Dispensationalism

Link: “3 Premillennialists Duke It Out”

As previously noted, I was asked to represent Traditional Dispensationalism for a set of interviews conducted by Lindsay Kennedy.  Two far more noteworthy contributors; Darrell Bock (Progressive Dispensationalism), and James Hamilton (Historic Premillennialism), were also interviewed.

After the interviews were completed, each man was given the opportunity to ask one of the others a question.  Darrell Bock asked me about Acts 2 and the Throne of David.  I drew Jim Hamilton and promptly snuck-in two questions.  The second was deliberately “open” to see what Hamilton would do with it.  I intend to say a bit more on his answers, both to myself and to Bock, in another post.

Anyway, Brother Kennedy has posted the Q & A under the enticing title “3 Premillennialists Duke It Out.”  Click on the link, have a gander and see what you make of it.  I should say that I was the most verbose.  The only excuse I can come up with is that Dr Bock asked me a question particularly germane to the Trad. Disp/PD debate which I felt required the sort of response I gave.

Enjoy.

An Interview With Yours Truly About Dispensationalism

Recently I was interviewed by an Australian brother ministering in England, where I’m from.   Lindsay Kennedy, who teaches at the Calvary Chapel College in York, asked me some questions as part of a series he is running on differing perspectives within Premillennialism.  I tried to represent Traditional Dispensationalism; Darrell Bock was interviewed about Progressive Dispensationalism, and James Hamilton was asked to write on Historic Premillennialism.  As you will see, my answers were longer than those given by the other two men.

Here are the links:

Dispensationalism (Part One)

Dispensationalism (Part Two)

 

Progressive Dispensationalism (Darrell Bock)

Historic Premillennialism (James Hamilton)

One thing these interviews show is how different these positions are.  Especially Hamilton makes it plain that he interprets much of Scripture typologically.

I trust you will be benefited by each interview.  Lindsay also asked each one of us to answer a question from one of the other interviewees.  I addressed one from Darrell Bock centering on Acts 2 and the reign of Christ.  That piece will be linked to once it appears on Lindsay’s blog.

When Literal Interpretation Leads to Wholesale Spiritualization

This is a response to comments left for me in the combox at this post about Sam Storms’s views on eschatology.  I appreciate the brother bringing them to my attention.  I am responding mainly to this:

Thanks for the post. I am not sure the last section really represents Sam’s view. He would say that Paul and Peter leave no room for a milennium since Paul has the last enemy death defeated at the parousia in 1Cor 15:24ff, 50 therefore death will not exist after Jesus returns and Peter has Jesus returning and then begins the renovation of heaven and earth by fire without a milennium. Since the thrones in Revelation are always in heaven and when they are setup for those who reign on them it could be that their reign is in heaven. He does admit difficulty with anastasis so he defaults to the fact that Paul and Peter are clearer than Revelation therefore he is inclined to be amillennial. This is Storms’ view summarized.

Comment by Rick Tatina | July 7, 2013 | 

Just in case, the passage concerning Peter was from 2 Peter 3:9-12.

Here’s a brief response.

Let me address these texts 1 Cor. 15:20-28 first:

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.”
Okay, let’s examine this, beginning in v.23:

This passage is dealing with physical resurrection (anastasis).  Christ is raised first, in expectation of more to come.  V.24 then speaks of “the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to the Father.”  Is that it?  No.  V.25 says “He must reign until He has put all enemies under his feet.”  So the question is, “Is Christ reigning now?”  “Yes” says Storms.  Does the Bible say He is?  No!  Not unless He reigns over the “principalities and powers” of Eph. 6:10ff.  Not unless He is reigning over the countless tragedies and acts of wickedness which continue day in day out since He rose again.  If so, He would be the worse ruler imaginable.  The buck would stop at Him.

In Matt. 19:28 Jesus looks forward to sitting “on the throne of his glory” at “the regeneration” (palingenesia).  This coincides with the “times of refreshing” and “times of restoration” of Acts 3:19 & 21, which Acts 3:20 tells us occur when Jesus returns.  In Lk. 19:12-15 Jesus makes it clear that He (the nobleman) would go away and only reign once He returned.  In Rev. 3:21 we’re told that Jesus sat down on His Father’s throne.  1 Cor. 15:20ff. could support amillennialism, but only if we are prepared to spiritualize a whole bunch of other verses.

