So far we have seen that there is something in the contention that the Apostle Paul does have in mind the covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; promises which include the land given to the nation of Israel, in his theology of the Seed (singular) in Galatians 3. But what is that “something”? Gunn, along with supercessionists generally, believes that because the Genesis passages cited or alluded to by Paul include the land-promise, that the Church – the “New Israel,” gets that promise. Although what they get is not the land of Canaan but Heaven (other writers like Anthony Hoekema would run off to Romans 4:13 to prove that Paul was speaking about the new Earth), still the idea is that the promises of the land to Israel in the covenants of the OT have been transformed in the hand of the Apostle to mean “not this land but that” and “not this people but that people.” This is thought to be clinched by Paul’s argument in Galatians 3. Gunn writes:
As we have seen, the dispensational position also stresses that the spiritual seed of Abraham as defined in Galatians 3 have no claim to the national land promise of the Abrahamic covenant. Paul’s teaching on the Christian and the Abrahamic covenant will not allow such a conclusion. Paul argues in Galatians 3 that God intentionally used seed as a collective noun that has both a singular and plural reference so that the singular reference could refer to Christ and the plural reference could refer to those who are in Christ. Paul’s point is that the Abrahamic promises were made to Abraham and to his seed (verse 16), that the seed of Abraham is Christ (verse 16) and all who are in Christ (verse 29), and that therefore the promise given to Abraham belongs to all who are in Christ (verse 29). In his argumentation, Paul specifically quotes from the Old Testament the phrase “and to thy seed,” the “thy” referring to Abraham (Galatians 3:16; see also Romans 4:13). The Greek phrase in Galatians 3:16 translated “and to thy seed” could have come from only two passages in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek: Genesis 13:15-17 and Genesis 17:8.10 And in both of these Old Testament passages, that which is promised to Abraham’s seed is the land promise.11 Beyond this, every time in the book of Genesis where the phrase “to your seed” is used in the context of a divine promise to give something to somebody, the reference is to the Abrahamic land promise.12 When Paul was talking about the Old Testament promise that belongs to the Christian, he was referring specifically to the land promise, the one promise that dispensationalists argue that Paul could not have been referring to.
I am sure that Gunn’s assertion about the Septuagint is unsustainable. But what about his main assertion – that the land promise in the Abrahamic covenant “belongs to the Christian”?
My answer is that Gunn is again wrong, but he is wrong not because, as per his point about the use of the Septuagint, his opinion cannot be substantiated, but because he has not conceived of the fulfillments of the covenants in the same way Paul conceived of them. In Gunn’s theology, the OT must be interpreted by the NT, and when that is done, the OT promises are seen as shadows and types of the eventual realities to which they point. What needs to happen is for there to be a hermeneutical change to accommodate this shadow-promise/fulfillment pattern. The New Testament is thought to provide it, especially the theology of Christ and the Church. The question of whether anyone but an inspired Apostle knew about this and what this does to the reliability of God’s promises for non-apostolic persons before they read Paul is sidestepped. We are living, are we not? in the light of the realities!
But I do not think this is Paul’s view at all. Neither do I think it at all wise to suppose that the NT reinterprets the Old in this way. As adverted in Part Two of this article, we should take into consideration the fact that the biblical covenants such as the Abrahamic, Priestly and Davidic, do not contain the means for their own eschatological culmination in salvation, but instead depend upon the New covenant that was to be brought about by and in Jesus Christ. This is what provides Paul with the means whereby he can take up OT passages that plainly refer to a plurality of persons and also the promised land, and route them all through the single Seed in Galatians 3:16. In so doing he does not have to leave behind the plural meaning of “seed” (i.e. “descendents”). But he also does not have to forge OT Israel into a “New Israel” which is the NT Church. Furthermore, he has no need to set aside or transform the promised land either. The original referents remain intact. God’s covenants are at least as fixed and immutable as any covenant of men (Gal. 3:15, 17).
My time is ebbing and I must conclude here for today. Lord willing, I shall finish this subject off next time.
I’m going out of town again for a few days, and, what with Christmas and everything, I don’t expect to be posting much till the New Year. I wanted to finish this topic off with this post, but I’ve actually become a little engrossed in it, so expect at least one more effort.
Grover Gunn is sure that Paul is quoting Genesis 13:15-17 and 17:8, 10 from the Septuagint to make his argument in Galatians 3:16. There is no evidence that Paul is quoting the LXX. As for which particular passages he is citing, one cannot be that exact. I. Howard Marshall (New Testament Theology, 226) thinks Paul is citing Gen. 22:18 in Galatians 3:16. Daniel P. Fuller thinks it’s Gen. 17:7 (The Unity of the Bible, 335-336). I tend to think he has the Abrahamic narrative itself in mind.
But Paul is well aware of the ambiguity residing in the word “seed.” So how can he relate it to Christ in Gal. 3:16 and yet preserve the collective meaning he knows is clearly there in the original contexts he is citing? As Gal. 3:29 makes clear, Paul has not lost sight of the collective meaning of the word, but as was alluded to last time, and as I shall try to explain, the corporate is included by Paul in the One – Jesus Christ. To Paul’s mind, fulfillment was always understood to require Christ the Fulfiller. Once this is acknowledged one must choose between several hermeneutical options:
Option 1. Paul was employing some kind of semi-apocalyptic interpretation through which he could summon any OT passage to take on a new meaning in his argument.
This is the position of Richard B. Hays in e.g., The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture. Since it posits a change of meaning under the influence of Paul’s supposed hermeneutic, it has not caught on with many conservative evangelicals.
Option 2. Though he never said it, Paul intended us to infer that the Genesis texts he referred to (whichever ones they were) had intended meanings beyond those found on the surface of the passages in their original setting. Paul was only now declaring to us what God meant by those OT promises.
