Verbal Overkill

Sorry for the format.  I don’t know what happened.

Steve Hays continues to slam my character: Henebury really is a bigot you know.  He has “consistent intellectual deficiencies.”  Henebury has all kinds of flaws, ethical, intellectual, perceptual.  It has now come to my notice that apparently “Henebury never misses an opportunity to be dishonest.”

Steve doesn’t know me, but he thinks he’s sized me up and I’m no good.  On his accounting I ought to doubt my salvation.  Where is the fruit of the Spirit?   Well, to his own Master he stands or falls.  My duty is to stick to the argument.

But I will say this: I had no intention of attacking Steve’s character when I wrote the offending preamble to my link to Fred Butler’s post.  Yet upon reflection, the parts of the quote which he highlighted do sound a little proud, and for that I apologize to Steve Hays and any others who found my words offensive.  I didn’t mean them to come across like that, but I can see how someone like Steve could have taken umbrage.  Whether it deserved his brickbats and slanders or whether Steve is a little thin-skinned other people can decide.  I did not intend to be personal.  If what I say here calls forth more personal obloquy then I guess it does.

Now let me turn to his post, When God Comes To Us.  Any wryness is not meant personally.  I am concerned with arguing ideas and interpretations, not with belittling my opponent.

A. In response to a questioner Steve Hays posted this reply:

You’re ironically unaware of how much you are viewing Ezk 40-48 through the prism of the NT and your own position in church history. Put yourself in the situation of a Jewish exile in 6C BC Babylon. Imagine if you all you had to go by was Ezekiel, plus the OT canon up to that point. You didn’t have the NT. And you didn’t have any postexilic scriptures.

Based on that frame of reference, how would you conclude that this refers to a temple that won’t be built for at least 2500 years, during the church age, in-between the binding and loosing of Satan?

Feel free to show me how you derive that interpretation from the historical context, given the epistemic perspective of the original audience.

Built in to this position is Hays’s opinion that the understanding of the original hearers (and those who came after) was in agreement with his non-literal view.  He thinks they couldn’t divine a future glorious kingdom where Israel is regenerate and Messiah reigns in justice and righteousness from Jerusalem, and where priests serve him in a new sanctuary.  In fact they could do this from say, Num. 25:10-13; Deut. 30:6f., or Psa. 2, 89, 105, 106, Isa. 2, 11, 26-27, 35, 43, 44, 45, 51, 62; Jer. 23, 30, 31, 33, or Hos. 2:16f. or Mic. 4, or Zeph. 3, or indeed from Ezek. 34, 36-37.  It seems Ezekiel’s near contemporary Zechariah (6:12-13, 8:1-3; 14:16f.) and Malachi (3:2-3) believed it too.  Zechariah predicts a future temple built after Jerusalem has been changed topographically where the King is worshiped at the temple.  Yes, I know Steve will ignore these references (he has done so consistently), or that he will make them all metaphorical, but I’m not writing for Steve.  He’s too entrenched in his views to consider these texts seriously at face value.

Steve hasn’t proved any assertion he has made about Ezekiel, and he has systematically ignored the lines of evidence from Scripture, from theology, from non-dispensationalist Richard Hess, and from ancient Jewish sources which agree with the literal view.  Steve takes a (not “the”) symbolic view.  Nor does he characterize the dispensational position correctly in the above quotation.

Passing by that, his questions are, of course, leading ones.  No dispensationalist would say that Ezekiel’s audience could know the time when the temple would be built.  They could only know that it would be built.  N.B.  a). once Israel were no longer under the Mosaic covenant – because the service etc. of Ezekiel’s temple does not agree with Moses; b). after topographical changes occurred which would make the huge project possible, and c). once the glory of the Lord was ready to return to bless Israel and dwell with them forever.  That didn’t happen in Nehemiah’s day, and it hasn’t happened yet, so logically it must either be the future, or these chapters form one of the greatest circumlocutions in all of literature!

Asking the kind of question Steve does here is like asserting that Adam and Eve had to know where Messiah would be born.  They didn’t know because revelation is progressive.  Ezekiel didn’t know that the Messianic Kingdom would last a thousand years.  He didn’t have John’s Revelation (some who have Revelation still don’t know Christ will reign a thousand years).  We don’t have to demonstrate anything which wasn’t revealed after Ezekiel’s time to realize that his original audience knew he was referring to a future temple.  (I don’t believe I have referred to it as the Millennial Temple).  For more on some of the covenant implications of some of these passages see Christ at the Center 2a, 2b, and 2c.

