Why I Read The Scholars Yet Still Believe God Means What He Says

 

Recently, I have (not for the first time) been immersing myself  in the works of writers who would disagree very strongly with the views espoused at Veritas and by traditional dispensationalists in general.  Trawling through these big books, paying attention to each argument and their use of Scripture, and repeatedly coming across assertions that seem to make God guilty of double-talk is, to be brutally honest, a sort of self-imposed torture.  So why do I do it?  I read these works because I want to be informed about the latest arguments against my position.  I want to keep abreast of how many evangelical scholars think.  I don’t want to be a Bible teacher and theologian who is ignorant of what’s going on around him.

Another reason I read books by those with whom I disagree is because if a good argument arises which demonstrates I am wrong, I want to see it.  So far, I have to report that I have not found any argument which impresses me that way.  In fact, the more I read of these men, the more convinced I become that they are, hermeneutically speaking, barking up the wrong tree.

Let me give you an example:

“Perhaps one of the most striking features of Jesus’ kingdom is that it appears not to be the kind of kingdom prophesied in the OT and expected by Judaism” – G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 431 my emphasis.

You might need to read that statement more than once.  What Beale says is quite startling.  Here we have a respected evangelical NT scholar asserting that OT prophecies about the kingdom had fulfillments which differed from what the prophets themselves predicted!  Since the Author of Scripture is God, we have God giving His prophets a misleading prophecy.  God puts confusing words in the prophets’ mouths!  Naturally, Beale would cry foul.  But think about it.  In Deuteronomy 18:22 we have God telling His people to how they are to test a true prophet sent from Him:

“when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”

In this passage God plainly tells His people that they can spot a true prophet from a false prophet by whether what they say will happen actually transpires.  But doesn’t Beale’s view of prophecy render God’s tests of a true prophet utterly futile? 

If, as Beale says, an OT prediction can be “transformed” in “unexpected ways” (both terms he uses), we must ask, “How then is one to know if what a prophet has spoken is true or false?”  It seems the only way to really know the answer is if God Himself tells us it occurred, but the fulfillment came about in an unexpected way.

But if that is the case, how could we recognize a false prophet?  If what a true prophet predicted need not come to fulfillment in the way his words would cause one to expect, couldn’t a false prophet declare that what he had predicted came to pass, but also in an unexpected fashion?  Wouldn’t we need God to tell us that what such and such a prophet said was false?  If someone answers, “No, we would know someone was false if what he said didn’t come to pass.”  But that brings us back to Deut. 18:22, and the problem of testing prophets if their prophecies can be unexpectedly “transformed” and, therefore, the fulfillment “not be the kind of [thing] prophesied by the OT,” as Beale puts it.  This reduces God’s Word to absurdity.

I believe that a lot of Reformed theology, when faced with hard questions, reduces down to nominalism.  Nominalism is basically the view that the essence of a thing is summed up in the name (nomina) one appends to it.  Thus, for example, God is good, not because He is essentially good in His character, but because He calls Himself good (which actually reduces to the fact that we call Him good).  This is a subject I need to write about in another post, but I hope you see how this example applies to my subject here: if some scholar says that what God prophesies in the OT can be “fulfilled” in unexpected ways in line with the Beale quotation above, then any declaration of fulfillment can only be on the basis of God saying, “that is transformed and fulfilled in this!”  Until the original (misleading) words were deciphered no one could identify the their fulfillment.  The “fulfillment” would be just that only because God said it was a fulfillment, not because it corresponded to the original words of the prediction.

Imagine someone telling you they were going to do something specific; say, meet you at a certain coffee shop at 9 am next Thursday morning.  You duly arrive there at 9am on the designated day and he never shows.  Then you call him later and he asks you what’s wrong.  He did what he told you he was going to do.  He met another friend at a restaurant at noon.  What he told you earlier was a type of what he actually did.  Hence, he did fulfill his promise, just in an unexpected way!  Who would accept such a lame excuse?  Yet Beale seems to think that is how God operates!

