Author: Paul Henebury

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (4)

Part Three

So far I have tried to establish a base in biblical texts for my further inquiry into the rapture.  Remember, I write as a non-too-dogmatic pre-tribber whose interest in these posts is to think through the various approaches.

Few Major Rapture Passages

All proponents of the rapture must acknowledge that there are very few direct references to the catching up of the saints.  Without 1 Cor. 15 and Jn. 14, perhaps Matt. 24, but especially 1 Thess. 4, we would not be talking about it.  Of these, only the 1 Thessalonians 4 passage can be deemed a direct statement about the ‘catching up’ or ‘seizing out’ of the saints in the end time.  By a direct statement I mean a text which plainly and unequivocally puts across a doctrine.  Examples of this in other areas include, Gen. 1:1 stating that God created all things, or Rom. 5:1 which says Christians are justified by faith.  These are C1 statements in the Rules of Affinity.  Well nigh all the major doctrines of Scripture can be ascertained and proposed via C1 passages.

What this means is that in addition to these texts supporters of the viewpoints must marshal arguments from other statements of Scripture (hopefully direct statements) about related teachings.  It is the proper inclusion and assimilation of these teachings which creates the differing schools of thought on our subject.

Because this is so, we must show some humility in our assertions.  I have concluded that the rapture and its timing is (and can only be) a C3 doctrine.  That is to say, it has no direct C1 scriptures (other than 1 Thess. 4), or “inevitable” collusion of direct statements (C2) to substantiate it, yet it does enjoy many supportive statements from which one may derive solid inferences (C3).

Some of theses related teachings include the interpretation of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks; the event(s) concerning the “Day of the LORD”; and the correct placement of certain biblical events mentioned in the Olivet Discourse, the Thessalonian correspondence, the Book of Revelation, etc.

But also there are theological considerations which have to be weighed and balanced.  Such things as the differentiation of Israel from the Church, the meaning of the ‘Tribulation’ and ‘Great Tribulation’, and the role of Antichrist, and also the matter of imminence need to be thought through.  All in all I am of the opinion that there are better conceptions of the rapture and worse ones.  The best on will be able to deal adequately with the most biblical data while suffering from the fewest (and least damaging) problem areas.  In other words, the best rapture scenario will be an inference to the best explanation.

Daniel’s Heptads (70 “Weeks”)

The ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel includes the famous prophecy of the seventy sevens.  Here is the passage:

Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.
So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.  Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.  And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate. – Daniel 9:24-27

The run up to these verses is integral to its understanding.  In 9:2 the “seventy” crops up in relation to the Babylonian Captivity.  It is worth noting that Daniel understood this number of years from a straight-forward reading of Jeremiah (e.g. Jer. 25:11).  The next “seventy” relates to the “sevens” or heptads decreed upon Daniel’s people Israel (see his prayer: 9:7, 11, 16-17, 20) and the temple (9:17, cf. 20).  Also worth a mention is the reference to God’s covenant faithfulness in 9:4 (a hendiadys probably speaking of God’s faithful love (hesed) within the unconditional covenants to Israel), on the basis of which Daniel has confidence in prayer.  It is crucial to allow Gabriel’s words to dictate the objective of the heptads.  This is about Israel (the “Your people” of vv.15, 16 & 19) and Daniel’s “holy city” Jerusalem (cf. v.19).  Ergo the proposition “the seventy weeks refer to literal Israel” would bear a direct affinity to these verses and be a C1.   Only by interposing a) a competing and alien symbolical hermeneutic, b) a theologically determined reticence to accept Gabriel at his word because, c) one believes the Church is the “new Israel”.  Such a foreign proposition (as per K. Riddlebarger) would look like this:

“the seventy weeks concerns ethnic Israel for the first sixty-nine (and a half), but the last week (or three and a half days) concerns the Church as “New Israel.”  

That would be an inference based on another inference, neither of which can be grounded in the text, and would constitute a C5 rating.

I think it is fair to say that most post-tribulationalists conflate Israel and the Church.  This is almost inevitable since they have the Church passing through the whole time period.  Those who equate the Tribulation with Daniel’s seventieth week hard hard put not to do this.  Many of them would say that the Church is right now in the Tribulation, which is also in the seventieth week.

Setting the rapture at the end of the Tribulation for such reasons seems intolerant of Gabriel’s message and Daniel’s prayer, and when assumed in support of that position, actually demeans it.  To me, any posttribulational rapture view (or any view for that matter) which cannot keep national Israel as the people upon whom the entire seventy weeks must be fulfilled has disqualified itself.  Whatismore, it would seem that mid-trib and pre-wrath positions both come against a similar problem, even if they maintain the Israel/Church distinction; the problem of which people group (Israel or the Church) is that period of time for?

Let me say it another way.  Assuming we equate the seventieth seven and the Tribulation (which would make the Tribulation seven years long), it would appear that the mid-tribulation and pre-wrath rapture views must explain whether God’s attention is mainly on Israel, who is the central player in Daniel 9, or on the Church, which was not even in existence in Daniel’s time (cf. Jn. 7:39; Rom. 6:1-4; 1 Pet. 1:3).  If it is Israel then the Church would be playing a secondary role in the Tribulation while God deals with Israel, which seems like a problem.  Surely God is not focused on Israel so much in our day because He is dealing with the (mainly Gentile) Church (Rom. 11:25)?  But if the Church must pass through some of Daniel’s seventieth week in a subordinate or an auxiliary role surely we have a theological confusion?  To state “The seventieth week or Tribulation mainly has Israel in view” is a C1 proposition based on the Book of Daniel.  The same chapter knows nothing of the Church.  And if the Church is also to pass through half or three quarters of the seventieth week, based on other passages, then it is almost disorienting to think about both Israel and the Church being the main objects of this awful period. Finally, while supporting texts from Daniel 12:1 and Jeremiah 30:5-7 provide a rationale for Israel’s passage through these turbulent times, I fail to see any comparative rationale for the Church’s involvement.