Here I should like to quote from my “Parameters of Meaning” series (which I have neglected):

“Parameters of Meaning – Rule 9: If a literal interpretation leads you into wholesale allegorizing, or causes head-on conflicts with other clear texts, which then have to be creatively reinterpreted, it is an illegitimate use of “literal”. There will always be another literal meaning available which preserves the plain-sense of the rest of the passage in its context.”

Well, is Christ subduing all things now?  Look around.  Of course not.  Does the Bible say He is?  No.  Romans 8:19-23 places this at the time of our resurrection (“the redemption of our body”).  When will that happen?  1 John 3:2 & Phil 3:20-21 answer, at the Second Coming.  So at Christ’s second advent this world will be “regenerated” or “delivered” or “refreshed” or “subdued” and not before.  Christ shall reign (Lk. 1:31-33; cf. Rev. 20:4 & 6) just as the Prophets said He would.  He will rule with a rod of iron after the second coming as Rev. 19:15 makes quite clear (see also Rev. 2:27; 12:3 which make it future).  Psalm 2:6-9 refer to this subduing when Christ reigns.  See also this: http://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/christ-at-the-center-pt-6a/
I really don’t know what Storms is thinking with 1 Cor. 15:50.  But it seems He is just equating the kingdom of God with heaven.  And, as I said above, this thinking of New Heavens and Earth after the coming of Christ is a big problem for amillennialism, because it discards THIS earth as useless after the Second Advent.  No dominion for the second Adam on this earth in successful completion of Adam’s failed dominion!  It is easy to fit the literal Millennium in 1 Cor. 15 without having to revise our reading of all the plain verses which speak of an actual reign of Christ on this earth after the second advent. (more…)

A Prophetic Bromide (2)

Part One

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.

Correct.

c) Then Herod must remodel Zerubbabel’s temple.

He did.

d) Then the Second Temple must be razed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Yes.

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.

(more…)

A Prophetic Bromide (1)

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.

Another example:

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 [Correction: I don't know why I said Balaam's prophecy. Clearly it isn't] 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). (more…)

Feeling Prophetic: Sam Storms’ “Immovable Support for Amillennialism”

Sam Storms has a new 560 page book coming out, Kingdom Come, “a biblical rationale for amillennialism,”  I shall read the book when it comes out and intend to review its arguments here.  For the present, I am helped by the fact that Storms has written a short post on the subject of Why I Changed My Mind About The Millennium at the Gospel Coalition website.  (TGC seems bent on representing “evangelicalism” whether many of us agree with them or not).

The essay is about converting over from dispensational premillennialism to covenant amillennialism.  Hence, it describes how he used to believe the term “a thousand years” in Revelation 20:1-7 (Millennium) meant “a thousand years,” but now it doesn’t mean “a thousand years.”  Well it does, but it doesn’t.  I mean, if you mean a thousand 365 day, 12 month years, then it doesn’t.  But if you mean “an indefinite period of time lasting at least nearly two thousand years” then it does (!).  Got it?  Anyway, one statement in Storms’ article caught my attention.  He avers,

I came to see Revelation 20 as a strong and immovable support for the amillennial perspective.  

That is quite a statement.  “Immovable”?  You mean six repetitions of the term “a thousand years” in which Satan is bound and imprisoned cannot mean, well, a thousand years in which Satan is bound and imprisoned (Rev. 20:2-3)?  Why?  What makes the rejection of those words and the acceptance of their opposites “immovable”?  G. E. Ladd, who so influenced Storms, didn’t think it was immovable.  Does Storms mean “immovable” like “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God” is “immovable”?  He can’t, because he is asking us to believe Revelation 20 doesn’t mean what it says while presumably he believes 2 Tim. 3:16 does mean what it says.  Confused?  I’m sure Storms’ book will clarify.

