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Apologetics and Your Kids (Pt.1) – The Power of Negative Thinking

This is the first in a series of ongoing posts at Telos Ministries 

We have all read the statistics of young people who flee the Faith in which they have been reared soon after hitting college.  There is more than one reason for this defection.  The first and most obvious issue is probably the state of the heart.  Is this individual actually saved?  I’m not asking, “did they think they were saved?”, I’m asking “were they saved?”

Now, before someone calls me on stating the obvious, or what is worse, of relying on the easy explanation, let me make a personal observation.  This shall also act as my baseline

In my experience most churches and most Christian parents do not teach the Christian Faith in a way that supports Godward faith in the world we are called to live in.  And the major reason for this is a general disinterest in or else fear of doing apologetics.”

There it is.  There is the statement I am going to try to defend and, more importantly, expound in these posts.  But I’m going to begin where too few Christians today would want me to.  I’m going to put in a plug for some good old-fashioned negative thinking!

Starting in the Negative

People don’t like the negative.  They would far rather things were all positive.  There’s too much negativity in the world they say.  I hear them, and I agree, but only up to a point.  If the negativity comes from a dour outlook; a refusal to say anything nice or anything edifying, then without a doubt negativity is unwelcome.  If a person is always looking on the bad side they must not be allowed to dampen our spirits for too long.  Time with such people, even if they are our friends, must be measured lest we get dragged into the doldrums.

Yet when addressing important issues it is often proper to begin in the negative.  To start off all sanguine often brings a temptation to keep on looking at the bright side even when it has stopped being bright.  It is difficult to be analytical with a perpetual smile on ones face.  How easy it is to fool someone if you can make them feel good!  Isn’t that what con artists do?

Think of a shell game or many types of gambling.  Commonly you will be lured into thinking you can track the little ball under the cups; often you’ll be allowed to get it right the first time.  Or you’ll win a hand or two, or get “lucky” at the roulette wheel once or twice.  You’ll start feeling positive, and you’ll get taken.  “All that glisters is not gold.”  A critical approach can keep us out of a lot of trouble.

I think that for most adult Christians, what they want from their Christianity is solid values, wholesome music, nice friends, lively youth activities, and a bit of teaching thrown in.  They want it all upbeat and uplifting.  With these ingredients in their lives, many of God’s people are satisfied with what they have.  No need to go deeper, and certainly no need to connect their kids minds up to the ramifications of being a Christian.

More Than Mere Belief

The trouble is that church environments like this are not very biblical, nor are they very solid.  Grown ups may have tempered the Christian Faith to their middle class outlooks, but young people are not content to ask no questions.  And if they are not given the opportunity to think through Christianity, it is likely they will not really make it theirs!

More thoughts to come…

 

Photo courtesy of Ray Miller

 

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Trying to Get the Rapture Right (Pt.6)

Part Five

This series explores the various avenues which have to be gone down in order to get the doctrine of the Rapture of the Church right.  I am deliberately avoiding the more conventional comparative approach. This may annoy some and intrigue others.  I hope the former group is smaller than the latter!    

The Day of the Lord, Cosmic Upheavals, and the Return of Christ

The concept of the Day of the Lord describes different yet related things.  If I pick it up where I left off last time, with 2 Peter 3:10, the Day of the Lord is matched specifically with the dissolution of the present created order.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.

My understanding of this verse is that it takes a telescopic view of the whole intervention of the Divine presence to throw off the reign of sinful men and replace it with the rule of the Son of Man.  This overthrow and reign (specifically with a rod of iron – Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15), terminates when earth and heaven flee away (Rev. 20:11), and then the reign is continued under perfectly harmonious conditions where “there is no more curse” (Rev. 22:3).  If the kingdom-age – the “regeneration” which Jesus speaks of in Matt. 19:28. Cf. Lk. 22:29-30 – intervenes between the end of “this age” and the New Heavens and Earth, then Peter’s designation of the Day of the Lord does not refer only to the Second Coming, and certainly not to an outpouring of wrath just prior to the Second Coming.  In 2 Peter it more definitely refers to the Advent, rule, and final destruction of the planet at the very end of the millennial kingdom-age.  What this means (if I may recap what I have pointed out before) is that while “the Day of the Lord” may speak of whole or part of the Tribulation in some contexts, it does not settle the dispute about where we put the rapture (I will address whether one should equate the “Day of the Lord” with the Tribulation below).  This lack of finality is because the phrase “Day of the Lord” is somewhat flexible, and its association with the taking out of the church is placed within and partakes of that flexibility.

