? Certainly not what they appear to mean. And if such apparently unambiguous oaths, which bespeak covenant blessing for Israel by appeals to things like “the fixed order of the moon”, don’t mean what they appear to mean, on what basis do you make the Gospel mean what it appears to mean? We know the New Jerusalem has no need of the moon, so Jeremiah cannot be referring to that. Unless, of course, the troublesome details in Rev. 21 are emptied of significance. Steve will say that the Jewish readers understood it all as symbolical genre, even though there is not a shred of evidence from the Bible or elsewhere that they did. Rather, as I have shown, their combined testimony (and I have only given a selection) supports a temple after the Second Advent before the creation of the New Heavens and Earth. To stop this being seen, the genre card is played with alarming frequency in some theological circles.
Zechariah 14, which I have treated, is supposedly another extended metaphor, as is Isaiah 11 etc. In the NT, Revelation 20 is also metaphorical: Satan is bound and imprisoned but is free to pursue Christians; beheaded martyrs who are resurrected are in actual fact sinners becoming Christians; Christ’s thousand year reign is not a thousand years but is the Church age. In Revelation 7 the 144,000 men from the tribes of Israel are a symbolic number from all nations. It goes on and on. Without wishing to be rude, I can respect a man who is honest enough to tell me he is reinterpreting the data through the NT, or that he is “spiritualizing” or “transforming” the apparent meaning of these texts. I can respectfully disagree with Graeme Goldsworthy who says,
earlier expressions point to things beyond themselves that are greater than the meaning that would have been perceived by those receiving these earlier expressions.” – According to Plan, 123.
Likewise, Greg Beale comes right out with it:
Perhaps one of the most striking features of Jesus’ kingdom is that it appears not to be the kind of kingdom prophesied in the OT and expected by Judaism” – A New Testament Biblical Theology, 431 (my emphasis)
Germane to Ezekiel’s temple Iain Duguid asks,
Should we therefore look to a future millennial temple in which to see these provisions of heightened sanctity fulfilled? I don’t think so. Rather, we should do what it seems to me the New Testament does and see how the goal of Ezekiel’s temple finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. – Ezekiel (NIVAC), 481.
At least these men admit to what they are doing. Steve won’t join them but pins his hopes on the hypothesis that the exiles (meaning those hearing Ezekiel) and the returnees interpreted the vision as an emblem; although I don’t see how they could know about the Church!
In my exchanges with Steve Hays I have referenced many prophetic passages ( in the OT). I have also responded to the relatively few which Steve has cited. He says,
i) Let’s cut the dead wood. I truly wish he would deal with the texts I cited but he will not. He prefers to chop wood in a different forest.
The question at issue is whether Ezk 40ff. is referring to a physical endtime temple.
Well, the first question is whether Ezekiel’s temple ought to be interpreted literally. After that is decided one must look for a place to fit ones interpretation.
Dispensationalists think many prophecies about Israel were not fulfilled during the first advent of Christ.
He is right. Speaking only for myself, it is my contention that it is a huge mistake to seek for complete fulfillments of Messianic prophecies mainly at the first advent. Such a maneuver inevitably beckons for non-literal symbolic interpretations of many covenant passages. Many crucial Messianic texts like Gen 49:8; Num. 24:17; Isa. 9:6-7, 11:1-10; and Mic. 5:2 report more on events at or after the Second Coming than the First Coming. Even Genesis 3:15, with the crushing of the serpent’s head, stresses the Second Advent and after (Paul clearly didn’t think Satan’s head was crushed at Calvary – Rom. 16:20). See also this
Therefore, they cast about for some place to stick these outstanding prophecies. And they settle on Rev 20:4-6. They use three verses in Rev 20 as an empty container to stuff full of outstanding prophecies about Israel.
Good rhetoric, but quite untrue. In my case for a New covenant temple I appealed only to the OT. Revelation 20 says Christ will reign upon earth for a thousand years, so I fit the OT predictions in there. Amils like Steve try to stuff the entire church age in there of course. But they have to spiritualize (i.e. treat as non-literal) the thousand years.
iii) The obvious problem with Henebury’s appeal to Zechariah is that, in context, Zechariah is referring to the Second Temple.
