I am in the middle of several things right now, but I had the idea of rehearsing a recent interchange with some CT’s and adding a few reflections. I think it typifies what I tend to run into when trying to communicate my reservations about CT. I kick it off with a remark made by my main interlocutor about God’s way of communicating. He declared that,
God may do other than what the original audience understood. God’s promises will be fulfilled exactly in the way He intended.
I replied with: “Well, that’s the trouble isn’t it? If God raised expectations in the OT which He didn’t intend to carry through, doesn’t that make Him an ambiguous communicator at best (recall Jer. 33:17-26!), and disingenuous at worse?
I then added:
What inside line does —— have that our understanding of God’s promises in the NT won’t be “other” than what we are led to understand? And how are we to put faith in the words?”
My CT interlocutor came back with (numerals and highlighting added):
To suggest that someone’s position you disagree with makes God disingenuous seems desperate. To imagine that every audience understood God’s intentions is naive. (1) The first disciples of Jesus after three years with Him didn’t get it. (2) There’s only trouble if one is looking for expectations which weren’t the intention of the original author. Did God raise expectations or did the audience? God doesn’t carry out everyone’s expectations. (3) We know for a fact that the Jews of Jesus day had expectations they read into the prophecies. Jesus overturned them and clarified them as did the apostles. Many in His day were looking for a restored national kingdom. Jesus inaugurated His kingdom according to His Father’s will not according to human expectations. (4) As I said, God may do more than what was understood or expected. God’s promises to us now may be “other” than what we understand. They may be more. They won’t be less.
(1) What is it that Jesus’ disciples didn’t get? According to the Gospels it was that He would have to die (e,g, Mk. 9:31-32; Matt. 16:21-24; Lk. 9:44-45), NOT that the kingdom, when it came, would be other than a literal restored nation of Israel. There’s no hint of that. Not a sausage. Somebody’s ignoring the context.
(2) He dodged my question by pretending that it was the recipients’ fault that they had false expectations from God’s words. This would imply also that their faith was false and misguided. They believed the wrong thing! But if God wanted us to have faith in Him, how else could He ensure it apart from communicating with words that would guarantee our trust was in the right thing? If He promised over and over that Israel would be redeemed and restored to their land, which would become like Eden; where Christ would reign from Jerusalem, and God’s sanctuary would be a magnet for all peoples (cf. e.g., Isa. 11; Jer. 33; Ezek. 36-37; Zech.14), wouldn’t that be what was to be believed? In what world would we be expected to believe anything else?
Notice the example I gave: I said “recall Jer. 33:17-26!” If God did not mean exactly what He said in this passage, how could anyone be sure He means anything He says anywhere? Indeed, isn’t that the very conclusion God wants us to come to after reading the passage? If someone will answer, “of course not, He meant that all of this is fulfilled in the Church”, then the burden of proof has to be on them to explain how God did not raise false expectations.
(3) Notice the dogmatism here. The expectations of the Jews about the kingdom were wrong. Jesus set up the kingdom according to the Father’s will but not according to the expectations of the Jews. Okay, but who raised the expectations? That the Jews didn’t have it all right is clear (especially their need of righteousness). But they had a lot right, and nowhere in the NT are we told that Jesus inaugurated the promised kingdom. In fact, the Lord often talked about the kingdom as future.
Do you have expectations that your sins will be utterly wiped away and you will be given a glorious body and everlasting life? Who raised those expectations? Did you? Did God? How do you know you have eternal life? Is it not by trusting that God means what He said in the words you are trusting?
(4) For sure God may do more than we expect, but can He do completely differently than what He leads us to expect?
Another CT chipped in with this objection:
(1) Didn’t Jesus, make clear in John 16:25, that he said these things in figures of speech. (2) They were still expecting him to setup the kingdom at this time (Acts 1:6). (3) They studied, carefully and they still did not understand how Christ’s promises and covenants would be fulfilled (1 Peter 1:10-12).
(4) Is not the purpose of prophecy and promises, not that we fully understand them today, but that when they are fulfilled, we can validate them against the Word of God?
(1) John 16 has nothing to do with the kingdom. This is textual transplantation at its worse.
(2) Yes, the disciples were expecting the kingdom, since Jesus had been teaching them all about it (Acts 1:3). But they asked about the time when He would set up the expected kingdom. Jesus only corrected them on the timing, not on the expectation. The inference made by CT that they were mistaken in their understanding of the kingdom finds no foothold in Acts 1.