More next time…

FYI

For those readers wandering why I haven’t posted for a while let me explain.  1. My sister is in town and we haven’t seen each other for 13 years.  2. I have just finished doing a conference.  3. I will be attending the Moody conference coming up.

 

I ask for patience and prayers!

 

Your brother,

 

Paul

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (3)

Part Two

The Main Verses: Matthew 24:36-44 continued

There is no doubt in my mind that this passage is a second coming passage.  There is also no doubt in my mind that the language of “one taken…another left” in Matthew 24:40-41 is apposite to the present discussion.  In the surrounding context Jesus refers to a gathering up together (episounazousin) of the elect (24:31).  So Jesus does speak of a removal of saints.  But is this “taking out” to be understood as the being “taken” a few verses later?  I think there is a real possibility that it should.

Perhaps most Dispensationalists say that those “taken” are taken to judgment.  In verse 39 those who didn’t make it into the Ark (because they couldn’t be bothered to go) were taken away by the flood waters.  But from my reading of the Second Coming passages in Isaiah 63:1-6; Malachi 3:2; 4:1-2, and Revelation 19:11-21, it does not appear to be such a good idea to be “left” hanging about.  This agrees with the flood story, where it was infinitely preferable to be removed to safety in the Ark than to be left to face the elements.  Further, in Revelation 14:14-16 the earth is reaped of the saints, “the harvest [which is a good image] of the earth”, before the wicked are gathered to “the winepress of the wrath of God” in terms too reminiscent of Isaiah 63 to ignore.  Thus, Revelation 14 should not be overlooked in the discussion of this passage.

John Hart of Moody Bible Institute argues that Matthew 24:29-31 is about the Second Coming proper while verses 32-44 are about a pretribulational rapture.  His essay is quite ingenious, but, like so much minute exegesis, rests upon petitio principii.  The very reason for the investigation is to prove that the exegete’s position is possible.  This often relies on converting certain words into technical terminology. In short, Hart proposes that the shift in verse 36 indicated by the peri de, (which seems to hark back to at least verse 21 and following), changes the outlook from the end of the Tribulation and (back to?) a pretribulational perspective.  Hart also thinks the “normalcy” depicted in verses 38-41 is hard to reconcile with posttribulational circumstances, but easier to envisage prior to the Tribulation.  My take is that life goes on pretty much as usual, even allowing for the awful conditions, for a lot of folks in the Tribulation (cf. Matt. 24:48-51; Rev. 18:9-19), at least in terms of the items Jesus mentions.

Of course, if Hart’s version is true then Paul’s rapture teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is no new doctrine (as Hart agrees); Paul just hasn’t informed them about it yet.  They know about the Tribulation well enough, but the Apostle has not brought them up to speed on the rapture. I find these reasons completely unconvincing.  By the Rules of Affinity I would class the peri de argument for pretribulationism a C4.  It is too subtle to be persuasive and it presupposes what it needs to prove.  The circumstantial argument seems plausible on the face of things, but just because people will be living their lives as best they can at the end of the Seventieth Week does not mean all is well.  This commits the Either/Or fallacy.  It gains some purchase with 1 Thessalonians 5:3, but there is still work to do to link it strongly to just prior to the Tribulation. It is a possible inference and hence a C3.

But then, I would argue, a posttribulational “taking out” is a stronger C3, especially when coupled with Revelation 14:14-16.  For one thing, it does not read a hitherto unknown doctrine involving the as yet non-existent NT Church (cf. Jn. 7:39) into the context.  And remember, these disciples asked Jesus if He was going to restore the kingdom to Israel in Acts 1:6.  I can scarcely see them doing that if they knew about the rapture of the Church prior to that!  So Jesus’ teaching (on Hart’s view) is too subtle for the disciples.

I must move on, but I think a pre-trib interpretation of any verses in the Olivet Discourse is difficult to countenance.  We will have to return to this passage further on.

2 Thessalonians 2:3

If this is a rapture verse then apostasia (“falling away” or “rebellion”) must mean “taken away,” which must mean “caught away”.  I know that there are some out there who convince themselves that this points to the pretrib rapture, but they have not convinced me (nor a good many of their fellows).  The verse makes better sense when the usual meaning of the word is retained.  One may dispute who rebels, (I think it is a general slump into disbelief), but to make them non-rebellious candidates for a rapture again begs the question.  If the “falling away” is identified with taking the mark or following the Beast this verse could be commandeered to serve a midtrib position.

2 Thessalonians 2:13 The rapture version of this seemingly soteriological verse comes about as a result of making soteria mean something like “deliverance” in this context.  But it is simply too obtuse to be considered as a serious rapture passage.  The excruciating lengths which have to be gone into to produce the possibility that Paul is referring to the rapture, plus its reliance upon a doctrine already supposedly proven, push the limits of credulity.  Besides, this view sidesteps the pretrib problem text in chapter 1:5-10 which employs OT imagery and appears to naturally invoke the posttribulational return of Christ in vengeance.

