Knox, Knox, Who’s There?

A Reply to “An Open Letter To Evangelicals and Other Interested Parties: The People of God, The Land of Israel, and the Impartiality of the Gospel,” issued by Knox Theological Seminary.

This is a paper I wrote for the Conservative Theological Journal which never saw the light of day (I can’t grumble, I used to edit it). I have been reading Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism and Timothy Weber’s On the Road to Armaggeddon and I remembered the piece, bits and pieces of which have found their way into other essays.

As far as I know, this letter has not received the negative press it deserves, but here are two responses you might want to peruse. The first is by Steve Hays, showing that one can be Reformed (and amillennial) and not be involved in what to many will look like a mild form of anti-semitism (Anyone opening Palmer Robertson’s The Israel of God and reading about America’s political allegiance to Israel being questioned has to wonder why an author would concern himself with politics in such a work).

As the “Open Letter” is still up (in English and French) I don’t think it inappropriate to post this item now.

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2005/06/open-letter-to-evangelicals.html

http://faculty.bbc.edu/mstallard/Biblical_Studies/Eschatology/eschatology_dr.htm

 

The faculty and friends of Knox Theological Seminary, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida have recently felt moved to rebut certain statements by some evangelical leaders relative to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Evidently, these unidentified evangelical spokesmen have “urged the endorsement of far-reaching and unilateral political commitments to the people and land of Israel…citing Holy Scripture as the basis for those commitments.”

Exactly what these “unilateral political commitments” are is not specified, but back of “the political commitments in question are two fatally flawed propositions.” These two supposedly erroneous propositions will be discussed below. Before turning to these two propositions, and addressing the ten counter-propositions which follow on their heels, we would first like to make some general observations.

1. We wish to make it plain that we believe these Christian men have every right to their opinions. Furthermore, if their consciences trouble them over these issues, it is only proper for them to do what they have done. However, it must also be pointed out that their production does contain much that is likely to mislead. Set in among their ten propositions are occasional antiphonal statements which might very easily be construed to be the beliefs of those with whom they disagree. These include statements implying blanket endorsement of Israeli actions and policies.

2. The “leaders” referred to in the document are not identified. This means that their “far-reaching and unilateral political commitments to the people and land of Israel” cannot be checked. However, one thing must be said: First, from the contents of the letter it is very clear that the supporters of Knox Seminary are attempting to refute the system of theology known as Dispensationalism. Dispensational Theology does believe that the Bible clearly teaches a distinction between Israel and the Church. It also holds that the land provisions of the Abrahamic Covenant are incontrovertible, and will be fully realized in Christ’s Millennial Kingdom and beyond.

3. The dispensationalists are not the only ones who seemingly endorse “far-reaching and unilateral…commitments”. It is clear that the Covenant theology espoused by Knox Seminary and its friends leads them to believe that the Jews have no right to the land and never shall have. This is brought out in the letter, which teaches that the Church is now “the true Israel,” and insinuates that ethnic Israel illegally occupies “Palestinian land.” The logical ramifications of this belief have already been played out in history, and would doubtless be repeated were this opinion to gain universal assent. The Open Letter is decidedly pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel (its plea for impartiality refers only to the spread of the Gospel). Thus, due to their way of interpreting the Bible, the faculty of Knox Theological Seminary find themselves opposing the only democratic and pro-American state in the Middle East.

4. It is not without tremendous significance that despite the matter under discussion, and the fact that the document contains about eighty-two Scripture references, not one reference is cited from the Old Testament prophets, where many of the clear promises to Israel are found. This singular fact speaks volumes about the prophetical hermeneutics of covenant theology. Any interpretation of prophecy that can lay aside the Major and Minor Prophets of the Old Testament in these matters must be seriously questioned.

5. Presumably the authors of the Open Letter wish us to take their Scripture texts in their normal, plain sense? Even though in order to arrive at their replacement theology they refuse to do so with hundreds of other passages, some of which will be cited below.

6. As stated above, to believe and teach that the land of Israel belongs to the Jews does not mean blanket endorsement of Israeli policies. And it certainly does not mean that partiality in sharing the Gospel is to be shown to the Jews over the Palestinians; although it must be remembered that Israel is the only Middle Eastern country with religious tolerance, therefore making evangelism easier there. Yet by issuing statements like, “Bad Christian theology is today attributing to secular Israel a divine mandate to conquer and hold Palestine”, and of occupying “Palestinian land”, it appears that the signatories to the Open Letter would rather see a restrictive Palestinian[1] government (hostile to the U.S.A.) ruling Israel than a Jewish government. A “far-reaching and unilateral political commitment” indeed!

The Two Propositions.

We come now to the two propositions themselves. There is, in fact, no reason to consider them in isolation one from the other. They can be dealt with together quite adequately as one. It must be stressed that as the Open Letter fails to tell us from whence they originate, we shall have to guess. Although guessing is not so difficult.

Proposition One: “[S]ome are teaching that God’s alleged favor toward Israel today is based upon ethnic descent rather than upon the grace of Christ alone, as proclaimed in the Gospel.”

Proposition Two: “[O]thers[2] are teaching that the Bible’s promises concerning the land are fulfilled in a special political region or “Holy Land”, perpetually set apart by God for one ethnic group alone.” (Latter emphasis mine.)