Steve’s modus operandi appears to be: to ignore the main point/s put to him, often using diverting questions; cast aspersions; introduce a motif or genre; do a bit of technical discussion about that; claim to have proved his case, and then ask counter questions of the opponent.  In all this he refuses to interact positively with the text under discussion.  Any interaction with the Bible is all put to negative use.

B. Now, in this latest post he has said some few things which I think many people would find peculiar.  For starters, he implies that God was actually nearer to Israel in Exile than he was when they were in the land.  Here is the quote:

But as the inaugural theophany in Ezk 1 dramatically and forcibly illustrates, God was present with the Jews in exile.   You didn’t have to go to the temple to experience God’s presence; the temple came to them. The theophany is a mobile temple. An overwhelming emblem of God’s presence. Indeed, both Solomon’s temple and Ezekiel’s temple are pale imitations of the theophany in Ezk 1.

Read that again.  He implies that the Jews in Exile had better access to God than when they were in the land, even when they were more obedient in the days of Solomon.  Is that what the Bible leads us to believe?  What then is the Exile?  also, I showed that temples aren’t always symbolic of a god’s presence.  In a footnote to When is a Floorplan Not a Floorplan? I noted:

I must qualify this by noting that many ancient temples were not seen in these terms.  They were not “sanctuaries.”  Moreover, it seems the people in general paid little attention to them.  Thus, temples qua temples did not equate automatically to a place where a god was present with its people.  More often than not, the god would be there for the nobility.  See, e.g., Rodney Stark, Discovering God, 64-66.

Not that I think biblical matters are settled by going outside the Bible; i.e. it is a mistake to read the supposedly latest findings of temple symbolism back into the Bible.  That, I believe, is a subtle attack on the sufficiency of Scripture.

Whatismore, Hays also believes the theophany of Ezek. 1 is superior to what we see in Ezek. 40ff.  Yet the same theophany comes into the temple in Ezek. 43!  If the temple was a pale imitation of the theophany what is the theophany doing coming into and remaining in the temple? (contra Steve’s mobile temple).  Ezekiel’s temple can’t signify the actual presence of God (so Steve), because now he’s claiming the theophany within the temple does.  So why does that actual presence enter the temple?  What does the temple stand for here?   Do we have a mobile temple abiding in a static temple?  An emblem within an emblem?  What becomes of the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture?  Furthermore, once Israel returned what did they do but build another temple – a temple that the Shekinah did not enter (hence not Ezekiel’s temple)?  Why build a temple when God was closer to them without one?  I’m following Steve’s logic here (he will deny it) and it ends up creating more problems than it solves.

That theophany anticipates and illustrates the principle we find in Jn 4:23-24 and Acts 7.

He probably should include Jn. 4:21 in there to help his cause.  What he professes to have surmised from the genre of Ezekiel (a symbolic temple) he now applies to the NT.  That’s fair enough, but neither of these passages denies a future kingdom temple.  In context Jesus was talking about the worship which went on while ignoring Him.  He was also referring to the present age of the church.  In Acts 7 (48ff.?) Stephen is on the same basic thread, only now Jesus has been crucified.  Verse 48 does not deny a future temple since the words he goes on to quote come from the dedication of the temple.  Steve’s covenant theology blinkers him.