This would be Gunn’s position, along with all those who believe the NT is necessary to rightly interpret the Old. A clear implication of this position is that there is hermeneutical, or at least linguistic discontinuity between the two Testaments. The meaning of a particular term or phrase in the original context without recourse to the NT would procure a different sense than it would once the NT was consulted. Another outcome of this approach would be to separate the original author’s intended meaning from that of the Holy Spirit. While this possibility should not be ignored, the burden of proof for such a claim is on those who make it, whether they are aware of it or have to be made aware of it by others.
Option 3. Paul understood that “seed” could not be legitimately confined to a singular noun referring to Messiah, since the word is a collective noun and is used as such many times in the OT, and, indeed, by Paul himself (Gal. 3:29). In which case the singular and the corporate must be closely related; the corporate fulfillment being predicated on the coming Messiah.
Only this view preserves the integrity of the OT contexts, not to mention the specificity of God’s covenant promises to Israel. Promises which Paul elsewhere says are inviolable (Rom. 11:25-28). Only on this view can we avoid the treacherous waters of hermeneutical and philosophical ambiguity upon which the first two views implicitly rely. This third way would be our position. To demonstrate it one must try to show that there is no need for an OT passage to be considered a “shadow” or “type” of a NT reality, but rather that the witness of both Testaments can be hermeneutically aligned to allow all the relevant verses to speak in their own words.
Paul’s Argument in Galatians 3:1-16
If we take a look at Galatians 3 we will find Paul reasoning about the role of faith in God’s saving economy. We will not find him saying anything about God’s covenants with the people of Israel and the land grant God promised them. Of course, Gunn realizes this. His contention is that because the Apostle speaks of OT texts which not refer to Christ as the “Seed” (e.g. Gen 17:7), but also contain promises about the “land,” it only stands to reason that the word “Seed” in Genesis (and the rest of the OT?) is not in fact a reference to the nation of Israel (“descendents”), but only ever to Christ; and the “land” likewise is not Canaan (or the portion described in Gen. 15), but Heaven (some would say the whole land surface of Earth). What the Apostle has done, so the thinking goes, is to offer an inspired interpretation of terminology only dimly understood before Paul wrote Galatians circa 50 A.D. (see Option 2 above). Read more »
One of my readers (Justin) wrote to ask me if I might say a few things about this post by former Dispensationalist Grover Gunn. I don’t have time or inclination to respond to the whole paper, but I shall at least try to address Justin’s specific problem. Before commenting let me reproduce Justin’s question:
“Hello Paul. Thanks indeed for this. I have a question relating to this. I’m sorry the text I’ve copied below is long. Perhaps when you get a chance you might like to write a separate post on it though.
Grover Gunn http://grovergunn.net/andrew/disp10.htm says dispensationalists say the spiritual seed of Abraham (defined in Gal 3) have no claim to the national land promise of the Abrahamic covenant. But he rejects this. He writes:
“Paul’s point is that the Abrahamic promises were made to Abraham and to his seed (verse 16), that the seed of Abraham is Christ (verse 16) and all who are in Christ (verse 29), and that therefore the promise given to Abraham belongs to all who are in Christ (verse 29).
“In his argumentation, Paul specifically quotes from the Old Testament the phrase “and to thy seed,” the “thy” referring to Abraham (Galatians 3:16; see also Romans 4:13). The Greek phrase in Galatians 3:16 translated “and to thy seed” could have come from only two passages in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek: Genesis 13:15-17 and Genesis 17:8.10 And in both of these Old Testament passages, that which is promised to Abraham’s seed is the land promise.
“Beyond this, every time in the book of Genesis where the phrase “to your seed” is used in the context of a divine promise to give something to somebody, the reference is to the Abrahamic land promise. [Gen 12:7; 13:15; 15:18; 17:8; 24:7; 26:3,4; 28:4,13; 35:12; 48:4]. When Paul was talking about the Old Testament promise that belongs to the Christian, he was referring specifically to the land promise, the one promise that dispensationalists argue that Paul could not have been referring to.”
So Gunn’s point is that the dispensationalist argues that the statement “In thee shall all nations be blessed” (Genesis 12:3; Galatians 3:8), has reference to the spiritual blessings that are now enjoyed by Christians, ie. that the Christian as a seed of Abraham is related only to the unniversal statement that in Abraham all the nations would be blessed. But he says there is no basis for limiting the Christian application to this part of the promise. He says Paul in Gal 3:16 and 29 relates the language of the land promise to the Christian (which Gunn interprets as the Christian’s spiritual rest and heavenly position).
How do we respond to his claim that the land promise aspect includes Christians and not just the idea that all nations will be blessed?
First off, let me say that one should always welcome a good criticism (I think it pointless to bother with bad or sloppy criticism). Gunn’s claim deserves the attention of even a reluctant dispensationalist!
Let me make a couple of initial observations here:
1. If Gunn’s thesis is right then the apostle has redirected promises made to ethnic Israel to the church. This does not involve merely an expansion of the land promise, otherwise Gunn would believe that the physical boundaries of the land would be extended. No, this involves a change. This change, it could be argued, is only from our perspective not from God’s. But then, who gave us the perspective? Thus, the dilemma of a disingenuous God raises its ugly head.
2. Gunn’s argument also assumes that there is no prima facie hermeneutical continuity between the two Testaments. He thinks taking the land promises to Israel to be land promises to Israel is an interpretative and theological mistake. Why? Because the NT, in this case Paul, shows us another way and divulges God’s real intention when He made His covenant promises in the OT. This opens the Bible up to the sort of criticisms I have pinpointed elsewhere.
Gunn writes: “Paul’s point is that the Abrahamic promises were made to Abraham and to his seed (verse 16), that the seed of Abraham is Christ (verse 16) and all who are in Christ (verse 29), and that therefore the promise given to Abraham belongs to all who are in Christ (verse 29).”
