Premise:If all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for doctrine, it is imperative that our doctrines line up with Scripture
The ‘Rules’ demonstrate that some doctrines line up much more closely to Scripture than others. Those with a very strong, direct “affinity” are ranked in the first category (C1). Those with the weakest claim to any affinity with the text of the Bible are ranked category five (C5).
C1 = a direct statement
- · Creation out of nothing – “The Triune God created the heavens and the earth out of nothing.” – Gen. 1:1f; Isa. 40:28; 45:12; Jer. 10:12; Jn. 1:3; Col. 1:15-16; Heb. 1:2; Heb. 11:3; Rom. 11:36
- · Christ died for all sinners (whosoever believes) – “Christ died for all men (sinners).” – Isa. 53:6; Jn. 1:29; 3:16-17; Rom. 5:6; 1 Tim. 2:4-6; 4:10; 1 Jn. 2:2; Heb. 2:9, 10:29
Most fundamental doctrines are a C1. A C1 doctrine is taught via a direct quotation of Scripture.
C2 = a strong inference
- · Inerrancy – “The inspired Scriptures are the Word of God before they are the words of men.” –
2 Tim. 3:16; Psa. 12:6; Jn. 17:17; 2 Pet. 1:19-21
- · The Trinity – “God exists as one substance yet in three divine, co-equal, distinct, yet eternally inseparable ‘Persons’. God is one yet three, though in different modes of being.” – Deut. 6:4; Matt. 28:19; Jn. 1:1-3, 18; 14:15-17; 20:28; Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 13:14; Heb. 9:14, 10:28-29
A C2 is established on the witness of several clear C1 passages.
Premise: Every major doctrine is a C1 or C2.
C3 = an inference to the best explanation
- · The Pre-Trib Rapture – “Christ will come for His Church prior to the 7 year Tribulation.” – 1 Thess. 4:13f; 1 Cor. 15:50f,; Rom. 11:24f; Dan. 9:24-27
A C3 is established on the witness of C1 and C2 texts, which overlap to point to a plausible inference.
C4 = a weak inference
- · The Covenant of Grace – based on ideas like “the one people of God” and “the church as the new Israel”
A C4 is founded on no clear or plain statement of Scripture.
C5 = an inference based on another inference
- The Christian Sabbath – Sunday replacing the Jewish Sabbath
A C5 is an even weaker inference based on other theological inferences, without reference to plain statements of Scripture.
Conclusion: We should only formulate our beliefs from C1′s and C2′s with some reference to C3′s. On the other hand, doctrines supported only by C4′s and C5′s should be suspected of relying too much on human reasoning without Scripture.
Steve Hays thinks I am unprincipled. Well, he makes charges like that a lot. It’s a tactic. While I grant I may miss something here and there, I do not deliberately decide to skew people’s points – and I do not think any fair minded reader would claim I did.
4. A Metaphorical Bible
My main argument relies upon the weight of the wording of the biblical covenants. I call Steve’s interpretations prophetic bromide because they instantly wash away the meaning of words in those covenants, and associate contexts. In Steve’s vision theology Ezekiel’s temple structure (he was in it remember) is not a temple; the Levites are not Levites; the Zadokite/Levite distinctions and prescriptions are unreal; the “law of the temple” which must be done is not what it says it is; the new moon offering isn’t an actual new moon offering; the prince’s sin offering and other sin offerings aren’t; the river is not a river, and the medicinal trees aren’t for medicine and they aren’t trees; the tribes and their allocations in a regenerated land aren’t real either. It’s all emblematic Steve tells us. One gigantic “placeholder” or vehicle for the conveyance of a few truths about Christ and the Church! I’ve termed such an opinion Verbal Overkill because writing materials were expensive prior to a few hundred years ago and nine detailed chapters of script information which could have been communicated in half a page is a waste of time and paper. A huge over-the-top circumlocution (e.g. P. Fairbairn believed the entire vision could be summed up by John 17:21-23) – if Amillennialism is right.
Before some indignant person complains about what I’m saying about God let me assure them that I am not saying that about God. I don’t believe God is given to communicating in this way. Well meaning objections in the way of “God can do anything He likes” miss the point and misrepresent the biblical God. God cannot do anything He likes if that involves a contradiction in His character. God’s Word is the only access humans have to His character. Link
But things do not stop there. For all the passages from the Prophets which I cited will likewise be made metaphorical and symbolic. God’s oaths in Jer. 31:35-37 and Jer 33:15-26 mean what exactly? Certainly not what they appear to mean. And if such apparently unambiguous oaths, which bespeak covenant blessing for Israel by appeals to things like “the fixed order of the moon”, don’t mean what they appear to mean, on what basis do you make the Gospel mean what it appears to mean? We know the New Jerusalem has no need of the moon, so Jeremiah cannot be referring to that. Unless, of course, the troublesome details in Rev. 21 are emptied of significance. Steve will say that the Jewish readers understood it all as symbolical genre, even though there is not a shred of evidence from the Bible or elsewhere that they did. Rather, as I have shown, their combined testimony (and I have only given a selection) supports a temple after the Second Advent before the creation of the New Heavens and Earth. To stop this being seen, the genre card is played with alarming frequency in some theological circles.
Zechariah 14, which I have treated, is supposedly another extended metaphor, as is Isaiah 11 etc. In the NT, Revelation 20 is also metaphorical: Satan is bound and imprisoned but is free to pursue Christians; beheaded martyrs who are resurrected are in actual fact sinners becoming Christians; Christ’s thousand year reign is not a thousand years but is the Church age. In Revelation 7 the 144,000 men from the tribes of Israel are a symbolic number from all nations. It goes on and on. Without wishing to be rude, I can respect a man who is honest enough to tell me he is reinterpreting the data through the NT, or that he is “spiritualizing” or “transforming” the apparent meaning of these texts. I can respectfully disagree with Graeme Goldsworthy who says,
earlier expressions point to things beyond themselves that are greater than the meaning that would have been perceived by those receiving these earlier expressions.” – According to Plan, 123.
Likewise, Greg Beale comes right out with it:
Perhaps one of the most striking features of Jesus’ kingdom is that it appears not to be the kind of kingdom prophesied in the OT and expected by Judaism” – A New Testament Biblical Theology, 431 (my emphasis)
Germane to Ezekiel’s temple Iain Duguid asks,
Should we therefore look to a future millennial temple in which to see these provisions of heightened sanctity fulfilled? I don’t think so. Rather, we should do what it seems to me the New Testament does and see how the goal of Ezekiel’s temple finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. – Ezekiel (NIVAC), 481.
At least these men admit to what they are doing. Steve won’t join them but pins his hopes on the hypothesis that the exiles (meaning those hearing Ezekiel) and the returnees interpreted the vision as an emblem; although I don’t see how they could know about the Church!
In my exchanges with Steve Hays I have referenced many prophetic passages ( in the OT). I have also responded to the relatively few which Steve has cited. He says,
i) Let’s cut the dead wood. I truly wish he would deal with the texts I cited but he will not. He prefers to chop wood in a different forest.
The question at issue is whether Ezk 40ff. is referring to a physical endtime temple.
Well, the first question is whether Ezekiel’s temple ought to be interpreted literally. After that is decided one must look for a place to fit ones interpretation.
Dispensationalists think many prophecies about Israel were not fulfilled during the first advent of Christ.