Saying this does not mean that the doctrine of the rapture becomes nebulous.  It is a real future event for Christ’s Church.  But it does mean that the timing of the rapture is arrived at only through deductions from inductively concluded premises.  Let me illustrate.

Pretribulationists are prone to identify “the Blessed Hope” spoken of by Paul in Titus 2:13 as the taking out of the Church, and I think they are right to do so.  But I don’t think they are right automatically.  That is, they are not entitled on exegetical grounds to simply deduce that “the Blessed Hope” equals the rapture because the rapture is pretribulational.  I do not think the exegetical case for any rapture position is decisive, and am trying to show why.  Thus, exegesis of the several rapture texts will substantiate that there is a rapture, and that the Body of Christ is its subject, but only valid inferences will determine the timing of the rapture.

Here’s a longer illustration.  Going back to the Olivet Discourse we read:

For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.  But immediately after the tribulation of those days the Sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory.  And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. – Matthew 24:27-31

The cosmic phenomena which Jesus mentions occur “immediately after the tribulation of those days”, and are connected to the Second Coming in verses 27 and 30.  The “gathering”, which some (not this writer) believe to be the rapture of 1 Thessalonians 4, happens around that time.  No doubt the saints are moved to safety right before Armageddon; whether by rapture to glory (which is somewhat speculative), or in another way it is not necessary to decide right now.

Furthermore, this “gathering” looks similar to the one in Matthew 13:47-50, or that in Revelation 14:14-20; both of which seem to happen at (or in close proximity to) the Second Advent, not at any distance prior to it.  With this set of passages the locus is at the very end of the Seventieth Week.  One might wish to insert a longer period of time between the upheavals and the Advent (say, six months up to three and a half years), but these verses are not encouraging in that regard.

Another group of “Day of the Lord” scriptures support this interpretation of equating the very end of the Tribulation with the Second Advent as Day of the Lord:

Joel 2:31 speaks of the signs mentioned in Matthew 24:29f., and puts them “before the great and terrible day of the LORD”.  If the Day of the Lord is the Return of Jesus in this text then perhaps there is an interval of some extent between the two events?  But Joel 3:14-16 indicates that this “before” is “in the Valley of Decision” where “the day of the LORD is near”.  That passage reads,

Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! 
For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.  The sun and moon grow dark 
And the stars lose their brightness.  The LORD roars from Zion 
And utters His voice from Jerusalem, 
And the heavens and the earth tremble. 
But the LORD is a refuge for His people 
And a stronghold to the sons of Israel. – Joel 3:14-16

This text places the cosmic disturbances at the time of the great battle (Armageddon).  The “day of the LORD” is said to be “near”, which indicates that in this passage it backs up to the Second Coming proper. The celestial troubles happen at Armageddon and not before.

What I’m saying is, if the “day of the LORD” in Joel 3:14f, is the same as the “great and terrible day of the LORD” in Joel 2:31, then the adverbs “before” and “near” refer to things immediately prior to the Lord’s Second Coming and not to a longer protracted period of wrath extending over months or years.  The “wrath” here (though not everywhere) would be the Second Coming!  This is how it is in Revelation 19:15, (which matches Revelation 14:14-20, see above), and Isaiah 63:1-6, which is a Second Advent passage.  This would mean that the “immediately after the tribulation” reference in Matthew 24:29 comes promptly before or even at Armageddon.

As well, if one takes the opening of the sixth seal in Revelation 6:12-17 as referring to the Second Coming (and its match in Isa. 2:10-21 points to that conclusion), the report may easily be taken as speaking of the events directly in front of and including the Advent, just as the passages above have indicated.  The example shows that these texts argue for “the Day of the Lord” and the cosmic signs occurring together in and around the great battle in “the Valley of Decision” and its ending at the Second Coming.