There is no real issue here. As it stands, nothing in this statement or in Paul’s statements threatens to make the land promise to Israel evaporate into the ether of Reformed typology. If Gunn had written “all the promises given to Abraham belong to all who are in Christ” (which is what he really meant), he would have stepped over the line into territory out of bounds of Paul’s argument.
But Gunn continues: “In his argumentation, Paul specifically quotes from the Old Testament the phrase “and to thy seed,” the “thy” referring to Abraham (Galatians 3:16; see also Romans 4:13). The Greek phrase in Galatians 3:16 translated “and to thy seed” could have come from only two passages in the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into Greek: Genesis 13:15-17 and Genesis 17:8.10
These four words (actually one word in the Hebrew) could only have come from two OT passages quoted from the Septuagint (LXX)? That is quite an assertion. Where is the proof?
Gunn seems pretty certain that Paul is quoting the LXX in Galatians 3:16 and 29, but that is highly debatable. Where does he get this nugget from? Not from most of the commentaries I checked. William Hendriksen locates Paul’s quotation in Gen. 22:18 along with 17:7. Jeffrey Weima, in the Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old, (ed. G. K. Beale & D. A. Carson) fails to mention the LXX here and appears to have completely overlooked Gunn’s cast-iron thesis. Even worse, F. F. Bruce, while citing Gunn’s references alongside several others, explicitly declares that,
“The reference to the land, however, plays no part in the argument of Galatians..” – F. F. Bruce, Commentary on Galatians, NIGNTC, 172. Read more »
In these posts I have tried to demonstrate how the kind of hermeneutical processes involved in bringing an individual to espouse dispensational premillennial eschatology will cause him (or her) NOT to espouse 5-Point Calvinism, or its companion, regeneration prior to faith. I have done this by using a grid or filter for checking doctrines based on comparing theological propositions with the Bible. I believe that I have shown that TULIP cannot pass muster in this regard. I would add quite confidently (though let it not be construed as pride) that most of the major assertions of Reformed covenant theology are unable to make it “under the radar” of this grid.
I want to make it clear that I developed this way of looking at theological statements to see what I and others were actually doing when formulating doctrine. In the course of recording and editing seven courses on Systematic Theology (over 200 lectures) for the school, I became aware of the importance of measuring what I might term the “propositional distance” between any given statement of a doctrine and the biblical passages used to support it. I wanted a way of checking this “distance” and came up with my (now) five Categories. Let us call them “Rules of Affinity“:
C1 = doctrinal formulation via a straightforward quotation of Scripture (e.g. special creation; justification by faith)
C2 = a strong inference from the witness of several C1 passages (e.g. the Trinity)
C3 = a plausible inference based on the cumulative direction of C1 and C2 texts of Scripture (e.g. the pre-trib rapture)
C4 = a theological inference usually based on another inference instead of any plain statement of Scripture (e.g. the covenant of grace, based on ideas like “the one people of God” and “the church as the new Israel”)
After conversing with my monthly Bible study group I would now add to these a C5 category:
C5 = a theological inference based on other theological inferences which are often supported by other inferences without reference to plain statements of Scripture (e.g. Sunday being “the Christian Sabbath” and replacing the Jewish Sabbath).
I shall expound this Grid another time in much more detail, and for now C4 and C5 categories can be collapsed into one. Thus, as I wrote before:
Dispensationalists who found their views on literal interpretation ought not to traffic in C4 formulations since they are not linked to the plain sense of Scripture and have to take advantage of a theological hermeneutics at variance with the system.
I fully intend to run both my Statement of Faith and my Theology lectures through this grid in the coming months and years (perhaps I will blog about my progress as I go ). I want to tighten up the scriptural screws that hold my theology together. I believe it will make me a bit sharper in the process. But I am clear that C4 and C5 categories should be inadmissible to someone employing consistent grammatico-historical (plain-sense) interpretation.
Now turning to the 5 points, I saw that here was a set of important dogmas held by some dispensationalists whom I respect, but who, I was sure, were allowing themselves to infer these doctrines, not from straightforward exegesis of the Bible, but rather, it seemed to me, from either an already adopted theological standpoint or else from some intuitive sense that these so-called “doctrines of grace” must be biblical. In either case, these brethren have stepped outside of the parameters of grammatico-historical interpretation (G-H), and were trafficking in forms of theological hermeneutics.
I have spent over a quarter of a century studying books and listening to lectures and arguments for TULIP and Reformed theology and I now more than ever am left unsatisfied with the biblical credentials of TULIP. I wrote these posts to demonstrate my point. (Let me include here that I feel like swatting anyone who brands me an “Arminian” just so they can dispatch me to the theological undergrowth and forget about me). Not that I have to be heard, but if I am to be given a hearing I wish it to be with both ears.
So then, what about Dispensationalism and the doctrines of grace? How did they fare when measured by a “plain sense hermeneutic” – the hermeneutics of dispensational premillennialism? Not well at all. When the crucial propositions which support TULIP were compared with the scriptural passages from which they are supposed to be derived, it was seen that none of these propositions qualified above a C4 category! Since C4′s and C5′s are formulations which have no clear and unequivocal relation to any passage of Scripture my conclusion was and is that they lie outside of the zone within which dispensationalists ought to construct a coherent theology with their espoused hermeneutics.
I don’t want to simply repeat what I said in the previous five articles. Please go and read them for yourself if you’re interested. All I want to say here is that I can’t find one solid C1 to C3 scriptural statement that supports any of the necessary assumptions upon which TULIP depends. For example, in the third post I wrote:
The proposition “Christ died only for His elect” or, “Christ died only for those who will be saved,” is not supported by any C1, C2 or C3 passage (if anyone can show me otherwise I would appreciate it). Recall, a C1 passage is a straightforward text which agrees with a proposition by directly stating it in so many words. Nor, as we have just said, is this teaching upheld by any C2 passages (a combination of usually C1 texts on related matters which strongly (even inevitably) lead one to the conclusion summed up in the proposition). Nor is the doctrine supported by any C3 texts (indirect passages which, when taken together, produce good though defeasible evidence for the proposition).
