The Future is What God Says it is

In his post imaginatively titled, “The future’s not what it used to be”  Steve Hays interacted somewhat with several other statements in my 40 Reasons:

He quotes Reason 22:

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

Then says,

I believe he picked this up from Sailhamer’s recent book (The Meaning of the Pentateuch).

He is right.  In chapter 8 of The Meaning of the Pentateuch, Sailhamer lays out a convincing case for there not being a promise-fulfillment scheme which carries over from one Testament to the other.  Sailhamer refers to the work of F. Baumgartel (who is cited approvingly by Eichrodt) from the early 1950’s.  But even before I read Sailhamer, GNH Peters’ Theocratic Kingdom oriented my thoughts toward covenant rather than simply promise.

However, I find this objection counterintuitive on the lips of a dispensationalist. After all, dispensationalists, including Henebury, criticize covenant theology for its alleged failure to do justice to the OT land-promises. If, however, Henebury deems it a mistake to cast the issue in promissory terms, if he doesn’t even think God made a promise to Abraham (and through him to Abraham’s posterity) to set aside a territorial inheritance, then I don’t see how he can’t fault covenant theology on that score. (all underlining is mine)

Dispensationalist’s do speak of promise and fulfillment, but not in the same way as CT’s, and for very good reason.  The generally accepted scheme of promise – fulfillment is summed up in the mantra “what is in the Old concealed is in the New revealed” (or words to that effect).  DT’s reject that way of looking at the Bible because they see that much prophecy in both Testaments yet awaits its fulfillment.  I do not think it “a mistake to cast the issue in promissory terms” so long as we conceive of promise as subordinate to covenant and sometimes separate from it (see the promise to Ishmael treated as distinct from the covenant promise to Isaac in Genesis 17).

Of course I DO think God made a promise of land to Abraham, but that promise is covenanted; therefore, it is part of the established relationship with the Patriarchs and cannot be altered!

Others may wish to contend with Hays here, but I have already said that I don’t care to defend a system as such.  The 40 Reasons were not aimed just at covenant theology, but at every system which accepts the dictum that the NT is needed to interpret the OT.

If he’s going to ditch the promise/fulfillment scheme and reconstruct dispensationalism according to a covenant/blessing scheme, then he needs to explain the status of the land non-promises under the new schema.

All that is required is to show how covenant reinforces the importance of actual fulfillment of the stated terms of the oaths in each covenant.

Next he quotes Reason 23:

23. It effectively shoves aside the hermeneutical import of the inspired intertextual usage of an earlier OT text by later OT writers (e.g. earlier covenants cited in Psa. 89:33-37; 105:6-12; 106:30-31: 132:11-12; Jer. 33:17-18, 20-22, 25-26; Ezek. 37:14, 21-26).  God is always taken at face value (e.g. 2 Ki. 1:3-4, 16-17; 5:10, 14; Dan. 9:2, 13).

I myself have been using intertextual OT exegesis to lay the groundwork for covenant theology.

And I have addressed these texts, (albeit briefly) in my replies, and shown how the typology required for CT is not supported by the passages Steve used.  My examples of “literal” interpretation of OT covenants by later OT writers have been bypassed.

Commenting on Reason 28 Hays says,

28. The character of any being, be it man or angel, but especially God, is bound to the words agreed to in a covenant (cf. Jer. 33:14, 24-26; 34:18).  This being so, it would mean that God could not make such covenants and then not perform them in a way totally foreign to the plain wording of the oaths He took.

Next Hays argues,

i) One problem with Henebury’s appeal to the “plain sense,” “plain wording,” or “face value” of OT passages is that Scripture sometimes depicts the future in present terms. For instance, Revelation describes combat in terms of ancient warfare. Yet dispensationalists don’t think that when the battle of Armageddon takes place, that will be a throwback to antique military technology.


Likewise, OT prophecy depicts battles between Israel and her traditional pagan adversaries. Yet dispensationalists don’t think that in the future, God will literally restore these ancient kingdoms. Rather, to my knowledge, dispensationalists update these prophecies and reassign them to modern counterparts.


As for the present-tense wording of many prophecies, this is stylistic and is understood by all to be so.  It doesn’t detract from the future-orientation of the predictions.  It is well to remember that this feature affects the First Advent as much as it does the Second.

The “ancient warfare” language could become up-to-date surprisingly quickly if, for some reason, there was no oil and electricity.  But I don’t know how it will all work itself out.  I just believe it shouldn’t be swept aside or spiritualized.  As I have said before, if Abraham had believed in typological interpretation he would not have taken Isaac up Mt. Moriah!

