“Leaving Mormonism” – A Review

I was sent this book (and another that I must review soon) before Christmas and the publisher, quite understandably wishes me to review it.  I am very happy to do so since this is a fine resource

A Review of Leaving Mormonism: Why Four Scholars Changed Their Minds, edited by Corey Miller & Lynn K. Wilder, Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 311 pages, paperback, 2017

This book is an great idea.  Four former Mormons with academic credentials and a passion for the truth write about why they left Mormonism and add a critique of it from their own perspectives.  Each writer communicates clearly.  None is mean spirited in their criticism of their former belief, though all are keen to inform readers not only of the errors of the Latter-Day Saints; errors which lead to a particular worldview, but also of the chameleonic nature of Mormon teaching as it seeks to adapt to criticism and exposure.

Corey Miller’s chapter, “In Search of the Good Life” asks whether experiencing the good is objectively possible under Mormon teaching.  His answer begins with his personal testimony of being a Mormon with descendants reaching all the way back to acquaintances of Joseph Smith himself.  His essay deals with the nature of Mormon testimony and the difficulty of achieving “salvation.”  Miller is a philosopher and has provided excellent notes to go with his essay, even briefly outlining Alvin Plantinga’s response to de jure objections to Christian faith in his Warranted Christian Belief (70 n.41).

The next chapter is by LaTayne Scott, “I Was There, I Believed.”  She has been given enough room to write a long but interesting chapter consisting, as all the contributions do, of her testimony and an analysis.  Scott’s testimony is eloquently written and of real help for someone trying to understand the grip that Mormon culture exerts upon its members.  Of particular help in this chapter is the way the author persuades the reader to look upon Mormonism as a worldview with its distinctive (and false) approach to truth.

Lynn Wilder’s piece includes her discomfort at encountering many contradictions concerning things like racism and polygamy.  There is also her son’s story, wherein he was challenged while on mission to read the New Testament.  Upon returning to testify he got up and confessed that a person needed Jesus and Him alone (163).  This son, Micah, begged his parents to simply read the NT like a child would.  Wilder read John’s Gospel and her eyes began to be opened, though not for some time did she and her husband leave the fold (in 2008).  The “reasons” part of her article details numerous social problems with Mormonism, again focusing on racism and polygamy, but expanding on each.

The last of the four writers is the scientist Vince Eccles.  He became a rebel against religion after learning about his divorced mother’s being judged for some of her choices.  He writes about his fascination with parts of the Bible (e.g. Matthew and Exodus) and his investigations into the reliability of the Scriptures, but he does hold to a non-literal reading of the early chapters of Genesis, and to theistic evolution, and there are certainly one or two liberal-critical influences upon him.  He records crises of faith which even had him contemplating becoming an orthodox Jew.  He also seems to have universalist leanings.  Of the four authors in the book I felt Eccles was the least satisfying.  In fact, even though his essay is of interest, I think it was a mistake to include him in the book.

Miller and Wilder complete the book with a chapter on the New Atheism.  They inserted this chapter because many ex-Mormons become disillusioned and fall pray to the arguments of these people.  It’s a nice bonus at the end of the book.

This is an absorbing book, written with head and heart.  I liked the first two contributions to be the most helpful; the one by Eccles was a disappointment.  I think the book, Eccles’ chapter apart, is a very good buy.


Review of ‘He Will Reign Forever’ (Pt.3)

Part Two

This is the third part in what has become a four part review of this book.  I think the work is important enough as a Dispensational Biblical Theology to merit a piece of this length.  I hope you will agree.  

As Vlach entered upon the New Testament I was curious how much space he would devote to developing the message of Jesus in its pre-Pauline context.  That is to say, I wanted to see if he would trace the teachings of Jesus from its grounding in the prophetic expectations in the Old Testament and its effect upon Jewish hearers in the first part of the first century A.D.  I was not disappointed.

The author chooses the Gospel of Matthew as his frame of reference for understanding the kingdom aspect of Christ’s mission.  This was a natural enough choice, although the present reviewer is also a fan of the speeches in Luke-Acts for this purpose.  Of course, the selection of Matthew in no way eliminates interaction with the other Gospels, and Vlach picks up on some of the main kingdom emphases in Luke, especially the crucial Parable of the Nobleman in Luke 19:11-27(e.g. 357-360).  About 150 pages of He Will Reign Forever are set aside for the Gospels.  This allows Vlach to make the important textual and theological connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament around the Person of Jesus Christ and His kingdom understanding.  The work done in these chapters supplies the basic proof for the underlying accuracy of the book’s hermeneutical consistency.  At the risk of annoying some readers, this sort of work does not need to be done by those who automatically spiritualize the text whenever it threatens to unravel their view that Christ and the Church are what it’s all about.  Again, it is worth noting the clever use of non-evangelical scholarship to drive home the fact that the author is not making his points because of some blind allegiance to Dispensational requirements, but because this is what the text of Scripture itself is saying.