This rather elongated example shows that while there may be some fodder for post-tribulationism, there is little in this for the other positions to bite into as far as the rapture is concerned.  Pretribbers are not threatened with the connections I’ve made, even if many of them like to interpret the gathering up of Matthew 24:31 in a different way than I have, and some will object to putting the sixth seal at the end of the Seventieth Week.  Though Prewrathers have wrought valiantly on these passages to prize a wider time-period for the rapture before the “wrath” of God, which is poured out at least several months before the Lord’s return, I do not think they are successful at proving their point.  As I have tried to demonstrate, the heavenly chaos happens at Armageddon, and that battle is soon settled by the Second Coming of the King of kings.  Pretribulationism and Posttribulationism can handle this, but Posttribulationists, and to a lesser extent Prewrathers, confuse Israel and the Church, the latter having both groups going through the Tribulation concurrently.  We’ve already seen this in Part Four but there is more to say. (more…)

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Trying to Get the Rapture Right (Pt.5)

Part Four

In this piece I want to go behind the subject of the rapture so as to approach it from another angle. Please bear with me.

The Book of Revelation has been the subject of varied interpretations.  Since the Greek word apocalypsis means “a disclosure” or “unveiling” the different interpretative approaches to the Book is quite ironic if not a little embarrassing.  The opening verses of Revelation inform us that it concerns “things which must shortly take place” (1:1; 1:19).  Because John write of “things which must take place after this” (4:1) it is hardly surprising to read him describing his book as a “prophecy” (1:3).

Now although scholars like to cite etymology to try to prove that prophecy is more “forth-telling” than “foretelling”, the Bible itself does not assist them much.  For instance, when Jehoshaphat wanted to hear from a prophet of the LORD it wasn’t because he wished to hear a declamation on the present reign of his ally Ahab.  Rather he wanted to know about the future (see 1 Kings 22).  John’s Revelation is about the future.  But it is about a particular time in future history.  That time may be determined by the contents of the Book.

The Coming of Antichrist

Without going into detail about it, Revelation 4 and 5 set the scene for the major events depicted in the rest of the Book.  At the close of the fourth chapter the doxology fixes attention on creation: what I like to call “the Creation Project”, summed up in the idea that God’s purpose (teleology) drives an eschatology.  The fifth chapter of Revelation refers to the seven-sealed scroll which only the Lamb could open.  These seals reveal, among other things, the Four Horsemen, the first of which might be interpreted positively, except for what follows in his wake; which is the removal of peace, famine, and death.  Further, the souls under the altar of the fifth seal are of righteous people killed “for the word of God and the testimony which they held” (6:9).  Clearly chapter six records evil occurrences in the world, but when?  I venture to say that the easiest answer is during the coming Tribulation, which I have associated with Daniel’s seven year 70th week.  Now if “the prince who is to come” of Daniel 9:26 is, as is likely, the one who confirms a covenant at the beginning of the 70th Week and breaks it half way through (Dan. 9:27), then it is no extravagant surmise to identify the “prince” as the Antichrist.  (I am aware that many amillennialists want to say this is Christ, for what appear to be the most absurd reasons).  Anyway, this “prince/antichrist” is, I believe, the white-horse rider of Revelation 6:2.  This rider (who many amils also absurdly identify with Christ), looks like the white horse Rider of Revelation 19:11ff, who is Christ, but, for the reasons given above, is surely Antichrist.  Thus, Antichrist steps on to the scene at the beginning of the seventieth week and makes a covenant with Israel, Daniel’s people.  Israel then is once again at the forefront of God’s actions (cf. also Rev. 7:1-8; 11:1-2, 8: 12:1-5, etc.).

If we introduce 2 Thessalonians 2 into the scene we see that Paul tells the Church that our gathering to Christ will not occur “until the rebellion (apostasia) comes, and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (2 Thess. 2:1, 3).  Paul is clearing up a misconception about the arrival of “the Day of the Lord.”  That “day” is connected to the start of the apostasy and the revealing of the man of sin or Antichrist.  Thus it would seem that the Day of the Lord as the Apostle here uses the term is coterminous with the appearance of Antichrist, the white horse rider of Revelation 6, which is, it seems, and as noted above, at the beginning of Daniel’s 70th Week.

