The Future of an Allusion: G. K. Beale’s NT Biblical Theology (Pt.3)

Part Two

As we continue to the end of this impressive book we come to the second part of Beale’s two chapter treatment of supercessionism (although the doctrine permeates the whole work).

The author is among those who believe all the phenomena in Joel’s prophecy recited by Peter on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:16-21 came to pass, even though it didn’t really.  But that is ancillary to his argument, which is that the prophecy was aimed at Israel (689), and in Christ gentiles become tagged as Israel (690).  This is helped by another allusion, this time to Isaiah 2:2-4; the first part of which “implies that gentiles become identified with Israel.” (691).  Once more, some will miss the subtlety of the connection Beale makes, more particularly because of the physical phenomena described in Isaiah 2 and its seemingly obvious connection to places like Isaiah 11:1-10; Zechariah 14 and Romans 8:18f., which appear to place this transformation after the Second Advent.

The same passing over descriptions of physical transformation occurs in the writers comparison of Isaiah 32:13 with Acts 1:8 (693).  Chapter 20 closes with a look at the work of Rikki Watts and David Pao and their extension of “the view of such scholars as C. H. Dodd and Francis Foulkes that the citation of or allusion to OT passages in the NT are indicators of broader hermeneutic frameworks, storylines,…” and such like (699).  Beale lists five points from Pao which he thinks show that hearers of these OT allusions in the early church would have been able to make the same connections a few twentieth and twenty-first century scholars have made (700).  How many readers and hearers since that time have been able to do likewise is an open question.

Chapter 21 examines several NT passages pertinent to the discussion: Rom. 9:24-26 and 27-29; 10:11-13, 25-26; 2 Cor. 6; Gal. 4:22-27 and 6:16; Eph. 2:13-18; and sundry passages in Hebrews, 1 Peter and Revelation.  It would take extended comments to analyze Beale’s treatments of these texts, but the upshot is that few naysayers would be won over to his views, whereas those already in agreement would feel more secure in their position (the exception would be Romans 9:24-29 where even many “Dutch school” covenant theologians would argue against Beale).

The author’s decided replacementism surfaces again in his closing comment on Gal. 6:16:

Here [Gal. 6:16], as in 2 Cor. 5:14-7:1, it needs to be emphasized that the church in fulfilling Israel’s end-time restoration prophecies [n.b. Israel didn’t fulfill them!] is also fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecies of new creation. (724).

On page 728 Beale provides five ways in which the new covenant has been understood.  However, he misses a sixth way: that the same new covenant, who is Jesus Christ, is made with both the church (at the first coming), and with national Israel (at His second coming).  As all God’s covenant obligations depend for their consummation on righteousness obtained through Christ, once that righteousness is given, nothing stands in the way of literal fulfillment of the original covenanted promises [see e.g., this post].

In the next chapter (22) Israel’s land promises are dealt with.  The now common route of expansion of “the land” is the tack taken.  As per writers like O. Palmer Robertson, the promise is thought to  begin in Eden (751) of which the land covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a recapitulation.  This is called an “expansive temple-land theology” (753) wherein the “temple/land” is to extend throughout the new earth of Rev. 21.  As usual, none of the texts used to prove the contention actually say that this is the case.  Neither is the simple fact that Israel is never equated with its temple dealt with.  What needs to be in place to make it all work is the joint assumption that the NT reinterprets the OT, and the deductive skills of the interpreter play a magisterial role.  For an instance of the latter, the author cites Heb. 11:13 as teaching that Christians have reached New Jerusalem even while living on earth (766), whereas the writer of Hebrews appears to say nothing of the kind.  