Jesus’ identification with Israel is seen as a main emphasis of Matthew 2 (262). The author handles the Hosea 11:1 quotation in two ways; first via reference to corporate solidarity, but then also by noting the probable source of the allusion to Numbers 23 and 24; a position vigorously argued for by the late John Sailhamer (263-264).  From there the “kingdom is at hand” passages in Matthew 3 and 4 are handled in chapter 16.  I fully concur with this quotation:

According to Matthew 5:5 kingdom blessings include inheriting the land, which is a physical blessing.  The view that Jesus is presenting a spiritual kingdom only appears more in line with a Platonic dualism between spirit and matter than a biblical worldview. (270, and something he returns to quite frequently in Part Three of the book).     

Along with rejecting the spiritualizing view of the kingdom Vlach is also unpersuaded by the prominent “already/not yet” so prevalent today, saying “it does not do justice to the full package of kingdom blessings presented by John and Jesus at the time of their pronouncements.” (270 my italics. cf. 271). 

In order to bring the cosmic drama between God and Satan into his discussion of the Temptation of Jesus the author deals with several Old Testament passages before tackling the Temptation itself.  He poignantly states, “The arrival of Jesus was an invasion of Satan’s empire.” (285).  He takes the opportunity to make important intertextual links in fleshing out the kingdom implications of Christ’s presence on the scene.  This gives him the opportunity to remind his reader of some of the ground already covered in the Old Testament sections.  I do wish that he had afforded himself the liberty to deal with the recent attempts of amillennial biblical theologians to quite irrationally identify “the anointed cherub” of Ezekiel 28 with Adam (281-282).

The topic of miracles is well handled in chapter 18, which focuses on Matthew 4:23-24.  I very much liked the description of miracles as “acts of restoration” (296).  That is good theology.      (more…)

On Accurately Pinpointing Daniel 9:24

I am recovering from a bout of the flu and am not yet fit enough to write anything new.  Hope this piece is a decent stop-gap.

In Daniel 9:24, Gabriel’s words are absolutely essential for a correct interpretation of the Seventy Weeks’ prophecy; the location of the last week especially.  Gabriel says the entire period involves Daniel’s people and Jerusalem, and these referents are not to be swapped out with ecclesial ones[1]  There are then six particular things to be accomplished which are enumerated in the verse, things which are determined to occur.[2]  These are arranged with three negatives followed by three positives:

To finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy. – Daniel 9:24

Can these six items be identified?  It depends upon ones eschatological commitments.  I think if we keep to the gradually emerging eschatology which I have been following in the Prophets until now all the data has to be understood in one way.  Let me explain.

The first item concerns finishing “the transgression”.  Daniel has been praying about it (9:4-14), and any reader, especially of the historical and prophetic books, is intimately aware of the problem.  To finish the transgression of Israel could only end in the destruction or salvation of the Jews (e.g. Isa. 59:20-21).[3]    The making a complete “end of sins” is perhaps more inclusive, since not all sins are transgressions (pesa).  This is best viewed as a curtailment of Israel’s historic waywardness, and invites the thought of a fresh start (Amos 9:8; Hos. 2; Mic. 7:14-20; Isa. 1:25-27; 62:1-7; Jer. 3:12-17).  The third achievement is to “make reconciliation for iniquity”, which while accomplished at the Cross[4], here points more to the time of Israel’s attainment of that reconciliation.  Even more, this recalls God’s stated intention to redeem His people (e.g. Jer. 30:11; 31:11-12; Ezek. 36:25-29).  These three things tie in with the covenantal expectations raised by God in the prophets.  As they stand they have not been fulfilled.  Israel is still in sin.

The three positive achievements in 9:24 could not be more optimistic.  What could be better than the introduction of “everlasting righteousness”?  The first of the second set of achievements is “to bring in everlasting righteousness.”  It is very difficult to imagine, even with the most sanguine imagination, how any phase of earth’s history so far qualifies for such a description.  Again, this prediction is about Israel and Jerusalem in particular.[5]  As I stated in my comments on Jeremiah 31:31f. “in those places where righteousness and salvation are in view, the context is unwaveringly a New covenant eschatological context.”  This is a rational understanding of the close of Daniel’s petition in 9:16-19.  It is what is someday expected (e.g. Isa. 25:8-9; 51:11; 61:2b-3).  The fifth thing Gabriel mentions is the sealing up of vision and prophecy.  If it is right to link all the previous accomplishments to Israel’s New covenant era, then this is readily comprehended.  Since this era is marked by the setting up of the earthly kingdom of the promised Messiah (e.g. Isa. 11:1-10; 32:1; Jer. 23:5-6; Dan. 7:13-14), when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9; cf. Jer. 31:34), there will be no need for prophets.[6]  This is lent support by a rather strange text in Zechariah.

It shall come to pass that if anyone still prophesies, then his father and mother who begot him will say to him, `You shall not live, because you have spoken lies in the name of the LORD.’ And his father and mother who begot him shall thrust him through when he prophesies.