Revelation 3:10 I know there are other passages, and I’m sure we’ll run into them, but this verse is often used to bolster pretribulationism (notably by Paul D. Feinberg).  It reads:

Because you [the Philadelphian saints] have kept the word of My patience, I also will keep you from (tereso ek) the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole earth, to test those who dwell upon the earth.

If we allow, as is plausible, a proleptic application to Christians in the future, then the “keeping out” of the coming trial  (peirasmou) would fit a rapture, and indeed a pretribulational rapture.  This is helped by the fact that this “keeping out” is connected to the “hour”, and therefore the time of the event.  This scenario is a C3 scenario.

More to come…

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (2)

Part One

The Main Verses

In this installment all I want to do is to set down the main verses which are used in discussions about the rapture.  Let me make it clear that this is not to say that many other passages must be considered so as to understand the doctrine.  As I will be at pains to show, the rapture is not a teaching that can be established by simply comparing proof-texts.  The doctrine excites many passions and this can lead to wishful thinking in exegesis.  Some of the verses listed below are brought very hardly and reluctantly to bear on the doctrine we are considering.

We have already taken a quick look at 1 Thessalonians 4:17, but there are other salient passages.  1 Corinthians 15:50-58 is often brought in to help.  Then Jesus’s words in John 14:1-3 must be considered. Also joining the fray are 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and 13, Matthew 24:36-44, 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9, and Revelation 3:10.  Let’s try to situate each one of these.

1 Thessalonians 4:14-18

The main purpose of this passage is to give comfort to anxious saints who were concerned about loved ones dying off before the return of Christ.  To do that Paul tells the Thessalonians about something they seem not to have known (4:13).  This appears to be in contrast with what they knew very well, that is, the doctrine of the Day of the Lord (5:1-2).

There is no doubt that the snatching away of the saints described in this passage is for the purpose of finalizing the work of salvation begun at regeneration.  The Lord is described as coming from heaven amid the calls of a trumpet and of the archangel.  The meeting of all Christians with their Lord, including those who had been deceased for a long time, takes place “in the air”.  Nothing is said about which way Christ and His saints go from there, whether returning to heaven or continuing on to earth.  However, from the viewpoint of a taking out of people this passage is a direct statement (a C1 for the proposition that Christians will at some future time be ‘caught up’ to meet Christ in the air).

1 Corinthians 15:50-58

This passage is included in Paul’s resurrection chapter and comes only after Paul has spoken about the logic of resurrection; “as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.” (15:49).  This “must” language is then given a terminal point in the next section where the Apostle writes,

Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. – 15:51-52.

This passage is revealing something new (a mystery), which speaks about a transformation of all Christians in an instant.  This “change” refers to the receiving of our resurrection bodies – those which will “bear the image of the heavenly.”

The language is clearly culminative, and one naturally connects it with Paul’s rapture teaching in 1 Thessalonians 4.  But there is no actual removal mentioned, only transformation.  This is not problematical since it fits nicely with Paul’s earlier argument.  But it is at best supportive of 1 Thess. 4:17, adding some new information about what occurs at the rapture.  Hence, it is a C3 statement for the rapture: if the the text coincides with 1 Thess. 4, as it seems to do, it declares that a change happens in an instant as the saint is caught away.

John 14:1-3

This passage is proleptic in that the “you” to whom our Lord refers is not primarily the disciples; for He says,

If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also – Jn. 14:3

Jesus cannot just be referring to those to whom He spoke but would intend His words to be taken in the context of His Second Advent (rather like the Preterist ‘proof-text’ in Matthew 10:23).  But what has this passage to do with the rapture?  Well notice that Christ is coming for “you”, which I take to be His people.  He comes to take them back to heaven (where He has been preparing places), although nothing is stated in regards to a transformation.

As for the timing of this gathering, it may appear cut and dried that it speaks to the Second Coming.  But if so, there is a problem created by our being with Christ in heavenly mansions (or rooms if you prefer) and Christ’s earthly reign.  If Christ is ruling on earth and we are in heaven the latter part of Jn. 14:3 cannot be true.

This leads to an inquiry over whether there will be an earthly reign of Christ.  If not, then there’s no problem.  But I’m going to step right over that question and just assume (for present purposes) that there will be one (in line with many OT passages and with Matt. 19:28).  Some may say that’s unfair and stop reading, but I am content to call the likes of H. Bonar, Ryle, Chafer, Bultema, Scroggie, R. Thomas, T. Garland, and even A. Hoekema to witness for me and move on regardless.

The timing of this event is obviously important to settle.

Those are the major rapture passages, but there are several which demand inclusion.

1 Thessalonians 1:10

This verse says we “wait for His Son from heaven” who “delivers us from the wrath to come.”  The mention of Jesus coming from heaven matches 1 Thessalonians 4 and John 14, but the “wrath” must be identified.  If it refers to the seven year Tribulation (derived, as we shall see, from Daniel 9), then the verse favors a pre-trib rapture.  However, if “wrath” bears a more restricted and technical sense, it could refer either to the last three and a half years of the said Tribulation (in which case it would argue for a mid-trib rapture), or the last part of the Tribulation when the bowls of God’s wrath are emptied out upon the planet (Rev. 16).

In any case this verse must be retro-fitted to an already established teaching to be of any corroborative help.