I can’t wait to see how he handles Satan’s binding and imprisonment “for a thousand years” since Satan is called the “god of this age” who blinds unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:4), while at the same time being free to set upon believers (1 Pet. 5:8-9), which includes deceiving them (2 Cor. 11:13-15), or being behind those who try (1 Jn. 2:26).  I’m sure these “problems,” and the matter of making the text say exactly the opposite of what it appears to say will be dealt with in unequivocal language.  Okay, I’m not.  Don’t hold your breath.

Here’s a mock conversation between a dispensationalist and an amillennialist over Revelation 20.  The conversation never runs this way because the amil will always and persistently bring “reason” in to break up the continuity of the discussion.  Just like Storms does with his “problems” for dispensationalists, the “what about…?” questions will intrude, just as they do when one is dealing with JW’s at the door.  Still, this is the way the conversation ought to go:

Disp. “So Satan is bound right now right?”

Amil. “Yes”

Disp. “and he’s in the Abyss which is sealed by an angel right?”

Amil. “Figuratively yes”

Disp. “Figuratively? You mean Satan isn’t really sealed in the bottomless pit now?”

Amil. “No, it’s symbolic.”

Disp. “So is Satan really bound now or is that symbolic too?”

Amil. “Yes and no.  Satan cannot deceive the nations any more.” (Rev. 20:3).

Disp. “What does that sentence mean?  Is it symbolic of something else?”

Amil. “No, just that Satan can’t deceive the saints.”

Disp. “Umm, so when it says Satan can’t deceive the nations, you say that really means he can’t deceive the saints?”

Amil. “Well yes.”

Disp. “But the NT is very clear about the living and active threat of the Devil towards Christians: that’s why we have to put on the Armor of God.  How can Satan be bound now?”

Amil. “It’s a long chain”

Disp. “Isn’t he bound and “imprisoned”?

Amil. “I said, that’s figurative.”

Disp. “So if my dog bites someone two miles away do you think the police will be placated if I assure them it was on a very long chain?  Isn’t that totally laughable?”

Amil. “You’re too literal”

Disp. “Alright. When Rev. 20:4-5 says that John  “saw the souls of those who had been beheaded” come to life as part of “the first resurrection,” does it mean he saw the souls of those who had been beheaded come to life as part of the first resurrection?”

Amil. “Yes.  But what it means by this is that he saw the unsaved elect being regenerated.”

Disp. “But these are people who were dead and who were resurrected.”

Amil. “Yes, they were spiritually dead and they were regenerated.”

Disp. “But they were decapitated! And then they were resurrected, not regenerated.  You can’t regenerate a decapitated person unless you first, you know, resurrect him.”

Amil. But this is symbolic language describing being born-again”

Disp. “Eh, right.  It seems you think God doesn’t communicate very clearly”

Amil. “No, but you’ve got to understand apocalyptic language.”

Disp. “Really? But John calls his book a “prophecy” (Rev. 1:3 and four times more).  furthermore  people are blessed if they “keep” its words.  How can they “keep” what isn’t plainly revealed?  And where do you get the notion of ‘apocalyptic’ from?”

Amil. “From the Bible.  It’s found in Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, etc.”

Disp. “But those are prophecies.  The Bible doesn’t call them apocalypses.  That’s what liberal scholars started calling them.  The only “apocalypse” is what we call “Revelation,” unless you are going outside the Bible to interpret the Bible.  The word means an “unveiling” which reveals something, but it seems you are making it mean just the reverse: an obscure picture waiting for its message to be revealed.  It’s words, it seems, don’t actually reveal the true meaning.  Rather, they hide it.  Are you saying the real meaning of large portions of the Prophets are also hidden?”

Amil. “The OT prophecies are types and shadows of NT realities.”

Disp. “Isn’t Rev. 20 a NT reality?”

Amil. “Well yes, but it’s apocalyptic”

Disp. “Well, it’s called the Apocalypse, which means…but I’m repeating myself.  Just how much of the Bible is taken up with types, shadows, apocalypses, and whatnot?”

Amil. “A lot of it.  About two thirds of Scripture.”

Disp. “So from simply discussing what Rev. 20 SAYS we have arrived at the view that most of Scripture means something other than what it appears to say?  What about the clarity, and hence the sufficiency of Scripture?”