Part Eight enlarges upon the Reformed understanding of the “Christian Sabbath” (Ch. 23), and “Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the Church Office, and New Testament Canon” (Ch.24).  This is where some who have ridden this train to this point may want to disembark, and we are glad to have them on our side even if for a short stay.  Briefly, although the Bible records no keeping of the seventh-day prior to the Book of Exodus, it is viewed as in situ as a “creation ordinance” since creation week (e.g. 781, 789).  The connection between Eden and Israel depends heavily upon Beale’s assertion that Israel is a “corporate Adam.”  Beale then turns to the NT evidence.  There follows a rather convoluted argument from Hebrews followed by three inferences based thereon (788-789).  Then there are several proposals about the sabbath as a creation mandate linked in with the author’s view that Adam was to spread out the “Eden temple” while ruling over opposition from the serpent (798).  To some of us, such teachings seem so foreign to what the Scriptures actually say that it is difficult to keep ones concentration, and even Beale is forced to admit that there,

is no exegetical evidence supporting such a change, just as there is no explicit evidence supporting the notion that Christ’s resurrection has consummated rest for him and inaugurated it for believers. (799). 

Indeed, the lack of explicit evidence for so many of the book’s major assertions is almost habitual.  In the next chapter (24), in the midst of a treatment of Col. 2:9-13, we read that in view of the “overtones of idolatry” connected to “handmade” circumcision in the LXX and the NT,

the implied reference to “circumcision made with hands” in Col. 2 further enforces the notion that it is idolatrous to continue to trust in the OT “shadows” once their fulfillment has come. (804)

While not agreeing with the author one does not wish to be an unsympathetic reader, but such a statement raises the eyebrows.  For surely the pious believer who fails to acknowledge what covenant theologians call “shadows” and “types,” but who instead wants to take God’s words at face value, is not to be considered guilty of idolatry for so doing?  After all, if God had meant what we are told He meant, couldn’t He have said it without employing so much equivocal language, making “literalists” guilty for believing He meant what He said?  I am not going to say much more here but I feel I must include this quote from the end of chapter 24:

Just as Israel had its book from God, so does the new Israel, the church, have its book, which is an already-not yet eschatological unpacking of the meaning of Israel’s book. (830).  

Now Beale goes on say to that the Bible “is ultimately one book” revealed progressively.  But one does not have to read through to this part of the book to twig that the NT is being exalted above the OT and the church is being exalted above Israel.  Too, for covenant theologians, progressive revelation is not very progressive (as in one idea augmented by another), but is rather supercessive revelation (as in one idea being displaced by another). 

Two short chapters comprise Part Nine.  The only thing I wish to say is that Beale’s chapter including “Marriage as a Transformed New-Creational Institution in Ephesians 5” forces this question: if, as Beale agrees, marriage is a covenant, can it be transformed to include others not mentioned in the original covenant oath?  Can a man “transform” his “wife” so that she is not the same one to whom he actually made his vows?

The Conclusion, which consists of two chapters (Ch. 27 being long; ch, 28 short), making up Part Ten, compares OT lives with NT lives, provides an apology for a form of sensus plenior (954-956), and reiterates, in more doxological fashion, the thesis of the book.

The final installment of this review article, including a fuller critique, will appear soon, Lord willing.

Part Four

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16 comments

  1. You went just where my mind was going on marriage. One could make a good argument that women (and men!) should only marry dispensationalists.

    Isn’t Beale known for arguing that OT prophecies aren’t fulfilled sensus plenior, but actually do relate to original context and intent?

    If they’re right, I’d just despair of preaching, ever again. One could never possibly know what anything meant.

    1. He prefers the term “transformed organic development,” but only because sensus plenior “has been understood and misunderstood in different ways.” (955). It comes out the same way.

      As I shall try to include in my critique, Beale is rather elastic with his view of “literal” hermeneutics. E.g., What was once understood by an ignorant OT saint as one thing is now “literally” (read “really”) to be understood as this transmogrified thing.

      Go figure…

      P.

      1. …and once again, I hear the philanderer “reasoning” with his wife: “Honey, you know, it’s like Dr. Beale says. You took me one way, but now what I promised you has been transmogrified into a much higher and broader and more expansive thing! It’s really deep and beautiful! So stop crying!”