He is right. Speaking only for myself, it is my contention that it is a huge mistake to seek for complete fulfillments of Messianic prophecies mainly at the first advent. Such a maneuver inevitably beckons for non-literal symbolic interpretations of many covenant passages. Many crucial Messianic texts like Gen 49:8; Num. 24:17; Isa. 9:6-7, 11:1-10; and Mic. 5:2 report more on events at or after the Second Coming than the First Coming. Even Genesis 3:15, with the crushing of the serpent’s head, stresses the Second Advent and after (Paul clearly didn’t think Satan’s head was crushed at Calvary – Rom. 16:20). See also this
Therefore, they cast about for some place to stick these outstanding prophecies. And they settle on Rev 20:4-6. They use three verses in Rev 20 as an empty container to stuff full of outstanding prophecies about Israel.
Good rhetoric, but quite untrue. In my case for a New covenant temple I appealed only to the OT. Revelation 20 says Christ will reign upon earth for a thousand years, so I fit the OT predictions in there. Amils like Steve try to stuff the entire church age in there of course. But they have to spiritualize (i.e. treat as non-literal) the thousand years.
iii) The obvious problem with Henebury’s appeal to Zechariah is that, in context, Zechariah is referring to the Second Temple.
Not in chapter 14 he isn’t. I have shown why (cf. Isa. 2:2-3; Zech. 8:3, 20-23; 14:16f.).
The temple built by Zerubbabel (Zech 4:6-10). Same thing with Haggai (2:2-4).
A person may grant that the temple in chapter 4 is the second temple. But I didn’t cite chapter 4. It’s obvious to me that Steve is ignoring the details of the passages I did cite.
Ezekiel’s vision is both predictive and prescriptive. Not only is this prophetic, but God is commanding Jews to build a temple according to this blueprint.
He does not command them to build Ezekiel’s temple. That is one of Block’s arguments for saying it is not literal. BTW, Steve previously denied it was a blueprint.
With irony Hays writes,
However, postexilic Jews were not supposed to build this temple. Jews are supposed to delay construction of this temple. Appearances notwithstanding, Jews would be disobeying God’s command to build the temple by building the temple. You see, Ezekiel really meant for Jews to postpone construction of this temple, even though he doesn’t say that.
I don’t really follow here. The Jews are never told to build it. The Lord will build it (cf.Zech. 6:12-13). I know he’s using irony to get a point across, which is okay with me, but there is no command to build this temple. That is because it cannot be built until after Zech. 14:4. Do we find a temple standing after Zech. 14:4? Indeed we do, and God Himself is in it (Zech. 14; cf. Ezek. 43).
Steve writes with more irony:
This is the actual order of events:
a) Zerubbabel is not supposed to build a temple according to Ezekiel’s blueprint. Ezra is not supposed to build a temple according to Ezekiel’s blueprint. That would wreak havoc with God’s eschatological timetable.
Ezekiel is shown a very detailed and huge temple which cannot be constructed on the present Mt. Zion. The setting of this temple will be paradisical (ch. 48). In the service of the temple only Zadokites are allowed to serve before the Lord (ch. 43). There is no veil over the Holy of Holies, and no high priest either. The glory-cloud resides in this temple (ch.43), whereas it did not come into Zerubbabal’s. Zerubbabel possibly would not have expected this absence (although Israel were ruled over by foreign powers in his day, whereas Ezekiel’s temple is built at a time when God again gives sovereignty back to Israel. Prophets predict both near and far off events.
b) Before Ezekiel’s temple can be built, the Second Temple must be built.
c) Then Herod must remodel Zerubbabel’s temple.
d) Then the Second Temple must be razed by the Romans in 70 AD.
e) Then the Jews must undergo a second exile when the Romans banish them from Palestine after the Bar Kochba revolt.
Right. And Israel was renamed “Palestine” by Hadrian at that time.
f) Then, after the second temple is destroyed, but before Ezekiel’s temple can be built, a third, Tribulation temple must be built, just before the Parousia, which the Antichrist will desecrate (Dan 9:27; 12:11; 2 Thes 2:4; Rev 11:1-2; 13:14-15). Cf. L. Cooper, Ezekiel (B&H 1994), 354; R. Thomas, Revelation 8-22 (Moody 1995), 81-82.
That seems to be what those passages necessitate, providing they too are not made to symbolize something else.
g) Then, when Jesus returns, the stop-work order will be rescinded [there wasn’t one issued in the first place], and builders who have no historical connection with Ezekiel’s contemporaries or the Jewish returnees in 6C BC, will finally erect Ezekiel’s temple, after two unspecified temples have come and gone. And that’s taking Ezk 40-48 at “face value.”
We’re not told how this temple is built. It is presented to Ezekiel as completed. Ezekiel isn’t about any other temples but Solomon’s and Ezekiel’s. But, for the rest of it, Hays has about got it. If I can be permitted a little irony of my own, all he has to do now is believe what he reads.
As for his reference to 1948, he needs to argue that with Hal Lindsey, not me. I do not teach that as a fulfillment of the OT.
The fact that Zerubbabel and Nehemiah made no attempt to build Ezekiel’s temple is good reason to think they didn’t interpret his vision literally.
Amils think it is.
So Henebury must interpret Ezekiel’s temple in light of Revelation
I interpret Ezekiel’s temple by reading Ezekiel. Then I look for compatible OT covenant equivalents. I said that Rev.20 is the only place I can fit the OT new covenant material.
Perhaps Henebury is alluding to John Walton. [I wasn't] However, scholars like Desi Alexander and Gregory Beale document their position from Scripture.
I am very familiar with Beale and what he does with Scripture. He’s an impressive scholar, but I find his interpretation via allusion impossible. Beale believes the NT “transforms” the meaning of the OT.
The entire vision (40-48) is emblematic.
Saying it doesn’t mean it is. Talking about the supposed qualities of word pictures and poetry (which is easily discerned even in translation) doesn’t mean it is. I could say the vision was “semi-proto-apocalyptic rhetoric” and wax eloquent about the properties of that “genre”, but I wouldn’t be proving that Ezekiel 40-48 was, in fact, that genre. Steve claims to have presented evidence for his view. I cannot find it. Just assertions. In fact I find Hays’s approach quite similar to the Roman Catholic view (e.g. P. Grelot). Anyway, not seeing his evidence may be my fault. If so, perhaps some reader will tell me where it is.
He quotes Jn. 1:14 and says “Christ embodies what the Temple signifies.” The verse says “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” I take that to mean the Divine One who was with God in the creation became human and lived with humans. Steve infers it means the temple symbolism has become human and been realized. I rate his interpretation as loaded with outside assumptions. (In my RoA it warrants a C4 rating at least).
Yet, according to Henebury, when Christ returns, Ezekiel’s temple will coexist with Christ in Jerusalem. What’s the point of a temple when Christ himself returns to tabernacle with his people forever (Rev 21:22)? A temple is just a placeholder. [proof?] Once Christ returns, any temple would instantly outlived its purpose. [proof? Perhaps he has not fully understood the significance of God’s temple?] Indeed, the fact that we’ve had no temple for 2000 years already underscores the spiritual irrelevance of the temple at this juncture in redemptive history.
God is dealing with the Church, which is mainly Gentile. Paul tells us,
For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own estimation, that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fulness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and thus all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” 27 “And this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” 28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Rom 11:25-29)
Steve’s paragraph is a good sample of the deductive theology of covenant theologians. They know what the verses say but they don’t believe what they say. They believe their true meaning must fit within their covenant of grace (which itself is found nowhere in Scripture). The main reason for their going figurative so much of the time is that their theology throws up objections which overrule the plain-sense of Scripture, forcing them to find “spiritual” meanings which fit their system better.
This two part post will be my final interaction with Steve Hays. It will complete what I think needs to be said and will leave him to continue in the way he is accustomed to. I begin with a little preamble. In his latest salvo Steve quotes me as saying:
On his accounting I ought to doubt my salvation.