Moved yet?  And on the charade goes… (more…)

Recommended Reading in Dispensationalism

Dan Phillips has asked me to come up with a guide to the reading of Dispensational Theology.  I hope this is what he expected.  Anyway, this is what I have come up with.  No “Progressive Dispensationalist” work is included because I do not consider that approach to be Dispensationalism proper (which does not mean dispensationalists can’t learn from them!).  Neither have I included ultra-dispensational works, nor indeed, those post-trib./pre-wrath books which deny imminence.  An asterisk indicates my recommendation of where money ought to go first.

No doubt I have let some vital resource run through the sieve that is my memory.  If readers want to prompt me to remembrance I shall add to the following list: 

Introductions

*DispensationalismCharles C. Ryrie – Updated version of the author’s Dispensationalism Today, which should still be purchased.  This is a must read, even if it is soft on the covenants. Irenic in style.

*Dispensationalism: Essential Beliefs and Common Myths – Michael Vlach – Short and punchy.  I don’t like his restriction of Dispensationalism to ecclesiology and eschatology.

Understanding End Times Prophecy (2nd ed.) – Paul Benware -A very good introduction to the subject.

The End – Mark Hitchcock – A large but still fairly introductory level text.  I haven’t read it yet, only skimmed its contents.

The Footsteps of the Messiah (2nd ed.)Arnold G. FruchtenbaumSomewhat unique in its presentation of eschatology.  Contains some “Pemberisms” (abodes of Satan, pre-Adamic crystalline earth, etc).

Major Bible Prophecies – John F. WalvoordA handy resource.

Biblical Theology:

*The Dawn of World Redemption – Erich Sauer – Perhaps the best study of God’s overall plan in the OT.  Some glitches, but the main argument is very sound.  Contains many ideas which deserve to be developed.  Includes many seed-thoughts and insights

*The Triumph of the CrucifiedErich Sauer – Coupled with the work above this is a must-have book.

From Eternity to EternityErich Sauer – Provides both an overview of God’s plan and responses to objections.  Recommended.

*The Greatness of the KingdomAlva J. McClain – An outstanding, mature study of the subject. One of the “must have” books.

*The Theocratic Kingdom (3 Vols) – George N. H. Peters – An extraordinary book.  Notable for several reasons, not least because it is theocentric and so avoids treating eschatology in isolation.  Not perfect (e.g. holds to a partial rapture), but the work on the subject.  The person who masters Peters will be a formidable Bible teacher.

*Everlasting Dominion – Eugene Merrill – An excellent Old Testament Theology, though again, soft on covenants in Genesis 2-3. Merrill gives due stress to the covenants.

A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament – Zuck/Merrill/Bock (eds.) – An often helpful treatment of the subject.

The Millennial KingdomJohn F. Walvoord – A solid contribution and critique of opposing positions.  Adopts the “two new covenants view.”  Has interesting, if not totally persuasive comments about the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven.  Walvoord’s best work.

*Israelology – Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum – Massive and cumbersome, but thorough presentation and defense of the biblical data concerning Israel. An important study of millennial systems and Israel’s place in Theology.  Ponderous and repetitive in style.

Important Studies:

The Great Prophecies Concerning the Jews, the Gentiles and the Church – G. H. Pember – The author was known for his ”Pemberisms” (Gap theory; Pre-Adamic fall; Partial rapture) but there is little evidence of them here.  A good study, elegantly written.

Israel in Prophecy – John F. Walvoord – Brief and full of insight.

*Things to Come – J. Dwight Pentecost – One of the finest texts on eschatology ever published.  The style is “scholastic” and it needs updating.

*Thy Kingdom ComeJ. Dwight Pentecost – Thorough study of the biblical data.  Good use of dispensations and covenants.

*Revelation 20 and the Millennial DebateMatthew Wehmeyer – The best study of this vital passage.  Undermines the whole foundation of amillennialism.

How Firm A Foundation – Hal Harless – A fine study of covenants and the Bible, even if he does teach covenants in Genesis 2-3.

*Dispensational Understanding of the New Covenant – (ed.) Michael Stallard – Chapters from a symposium on the subject seeking to answer the question of the Church’s involvement (or non-involvement) in the New Covenant.  Our position that Christ is the New Covenant and all who are saved must be saved by it is not represented.