        — which, to be clear, I’m sure we both agree is an extension that would HORRIFY Dr. Beale. I’m just saying that when I found someone has outsmarted me and deceived me, I am not left thinking what a grand and wonderful sort he is, and how much more deeply I trust and adore him now. I’m left feeling betrayed, and swearing that I’ll never trust that person again.

        Making that deceiving person God (unintentionally and by implication) doesn’t glorify God or lessen the betrayal.

  2. Paul, thanks for the detailed review. You are very patient with Beale’s spiritualization, I think David Reagan from Lamb and Lion Ministries (sure, he’s a nakedly Arminian who holds to conditional security, but his eschatology is spot on) will complete the same review in just nine words: “that’s an utterly ridiculous exercise in sophistry and spiritualization!”

    1. I have to agree: Paul shows enormous patience in this review and his treatment of Beale’s work. When I was working on a commentary on Revelation, I waded through Beale’s contribution to the subject and have to say it was a most difficult, painful, ponderous academic exercise–all the while throwing a straightforward understanding of Revelation into great confusion.

      There is so much ink spilled which purports to be academic, but which does little to benefit the student of Scripture who simply wants a better understanding of The Book. It gets to be tricky, at times, knowing how to respond to some of these works. On the one hand, we want to be generous and non-confrontational. On the other hand, the net result of many of these works is a serious distortion of that which God has said as if a giant monkey-wrench was thrown into the Biblical interpretation of the Church at large.

      1. Thanks Paul, I’m moving in local church circles where Beale is widely read and I find some of the “deeper” reading/interpretation stuff appears to destroy my confidence to trust God is truly speaking to us through Hos Word the Bible. I’m sorry Reformed (I use this to denote the fullblown sense of Westminster/three forms of unity/London Confession sense as taught by the likes of Robert Reymond, Michael Horton, Kim Riddlebarger etc and not the Calvinistic way of salvation) but Calvinism does produce its shares of liberals in different ways from Arminianism.

        Probably an aside question: has anyone read much of Michael Horton’s works? Some of his arguments are spot on but others are repungent to say the least. I’m not really certain where he stands as to how we can read and understand the teachings of the Bible. Is he more of the school that says read Calvin, the creeds and confessions and interpret the Scriptures from other avenues, or others? Hardly any dispensationalist has written anything to respond to Horton at that level. Thanks in advance.

      2. Joel,

        Yes, I think the modern approach to interpretation which basically ignores the immediate context in favor of “canonical context” is dangerous and leads to esoterism in Bible reading. As I shall say in my Critique of Beale’s book, the worse thing about this view is its gutting of both the sufficiency of Scripture and the clarity of Scripture.

        As far as Horton is concerned, I have read and interacted with his “God of Promise.” He does want to return to a stronger Confessional view, but he is not afraid to criticize O. P. Robertson or those who make the Sinai Covenant an aspect of the covenant of grace instead of a republication of the covenant of works.

      3. the question that exercises me is, who is going to throw the monkey-wrench back?

        There is also the related question: if the monkey-wrench is pretty obvious then how much effort should one undertake to point out the obvious when simply directing people back to the Scriptures at their face value is the ultimate solution?

        Some of these tomes require enormous effort to interact with in detail which can also serve as a great distraction from moving forward teaching the more obvious truth of Scripture. This is a balance I’ve struggled with frequently in that the best defense is often an active offense.

        One wonders if interacting with the academy (e.g., German liberalism) hasn’t led to shipwreck for many who were not adequately prepared or wary enough.

        The beauty of the truth over error is that it is ultimately more ‘efficient’ because the plain sense of the Scriptures uphold it. Of course we are also called to refute error. But as I grow older (and perhaps what I mistake as wisdom is simply weariness), I’m less apt to undertake the task of wrestling with academic elephants in favor of simpler instructions to the sheep: ‘read the Scriptures for yourself’.

        Anyway, I admire and support YOUR gifting of being able to work through this sort of material at the level you do and provide fair and cogent assessment of its strengths and weaknesses.

