I only meant to plug Fred Butler’s series on Interpreting Ezekiel’s Temple, but I annoyed Steve Hays because I alluded to our online debate, wherein, among other contrivances, he argued against my views by telling us what the Bible doesn’t mean. Anyhow, if he thinks I misrepresented him he has a right to correct me.
Because of my “indiscretion” in referring to our debate and my basic assessment of his procedure I am now labelled a “proud self-congratulatory bigot.” (And that’s only some of my good points!). He’d already compared me to Don Quixote’s nag. He follows up with a bit of psychology by suggesting I would lose my faith if God didn’t fulfill the temple vision by causing a temple to be erected. I may return to this matter later.
It’s a shame he gets personal because the man is clever and often seeks to represent the truth to those who read his blog.
That aside, Steve is going to try to sort me out again. I am okay with people disagreeing with me. I’m not the Fount of all knowledge. But I don’t think Steve has come anywhere near to presenting a convincing argument against the view that Ezekiel was depicting an actual temple, and that was how the vision was to be understood.
Nowhere in our previous correspondence did Steve explain what he thought Ezekiel 40-48 actually meant. He tried to tell me what it wasn’t, without explaining any verse in the nine chapters in question. And now he informs us that Ezekiel 40-48 is “a word-picture” representing, in some form, “the end of the church age, and the onset of the eternal age.” Fine, but does he present any exegetical evidence for this opinion? Does he interact with these chapters and explain how temple dimensions, materials, rituals, priestly orders, prohibitions, tribal allotments and rivers add up to “the end of the church age” and “the consummation.” Has he explained how he knows they mean this? No, no and no.
And I don’t think he will. Nor will he explain how he could find out about the church age from only utilizing the OT (he doesn’t believe the church is in the OT). I believe he will create a diversion and reroute the discussion away from the Bible.
Steve begins, (His words are in brown. Underlining is mine):
let’s take his [Henebury’s] questions in reverse ordr:
c) why on earth did God not simply say what He meant?
i) That’s not a real question. That’s a loaded question. An accusation couched as a faux question. A question that builds a tendentious premise into the formulation. As if those who dare to differ with Henebury don’t think God said what he meant.
Some questions about God and the Bible are out of order for Steve. Anyone with experience with dealing with those who hold covenant eschatology know that it is excruciating getting them to just tell you what the Bible says. Try this passage or Jer. 33:14-26 on them and see. I supposedly asked a loaded question (his inner psychologist again). But no, it really is a question, and a good one. And it’s one Hays doesn’t answer. By fiat he declares. “That’s not a question.”
But to many Christians it is a crucial question. Steve ought to realize that. Look, does God mean what He says and say what He means when He tells us we are justified by faith in Christ (Rom. 5:1)? Yes! Does He mean what He says when He describes Hell as a place of fire (Matt. 25)? Yes! Okay then, does He mean what He says when He describes a temple to a priest in minute detail and tells him to fix his attention on it?
There, you see, it is a question. Now Steve might want to counter with aline like, “God meant to describe a temple and priests and sacrifices and the whole nine yards, but He intended it as a figure of something different” But that would mean God didn’t say what He really meant (He prevaricated), nor mean what He said – He meant something else. But the burden of proof is on Steve as I have shown and shall show.
ii) Moreover, Henebury’s way of framing the issue is foolish and silly. One might as well ask, Why on earth didn’t God simply say what he meant in Ezk 37:1-14, instead of that strange business about reassembling and reanimating skeletons?
He did! He tells us what He means right in the context! Read it:
Ezek. 37:11 tells us that “these bones are the whole house of Israel.” God tells the prophet what He means by the figure. This is not what happens anywhere in chs. 40-48.
Why on earth didn’t God simply say what he meant in Ezk 29:3-4, instead of comparing Pharaoh to a Nile crocodile?
Well He did! Read Ezek 29:2-3. The explanation is in the context. Nowhere in chs.40-48 are we told that the details mean anything other than what they describe.