*Continuity and Discontinuity - (ed.) John Feinberg – Top of the line articles by dispensationalists and covenant theologians (and one or two ‘inbetweenies’) about the relationship between the Testaments.

Specific Issues:

The Interpretation of Prophecy - Paul Lee Tan – A very useful guide.

*The Messianic Hope- Michael Rydelnik – A slim but impressive study of the Messiah in the OT.

Jerusalem in Prophecy – J. Randall Price – Price is one of the best contemporary writers on Israel in prophecy.

*The Temple and Bible Prophecy – J. Randall Price – An expanded edition of The Coming Last Days Temple.  This is a definitive work.

Premillennialism and Amillennialism – C. L. Feinberg – Very competent analysis of these two systems.

*Future Israel – Barry Horner – A recent study which shows, among other things, the latent Anti-Israelism of evangelicals who believe the Church is the “New Israel.”  The editing could have been better.

*Jews, Gentiles and the Church – David L. Larsen – An important study of historical and biblical matters pertaining to the subject.

The Rapture QuestionJohn F. Walvoord – A well written apology for the pretrib position

Maranatha!? Our Lord ComeRenald Showers – A newer treatment which interacts with contemporary views.

The Greatness of the Rapture- David Olander – A thought-provoking work

*Kept From The HourGerald Stanton – Still the best book on the subject of the Rapture

Messianic ChristologyArnold Fruchtenbaum –A handy set of expository studies, some more persuasive than others.

There Really Is A Difference  – Renald Showers – Plain but solid comparison of Dispensational and Covenant theologies.

*Has the Church Replaced Israel? – Michael Vlach – Perhaps the best treatment on the subject.  Vlach is nuanced which makes him more valuable.

*The Company of HopeDavid L. Larsen – A valuable historical study of eschatology.  Poorly edited. Lauds Lindsey and LaHaye.  

Collected Essays:

Walvoord: A Tribute – (ed.) D. K. Campbell – This book contains several excellent articles.

Essays in Honor of J. Dwight Pentecost – (eds.) S. Toussaint & C. Dyer – Similar quality articles to above.

Issues in Dispensationalism(eds.) J. Master & W. Willis – Some good explorations of in-house ideas can be found here.

*Dispensationalism: Tomorrow and Beyond - (ed.) Christopher Cone – A good if rather dislocated series of essays in celebration of Charles Ryrie.

Vital Prophetic Issues(ed.) Roy B. ZuckReprints of fine articles from BibSac.  A little overly reliant on Walvoord’s contributions.

*Dictionary of Premillennial Theology – (ed.) Mal O. Couch– An important if imperfect contribution.  Contains some terrific articles.  Poorly indexed.

The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy – (eds.) T. LaHaye & E. Hindson – Many fine articles on issues to do with Israel in prophecy.  The one on “Dispensations” ties them too closely to the covenants.

The Gathering Storm – (ed.) Mal Couch – This is a very helpful book full of interesting essays.

Israel in the Spotlight(ed.) C. L. Feinberg – Hard to procure but with some fine contributions.  Somewhat dated.

Christ’s Prophetic Plans(eds.) R. Mayhue, J. MacArthur, et al – I haven’t read this but it looks good.

*Israel: The Land and the People(ed.) H. Wayne House – A very solid and informative work.

An Introduction to Classical Evangelical Hermeneutics – Mal Couch (ed.) – Some excellent chapters on correct interpretive issues.

The Return of Christ – David Allen & Steve Lemke (eds.) – An uneven but helpful survey of Premillennialism

Three Central Issues in Contemporary Dispensationalism – (ed.) Herbert W. Bateman – Dispensationalists and “Progressives” discuss three important matters.  I found the Progressives rather confusing to read, particularly on the distinction between Israel and the Church, where the writer seems to be talking out of both sides of his mouth, but the questions raised are important.  The book is not as good as it should have been. (more…)

Dispensationalism & “Biblical Covenantalism” – What’s in a Name?