C. In a follow up comment at Triablogue Steve said this:
I didn’t comment on Owen because it’s a decoy. i) Owen was a postmil, not an amil.ii) So what if my interpretation doesn’t match Owen’s? Owen was a 17C Puritan. His exegesis reflects the limitations of his era. For instance, modern premils trace their position back to church fathers like Irenaeus. Does that mean Henebury’s interpretation of the Bible always matches premillennial church fathers?
I didn’t know he had written this when I wrote that response on my blog, but I guessed he would go down that path sooner or later.  Of course, I allow that Owen’s interpretation was limited to his era.  And I allow that Owen could have come to Steve’s “correct” interpretation.  But what difference does being post-mil make?  Steve appears to be saying that postmillennial interpretations will necessarily differ from amillennial interpretations.  Can he explain why?  And if that’s true then ones eschatology decides the metaphor.  Surely the only way out of this mess is to take the temple at face value?
But recall Steve has said that the vision, alongside saying something about God’s presence to the exiles, pertains to the end of the church age and the age to come.  What does Daniel Block think?
The prophet is hereby introduced to the theological realities awaiting his own people. Whereas 37:26-27 had spoken of the establishment of Yahweh’s permanent residence among his people, following their homecoming, the present vision picks up the theological theme and describes the spiritual reality in concrete terms, employing the familiar cultural idioms of temple, altar, sacrifices, nasi, and land. In presenting this theological constitution of the new Israel, Yahweh announces the righting of all the old wrongs, and the establishment of permanent, healthy deity-nation-land relationships. Ezekiel’s final vision presents a lofty spiritual ideal: Where God is, there is Zion. Where God is, there is order and the fulfillment of all his promises. Furthermore, where the presence of God is recognized, there is purity and holiness. Ezekiel hereby lays the foundation for the Pauline spiritualization of the temple. Under the new covenant, even Gentiles’ communities may be transformed into the living temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16-17). Moreover, through the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God, individual Christians become temples, residences of deity (1 Cor. 6:19).” – Daniel Block, The Book of Ezekiel, 2.505-506.
So one of Steve’s recommended sources holds a different interpretation than Steve (it’s closer to Owen).  Notice please that Block admits to spiritualizing.  He thinks Paul did it.   You see, non-literal interpretations are all over the place.   Moreover, they are theologically predisposed to abandon literal interpretation when it doesn’t suit them.  That’s why they use a hermeneutics of denial so frequently.  Objective meaning is submerged beneath a welter of opinion.

D. Getting to my question about “why on earth did God not simply say what He meant?”  Steve is upset about what he thinks is a leading question.  But it was the third in a series of questions that were logically connected.  It was Steve who put the third question first where it would appear to be a loaded question.  If he had answered them in the order I asked them he would not have seen it as leading.  He misrepresented the context.

Steve is also upset because he thinks it silly to say that scholars like Block etc would deny that God did mean what He said and say what He meant.  I agree, they wouldn’t.  And they would be sincere.  But then ATB McGowan doesn’t believe saying that God allowed contradictory and unscientific statements in the autographs impugns the character of God.  Karl Barth sincerely denied being a universalist.  Hugh Ross thinks interpreting Genesis through the lens of modern astronomy jives with the sufficiency of Scripture.  That does not mean they are right.  Sincerity isn’t always friends with Truth.

To take another example (say, G. K. Beale): from my point of view, a person who is presented with scores of prophetic verses from both testaments, which speak of Israel, but who then applies them to the Church, is denying the clarity of those OT texts.  Here’s Beale:

“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.

Steve can’t agree with this because he believes Ezekiel’s original audience did grasp the ideational perspective of the Holy Spirit.  And if it changed as Beale claims it did, then the OT prophecies were not clear as to God’s real intentions and my question stands: “why did God not simply say what He meant?”

Steve’s approach to Scripture is all from outside of Scripture.  He turns to modern understandings of genre and typology and picture theory and such and then declares that that’s what’s going on in a given context.  If we only knew these things we would be able to read the Bible correctly.  I disagree and so I am branded clueless and dishonest.  But I deem his logic less than persuasive.

E. There is too much to respond to, even though a lot of Steve’s reply amounts to little more than attacks on me.  Here’s a sampling:

by his own yardstick, Henebury doesn’t think God can be trusted to keep his promises unless God is a dispensationalist.

What I actually think is that all we know about God is in His Word, ergo if two thirds of His Word is symbolic and typological then we don’t know what we’re to trust – unless we can be certain we have the right key to each symbol from many potential keys.  I wouldn’t trust any teacher who acted as a word-converter in the revelation process.  Altering the surface meaning of the words in this passage introduces ambiguity.  Ambiguity is the death knell of certainty.

Take a parable. What the individual elements of the parable signify is distinct from the question of whether the story is fictitious or factual…

True, but Ezekiel 40-48 is not a parable.  Neither is it “apocalyptic,” nor poetry.  Steve asserts that it’s a word-picture representing a reality outside the semantic direction of the words and sentences chosen.  That reality is twofold: a. exilic conditions – don’t ask me how; and b. the consummation of the ages.  I believe it depicts what it says it depicts; a temple with two orders of priests and a cultus differing from the Mosaic cultus (meaning that since Israel was under the Law in the OT, it had to picture a future new covenant reality).  Did Ezekiel know when the temple would be built?  No.  No more than Isaiah knew when “the virgin would conceive.”  No more than Balaam knew when the Sceptered one would come.  So not knowing the time of fulfillment does not void it or change it.  Even if some exiles thought Ezekiel’s temple would be built in their day (and there’s no indication of such a thing), what would it prove?  The disciples expected the kingdom to be restored to Israel and were told it was not for them to know the time of fulfillment (Acts 1:6-7).  That’s usually the way prophecy works.