Limited atonement is often thought of as the weak link of TULIP (In fact it is essential to the system, especially the next point). But the other points of TULIP, as they are defined by the standard works of Reformed theology, suffer similar problems. Read more »
Here is a selection of articles on certain aspects of Dispensational Theology
Israel and the Church:
We come to the final letter in TULIP: ‘P‘ = Perseverance of the Saints. Again our question is not technically whether this doctrine is correct or incorrect, but whether the standard Reformed understandings of the doctrine can be sustained on the basis of dispensational hermeneutics.
Much confusion arises because of the similarity of this teaching to what is known as “Eternal Security” which most dispensationalists hold tenaciously. It could also be construed as close to what is often known by the phrase “once saved, always saved.” I would like to address this well known phrase before going further.
As a phrase “once saved, always saved” would appear to state the simple belief that a saved person can never be unsaved; the saint cannot be relegated back into the ranks of sinners. The trouble with phrases like this is that they like to dress up as definitions. Another example might be “Christ’s death was sufficient for all, but efficient for the some.” And what does that mean? As it turns out it often means different things to different people. So it is with “once saved, always saved.” To many believers it is another way of saying that all a person has to do is assent to the propositions of the Gospel and they can be sent on their merry way. They’ll be seeing you in heaven no matter what kind of life they will live from now on in. Since the phrase has buoyed up the aspirations of many who think there is nothing wrong with what I just said and is intertwined with it, it is best to leave them to it and let them have “once saved, always saved” and see where it gets them.
Whether one upholds Eternal Security or Perseverance this idea of “salvation by assent” is definitely not what is meant. There are some “Free Grace” dispensationalists (I have met them) who actually do say that mere mental assent is the essence of saving faith. They often do this by confining their theology to John’s Gospel and noting that the apostle never once includes repentance as a necessary constituent of the mechanics of coming to Christ. Not all Free Grace men do this by any means, but there are too many who do! I do not think their version of salvation can be arrived at easily through the channels of consistent plain-sense hermeneutics either.
But we are about the P of TULIP. Here are two definitions (the emphasis is mine):
The saints are those whom God has accepted in Christ the Beloved, and effectually called and sanctified by His Spirit. To them He has given the precious faith that pertains to all His elect. The persons to whom such blessings have been imparted can neither totally nor finally fall from the state of grace, but they shall certainly persevere in grace to the end and be eternally saved, for God will never repent of having called them and made gifts to them… - A Faith to Confess: The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 (in modern English), Chapter 17.1(a).
The doctrine of the Perseverance of the Saints asserts that God will preserve in saving faith those whom he has chosen and called and justified. Perhaps, then, we should refer to the doctrine of the Preservation of God, not in the sense that He needs preserving, but in the sense that He is committed to preserving and protecting and sustaining His elect people in faith and vital union with Jesus Christ. – Sam Storms, Perseverance of the Saints: An Introduction to the Debate.
What is often lost sight of with this particular doctrine is its reliance, not just on Scriptural texts which assert the eternal security of the believer, but (and this is crucial) its vital connection to the other points of Calvinism. The two quotations above display this connection to a large degree by their linking final salvation to the “Dortian” formulation of election.
If we pull perseverance from election we are deducing one doctrine from another; we are not letting the Bible ground each doctrine we believe. And if one’s doctrine of election is defined in terms of unconditional election as per TULIP, then problems ensue for a dispensationalist. That doctrine, as we have seen, treats the elect as one people of God within the “covenant of grace,” thereby ignoring the Israel/Church dichotomy of dispensationalism. This dichotomy teaches that the nation of Israel can expect future covenanted promises to be fulfilled literally in the eschaton. It further teaches that the Church is a post-ascension phenomenon that does not include within itself all the saved from Adam to the Second Coming and the Millennium. Thus, a dispensationalist cannot base preservation on such a foundation.
A dispensationalist will point to such passages as John 10:27-30 and Romans 8:28-39 to demonstrate eternal security, but these texts do not teach everything involved in the doctrine of perseverance. For one thing, they do not speak to the perseverance of the saints, but rather of God. They do teach eternal security, but that isn’t enough for Reformed Calvinists. You will notice that both definitions above (and they are representative) explicitly tie security to effectual calling and unconditional election (these are assumed). So the question must be asked, “How does one know they are one of the elect?”
You see, that question is not asked within the doctrine of eternal security. That teaching certainly says that all true believers in Christ can never loose their salvation because it is secured by the power and grace of God. Asking, “How do I know I am a true believer?” is a different question from “How do I know I am one of the elect?” The answers to these questions are also very different. In answer to the first one might say that a true believer in Christ is a person who believes that Jesus as Son of God shed His blood for their sins, taking their just punishment upon Himself so that the sentence of God passed from off the sinner on to Christ, and the righteousness of God passed by grace to the sinner’s account. Thus, a person is eternally secure because they are esteemed as righteous as God Himself through Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). Moreover, since Christ satisfied the justice of God for all the sins of the believer his eternal salvation can never again be brought into question. The issue of election is incidental to the fact of trust and need not be brought up.
But the answer to the second question cannot go like that. Read more »
Limited Atonement, with its intentional combining of the accomplishment of the atonement with its application, thereby making the atonement itself effectual, paves the way for this next letter of TULIP. Irresistible (or effectual or efficacious) grace is also a necessary corollary to the particular (I don’t say “peculiar”) understanding of Total Depravity usually maintained in Reformed theology. It is closely related with “Effectual Calling” and is often included under that heading in Reformed Confessions and books. In fact, if it weren’t that one does not spell “tulip” TULEP I’m sure it would be known as Effectual Calling.