These are the two charges, the belief of which, “large segments of the evangelical community, our fellow citizens, and our government are being misled with regard to the Bible’s teaching regarding the people of God, the land of Israel, and the impartiality of the Gospel.” The first relates to Israel present, the second to Israel future. Most of our remarks in this paper will address this second point.

Our Response: The promises of God to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are explicit:

Ÿ They were promised a land (e.g. Gen. 12:7; 15: 1-21; 17:7-8; 22:15-24; 28:13).

Ÿ This land was to be perpetually theirs once the nation repents and receives Jesus as Messiah (e.g. Deut. 4:29-31; 28:40-41, 44-45; 30:1-2, 10; Jer. 16:14-15; Ezek. 11:14-20; Amos 9:14-15).

Ÿ They will become the head of the nations (e.g. Deut. 15:6; 28:1,13; Isa. 60:10-13; 62:1-12).

Ÿ But they must first be regathered in unbelief in preparation for the “Time of Jacob’s Trouble.” (Jer.30:1-7 – This is what dispensationalists believe has been happening since 1948.)[3], the coming Tribulation (e.g. Ezek. 22:17-22; 36:21-24[4]).

In regard to Proposition One it is important to say that believing this does not mean that just because a person is a physical descendant of Jacob, that that individual does not need a new birth through Jesus Christ to avoid eternal condemnation. Howbeit, a Jew who receives Jesus in this present Church-age will become a part of the Church, the Body of Christ. But after the removal of the Church at to the rapture (1Thess.5:9; Rev. 3:10[5]), any Jew who believes in Jesus as Messiah will be incorporated into the New Israel (“Beulah”- Isa. 62:4), in Christ’s Theocratic Kingdom.

Knox Seminary’s Ten Counter-Propositions (C.P.).

We now come to examine the ten counter-propositions in the Open Letter. For the sake of clarity we shall reproduce the statements before giving our answers.

C.P. 1: “The Gospel offers eternal life in heaven to Jews and Gentiles alike as a free gift in Jesus Christ. Eternal life in heaven is not earned or deserved, nor is it based upon ethnic descent or natural birth.”

There will be both a new heaven and a new earth in eternity. People shall dwell in both according as God prescribes (Rev. 21). No Christian ever said eternal life was earned or deserved.

C.P. 2: “All human beings, Jews and Gentiles alike, are sinners, and, as such, they are under God’s judgment of death. Because God’s standard is perfect obedience and all are sinners, it is impossible for anyone to gain temporal peace or eternal life by his own efforts. Moreover, apart from Christ, there is no special divine favor upon any member of any ethnic group, nor, apart from Christ, is there any divine promise of an earthly land or a heavenly inheritance to anyone, whether Jew or Gentile. To teach or imply otherwise is nothing less than to compromise the Gospel itself.”

The first part of the statement is a mere truism. The reason it is included is because covenant theologians persist in their stubborn belief that, numerous denials and clarifications notwithstanding, dispensationalism teaches salvation by works in some dispensations. They hold that Paul’s Gospel was known and believed in the Old Testament[6], a view that will be dealt with below.

As far as Israel’s inheritance is concerned, any future restoration of Israel to their land will not be apart from the new birth (Ezek. 36:21-28; Rom.11:5,25-29). Divine favor for ethnic Israel is based on God’s gracious unconditional promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob mediated through Christ via the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34). In this present Divine administration, Jesus’ words in John 20:29 apply. But this cannot be so when, “every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him” (Rev.1:7. Cf. Zech. 12:10-13:1). The content of saving faith has to change when the glorified King is physically present.

C.P. 3: “God, the Creator of all mankind, is merciful and takes no pleasure in punishing sinners. Yet God is also holy and just and must punish sin. Therefore, to satisfy both his justice and his mercy, God has appointed one way of salvation for all, whether Jew or Gentile, in Jesus Christ alone.”

Salvation has always been by grace through faith, and on the basis of Christ’s work alone. Notwithstanding, against covenant theology, dispensationalism recognizes that the content of faith changes.[7] This can be easily demonstrated. For example, under the Mosaic economy it was necessary for a person to participate in the sacrificial system (Lev. 4-7). Not that this in itself saved anybody. Salvation was through faith. But faith was expressed through the sacrifices which foreshadowed, but did not fully reveal,[8] the offering of Christ. Although that person probably knew that the Redeemer would come, there is absolutely no indication that he or she could have known about the historical figure Jesus of Nazareth, His death and resurrection, and the Pauline Gospel. When one considers the fact that even Jesus’ closest confidantes did not fully grasp the necessity for His death and resurrection (Lk.18:31-34; Jn.2:22), it goes beyond all credulity to suppose that an O.T. Israelite could know as much or more than they. And if they didn’t, our point is proved. Also, if salvation under Moses’ Law was based on believing 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, what were the sacrifices for?[9] Mistaking (as some of these people appear to do), John 8:56 as saying that Abraham foresaw the Person and work of Jesus is to go beyond the plain sense of the verse; especially when the Bible states that Abraham was justified when he believed what God promised him in Genesis (Gen. 15:6. cf. Rom. 4:3). Dispensational theology recognizes this and accommodates it without compromising the truth that salvation has always been by grace through faith.[10]

C.P. 4: “Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man, came into the world to save sinners. In his death upon the cross, Jesus was the Lamb of God taking away the sin of the world, of Jew and of Gentile alike. The death of Jesus forever fulfilled and eternally ended the sacrifices of the Jewish temple. All who would worship God, whether Jew or Gentile, must now come to him in spirit and truth through Jesus Christ alone. The worship of God is no longer identified with any specific earthly sanctuary. He receives worship only through Jesus Christ, the eternal and heavenly Temple.”