Then he quips:
Why does Henebury react this way? He said that if amils are right, then God is guilty of prevarication. I inferred from his statement that he doesn’t think God is trustworthy if amils are right. Isn’t that a logical inference? Why does he object when I measure him by his own yardstick? Is that a mature reaction?
Let me put my quote back into its original context and leave the reader to decide if Steve is trying to properly represent his opponent:
I actually said this:
Steve Hays continues to slam my character: Henebury really is a bigot you know. He has “consistent intellectual deficiencies.” Henebury has all kinds of flaws, ethical, intellectual, perceptual. It has now come to my notice that apparently “Henebury never misses an opportunity to be dishonest.”
Steve doesn’t know me, but he thinks he’s sized me up and I’m no good. On his accounting I ought to doubt my salvation. Where is the fruit of the Spirit? Well, to his own Master he stands or falls. My duty is to stick to the argument.
Take a parable. What the individual elements of the parable signify is distinct from the question of whether the story is fictitious or factual…
In reply I said: True, but Ezekiel 40-48 is not a parable. Neither is it “apocalyptic,” nor poetry.
Yet in his “response” he declares:
And Henebury now admits that’s “true.” So, given that admission, he can’t simply quote verses about temple dimensions, materials, rituals, &c., to prove his overall interpretation, for how we interpret the significance of the paraphernalia depends on the genre.
What did I say was “true”? That interpretation depends on genre? Or did I simply agree that what individual elements of parables signify is distinct from whether the story is fictitious or factual?
Compare Steve’s representations with the real ones and come to a conclusion. Even if you are unconvinced by my arguments I hope you would see the problem. Nuff said!
Steve persists in his persistent use of personal slight and ad hominem argumentation while subtly deviating from the point. I shall ignore most of this in what follows. If some readers think I’m deserving of the opprobrium heaped upon me that it between them and God. A quick search on Google will produce many complaints about Steve Hays from Christians both Reformed and non-Reformed, Roman Catholics, and Atheists. As I said, to his own master he stands or falls. I consider most of Steve’s arguments to be paltry and lacking any substance. I’m afraid he advances his viewpoint mainly by bald assertion. Others are free to arrive at the opposite conclusion.
1. The Prophetic Setting of Ezekiel 40-48
One of the problems of dealing with Hays is that while he lumps me in with the general run of dispensationalists he will not permit me to cite his fellow covenant theologians against him; especially when they admit to reinterpreting the OT with the NT, or to spiritualizing the text. See Here. On a side note, if Daniel Block believes Paul spiritualized the OT it’s a safe bet he believes in following suit!
Steve avoids dealing with the following point I made because he says the passages cited are too generic:
He thinks they couldn’t divine a future glorious kingdom where Israel is regenerate and Messiah reigns in justice and righteousness from Jerusalem, and where priests serve him in a new sanctuary. In fact they could do this from say, Num. 25:10-13; Deut. 30:6f., or Psa. 2, 89, 105, 106, Isa. 2, 11, 26-27, 35, 43, 44, 45, 51, 62; Jer. 23, 30, 31, 33, or Hos. 2:16f. or Mic. 4, or Zeph. 3, or indeed from Ezek. 34, 36-37. It seems Ezekiel’s near contemporary Zechariah (6:12-13, 8:1-3; 14:16f.) and Malachi (3:2-3) believed it too. Zechariah predicts a future temple built after Jerusalem has been changed topographically where the King is worshiped at the temple.
He wants me to do some exegesis of these passages and I shall oblige him without expecting reciprocation. Owing to the nature of blog posts my comments must be concise. Still, I apologize for the length but a fair bit of this is necessary quotations from Scripture.
I am going to go into all the covenantal issues in all this in the future, but the following study should suffice for now: Balaam’s prophecy will start us off (please read the passages!):
Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 11 “Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, has turned away My wrath from the sons of Israel in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not destroy the sons of Israel in My jealousy. 12 “Therefore say, ‘Behold, I give him My covenant of peace; 13 and it shall be for him and his descendants after him, a covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the sons of Israel.’” (Num 25:10 -13)
There is no need to go into minute exegesis of this passage to see that God freely enters into an eternal covenant with Phinehas and his descendents – who happen to include Zadokites! Psalm 106:30-31 recounts:
Then Phinehas stood up and intervened, And the plague was stopped. 31 And that was accounted to him for righteousness To all generations forevermore.
If this is true; that is, if God meant what He said in the covenant (and covenants have to mean what they say), then whether or not we can figure out the whys and wherefores, there has to be a Levitical priesthood and temple forever in fulfillment of this covenant. This is stressed further by Jeremiah in Jer. 33:
‘Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 ‘In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. 16 ‘In those days Judah shall be saved, and Jerusalem shall dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she shall be called: the LORD is our righteousness.’ 17 “For thus says the LORD, ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel; 18 and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man before Me to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to prepare sacrifices continually.’” (Jer 33:14-18)
Notice the role of the Branch (i.e. Christ). He “executes” or “does” righteousness on the land (eretz). This agrees with Isaiah 2:2-4 (set “in the last days”). Micah is very similar (Mic. 4:1-7, where we are told that God “will reign over [the Remnant] in Mount Zion from now on [the last days – v.1] and forever.”).
The righteous rule of Messiah is seen in Isaiah 11. Verses 5 and 6 declare:
with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, [Comp. Psalm 2:8-9; Rev. 19:15] And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. 5 Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist.
The righteous reign of Messiah is seen in statements like Isa. 26:9; 51:3-5; 62:1-5. The paradisaical conditions described in Isa. 62:1-5 involve the whole creation, as Hosea 2:16f. and Isaiah 11:6-8 make perfectly clear (Cf. Rom. 8:18-23). Hosea 2:18-19 say,
In that day I will also make a covenant for them With the beasts of the field, The birds of the sky, And the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, And will make them lie down in safety. 19 “And I will betroth you [i.e. Israel] to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, In lovingkindness and in compassion.
So in Ezekiel 37:25-28 we read of God setting up His sanctuary under these fulfillment conditions:
And they shall live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons, and their sons’ sons, forever; and David My servant shall be their prince forever. 26 “And I will make a covenant of peace with them [Cf. Num. 25:12 above]; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. 27 “My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. 28 “And the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever.
Please do not miss the heavy covenantal emphasis of that prophecy. The sanctuary is the temple. But which temple? Zerubbabel’s? Did God make an everlasting covenant of peace with the returnees? Did His Glory return to the Second Temple? No. The temple being referred to is the one in Ezek. 40ff., which IS in paradisiacal conditions (ch. 47), when God shall dwell with Israel forever (43:7).
We may add to this the prediction from Malachi 3:2-3, which speaks of a purified priesthood in what appears to be (contra Steve Hays) a Second Advent context (Mal. 3:1 does refer to the First Advent):
But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 3 “And He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.
If all this is not enough we find Zechariah predicting a temple which will be built by the Branch (Messiah) when He combines the offices of priest and king in Himself when He rules upon His throne (Zech. 6:12-13). And what do we find at the end of the Book? We find, as I have said many times, a Day when the Lord comes to the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:11 anyone?), when the topography of the land is drastically altered (Zech. 14:4), following which “living waters will flow out of Jerusalem (Zec 14:8), “Jerusalem will dwell in security” (Zec 14:11), and the nations will come up to Jerusalem to worship the King – who therefore must be Divine – (14:16-17), and sacrifices will be offered at the Lord’s house (14:20-21).