I am a Reluctant Dispensationalist.  If someone wants to know what my general outlook on the Bible is I will tell them it is Traditional or Classic Dispensational.  I then feel compelled to qualify this confession by making it clear that I do not follow the Tim LaHaye’s and Hal Lindsey’s of this world.  Where our theological paths cross I might find myself in agreement with them a fair bit of the time.  I would not agree with their Arminianism for one thing.  I’m not sure about this, but LaHaye may be closer to Limborch and Finney than to Arminius himself.  In any case, I do not think it is wrong to be an Arminian of the stamp of Arminius himself (or Episcopius), and I am sure that many Calvinists who can hardly bring themselves to say the word without their lip curling have never read Arminius for themselves (or a contemporary like Thomas Oden).

But differing on such matters does not make me a Reluctant Dispensationalist.  Perhaps the majority of Dispensationalists are and have been Calvinistic in their soteriology.  I myself believe salvation to be a sovereign work of God for the elect even if I wouldn’t formulate it in the usual Calvinist way.

I am not a Reluctant Dispensationalist either because I differ with my teachers, Mal Couch, Thomas Ice, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Steve Ger, Tom McCall, and Robert Lightner.  I learned a great deal from these men and esteem them all.  But truly I wish we could all go back to the time of Erich Sauer and Alva McClain and follow their lead.  They had little to say about “dispensations” in their overall schemes.

I must also insert here that I find little use for Progressive Dispensationalism.  I do think their treatment of the New Covenant is quite helpful, but their “complementary hermeneutics” looks to me like they are trying to have their cake and it eat it.  Often it seems that they have come to their views independently of the text in its context.

My reason for being reluctant is the name!  Yes, I know, what’s in a name?  Dan Phillips this past week has, in personal correspondence, tried to reason with me about this.  “Dispensationalism” is the name we’ve got and we’re stuck with it.  I greatly appreciate his advice, and I believe he is probably right.  So while I shall have to continue to say I am a Dispensationalist, I would like to try to explain why I have such a issue with the name, and why I shall continue to put in a word for “Biblical Covenantalism,” regardless of its obvious lack of shop-window appeal.  I’ll try to do it by way of contrast.  DT = Dispensationalism and BC = Biblical Covenantalism:

1. DT: is led by its very name to define itself by an aspect of its approach which is really tangential to its overall genius.  This false definition then circumscribes the outlook and understanding of its adherents and places blinkers (blinders) on their theological vision.  Dispensations are just not that important: the biblical covenants are.  Dispensationalism is limited because of what dispensations can do.

BC: defines itself by the covenants found within the pages of Scripture.  Because these covenants, correctly understood, comprehend God’s declared purposes for the creation (not just Israel, His chosen people), they expand ones theological vision.  Biblical Covenantalism is expansive because of what the covenants of Scripture can do.

2. DT: although I don’t expect everyone to see this, Dispensationalism derives its hermeneutics from “without” by asserting the normal or literal sense via grammatical-historical hermeneutics.  There is little attempt to derive this hermeneutics from the Bible itself.

BC: seeks to derive its hermeneutics (which correspond to traditional grammatical-historical hermeneutics) from “within” – from the Bible itself, in deference to the Biblical Worldview.  This acknowledges the comprehensive relation of revelation and knowledge. (more…)

Misrepresentations of Dispensationalism

Despite exhibiting many positive traits Reformed covenant theologians can usually be relied upon to do two things.  The first is to misrepresent Classic Arminianism, and the second is to misrepresent Classic Dispensationalism.  They often misrepresent Classic Arminianism by calling it Semi-Pelagianism and claiming the driving force behind the theology is “freewill.”  Neither of those claims is remotely true as anyone who has read Jacob Arminius is well aware.

Now I am not among the devotees of the former, but am happy to be included within the ranks of Classic Dispensationalists – even if I reserve the right to question the validity of defining the system via “dispensations.”  Here, if anything, the distortions are even worse.  I have previously highlighted such things when critiquing the vaunted “95 Theses Against Dispensationalism”

Now, following on the heels of a display of ignorance about Dispensationalism from Sinclair Ferguson and R. C. Sproul, here is a short rebuttal of a false claim about the new book Christ’s Prophetic Plans by Michael Vlach.  It is one thing to disagree with someone; and quite another to misrepresent them!