We agree to the first part of this statement. However, when it goes on to state that, “The death of Jesus forever fulfilled and eternally ended the sacrifices of the Jewish temple” it goes awry. In line with Hebrews 9:11-12; 10:11-12 we readily acknowledge both the Melchisedekian High Priesthood of Christ and the eternal efficacy of His sacrifice. But neither passage gives us the right to abrogate the straightforward language about a future [Millennial] temple and sacrifices as found in Ezekiel 40-48, and Jeremiah 33:15-22.

It must be emphasized that just as it was never “possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Heb. 10:4, 11), neither will it be the case in the future. We admit that a full and complete explication of the Millennial sacrifices is perhaps not possible from this historical vantage point. But the difficulty of reconciling the data does not give us a permit to ignore or allegorize the O.T. testimony.

Again, simply because Christ refers to Himself as a Temple does not mean there can be no literal temple and sacrifices. In John 2:19-21, the Second Temple was still standing and its sacrifices still operative in God‘s sight (cf. Mk. 1:44) when the Lord spoke those words.

C.P. 5: “To as many as receive and rest upon Christ alone through faith alone, to Jews and Gentiles alike, God gives eternal life in his heavenly inheritance.”

See the answer to CP 1 above.

C.P. 6: This proposition will have to be dissected and answered point by point.

A. “The inheritance promises that God gave to Abraham were made effective through Christ, Abraham’s True Seed.”

An accurate exegesis of the promise-texts yields the following details:

i. The promise concerned a literal land, a location (Gen.15).

ii. It concerned Abraham’s seed (Gen. 15:1-4) through Isaac (Gen. 17:15-19).

iii. Through Abraham “all the families of the earth” would be blessed (Gen. 12:3). This has happened through Christ without any need to rescind the national promises to the nation (Israel).

iv. The Covenant promises pertaining to Israel and the land are explicit (Gen. 12:7; 13:14-17;15:7,18-21;17:7-8;18), and sealed by an unconditional covenant, entered into by God alone (Gen. 15:12-21). This covenant was of such a nature that no part of it can ever be altered or revoked. It is called “everlasting” in Genesis 17:7, 13, 19; 1 Chronicles 16:17, 18; and, Psalm 105:10. Just as the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 23:5; Isa. 55:3; Ezek. 37:25), and New Covenant (Isa. 61:8; Jer. 32:40; 50:5; Heb. 13:20) are also called everlasting. “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Rom. 11:29).

Covenant amillennialists flout grammatical-historical hermeneutics when it doesn’t suit them (e.g. Ezek. 37; 40-48; Zech. 14; Matt. 24-25; Rev. 6-21), often violating the basic interpretive rule that a difficult or more obscure passage is to be interpreted in the light of clear ones. The root issue with covenant theology is that it regularly decrees that what the Bible actually says is different than what they say it teaches. Dispensationalists are not inclined to agree with them, nor are they intimidated when they are accused by these brethren of being unbiblical.

B. “These promises were not and cannot be made effective through man’s keeping of God’s law.”

Nobody said they could (see CP 2 & CP 3 above). The promises will all be fulfilled once Israel’s elect remnant (Jer. 31:7; Mic.4:6-7; Rom. 11:5) is saved (Rom. 11:26).

C. “Rather, the promise of an inheritance is made to those only who have faith in Jesus, the True Heir of Abraham.”

See answer to C.P. 3 above. But all ethnic Jews are heirs of Abraham provided they have the like faith of Abraham. Thus, not all Israel is Israel (Rom.2:28-29; 9:6; cf. Isa.29:13). But there is no such thing in Scripture as a Gentile “spiritual Israelite.” The promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their descendants, cannot be altered without impugning the character of God. These promises (e.g. the land) were understood literally by those who first received them, and by their physical descendants for hundreds of years. Nowhere are those promises plainly changed, and we reject the notion of Knox Theological Seminary and their friends that such an alteration is even implied. Of all beings, it most becomes God to mean what He says, and to say what He means.

D. “All spiritual benefits are derived from Jesus, and apart from him there is no participation in the promises.”

True in this Church economy – however, God made certain personal promises to Abraham (e.g. Gen.12:2 “a great name”), and these were not mediated by Christ – unless on the basis of Abraham’s justifying faith in God’s promises. The Millennial inheritance of Israel under the rule of Messiah will be enjoyed on the basis of their entrance into the New Covenant. Any teaching that denies the literal fulfillment of the unilateral promissory texts is palpably false, being at variance with the clear testimony of Scripture.

E. “Since Jesus Christ is the Mediator of the Abrahamic Covenant, all who bless him and his people will be blessed of God, and all who curse him and his people will be cursed of God. These promises do not apply to any particular ethnic group, but to the church of Jesus Christ, the true Israel.”

The writers of the Open Letter correctly identify (via Gal. 3:8) the part of the Abrahamic Covenant of which the Church participates (Gen. 12:3). But then they draw the wrong conclusion that every part of the Abrahamic Covenant is being referred to by Paul. They do this despite the Apostle identifying the part he is dealing with. Inattention to what the text is saying is the reason they do this.