If this is in fact the case, then certain entailments follow.  The first is that it would seem to do away with attempts to restrict the term “Day of the Lord” (he hemera tou kuriou) to either a mid, pre-wrath or post-tribulational scenario.  The second is that our gathering (episounagogay) with Christ (2:1) is linked with the onset of the rebellion or apostasy, (although I see nothing in the argument which makes the apostasy the rapture itself – a la E. Schuyler English), in which case the rapture will happen in or around the beginning of the Tribulation.  It’s not a knock-down argument, but it certainly gives the nod to a pre-trib understanding of “Day of the Lord” in this particular passage.

The Problem of “Day of the Lord”

Obviously this is a massive subject, and I am permitting myself the luxury of dealing with it in a somewhat piecemeal fashion, but just a brief look at some assorted passages will help us get a basic understanding of the term.  It will mean I have to meander a little through certain scriptures.  I’ll begin with Paul.

The Apostle Paul only uses the words three times.  We have noted 2 Thessalonians 2 above.  In 1 Corinthians 5:5, when speaking about the handing over of a man to Satan “for the destruction of the flesh” he gives as his reason “that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”  In passing we should mention that the addition of the name “Jesus” after the phrase is well attested, but I don’t think it changes anything.  The time reference is not indexed so one cannot say for sure precisely when this will be.  So like so many rapture supporting verses it can be used by all schools.

The next passage is in 1 Thessalonians 5:2.  I’ll provide the context:

Now concerning the times and the seasons brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you.  For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.  While people are saying, “there is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they shall not escape.  But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief… For God has not destined us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4, 9

This passage follows on from the rapture section at the end of chapter 4.  In that section the Apostle writes as if the snatching out was a new teaching for the Thessalonians (4:13).  Here though the church is said to be well aware of the teaching concerning the Day of the Lord.  Okay, but that still does not place the rapture at any specified point in the eschaton.  Perhaps then it would be well to examine the two figures which Paul uses, one of which is drawn from the Old Testament.

The reference to “birth pangs” or “labor pains” is an analogy for discomfort and distress.  For example, in Psalm 48 it is used to illustrate the reaction of the kings of the earth upon seeing God’s City, verses 1 to 8 possibly predicting the future kingdom.  Then in Isaiah 13:6-13, which is a Day of the Lord passage (13:6, 9), the events surrounding God’s judgment on the world (v.11) resemble closely the climactic events circling around the Second Coming (i.e. cosmic disturbances 13:10, 13).  References in Micah and Jeremiah follow along similar lines.  Sometimes it is hard to extract these end times predictions from more immediate contexts as the prophets often view contemporary troubles from the vantage of the present aeon and its eventual overturn at Christ’s appearing in judgment.  But there is no warrant for making it all figurative; still less for calling upon the shapeless crock which is “apocalyptic” (which within some sectors of evangelicalism is coming to encompass well nigh everything).

Paul’s usage of the metaphor of labor pains to describe the present groaning of the earth in Romans 8:22 shows that it can speak of the creation’s ages-long waiting on its redemption and not about the eschaton itself.  This means that there is nothing in the phrase itself which connotes the Tribulation or Second Advent.  But when linked to other end times cues, like in 1 Thessalonians 5, it does bespeak the great distress that will ensue.

So getting back to our text, the “labor pains” motif does argue for an intensified period of trial at the end of the age, but again, is it the cusp of the Tribulation, or half-way, or what pre-wrathers point to as the tail-end when the bowls of wrath of Revelation 16 are poured out?  It’s hard to say exactly.  And this sort of lack of precision is typical.

Okay, so what does Paul mean by the Day of the Lord in 1 Thessalonians 5?  Well, it is something preceded by the rapture (1 Thess. 4:17), though no interval is given.  It appears to be identical with the “wrath to come” in 1:10 (cf. 5:9), so we will need to examine that term below.  It also comes suddenly, which the figure of the “thief in the night” illustrates distinctly.  However, this “thief” metaphor is not referring to the rapture, but something occurring after it has taken place.  For instance, Revelation 16:15 has the term used to speak of the Second Coming (cf. Rev. 19:11ff.).  The word indicates a nasty surprise, which the Lord’s return in anger will surely be (2 Thess. 1:5-10, about which more has to be said).  Post-tribulationists warm to such passages, but the other positions are not overturned by it, because “thief” is not technical.  This can be seen from Peter. (more…)

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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…

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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..

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. 1)

With your indulgence, I’m going to repost a set of three studies on Jesus Christ as the Logos of God.  They are a bit long, but hopefully useful.  