 And it shall be in that day that every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies; they will not wear a robe of coarse hair to deceive. – Zechariah 13:3-4

At first sight this passage is disturbing.  What righteous parent would think of killing their own son, even if he were acting the part of a prophet?  But the passage hints at the blatant act of temerity of the son’s action, as if to don the mantle was a vicious blasphemy.  If one fits this action into the kingdom age when the prophet’s function becomes obsolete because of the worldwide knowledge of God, then it would make good sense.[7]  Hence, to seal up visions and prophecy would certainly occur in the New covenant aeon as envisaged from an Old Testament perspective. (more…)

A Note on the Kingdoms in Daniel 2

An Excerpt from ‘The Words of the Covenant’

Until now we have not ventured any specific identifications of the kingdoms in the dream.  We have tried to view Daniel’s interpretation with the eyes of the king.  But we, of course, have the advantage of looking back along the line of history to Nebuchadnezzar’s day.  What does this backward look tell us?

The first thing to be noted is that not everyone looks back in the same way.  The main issue is that many interpreters refuse to grant the traditional 6th Century date for the writing of the book of Daniel.  Instead, they have convinced themselves that the book is an example of post-exilic and inter-testamental apocalypse.  We may divide the two camps and their respective supporters so:

Sixth Century

Keil, Young, Leupold, Wood, Walvoord, Culver, Gurney, Unger, Hasel, Archer, Waltke, Walton, Miller.

Second Century

Zockler, Driver, Rowley, Montgomery, Lacocque, Eissfeldt, Porteous, Russell, Childs, Towner, Collins, Goldingay.

This set of listings reveals that the cleavage within the two groups is theological[1] and presuppositional.  The less conservative authors go for the Maccabean date, (and they will also for this reason favor “apocalyptic” understandings of the text as a word-picture rather than a prophetic statement), while those generally with a stronger belief in inspiration are to be found holding to the traditional date.  Usually those holding a sixth century dating for the book identify the four kingdoms represented in the dream-image as Neo-Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and, Rome.  This has been the consensus throughout the major part of Church history.[2]

The preponderating view, at least until recently, among the more liberal contingent, has been that the four kingdoms are Babylon, Media, Persia, Greece.[3]  It is supposed that as the writer was living in the Maccabean period he had an incorrect view of the history of the Middle East[4], or at least that he would have viewed Media and Persia as separate powers.

Other attempts to rob the chapter of the predictive element include making the metals represent four kings of the Neo-Babylonian Empire: Nebuchadnezzar, Amel-Marduk, Neriglissar, and, Nabonidus.  This omits the brief reign of Labashi-Marduk and treats Belshazzar as the weak (clay) half of the co-regency with Nabonidus.  Inconsistencies and flat out mistakes are of no concern to men like Philip R. Davies, a scholar whose neo-Kantian approach would like to see all talk of the supernatural removed from the academy.[5]  Goldingay thinks perhaps the significance of the statue is in the four named kings within the book, Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius the Mede, and Cyrus.  In this interpretation the image is more a literary device than an attempt to trace history accurately.  Another commentator of the evangelical left, Ernest Lucas, seems to opt for the Babylon, Media, Persia, Macedonia (Greece) scheme.  Nearly all these men believe that the book is prophecy written after the fact.

What all these non-conservative views have in common is the disallowance of Rome as the fourth kingdom.  What do the facts of history show?  They reveal that the traditional order is the best one.  Of the older commentaries, Archer has written persuasively on this matter.[6]  We have seen that the Medes enjoyed their greatest period before the death of Nebuchadnezzar.  It certainly did not “arise” after him (v.39).  And the dream symbolism begins with him.  Besides, the eight-year continuance of the Median kingdom hardly does justice to what is said in Daniel 7:5.  If we take the Medes out as a lone kingdom and include them along with the Persians, which reflects what occurred in history, we are left with Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.

“Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.” – Dan. 2:45

It ought to be firmly kept in mind that the stone’s impact is depicted as destroying the image instantaneously, not at all gradually.[7]  This fact calls into question the amillennial and postmillennial interpretations of the passage, which see the stone as representing the spiritual kingdom inaugurated by Christ at His first coming.  It will not do to say that the mountain grows gradually out of the stone, for the basic fact is that the stone has done away with all resistance to the growth of God’s kingdom.  Nothing of the kind is analogous with what one finds in history up to the present day.


[1] Evangelicals like Goldingay state that their conclusions are theological as much as anything.  See John Goldingay, Daniel, 45.  But it is ‘evangelical’ theology after it has been stripped bare by liberal presuppositions.

[2] Robert Gurney, nevertheless, believes that the order is Neo-Babylonian, Median, Medo-Persian, Grecian.  See “The Four Kingdoms of Daniel 2 and 7,” Themelios 2 (1977), 39-45.  Gurney points out that the Median Empire, which was contemporary with that of Babylon, became the more redoubtable of the two after Nebucadnezzar’s death in 562 during the reign of Astyages (585-550).  But it should be noted that Media reached its zenith during the forty-year reign of Astyages’ father, Cyaxares (625-585).  See Edwin M. Yamauchi, Persia and the Bible, 53-54.  Also, Astyages was overthrown by Cyrus of Persia (Ibid, 56), which would compel a view where Astyages himself was the silver-kingdom.  As a comparison with the dates above show, this would make the “Median” silver-kingdom last a meager eight years.