As these predictions are predicated on what we now know is the Second Coming, clearly they are in the future and their realization should not be searched for in the past. The conditions under which all this will be done are New covenant conditions (Cf. Zech. 12:9-13:1):
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 “And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. 28 “And you will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God. (Ezek. 36:25-28)
This distinctive new covenant language comes from the Pentateuch. For example, Deuteronomy 30:6:
Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live.
Amillennialists might want to turn all of these passages into metaphors (and they do), but they make perfect sense as they stand. There is no mess. We don’t have all the information, but we have enough. Once amils try to tackle the specifics of these passages, that’s when the train wrecks. So, for the most part, they don’t even try. They just read their interpretations of the NT into them. Steve says he doesn’t. He stands quite alone.
Howbeit, it is imperative when dealing with these prophecies that the covenantal stipulations which God obligates Himself to fulfill are not breezed over. I have my presuppositions, which Steve has been given. They do not produce the mess Steve asserts they do. Steve will not give his.
2. Did the Post-Exilic Community Expect to Build Ezekiel’s Temple?
I have already given reasons why the returning exiles would not have thought to take up the task of constructing Ezekiel’s temple. These include the obvious fact of the sheer size of the structure, together with the geographical requirements involved. Then the clear differences between the Mosaic institutions and Ezekiel’s vision. Finally, the fact that these chapters are prophetic and look to the time when God’s covenants with Israel will be realized under New Covenant conditions: conditions which have not yet been met, but which shall be met “after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:24-27).
If, as Steve Hays says, the people in exile enjoyed better access to God than when they were in the land, why rebuild any temple? Hays answers, it is because they were under the Law. But were not the exiles under the Law? If they were and God was more accessible to them during those times, it follows that rebuilding the temple would again distance them from God. This makes no sense at all. But were not Israel under God’s judgment during the exile? Deuteronomy 29:14-28 leaves this impression. Chapters 29:19 and 30:1 speak of exile as a “curse.” Leviticus 26:36 hardly depicts the future exiles having confident access to the Lord. 2 Kings 24:20 describes the Lord’s attitude towards Israel as “He cast them out from His presence.” Jeremiah is blunt: “The Lord has rejected His altar, He has abandoned His sanctuary.” (Lam 2:7). Read more »
Sorry for the format. I don’t know what happened.
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.
But I will say this: I had no intention of attacking Steve’s character when I wrote the offending preamble to my link to Fred Butler’s post. Yet upon reflection, the parts of the quote which he highlighted do sound a little proud, and for that I apologize to Steve Hays and any others who found my words offensive. I didn’t mean them to come across like that, but I can see how someone like Steve could have taken umbrage. Whether it deserved his brickbats and slanders or whether Steve is a little thin-skinned other people can decide. I did not intend to be personal. If what I say here calls forth more personal obloquy then I guess it does.
Now let me turn to his post, When God Comes To Us. Any wryness is not meant personally. I am concerned with arguing ideas and interpretations, not with belittling my opponent.
A. In response to a questioner Steve Hays posted this reply:
You’re ironically unaware of how much you are viewing Ezk 40-48 through the prism of the NT and your own position in church history. Put yourself in the situation of a Jewish exile in 6C BC Babylon. Imagine if you all you had to go by was Ezekiel, plus the OT canon up to that point. You didn’t have the NT. And you didn’t have any postexilic scriptures.
Based on that frame of reference, how would you conclude that this refers to a temple that won’t be built for at least 2500 years, during the church age, in-between the binding and loosing of Satan?
Feel free to show me how you derive that interpretation from the historical context, given the epistemic perspective of the original audience.
Built in to this position is Hays’s opinion that the understanding of the original hearers (and those who came after) was in agreement with his non-literal view. 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. Yes, I know Steve will ignore these references (he has done so consistently), or that he will make them all metaphorical, but I’m not writing for Steve. He’s too entrenched in his views to consider these texts seriously at face value.
Steve hasn’t proved any assertion he has made about Ezekiel, and he has systematically ignored the lines of evidence from Scripture, from theology, from non-dispensationalist Richard Hess, and from ancient Jewish sources which agree with the literal view. Steve takes a (not “the”) symbolic view. Nor does he characterize the dispensational position correctly in the above quotation.
Passing by that, his questions are, of course, leading ones. No dispensationalist would say that Ezekiel’s audience could know the time when the temple would be built. They could only know that it would be built. N.B. a). once Israel were no longer under the Mosaic covenant – because the service etc. of Ezekiel’s temple does not agree with Moses; b). after topographical changes occurred which would make the huge project possible, and c). once the glory of the Lord was ready to return to bless Israel and dwell with them forever. That didn’t happen in Nehemiah’s day, and it hasn’t happened yet, so logically it must either be the future, or these chapters form one of the greatest circumlocutions in all of literature!
Asking the kind of question Steve does here is like asserting that Adam and Eve had to know where Messiah would be born. They didn’t know because revelation is progressive. Ezekiel didn’t know that the Messianic Kingdom would last a thousand years. He didn’t have John’s Revelation (some who have Revelation still don’t know Christ will reign a thousand years). We don’t have to demonstrate anything which wasn’t revealed after Ezekiel’s time to realize that his original audience knew he was referring to a future temple. (I don’t believe I have referred to it as the Millennial Temple). For more on some of the covenant implications of some of these passages see Christ at the Center 2a, 2b, and 2c.
Steve’s modus operandi appears to be: to ignore the main point/s put to him, often using diverting questions; cast aspersions; introduce a motif or genre; do a bit of technical discussion about that; claim to have proved his case, and then ask counter questions of the opponent. In all this he refuses to interact positively with the text under discussion. Any interaction with the Bible is all put to negative use.
B. Now, in this latest post he has said some few things which I think many people would find peculiar. For starters, he implies that God was actually nearer to Israel in Exile than he was when they were in the land. Here is the quote:
But as the inaugural theophany in Ezk 1 dramatically and forcibly illustrates, God was present with the Jews in exile. You didn’t have to go to the temple to experience God’s presence; the temple came to them. The theophany is a mobile temple. An overwhelming emblem of God’s presence. Indeed, both Solomon’s temple and Ezekiel’s temple are pale imitations of the theophany in Ezk 1.
I must qualify this by noting that many ancient temples were not seen in these terms. They were not “sanctuaries.” Moreover, it seems the people in general paid little attention to them. Thus, temples qua temples did not equate automatically to a place where a god was present with its people. More often than not, the god would be there for the nobility. See, e.g., Rodney Stark, Discovering God, 64-66.
Not that I think biblical matters are settled by going outside the Bible; i.e. it is a mistake to read the supposedly latest findings of temple symbolism back into the Bible. That, I believe, is a subtle attack on the sufficiency of Scripture.
Whatismore, Hays also believes the theophany of Ezek. 1 is superior to what we see in Ezek. 40ff. Yet the same theophany comes into the temple in Ezek. 43! If the temple was a pale imitation of the theophany what is the theophany doing coming into and remaining in the temple? (contra Steve’s mobile temple). Ezekiel’s temple can’t signify the actual presence of God (so Steve), because now he’s claiming the theophany within the temple does. So why does that actual presence enter the temple? What does the temple stand for here? Do we have a mobile temple abiding in a static temple? An emblem within an emblem? What becomes of the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture? Furthermore, once Israel returned what did they do but build another temple – a temple that the Shekinah did not enter (hence not Ezekiel’s temple)? Why build a temple when God was closer to them without one? I’m following Steve’s logic here (he will deny it) and it ends up creating more problems than it solves.
That theophany anticipates and illustrates the principle we find in Jn 4:23-24 and Acts 7.