(3) I Peter 1 is not about the promised kingdom. Again a text is being misused.
(4) The irony of this statement was entirely lost on my opponent. How can any “fulfillment” be checked against the Word of God if the words of the original prediction do not match it? Isn’t that precisely the problem CT interpretation raises? The point is, the original words of the prophecy can’t be used to verify the fulfillment because it was “fulfilled” differently!
As I said in a comment (slightly edited): “how can one test a prophet whose “prophecy” turns out to be “fulfilled” in a way totally different than the words he used in the prediction? How can the tests of a true prophet be of any use? In fact we can go further. What is the use of even declaring that such and such will happen if it all turns out so utterly differently? The OT Prophets might just as well have said nothing for all the use it was.”
My interlocutor then gave me something on Jeremiah 33:17-18 by Albert Barnes:
“Read literally, these verses promise the permanent restoration of the Davidic throne and (of the Levitical priesthood. As a matter of fact Zedekiah was the last king of David’s line, and the Levitical priest-hood has long passed away. Both these changes Jeremiah himself foretold Jeremiah 22:30; Jeremiah 3:16. In what way then is this apparent contradiction (compare Isaiah 66:20-23; Ezekiel 40-48) to be explained? The solution is probably as follows. It was necessary that the Bible should be intelligible to the people at the time when it was written, and in some degree to the writer. The Davidic kingship and the Levitical priest-hood were symbols, which represented to the Jew all that was most dear to his heart in the state of things under which he lived. Their restoration was the restoration of his national and spiritual life. Neither was so restored as to exist permanently. But that was given instead, of which both were types, the Church, whose Head is the true prophet, priest and King” (Barnes).
So Jeremiah 33:17ff. must be non-literal because it supposedly contradicts Jer. 22:30 and 3:16! But Jer. 3:16 just says that the Ark of the [Mosaic] Covenant will not be brought to mind. Why not? Because of the New covenant of course! And Jer. 3:17-18 are New covenant restoration passages which Barnes missed because of disbelief. Jer. 22:30 has to do with the curse on the line of Jeconiah. But Jesus legal pedigree didn’t come from the line of Jeconiah (Lk. 3:31), so what point is Barnes making? This is desperate theologizing while ignoring what God says. It is worse because it is used to circumvent the oaths God takes in Jer. 31 and 33.
Or one can read them as prophetic genre with metaphor, hyperbole, etc. and believe that (1) God spoke to Jeremiah with words and concepts intelligible to people of the day which point to the permanence of (2) the kingly and priestly offices promised in covenants which are fulfilled in Christ. (3) Both cannot be right but neither casts aspersion on God’s communicative capacity.
(1) This condescending attitude to OT saints is typical of CT’s, and it exposes the fallacy of false communication. These things were “intelligible to the people of the day” because that is how God communicated to them. He could have communicated far more accurately through institutions and words so that the people would not have come to erroneous conclusions. (Naturally, I am defending God’s words here by showing how He must say what He means if He is to be believed).
(2) The “kingly and priestly offices” spoken about in Num. 25:10-13; Psa. 89:34-37; 105:6-11 cannot be fulfilled in Christ for the obvious reasons that they refer to descendants (plural) of Levi and David. Observe also how God’s covenants are treated as if their terms are elastic: For more on the nature of covenants see, https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2014/07/07/covenants-clarity-ambiguity-and-faith-1/
(3) The third statement is just an empty assertion that it is okay to say what you don’t mean in order to create a wrong expectation if you are God. It is a return to the theological nominalism that rears its ugly head in so much Reformed orthodoxy once certain questions are posed. God is God and He can do anything He wants even if it contradicts His own sworn oaths. Actually, no He can’t! He is constant and so is His Word.
And finally, another CT chimed in
the New Testament is God’s final revelation
To which I replied (again I have altered it somewhat):
And how can you be so dogmatic about that? The OT was God’s final [written] revelation until the NT. There was no heads-up that the NT would be written. How do you know your interpretation of the NT won’t be “other than what the original audience [including you] understood.”? You and —— want us to find our answers in the NT which you think gives you permission to “expand” the OT prophecies in a way that no OT saint could have understood from the words God employed. I am calling your attention to the fact that your reinterpretation of the OT also undermines any static meaning of the words God used in the NT. It is a train that won’t stop until it has created the exact same interpretive problems in the NT as it did in the OT.
“I am asking you to examine a possible problem with your reasoning.”
N.B. These reflections are not meant as an answer to Ed Dingess’s posts which I shall respond to soon.