Here are some definitions:
All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, He is pleased, in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by His word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature to grace and salvation, by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and, by His almighty power, determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ: yet so, as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace. – Westminster Confession of Faith, Ch. 10.1
For those struggling with the archaic language here (shame on you) I call your attention to the order of salvation set out by the Westminster Divines. The minds of elect sinners are enlightened or opened to understand the Gospel. This is done by giving them a new nature (heart) so that they will then freely believe in Christ.
John Murray writes,
It is calling that is represented in Scripture as that act of God by which we are actually united to Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 1:9). And surely union with Christ is that which unites us to the inwardly operative grace of God. Regeneration is the beginning of inwardly operative saving grace. – Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 93.
Notice how the proposition depends on the premise that calling unites us to Christ (although the 1 Corinthians reference does not directly relate this calling to union with Christ). While this passage and Romans 8:30 do point to “nothing less than the call which is efficacious unto salvation” (89), they do not point to what Murray wishes they would. It is one thing to say the effectual call brings a person (mysteriously – cf. Jn. 3:8) to embrace the Gospel; it is quite another to identify it as the new birth itself.
Boettner, the 1689 Confession, and many other Reformed writings refer to regeneration as “spiritual resurrection,” but this sort of thing is not a good practice. The Bible knows nothing of spiritual resurrections. Of course, this language is encouraged by Reformed theologians use of the Raising of Lazarus as if it really illustrated the new birth. They do this by tying the deadness of Lazarus’s lifeless corpse to the spiritual deadness of the unregenerated sinner in Ephesians 2:1. But this is a case of gross equivocation. The corpse of Lazarus was just a shell without the person inside. The sinner is an embodied person who does respond actively in disobedience (Eph. 2:3) to God (cf. Rom. 1:18-22). Clearly, Paul uses nekrous (“dead”) in Ephesians 2 figuratively, not, as would be the case with John 11, literally. Hence, the one passage has no bearing at all on the other.
Again, any dispensationalist ought to spot this and call Reformed writers on it. For one thing, if we were to allow John 11 to stand as an illustration of Ephesians 2:1-3 how could Paul call sinners “sons of disobedience” who “walked according to the course of this world” fulfilling their worldly “desires“? Lazarus’s dead body was not disobedient (how absurd a thought!), neither did it walk, nor did it have any desires! Lazarus himself was not in it!
Whatever the “deadness” of Ephesians 2:1 is (it is separation from God under the reign of sin) it is not like a dead corpse! Howbeit R.C. Sproul lets his imagination run amuck when he makes his entire argument for irresistible grace turn on John 11. He allots himself 17 pages of Grace Unknown to explaining this doctrine, and his sole proof-text is the Raising of Lazarus! Dispensationalists shouldn’t touch such allegorical interpretation with a barge-pole.
What of the Supporting Passages?
Monergism has a group of passages which back irresistible grace. As we look at them I again want to say that my theme is only whether dispensationalists can derive the Reformed definitions (given above) from the texts given.
The first two are from Psalms (65:4; 110:3) and have not a thing to do with the effectual call as laid out above. In the former Van Gemeren says the verse could refer to either be priests or Israel. The context is national and is not addressing how a person comes to Christ. Psalm 110:3 bespeaks a battle scene not a Gospel invitation.
So having dealt with the two misused OT passages, what supports are to be found in the New? They are, John 6:37-40, 44-45, 63; Romans 8:30; Galatians 1:15-16; Ephesians 1:18-20; 2:1-5, 8-9; Philippians 1:29; Colossians 2:12. The John 6 references teach that which we certainly do not deny; that God Himself brings the sinner to Himself. They do not teach that He does this by regenerating them: that is deduced from other premises not in the verses themselves. For example, Cornelius is being drawn to Christ in Acts 10 (he was “dead in trespasses and sin” until 10:44, although it could be argued that Eph. 2:1 more properly refers to sinners left to themselves). The calling of Romans 8:30 is not identified by the Apostle as regeneration, neither need it be. The Galatians passage refers to a summons to salvation and ministry, but it does not construe the summons as regeneration (i.e. salvation itself). That God’s grace operates to draw or call the sinner is clear. If that were all that was involved in irresistible grace there would be no difficulty accepting it. But to go on and label it regenerating grace is to go beyond the evidence of the NT text and to impose ones own inferences upon Scripture. Read more »
This is the third article on the subject of whether a dispensationalist; one who advocates getting doctrines through exegesis using consistent plain-sense hermeneutics, can come to amicable terms with the 5 Points of Calvinism as they have been expounded in the Reformed Confessions and standard works on the subject. I know that some well read and solid men who are dispensational premillennialists in their eschatology do say their belief in TULIP comes about via the same interpretive base as their eschatology. These articles, while being open to correction, question that assumption.
I will add something else in here; and that is, I believe one reason for resistance to the full-scale development of a Dispensational Systematic Theology on its own terms is the belief that dispensationalism only impinges on ecclesiology and eschatology. I have alluded to this problem of self-definition elsewhere.
Confessions and Proof-Texts
If we truly understand “limited atonement” we also understand the next point of TULIP, “Irresistible Grace.” Limited redemptionists argue that the NT strongly encourages us to conclude that Christ’s atonement really atoned for those, and only those, for whom it was made. Thus, it was an efficacious atonement. This is crucial to get because it dictates their approach. The atonement effected salvation for the elect, it did not merely make them savable. What this seems to logically entail is that there can be no separation of the accomplishment of atonement from its application. If one makes a separation between them clearly the accomplishment does not actually effect redemption, its application does.
This plunges 5 point Calvinists into a spot of bother since we must avoid teaching that believers were justified before they believed. I am not sure how that can be done without teaching that the application of the atonement, and not the atonement itself, is efficacious. But this takes us away from our present concern.
Here is the 1689 Baptist Confession to start us off:
Christ certainly and effectually applies and communicates eternal redemption to all those for whom He has obtained it. His work of intercession is on their behalf. - Chapter 8.8a.