By referring to the Church as “the true Israel” these brethren again show how their theological precommitments prevent them from correctly exegeting the Bible. Neither “proof-text” they offer (i.e. Rom. 2:28-29; Phil. 3:3) calls the Church “the true Israel”. The Romans passage states the truth that simply being an Israelite does not make one a true Jew, since all true Jews ought to recognize Jesus their Messiah. The passage cannot mean that saved Gentiles are now “spiritual Jews” without the Apostle involving himself in a contradiction. In Romans 11:1-2,12, 25-29 Paul envisages a future hope for Israel (note v.26, “Jacob”). In the Philippians passage, Paul is saying that Christians are “the circumcision” because they worship God in the way that the Jews ought to worship Him. Circumcision is the outward sign of physical descent from Abraham, and so is a reminder of the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 17:9-14). Israel remains in unbelief (Rom. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3:13-16), and thus cannot yet enter into its covenant blessings. But Gentile believers do now enter into the blessing of Genesis 12:3 (cf. Gal. 3:16). Yet it is vital to see that Paul is not saying “you Gentile Christians are the New Israel.”

F. “The people of God, whether the church of Israel in the wilderness in the Old Testament or the Israel of God among the Gentile Galatians in the New Testament, are one body who through Jesus will receive the promise of the heavenly city…”

In the first place it should be noted that Stephen does not use the term ekklesia as a technical term as if O.T. Israel was the body of Christ.[11] This is further underlined by the fact that to identify all Israel (in their wilderness journeys) as part of the Church, and therefore those who “through Jesus will receive the promise of the heavenly city…” is to teach the patent absurdity that all those individuals were saved! Of course, this stems from covenant theology’s erroneous belief that the Church, the Body of Christ, is composed of both regenerate (the eternally elect) and unregenerate (the historically elect). This is plainly in violation of 1 Corinthians 12:13 and Romans 6:1-5 (cf. 8:9-16). Once again, the problem is viewing everything through an extra-biblical covenant of grace, which forces the replacement theologian into eisegesis of the Scripture instead of exegesis. This can be seen in their interpretation of Galatians 6:16.[12] Taking the kai in its normal sense of “and” would make Paul give a benediction upon the Christian Gentiles (“as many as walk according to this rule”), and Christian Jews (“and upon the Israel of God”); a reading which both fits the distinctions Paul has made in Galatians,[13] and harmonizes with the rest of the New Testament.[14] If Paul had wanted to refer to the Church as “the Israel of God” he would not have included the kai at all, and would thereby have avoided all confusion. That he did is strong grammatical evidence that he meant to make a distinction.

G. “…Who through Jesus will receive the promise of the heavenly city, the everlasting Zion. This heavenly inheritance has been the expectation of the people of God in all ages.”

The Hebrews verses do not teach that “this has been the expectation of the people of God in all ages.” But even if they did, that would not be reason to spiritualize scores of plain literal promises per the Messianic Kingdom upon earth.

C.P. 7: “Jesus taught that his resurrection was the raising of the True Temple of Israel. He has replaced the priesthood, sacrifices, and the sanctuary by fulfilling them in his own glorious priestly ministry and by offering, once and for all, his sacrifice for the world, that is, for Jew and Gentile Believers from all nations are now being built up through Him into this Third Temple, the church that Jesus promised to build.”

In the first place, Jesus taught that His body was a Temple which He would raise in three days. He did not refer to His body as “the True Temple of Israel…” As has already been pointed out (see CP 4 above), the Bible predicts that a literal Temple and sacrificial system will be in existence during the Millennial Kingdom (Jer. 33; Ezek. 40-48). What the full purposes of the Temple will be cannot be stated with exactitude, but that does not give us license to allegorize the passages away. There is no contradiction in Christ offering a once-for-all sacrifice for sins and the Millennial Sacrifices being reinstituted. Just as the O.T. sacrifices did not expiate sin, but pointed away from themselves to the Great Sacrifice of Christ, so the Millennial sacrifices will not expiate sin, but may function as the way for sinners in the Millennium (cf. Isa. 65:20) to express acceptance and faith in the finished work of Christ. One must recall that every person in the kingdom will know that Christ has died for the sins of the world. It will take not faith to believe that fact. Perhaps, then, the sacrifices reveal faith? We cannot tell for sure.

As far as the Church being “the Third Temple” is concerned, this is untrue in any case. Though the Church is a spiritual temple and a spiritual priesthood, each individual Christian is also a spiritual temple (1 Cor. 6:19), and we have already seen that Christ’s physical body is also called a temple (Jn.2:19-21). Therefore, if (as the authors of the Open Letter seem to want to do), one includes the two literal temples, the completed Church cannot be the third, but the fifth temple. But it ought to be obvious that calling Christ’s physical body, or our physical bodies, or Christ’s mystical body (the Church), temples does not mean that the two future literal temples (i.e. the Tribulation temple – Dan. 9:26-27; Matt. 24:15; Rev. 11:1-2), and the Millennial Temple, should not be recognized for what they are.