Relying on Gurney’s research, John H. Walton, “The Four Kingdoms of Daniel,” JETS 29 (1986): 36, produces Assyria, Media, Medo-Persia, and Greece as worthy of consideration.  In this scheme “Nebuchadnezzar would be seen as a continuation and culmination of the Assyrian empire.”  Though both schemes are honest attempts to re-examine the question, neither has gathered to itself much support.

[3] E.g. John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination, 95f.

[4] Robert D. Culver, Daniel and the Latter Days, 112.

[5] Craig Bartholomew, ‘Warranted Biblical Interpretation,’ in Craig Bartholomew, C. Stephen Evans, Mary Healy, Murray Rae, editors, Behind The Text: History and Biblical Interpretation, 59-63

[6] Gleason L. Archer, “Daniel”, EBC, 24-26

[7] See especially Archer, Ibid, 49.  Note on v. 44

Review of ‘He Will Reign Forever’ (Pt.2)

Part One

As the author comes to the Prophets, he gives his reader a summary of the overall message of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel:

Israel was being judged and dispersed to the nations for covenant disobedience, but in the latter days Israel would be regathered and restored to her land and experience New Covenant blessings, both material and spiritual, under the leadership of the ultimate Son of David.  As a result, the nations, who will be judged for a time, will also benefit from the reign of Messiah, and the restoration of Israel and become the people of God alongside Israel in an earthly kingdom. – He Will Reign Forever, 145

This coherent statement reflects well the theological orientation of the Major Prophets, and not a few of the Minor Prophets too (e.g. Hosea, Micah, Zechariah), and represents a sort of stasis in the prophetic word whether before or after the Exilic period.  From a straight reading of these books the themes of punishment and end-time restoration under the coming King, with benefits extending out to the nations are prominent features in the Prophetic picture.  From their point of view, there is no inkling that what they had to say was communicatively in need of transformative re-readings in light of what was to come.  Although it is not his stated intent, Vlach does pause long enough to interact a little with amillennialist Sam Storms (176-177), noting in particular that as well as morphing the prophet’s apparent meaning, “this perspective underestimates what Isaiah’s audience was capable of grasping.” (177).  Indeed, some who would spiritualize the words of the Prophets sound rather patronizing in their opinions about the inability of OT saints to know the meaning of what they were hearing.

Especially notable in this section are Vlach’s explorations of particular prophetic passages.  Isaiah 2 gets an excellent extended treatment (147-154), which includes a section on whether the Church is envisaged in Isaiah 2.  Another text receiving more than usual attention is the so-called “Little Apocalypse” in Isaiah 24-27 (164-167).  Jeremiah 18 also receives welcome consideration (182-183), while certain important themes are dealt with in footnotes; for example, the throne of David (137 n.21), the role of the “law” (149 n.10), and the preservation of animals under the auspices of the covenant with Noah (158-160).

One obviously has to pick and choose when writing on the Prophets, but I think the author does enough with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel to establish their unified “kingdom voice”.  He takes care to note that in saving the nations God does not redefine Israel (164, 170-171).  When addressing the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53 he shows that the Servant is also the coming King (156).  He states,

Isaiah’s depiction of the Suffering Servant also shows that the objective basis for the kingdom of God is atonement for sin.  There is no kingdom or participation in the kingdom without the cross.  No kingdom without the cross (Col. 1:20). (156).

Here one is waiting for a New covenant section which enlarges on this important insight.  Once “the objective basis for the kingdom” is established, how does this translate into God’s obligations to His people?  What is the kingdom that they may reasonably expect to see?  The author does of course make it clear that the kingdom promises mean what they say (e.g. 160), but the objective basis is covenantal, and therefore hermeneutical.  Vlach is a theologian, and one of the best that Dispensationalism has to offer.  Perhaps I am being unreasonable, but this passage gives one an opportunity for driving home the literal cross literal crown view of prophecy at a time when evangelical writers are falling over one another trying to turn Old Testament prophets into social reformers and voices of conscience. Notwithstanding, on the next page (161) I was happy to read a reference to the “second exodus” motif which actually interprets it as a real second exodus.  And when the Servant is brought up a little further on He is seen as representative of Israel and so the guarantor of Israel’s covenant rights (169-170), not as the lone true Israelite in whom a “New Israel” can be recognized.  The intermediate kingdom is the one most often spoken of by the prophets.  Vlach is careful to notice that this kingdom will include death and sin, although not with anything like the scale and devastation seen today (e.g. 133, 173-175)

Jeremiah is a book that it is easy to get lost in, due to its arrangement and length.  The challenge for the Dispensational interpreter, for whom outlandish spiritualizing of the eschatological details is not an option, is to say enough to give a proper impression of the extremely important Christology of Jeremiah – which is virtually all kingdom oriented – while tying in the New covenant implications in which they are embedded.  Jeremiah’s position as a pre-exilic and exilic prophet must be understood, for he brings together strong Deuteronomic threads and projects them into the post-exilic era, thus showing the continuity of Old Testament prophecy better than perhaps any other book.

Again Vlach’s sense of proportion does not fail him.  His treatment of Jeremiah’s “Book of Consolation” (chapters 30 – 33) hits the highpoints, stressing in particular the “five covenants” that are brought together in this crucial section.