It may sound somewhat unseemly for anyone to refer to the Lord Jesus Christ as “the Logos of God,” but to conceive of Him (momentarily) in this abstract way opens up new lines of inquiry that are harder to see under His personal name. And, after all, the Apostle John was the first to do it.

If one comes to the term “Logos” with the mindset of the ancient Greek philosophers, the best thing that could be extracted from the prologue to John’s Gospel would be a personification but not a Person. But clearly John is not content with a personification. He has something extremely profound in mind; something that I believe provides a helpful fillip for a fully Christo-doxological motif.

Before we can expound a motif we must clear away the mound of misunderstandings that has been built up over the meaning of John’s Logos.

  1. Meaning of the Term

The basic meaning of the word logos in Greek may be summarized as, “the expression of thought – not the mere name of an object – (a) as embodying a conception or idea, (b) a saying or statement, (c) discourse, speech, of instruction etc.”[i] Thus, the idea of rationality, of a reasoned message of some sort, is central to the term.[ii] Yet, at first glance it seems far from clear why the Apostle chose this designation.

It is clear that the concept of the Divine Logos that one encounters in the opening verses of John’s Gospel is of great importance to his doctrine of Christ. The main verses are given below:

 

In the beginning was the Word [Logos], and the Word [Logos] was with God, and the Word [Logos] was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were created by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:1-5)

He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. (John 1:10).

And the Word [Logos] was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld Him… (John 1:14a).

No man hath seen God [the Father] at any time; the only begotten Son,[iii] which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him. (John 1:18).

 

I have isolated these verses, not because the other verses in the Prologue (vv. 1-18) are unimportant, but solely for the purpose of definition. These are the essential verses for the Logos teaching. We see a connection between the Word and God, the created order, and man.[iv] Clearly, in these passages John is very deliberately linking the Logos who became Christ in the flesh with the Creator God. We know that the Christ was named “Jesus” at the time of His birth (Lk. 2:21). But John is reaching far back before the creation to the relationship of the Logos/Son with God the Father from everlasting (Jn. 1:1-2, 18; cf. 17:5). Therefore, John is facing us with the implication that He who was to be known as Jesus of Nazareth in “the days of His flesh,” is the eternal Logos or Word of God. It is made clear that three great pillars of the Christian world and life view, Creation (1:1, 3), Revelation (1:4, 9, 14, 17-18), and Redemption (1:12-13), are bound to His Person. But we must turn to the question of ancient parallels before exploring these things further.

 

  1. The Uses of Logos in the Ancient World

The use of the word Logos – rendered “Word” in our better translations[v], naturally brings up the question of why the Apostle, under the Spirit’s direction, employed it. To our modern ears it sounds strange, if not a bit abstruse. In fact, the sense of enigma only increases once we begin to study the word and its ancient usages. The different ways logos was used as a technical term has given rise to much speculation as to just whom John was influenced by when he penned the Prologue to his Gospel.

 

The Greeks

From about the 6th Century B.C. the Greeks, beginning with Heraclitus, started to give logos a special philosophical nuance in their descriptions of reality. For example, Heraclitus made it function as “the stabilizing, directing principle of the universe.”[vi] The Logos was conceived of as the explanatory concept of the universe; “the rational power of calculation in virtue of which man can see himself and his place in the cosmos.”[vii] That is, it functioned as the final principle of intelligibility. Stoicism would later teach that it stood for that which gives the cosmos its shape and substance. In other words, keeping in mind the fundamental connection with rationality, the Greek philosophers found Logos most suitable to describe the organizing power of the phenomenal world.[viii] With the Stoics one finds a differentiation between the logos principle which interpenetrated even non-rational matter to give it form, also imparting the power of reason to humans: the so-called logos spermatikos or seminal reason, and the source of all morality and reason in living in the world: the orthos logos.[ix] Furthermore, this idea of the organizing Logos was still current at the time the Apostle John wrote his Gospel[x], although it had undergone some transformation by then.[xi]

 