1 Thessalonians 5:9

God has not appointed us to “wrath”, but the same question of identification as above needs to be addressed to utilize this verse well.  It is not unfair though to mark the fact that these two verses are written to the Church.

Matthew 24:36-44

This passage must be understood in context, especially the “coming” of verses 27, 30, 37, and 39 must inform the meaning of “coming” in verse 44.  There can be no serious doubt that Christ is talking of His Second Coming in terms strongly reminiscent of OT prophecy (e.g. Dan 7; Isa. 63), and the parables of Matthew 13, especially verses 40-43.  This is after the Tribulation.

The question is, what does the Lord mean by “one will be taken and the other left” in 24:40-41?  Because of the close association with “the days of Noah” in 24:37-39 many expositors believe that the ones “taken” are whisked off to judgment.  Is this so?  Is there enough in the passage to come down on one side?  Furthermore, if those “taken” (paralambano) in verses 40-41 are actually raptured, doesn’t that pretty much seal a post-trib rapture?

More next time..

Teloscompass

Trying to Get the Rapture Right (1)

I had been intending to write about the removal of the Church (the rapture) for quite a while now.  What galvanized me to do so now was a couple of entries by Ben Witherington and Roger Olson about the pretribulational rapture.  These men, (like them or not), do not usually write poorly, but their articles attacking the concept of the pretribulational rapture are pretty lame ducks, rehashing the same old populist presentations of Dispensationalism by sniping at Clarence Larkin’s charts, and bringing into the frame the names of Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye, only to mock them.

Now let me be clear about this, although I am a pretribultionist, I am not about to contend for the parity of the doctrine of the rapture and its timing with the doctrine of the Trinity, or justification by grace through faith.  I will not die on a hill fighting for the timing of the rapture, be it pre, mid, prewrath, or post – tribulational.

But something needs to be said.  Olson says he read Dwight Pentecost’s Things To Come when he was 19 or 20 and was unconvinced.  No problem.  But he also claims Pentecost’s book is about the rapture.  He says,

Seeds of doubt about the rapture were planted in my mind by a book that was supposed to offer biblical and theological support for it—Things to Come by dispensationalist theologian Dwight Pentecost. I read it when I was nineteen or twenty and sensed something was wrong. Why would it take hundreds of pages of convoluted exegesis and argument to establish something so simple?

The answer, as anyone familiar with the book is well aware, is “it wouldn’t and it didn’t”.  Pentecost wrote about Biblical Eschatology, which, as Olson knows, involves a good deal more than the rapture.  The trouble is (and I understand this), there is an almost visceral reaction to the populist presentations of the rapture by many – and Witherington and Olson are examples.

In a sense, I don’t blame them.  Books about prophecy from a pretrib perspective commonly come with covers sporting an eclipse (lunar or solar, either will do); sometimes a dragon or two.  Whole ministries exist to promulgate sometimes simplistic versions of Dispensational premillennialism, occasionally tainted with American exceptionalism.  When John Hagee writes about the “Four Blood Moons” we are not really surprised.  There is always a ready market for ‘signs of the times’ books and newspaper exegesis.  I distance myself from such things.  I distance myself a little even from those good men who can scarcely write an article about anything unless pretribulationism or pre-wrath or what-have-you has some space allotted to it.

Nevertheless, I am irritated a bit when Dispensationalism or pretribulationism is given short shrift by Christians because they think that if they can plaster the names of Lindsey or LaHaye over it they have have dealt with it.  To be fair to Olson he does share some of his experiences with the more vulgar expressions of the doctrine, but he never deals with the biblical arguments. He simply says it’s not biblical.  I wonder how he would react if Arminianism was dispatched in such a manner?

Witherington informs us (in this video) that Matthew 24 is one of the main proof-texts for the rapture.  That is surprising to hear since I know of scarcely any Dispensationalist who teaches that it is (actually I am open to a possible association with Rev. 14, but deny that it has anything to do with the rapture of the Church).  In point of fact, Dispensationalists nearly all teach precisely what Witherington teaches about the text!  How could he not know this?

Regarding 1 Thessalonians 4 Witherington says that it depicts a welcoming entourage who go out (or up) to meet the returning Christ before he reigns on earth.  This is a good interpretation and is one of the challenges to the pretribulational position.  It ought to be heeded though that this interpretation relies upon extra-biblical materials.

What I want to do in the coming weeks, though probably at intervals, is to set out some arguments for pretribulationism and compare them with the other positions on the rapture of the Church.  To help me to do this I will be making use of the Rules of Affinity, whereby I designate the doctrine of the rapture a C3 doctrine: that is, a doctrine which has no direct scriptural proof but which is an inference to the best explanation of the assorted data pertaining to the rapture which is found throughout the Bible.

The Meaning of Harpazo

To start things off we’ll take a quick look at the word from which we get the term “rapture.”  That way we can have a baseline to work from.

The Greek verb harpazo means “to snatch away, to seize, or steal (in the sense of grab)”.  Other than the central rapture text in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, harpazo is used in Acts 8:39 to refer to the relocation of Philip: “the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away”.  It is also used by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2 and 4 to describe his (see 12:7) experience of being “caught up” to the third heaven.  We see it again in Revelation 12:5 of the male child (Christ) “who was to rule all nations” Who was “caught up to God and His throne”. In 1 Thessalonians 4:17 we read:

Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up (harpagesometha) together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.  And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

As the commentaries all recognize, the idea behind the verb implies force and suddenness.  The big question is, when will this snatching up occur?  That will be the question we’ll be considering in this series.