Forty Reasons For Not Reinterpreting The Old Testament By The New: The Last Twenty

The First Twenty Reasons (link)

In presenting these objections to the reinterpretation of OT passages by favored interpretations of the NT I am not throwing down the gauntlet to anyone.  If someone wishes to respond to these objections I would be fascinated to read what they have to say.  But no one is under pressure to agree with me.  However, I hope these forty reasons will be given thoughtful consideration by anybody who comes across them.

I believe, of course, that the NT does throw much light upon the OT text.  But it never imposes itself upon the OT in such a way as to essentially treat it as a sort of ‘palimpsest’ over which an improved NT message must be inscribed.     

By way of illustration, there are huge ramifications in making a dubious allusion in John 7:38 to Zechariah 14:8 a basis for a doctrine of the expansion of the spiritual temple over the face of the earth.  Such a questionable doctrine essentially evaporates huge amounts of OT material from, e.g.,  Numbers 25; Psalm 106; Isaiah 2; 33; 49; Jeremiah 30-33; Ezekiel 34; 36-37; 40-48; Amos 9; Micah 4-5; Zephaniah 3; Zechariah 2; 6; 8; 12-14; and Malachi 3, as well as all those other passages which intersect with them.  The cost is too high as well as quite unnecessary.

Here are twenty more reasons for not insisting the NT reinterprets the OT:

21. It devalues the OT as its own witness to God and His Plans.  For example, if the promises given to ethnic Israel of land, throne, temple, etc. are somehow “fulfilled” in Jesus and the Church what was the point of speaking about them so pointedly?  Cramming everything into Christ not only destroys the clarity and unity of Scripture in the ways already mentioned, it reduces the biblical covenants down to the debated promise of Genesis 3:15.  The [true] expansion seen in the covenants (with all their categorical statements) is deflated into a single soundbite of “the Promised Seed-Redeemer has now come and all is fulfilled in Him.”  This casts aspersions on God as a communicator and as a covenant-Maker, since there was absolutely no need for God to say many of the things He said in the OT, let alone bind himself by oaths to fulfill them (a la Jer. 31 & 33).

22. It forces one to adopt a “promise – fulfillment” scheme between the Testaments, ignoring the fact that the OT possesses no such promise scheme, but rather a more relational “covenant – blessing” scheme.

23. It effectively shoves aside the hermeneutical import of the inspired intertextual usage of an earlier OT text by later OT writers (e.g. earlier covenants cited in Psa. 89:33-37; 105:6-12; 106:30-31: 132:11-12; Jer. 33:17-18, 20-22, 25-26; Ezek. 37:14, 21-26).  God is always taken at face value (e.g. 2 Ki. 1:3-4, 16-17; 5:10, 14; Dan. 9:2, 13).  This sets up an expectation that covenant commitments will find “fulfillment” in expected ways, certainly not in completely unforeseeable ones.

24. It forces clear descriptive language into an unnecessary semantic mold (e.g. Ezek. 40-48; Zech. 14).  A classic example being Ezekiel’s Temple in Ezek. 40ff.  According to this view it is not a physical temple even though a physical temple is clearly described.

25. It impels a simplistic and overly dependent reliance on the confused and confusing genre labeled “apocalyptic” – a genre about which there is no scholarly definitional consensus.

26. It would make the specific wording of the covenant oaths, which God took for man’s benefit, misleading and hence unreliable as a witness to God’s intentions.  This sets a poor precedent for people making covenants and not sticking to what they actually promise to do (e.g. Jer. 34:18; cf. 33:15ff. and 35:13-16).  This encourages theological nominalism, wherein God’s oath can be altered just because He says it can.

27. Since interpreters in the OT (Psa. 105:6-12); NT (Acts 1:6); and the intertestamental period (e.g. Tobit 14:4-7) took the covenant promises at face value (i.e. to correspond precisely to the people and things they explicitly refer to), this would mean God’s testimony to Himself and His works in those promises, which God knew would be interpreted that way, was calculated to deceive the saints.  Hence, a “pious transformation” of OT covenant terms through certain interpretations of NT texts backfires.