C.P. 8: “Simon Peter spoke of the Second Coming of the Lord Jesus in conjunction with the final judgment and the punishment of sinners. Instructively, this same Simon Peter, the Apostle to the Circumcision, says nothing about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel in the land of Palestine. Instead, as his readers contemplate the promise of Jesus’ Second Coming, he fixes their hope upon the new heavens and the new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”

This proposition is comprised chiefly of what Simon Peter did not say. It is a form of the argument from silence. His epistles deal with Church issues, not with the Kingdom promises to Israel.[15]

(i) Jesus told Peter that “in the regeneration” (not re-creation), he would be among the twelve who sit “upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matt. 19:28)

(ii) Peter preached to the Jews about “the restoration of all things” (Acts 3:20-21).

We are not privy to why a Biblical author selected his material as he did.[16] His focus on the final consummation of all things in eternity is surely appropriate regardless of whether or not there will be an intervening Millennium. Thus, this assertion proves nothing.

C.P. 9: This proposition will again have to be broken down and dealt with in individual parts.

A. “The entitlement of any one ethnic or religious group to territory in the Middle East called the “Holy Land” cannot be supported by Scripture. In fact, the land promises specific to Israel in the Old Testament, were fulfilled under Joshua.”

The literal physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are entitled to the land of Palestine on the basis of the ratified unconditional promises of God (Gen. 15; 17; 22). In fact, their eventual entitlement will be considerably larger in extent than Palestine (Gen. 15:18-21).[17] This covenant promise regarding the land is repeated throughout O.T. history (Gen. 15:7-21; 24:7; 28:13-15; Exod. 12:25; 33:1; Deut. 1:8; Isa. 5:25-26; 11:11-12; Jer. 12:14-17; 23:5-8; 30:18; 31:27-40; 33:10[18]-13, 18-21; Ezek. 34:11-31; 37:1-14; Hos. 13:9-14:9; Mic. 2:12; Zeph. 2:19-20; Zech. 12:10-11; 14:16-21).

Joshua 21:43-45 must be interpreted in light of these texts (the analogy of faith). Moreover, as the land has been granted to Israel for an everlasting possession (Gen. 17:8), it really makes little or no difference whether the promises were fulfilled in Joshua 21 since they obviously stretch beyond that time into eternity.

B. “The New Testament speaks clearly and prophetically about the destruction of the second temple in A.D. 70.”

However, if one were determined not to relate Matthew 24:1-2; Mark 13:1-2; and Luke 21:20-24 to the fall of Jerusalem, one could do so by the expedient of employing the same spiritualizing hermeneutic used by replacement theology to negate God’s promises to the people of Israel; or, even the belief of some of the signatories to apply most of the rest of Matthew 24 to an invisible coming of Christ in judgment in A.D. 70.

C. “No New Testament writer foresees a regathering of ethnic Israel in the land, as did the prophets of the Old Testament after the destruction of the first temple of 586 B.C.”

On the contrary, Matthew (24:15-20), Mark (13:14-18), John (Rev.11:1-2), and Paul (2 Thess. 2:4) all include statements which necessitate this very thing.

The second part of the sentence is confused and ambiguous (as is the reference to Luke 21:24). It could be taken in several ways. First, it could mean that the authors agree that the Old Testament prophets, writing after 586 B.C., foresaw a regathering of ethnic Israel to the land. Or, second, it could mean that no prophet after 586 B.C. predicted a regathering. This would be patently false. Also, in context, Luke 21:24 implies a restoration of Israel after “the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

D. “Moreover, the land promises of the Old Covenant are consistently and deliberately expanded in the New Testament to show the universal dominion of Jesus, who reigns from heaven upon the throne of David, inviting all the nations through the Gospel of Grace to partake of his universal and everlasting dominion.”

The land promises are not expanded in any way by the NT writers. But the statement is misleading because according to Reformed Replacement Theology, they were not only expanded but altered. This also cannot be sustained from Scripture. We observe further:

Ÿ The verses quoted to substantiate this are NT applications of salient OT passages. Nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the N.T. (the exception being the Saturday Sabbath). The reference to the land in Exodus 20 is literal and was taken literally. In Paul it is figurative and meant to be taken figuratively. It is the principle of blessing that is important to the Apostle.

Ÿ Since one is repeatedly told in the N.T. that the Law is done away with in Christ (Rom.6:14-16; Gal.3: 23-25; 5:18; Eph. 2:14-15), only those commandments which are repeated by N.T. writers are to be observed, since they are the commandments of Christ. This would be true of these commands because of their very nature since they reflect the character of God. But Covenant Theology holds that the O.T. Law is still a rule of life for Christians. To teach this they have to make a distinction between the “moral” law, and the ceremonial law. This division is not countenanced by Scripture or Jewish practice, but again shows up the faulty hermeneutics of the covenantalist system; a system built upon the unbiblical concept of an over-arching covenant of grace.

Ÿ Knox Seminary tries to link Romans 4:15 with Genesis 12:1, which is incorrect. It is, in fact, a reference to Genesis 17:4-6 which pertains to the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 (not 12:1!). Why did they fail to make the proper connections? We think it was because the implications of their covenant theology influenced the way they came to Romans 4.