 

If You Don’t Have It Already…Some Book Selections for Christmas and After

Thought I would write a quick post on some of the books I think are important acquisitions for a Christian’s library.  If you don’t yet have them (and in some cases, if you can get them), you should try to acquire them.  The list is somewhat eclectic and does not pander to what’s new, although some new titles were deliberately included.

This is not a Top Ten list, but all the books are, in my opinion, must haves.

1. Systematic Theology by John Frame

Although Frame said (in Salvation Belongs to the Lord) that he probably wouldn’t write a full scale Systematics, this book lives up to its promise.  It does not bother to interact with the never-ending swell of scholars’ opinions.  Instead, Frame quotes whom he must and concentrates on theological exposition.  He does not argue his covenant theology, but simply assumes it.  Nevertheless, this is a great book.

2. Systematic Theology: The Beauty of Christ by Douglas F. Kelly

The second and much anticipated volume of Kelly’s magnum opus (I was starting to wonder if we would see this volume).  Kelly’s handling of the material and his catholic appreciation of Christianity, while remaining Reformed, is noteworthy.  So too is his use of patristic and classic resources.

3. The Works of Hugh Binning

From the age of the Puritans comes this terrific big book of Binning’s theological sermons and writings.  The style is analytical and precise but clear and spiritual.  They evince a maturity which men three times his age never achieved.  Just as well, since Binning died young.  I love these sermons!

4. The Christian Mind by Harry Blamires

This book certainly deserves to be called a classic.  It remains one of the best internal critiques of the way evangelical Christianity has sacrificed the place of the mind in its self-understanding (far better than Mark Noll).  He wrote two follow-ups: Recovering the Christian Mind and The Post-Christian Mind.  They are both worthy.  The latter one does a very good job of showing how words are disconnected from their meanings and misused nowadays (which is ironic in an age of deconstructionism).  Two other hard to find but fine works are The Secularist Heresy and The Will and the Way.

5. The Meaning of the Pentateuch by John Sailhamer

A brilliant piece of exegetical and theological scholarship which has not been given the attention it deserves.  No easy ride, but worth the effort to get through.  His chapters on covenant and on Jesus in the OT are superb correctives to much of the misguided Biblical Theology being produced by evangelical scholars today.

6. Darwin’s Doubt by Stephen Meyer

Now with a chapter responding to his critics, this book and its excellent precursor, Signature in the Cell, inform us about the wonderful intricacies of life while clearly showing up the haplessness of evolutionary efforts to explain what is being discovered.  Another book worth mentioning is Cornelius Hunter’s very helpful Science’s Blind Spot.  The author shows how bad [natural] theology contributed to the push for methodological naturalism.

7. C. S. Lewis at the Breakfast Table ed. by James Como

A selection of pieces written by those who either knew or studied with Lewis, or else have been followers of his work.  This book really helps to set Lewis in his context as well as to show his patience and humility.  Only two chapters are disappointing.

8. Miracles by Craig Keener

Keener is one of the clearest scholarly writers around.  His (profuse} use of sources is a model for any writer.  This two volume book demonstrates the same careful balance as his previous and outstanding Historical Jesus of the Gospels, of which it is a kind of sequel.  Keener gives the reader exposure to lots of useful background on miracles in ancient sources.  He then shows how Hume’s arguments are in fact question-begging and how (he thinks) the tide is turning on the question.  His cumulative documenting of many cases of healings, etc. is difficult to ignore.  While not always convincing, this is a powerful resource which brings the question of miracles before us more than any other work.

9. Van Til’s Apologetic by Greg Bahnsen

Bahnsen’s knowledge of Van Til’s presuppositional method was encyclopedic.  His sympathy with Van Til and improvement of aspects of his thought make this the book on the subject.  Bahnsen’s Always Ready is still the best introduction to presuppositionalism.

10. Do You Know Jesus? by Adolf Schlatter

Writing approximately between the end of the 19th century and the period just before WW2, Schlatter was one of the top NT scholars of his era.  These meditations are short but engage the mind as much as the heart.  They follow the career of Jesus.  As such they provide spiritual food for thought on the only human being who really matters.

Honorary mention: Critical Stages of Biblical Counseling by Jay Adams

This books concerns itself with the first session, the “turning point”, and the end session of counseling. The advice is mature and sage from the doyen of the Biblical Counseling movement (although some of them seem to have forgotten it).  A very helpful book.

The Divine Logos (Pt.3)

Part Two

Jesus as the Word

Even though the teaching of the “Word” or “Logos” appears prominently and explicitly in the prologue to John’s Gospel, the theme runs through the whole of the Gospel.[1]

John stresses the words of Jesus as having special significance as words:

Rhemata is used nine times for His words (5:47; 6:63, 68; 8:20;10:21; 12:47, 48; 14:10; 15:7), and three times for the words of God spoken by Jesus (3:34; 8:47; 17:8).

John employs logos three times in the plural for Jesus words (7:40; 10:19; 14:24).

But it is used eighteen times in the singular (2;22; 4:41, 50; 5:24; 6:60; 7:36; 8:31, 37, 43, 51,52; 12:48; 14:23; 15:3, 20; 18:9, 32). Six times for God’s word and twice for the word of God which Jesus speaks (14:24; 17:14).

According to Gundry[2], John goes out of his way to “multiply references to Jesus” words qua words”, using more than twice as many of these terms as all the synoptics put together (nearly three times if one considers that many of the synoptic instances are repetitions). To these words one should also consider the usage of entole in 14:15, 21; 15:10, 12 with the use of logos as a synonym in 8:51, 52; 14:23, 24; 15:20; 17:6.