Not in chapter 14 he isn’t. I have shown why (cf. Isa. 2:2-3; Zech. 8:3, 20-23; 14:16f.).
The temple built by Zerubbabel (Zech 4:6-10). Same thing with Haggai (2:2-4).
A person may grant that the temple in chapter 4 is the second temple. But I didn’t cite chapter 4. It’s obvious to me that Steve is ignoring the details of the passages I did cite.
Ezekiel’s vision is both predictive and prescriptive. Not only is this prophetic, but God is commanding Jews to build a temple according to this blueprint.
He does not command them to build Ezekiel’s temple. That is one of Block’s arguments for saying it is not literal. BTW, Steve previously denied it was a blueprint.
With irony Hays writes,
However, postexilic Jews were not supposed to build this temple. Jews are supposed to delay construction of this temple. Appearances notwithstanding, Jews would be disobeying God’s command to build the temple by building the temple. You see, Ezekiel really meant for Jews to postpone construction of this temple, even though he doesn’t say that.
I don’t really follow here. The Jews are never told to build it. The Lord will build it (cf.Zech. 6:12-13). I know he’s using irony to get a point across, which is okay with me, but there is no command to build this temple. That is because it cannot be built until after Zech. 14:4. Do we find a temple standing after Zech. 14:4? Indeed we do, and God Himself is in it (Zech. 14; cf. Ezek. 43).
Steve writes with more irony:
This is the actual order of events:
a) Zerubbabel is not supposed to build a temple according to Ezekiel’s blueprint. Ezra is not supposed to build a temple according to Ezekiel’s blueprint. That would wreak havoc with God’s eschatological timetable.
Ezekiel is shown a very detailed and huge temple which cannot be constructed on the present Mt. Zion. The setting of this temple will be paradisical (ch. 48). In the service of the temple only Zadokites are allowed to serve before the Lord (ch. 43). There is no veil over the Holy of Holies, and no high priest either. The glory-cloud resides in this temple (ch.43), whereas it did not come into Zerubbabal’s. Zerubbabel possibly would not have expected this absence (although Israel were ruled over by foreign powers in his day, whereas Ezekiel’s temple is built at a time when God again gives sovereignty back to Israel. Prophets predict both near and far off events.
b) Before Ezekiel’s temple can be built, the Second Temple must be built.
c) Then Herod must remodel Zerubbabel’s temple.
d) Then the Second Temple must be razed by the Romans in 70 AD.
e) Then the Jews must undergo a second exile when the Romans banish them from Palestine after the Bar Kochba revolt.
Right. And Israel was renamed “Palestine” by Hadrian at that time.
f) Then, after the second temple is destroyed, but before Ezekiel’s temple can be built, a third, Tribulation temple must be built, just before the Parousia, which the Antichrist will desecrate (Dan 9:27; 12:11; 2 Thes 2:4; Rev 11:1-2; 13:14-15). Cf. L. Cooper, Ezekiel (B&H 1994), 354; R. Thomas, Revelation 8-22 (Moody 1995), 81-82.
That seems to be what those passages necessitate, providing they too are not made to symbolize something else.
g) Then, when Jesus returns, the stop-work order will be rescinded [there wasn’t one issued in the first place], and builders who have no historical connection with Ezekiel’s contemporaries or the Jewish returnees in 6C BC, will finally erect Ezekiel’s temple, after two unspecified temples have come and gone. And that’s taking Ezk 40-48 at “face value.”
We’re not told how this temple is built. It is presented to Ezekiel as completed. Ezekiel isn’t about any other temples but Solomon’s and Ezekiel’s. But, for the rest of it, Hays has about got it. If I can be permitted a little irony of my own, all he has to do now is believe what he reads.
As for his reference to 1948, he needs to argue that with Hal Lindsey, not me. I do not teach that as a fulfillment of the OT.
The fact that Zerubbabel and Nehemiah made no attempt to build Ezekiel’s temple is good reason to think they didn’t interpret his vision literally.
Amils think it is.