Once again, He did. Read Ezek. 4:3, 5, 6, 13, 16; 5:5, etc. The explanation is right in the context. Can anyone show me a similar phenomenon in Ezek. 40-48? You see, Steve is equating the temple vision with these other interpreted symbols because he wants the temple to be figurative. The prophet gives him no help with his “word-picture” project. I have easily answered Steve’s counter examples by pointing to what the Bible says.
b) what sort of hermeneutical practice is involved?
i) The grammatico-historical method. One element of that hermeneutic is audiencial meaning. Bible writers (and speakers) generally intend to be understandable to their immediate audience. So meaning is to that degree anchored in the potential understanding of the original audience. What the audience would be able to grasp.
As I said in a footnote to one post, “the Grammatico-historical method” means different things today than it used to. But Steve’s description of it will do for present purposes. You see, I have proved several times to him that the audience understood it to be a real temple, including citing OT scholar Richard Hess‘s opinion that “the fact that every example we have until after the New Testament was written believed in a literal fulfillment of a restored temple.” Steve offered no counter evidence. Twice previously I referred to the efforts of Hananiah ben Hezekiah to reconcile Ezekiel with the Mosaic cultus. See this article for more on that. I do not see how the G-H method transforms these descriptions into “the end of the church age”. I have given evidence that the early audiences didn’t see things Steve’s way.
How or when we apply that distinction depends on the context.
It sure does! And nothing in the context encourages us to endorse Steve’s assertions. We’ll be looking at the context below.
a) what they are supposed to really mean?
Before we answer that question, we need to lay down some ground rules.
Translation: “I’m going to condition the reader by giving qualifications which rule out Henebury’s interpretation before we even read Ezekiel.”
i) We need to distinguish between literal events and literal depictions. Why, unless you’ve decided in advance it doesn’t describe literal events (like building, sacrificing, obeying codes)?
For instance, Ezk 37:1-14 depicts a literal event in symbolic terms. Which is given a literal interpretation in the context. It depicts the restoration of Israel. That’s a literal event. But the depiction is symbolic.
True, and he’s referred us to the context. But the question is how does Steve know this is what is happening in the last 9 chapters of the Book?
ii) We need to distinguish between pictures and propositions. Images aren’t meaningful in the same way that sentences are meaningful. Unlike sentences, images don’t make assertions.
I’m sorry? I rather thought I was reading sentences, not looking at a picture. Some propositions in the passage will be listed below.
a) An image needn’t mean anything. For instance, an artist can paint a scene from his imagination.
This is not a picture by an artist. It is a description of a “temple.”
The scene doesn’t stand for anything. It doesn’t represent something he saw. Rather, he paints the imaginary scene because he finds it pleasant or interesting.
Did he get this from anything said in Ezekiel? Where is G-H hermeneutics? No, he has simply asserted it without warrant.
b) Of course, some images are referential. They stand for something else. Ezk 40-48 contains prophetic images.
He’s got you thinking of a painting, but Ezekiel 40-48 isn’t a painting; no more than the tabernacle in Exodus is a painting. It’s a clear description: a floorplan and commands and such
c) Ezk 40-48 is an extended word-picture. A series of images.
Voila! Hermeneutics by assertion. Does Ezekiel say it is a word picture? Where?
Suppose you’re shown a picture of a river valley…
He’s talking about pictures when Ezekiel isn’t.
e) Ezekiel is addressing the exilic community. What could this mean to them? A temple maybe? That’s where all the evidence points (cf. Hess above).
I know he thinks that, but where’s his evidence?
Likewise, I think Ezk 37:1-14 and Ezk 40-48 are different imaginative depictions of the same reality.
The regathering of the diaspora. Repatriation to the land of Israel. In that respect, the vision had reference to the near future.
Notice he’s ignoring the new covenant details in these passages.
That’s why Revelation can see parts of Ezk 40-48 fulfilled in a different setting than the postexilic restoration of Israel.
And just where. exactly, does Revelation do that? E.g. New Jerusalem is different in a multitude of ways from Ezekiel’s temple; dimensionally for one thing.
Here the themes of God’s compresence with his people, shalom, and the Davidic messiah, take place in the world to come…
Steve is all about themes, motifs, and types. I pressed him on the subjectivity of this approach before and, true to form, he ignored it. Steve’s “theme” is different than one of his betters.