Ÿ The comparison of Psalm 37:11 with Matthew 5:5 is presumably made for the purpose of proving how the Church fulfills Genesis 15 and the gift of the land to Abraham and his descendants. But the Church was not even in existence in Matthew 5. According to Jesus in Matthew 16:18, the Church was still future. To be put into the Church (Christ’s Body), one must be baptized with the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 6:1-5). This did not occur during Jesus’ earthly ministry (cf. Jn. 7:39). Scripture makes it clear that it did not happen until Pentecost in Acts 2 (cf. Acts 1:5). Psalm 2 applies to the Millennial inheritance of Christ when He will rule over all nations. Why spiritualize the passage?

Ÿ Christ does not yet reign from David’s throne, and David’s throne is not “in heaven”. None of the verses cited by Knox Seminary make any mention of the throne of David. The scriptural teaching regarding Christ and the throne of David is that He is to rule as the Successor to David’s throne (Lk. 1:32,33), which is literal and was understood as such.

Ÿ Jesus Christ shall fulfill the prophecy of Psalm 2:7-8 when He rules all nations in the Millennium. He can be both king of Israel and Ruler of the World in the same way (though more pronounced) that past kings have ruled both their nations and their empires.

C.P. 10: This last proposition will again be treated in parts.

A. “Bad Christian theology regarding the “Holy Land” contributed to the tragic cruelty of the Crusades in the Middle Ages.”

True. The Roman Catholic Church saw herself as the kingdom upon earth. She therefore believed she had a divine right to “reclaim the Holy Land for Christ”. One of the main alibis for this belief was their espousal the of amillennial replacement eschatology of Augustine[19] – precisely the eschatology of much of Reformed covenant theology and Knox Seminary. If the Catholic Church had adopted a literal hermeneutic instead of the spiritualizing hermeneutic of Augustine, there would have been no premise for the Crusades.

B. “Lamentably, bad Christian theology is today attributing to secular Israel a divine mandate to conquer and hold Palestine, with the consequence that the Palestinian people are marginalized and regarded as virtual “Canaanites.””

According to the writers and signatories of the Open Letter, it is bad theology to take the Bible at face value. It seems these people believe that Israel is unlawfully occupying “Palestinian land,” and that they have no right to the land. This is a logical consequence of their bad theology, a theology that has more than a hint of anti-Semitism associated with it. We believe it has been well said that, “The cornerstone of Christian anti-Semitism is the superseding or displacement myth that old Israel is written off in favor of New Israel.”[20]

As far as the Palestinian people are concerned, we object to the mistreatment of any group by any other. But we believe Israel has a right to the land, Biblically, politically (1948), and morally (e.g. 1956, 1967). Israel is not led by a corrupt terrorist leadership (Arafat was pro-Saddam in 1991). Israeli citizens were not dancing in the streets when thousands of innocent Americans were killed by Muslim extremists. Furthermore, it is not Israelis but Palestinian Arabs who are slaughtering innocent people by blowing themselves up in crowded thoroughfares. Israel’s government is the only democratically elected, pro-American government in the Middle East, and it is the only country in that area that promotes anything like freedom of speech and of religion.[21] But the Open Letter is decidedly pro-Palestinian notwithstanding. Its authors charge certain unidentified Christians with “urging the violent seizure and occupation of Palestinian land.” We are not sure which Christians they are slinging mud at, but we can only say that such “violent seizure” is indefensible unless it is for very good reasons. Howbeit, these issues are hardly helped by the moralizing of Knox Seminary.

C. “Only the Gospel of Jesus Christ can bring both temporal reconciliation and the hope of an eternal and heavenly inheritance to the Israeli and the Palestinian. Only through Jesus Christ can anyone know peace on earth.”

This, of course, is so true as to be axiomatic. All dispensationalists agree that the Gospel needs to be shared alike with the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. But saying such a thing does not absolve us of moral responsibility in this matter, and we believe that the Open Letter promotes an anti-Israel stance that is both unrealistic and foolhardy.

These, then, are Knox’s Ten Counter-Propositions with our brief replies. The document carries on by dogmatically asserting the totally unscriptural claim that, “The promised Messianic kingdom of Jesus Christ has been inaugurated.” The Church, “the true Israel” is this kingdom. And although, “not all Israel will experience the blessing of participation in the Messianic kingdom, yet Jews who come to faith in Christ will share in his reign throughout the present age and into eternity.”

The last sentence shows that replacement theology holds that Christians are now reigning (spiritually), along with Christ (who reigns spiritually from a spiritual throne) in a (spiritualized) Messianic kingdom totally unlike the literal one predicted by God in the O.T. (e.g. Isa. 11; 60; Dan. 2; 7; Mic.4; Zeph. 3:14-20; Zech. 14:8-21). This dogma is to be cleaved to despite the fact that Satan is “the god of this age” (2 Cor. 4:4); and, “the spirit who now works in the children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2-3).[22] Satan “goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8), and is styled by Paul as the head of “principalities and powers,…the ruler of the darkness of this world, [and] of spiritual wickedness in high (i.e. heavenly) places” (Eph. 6:12). And despite supposedly co-reigning with Christ, the Apostle Paul was prevented by Satan from journeying where he desired (1 Thess. 2:18). Thus, in the face of the fact that Satan rules over most of the world’s population and therefore most, if not all, of the world’s land area (cf. Lk. 4:6). And even though more Christians are being persecuted today than ever before, we are to believe that we are in the Messianic kingdom! We respectfully beg to differ.