28. The character of any being, be it man or angel, but especially God, is bound to the words agreed to in a covenant (cf. Jer. 33:14, 24-26; 34:18).  This being so, it would mean that God could not make such covenants and then perform them in a way totally foreign to the plain wording of the oaths He took; at least not without it testifying against His own holy veracious character.  Hence, not even God could “expand” His promises in such a fashion that would lead literally thousands of saints to be misled by His oaths.

29. A God who would “expand” His promises in such an unanticipated way could never be trusted not to “transform” His promises to us in the Gospel.  Thus, there might be a difference between the Gospel message as we preach it (relying on the face value language of the NT) and God’s real intentions when He eventually “fulfills” the promises in the Gospel.  Since it is thought that He did so in the past, it is conceivable that He might do so again in the future.  Perhaps the promises to the Church will be “fulfilled” in totally unexpected ways with a people other than the Church?

30. Exegetically it would entail taking passages in both Testaments literally and non-literally at the same time (e.g. Isa. 9:6-7; 49:6; Mic. 5:2; Zech. 9:9; Lk. 1:31-33; Rev. 7).

31. Exegetically it would also impose structural discontinuities into prophetic books (e.g. God’s glory departs a literal temple by the east gate in Ezekiel 10, but apparently returns to a spiritual temple through a spiritual east gate in Ezekiel 43!).

32. In addition, it makes the Creator of language the greatest rambler in all literature.  Why did God not just tell the prophet, “When the Messiah comes He will be the Temple and all those in Him will be called the Temple”?  That would have saved thousands of misleading words at the end of Ezekiel.

33. It ignores the life-setting of the disciples’ question in Acts 1:6 in the context of their already having had forty days teaching about the very thing they asked about (the kingdom – see Acts 1:3). This reflects badly on the clarity of Risen Lord’s teaching about the kingdom.  But the tenacity with which these disciples still clung to literal fulfillments would also prove the validity of #’s 23, 26, 27, 28 & 32 above.

34. This resistance to the clear expectation of the disciples also ignores the question of the disciples, which was about the timing of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, not its nature.

35. It turns the admonition to “keep” the words of the prophecy in Revelation 1:3 into an absurdity, for how many people can “keep” what they are uncertain is being “revealed”?

36. It makes the unwarranted assumption that there can only be one people of God.  Since the OT speaks of Israel and the nations (e.g. Zech. 14:16f.); Paul speaks of Israel and the Church (e.g. Rom. 11:25, 28; Gal. 6:16; 1 Cor. 10:32; cf. Acts 26:7), and the Book of Revelation speaks of Israel separated from the nations (Rev. 7), and those in New Jerusalem distinguished from “the kings of the earth” (Rev. 21:9-22:5), it seems precarious to place every saved person from all ages into the Church.

37. In reality what happens is the theological presuppositions of the interpreter which are read into the NT text and then back into the OT.  There is a corresponding breakdown between what the biblical text says and what they are assumed to mean.  Thus, it is the interpretation of the reader and not the wording of the biblical text which is often the authority for what the Bible is allowed to teach.

38. This view also results in pitting NT authors against themselves.  E.g. if “spiritual resurrection” is read into Jn. 5:25 on the rather flimsy basis of an allusion to Dan. 12:1-2, that interpretation can then be foisted on Rev. 20:4-6 to make John refer to a spiritual resurrection in that place too.  Again, if Jesus is said to refer to His physical body as “this temple” in Jn.2:19 then he is not allowed to refer to a physical temple building in Rev. 11:1-2.  This looks like what might be called “textual preferencing.”

39. This view, which teaches a God who prevaricates in the promises and covenants He makes, also tempts its adherents to adopt equivocation themselves when they are asked to expound OT covenantal language in its original context.  It often tempts them to avoid specific OT passages whose particulars are hard to interpret in light of their supposed fulfillment in the NT.  It also makes one over sensitive to words like “literal” and “replacement,” even though these words are used freely when not discussing matters germane to this subject.

40. Finally, there is no critical awareness of many of the problems enumerated above because that awareness is provided by the OT texts and the specific wording of those texts, which, of course, are not allowed a voice on par with what the NT text is assumed to mean.  Only verses which preserve the desired theological picture are allowed to mean what they say.  Hence a vicious circle is created of the NT reinterpreting the Old.  This is a hermeneutical circle which ought not to be presupposed.