Then also we should look at martureo and maturia which occur sixteen times for the witness of Jesus (3:11, 32, 33; 4:44; 5:31; 7:7; 8:13, 14, 18; 13:21; 18:37. See also Rev. 19:13 and Rev. 1:2, 9; 20:4). Again John “calls attention to the voice (phone) of Jesus 9 times” (3:29; 5:25, 28; 10:3, 4, 16, 27; 11:43; 18:37). John records Jesus as saying “Amen, Amen” twenty-five times before important assertions. Fifty out of the sixty-one occurrences of laleo; lalo; and lalia (speak) have to do with Jesus speaking, compared with only nine occurrences in the synoptics (see esp. 8:43).

John refers to believing Jesus’ word or words (2:22; 4:50; 5:47; cf. 3:12; 10:25; 12:38), and abiding in His word (or it abiding in us) in 5:38 and 15:7. In 8:51, 52; 14:15, 21, 23, 24; 15:10, 20 John refers to keeping Jesus’ commands, word or words in a way not duplicated in the synoptics.Finally, (in this study) see 4:26 (cf. 4:10) and Jesus’ emphasis upon Jesus own words.

Jesus, the Logos of God as the Ground of Meaning.

Even a superficial reading of John’s opening verses sets before the reader the absoluteness of his Logos concept.[3] To summarize, the Logos is part of the Godhead (vv1-2); and as a member of the Godhead He is the instrument of creation and providence (v.3). Since all things were made by Him it is scarcely surprising that John tells us that the Logos is the light and life of men (v. 4). He reveals God not through natural revelation alone, or even by the law and the prophets, through whom He spoke – but supremely by means of His own incarnation (vv. 14-18).

Furthermore, it is by the Logos, Jesus of Nazareth, that salvation is offered to sinners and hope shines brightly on our horizon. There can be little doubt that what John is doing at the beginning of his Gospel is putting forth a Christian weltanshauung or worldview. MacLeod has nicely summarized our point.

Today…a wide variety of worldviews exist, and John’s prologue is an antidote to all of them. The Gospel of John presents a true understanding of who Jesus is, so that readers may have the proper framework with which to interpret life and reality – that they may know God and walk in the light of His truth.[4]

As the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14, 18; 1 Jn. 1:1), Jesus Christ is the “Great Explanation”, both of man’s world and of man’s future (Jn.1:10-13; 17-18). As Carl Henry explains,

“In a day when modern wisdom considers the cosmos devoid of teleology and derives man from purposeless nature, the reality of the self-revealed Logos towers anew as the only intelligible ground and sustaining source of meaning, value and purpose.”[5]

This is what we must insist upon as followers of the risen Lord. We are what we are and this world is what it is because of His grace.Therefore, to pass by the Logos doctrine of John’s Gospel when searching for final explanations is to overlook the source and strength of Reality – a faux-pas which leaves men floundering in metaphysical darkness (Jn. 1:9-10). Rebel man attempts to construct world and life views in this darkness; a darkness that one writer has aptly described as,

“[Not] blindness as such, but instead …a darkness that is willed, that is, …a kind of blindness that does not understand itself to be blind, but on the contrary believes that it sees and that it comprehends reality in its entirety.”[6]

For all its ingenuity, the world of men and women is without a center. It is this way because of rebellious hearts (Eccles. 7:29; Rom. 1:25). John, the last of the Apostles, points us again to the eternal Logos-Son who, “was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” The world has to borrow bits and pieces of the biblical worldview in order to live in this Logos-structured environment.[7] Men forget the very center of their existence by neglecting Jesus Christ. It is as Wells says,

In the Word, then, we are met by the personal and eternal God who has joined himself to our flesh. In Jesus, the permanent and final unveiling of God has taken place, and the center of this truth is coincidental with the life of this man. Jesus is the means through which and in conjunction with whom God has made known his character, his will, and his ways (cf. John 14:6).[8]

Man’s wisdom fails as an interpreter of life when he misses the significance of the Incarnation of the Divine Logos (Lk. 2:8-15; Rom. 1:22; 1 Cor. 1:20). Therefore, we may repeat Henry’s opinion that,

“Taken long-range, the only options are either nihilism or the Nazarene. The Logos of supernatural revelation towers as the only effective barricade against meaninglessness of the world and human life.”[9]

A Christo-Doxological Grand Theme

Theology is not a subject like math or science. It is, under the Holy Spirit, the grand orchestration of worship to God. But theology is bound to Scripture and Scripture is bound to Christ. This world was made not only through Him but for Him (Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2-3). And though rejected, He is to be the Judge of it (Rev. 19:11f.).[10] Theology stems from revelation, and so its springs are in the revealing Son (Jn. 1:18). “Since God communicated himself to the Logos, the Logos could communicate himself to us. (more…)

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Review: ‘The People, The Land, and The Future of Israel’

Review of The People, The Land, and The Future of Israel, edited by Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014, 349 pages.

The book under review is the result of a conference that was held in New York in support of the special place of Israel in the Scriptures.  Seventeen contributors put forth various articles under the headings of New Testament, Old Testament, Hermeneutics, Theology & Church History, and Practical Theology.  A Forward is provided by popular writer Joel Rosenberg. The Introduction is by Glaser, and a short Conclusion is by Bock.