Here’s another quote:

“When we see that Israel is, according to the Old Testament, the last Adam, and as later Jewish tradition understood it [they cite a c. 3rd to 5th century AD text], the one undoing the sin of Adam, we see the background for Paul’s understanding of Christ as the last Adam, because as history unfolds, Jesus accomplishes in his person and work what God intended for Israel as a people.” – Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 228

Gentry thinks Israel is “the last Adam,” not because the Bible calls the nation by that name, but because he spies a motif or pattern which he thinks implies such a teaching.  Then he refers the reader to a Jewish midrashic text to substantiate his point.  The Jewish text cited by Gentry (Genesis Rabbah 14) also tells us that Adam was formed with a tail like the other animals (actually, the part he cites [14:6] is equally wacky!).  Moreover, this text was written at least three centuries after the Ascension of Christ.

Next, Gentry somehow equates his “findings” with Paul’s identifying Christ as “the last Adam” in 1 Cor. 15, because supposedly Jesus accomplished what God had wanted Israel to accomplish!  No matter that the Law was never intended to justify Israel or anybody else (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:11).  No matter that this makes God’s covenants to the nation of Israel  both unnecessary and meaningless.  What is important to scholars like Gentry is not what God says (the words He uses), but the structural patterns He employs while saying it.

Let me bring some sanity back to this by asking a simple question: “Is the Bible primarily aimed at scholars who can find types and transformations and structural patterns in the different books?”  Is it possible for the common man or woman to study the Bible and understand what it is saying?  If you opt to follow the Beale’s and Gentry’s of this world you would have to answer that question negatively.  You would also be left with a god who says one thing and means something else.  In short, a god who cannot be trusted to do what he says he will do.

I do not and will not believe such a thing about God.  To quote the apostle,

I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. – Acts 27:25 

I believe that about the Gospel.  I believe that about the Creation Week.  I believe that about the Global Flood, and I believe it about the unconditional covenants that God has obligated Himself to fulfill.  I believe it all because I believe in a God who means what He says and who will not fulfill a prophecy in a totally unexpected way.  He won’t operate like that because, like the friend in the coffee shop story, if He did His words would mislead me.  No idle talk about “typological fulfillment” could alter that plain fact.

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19 comments

  1. “Another reason I read books by those with whom I disagree is because if a good argument arises which demonstrates I am wrong, I want to see it.”

    Excellent attitude, Paul!

  2. Paul, I am glad you are repeatedly drawn to those men who have done most to biblically defend the gospel. As I read your posts I feel your pain. I read and took your advice to reread the first quote by Beale outlined in green and then your initial angst. My question is simple – “Since you know the issue boils down to interpretation and the definition of literal, why do you continue to be bothered by your reformed brothers (and sisters) who interpret differently the kingdom of God, the people of God (etc.)?” You know very well that if you were to have an onair dialogue with Beale he would tell you that the issue is not “misleading prophecy” but in fact the prophecies of the OT prophets were fulfilled exactly how God had predicted them … though quite different then the Jewish expectation! (or dispensational for that matter) I am sure if you were to sit down with the Scribes and Pharisees of the day and ask them about the fulfillment of much of their OT prophets being fulfilled in Christ … they would admit that they were being fulfilled in “…a totally unexpected way.”

    1. Christian,

      A few comments:

      1.There is no “angst” in my comments, I simply explain why I go the extra mile to read men who want to be taken at face value but who don’t want to treat God in like fashion. At least I interact with these men! See my review of Beale for instance.

      2. Your opening comment is merely your opinion and has nothing to do with my piece.

      3. As for your question, well, did you not read what I wrote about nominalism? Did you not understand the problem posed by Deut. 18? How would you address these points? My Rules of Affinity (https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/rules-of-affinity/) show how human reason is allowed an undue authority in some Reformed formulations of doctrine. I have not yet had a gainsayer prove the contrary.

      4. Beale himself speaks of “literal” and he means “the plain sense of the words” in most places. But then he equivocates when he wants to present one of his “transformations” as literal. I showed this in my review.

      5. The Scribes and Pharisees knew a lot of what to expect. In fact, it appears that Jesus knew they knew (e.g. Matt. 21:33-46). They just didn’t like what they saw because Jesus hated their self-righteousness (Matt. 23). I have made some salient comments in this post: https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/do-we-need-the-new-testament-to-understand-the-old/

      6. Therefore your comparison doesn’t work, because what was unexpected to them was not what was predicted, which they basically got right, but their lack of agreement with it. Their problem was not so much hermeneutical as it was ethical.

      Again I am afraid you have not said anything of substance against my position. As I have told you before, it is one thing to disagree with my arguments, but it is another to engage them. I wish somebody would!