He probably should include Jn. 4:21 in there to help his cause. What he professes to have surmised from the genre of Ezekiel (a symbolic temple) he now applies to the NT. That’s fair enough, but neither of these passages denies a future kingdom temple. In context Jesus was talking about the worship which went on while ignoring Him. He was also referring to the present age of the church. In Acts 7 (48ff.?) Stephen is on the same basic thread, only now Jesus has been crucified. Verse 48 does not deny a future temple since the words he goes on to quote come from the dedication of the temple. Steve’s covenant theology blinkers him.
I didn’t comment on Owen because it’s a decoy. i) Owen was a postmil, not an amil.ii) So what if my interpretation doesn’t match Owen’s? Owen was a 17C Puritan. His exegesis reflects the limitations of his era. For instance, modern premils trace their position back to church fathers like Irenaeus. Does that mean Henebury’s interpretation of the Bible always matches premillennial church fathers?
The prophet is hereby introduced to the theological realities awaiting his own people. Whereas 37:26-27 had spoken of the establishment of Yahweh’s permanent residence among his people, following their homecoming, the present vision picks up the theological theme and describes the spiritual reality in concrete terms, employing the familiar cultural idioms of temple, altar, sacrifices, nasi, and land. In presenting this theological constitution of the new Israel, Yahweh announces the righting of all the old wrongs, and the establishment of permanent, healthy deity-nation-land relationships. Ezekiel’s final vision presents a lofty spiritual ideal: Where God is, there is Zion. Where God is, there is order and the fulfillment of all his promises. Furthermore, where the presence of God is recognized, there is purity and holiness. Ezekiel hereby lays the foundation for the Pauline spiritualization of the temple. Under the new covenant, even Gentiles’ communities may be transformed into the living temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16-17). Moreover, through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God, individual Christians become temples, residences of deity (1 Cor. 6:19).” – Daniel Block, The Book of Ezekiel, 2.505-506.
D. Getting to my question about “why on earth did God not simply say what He meant?” Steve is upset about what he thinks is a leading question. But it was the third in a series of questions that were logically connected. It was Steve who put the third question first where it would appear to be a loaded question. If he had answered them in the order I asked them he would not have seen it as leading. He misrepresented the context.
Steve is also upset because he thinks it silly to say that scholars like Block etc would deny that God did mean what He said and say what He meant. I agree, they wouldn’t. And they would be sincere. But then ATB McGowan doesn’t believe saying that God allowed contradictory and unscientific statements in the autographs impugns the character of God. Karl Barth sincerely denied being a universalist. Hugh Ross thinks interpreting Genesis through the lens of modern astronomy jives with the sufficiency of Scripture. That does not mean they are right. Sincerity isn’t always friends with Truth.
To take another example (say, G. K. Beale): from my point of view, a person who is presented with scores of prophetic verses from both testaments, which speak of Israel, but who then applies them to the Church, is denying the clarity of those OT texts. Here’s Beale:
“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” – G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 431 my emphasis.
Steve can’t agree with this because he believes Ezekiel’s original audience did grasp the ideational perspective of the Holy Spirit. And if it changed as Beale claims it did, then the OT prophecies were not clear as to God’s real intentions and my question stands: “why did God not simply say what He meant?”
Steve’s approach to Scripture is all from outside of Scripture. He turns to modern understandings of genre and typology and picture theory and such and then declares that that’s what’s going on in a given context. If we only knew these things we would be able to read the Bible correctly. I disagree and so I am branded clueless and dishonest. But I deem his logic less than persuasive. Read more »
I only meant to plug Fred Butler’s series on Interpreting Ezekiel’s Temple, but I annoyed Steve Hays because I alluded to our online debate, wherein, among other contrivances, he argued against my views by telling us what the Bible doesn’t mean. Anyhow, if he thinks I misrepresented him he has a right to correct me.
Because of my “indiscretion” in referring to our debate and my basic assessment of his procedure I am now labelled a “proud self-congratulatory bigot.” (And that’s only some of my good points!). He’d already compared me to Don Quixote’s nag. He follows up with a bit of psychology by suggesting I would lose my faith if God didn’t fulfill the temple vision by causing a temple to be erected. I may return to this matter later.
It’s a shame he gets personal because the man is clever and often seeks to represent the truth to those who read his blog.
That aside, Steve is going to try to sort me out again. I am okay with people disagreeing with me. I’m not the Fount of all knowledge. But I don’t think Steve has come anywhere near to presenting a convincing argument against the view that Ezekiel was depicting an actual temple, and that was how the vision was to be understood.
Nowhere in our previous correspondence did Steve explain what he thought Ezekiel 40-48 actually meant. He tried to tell me what it wasn’t, without explaining any verse in the nine chapters in question. And now he informs us that Ezekiel 40-48 is “a word-picture” representing, in some form, “the end of the church age, and the onset of the eternal age.” Fine, but does he present any exegetical evidence for this opinion? Does he interact with these chapters and explain how temple dimensions, materials, rituals, priestly orders, prohibitions, tribal allotments and rivers add up to “the end of the church age” and “the consummation.” Has he explained how he knows they mean this? No, no and no.
And I don’t think he will. Nor will he explain how he could find out about the church age from only utilizing the OT (he doesn’t believe the church is in the OT). I believe he will create a diversion and reroute the discussion away from the Bible.
Steve begins, (His words are in brown. Underlining is mine):
let’s take his [Henebury's] questions in reverse ordr:
c) why on earth did God not simply say what He meant?
i) That’s not a real question. That’s a loaded question. An accusation couched as a faux question. A question that builds a tendentious premise into the formulation. As if those who dare to differ with Henebury don’t think God said what he meant.
Some questions about God and the Bible are out of order for Steve. Anyone with experience with dealing with those who hold covenant eschatology know that it is excruciating getting them to just tell you what the Bible says. Try this passage or Jer. 33:14-26 on them and see. I supposedly asked a loaded question (his inner psychologist again). But no, it really is a question, and a good one. And it’s one Hays doesn’t answer. By fiat he declares. “That’s not a question.”
But to many Christians it is a crucial question. Steve ought to realize that. Look, does God mean what He says and say what He means when He tells us we are justified by faith in Christ (Rom. 5:1)? Yes! Does He mean what He says when He describes Hell as a place of fire (Matt. 25)? Yes! Okay then, does He mean what He says when He describes a temple to a priest in minute detail and tells him to fix his attention on it?
There, you see, it is a question. Now Steve might want to counter with aline like, “God meant to describe a temple and priests and sacrifices and the whole nine yards, but He intended it as a figure of something different” But that would mean God didn’t say what He really meant (He prevaricated), nor mean what He said – He meant something else. But the burden of proof is on Steve as I have shown and shall show.
ii) Moreover, Henebury’s way of framing the issue is foolish and silly. One might as well ask, Why on earth didn’t God simply say what he meant in Ezk 37:1-14, instead of that strange business about reassembling and reanimating skeletons?
He did! He tells us what He means right in the context! Read it:
Ezek. 37:11 tells us that “these bones are the whole house of Israel.” God tells the prophet what He means by the figure. This is not what happens anywhere in chs. 40-48.
Why on earth didn’t God simply say what he meant in Ezk 29:3-4, instead of comparing Pharaoh to a Nile crocodile?
Well He did! Read Ezek 29:2-3. The explanation is in the context. Nowhere in chs.40-48 are we told that the details mean anything other than what they describe.