The purpose of the book is to bring together studies advocating the place of “Israel and the Jewish People in the Plan of God’ as the subtitle has it.  The presenters come from the broadly premillennial camp; many are dispensationalists.

On the whole the articles are brief – about 12 to 15 pages on average, but for the most part each author has made good use of their allotted space.  It may be helpful to give a few general remarks about the contributions rather than choosing one or two pieces for extended comment.

In the first place I found Rosenberg’s Forward to be off-putting.  It is written in a journalistic parlance which is at odds with the tenor of most of the articles. It also focuses on biblical prophecies being fulfilled in our time, which seems a questionable assertion.  That said, I agree with the statement that the existence of the State of Israel today is testimony to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (17).  Nevertheless, I think the book could have done with a less popular opening.

Eugene Merrill’s survey of the Torah is not as good as I expected from such an author.  His advocacy of a ‘Creation covenant’ is unpersuasive, omitting mention of the crucial covenant-oath.  He surprisingly holds that the land grant, nationhood, and blessing “were fulfilled in biblical times” (35).  Although saying this does not mean that there is no future for national Israel, the references he uses (e.g. Gen. 15:18 & 22:17) do not really find fulfillment until the kingdom age.

Walter Kaiser’s chapter on “Israel according to the Writings” is well done and includes helpful treatments of the Davidic covenant, prophecies in Daniel, and providence in Esther.  Robert Chisholm’s chapter on the Prophets spends a lot of time arguing for “essential fulfillment which allows for human freedom” (54).  Chisholm refers to the prophecy to Ahab about the dogs licking his blood “in the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth” (1 Kings 21:19).  He observes that the dogs licked Ahab’s blood at Samaria, not Jezreel where Naboth was killed (59).  He believes the discrepancy shows that “God makes room for human freedom in the outworking of even irrevocable prophecy.” (60). In other words, he holds that prophecy can be fulfilled somewhat differently than written.  I found this article perhaps the least satisfactory of all the chapters in the book.  It sows doubt where there ought to be confidence.

In response to the Ahab prophecy it should be noted that Ahab’s repentance did seem to impact the pronouncement; the doom being transferred over to his son (1 Kings 21:29 with 2 Kings 9:25-26).  Further, 1 Kings 22:38 says the dogs licked Ahab’s blood “according to the word of the LORD”, which was true.  It does not mention the place where Naboth’s blood was licked up, most likely because of the change in Ahab’s outlook.  But this incident should not be used, as Chisholm uses it, as paradigmatic of long-term prophecy.  Chisholm states, “When fulfillment transcends the prophet’s time and context, the language takes on archetypal status and one should expect essential or generic, not exact or literal, fulfillment of prophecy.” (61).  There then follows examples of such “contextualized” “partial fulfillment.” Unsurprisingly, Ezekiel’s Temple sacrifices are one such example (65).  In my opinion this chapter hardly helps the aims of the book.

The next chapter, by Michael Brown, discusses Jewish traditional interpretations.  Since these are often speculative and sometimes wacky (a 150 foot tall ‘shrunken’ Adam on p. 81!), Dr. Brown’s talents might have been utilized better on another subject.

If the OT contributions are uneven, the NT contributions are much better.  The pieces by M. Wilkins (Matthew), and D. Bock (Luke-Acts), are both valuable.  Not far behind is M. Vanlaningham’s coverage of Romans, although strangely he doesn’t attend to the Olive Tree figure in Romans 11.  Craig Evans on the General Epistles spends too much time discussing authorship.  He even inserts the idea that Paul begrudged calling James one of the pillars of the early church (135).  His chapter is too generic to offer much solid help.

Craig Blaising on “Israel and Hermeneutics” is one of the best chapters in the book.  One gets the impression that he would have liked more space to really bring out his points.  But he does succeed in showing why supercessionism fails in regard to being comprehensive, congruent, and (too briefly) consistent and coherent.  His use of the argument from performative language hits home (160-162). Next follow two strong chapters from M. Saucy and J. Feinberg.  This part of the book is the best in my opinion.

The last part of The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel includes M. Vlach on “Israel in Church History” – a solid treatment.  There is also a fine chapter about Israel as an evidence for the truth of Scripture from M. Rydelnik.  Another interesting chapter, the last of the book, is a study of the positions on Israel taken by theological schools.  The survey is by Gregory Hagg.  As no school or denomination is mentioned the chapter lacks decisiveness, but is still worth reading.

The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel is a mixed bag.  The highlights are the chapters by Kaiser, Wilkins, Bock, Vanlaningham, Blaising, Saucy, Feinberg, Vlach, and Rydelnik.  The impression left by most of these authors is that they would have benefited from more space.  Chisholm’s chapter was most disappointing.  I could have done without the piece by Brown, and Evans didn’t do much for me.  The other chapters are quite good, but not great.  The decision to use endnotes instead of footnotes was unfortunate.

Despite some bright moments, all in all the work falls behind similar works such as David Larsen’s Jews, Gentiles, and the Church; Barry Horner’s Future Israel, and Israel, the Land and the People, ed. by H. Wayne House.

This book was provided free of charge by the publisher.

The Divine Logos (Pt. 2)

Part One

The Roles of the Logos

Although the wording is brilliantly simple, an examination of the Prologue furnishes for us a great deal of help concerning what might be called the “roles” of the Logos. To begin with, the prologue places in front of us these facts:

The Logos is a Person (1:3, 4, 14).