Wisdom

Other scholars point to the grand eulogy of Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31, a passage which still has advocates who see in it a prediction of Christ.[xii] But this connection has its problems. For one thing, the figure of Wisdom in Proverbs is feminine. And for another, the Septuagint, which has been followed by most modern versions, says, “The Lord made me [in] the beginning of his ways for his works. He established me before time was in the beginning, before he made the earth.” (Prov. 8:22-23, LXX); a translation which was used by Arius to prove that Christ was a created being![xiii] When passages like this are joined with those from wisdom writings of intertestamental times, some see a possible association with the Prologue.[xiv]

But the association should be treated with caution due to the fact that “Wisdom” (a feminine noun), though personified, is never actually personalized. What is more, as Boice notes, “any serious personalization would be radically alien to the prevailing Jewish perspective which saw Wisdom as inseparable from the Torah (1 Baruch 4:1, 2; cf. Sirach 19: 20-22).”[xv] Besides, the picture in the apocrypha of Wisdom as a “stern warrior” leaping down from heaven (Wisdom of Solomon 18:15; cf. 9:1; 16:12), hardly encourages one to tie this in with the Apostle’s themes.[xvi] Finally, in Sirach 24:9 Wisdom is said to be created, thus echoing (or influencing) the LXX of Proverbs 8:22-23.

Philo

Still others equate the Logos of John with a strong Platonic[xvii] influence, though mediated through Philo – a contemporary of John. Philo’s interpretation of Plato involved the bridging of the platonic separation of the real spiritual realm – the realm of pure ideas, or forms, from the physical realm in which we live. Although he used the term logos in a variety of ways, the two most important were combined in the role of intermediary. Dennis Johnson tells us that “[a]t times in Philo, logos stands for the word by which God created the world (Op. Mund. 20-25). At other times it refers to a mediator between the ideal and the phenomenal.”[xviii]

As mediator, the Logos was, “the means by which the mind apprehends God.”[xix] Philo placed so much emphasis upon God’s transcendence that the concept of the Logos was necessary to bridge the gap between God (in the Ideal realm) and men (in the phenomenal world).[xx] Guthrie notices five things in connection with Philo’s logos doctrine:

 

  1. Philo’s logos was impersonal. While all admit that Philo personified the logos (see below); it was not his intention to lend it the status of actual personhood.
  2. The logos was protogonos huios, God’s “first-born son,” and, “the eldest and most akin to God.” As such the logos was pre-existent, yet no more than a “power” of God.
  3. Philo does not link light and life to his logos.
  4. Philo’s logos belonged completely to the world of Ideas, and could not become incarnated in this lower material realm.[xxi]
  5. Nevertheless, the logos performed, “a mediatorial function to bridge the gap between the transcendent God and the world.”[xxii]

 

These facts make it unlikely that John concerned himself overmuch with his Alexandrian contemporary. It should also be borne in mind that Philo’s logos represented the faculty of reason in humans as well as in God.[xxiii] When one considers the way in which the later Alexandrians, especially Clement, used Philo to develop their logos doctrine, it seems highly unlikely that John would have used him as his starting-point. Of that logos-theory Herman Dooyeweerd wrote,

 

It conceived of the divine creating Word (Logos) as a lower divine being which mediates between the divine unity and impure matter. The Alexandrian school thereby actually transformed the Christian religion into a high ethical theory, into a moralistically tinged theological and philosophic system, which as a higher gnosis was placed above the faith of the Church.[xxiv]

There is too much in John which contravenes Philo, and too much in Philo to derail the Christian community.[xxv] We therefore believe that at best John gave the celebrated Jew a nod of acquaintance and thought little more about it. (more…)

An Overview of the History of Interpretation (Part 2)

Part One

 3. Allegorical Interpretation continued.

But what we must keep in mind is that allegorical interpretation was not foreign to Jewish understanding of their Scriptures in the first century.  Maier can say, “Jewish interpreters of the first century were convinced that the Holy Scriptures contained more than what the sensus literalis offered.” – Gerhard Maier, Biblical Hermeneutics, 68.

Thus, we should not yield to the naïve temptation to think that the Jews held to single-sense literal hermeneutics.

So what did the use of allegory accomplish?  In one important sense it enabled Christians in earlier ages to locate themselves and their situations in the Bible story.  As one writer puts it,

“…allegory was one of the main means by which Scripture continued to be a channel of the life of Christ to the church, rather than a dead letter.  It especially helped maintain the identity of a people.  It enabled Christians of the fourth, or seventh or fourteenth centuries to see themselves in the sacred text – and they can still do so today.  It is a community building manoeuvre, in which Christians of any ‘present’ are bonded with those of the past.” – Stephen I. Wright, “Inhabiting the Story,” in Behind The Text, eds, Craig Barthlomew, etc. 509.

