I have been asked some questions which I find are better fitted to another post than an interminable reply in the combox. The questioner is my friend Paul Duncan, and I hope he will not be embarrassed if I address my comments directly to him, though with other readers in mind.
Hi Paul, I am back in town and will try to answer your questions as asked in the comments on the fourth post. However, I shall have to point out several presuppositions in your argument, some of which may perhaps be hidden from you. I’m glad Tony has saved me the time of explaining Matthew’s use of Jeremiah. Btw, this is the standard interpretation across the board, dispensational or not. I would only add the fact that NT writers employ the word “fulfillment” in a few different ways; sometimes they point to an application as here (thus cf. 1 Cor. 10:6 “example”). Sometimes a partial fulfillment, as when Christ read from Isa. 61 but stopped short of the whole quotation. Sometimes, of course, the fulfillment is a direct confirmation of a prediction, as when the scribes knew Christ would be born in Bethlehem from Micah 5:2. There is more to say on “fulfillment”, but I hope I’ve made my point sufficiently.
Your first question asks: “1. What distinction do you make between replacement theology as a hermeneutic and progressive revelation?”
Your phrasing of the questions helps my answer. Notice “replacement theology” comes to a passage with certain theological baggage: there is only one people of God; the Church, and the Church perforce must be the “New Israel.” But “progressive revelation” is much as you’ve defined it. It is God who reveals, and He does so gradually. But He never circumvents a prior revelation with a later one, which, as you acknowledge, would make His earlier revelation disingenuous (i.e. a prevarication), and so would throw suspicion on any later revelations.
CT forces progressive revelation into its premeditated mold. Everything must conform to the covenant of grace in particular. Hence, all those saved by grace are under that covenant (which is found nowhere in Scripture), resulting in one people of God, whether that is what the Bible actually says or not. Thus, the Bible must be made to “teach” this via the expedient of a forced typology, which the plain-sense must yield to if it threatens the theological mold. I teach my students never to build any doctrine on a type! Types may illustrate an already formulated doctrine, but they can never establish it! I hope you follow.
Progressive revelation makes no sense to me if ones hermeneutics have to change in order to keep up with it. How does revelation progress if it flits from the plain-sense to some typological sense with such unnerving abandon? Dispensationalists operate from the assumption that progressive revelation is tied to the dictum that God means what He says to whom He says it. My brand of Biblical Theology, which I call Biblical Covenantalism, relies on progressive revelation which grows out of hermeneutical continuity. that being so, once God has covenanted the “Holy Land” to Israel He cannot give it to the Church. They are two distinct entities (e.g. Israel exists as a geo-political ethnic nation long before the Church was even formed after the resurrection of Christ).
Your second question was: “2. In what sense do you believe that Gentile-Christians are sons of Abraham?”
The first thing to say is that they are not sons of Abraham (better Abraham’s seed – Gal. 3:29) in the physical sense. Paul says we are sons through like faith (e.g. Gal. 3:7-9; Rom. 4:16). This being true, I could write in the second post:
Now Abraham is introduced, together with the quotation of Genesis 15:6 to prove that justification is by faith alone (3:6). And just as Abraham’s faith was declared sufficient for justification, so we too must exercise faith in God’s Word to us [in the Gospel] (3:7). The next verse quotes from the promise of blessing to all nations through Abraham by faith (3:8). This connects salvation to the Abrahamic covenant (cf. Rom.4). The verse says the Scripture foresaw this salvation of the Gentiles. Paul shows this by simply bringing Gen.15:6 and Gen. 12:3 together. Righteousness is what man most needs, and that is what God imputed to Abraham in Gen. 15:6 upon his faith. The Gentile nations will be blessed – which starts with imputed righteousness – by their faith-connection with Abraham via the covenant (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:9). Thus, there is a corporate identity via a provision (Gen. 12:3) of the Abrahamic covenant (hereafter AC).