So Henebury must interpret Ezekiel’s temple in light of Revelation
I interpret Ezekiel’s temple by reading Ezekiel. Then I look for compatible OT covenant equivalents. I said that Rev.20 is the only place I can fit the OT new covenant material.
Perhaps Henebury is alluding to John Walton. [I wasn't] However, scholars like Desi Alexander and Gregory Beale document their position from Scripture.
I am very familiar with Beale and what he does with Scripture. He’s an impressive scholar, but I find his interpretation via allusion impossible. Beale believes the NT “transforms” the meaning of the OT.
The entire vision (40-48) is emblematic.
Saying it doesn’t mean it is. Talking about the supposed qualities of word pictures and poetry (which is easily discerned even in translation) doesn’t mean it is. I could say the vision was “semi-proto-apocalyptic rhetoric” and wax eloquent about the properties of that “genre”, but I wouldn’t be proving that Ezekiel 40-48 was, in fact, that genre. Steve claims to have presented evidence for his view. I cannot find it. Just assertions. In fact I find Hays’s approach quite similar to the Roman Catholic view (e.g. P. Grelot). Anyway, not seeing his evidence may be my fault. If so, perhaps some reader will tell me where it is.
He quotes Jn. 1:14 and says “Christ embodies what the Temple signifies.” The verse says “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” I take that to mean the Divine One who was with God in the creation became human and lived with humans. Steve infers it means the temple symbolism has become human and been realized. I rate his interpretation as loaded with outside assumptions. (In my RoA it warrants a C4 rating at least).
Yet, according to Henebury, when Christ returns, Ezekiel’s temple will coexist with Christ in Jerusalem. What’s the point of a temple when Christ himself returns to tabernacle with his people forever (Rev 21:22)? A temple is just a placeholder. [proof?] Once Christ returns, any temple would instantly outlived its purpose. [proof? Perhaps he has not fully understood the significance of God’s temple?] Indeed, the fact that we’ve had no temple for 2000 years already underscores the spiritual irrelevance of the temple at this juncture in redemptive history.
God is dealing with the Church, which is mainly Gentile. Paul tells us,
For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” 27 “And 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. (Rom 11:25-29)
Steve’s paragraph is a good sample of the deductive theology of covenant theologians. They know what the verses say but they don’t believe what they say. They believe their true meaning must fit within their covenant of grace (which itself is found nowhere in Scripture). The main reason for their going figurative so much of the time is that their theology throws up objections which overrule the plain-sense of Scripture, forcing them to find “spiritual” meanings which fit their system better.
This two part post will be my final interaction with Steve Hays. It will complete what I think needs to be said and will leave him to continue in the way he is accustomed to. I begin with a little preamble. In his latest salvo Steve quotes me as saying:
On his accounting I ought to doubt my salvation.
Then he quips:
Why does Henebury react this way? He said that if amils are right, then God is guilty of prevarication. I inferred from his statement that he doesn’t think God is trustworthy if amils are right. Isn’t that a logical inference? Why does he object when I measure him by his own yardstick? Is that a mature reaction?
Let me put my quote back into its original context and leave the reader to decide if Steve is trying to properly represent his opponent:
I actually said this:
Steve Hays continues to slam my character: Henebury really is a bigot you know. He has “consistent intellectual deficiencies.” Henebury has all kinds of flaws, ethical, intellectual, perceptual. It has now come to my notice that apparently “Henebury never misses an opportunity to be dishonest.”
Steve doesn’t know me, but he thinks he’s sized me up and I’m no good. On his accounting I ought to doubt my salvation. Where is the fruit of the Spirit? Well, to his own Master he stands or falls. My duty is to stick to the argument.
Take a parable. What the individual elements of the parable signify is distinct from the question of whether the story is fictitious or factual…
In reply I said: True, but Ezekiel 40-48 is not a parable. Neither is it “apocalyptic,” nor poetry.
Yet in his “response” he declares:
And Henebury now admits that’s “true.” So, given that admission, he can’t simply quote verses about temple dimensions, materials, rituals, &c., to prove his overall interpretation, for how we interpret the significance of the paraphernalia depends on the genre.