The Bible teaches that Israel will be regathered to the land in unbelief prior to Daniel’s Seventieth Week (Dan. 9:26-27; Matt. 24:15-24), the “Time of Jacob’s Trouble” (Jer. 30:6). The Tribulation is, in part, to prepare Israel to receive their Messiah. When He returns “they shall look upon Him whom they pierced” (Zech. 12:10), and then “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11:26), thus fulfilling God’s promises.

Conclusion.

Let us again say that we believe that Knox Seminary and its supporters have every right to their opinions. These men are not “cranks,” they are genuinely concerned Christians. Nevertheless, they are in grave error upon this subject. This error is due almost entirely to a system of theology which refuses to keep silent before it has listened to what the Bible is actually saying. The purpose of this reply is to show, albeit but briefly, that the Scriptures which covenant theology persists in spiritualizing, or even allegorizing, can and ought to be taken as read. When they are allowed to say what they say, they destroy the false arguments set forth in the Open Letter. We realize these brethren will not agree with us. Indeed, they cannot as long as they hold to a domineering “covenant of grace.”


[1] Throughout the paper reference is made to “Palestine” and the “Palestinians.” For purely pragmatic reasons we shall continue to use these names but without acknowledging that there has ever been a Palestinian nation, or that Jerusalem has ever been a place of importance to the Arabs other than since 1948. The ancient Roman Empire named the piece of land “Palestine” to spite the Jews. It is a form of the word Philistine. Thus, it is legitimate to speak of Palestinian Arabs and Palestinian Jews. But there has never been a nation called Palestine.

[2] The mention of “others” would appear to indicate that those who might espouse Proposition One are a separate group from those who might believe Proposition Two. This is a misleading statement and is not necessarily true

[3] If this is not the case then we willingly accede to Stanley Ellison’s verdict that, “Judged on biblical grounds, the nation today does not pass divine muster…Though her international right to the land can be well defended, her divine right by covenant has only sentiment in its favor.” – Stanley A. Ellison, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Who Owns The Land? (Portland: Multnomah, 1991), p.174. Nevertheless, we are convinced that Israel is being regathered in preparation for the coming Tribulation. Therefore, we see God’s hand in the present existence of the state of Israel.

[4] Note that a national regeneration takes place in the verses immediately following!

[5] For a fine study of Rapture passages see Renald E. Showers, Maranatha, Our Lord Come!, (Bellmawr: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc., 1995).

[6] This teaching basically obliterates any notion of progressive revelation.

[7] See discussion in Charles C. Ryrie, Dispensationalism (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), pp.115-121.

[8] If it were possible to ask an ordinary Israelite during the Wilderness wanderings why he sacrificed a sin-offering, one would undoubtedly receive an answer along the lines of Leviticus 17:11, not 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.

[9] Regarding the Sinaitic covenant, Berkhof writes about the introduction of, “a continuous preaching of the gospel in symbols and types.” – Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), p.298. Do we present the gospel this way? Do we not rather disclose the OT type with the NT Antitype? Surely the only reason that we can do this is because we have the NT! Isn’t this point made by Paul in Galatians 3:23-25?

[10] Reformed covenant theology often chooses to ignore dispensationalists when they make these statements, insinuating that we teach that OT saints were somehow justified by works, or, by arguing (as John H. Gerstner does in his Wrongly Dividing The Word of Truth), that, as most dispensationalists believe faith precedes regeneration (which it does in Jn. 1:12-13; Acts 2:38; 16:31 and other places), they must logically believe that salvation is by works. But that unfortunate kind of reasoning may lead to Sandemanianism! For a fuller discussion of the ordo saludis see Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1997), pp.36-44. As a side-note, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the “covenant of works” taught by covenant theologians was a works salvation.

[11] Radmacher writes, “There are five nontechnical uses of the word ekklesia in the New Testament. The first passage illustrative of this usage is Acts 7:38…Ekklesia here has its common significance of a physical assembly, as used in the Septuagint.” – Earl D. Radmacher, What The Church Is All About (Chicago: Moody Press, 1978), p.135.

[12] N.B. Utilizing the NIV reading. The better translations (NASB, NKJV, KJV) read “and” in this place.

[13] Note especially Galatians 3:14-16. Surely the term “Israel of God” is Paul’s designation for the saved Israelites which he has written about, or the eschatological remnant he speaks of elsewhere (Rom.11).

[14] Of the 74 occurrences of “Israel” in the New Testament (23 times by Paul), there are only three (Rom. 9:6; Gal. 6:16; and, Rev. 7:4), that replacement theology has even a hope of applying to the Church. And these all require the interpreter to ignore the obvious within their own contexts. Thus, we put these attempts down to wishful thinking.

[15] One ought to note Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum’s belief that 1 Peter 2:1-10 relates to the Jewish Remnant in the Millennium. See his Israelology: The Missing Link In Systematic Theology (Ariel Ministries Press, 1993), pp.720-723. His argument carries some persuasive force.

[16] One might very well have expected to find the word “church” in the Petrine letters, but it is not there save in the last verse of his first letter.

[17] This could cover an area of some 300,000 square miles. See Ronald B. Allen, “The Land of Israel” in H. Wayne House, Gen. ed., Israel: The Land and the People, (Grand Rapids, Kregel Publications,1998), p.24.