This does not state that Christ’s death actually purchased the elect at the Cross (its accomplishment), but we shall see that this is the underlying assumption. We could give other reasons why Chapter 8 of this Confession violates dispensational tenets.
The Confession gives some “proof-texts” for its statement. Of the eleven passages given in support of this doctrine (Psa.110:1; Jn. 3:8; 6:37; 10:15, 16; 17:6, 9; Rom. 5:10; 8:9, 14; 1 Cor. 15:25-26; Eph. 1:8-9; 1 Jn. 5:20), the first three have nothing to do with the atonement, nevermind its extent. The John 10 passages do not specify Christ’s death as being only for His sheep. The John 17 texts work okay for election but do not speak of the atonement. Romans 5:10 speaks to those who have been reconciled by faith and does not address the proposition one way or another. Ditto the other Romans passages and those that remain from 1 Corinthians, Ephesians and 1 John! Not an impressive showing!
Here is Dordt:
SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 8. For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which, together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them, free from every spot and blemish, to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever.
This is a lot to prove! Where does the Bible say that faith was purchased for the elect by Christ’s death? We may think it is so, but to which passage/s are we to be pointed? Answer: “It’s an inference.” Okay, which text of Scripture says Christ’s crosswork itself had “quickening and saving efficacy”? Everyone acknowledges it is upon the merits of Christ’s death that believers are quickened (regenerated) by the Holy Spirit and saved, but this transaction did not occur at Calvary (unless one wishes to teach that the majority of Christians were born-again and placed in Christ before they were born-first!). So where are we told that the Cross itself had this efficacy (and not the later application of its merit by the Holy Spirit)? Answer: “It’s an inference.”
Okay, so where in Scripture is it stated that Christ’s atoning death was on behalf of “all those, and those only, who were eternally chosen to salvation”? It is a bold and precise proposition. Where, apart from general statements that Arminians can believe in (Christ died for “us”, “the Church, “the sheep,” “for me”, etc.), is it taught that only the elect were atoned for when Jesus hung on the tree? Answer: “It’s an inference.” Is anyone seeing a pattern here? What biblical ground is there here for a dispensationalist to stand on and use his consistent plain-sense hermeneutics?
Whatever our Reformed brethren want to do with their interpretations is, from the standpoint of these articles, their own business. Their theology is far more deductive and their hermeneutics more theologically driven. But the deductions of a Reformed theologian are not all open to a Dispensational theologian: definite atonement being an example of this.
Some Other Proof-Texts
When one studies the set of passages on this teaching provided at Monergism one notices something significant. Their citation of Isa. 53:8-11 conveniently ignores verse 6. We are to presume that “my people” (v.8) is a reference to the elect who will be saved. Apart from this contradicting the OT meaning of the election of Israel as a nation of God-fearing and God-hating people, it should be apparent to any dispensationalist that this move is accomplished by reading the NT doctrine back into the OT: an option clearly at variance with the very soul of dispensationalism. But further, any familiarity with the early chapters of Isaiah (or Jeremiah) will speedily put the kibosh on this notion that “my people” = “my elect for salvation.” Plus, Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge..” This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the elect!
The two other quotations from the OT (Isa. 63:9 & Dan. 9:24!) will be seen through by any dispensationalist worth his or her mettle. They are ripped out of context to fit a contrived NT formulation.
What about the NT passages then? We know what’s coming: verses which speak of Christ giving His life as a ransom for “many” (Matt. 20:28; 26:28. Interpreted as “all” by Paul in 1 Tim. 2:6); Christ giving His life for “the sheep” (Jn. 10:11,15,26), or for “us” (Rom. 5:11; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13; Eph. 1:7; Tit. 2:14; 1 Jn. 3:16 etc.). Not to be left out (although inexplicably absent from the Monergism list) is the verse which says Christ gave Himself for “the Church” (Eph. 5:25). No one disagrees with these verses as they stand. It is only once particular redemption is read in to them that eyes start winking.
Some texts in the list actually do not make any statement regarding the atonement (viz. in Rom. 5:15 the “gift” is salvation not the atonement; Heb. 2:16 is about the incarnation). An interesting reference is the quotation of John 11:51-52:
And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation; And not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.
Caiaphas’s involuntary prophecy includes two elements: first that Jesus should die for the Jewish nation (no restrictive clause limiting it to the elect), and second, that He would also gather together in one the elect scattered abroad. One may want to say that the second clause qualifies who is meant by “nation” in the first, and that is legitimate. But what has been garnered? Has the proposition “Jesus only died for the elect” been substantiated? “I trow not!” In fact, not one of these texts makes any such claim! No Arminian, for example, would have a problem with saying Christ died for “us” or for “believers” or for “the Church.” To force these texts into a doctrine of particular redemption is to overplay ones hand.
What then? Are there other texts which help? A good place to turn to would be Steele and Thomas’s The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented.
It might be argued that the proposition, “Christ died only for those who will be saved” could be supported as a C3 Formulation by texts combining to make it the best supported theological option (as I would argue is the case with the pre-trib rapture). This is kind of what Steele & Thomas try to do in their book.
Unfortunately there are rather large logical gaps between the individual statements they make, the Scriptures they recruit to prop them up, and the final doctrine (limited atonement) they wish to prove. Let me give an example of what I mean:
They make the claim that, “Christ secured the gift of the Spirit which includes regeneration and sanctification and all that is involved in them.” (42).