Review: ‘He Will Reign Forever’ by Michael Vlach (Pt.1)

A Review of He Will Reign Forever: A Biblical Theology of the Kingdom of God, by Michael J. Vlach: Silverton, OR. Lampion Press, 638 pages, hdbk.

Dispensationalists and open-minded amillennialists know that a book or article by Michael Vlach is going to be worth reading.  His contributions are always well thought-out, and his style is usually analytical yet easy to follow.  He has written several useful works, including Has the Church Replaced Israel? and a recent e-book, How Does the New Testament Use the Old Testament?   This book, running for more than 600 pages, is his most ambitious yet.

He Shall Reign Forever is Dr. Vlach’s attempt to write a whole Bible biblical theology; something that Dispensationalists, in whose company the author counts himself, have often shied away from, although commendably the author does not structure the volume around “dispensations.”  What we get is a must-have piece of biblical theology.

Vlach has taken as his central idea the theme of God’s Kingdom.  There is no argument here with the choice.  It is perhaps the primary theme of the Bible (25-26).  But the Kingdom of God has proven to be a very mutivalent concept in the hands of Bible scholars (e.g. 29-30, 32).  Therefore, any writer who wants to put out a big book on the Kingdom has his work cut out for him.  The question is, how to both persuade the reader of ones own take while showing why other views of the subject – e.g. the Kingdom is the Church, or the Kingdom is the inheritance of the Church – fail in their understanding of the Scriptures (e.g. 16).

Although there is some interaction with other positions, the writer is clear that what he is concerned with is a positive presentation of his view of the kingdom (17 n.11).  Vlach offers what he calls “a new creationist perspective” (11), by which he means that the Bible presents the Kingdom as the goal of creation.  This is in opposition to a “spiritual vision model” (12), which tends towards spiritualization.  As the title suggests, the Christocentric thrust of Scripture features strongly, but without the debatable practice of seeing Jesus in every verse.

The author affirms the continuity of God’s plan in line with His promises.  The spiritual promises of inward renewal have been shown to have had literal fulfillment.  So too will the physical promises (14, 49).  The form that this takes is “fulfillment of the particular (Israel) leads to fulfillment of the universal (the world)” (15 – all italics are those of the author).

There are five parts to the storyline of the Bible (23).  The first is pivotal:

the kingdom is present with creation as God the King of creation tasks his image-bearer, man, to rule and subdue His creation.

This linking of eschatology to creation is vital for the future of premillennial eschatology, as it prevents one dealing with the Last Things independently or lastly , as so often happens in Dispensational publications.  His definition of Kingdom as “the rule of God over His creation” (30) reinforces the need for a biblical theology of the Kingdom.  With the concept of the “mediatorial kingdom” (via Alva McClain) wherein God rules via man, providing the mode of Kingdom rule (ch. 3).

I should insert here that even though I would not disagree with Vlach that the Kingdom is primary as a theme, and I would even say that “covenant” is subordinate to the aims of the Kingdom (26), I do not think that that the Kingdom theme as Vlach sees it is established outside of God’s covenants.  He quotes Goldsworthy to this effect (26 n. 10), although ironically in the piece he cites; “The Kingdom of God as Hermeneutic Grid”, I believe Goldsworthy gets things exactly the wrong way round.  It is the covenants which provide the interpretive grid for the Kingdom idea to fully emerge (though see 28 n. 14).  This is why the present writer advocates a “biblical covenantalism” as the backbone of proper hermeneutics.

The second chapter seeks to establish the methodology of the rest of the book.  Adequate grounds are given with good examples.  I heard echoes of some of my own emphases in this chapter: like the stabilizing authority of the covenants (42), the objection that if the original audience couldn’t know the path of fulfillment the revelation could not have been for them (42), the problem with a hermeneutics geared mostly to the first coming (43 n.21), and the fact that spiritual qualifications precede and guarantee literal fulfillment  of God’s promises (44).   Vlach does not need me to tell him these things, but I was very pleased to see them stressed.

The first eleven chapters of Genesis is where the rationale for Vlach’s five parts of the Bible Story must be established.  He does this in chapter 4, “The Kingdom and Creation (Genesis 1- 11)”.  Good creation, fall, and the foundational first (Noahic) covenant are handled neatly, so that the transition into Genesis 12 and following flows logically and inevitably.  I think the author does a great job in these pages, achieving the programmatic cohesion that exists from the flood to the call of Abraham.  This is a skillfully written chapter; the best in the Old Testament portion of the book. (more…)

Ten Lines of Evidence for Interpreting Ezekiel 40-48 as Depicting a Literal Temple

Image: Tom Vanderwell

Here is a piece which originally belonged in some correspondence I had with a covenant theologian.  I have added a few things, but I think it makes a decent stand-alone article. 

Some amillennialists think that the original hearers of Ezekiel couldn’t comprehend a future glorious kingdom where Israel is regenerate, and Messiah reigns in justice and righteousness from Jerusalem.  That they couldn’t see a time where priests serve God in a new temple.

I think they could in fact do this from attending to the following passages: Num. 25:10-13; Deut. 30:6f., or Psa. 2, 89, 105, 106, Isa. 2, 11, 26-27, 35, 43, 44, 45, 51, 62; Jer. 23, 30, 31, 33, or Hos. 2:16f. or Mic. 4, or Zeph. 3, or indeed from Ezek. 34, 36-37.