      Peace brother,

      P

    2. Christian,

      I’m glad you have found spiritual nuggets in the works of Beale, Goldsworthy etc, they are far more faithful to the Bible than certain Word of Faith teachers who happen to get it right on eschatology.

      However, and others have mentioned you are tying the literal meaning being the “Jewish viewpoint”. The issue is that, Jesus’s own messiah credentials is a very Jewish thing. If he isn’t going to reign on earth then He is not the messiah, full stop.

      ————————————————————–

      http://www.geocities.ws/questioningamillennialism/index-1.htm

      Joel, I’ had to edit out most of your comment because it was just too long. Besides brother, there was no need to quote the website again. i hope you understand.

      Your brother,

      Paul

  3. “Here we have a respected evangelical NT scholar asserting that OT prophecies about the kingdom had fulfillments which differed from what the prophets themselves predicted! Since the Author of Scripture is God, we have God giving His prophets a misleading prophecy. God puts confusing words in the prophets’ mouths!”

    Excellent article, Paul! And since we know that the First Coming prophecies were fulfilled literally, we can expect the same for the Second Coming. But the way some twist the prophetic texts would be like someone in the Old Testament era reading Micah’s prophecy about the Messiah being born in Bethlehem Ephrathah, reasoning that Bethlehem means house of bread, which refers to spiritual nourishment, and so “it really means” that the Messiah will be born in a “house of bread” condition rather than the literal city.

  4. Great article Mr. Henebury. Could Duet. 18 (with the insight of Acts 3:22) be brought into assist when dealing with what Jesus says re: the kingdom in Luke 22:14-30?

    Regards,

    Sam

  5. Hi Paul,

    Sorry, will do. In order for the kingdom (as spoken of in the above scripture) to be the sort advocated by CT, the eating, drinking of wine, and the role of the 12 (come 11?), all have to be transformed into something other than what’s expected. What Jesus says in Luke, especially the role of the disciples re: the tribes of Israel, was one of the things that kept grating me when I was trying to embrace the Amill understanding of the kingdom a few years back. I would read what Jesus said, accepting that it would happen as stated, only to be told it wouldn’t. Yet Jesus prophesied that Peter would deny Him and, as expected, he did. In revisiting Luke in light of Deut. 8 and Acts 3:22, I can’t help but think that CT’s reasoning on this point has some serious, albeit unintentional, implications for understanding Jesus as a prophet like Moses.

    Regards,

    Sam

    1. Sam,

      This is what I thought you meant. I just wondered because of the use of Deut. 18.

      Okay, the physicality of the kingdom is plainly in view in Jesus’ words; as is its earthly location. You did well to provide a broad passage in Lk. 22 as so much is in that chapter. In fact, it was the juxtaposition of the Lord’s Supper (read “New Covenant” in context) with the disciples who would become the foundation of the Church (Eph. 2:20), together with their obvious roles over national (12 tribes) Israel in the eschaton, that got me thinking along the lines I am trying to bring out in my “Christ at the Center” series of posts. Something clicked for me after meditating on that chapter.

      Your thesis is correct. Jesus’ status as Prophet is damaged if what He says does not come to pass as He says it. You rightly illustrate the reliability of Jesus’ prophetic role with the short-term prediction about Peter’s denial. The acts 3 use of Deut. 18 is important because it concerns the Second Advent and the Abrahamic covenant (vv. 19, 21, 25, etc). The times of refreshing are the same as the “regeneration” in Matt. 19:28 (companion to Lk. 22). See this piece: https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/christ-at-the-center-pt-4d/

      Does that help?

      Paul

      P.S. You did some impressive theologizing there!

  6. That’s great, thanks for your help Paul. I’m on my second reading through of the ‘Christ at the Center’ series as it stands; very helpful. Keep up the great work.

    Regards,

    Sam

    P.S. Is Veritas open to New Zealanders?

      1. Fantastic! I have one more year of academic requirements to complete for work then , Lord willing, I can look at doing some real study.

        Sam

  7. your burdening yourself with scholarly work that disagrees with you is very admirable. It shows that you truly are committed to the Truth, and not your own presuppositions and understandings. I myself have been going through a similar journey (albeit not nearly as extensive), and your description of doing so as “some sort of self-imposed torture” is so spot-on ;). I recently finished reading David Chilton’s “Days of Vengeance”, a 600 some page book that presents a commentary on Revelation from a Preterist point of view. I know your pain.

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