Henebury himself places this passage in the church age.
I beg his pardon, but I most certainly do not.  Ezekiel’s temple will, I deduce, be built after Christ the King returns to reign in Zion (cf. Jer.33:14-26; Zech. 14).
He inserts Ezekiel’s temple into Rev 20:4-6.
So does Steve of course, but he thinks we’re in Rev.20:4-6 now and Satan is bound now.  I infer from Rev. 20 that it is the context where it belongs because I see plenty of scriptural evidence that after the Second Coming Jesus will inaugurate “the times of restoration” for Israel and place Israel under the new covenant, and a temple is clearly indicated at that time under the terms of the Priestly covenant.  Rev. 20 comes after the Second Coming of the previous chapter and refers to a period, the length of which was previously undisclosed; that’s the nature of progressive revelation.
He reframes Ezk 40ff. in light of Rev 20.
It would be more accurate to say I frame it.  I find no frame before Rev. 20 that those chapters fit in.
In my various exchanges with Henebury on Ezekiel’s temple, I haven’t “rerouted the discussion away from the Bible.”
Just read Steve’s arguments.  That is precisely what he has done and keeps doing.  He only uses the Bible as a foil for his negative reasoning.
Okay, let’s measure Henebury’s position by his own yardstick. He’s going to quote from Ezek. 43, but he’s not going to expound it, only use it negatively against my view.  Consider the following passage (he quotes Ezek. 43:18-27):
This describes the dedication of the altar. Notice who God is commanding. God is directly addressing the prophet Ezekiel. God isn’t commanding the reader. God is commanding Ezekiel. God is telling Ezekiel to consecrate the altar. Ezekiel is supposed to officiate.
Now, since Henebury refuses to distinguish between the world depicted in the vision and the world outside the vision, does Henebury admit that the temple was built in Ezekiel’s lifetime, so that he could personally dedicate the altar? 
Although Steve predictably avoids telling us what it does mean, this is a good question, and one that I wish we had more of – though accompanied with Steve’s exposition.  Instead of asking a counter question, let’s turn to the passage.
The problem is whether Ezekiel did or indeed could perform the duties described.  My answer is that I don’t know.  As Ezekiel was not in Jerusalem and the temple he described wasn’t there anyway I think this refers to a future time.  I think the key contextual markers indicate a future fulfillment.  Verses 10-12 and 18 indicate a future temple complex and rituals.  Therefore it may be that Ezekiel represents God to the Zadokites present or that he will do so on a future day.  I go for the second alternative.  After all, we all believe Ezekiel will be resurrected.  The question is will he perform this function to teach future priests or will he not?

Ezekiel doesn’t have to tell us that he’s drawing word-pictures. Rather, he does that by verbally showing us what he saw. That’s the point of picture-language: telling by showing. In Ezk 40-48, Ezekiel gives the reader a visual description of what he saw. We don’t need an editorial aside to explain that.

We don’t if we believe it’s an actual temple, but we definitely do if we’re going to equate it with the end of the church age!
Steve then ventures off subject and refers to poetry.
Authors typically rely on tacitly understood conventions and genres.
Understood by whom? Steve hasn’t provided a shred of evidence that Ezekiel was taken figuratively before the end of the First Century A.D.  Why then does he insist that it is figurative?  Because he is committed to a system of theology that has no place for a literal interpretation of these (and very many other) prophetic chapters.
Take movies about werewolves and vampires…
Steve is talking genres as is his want.  This is irrelevant unless one buys into Steve’s argument.  I don’t.

Does Henebury think that everything in Scripture is literal unless the writer explains to the reader that this is figurative? For instance:

2 The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
    my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge (Ps 18:2).
That is poetic analogy of God’s strength and care on our behalf.  Ezekiel 40-48 is not poetry so this is not like for like.  He should stay on point.  Moreover, how does a temple description with sin offerings evoke thoughts of the end of the church age?

Does this mean God is a physical cave? Is God made of stone? Is God hollow? After all, David doesn’t stop to tell the reader that his statement is metaphorical.

Ezekiel is not poetry, Psalm 18 is!  Coming a little closer to home Steve likes to compare his opponents’ argumentation to tilting at windmills.  Everyone knows what he means.  No one interprets him as saying “Henebury is bravely facing even the most obdurate foes in his relentless defense of the Truth.”  Likewise, everyone knows what these poetic references signify.