What did I say was “true”? That interpretation depends on genre? Or did I simply agree that what individual elements of parables signify is distinct from whether the story is fictitious or factual?
Compare Steve’s representations with the real ones and come to a conclusion. Even if you are unconvinced by my arguments I hope you would see the problem. Nuff said!
Steve persists in his persistent use of personal slight and ad hominem argumentation while subtly deviating from the point. I shall ignore most of this in what follows. If some readers think I’m deserving of the opprobrium heaped upon me that it between them and God. A quick search on Google will produce many complaints about Steve Hays from Christians both Reformed and non-Reformed, Roman Catholics, and Atheists. As I said, to his own master he stands or falls. I consider most of Steve’s arguments to be paltry and lacking any substance. I’m afraid he advances his viewpoint mainly by bald assertion. Others are free to arrive at the opposite conclusion.
1. The Prophetic Setting of Ezekiel 40-48
One of the problems of dealing with Hays is that while he lumps me in with the general run of dispensationalists he will not permit me to cite his fellow covenant theologians against him; especially when they admit to reinterpreting the OT with the NT, or to spiritualizing the text. See Here. On a side note, if Daniel Block believes Paul spiritualized the OT it’s a safe bet he believes in following suit!
Steve avoids dealing with the following point I made because he says the passages cited are too generic:
He thinks they couldn’t divine a future glorious kingdom where Israel is regenerate and Messiah reigns in justice and righteousness from Jerusalem, and where priests serve him in a new sanctuary. In fact they could do this from say, Num. 25:10-13; Deut. 30:6f., or Psa. 2, 89, 105, 106, Isa. 2, 11, 26-27, 35, 43, 44, 45, 51, 62; Jer. 23, 30, 31, 33, or Hos. 2:16f. or Mic. 4, or Zeph. 3, or indeed from Ezek. 34, 36-37. It seems Ezekiel’s near contemporary Zechariah (6:12-13, 8:1-3; 14:16f.) and Malachi (3:2-3) believed it too. Zechariah predicts a future temple built after Jerusalem has been changed topographically where the King is worshiped at the temple.
He wants me to do some exegesis of these passages and I shall oblige him without expecting reciprocation. Owing to the nature of blog posts my comments must be concise. Still, I apologize for the length but a fair bit of this is necessary quotations from Scripture.
I am going to go into all the covenantal issues in all this in the future, but the following study should suffice for now: Balaam’s prophecy will start us off (please read the passages!):
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. 12 “Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; 13 and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.’” (Num 25:10 -13)
There is no need to go into minute exegesis of this passage to see that God freely enters into an eternal covenant with Phinehas and his descendents – who happen to include Zadokites! Psalm 106:30-31 recounts:
Then Phinehas stood up and intervened, And the plague was stopped. 31 And that was accounted to him for righteousness To all generations forevermore.
If this is true; that is, if God meant what He said in the covenant (and covenants have to mean what they say), then whether or not we can figure out the whys and wherefores, there has to be a Levitical priesthood and temple forever in fulfillment of this covenant. This is stressed further by Jeremiah in Jer. 33:
‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 ‘In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. 16 ‘In those days Judah shall be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she shall be called: the LORD is our righteousness.’ 17 “For thus says the LORD, ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; 18 and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man before Me to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to prepare sacrifices continually.’” (Jer 33:14-18)
Notice the role of the Branch (i.e. Christ). He “executes” or “does” righteousness on the land (eretz). This agrees with Isaiah 2:2-4 (set “in the last days”). Micah is very similar (Mic. 4:1-7, where we are told that God “will reign over [the Remnant] in Mount Zion from now on [the last days – v.1] and forever.”).
The righteous rule of Messiah is seen in Isaiah 11. Verses 5 and 6 declare:
with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, [Comp. Psalm 2:8-9; Rev. 19:15] And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. 5 Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist.