Even today Egypt is called Misr (derived from Mizriam) by the Egyptians themselves.  We still speak of Semitic peoples.  Some have studied the “Table of Nations” in Genesis 10 and identified modern descendents of the names mentioned there.  Even more liberal scholars are prepared to see some correspondence between the names in Genesis 10 (which they say comes from two or more sources) modern counterparts.  It is not impossible, therefore, that these “pagan adversaries” are alive today.  Whether their respective kingdoms need to be resurrected is debatable.

ii) And that raises another issue. If the Bible sometimes portrays the future in present terms, then even if Scripture portrays an endtime battle in terms of Israel and Babylon (or whatever), that may simply be a literary convention. The use of stock imagery.


This doesn’t rule out a future battle, but it also doesn’t entail a battle between ethnic Israel and Russia or the Arabs.

But it does entail a real end-time battle between Israel and the nations (e.g. Zech.12-14)

23. This sets up an expectation that covenant commitments will find “fulfillment” in expected ways, certainly not in completely unforeseeable ones.

Then Reason 24 is cited:

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

But Hays objects:

i) This overlooks fatal ambiguities in Henebury’s appeal to the “plain sense” meaning of the text. Plain to whom? Future to whom?


Here he indicates it would be plain to the audience. Well, what would be plain to the audience? And which audience?

Plain to anyone not wanting convert a temple blueprint into the Body of Christ!  Here I might quote from I. Duguid’s Commentary on Ezekiel, where he admits that a competent architect could build Ezekiel’s Temple, though he would need “a consecrated imagination to supply the many details that are lacking, most notably the height dimensions and construction materials”, and there would need to be radical topographical changes in the land also (479).  Any reader of Zechariah 6 and 14 will have no trouble with dismissing Duguid’s objections.

ii) Apropos (i), Ezk 40-48 is addressed to the Babylonian exiles. To the Jewish community in exile.


In what sense would it be plain to 6C BC Jewish exiles in Babylon that Ezekiel’s temple will be built at the tail-end of the church age? Is that their historical horizon?

They didn’t see the Church in their Hebrew Testament, but they did know that Ezekiel’s Temple would be rebuilt when Messiah came to bless Israel.  See, for example, Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts, xxxvi for corroboration of this.  Please note also my quotation of Richard Hess in the last article.

iii) Henebury’s interpretation is quite anachronistic. That’s because dispensationalists subconsciously have a different view of the future than the original audience. What was future to Babylonian exiles is past to dispensationalists. We live in a different time. A later time. Much later….If we confine ourselves to the “plain wording” of the text and the expectations of the original audience, then assuming that this is an oracle about rebuilding the temple, wouldn’t they anticipate the fulfillment of that prophecy after they were repatriated?

As I have said, they believed these events would occur with the coming of the Messiah.  They still do.  The emphasis on Messiah in the OT is not His first coming (crucial as that was), but on His coming in power to set up His earthly kingdom reign in Jerusalem.  Dispensationalists have always agreed with the basic correctness of ancient Jewish expectations about the rebuilding of the temple and the kingdom restored to Israel.  I don’t see the problem here.

Steve goes on in this vein but I don’t see the matter of time lapse as an interpretative problem.  As said above, the interpretations of ancient Israel and modern DT’s overlap in many points of detail.  I do, however, see that it would pose a temptation to spiritualize (use another term if you wish) the promises however.

Then Steve asks,

Wouldn’t the Babylonian exiles expect Ezekiel’s temple to replace the ruins of Solomon’s temple–which was destroyed in the sack of Jerusalem? Wouldn’t they expect that to be fulfilled in the near term, once they reoccupied Jerusalem?

Perhaps, but if it wasn’t, does that mean we throw out a literal interpretation?  How would Christ’s Second Coming fair under such terms?  Jewish expectations have been long awaited expectations.  So have the church’s.  Neither expectation is to be reinterpreted because of the passage of time.


iv) Mind you, I don’t think that a “physical temple is clearly described.” What’s described is a vision of a temple. And, by definition, anything you see in a vision has to be picturable. That doesn’t make it ipso facto physical or prophetic.

Isaiah had a vision of God and yet we are told by John that He saw Christ (Jn. 12:40-41).  Therefore, having a vision of something and that vision being of the real thing is not unusual.  I could provide numerous other examples of this.  In Ezek. 43:10-12 the prophet is commanded to write down the pattern so that Israel might “keep its whole design, and all its ordinances, and perform them.”  When?  When the Glory returns (vv.3-5)!

In closing, I just see no good reason for Steve’s reticence in taking these passages in their plain-sense.

I had thought I was catching Steve up, but he has kept two posts ahead of me.  Other priorities mean that I’m not sure I can sustain this discussion for very much longer.  But I shall try a couple more times.  I am happy for him to have the last word.  I hope readers have found the interaction as helpful as I have.


One comment

  1. “The Future is What God Says it is”


    It has been enlightening for me to read just how clever some arguments can be made to argue differently. Clever but unconvincing. Thanks Paul.

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