Looked at that way, it is easy to see the attraction of allegory, just as it is easy to understand the urge to apply every verse in the Bible to Jesus Christ, or to erect large theological edifices via typology today.

4. From The Third to the Fifth Centuries.

It is no coincidence that allegorical interpretations of Scripture filtered into both the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church via Alexandria.  It was there that Clement (c. A.D. 150-215), and Origen (c, A.D. 185-254), used allegory to find ‘deeper’ meanings in the OT and NT. They particularly found difficulty in assigning OT prophecies about Israel to the Christian Church. But by discovering a mystical sense to Scripture, they could reassign troublesome passages and explain away what appeared to them to be incongruities within the Bible. Augustine (A.D. 354-430), who was a native of North Africa, was the greatest theologian-philosopher of the Early Church.  He came to Christ through allegory (Maier, 69).  It was his endorsement of the allegorical method of interpretation which had the decisive influence upon hermeneutics up until the time of the Reformation. Thus it was that early Roman Catholic allegorism was given its impetus by the Alexandrian school under Clement and Origen, and then through the Bishop of Hippo.

Origen’s prominence as a Bible scholar influenced many interpreters of the Latin church. One of these, the Donatist Tychonius, was the man who would set out the principles of interpretation which Augustine would follow in his ideal of relating everything to Christ. A major premise of Augustine’s interpretation was that the Catholic Church was the City of God – the kingdom. Therefore, Old Testament statements which gave promises to Israel were to be re-interpreted so that the promises were now inherited by the Church.  He often allegorized Old Testament passages in order to solve its “problems.”  He did this so skillfully that it is hard to resist his conclusions, even if they are drawn precariously from an allegorical method.

Augustine’s elder contemporary, Jerome (c. A.D. 341-420), was a man of great learning, particularly in Hebrew and Greek. Although his first commentaries followed the allegorical approach, later in life he adopted a far more literal hermeneutic. This was due, in the main, to the influence upon him of the Antiochene school, which we will describe presently.  Jerome’s later Commentary on Daniel, says Dockery, “remained strictly within the confines required by the text.”  Thus, “Through Jerome’s influence, a modified Antiochene literalism was mediated to the later church.” – David S. Dockery, Biblical Interpretation Then and Now, 133.

The school of Antioch in Syria was renowned for its exegetes Lucian (c. A.D. 240), Diodore (d. c. A.D. 394), and Theodore of Mopsuesta (c. 350-428), and for its great preacher John Chrysostom (c. A.D. 354-407), and its greatest theologian, Theodoret (c. A.D. 393-466). All of these men employed a more literal hermeneutic than the Alexandrians, wherein the literal sense was given precedence.  But it would be a big mistake to assert, as some do, that the Syrian approach to interpretation was the same as what has been called “grammatical-historical interpretation” in the present day.  To give two quick examples: Theodore of Mopsuesta was often so literalistic as to deny the prophetic teaching of many OT prophecies.  On the other hand, Theodoret often used spiritualizing in his expositions.

Still, it was true that, as a rule, the Antiochenes were far more concerned about reading the text for what it said rather than seeking for secondary meanings.  But, in the end, it was the spiritualizing of the Alexandrian school that prevailed and which was to hold sway for the next thousand years.

Next time:  Approaching the Reformation

 

 

The Incoherence of Evolutionary Origins (6)

PART FIVE

Natural Theology and Methodological Naturalism

How can scientific naturalism be a child of Christian theology?  That is a good question.  One would think that such a methodology, disposed as it is to serve the worldviews of materialists and atheists, and presented by them as indispensable to good science, would have been contrived by them, but such is not the case.

In fact Cornelius Hunter contends that,

What we need…is a clear understanding of what naturalism is.  Naturalism’s adherents think that it is a scientific discovery, and its detractors think it is atheism in disguise.  In fact, it is a rationalist movement built on a foundation of religious thought and traditions that mandate a world that operates according to natural laws and processes.  – Cornelius G. Hunter, Science’s Blind Spot, 50

If this is so, it was thought that those laws and processes would be primed to produce perfect symmetry – IF God was working within them!