Please note that Paul in Galatians is not teaching about the covenant promises to Israel (viz. land, king, priesthood, preeminence), but has as his subject the purity of the Gospel of justification by grace through faith which was in danger of being subverted. If we keep that in mind we shall not be tempted to drift into the sort of symbolic implication which Gunn, uniquely as far as I know, has pursued. Instead, we shall see that Paul links our “sonship” here to two things: following in the faith of Abraham, and being included in certain (not all) promises pertaining to the Gentiles in the Abrahamic covenant. The inheritance of verse 18 is not the land, but the blessings within Genesis 12:3 (Gal. 3:8). We must pay attention to the parts of the AC which Paul is dealing with and not jump to conclusions which the text does not spell out. Remember, I cited F. F. Bruce, who is not a dispensationalist, to the effect that the land promises are not in view in Galatians 3.
But our specific concern here is with Paul’s use of “Seed” in verse 16. How can he be so punctiliar when he knows the word is a collective noun (and uses it as such in v. 29)? I went on to write:
But there is no clear provision in the AC itself to provide the salvation needed for our entering into its blessings upon Gentiles. This would mean the AC (and also the Davidic and Priestly covenants too), would require supplementing with a specific salvific promise to bring about their fulfillments. That “supplement” is, as we are told elsewhere and to be brought out next time, the New covenant (NC) in Christ.
Let me remind you of something I said in the second post:
“Option 3. Paul understood that “seed” could not be legitimately confined to a singular noun referring to Messiah, since the word is a collective noun and is used as such many times in the OT, and, indeed, by Paul himself (Gal. 3:29). In which case the singular and the corporate must be closely related; the corporate fulfillment being predicated on the coming Messiah.
Only this view preserves the integrity of the OT contexts, not to mention the specificity of God’s covenant promises to Israel. Promises which Paul elsewhere says are inviolable (Rom. 11:25-28). Only on this view can we avoid the treacherous waters of hermeneutical and philosophical ambiguity upon which the first two views implicitly rely. This third way would be our position. To demonstrate it one must try to show that there is no need for an OT passage to be considered a “shadow” or “type” of a NT reality, but rather that the witness of both Testaments can be hermeneutically aligned to allow all the relevant verses to speak in their own words.”
All the covenant promises, whether to Israel or the Gentiles, run through the New covenant and hence through Christ. This does not mean everyone is in the Church. Christ is the One through whom God’s covenant promises, differentiated according to whom they were given and what was promised, come to final fulfillment. In my first post I wrote, with tongue-in-cheek:
“Of course, we know that Gunn sees a deeper meaning to the “land.” He sees Heaven! And Heaven is for the Church. And the Church is “Abraham’s seed.” Therefore, the Church gets all the blessings entailed in the covenant with Abraham, including the (wink) “land.” So the reasoning goes.”
But this makes God talk out of both sides of His mouth. Revelation becomes, not progressive, but mercurial and unpredictable.
Then, in the third post I said:
“This is what provides Paul with the means whereby he can take up OT passages that plainly refer to a plurality of persons and also the promised land, and route them all through the single Seed in Galatians 3:16. In so doing he does not have to leave behind the plural meaning of “seed” (i.e. “descendents”). But he also does not have to forge OT Israel into a “New Israel” which is the NT Church. Furthermore, he has no need to set aside or transform the promised land either. The original referents remain intact. God’s covenants are at least as fixed and immutable as any covenant of men (Gal. 3:15, 17).”
My fourth post included this line: “because the Church is a participant in the AC via the promises in Genesis 12:3 and 22:18 it does so just because of its participation in the New covenant in Christ.”
Genesis 12:3, which is cited by the Apostle, refers not to the land but to blessing on the “nations” other than the physical descendents of Abraham through Isaac (and Jacob).
Finally then, the Church is not minimized and neither is Israel. In Galatians 3 Paul is dealing with the former, in which “there is neither Jew nor Greek” (Gal. 3:28). But it is a mistake to think that because that is true, that the church gets that which was promised to Israel by an everlasting covenant in the OT – the land (thus Psa. 105:6-11).
I hope this clears away the confusion. 🙂