  3. Great review, thank you Dr. Henebury. Confirming the promise of a land, by annihilating it’s former inhabitants (Deut. 9:5), seems somewhat excessive when it’s really a metaphoircal extension and not the actual land that’s being promised.

  4. I empathize with what you say, Tony. As a former Catholic I’ve been spending time interacting with and reading various Catholic apologists. I’m astounded as to how they argue around some key texts that contradict their dogmas. I see these arguments expressed in the same form by lay Catholics in forums. What I don’t see is a solid familiarity with Scripture, especially relating to Israel and the millennium.

    My conclusion is that lay Catholics read their devotionals, their Catechisms and Catholic apologists but not their Bibles. I suspect the same may be true for other denominations. And, as you note, it is difficult to address “these tomes” because of the sheer volume of work associated with it.

    1. Alf,

      Interesting thoughts. My opinion (and that is all it is) is that these scholars have yielded to the temptation to get oh so precious about the text so that they have forged a “biblical” way of intruding their own reasonings into the Bible. In so doing they have turned “the right interpretation of the Bible” into an esoteric practice, and themselves into a priesthood of experts. Those who follow them are not able to talk straight with you with a Bible in their hand (unless, of course, they are dealing with a subject like homosexuality or complementarianism).

      My practice with these guys is to point them to Jer. 33:14ff. and let them explain it. I have never yet had one of them actually do it! That, plus the fact that they often prevaricate or go off in another direction when asked a straight question about biblical passages (see my correspondence with Steve Hays) convinces me not to take their route.

      I’m sorry, but I’m just dumb enough to believe the Bible is for Everyman, not just the initiate (ancient or modern), and God means what He says.

      God bless,

      P

  5. Hi guys, I have been doing a bit of search and remember a very old website written back in year 2000 (that makes it an ancient site and before the YRR phenomenon!) by a female lay believer in WELS on the whole issue of amillennialism. If you have never heard of WELS before, it is the most “confessional” of the Lutheran denomination in the United States and it is loudly amillennial. The author is dispensational and she struggled with and tried to take amillennialism on board for years (I can imagine some young restless Reformed are screaming “read Beale/Michael Horton/Reymond/Kim Riddlebarger/Gary deMar/Steve Hays, sweetheart!” :)).

    This is her struggle back then:

    “At first, I accepted that all these things were true. The fault was with me. I read every Lutheran thing I could get my hands on. I read books and commentaries. I read material on the Internet. I even read Reformed Amillennial books and articles. I talked to pastors from other churches. I really tried to leave no stone unturned in my attempt to understand and adopt the Lutheran viewpoint. I honestly started to think there was something seriously wrong with me spiritually if I could read all these things and STILL not get it. My friends will attest that I was going through a very dark period. I want to say again, that it was NOT ABOUT END TIMES. It was about God and His Word – and whether I could trust what He had to say or not. Of course, when I try to explain it, I wind up talking about end times, because that is where it comes out.”

    “I have tried to both “get” amillennialism or to just forget about it. I prayed and prayed for God to help me change my thinking – show me my error, make it less important to me, something! I would literally go to Communion with tears running down my face, begging God to help me stop being so stubborn. I would plead with Him, “God, you’re stronger than me. No matter how tightly I’m holding on to this, I know You can make me let go!”

    The amillennial authors I read made sense. . .until I would go back and read the Bible again. The question I kept asking myself was “Why can’t I just accept what it says? Why does it have to mean something else?”

    Everyone uses symbolic language, and, yes, sometimes that leads to confusion. However, for the most part, we understand each other. If God really thinks of us as “little children” (just do a phrase search at http://www.blueletterbible.com if you don’t think so), shouldn’t we just listen to our Father’s words and believe them? I really don’t want to stand before God one day (forgiven, yes, but my works will still be tested) and have Him say, “Weren’t My words clear enough for you? Was your meaning better than Mine?” Maybe I’m being naive, but it seems safer to trust God’s words just as they stand. I’m not trying to be stubborn here. ”

    (website “Questioning Amillennialism – One Lutheran Woman’s Search For Truth” http://www.geocities.ws/questioningamillennialism/index.htm )

    Go and read the whole site.