Once again, He did. Read Ezek. 4:3, 5, 6, 13, 16; 5:5, etc. The explanation is right in the context. Can anyone show me a similar phenomenon in Ezek. 40-48? You see, Steve is equating the temple vision with these other interpreted symbols because he wants the temple to be figurative. The prophet gives him no help with his “word-picture” project. I have easily answered Steve’s counter examples by pointing to what the Bible says.
b) what sort of hermeneutical practice is involved?
i) The grammatico-historical method. One element of that hermeneutic is audiencial meaning. Bible writers (and speakers) generally intend to be understandable to their immediate audience. So meaning is to that degree anchored in the potential understanding of the original audience. What the audience would be able to grasp.
As I said in a footnote to one post, “the Grammatico-historical method” means different things today than it used to. But Steve’s description of it will do for present purposes. You see, I have proved several times to him that the audience understood it to be a real temple, including citing OT scholar Richard Hess‘s opinion that “the fact that every example we have until after the New Testament was written believed in a literal fulfillment of a restored temple.” Steve offered no counter evidence. Twice previously I referred to the efforts of Hananiah ben Hezekiah to reconcile Ezekiel with the Mosaic cultus. See this article for more on that. I do not see how the G-H method transforms these descriptions into “the end of the church age”. I have given evidence that the early audiences didn’t see things Steve’s way.
How or when we apply that distinction depends on the context.
It sure does! And nothing in the context encourages us to endorse Steve’s assertions. We’ll be looking at the context below.
a) what they are supposed to really mean?
Before we answer that question, we need to lay down some ground rules.
Translation: “I’m going to condition the reader by giving qualifications which rule out Henebury’s interpretation before we even read Ezekiel.”
i) We need to distinguish between literal events and literal depictions. Why, unless you’ve decided in advance it doesn’t describe literal events (like building, sacrificing, obeying codes)?
For instance, Ezk 37:1-14 depicts a literal event in symbolic terms. Which is given a literal interpretation in the context. It depicts the restoration of Israel. That’s a literal event. But the depiction is symbolic.
True, and he’s referred us to the context. But the question is how does Steve know this is what is happening in the last 9 chapters of the Book?
ii) We need to distinguish between pictures and propositions. Images aren’t meaningful in the same way that sentences are meaningful. Unlike sentences, images don’t make assertions.
I’m sorry? I rather thought I was reading sentences, not looking at a picture. Some propositions in the passage will be listed below.
a) An image needn’t mean anything. For instance, an artist can paint a scene from his imagination.
This is not a picture by an artist. It is a description of a “temple.”
The scene doesn’t stand for anything. It doesn’t represent something he saw. Rather, he paints the imaginary scene because he finds it pleasant or interesting.
Did he get this from anything said in Ezekiel? Where is G-H hermeneutics? No, he has simply asserted it without warrant.
b) Of course, some images are referential. They stand for something else. Ezk 40-48 contains prophetic images.
He’s got you thinking of a painting, but Ezekiel 40-48 isn’t a painting; no more than the tabernacle in Exodus is a painting. It’s a clear description: a floorplan and commands and such
c) Ezk 40-48 is an extended word-picture. A series of images.
Voila! Hermeneutics by assertion. Does Ezekiel say it is a word picture? Where?
Suppose you’re shown a picture of a river valley…
He’s talking about pictures when Ezekiel isn’t.
e) Ezekiel is addressing the exilic community. What could this mean to them? A temple maybe? That’s where all the evidence points (cf. Hess above).
I know he thinks that, but where’s his evidence?
Likewise, I think Ezk 37:1-14 and Ezk 40-48 are different imaginative depictions of the same reality.
The regathering of the diaspora. Repatriation to the land of Israel. In that respect, the vision had reference to the near future.
Notice he’s ignoring the new covenant details in these passages.
That’s why Revelation can see parts of Ezk 40-48 fulfilled in a different setting than the postexilic restoration of Israel.
And just where. exactly, does Revelation do that? E.g. New Jerusalem is different in a multitude of ways from Ezekiel’s temple; dimensionally for one thing.
Here the themes of God’s compresence with his people, shalom, and the Davidic messiah, take place in the world to come…
Steve is all about themes, motifs, and types. I pressed him on the subjectivity of this approach before and, true to form, he ignored it. Steve’s “theme” is different than one of his betters.
Here’s John Owen’s interpretation:
In a sermon on Ezek. 47:11, which he will use as an allegory of spiritual barrenness, the great Puritan writes,
“First. The house, or temple, from whence these waters issue, may be taken two ways:-
1. Mystically, to denote only the presence of God. God dwelt in his temple; thence come these waters – from his presence. He sends out the word of the gospel for the conversion and healing of the nations, Psa. Cx. 2, Or,-
2. Figuratively; and that either for the place where the temple of old stood (that is, Jerusalem), as the preaching of the gospel was to go forth from Jerusalem, and the sound of it from thence to proceed unto all the world, as Isa. Xli. 27, lii. 7; Acts i.4, 8; or for the church of Christ and his apostles, the first glorious, spiritual temple unto God, whence these waters issued.” – Works of John Owen, IX. 180.
Notice Owen’s interpretation is not that of Hays. Once we drift from the natural meaning of the words in context we are on a sea of subjectivity.
I’ll close by listing 10 reasons for holding my view: Read more »
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?”
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… Read more »
Recently, I have (not for the first time) been immersing myself in the works of writers who would disagree very strongly with the views espoused at Veritas and by traditional dispensationalists in general. Trawling through these big books, paying attention to each argument and their use of Scripture, and repeatedly coming across assertions that seem to make God guilty of double-talk is, to be brutally honest, a sort of self-imposed torture. So why do I do it? I read these works because I want to be informed about the latest arguments against my position. I want to keep abreast of how many evangelical scholars think. I don’t want to be a Bible teacher and theologian who is ignorant of what’s going on around him.
Another reason I read books by those with whom I disagree is because if a good argument arises which demonstrates I am wrong, I want to see it. So far, I have to report that I have not found any argument which impresses me that way. In fact, the more I read of these men, the more convinced I become that they are, hermeneutically speaking, barking up the wrong tree.
Let me give you an example:
“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” – G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 431 my emphasis.
You might need to read that statement more than once. What Beale says is quite startling. Here we have a respected evangelical NT scholar asserting that OT prophecies about the kingdom had fulfillments which differed from what the prophets themselves predicted! Since the Author of Scripture is God, we have God giving His prophets a misleading prophecy. God puts confusing words in the prophets’ mouths! Naturally, Beale would cry foul. But think about it. In Deuteronomy 18:22 we have God telling His people to how they are to test a true prophet sent from Him:
“when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”
In this passage God plainly tells His people that they can spot a true prophet from a false prophet by whether what they say will happen actually transpires. But doesn’t Beale’s view of prophecy render God’s tests of a true prophet utterly futile? Read more »
Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
The Hermeneutics of Jesus (Part Two)
The Lord Jesus constantly assumed His hearers could grasp His meaning and, where necessary, do it (e.g. Lk. 9:44; 10:26-28; 11:28; 18:17). John ends his Gospel with a grand hermeneutical lesson which usually has remained unheeded:
Peter therefore seeing him said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!” 23 This saying therefore went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, “If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?”
The lesson is simple: Jesus means what He says!
d. Jesus’ Kingdom Teachings
Anyone writing about Jesus’ interpretation of Scripture has to mention the subject of the kingdom. The kingdom was important to Him:
Before the Cross: From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 4:17)
Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. (Matt. 6:10)
Truly I say to you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mk. 14:25)
“So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. (Lk. 21:31)
After the Cross: to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
The question before us is how Jesus Himself interpreted the subject of the kingdom. I have already shown in the foregoing installment, that the prospect of the kingdom in the first years of Jesus’ life and ministry did not deviate from OT expectation. I want to show how this expectation is only intensified as Jesus ministry continued.