The “regeneration” they are referring to is, of course, the sort which precedes faith (of which more ahead). We are to gather from this that the ensuing verses will leave us in no doubt about these important matters. So what do we get? Eph. 1:3-4 (we have every spiritual blessing in Christ); Phil. 1:29 (the best text [C3?] for proving faith is a gift. But it says nothing about regeneration or sanctification); Acts 5:31 (repentance is a gift); Tit. 2:14 (our redemption was unto good works); Tit. 3:5,6 (we were saved through regeneration); Eph. 5:25-26 (Christ’s death resulted in the sanctification of the Church); 1 Cor. 1:30 (Our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption come from Christ. No mention of the new birth); Heb. 9:14 (Christ’s blood can cleanse the sinner’s conscience leading to acceptable service); Heb. 13:12 (Christ’s suffering and rejection was for the sanctification of “the people”); 1 Jn. 1:7 (Christ’s blood can keep the believer in the light of fellowship with God).
I know there is more to these verses than my mere summaries tell, but where in any of them are we told that “Christ secured the gift of the Spirit which includes regeneration…[prior to faith]“? The verses (or some of them) do prove (directly – C1) that Christ secured our sanctification. But this scarcely amounts to a brick in the wall of limited atonement.
One has to wander through several pages of this type, with numerous passages vainly used to support minor tertiary propositions, which in turn set up secondary propositions, which are intended to lead us inexorably to the conclusion of the principal doctrine: particular redemption. But it is not until we reach secondary proposition “C” that we start ‘getting down to brass tacks.’ Then the authors move into apologetic mode, admitting that “Some passages speak of Christ’s dying for “all” men and of His death as saving the “world.” (46). But they qualify this by saying, “These expressions are intended to show that Christ died for all men without distinction…they are not intended to indicate that Christ died for all men without exception…” (emphasis theirs).
This dogmatic declaration of Authorial intent is open to serious question when one analyzes texts like John 3:16-17, 36; 1 Tim. 4:10; Heb. 2:9; and 2 Pet. 2:1 in their contexts. There is certainly no cause for 5 pointers to get all doctrinaire here! And for a dispensationalist there is considerable reason to throttle back on such assertions. Read more »
Introduction: My goal here is the same as in the post on Total Depravity. I want to ask whether a Dispensational Theology built on its own principles can endorse the 5 points of Calvinism, especially as they are defined by Reformed theologians themselves in their classic works. I am not concerned with a full scale exposition of the doctrine of election. I am only asking whether certain expositions sit within the hermeneutical modus operandi of dispensationalism.
Of all the five points of Calvinism, possibly this one has the least baggage attached to it. That is, as long as we include the proviso that the doctrine of election should never be “ascertained” by snooping around in the secret decrees of God prior to laying out the Bible’s teaching on salvation! Calvin got that, Beza didn’t.
1. Election, Yes; Double Predestination, No
Most dispensationalists would feel comfortable with the following declaration:
Before the world was made, God’s eternal, immutable purpose, which originated in the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, moved Him to choose (or to elect), in Christ, certain of mankind to everlasting glory. Out of His mere free grace and love He predestinated these chosen ones to life, although there was nothing in them to cause Him to choose them. Rom. 8:30; 9:13, 16; Eph. 1:4, 9,11; 1 Thess. 5:9; 2 Tim. 1:9. – A Faith to Confess: The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, “God’s Decree,” Chapter 3. 5, (21).
They would not, however, feel quite as comfortable with this statement:
The Reformed Faith has held to the existence of an eternal, divine decree which, antecedently to any difference or desert in men themselves, separates the human race into two portions and ordains one to everlasting life and the other to everlasting death. – Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, P & R, 1976, 83
This is the teaching known as “double predestination” and is taught by most five point Calvinists and many of the confessions they endorse (Boettner himself appeals to the Westminster Confession). There is no passage in Scripture that I am aware of that teaches that God “ordains…[the non-elect] to everlasting death” in eternity past. I read that God created hell for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41), not, it would seem, with man originally in view. This ought to have put paid to speculations about the order of the decrees, at least until the data of soteriology was considered.
I do not see how anyone using the hermeneutics of dispensationalism can agree with double predestination. For instance, this would mean that verses such as 2 Peter 3:9; Matthew 23:37 and Ezekiel 33:11 would have to be interpreted with a hermeneutics other than a plain-sense one (since these verses certainly make sense when taken at face value, but cannot be taken as such by someone bent on teaching a decree of reprobation). This other hermeneutics would need to be qualified by theological presuppositions, which would put it at variance with the hermeneutics of DT (in fact, all the new interpretations of these verses would have to be classified as C4‘s). And beating a retreat to Romans 9 does no good unless one is intent on forgetting Paul’s argument about the sinner in Romans 1.
Any dogma which forces its devotees to disengage themselves from plain verses must be held up to suspicion – by a dispensationalist. In just the same way as DT’s object to the false construal of the Church as “New Israel”, so they ought to object to the doctrine of double predestination taught by men like Boettner, Pink, Sproul and other 5 pointers.
2. Dordt and the Election of the People of God
Likewise no DT could endorse this statement from the Canons of Dort:
FIRST HEAD: ARTICLE 8. There are not various decrees of election, but one and the same decree respecting all those who shall be saved, both under the Old and New Testament; since the Scripture declares the good pleasure, purpose, and counsel of the divine will to be one, according to which He has chosen us from eternity, both to grace and to glory, to salvation and to the way of salvation, which He has ordained that we should walk therein (Eph 1:4, 5; 2:10).
This article, taken with Article 9 makes it clear that Dort believed that there is just one people of God. Acceptance of these Articles is thus implicit rejection of the Israel/Church dichotomy which is so central to DT! What is more, where does Scripture talk about “the covenant of grace”? (I realize Chafer and Walvoord signed the Westminster Confession, but they really had no place for the covenant of grace and basically muted it so much it could no longer service any theology).