And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. 2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth (Rev 13:1).
Does Henebury think the Antichrist is actually a feline sea monster with seven heads and bearish feet? After all, John doesn’t inform the reader that this description is metaphorical. 
Correct.  The outlandish description, coupled with its bringing to mind one of the figurative beasts of Daniel would dissuade one from a wooden interpretation.  Add to this the fact that Rev. 13:18 equates the beast with “a man,” which roots the interpretation.
Henebury hasn’t cited any evidence from the exilic community (Wrong, I cited the context and other OT prophets)–or even the postexilic community (Wrong again, as anyone with eyes can see.  Notice also how he ignores the Hess quotation again).
It is Steve who has singularly avoided giving any proof for his position from the context or from historical sources.  He’s oblivious to all this because he doesn’t wish to think about it.
Perhaps he can be coaxed into giving a list of,
Ten Lines of Evidence for NOT Interpreting Ezekiel 40-48 as Depicting a Temple But as Representing the Presence of God to the Exiles and the Consummation of the Ages.
Don’t hold your breath!
There’s more to come, but this will do for today.


  1. What is especially tiring to endure is the ad-nauseum trivial examples of these allegorical interpreters attempting to ridicule literal interpreters. How fond they are of offering up passages (e.g. Ps. 18:2; Rev. 13:1) which are obvious figures of speech or symbolism (established by the context) and then inferring that some dispensationalist somewhere actually does interpret such texts “woodenly literalistically.” It’s almost as if we are precluded from arguing for a literal interpretation of an obviously non-symbolical passage because in doing so they will always assert that our intention is to ignore figures of speech and take other obvious symbols that way too. And it doesn’t matter how many times we make this clear–they insist on repeating the same red herring!

    This can only be evidence of two things: 1) gross ignorance of the hermeneutic actually employed by dispensationalism; 2) willful representation of what we really believe. A guy like Steve seems to be pretty intelligent–so that would seem to rule out #1.

    1. None of what Steve Hays justified would have explained why the Bereans would trust in the testimonies fron the apostles, the chance is they wouldn’t have got any of the fancy theories that Hays is so fond of using. If they trust in the testimonies by checking them against the OT, they would have interpreted it in the way Jesus did on the Book of Daniel in Matthew 24 I.e. the so-called “Baconian” “wooden” or truly literal interpretation.

      1. Exactly! How could the Bereans have checked the Scriptures and come up with the consummation of the church age, etc as the explanation of Ezek. 40ff? Very good.


  2. Can’t you just ignore Steve Hays? He is using an old trick to elevate himself to your level or above. The “trick” is to raise your own status by attacking someone who is much bigger than you, thereby showing yourself to be as wise or wiser because you can “attack”, “question” or disagree with him. Obviously, Hays is hoping to establish his throne above yours ( I know you don’t have one, but you get my point) and thereby elevate himself. If you do not reply to him it works the other way, against him, because you are ignoring him, thereby showing him as deficient or not worthy of a response. You know you have him beat and so do your devoted followers( including me!) You don’t need me to tell you to keep up the good work you are doing. Some of us learn from you. At age 76 I’m too old to go back to school, but I’m not too old to learn and teach the Bible. THANK YOU FOR WHAT YOU DO!!!!

    On Wed, Feb 6, 2013 at 4:34 PM, DR. RELUCTANT

    1. Henry, you are not the first to urge me to drop it, and I think you are right. The last time round I stopped once it became clear he was disinclined to engage my main arguments. This time, I will probably respond one more time. Let me explain why:

      From my point of view Steve’s arguments are poor and almost entirely contrary. Coupled with the ad hominem attacks it makes him tiresome to engage. He is smart and some of his material at Triablogue is good, so I don’t want to write him off. I engage him for two main reasons. First in the hope that it will help those who sympathize with my position. Second, to learn. Despite everything Steve is a good enough foil to sharpen my own understanding of my perspective.

      I do not expect Steve’s fellow covenant theologians to change their views by reading me. Most won’t read me anyway.

      I am truly encouraged by your comment.

      Your brother,


  3. Paul, I just happened to have come across this long letter from Arnold Freuchtenbaum in 2008 responding to an amillennial supercessionist critique of his stand (or rather, strawman of his stand). When you read the article you will probably start thinking “sounds familiar?” 🙂

    by Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Th.M., Ph.D.
    November 15, 2008 – Ariel Ministries

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