It seems that Ezekiel’s near contemporary Zechariah (6:12-13, 8:1-3; 14:16f.), and Malachi (3:2-3) believed these things too. Zechariah, for example, predicts a future temple built after Jerusalem has been changed topographically where the King is worshiped at the temple (Zech. 14).

No premillennialist, or Dispensationalist (or Biblical Covenantalist) would say that Ezekiel’s audience could know the time when the temple would be built.  They could only know that it would be built.  They could know this because Ezekiel’s temple could only be constructed…

a). once Israel were no longer under the Mosaic covenant – because the service etc. of Ezekiel’s temple does not agree with Moses

b). after topographical changes occurred which would make the huge project possible

c). once the glory of the Lord was ready to return to bless Israel and dwell with them forever.  That didn’t happen in Nehemiah’s day, and it hasn’t happened yet, so logically it must either be the future (or else these chapters form one of the greatest circumlocutions in all of literature!)

Again, Ezekiel didn’t know that the Messianic Kingdom would last a thousand years. He didn’t have John’s Revelation (some who have the Book of Revelation still don’t know that Christ will reign a thousand years!). We don’t have to demonstrate anything that wasn’t revealed after Ezekiel’s time to realize that his original audience knew he was referring to a future temple.

But here are ten evidences that Ezekiel meant us to understand him as referring to a literal temple building complex that will be erected in future Israel.


1. Ezekiel calls it a temple over and over.  E.g. In Ezekiel 40:5, 45 – where the priestly function is mentioned; in 41:6-10 – where its chambers are described in pedantic detail; in 42:8 – where the length of the chambers depends on their position relative to the sanctuary; in 43:11 – where God declares: “make known to them the design of the house, its structure, its exits, its entrances, all its designs, all its statutes, and all its laws. And write it in their sight, so that they may observe its whole design and all its statutes, and do them.”  How can any reader take these details seriously and find their fulfillment in the NT church?

Moving forward in the passage, in Ezekiel 43:21 a bull is to be offered as a sin-offering outside the house; in 45:20 – an atonement is made for the simple on the seventh day of the month; in 46:24 – sacrifices are boiled at designated places; and in 48:21 – the huge allotment for the sanctuary is measured (it is very different to New Jerusalem in Rev. 21!).

2. There are laws to perform in the temple (Ezek. 43:11-12).  Quite how one can perform these commands in the church is a mystery beyond the mystery of the church itself.

3. Ezekiel stipulates two divisions of priests, only one of whom (Zadokites) can approach the Lord (44:15).  These Zadokites are given land separate from other Levites (48:11).

4. Ezekiel refers to New Moons and sacrifices (46:1, 6).  New Jerusalem has no need of moonlight (Rev. 21:23).

5. The tribes of Israel are given specific allotments of land all around the temple (Ezek. 48)

6.  The two temples at the beginning and the end of the Book of Ezekiel form a structural arc.  The first temple is literal.  Nothing is said about the more detailed temple at the end of Ezekiel being a mere symbol.  In fact, in Ezekiel 8:3ff. “the visions of God” recorded what really did occur (cf. 40:2), not what would symbolically happen.

7. In Ezekiel 10 the Shekinah leaves the actual temple in Jerusalem by the East Gate.  In chapter 43 it returns via the East Gate and remains.

8. A sanctuary is mentioned in the new covenant chapters (Ezekiel 36 & 37).  For example, after Israel has been cleansed, God declares: “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever.” (Ezek. 37:26. Cf. 43:7).

This indicates something about the timing of the fulfillment of the temple prophecy.  This agrees with the timing indicated in the last verse of Ezekiel: “the name of the city from that day shall be, ‘The LORD is there” (Ezek. 48:35)

9. At least three times Ezekiel is commanded to pay close attention to specifics: 40:4; 43:10-11; 44:5.  The symbolic interpretation ignores these details when seeking to explain the meaning of the vision.  If an interpretation passes over what God has told us to pay close attention to, that interpretation must be suspect.

10. A future temple is necessary in light of God’s everlasting covenant with the Zadokites’ ancestor Phinehas (Num. 25:10-13; Psa. 106:30-31. Cf. Jer. 33:14f., Mal. 3:1-4).  Zechariah 6:12-13; 14:8-9, 16f., describes temple conditions in Israel which have never yet existed, but which match Ezekiel 36-48.

Please look up the references above and see if I have distorted what the verses say.  I have simply allowed the Bible to speak.  If someone doesn’t believe these evidences and instead wants to interpret a portion of the Bible that is longer than First Corinthians as a “word-picture” or “type”, then let them explain their interpretation from the text.  I think that is a reasonable position.


Covenant in Micah

Having seen the prophetic emphases of Amos and Hosea, I want to turn to Micah the Moresthite (c.742-685 B.C.).  He too brought scathing indictments against his people.  At one point he accuses them of having risen up as an enemy against their God (Mic. 2:8).  There is no let up until the end of chapter two where these enigmatic lines appear:

I will surely assemble all of you, O Jacob,
I will surely gather the remnant of Israel;
I will put them together like sheep of the fold,
Like a flock in the midst of their pasture;
They shall make a loud noise because of so many people.