True plain sense hermeneutics does not yield the covenant of grace. In fact, it yields several vital biblical covenants which must be heard in full if one is concerned with literal interpretation. Just as plain-sense interpretation ought to have made Chafer a baptist (despite his referrals to Dale’s work on infant baptism, one cannot discover it through plain sense hermeneutics), so the same approach would reveal quickly that belief in “the covenant of grace” does not gel with DT. This means the 1689 Second London (Baptist) Confession is out for a dispensationalist (see e.g., Chs.7, 14, 15, 17. Ch. 7 also refers to “the covenant of redemption”, while Ch. 20 speaks of “the covenant of works”). Read more »
In this series of posts I will try to answer the question as to whether Dispensational Theology (DT) can be assimilated with TULIP. It is important to note that the definitions of the 5 points I have in mind are those associated with the classic Confessions of Reformed theology and reproduced in the standard works. I have decided I shall limit my Reformed sources to the Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, the Westminster Confession, the Canons of Dordt, and one or two authoritative voices like John Murray, R. C. Sproul, the book by Steele and Thomas, etc. I shall avail myself of the help of “Scriptures On The Doctrines of Grace” from Monergism.
I shall be looking at the passages used through the Grid of Category Formulations as follows:
C1 = doctrinal formulation via a straightforward quotation of Scripture (e.g. special creation)
C2 = a strong inference from the witness of several C1 passages (e.g. the Trinity)
C3 = a possible inference based on the text of scripture (e.g. the pre-trib rapture)
C4 = an theological inference usually based on another inference (e.g. infant baptism)
Dispensationalists who found their views on literal interpretation ought not to traffic in C4 formulations since they are not linked to the plain sense of Scripture and have to take advantage of a theological hermeneutics at variance with the system.
For this reason I think DT and TULIP are odd bedfellows (I also agree with 5 point Calvinists that 4 pointers who assent to four of the five formulations of TULIP are inconsistent).
What I am concerned with in these posts is the question of whether or not the kind of interpretative approach which persuades a person to be a dispensationalist works just as well in persuading them of the Five Points of Calvinism. I might put it another way: will ones reasons for holding to dispensationalism suffice to bring them to embrace TULIP?
1. A Reformed Definition of Total Depravity [with clear references supplied]:
Because of the fall, man is unable of himself to savingly believe the gospel. The sinner is dead [Gen. 2:17; Eph. 2:1], blind [2 Cor. 4:4], and deaf [to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt [Jer. 17:9]. His will is not free, it is in bondage to his evil nature [Rom. 1:18-22, 3:10-18; Jn. 3:19-21] therefore, he will not–indeed he cannot–choose good over evil in the spiritual realm [Gen. 8:21; Jer. 13:23]. Consequently, it takes much more than the Spirit’s assistance to bring a sinner to Christ–it takes regeneration by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation but is itself a part of God’s gift of salvation–it is God’s gift to the sinner [Phil. 1:29?], not the sinner’s gift to God.
(Genesis 2:15-17, Romans 5:12, Psalm 51:5, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Romans 3:10-18, Jeremiah 17:9, John 6:44, Ephesians 2:1-10) – David N. Steele & Curtis C. Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented (1963), 16.
I have underlined the parts in these statements that I think are difficult to establish from a plain reading of Scripture without the imposition of a theologized hermeneutics (i.e. a C4 formulation). Before I engage these statements (and the verses used to support them) I shall outline my understanding of Total Depravity.
2. Total Depravity: A Summary of My Position:
A good place to start is Genesis 8:21, where even after the Flood and with only eight people alive, God assesses the state of the human heart.
And when the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. – Genesis 8:21
God sustains this post-flood world while knowing that in doing so He must put up with sin in every person’s heart (“heart” (leb/cardia) in Scripture includes our drives and reasonings as well as our emotions). Notice it is man’s “intention” or inclination to perpetrate evil, even while young. This “evil” is that which is contrary to God and His righteous purpose for man. Man is not inclined to good because he is not inclined to God.
We “drink up iniquity like we drink water” (Job 15:16). Therefore, Joshua’s indictment of Israel holds true for us all; we cannot serve God (Josh. 24:19). But that suits the sinner, since, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way” (Isa. 53:6). Thus, we are all the subjects of the prophet’s remark: “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.” (Isa.59:2). These “iniquities” remember, come from a heart that is always manufacturing them. That is the default setting of the natural heart.
The OT never veers from this course. The God who sees into every man’s heart is unambiguous in His opinion of it (e.g. Psa. 44:21; 90:8; Jer. 2:22). The texts are unanimous and very clear. Just as no leopard can ever change its spots, so human beings can never do what God can count “good” seeing we are accustomed to do evil (Jer. 13:23).
The NT supplies us with more information. Jesus calls the human heart “evil” – even the hearts of His disciples (Matt. 7:11). In another post I wrote this (btw, I really need to finish that series!):
The Truth about fallen man is this: he is a hater of God (Rom. 1:30), counting God as his enemy (Rom. 5:10), failing to give Him glory or thanks (Rom.1:21). The sin within fallen man is pervasive, coloring everything he does. Therefore, he does not like to retain God in his thoughts (Rom. 1:28), preferring to exchange the truth of God for a lie (Rom. 1:26). Man is at enmity with his Maker (Rom. 8:7). Although made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27), and originally made upright, man has actively sought out many wicked calculations (Eccles. 7:29). He tells himself lies – sometimes very elaborate ones – which he uses to deny the rights of God, and even the very existence of God (Rom. 1:22-23, 25). Yet, according to the Bible, man has this nagging awareness that he will be judged (Rom. 1:32), which makes his rebellious response all the more an insult. He is evil (Matt. 7:11), having his understanding darkened and his heart blinded (Eph. 4:18). In short, he is reigned over by sin (Rom. 5:21a). On top of all this, mankind is so morally perverse as to believe that, if he needs redemption, he can have a hand in it himself!
Hence, I would agree with every passage cited under Total Depravity in the list I have linked to provided by Monergism. All of them could be classified as C1 or C2 texts and could be inserted into a doctrinal formulation without much or any explanation. That is, every passage with the exception of Jn. 3:3, 14:16 and 2 Cor. 1:9. Let me explain my reservations on the use of these. Read more »