Falling Through the Porch: My Reply to a Critique (3)

Part Two

Continuing with the theme of Reason 3 about changing referents (e.g. Israel, land, king, throne, priesthood, temple, Jerusalem, Zion, etc.), we were redirected to Waldo World.  Meanwhile, the referents themselves were simply ignored.  This way of (not) reading the OT is common among those who believe they are justified in reading the Hebrew Bible through NT lenses (although it is crucial to add that the lenses are actually their interpretation of the NT).  As I have started to show, the verses they run to to prove their approach do not address the interpretation of the OT by the New.  They usually refer to the cross and resurrection and the Gospel of justification.  

Anyway, an hour and eight minutes into the podcast Romans 4:13, Hebrews 11:10 and 12:22 are trotted out to support the idea that the sitters on the Porch are correct in holding that the NT must interpret the OT on the issue of the land promise.  Let us have a closer look at these passages instead of simply utilizing them for our own ends.

Perusing the immediate context in Romans 4 it is apparent that Paul is not concerned with the land promise.  In point of fact he is not concerned with land at all.  I’m not going to reinvent the wheel.  Some of what follows were posted as comments on other threads.  

If I might turn to the Hebrews 11 proof-text first, Genesis 15:13-16 addresses those texts clearly enough. As I say elsewhere,

“God reveals to Abram that he in fact will not himself live to inherit the land, but that he will die after living well into old age. [Also], the covenant expressly joins Abram’s descendants together with the land that Abram has been brought into, but only after they have been absent from it for four hundred years.” – God Chooses One Man (Pt.2)

So Abraham was well aware that to look to possess the land himself was futile, therefore he “looked to a city whose Builder and Maker was God”. This in no way eviscerates the covenant oath God took in Genesis 15.

Now if we look at Romans 4:13 the reasoning depends upon reading “world” (kosmos) as “planet earth” or “all the lands of the earth.”  But the Apostle does not have the land promise in mind in Romans 4. The context is justification to salvation, not Israel’s land grant. Even John Murray (Romans 141-142) recognizes this. A more recent commentator writes that,

“…in speaking about God’s promise, he [Paul] does not include any reference to the territorial aspect of the promise given to Abraham and to his descendants.” – R. N. Longenecker, The Epistle to the Romans, NIGTC, 510.

The Abrahamic covenant contains several promises: 1. that Sarah would give him an heir; 2. the through him his descendants would become numerous; 3. that the land detailed in Gen. 15:18-21 would be given to them; and that through Abraham the peoples of the earth would be blessed. It is this last promise which Paul is referring to in Romans and Galatians. How will they be blessed? Through having the same faith and justification as Abraham, which is why Gen. 15:6 is cited.

Now, what the gents on the Porch have done is to read Romans 4:13 and the word “world” as “physical space”, i.e., a location (planet earth). They do this, not because the Apostle says that is what he means; nor because in the context he is talking about physical space – he is talking about justification – but because they are looking for a proof-text.

The word “world” appears once in Romans 4 so we must look at what Paul is speaking about to determine what he means by it.  As anyone can see from Romans 4:1-5 the Apostle is thinking in terms of justification and righteousness. Faith, not works, is the bridge from one to the other (hence the insertion of Gen. 15:6). Then David is used to illustrate the point at issue (4:6-9). Then we get a question about whether this imputed righteousness is only for the Jews (circumcision – 4:9), which is answered by the fact that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised (4:10). This means that his faith-justification to righteousness is not bounded by circumcision, so that those not circumcised may receive justification through faith the same way Abraham did (4:11-12). Those not circumcised would be the rest of the peoples of the world. So far, not a word about the physical land!

Now comes their proof text for land=planet earth, verse 13.

“For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.”

Notice that Paul is still on the theme of righteousness, which he will go on to argue for in the rest of the chapter. But here the three NCT’s seize an opportunity to transform the land promises (which is off-subject for Paul) to mean the planet given to saved Gentiles (mainly) and Jews as one homogeneous group.  This is not the argument of Romans 4.

Then, in Hebrews 12:22 the writer is pointing his audience away from the old Mosaic covenant and to the coming New covenant (the eschatological leaning of verses 25-27 should not be ignored).  Although I have my own decided views on what is going on in the context (i.e. a prophetic call Israel to engage Christ – and embrace the New covenant – at His coming), the passage does not transform OT covenantal expectations by making us reinterpret those themes. Hebrews is a powerfully prophetic piece of literature; a fact that has all-but been ignored by evangelical interpreters.      

Finally, they of course beat a trail to Galatians 6:16, though they misquote it.  That text should maybe be an article piece by itself, but for now I only wish to say what I have said before:

The citation of Gal. 6:16 without any attempt at an exegetical explanation of why Paul added the “kai” (and) if he didn’t want to distinguish Israel and the Church is of no value. Many non-dispensational interpreters hold that “the Israel of God” in the passage is national Israel (e.g. H. D. Betz, G.C. Berkouwer, J.D.G. Dunn, E. DeWitt Burton, F.F. Bruce, F. Mussner, W.D. Davies, P. Richardson, D.B. Wallace etc)

These are the people who are always harping on about interpreting an unclear passage (usually they cram prophetic texts into this over-large category) by a clear text (hence the commentaries on Revelation by William Hendriksen and others which are given titles from other NT books, like More Than Conquerors).  But to say this begs the question is to state the obvious.  But here they are, encamping around a disputed passage, the interpretation of which very many first rate commentators are in disagreement with them, and treating it like it unambiguously supports their views.  It doesn’t, and the fact that they congregate around verses like this displays the paucity of “proof-texts” they can find in the NT.

They claim that seeing “the Israel of God” as the elect of Israel “overthrows Paul’s whole argument.”  Of course it doesn’t, as we’ll see next time.      

 

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