Having said this it has to be noted that although methodological naturalism is seized upon by materialists with fervor, it is not identical with philosophical cum metaphysical naturalism.  It was brought into the rule of science by theists.  The problem was though, these well-intentioned theists were not paying as much attention to their Bibles as they ought to have done.  Hunter notices the case of the great Botanist John Ray, who “would argue on the one hand that nature revealed design but on the other hand that the world was not directly created, as evidenced by its errors and bungles.” (Ibid, 53).  These “errors and bungles” in nature could not, it was thought, be laid at the feet of God.  Logically, therefore, they had to come about via purely natural processes.

The erroneous notion under which these theistic naturalists were operating stemmed itself from the dictates of a form of natural theology.  In their book In Defense of Natural Theology, James F. Sennett and Douglas Groothuis define it this way:

The attempt to provide rational justification for theism using only those sources of information accessible to all inquirers, namely the data of empirical experience and the dictates of human reason. In other words, it is defensive theism without recourse to purported Special Revelation.  

I am not claiming that Sennett and Groothuis endorse Ray’s position, but this definition does serve to show how such a position might come about, especially at the dawn of the modern scientific era.  As time went on the anti-theists of the Enlightenment took hold of what the theists handed them and employed it with relish.  Would that these theists had understood that the Natural Theology which they used to divine nature’s “errors and bungles” was itself shot through with the same.

What causes still more friction is that those who like Natural Theology commonly call it General Revelation.  But the two are very different.  There is not an awful lot that I would agree with when it comes to the work of William Abraham, but he is quite right in separating the disciplines of General Revelation and Natural Theology.  He says it well:

It has been common to run together General Revelation and Natural Theology, but this is clearly a mistake. The doctrine of General Revelation involves an assertion that God is revealed ‘generally’ in creation – Natural Theology involves an argument from general features of the universe to the proposition that God exists. – William J. Abraham, Crossing the Threshold of Divine Revelation, 67 n.7

The term General Revelation has often been co-opted by natural theologians to mean Natural Theology.  But General Revelation is a doctrine which is subject to Scripture while Natural Theology self-consciously is not.

Why this digression to talk about Natural Theology?  Because it furnished the original conditions and the rationale for naturalism in science and is still often invoked (sometimes without knowing) by people, be they Christians or unbelievers, to defend methodological naturalism in science.  Methodological naturalism came about through poor theology; it is a bastard-child of ill-understood doctrines, and it now legitimates itself through its associations with established scientific procedure and the requirements of evolutionary dogma.  Nobody questions its credentials.  It serves a bigger purpose.

Indeed, on some grounds not immediately dependent upon Natural Theology, even the evolution hypothesis is not incompatible with Christianity.  For instance, Alvin Plantinga, though no evolutionist, in the first part of his Where The Conflict Really Lies, has shown that there is no necessary conflict between evolution and Christianity.  But this is not to say that when it comes down to it there is no incompatibility.  Agree with him or not, all Plantinga is saying is that certain approaches to Christian Theology – approaches dispensing with plain interpretation and the problem of death and thorns before the Fall – can theoretically incorporate Neo-Darwinian views.

Two Large Obstacles

Of course, two very large obstacles get in the way of “Theistic Evolution”.  The first is the actual text and theology of the Bible, which, if it can perhaps be understood to permit old-earth scenarios, cannot without rude discomfort accommodate evolution and the survival of the fittest.  But I am not concerned with that here.  It is the second obstacle which I wish to ponder; and that is, the illogic of evolution and evolutionary descriptions of origins.

In these articles I have tried to pinpoint several logical errors in standard evolutionary ideas.  I have shown that without the biblical God to ensure that the future will be like the past the whole scientific edifice teeters upon the fallacy of begging the question.  I have shown several other incoherences along the way.  Still another one is provided by Hunter when he explains about the use of predictions to fortify a theory which is wrong.  He gives the example of Ptolemy and observes,

In fact, the idea that an evidence proves a theory is a logical fallacy known as affirming the consequent.  So we need to be careful when using predictions to evaluate the truth value of a theory. – Science’s Blind Spot, 74.     

This second problem of incoherence will only intensify over time.  The tide is turning. (more…)