Ÿ There are three relations of Christ the Logos recorded in these opening verses. First, there is His relation with the Father “In the beginning” (1:1-2). Second is His relation to the world (1:3, 10). The third relationship of the Logos is that which He bears to humankind (1:11-14).

Ÿ The Logos was active with (Gk. pros) God (the Father). Ridderbos says that this designation “is intended as an indication not only of place but also of disposition and orientation.”[1] Thus, in all respects the Eternal Logos was and is to be identified with God (1:1-2), though not the Father but the Son (1:18).

Ÿ This means that God, in the Person of the revealing incarnate Son (1:14, 18), is the Subject of John’s Gospel.

In addition to the above, three readily identifiable roles can be located within the Prologue. They center upon the great schemes of creation, revelation, and redemption.

Creation[2]

The link with creation is established right off with the very first words of John’s Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word” The Apostle is taking the reader back to the creation account in Genesis 1:1ff., and showing that the Logos was directly involved in the creative process. To those who assert that John’s stress is not upon creation as such, but upon the pre-existence of the Logos prior to the creation, we do not think we are forced into a choice between the two. The Genesis narrative implies a creatio ex nihilo doctrine which would necessitate a complimentary doctrine of Divine pre-existence and perlocutory action. John is telling us that the Logos is this same creative God (1:1-2).

Then in the third verse comes a clear statement about the creative role of the Logos: “All things were created by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made.” (1:3). The Logos is a Person (N.B., “by Him…without Him”), not an organizing principle or a personified divine utterance. He is the cause of the ontological status of everything, and nothing which came into existence in the creative week owes its being to anything else.[3]

Along with His work as Creator, the Logos is also the Upholder of that creation. The necessary imposition of the curse after the fall meant that God’s providential care of the world was mitigated by the consequential out-workings of sin in history. The world-system (kosmos) in its pride and rebellion does not recognize its Creator, even when He stands before them (1:10). Mankind may not want to acknowledge its Maker (Rom. 1:18-22), but it remains true that without the power of the Logos, there would be no light or life (Jn. 1:4), for as Gerhaardus Vos stated, “By universal consent the furnishing of life and light to the world belongs to the very essence of the Logos’ task.”[4]

Hence, John is restating a function that had already been confirmed before he wrote (cf. Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2-3). The power behind the vast spiraling galaxies, the fiercely burning stars in their motions, and the numberless operations of our planet – including all life, is not Matter, it is the Word! This world was created by Him and is sustained by Him (1:3-10). He is thus both what Vos termed the “organ of omnipotence”[5] and the Framer of Reality (and, therefore, of Meaning).[6] We shall let Vos sum it up for us:

“The normal relation to the world by Him who acted as the Mediator of creation, was such that thereafter the world and mankind were dependent for their life and light on Him. He was the Logos in providence, just as He had been the Logos in creation.”[7]

Revelation

The Prologue also calls our attention to the Logos as revelation. As the Author of the life and light of men (Jn. 1:4, 10), He has fashioned them in the image of God, and in so doing has constituted men and women in such a way that man himself reveals his Maker. Perhaps nobody has pointed this out better than Cornelius Van Til. He paints a striking picture in order to get his point across:

“Even when man, as it were, takes out his own eyes, this act itself turns revelational in his wicked hands, testifying to him that his sin is a sin against the light that lighteth every man coming into the world…Creatures have no private chambers.”[8]

Because mankind is in spiritual and therefore epistemological darkness, they do not acknowledge the Logos of God (Jn. 1:4-5; 9-11). Unless men realize this there will always be a chasm between man’s own self-identification and a right understanding of his true significance and purpose. The great lexicographer Cremer makes the point that Christ is “Him in whom had been hidden from eternity, and specially from the beginning of the world, what God had to say to man.”[9] The Logos is “the true Light” because He is the one who has placed the sense of creatureliness inside of us; the realization of which we seek to suppress and to run from (Jn. 1:5, 10-11; Cf. Acts 17:28; Rom. 1:18-20).[10] This is why Van Til can write:

By the idea of revelation, then, we are to mean not merely what comes to man through the facts surrounding him in his environment, but also that which comes to him by means of his own constitution as a covenant personality. The revelation that comes to man by way of his own rational and moral nature is no less objective to him than that which comes to him through the voice of trees and animals. Man’s own psychological activity is no less revelational than the laws of physics about him. All created reality is inherently revelational of the nature and will of God.Even man’s ethical reaction to God’s revelation is still revelational.[11]

One of the transformations wrought by the new birth is that God, “has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son” (Col. 1:13); so that we who were partakers of darkness, are now “light in the Lord.” (Eph. 5:8; cf. 1 Thess. 5:5). Thus, as the Psalmist has it, “In Thy light we shall see light” (Psa. 36:9). This brings us to the third aspect of the Prologue’s description of the Logos, the redemptive function.

Redemption

The revelation of God is not given for the purpose of condemnation only (cf. Jn. 3:17). The most astounding truth in the Prologue is that the eternal Logos, “was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (Jn. 1:14), and that He was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (Jn. 1:29). Vos expressed it well:

“The unique feature of the Prologue consists in this, that it views the cosmical function of the pre-existent Christ as a revealing function and places it in direct continuity with His revealing work in the sphere of redemption.”[12]

This is an important point as it emphasizes the fact that Christ as the Logos was active in revelation prior to His incarnation, but that His assuming human form (en morfh) was “in direct continuity” with that prior activity.[13]

(more…)