The one who breaks open will come up before them;
They will break out,
Pass through the gate,
And go out by it;
Their king will pass before them,
With the LORD at their head. – Micah 2:12-13

Notice the mention of the remnant, which is always in Micah a reference to those among Israel who will be saved.  Verse 12 envisions a gathering of the remnant, but for all that it foresees a large company of people brought together.  The scene is one of restoration and peace.  The thirteenth verse is a bit more difficult to break down.  The identity of “the breaker” (parats) is settled once we understand the parallelism with “the king” and “the Lord” later in the verse.  This is none other than the great prophetic figure found in Genesis 3:15, 49:8; Numbers 24:8-9, 17; and Deuteronomy 18:15-19.  At this juncture, around the latter part of the 8th Century B.C., this noble personage is still somewhat of a dark figure.  But if we put these things together we come up with a victorious Hero who will vanquish Satan, a King from Judah who will lead a restored Israel, who will come in a future day, and who will also be the great Prophet of His people.

If we jump to chapter 5 we come across the well known prophecy in 5:2,

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
From everlasting

In this oracle Micah names the actual birthplace of the coming King.  Naturally, it is in Judah because that is where Jacob had predicted that He would come from.  The geographical connection between Micah 5:2 and Genesis 49:8 shows that they are speaking about one and the same person.  But the prophet adds a bit more information.  This Ruler is clearly connected with the Davidic covenant (even though the word cannot be translated as “king”).  The fact that there is a stable continuity between Jacob (c. 1850 B.C.), David (c. 1000 B.C.) and Micah (c. 700 B.C.) again shows that God’s covenant word does not alter its meaning or become “transformed” as the centuries pass.  Prophecy is steady so that faith in God can be firm.  Indeed, the added specificity of the birthplace of the Ruler necessitates this.

Of course, this side of Calvary the interpreter has to decide whether or not the passage is speaking of the first coming of Christ (I am assuming the identity of this Ruler is Christ), or of the second coming of Christ.  Believers in Micah’s day did not have this quandary.  For them the mighty Ruler to come will be born in Bethlehem, and this too is how the scribes inquired of by Herod saw it (Matt. 2:5-6), although they also called Him the Shepherd of God’s people.  More inferred than plainly taught, the function of this Ruler will be to bring unity and blessing to the nation corresponding to the covenants with Israel.  This certainly did not occur at the first advent.  But here we might begin to notice an important fact about predictions concerning this exalted figure, and that is that most of the prophecies concerning Him (Christ) hold the two comings (as we now know of them) together as one work.  We shall see this over and over again in Isaiah and other places (e.g. Isa. 9:6-7; 40:3-5; 52:13-53:12; 61:1-2; Zech. 9:9; Mal. 3:1-3).  The two comings are viewed together.  This same phenomenon is found in relation to Genesis 3:15; the crushing of the heel of the Woman’s Seed was at the Cross.  The crushing of the serpent’s skull by the Woman’s Seed is still in the future: in fact my opinion is that it awaits the closing of the thousand years in Revelation 20; the culmination of the Creation Project.

If we take this view of the two comings forming essentially one work it is apparent that the work of Christ is not yet complete.  Certainly the role of the Suffering Servant is finished (Jn. 19:30. Cf. Acts 3:13, 26), but there is much more to do!

But another matter confronts the reader of the verse: does this Ruler’s activity, though set in the future as to His role for Israel, declare to us that He has a special provenance?  He is said to be “of old” (qedem), “from everlasting” or “from ancient times” (olam).  How is this to be understood?  By any margin this is a mysterious statement.  Some more liberal commentators have tried to resolve the tension by making this statement refer to the Davidic line.[1]  But the subject under discussion is not the line of David but one particular Ruler from David’s birthplace.[2]  This individual has “origins” in the ancient past.  As McComiskey says,

The word qedem can indicate only great antiquity, and its application to a future ruler – one yet to appear on the scene of Israel’s history – is strong evidence that Micah expected a supernatural figure.[3]

Another writer has said that “The phrases of this text are the strongest possible statement of infinite duration in the Hebrew language.”[4]  The obvious ties to both the Davidic and the Abrahamic covenant should be noted.  This Ruler will bring about the full fulfillments of these great covenants.

Moving back one chapter the prophet gives us a depiction of the coming kingdom of the Ruler.  What we are told here will become common as we read the prophetic literature.  It is this-worldly but it is another world.  There is an evocation of tranquility that seems scarcely possible in our turbulent world.