[18] On Jeremiah 31:10, Larsen asks, “must not the scattering and the gathering, both immediate and ultimate, be understood in this context as comparable in genre?” – David Larsen, Jews, Gentiles, and the Church, (Grand Rapids, Discovery House Publishers, 1995), pp.24-25.

[19] Augustine (A.D. 354-430), “rejected the premillennialism…of the early church and equated the reign of Christ and his saints with the entire history of the church, thus denying the idea of a literal, future kingdom of God on earth. He was the first orthodox theologian to teach amillennialism.” – Robert G. Clouse, Richard V. Pierard, Edwin M. Yamauchi, Two Kingdoms: The Church and Culture Through the Ages, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1993), p.81.

[20] Frank Littell, as cited by David Larsen, Jews, Gentiles, and the Church, (Grand Rapids, Discovery House Publishers, 1995), p.86 n.22. Unfortunately, this appears to be borne out by this letter.

[21] Perhaps the signatories to the Open Letter have not read Randall Price’s Unholy War (Eugene, Harvest House Publishers, 2001), or some such literature? A perusal of this book is recommended, particularly pages 52-68.

[22] This would include the majority of earth’s population at any given point throughout history.

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6 comments

  1. All this business about Israel is so complicated it could give one a splitting headache. I say, scrap all the scholarly arguments, and follow the simple biblical rule, as given in Isaisah 28:
    Isaiah 28:13 But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, [and] there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken.
    Never mind that this was a prophecy about Jesus speaking to the Jews in parables, it is still the best instruction for interpreting the Bible I have ever seen.
    Take a shot at what might be precept No. 1
    Luke 21:22 Shortly before going to the cross, Jesus predicted the day of vengeance of God upon the wicked and unbelieving of Israel, “For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” That is an obvious reference to all the specific prophecies in the Old Testament. This completes Christ’s reading of Isaiah which He started in Luke 4, and says that no prophecy written in the Old Testament was to be fulfilled AFTER AD70.
    If we claim to be Christian, and are Christ-centered, then there is no way we can ignore that statement.
    So, whatever was prophesied by anyone in the OT was fulfilled by the end of the war between Israel and Rome in AD70, or was not to be fulfilled at all.
    The next precept might be Romans 11:32 (Be sure to read the King James Bible. Most all other translations will lead to utter confusion.)
    ” For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.” The first “all” was Israel, as the context plainly shows. The second “all” is everyone, Jew and Gentiles alike.
    There being no Scriptures anywhere which say that God would reverse that situation, we must suppose that there are no Jews in the world today, ergo, all the arguments put forth by Dispensationalists favoring the ambitions of their “pseudo-Jewish” wards are null and void.
    Studying the Scriptures from the right perspective, we find that, before AD70, God had well taken care of His people, the New Testament Israelites who remained faithful to Christ to the end, and the Old Testament Israelites who went to their graves faithful to God. Believe it or not, they are in heaven this very moment, enjoying a “country” which far exceeds anything the promised land of Palestine might have to offer.
    What happens after the “Millennium” comes to an end, and Satan is released for a little while, and so on and so forth, can be left to Dispensationalists, who think they have the future well in hand. In truth, however, most of the Bible is history, except parts of Revelation.

    All for Him,

    C.P. Machovsky

    http://www.tribulationhoax.com

  2. Thank you for your input. I remain, however, far from convinced that you have made a case. While I agree that the AV is a superb translation I do not think your use of it even begins to make your point.

    What you have done is to underscore (albeit unwittingly) my point in writing the article.

  3. I know this is an old post but speaking of Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism – I’ve also been reading it in order to understand how amills think.

    While I appreciate Riddlebarger’s efforts at defending his view, many of his “defences” and arguments contra-disp & premil left me scratching my head.

    Have you ever reviewed the book?

  4. On Riddlebarger’s book I would say “Good luck!” in finding your way. Seriously, Mac, though he claims to be an ex-dispie and writes irenically he frontloads his arguments terribly, not allowing the Scripture to actually “speak.” This comes to light clearly in his supposed exegesis of Rom. 11. There, you will find him citing a bit of text and then a bunch of Reformed writers’ interpretations.

    You have to know what to look for. E.g. On p.183 he biases his discussion by citing Strimple to the effect that Paul makes no mention of a return to the land or to a millennial kingdom. This is an argument from silence, but it is also a tactic known as “poisoning the well.” On the next page he introduces “spiritual Israel” and, by sleight of hand, equates the “Israel of God” of Gal.6:16 with the church! This premature introduction of a contented passage from outside the context of Rom. 11 skews the exposition. He also falsely identifies Israel with the olive tree on p.189. Throughout his discussion of Rom. 11 he does not really interact with Paul’s wording.

    There are all sorts of problems with his book. The one I always refer people to is his literal interpretation of the whole of the 490 years of Daniel’s 70 Weeks with the exception of the last 31/2 weeks, which are magically spiritualized to cover the entire age of the church! (p.156).

    When you read or contend with these good people you will increasingly discover that you can’t keep them in one place for very long – i.e. in the context. They struggle like captives to be allowed to bring in other passages before they have properly dealt with the one in front of them.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Paul.

    I’m learning a good deal from reading the book and challenging his statements, so I’ll keep plodding along.

    BTW I own five copies of the Conservative Theological Journal and I see your name in four. I stumbled on your site while researching and remembered the name from the journals. And here I am.

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