The righteous reign of Messiah is seen in statements like Isa. 26:9; 51:3-5; 62:1-5. The paradisaical conditions described in Isa. 62:1-5 involve the whole creation, as Hosea 2:16f. and Isaiah 11:6-8 make perfectly clear (Cf. Rom. 8:18-23). Hosea 2:18-19 say,
In that day I will also make a covenant for them With the beasts of the field, The birds of the sky, And the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, And will make them lie down in safety. 19 “And I will betroth you [i.e. Israel] to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, In lovingkindness and in compassion.
So in Ezekiel 37:25-28 we read of God setting up His sanctuary under these fulfillment conditions:
And they shall live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons, and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant shall be their prince forever. 26 “And I will make a covenant of peace with them [Cf. Num. 25:12 above]; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. 27 “My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. 28 “And the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.
Please do not miss the heavy covenantal emphasis of that prophecy. The sanctuary is the temple. But which temple? Zerubbabel’s? Did God make an everlasting covenant of peace with the returnees? Did His Glory return to the Second Temple? No. The temple being referred to is the one in Ezek. 40ff., which IS in paradisiacal conditions (ch. 47), when God shall dwell with Israel forever (43:7).
We may add to this the prediction from Malachi 3:2-3, which speaks of a purified priesthood in what appears to be (contra Steve Hays) a Second Advent context (Mal. 3:1 does refer to the First Advent):
But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 “And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.
If all this is not enough we find Zechariah predicting a temple which will be built by the Branch (Messiah) when He combines the offices of priest and king in Himself when He rules upon His throne (Zech. 6:12-13). And what do we find at the end of the Book? We find, as I have said many times, a Day when the Lord comes to the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:11 anyone?), when the topography of the land is drastically altered (Zech. 14:4), following which “living waters will flow out of Jerusalem (Zec 14:8), “Jerusalem will dwell in security” (Zec 14:11), and the nations will come up to Jerusalem to worship the King – who therefore must be Divine – (14:16-17), and sacrifices will be offered at the Lord’s house (14:20-21).
As these predictions are predicated on what we now know is the Second Coming, clearly they are in the future and their realization should not be searched for in the past. The conditions under which all this will be done are New covenant conditions (Cf. Zech. 12:9-13:1):
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 “And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. 28 “And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God. (Ezek. 36:25-28)
This distinctive new covenant language comes from the Pentateuch. For example, Deuteronomy 30:6:
Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live.
Amillennialists might want to turn all of these passages into metaphors (and they do), but they make perfect sense as they stand. There is no mess. We don’t have all the information, but we have enough. Once amils try to tackle the specifics of these passages, that’s when the train wrecks. So, for the most part, they don’t even try. They just read their interpretations of the NT into them. Steve says he doesn’t. He stands quite alone.
Howbeit, it is imperative when dealing with these prophecies that the covenantal stipulations which God obligates Himself to fulfill are not breezed over. I have my presuppositions, which Steve has been given. They do not produce the mess Steve asserts they do. Steve will not give his.
2. Did the Post-Exilic Community Expect to Build Ezekiel’s Temple?
I have already given reasons why the returning exiles would not have thought to take up the task of constructing Ezekiel’s temple. These include the obvious fact of the sheer size of the structure, together with the geographical requirements involved. Then the clear differences between the Mosaic institutions and Ezekiel’s vision. Finally, the fact that these chapters are prophetic and look to the time when God’s covenants with Israel will be realized under New Covenant conditions: conditions which have not yet been met, but which shall be met “after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:24-27).
If, as Steve Hays says, the people in exile enjoyed better access to God than when they were in the land, why rebuild any temple? Hays answers, it is because they were under the Law. But were not the exiles under the Law? If they were and God was more accessible to them during those times, it follows that rebuilding the temple would again distance them from God. This makes no sense at all. But were not Israel under God’s judgment during the exile? Deuteronomy 29:14-28 leaves this impression. Chapters 29:19 and 30:1 speak of exile as a “curse.” Leviticus 26:36 hardly depicts the future exiles having confident access to the Lord. 2 Kings 24:20 describes the Lord’s attitude towards Israel as “He cast them out from His presence.” Jeremiah is blunt: “The Lord has rejected His altar, He has abandoned His sanctuary.” (Lam 2:7). Read more »