First. in Luke 19:12-27 Jesus tells a parable about a nobleman who goes into a far country “to receive a kingdom.” (19:12. cf. Dan. 7:13-14). While he is away, some of the people say they will not have him to reign over them (19:14). Eventually the nobleman returns – though now as a king (19:15), and judges his people, including meting out recompense on those who had refused to acknowledge his rule (19:27). The parable was told shortly before Christ was crucified. The interesting thing about this parable is the reason it was given:
Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately. (Lk. 19:11. cf. 21:9).
Clearly, the kingdom would not appear immediately, but awaits the return of the nobleman! Therefore, anyone who teaches that this kingdom came after the Cross is gravely mistaken.
“The Days of Vengeance”: Concentrating again mostly on Luke’s account we come to Jesus’ clipped quotation from Isa. 61:1-2a in Lk. 4. In verse 21 the Lord announces, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” If He had continued with the quote past the point where He left off He would not have been able to say that. The reason being, the details contained in the scroll reading truly were fulfilled by Him at His first coming. But the reference to the “days of vengeance” which directly follows in the Isaiah passage bore no resemblance to anything in the Lord’s earthly ministry. They refer, as anyone can see, to the second coming. But Jesus uses this phrase, “the days of vengeance,” again in Lk. 21:22, and there He refers to phenomena strongly reminiscent of OT prophetic passages speaking of His second advent. The passage reads (I have supplied some cross references):
19 “By your endurance you will gain your lives. 20 “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is at hand. [see Zech. 14:1-4] “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are in the midst of the city depart, and let not those who are in the country enter the city; 22 because these are days of vengeance, in order that all things which are written may be fulfilled. 23 “Woe to those who are with child and to those who nurse babes in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land, and wrath to this people, [Israel] 24 and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot [Zech. 12:18-20] by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. 25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and upon the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. [Isa. 63:1-3; Rev. 19:11f.] 27 “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory [Dan. 7:13-14, cf. 7:24-27]. 28 “But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption [Isa. 61:2b-3; 62:11-12; Jer. 31:31-36; 33:14-16] is drawing near. – Luke 21:19-28.
No Jewish hearer of Christ would have had any trouble at all in understanding precisely what He was referring to – and it wouldn’t be the idea of the church!
Some Old Testament Background: The “day” or “days of vengeance” is a phrase found in several crucial eschatological contexts. Isaiah 34:8 speaks of “the day of the LORD’s vengeance,” linking it to “the year of recompense for the cause of Zion.” The same chapter mentions heavenly disturbances and phenomena reminiscent of second coming passages (see 34:4, after a great battle in v.3). The reference to “Edom” and “Bozrah” in vv.5 and 6, together with the bloody sword (v.6) connect it to the second coming passage in Isa. 63:1-4; a passage that once more speaks of “the day of vengeance…in my heart.” (Isa. 63:4). Then one finds a referral to “the book of the LORD,” which can be checked to ascertain whether God’s Word has come to pass (34:16). Then there is the partitioning of the land to those who “shall possess it forever” (34:17), reminding one of Ezekiel 48, after the battle of Ezek. 38-39.
Returning to the synagogue in Nazareth in Luke 4, we witness Jesus reading from Isa. 61:1-2a and claiming literal fulfillment in his ministry. Are we to believe He cut off mid-sentence because “the day of vengeance of our God” (Isa. 61:2b) would not be fulfilled literally? Notice again that after the pouring out of vengeance comes comfort and consolation “for all who mourn in Zion” (61:3). This is the kingdom which follows the day of God’s vengeance: the second coming of Christ. It ought to be unnecessary to prove that Isa. 63:1-6 refers to the second coming (cf. Rev. 14:14-20; 19:11-16), but some people will never be persuaded.
Jesus Corroborates OT Expectations: What does Jesus say about the phrase we are studying? I have already shown that in Lk. 21:19-28 He puts the fulfillment of “the days of vengeance” at the time of His second advent. This corresponds with His interpretation of the Parable of the Wheat and Tares:
Then He left the multitudes, and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” 37 And He answered and said, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man, 38 and the field is the world; and as for the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age; and the reapers are angels. 40 “Therefore just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 “Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. (Matt. 13:36-43.
The parable comes to a crescendo with eschatological judgment in verses 40-42 and blessing upon the righteous in the kingdom in verse 43. It is worthy of note that these predictions of vengeance are often accompanied by overtures of peace and salvation for God’s people. This pattern of judgment and blessing can also be seen in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 as well as Revelation 19:11-20:6. Read more »
This is my final installment in my lengthy review of G. K. Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology. During the previous three parts of the review I have tried to provide the thrust of Beale’s “already-not yet new creational” model with few critical remarks (though, as a “Dispensationalist” I clearly have a bias against the author’s new way of presenting covenant theology).
In this piece I shall enter into criticism more plainly. I had envisaged a detailed critique and had lined up several pages of references to problems I see in the book, but that would be impracticable. There are literally dozens of issues where I believe Beale is seeing things that just aren’t there while missing things that plainly are there. But I will have to be satisfied with more selective comments.
The book has received more than its share of adulation since its release, and, from the perspective of supercessionist theologies, it is easy to see why. The book represents a very impressive presentation of the amillennialist thesis, mixed, as contemporary presentations of that approach are, with G.E. Ladd’s “already/not yet” hermeneutic. It employs fully up-to-date arguments and extensive “exegetical” reasoning. It seeks to persuade readers that this is how the Bible itself presents its interpretation. Moreover, despite its considerable size (circa, 1,000 closely printed pages), it makes appeal to other significant studies by the same author in support of its teachings. I want to say that the author is both brilliant and reflective. In pushing his theology into farther reaches he has done precisely what I believe a generation or more of recumbent dispensationalists have not done (I do not include progressive dispensationalists in this number, since, although one can learn from it, I believe PD is a different animal than the dispensationalism of Scofield, Chafer, Walvoord, Ryrie, or even Erich Sauer or Michael Vlach).
The following critique is from a certain point of view. Notwithstanding, I stand behind it as a solid basis for not recommending Beale’s work as an accurate account of biblical theology.
Some Quick Miscellaneous Criticisms:
1. The prolixity of the author’s style. Beale takes a long time to say what he means. Granted, one must argue a point, but Beale still needs more words than necessary to say it. Just a look at his headings and subheadings proves my point. One example from among many will do the job: chapter 19 is entitled “The Story of the Eden Sanctuary, Israel’s Temple, and Christ and the Church as the Ongoing Eschatological Temple of the Spirit in the New-Creational Kingdom.” Nuff said.
2. This problem leads to another one, which is the dearth of references to or critical interaction with opposing views (a rare example includes a note on page 350 n.94). As with some other of this author’s work (e.g. The Temple and the Church’s Mission), one gets the feeling that Beale thinks he’s just right and doesn’t need to defend his views. Hence, someone wishing to find involved discussion with other viewpoints will not find it here. This is acutely the case with dispensational writers (hardly even mentioned). This is a covenant theologian writing for covenant theologians.