  6. For what its worth, I’m no presbyterian or dispensational, but after reading the comments it seems that they are a little extreme and “in-house.” It’s great to see others interacting with other people’s views, such as the author of this blog taking the time to read a massive book with which he disagrees with. But the comments regarding the already-not-yet inaugurated eschatology simply becoming a means for authors to allow for “their intruding their own reasonings into the Bible” and things such as Beale’s conclusions undermine the Scriptures seems a bit far and ungracious for these helpful brothers. I am baptist and so I disagree with much of Beale’s conclusions such as baptism, his understanding of covenants etc. However, I do find the tenor of the New Testament to present an already-not-ready inaugurated eschatology. One great book in this regard is Peter Gentry & Steven Wellum’s Kingdom through Covenant. It proposes to be a middle road between dispensationalism and covenant theology (Not because they are ecumenicals per se, but that through rigorous exegesis they wind up with their conclusions).
    This is an exciting debate and discussion, one which I have much to learn in as we all want to know the Scriptures better as they reveal God. But here are a few comments, etc.

    Regarding Jer. 33:14ff – v22 unites the Abrahamic covenant with the Davidic and even the Levitical covenant to have the descendants as numerous as the stars. Thus, while there is one Davidic descendant (Jesus) there are also many (the true Israel/elect etc whichever term doesn’t hurt your ears!), this is similar to Paul’s argument in Galatians 3 regarding the one seed of Abraham and the many. Moreover, regarding the eternal covenant with levi, then becoming as numerous as the stars (which is the promise to all Abrahams seed) indicates that all the descendants of Abraham (those of faith) will be priests. This is in line with Peters teaching in 1 Peter 2, and Paul telling the church to offer living sacrifices. Also, Hebrews 5 shows how Jesus (yes not from the tribe of Levi) fulfills the requirements for a Levitical priests and yet transcends the Levitical priesthood by becoming a Melchizedekian priest.

    Regarding Hermenuetics – ultimately all these issues are a hermeneutical one. I am considering a OT PhD so I do not want to undermine the original context of OT interpretation. But the NT shows that the OT was all about Jesus, Lk 24:45, John 5:29, 2 Cor. 1:20, Col. 2:17. Moreover, I would even argue that the developments of the NT already actually begin within the OT. For example, Christ’s priesthood being melchizedekian and so transcending the Levitical priesthood is an OT teaching (Ps. 110). Even more important (and worthy and in need of further study by myself) is the exile of Israel in the OT. The prophets prophesied a return from exile, a temple building, the return from exile would cause the spirit to be poured out and a new covenant to be established. However, the physical return did not bring about all these promises, you could say it was fulfilled in an already-not yet manner. Peter Gentry actually argues that the structure of the book of Isaiah reveals the two-fold nature to the return from exile. Specifically, Cyrus is presented as the Messiah bringing the exiles home, then later it is an atoning servant (who is both an individual and a plural Israel, the only person who could at both times be singular and plural is the King who represents Israel) who is the Messiah bring about a second exodus/return from exile. Jesus in Lk 9 at the transfiguration uses the word “exodus” to describe what he is about to do on the cross.

    I would not be so dismissive of Beale’s proposals and be wary of being critical of a brother in the faith by saying he undermines scripture, isn’t really academic etc. It boils down to a hermeneutical issue. Every evangelical agrees on the inerrancy of Scripture, but how we interpret is a area of massive debate. I love that the author of this blog took the time to read this book as reading things we disagree with sharpens us. (I am currently reading progressive dispensationalism and loving it, i don’t agree with everything but it is helping sharpen my views and see what i have in common with these folks). In my opinion, the hermeneutical issue centers not so much on the NT, but how do the OT prophets use previous OT history/narrative/types/themes/categories and use them to depict the future. The NT is simply the fulfillment of what the OT prophets saw, and so a clear hermeneutic of not only the NT, but the OT prophets would help greatly in us all knowing god more through the Scriptures.

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