Here’s John Owen’s interpretation:
In a sermon on Ezek. 47:11, which he will use as an allegory of spiritual barrenness, the great Puritan writes,
“First. The house, or temple, from whence these waters issue, may be taken two ways:-
1. Mystically, to denote only the presence of God. God dwelt in his temple; thence come these waters – from his presence. He sends out the word of the gospel for the conversion and healing of the nations, Psa. Cx. 2, Or,-
2. Figuratively; and that either for the place where the temple of old stood (that is, Jerusalem), as the preaching of the gospel was to go forth from Jerusalem, and the sound of it from thence to proceed unto all the world, as Isa. Xli. 27, lii. 7; Acts i.4, 8; or for the church of Christ and his apostles, the first glorious, spiritual temple unto God, whence these waters issued.” – Works of John Owen, IX. 180.
Notice Owen’s interpretation is not that of Hays. Once we drift from the natural meaning of the words in context we are on a sea of subjectivity.
I’ll close by listing 10 reasons for holding my view:
Some Lines of Evidence for Interpreting Ezekiel 40-48 as Depicting a Temple, etc.
1. Ezekiel calls it a temple over and over (e.g. 40:5, 45 – where the priestly function is mentioned; 41:6-10 – where its chambers are described in pedantic detail; 42:8 – where the length of the chambers depends on their position relative to the sanctuary; 43:11 – where God declares: “make known to them the design of the house, its structure, its exits, its entrances, all its designs, all its statutes, and all its laws. And write it in their sight, so that they may observe its whole design and all its statutes, and do them.” I honestly don’t know what all that has to do with the NT church! Then in 43:21 a bull is to be offered as a sin-offering outside the house; 45:20 – an atonement is made for the simple on the seventh day of the month; 46:24 – sacrifices are boiled at designated places; 48:21 – the huge allotment for the sanctuary is measured (it is very different to New Jerusalem in Rev.21!).
2. It has laws to perform (43:11-12). Quite how one can perform “the close of the church age and the age to come” is beyond my imagining.
3. It stipulates two divisions of priests, only one of whom (Zadokites) can approach the Lord (44:15), and who are given land separate from other Levites (48:11). I have asked Hays about this distinction and he ignored it.
4. It refers to New Moons and sacrifices (46:1, 6). New Jerusalem has no need of moonlight (Rev. 21:23).
5. The tribes of Israel are given specific allotments of land all around the temple (ch. 48)
6. The two temples at the beginning and the end of the Book form a structural arc. The first one is literal. Nothing is said about the more detailed one being a mere symbol. In fact, in 8:3ff. “the visions of God” recorded what really did occur (cf. 40:2).
7. In ch. 10 the Shekinah leaves the actual temple in Jerusalem by the East Gate. In ch. 43 it returns via the East Gate and remains.
8. A sanctuary is mentioned in the new covenant chapters (36 & 37). For example, after Israel has been cleansed, God declares: I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. (Ezek. 37:26. Cf. 43:7). This indicates the timing of the fulfillment of the temple prophecy. This agrees with the timing indicated in the last verse of Ezekiel: “the name of the city from that day shall be, ‘The LORD is there” (Ezek. 48:35)
9. At least three times Ezekiel is commanded to pay close attention to specifics: 40:4; 43:10-11; 44:5. The symbolic interpretation ignores these details when seeking to explain the meaning of the vision.
10. A future temple is necessary in light of God’s everlasting covenant with the Zadokites’ ancestor Phinehas (Num. 25:10-13; Psa. 106:30-31. Cf. Jer. 33:14f., Mal. 3:1-4). Zech. 6:12-13; 14:8-9, 16f., which contra Steve are not angelic messages, describe temple conditions in Israel which have never yet existed, but which match Ezekiel 36-48.
Please look those references up and see if I have distorted what the verses say. I have not shipped in a bunch of unproven and question-begging hermeneutical preconditions like Steve has. I have simply allowed the Bible to speak. If someone doesn’t believe these evidences and instead wants to interpret a portion of the Bible longer than 1 Corinthians as some “word-picture” which is “mere imagery”, with “no intrinsic interpretation,” then let them explain why from the text. I think that’s a reasonable position.
To me at least, Steve Hays’s interpretation of Ezekiel 40-48 is not an interpretation, but an attempt to divert the reader from attending to Ezekiel’s words.
I’ll be out of town for a week and may not have time to write much until I get back.
Follow up: Verbal Overkill