3. The author’s thesis, drawn as it is from his interpretation of allusions and types, is, I firmly believe, quite beyond the ken of the vast majority of Bible students past or present. This is esoteric theology funded by esoteric reading of the Bible. Scripture’s constant “transformations” of seemingly clear teachings via the sorts of subtleties Beale appeals to make it the preserve of scholars. The Bible is not for Everyman, since the key to its interpretation is an enigma to most of us (saved or lost). Instead of just using language to tell us straight, it seems, if Beale is to be followed, that God hides the reality within the symbolically concealed. A man who can write, “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” (431 my emphasis), without contemplating the gravity, philosophically speaking, of what he is saying, is not, in our estimation, a safe guide. What use then are the tests of a prophet (Deut. 18:22) if fulfillments can be transformed into something the original hearers wouldn’t have understood? Those who take their queue from Paul, who told others, “Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God, that it will turn out exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27:25), have, it would seem, gotten hold of the wrong end of the interpretative stick.
What is Missing:
1. The most glaring absentees from Beale’s book are the biblical covenants. Although one might argue that this is explained by this being a New Testament theology, the author’s subtitle, “The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New” fairly screams for attention to the covenants. He does briefly refer to covenants (e.g. 42-43, 166), and he uses Hugenberger’s definition, which, as already pointed out, presupposes covenants cannot undergo transformation and must mean exactly what they say. The “problem” of the covenants, as I see it, is that they are useless unless their words are stuck to (see Gal. 3:15). And God Himself appears to be of the same opinion (see Jer. 34:18-20). Indeed, the live illustration of the Rechabites in Jer. 35 would lose all its poignancy if the meaning of God’s words could undergo the sorts of “transformation” which Beale and others envisage. To my way of thinking at least, any biblical theology which ignores the biblical covenants needs to go back to the drawing board. The biblical covenants act as sentinels against wayward theological constructions – if they are heeded! But who heeds them?
2. Ignoring dissimilarities. A real danger for Bible interpreters is to fasten on to similarities which appear to support their position while disregarding important dissimilarities. Proponents of the mythical Jesus, for instance, like to compare the resurrection stories to ancient myths of Osiris and Tammuz while neglecting major differences between them. Evolutionists commonly do this in their superficial discussions of homology; choosing not to notice crucial discrepancies in their comparisons. The dissimilarities tend to show themselves in the details (i.e. in the context). His remarks about God overcoming chaos and establishing “creational order” (39) find no foothold in Genesis. On page 40 he avers, “Just as God had achieved heavenly rest after overcoming the creational chaos…” Where does he get this? Assuredly from connecting Genesis 1 with ANE creation accounts (cf. 247 n.44; 630 n.36).
Millennial references are routinely given new creational (as in New Heavens and Earth) fulfillments (56, 71, 101, 109, 121, etc.). In chapter 19 Ezekiel’s Temple is equated with the New Jerusalem (615), which in turn is the entire new cosmos (616). As an aside, thanks to the pliability of “apocalyptic genre” Stephen Smalley, in his commentary, can make New Jerusalem the new covenant! Unperturbed that the New Jerusalem is distinguished from “the new heaven” (Re. 21:1-2), and “the new earth” (Rev. 21:24), and “no temple [is] in it” (21:22), or that the temple in Ezek. 40ff. has specific detailed measurements differing markedly from those in Rev.21:16-17, which God commands it to be built to (Ezek. 43:10-12); that Zadokite priests minister in it (43:19; 44:15), including offering sacrifices for sin (43:21), whereas other Levites serve within it in a lesser capacity (44:10-14), and that it is distinguished from the land around it (47:12-23), the similarities trump all this and the dissimilarities are assimilated.
Are Abraham and Israel truly given Adam’s commission (47-53)? Does the fact that the Church shares the same general descriptions as Israel mean the many discontinuities between the two vanish in the typological ether? Do all the patent repetitions of covenant oaths to Israel run out of gas when Jesus comes? Just what is God saying in Jer. 33:14-24? Read more »
Too busy to finish the pieces on “The Future of an Allusion (Pt.4),” or “Christ at the Center (Pt.4d), so here’s my choice of the 20 best reasons why we ought not reinterpret the OT by the NT. I have not yet heard a decent argument against any of these points:
It seems to be almost an axiom within contemporary evangelical Bible interpretation that the New Testament must be allowed to reinterpret the Old Testament. This belief in the interpretative priory of the NT over the OT is accepted as “received truth” by a great many evangelical scholars and students today. But there are corollaries which are often left unexplored or ill-considered. Did God speak to men in times past in symbolic language so that we today could unravel what He really meant? Doesn’t this strongly imply that the OT was not really for them, but for us? This list comes from a longer list of forty reasons why a student of the Bible should not adopt the common tactic of reading the New Testament back into the Old:
1. Neither Testament instructs us to reinterpret the OT by the NT. Hence, we venture into uncertain waters when we allow this. No Apostolic writer felt it necessary to place in our hands this hermeneutical key, which they supposedly used when they wrote the NT.
2. Since the OT was the Bible of the Early Christians it would mean no one could be sure they had correctly interpreted the OT until they had the NT. In many cases this deficit would last for a good three centuries after the first coming of Jesus Christ.
3. If the OT is in need of reinterpretation because many of its referents (e.g. Israel, land, king, throne, priesthood, temple, Jerusalem, Zion, etc.) in actual fact refer symbolically to Jesus and the NT Church, then these OT “symbols” and “types” must be seen for what they are in the NT. But the NT never does plainly identify the realities and antitypes these OT referents are said to point towards.
4. It would require the Lord Jesus to have used a brand new set of hermeneutical rules in, e.g., Lk. 24:44; rules not accessible until the arrival of the entire NT, and not fully understood even today. These would have to include rules for each “genre”, which would not have been apparent to anyone interpreting the OT on its own terms.
5. If the OT cannot be interpreted without the NT then what it says on its own account cannot be trusted, as it could well be a “type,” or even part of an obtuse redemptive state of affairs to be alluded to and reinterpreted by the NT.
6. Thus, it would mean the seeming clear predictions about the Coming One in the OT could not be relied upon to present anything but a typological/symbolic picture which would need deciphering by the NT. The most clearly expressed promises of God in the OT would be vulnerable to being eventually turned into types and shadows.
7. It would excuse anyone (e.g. the scribes in Jn. 5:35f.) for not accepting Jesus’ claims based on OT prophecies – since those prophecies required the NT to reinterpret them. Therefore, the Lord’s reprimand of the scribes in the context would have been unreasonable.
8. Any rejection of this, with a corresponding assertion that the OT prophecies about Christ did mean what they said, would create the strange hermeneutical paradox of finding clear, plain-sense testimony to Christ in the OT while claiming the OT cannot be interpreted without the NT. One could not maintain this position without calling the whole assumption under review.
9. The divining of these OT types and shadows is no easy task, especially as the NT does not provide any specific help on the matter. NT scholarship has never come to consensus on these matters, let alone “the common people” to whom the NT was purportedly written.
10. If the Author of the OT does not mean what He appears to say, but is in reality speaking in types and shadows, which He will apparently reveal later, what assurance is there that He is not still speaking in types and shadows in the NT? Especially is this problem intensified because many places in the NT are said to be types and shadows still (e.g. the Temple in 2 Thess. 2 and Rev. 11).
11. This view imposes a “unity” on the Bible which is symbolic and metaphorical only. Hence, taking the Bible in a normal, plain-sense should destroy any unity between the Testaments. What we mean by “normal, plain-sense” is the sense scholars advocating this view take for granted their readers will adopt with them, which we would identify as “literal.”
12. Thus, no unbeliever could be accused of unbelief so long as they only possessed the OT, since the apparatus for belief (the NT) was not within their grasp.
13. This all makes mincemeat of any claim for the clarity of Scripture. At the very least it makes this an attribute possessed only by the NT, and only tortuous logic could equate the word “perspicuity” to such wholesale symbolic and typological approaches.
14. A corollary to this is that the authority of the OT to speak in its own voice is severely undermined. Read more »