Micah 4:1 locates the prophecy of 4:1-8 “in the latter days”, which, although it is not definite enough to place at the end of time (viz. after the second coming when Israel will turn to the Lord – Deut. 4:29-30), seems only to fit comfortably there.  The scene is idyllic, almost like the Arcadia of Virgil.  We read about the exaltation of the mountain of Yahweh.  Is this metaphorical only?  Perhaps: perhaps not.  It is too early in the Old Testament chronology to tell.  What is more certain is that people (am) of the nations of the world will go up to it.  This will not surprise any reader who remembers Genesis 12:3 or 22:18. Even the commission given to Israel in Exodus 19:6, although it was not fulfilled under Moses and Joshua, suggests to us that the Divine intention was for Israel to act as a spiritual magnet to the rest of the nations.  The second verse spells this out for us.  The peoples of the world are depicted as encouraging one another to go to the house of God (the Temple) in Jerusalem to worship.[5]

The next verse compliments verse 2 by describing the repentance which comes to the nations.  There is one (“He”) who causes this turning.  One can be sure that “He” is not a member of the United Nations.  No, this is either God above or it is God’s Representative here below.  The “Ruler” of 5:2 fits the bill nicely.  He is extraordinary in that He achieves what no man has come close to achieving: the cessation of war.  Here surely is the “Prince of peace” of whom Micah’s contemporary Isaiah speaks (Isa. 9:6).[6]



Part Six

The two small letters of Paul to the young Thessalonian Church are among the earliest of his writings.  This means that they are also among the earliest writings of the New Testament – even for those of us who opt for the traditional dates of the Gospels.  Although I am pretribulational it has to be admitted that Paul does not settle the date of the rapture in these letters.  Therefore, what I look for is careful exegesis informed by salient considerations of other biblical teachings on the subject.  Attempts to spiritualize the “naos” in 2 Thess. 2 count as a mark against any work.

1. Robert L. Thomas

This contribution to the Expositor’s Bible Commentary is, to my mind, the best single exegetical treatment of the Thessalonian Correspondence.  Although space restrictions were imposed on the author, Thomas makes very good use of his allotted pages.  The work is based on Thomas’s ‘Exegetical Digests’ of these books.

2. D. Edmond Hiebert

The Second Advent shows up in every chapter of these letters, and the material on the Day of the Lord and the Antichrist have to be treated with care, not squeezed into a theological box.  Hiebert’s exegesis is thorough enough for most pastors, and his conclusions are well thought through.

3. F. F. Bruce 

The first installment of the WBC still holds its own as an excellent commentary on these epistles.  A lengthy (for Bruce) Excursus on Antichrist is included which is worth pondering, even if all will not come out where Bruce does.

4. Jeffrey A. D. Weima

A big commentary (BEC) for such small letters.  Lots of interesting insights into the setting of the letters as well as good exegesis and practical application.

5. Charles Wanamaker

In my book this work is essential for the serious exegete.  Wanamaker’s book (NICGNT) has its idiosyncrasies (like making out that 2 Thess. was written before 1 Thess.).  But I like the thought-provoking comments a lot.

6. Gary Shogren

Okay, so I haven’t perused this, but I like the series and this one gets strong recommendations, so I’m going to stick my neck out.

7. Michael Stallard

The best contribution to a rather disappointing series (21st Century).  Stallard has the exegetical and theological muscle to write a very solid commentary.  This is a good go-to resource for the premillenial interpreter.

8. Abraham Malherbe

A well written and scholarly work in the Anchor series which repays careful reading.  Good on background and at placing the reader in the life-setting, including the thought-world of the recipients.

9. Gene L. Green

Excellent on the practical theology of the letters.  Not so great on the eschatology.  Still, this installment in the Pillar series is a fine commentary on balance.

10. Gordon D. Fee

Fee (NICNT) is always worth interacting with.  He is a great scholar who writes with pastoral passion.  He is his own man, which means he is insightful and sometimes a little irritating at turns.


Honorable mentions go to Richard Mayhue’s book, which though more slanted towards straight-forward exposition, has enough exegetical skill behind it to be of value to any reader.  Michael Holmes’s book in the NIVAC series, D. Michael Martin’s premillennial study in the NAC, John Stott’s always useful commentary, and I. Howard Marshall’s impressively concise piece for the NCBC are all good.  All of these might have made it in the top ten, but decisions must be made.  I also want to plug the work by Peter A. Steveson from Bob Jones University, who has given us a solid conservative commentary on these epistles.

Covenant in Amos

Amos (active c.765-760 B.C.)

Amos is a simple shepherd and gatherer of figs to whom the word of the LORD (dabar YHWH) comes.  He cries against both Israel (2:6) and Judah (2:4; 3:1).  A major concern of his is social justice.  Amos certainly has much to say by way of reproof to “the whole house of Israel”, and most of the first seven chapters concern themselves with the moral resistance of Israel to their covenant God.  However, despite the strong current of moral justice in the Book, when the prophet’s task is spoken of it is mainly in terms of prediction.

Surely the Lord God does nothing unless He reveals His secret counsel to His servants the prophets – Amos 3:7 (NASB)

The “counsel” that follows is a forecast of doom and captivity for the northern tribes.  But in chapter nine the prophecy begins to extend out beyond the time of the prophet.

Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the face of the earth; yet I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” says the LORD – Amos 9:8

The sins of Israel will be dealt with through punishment, but the nation itself will not be completely destroyed.  This will be a permanent refrain coming from the prophetic literature; judgment followed by restoration and blessing.  The big question is, when will this occur?

Just three verses later we find this promise:

On that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,” says the LORD who does this thing.

“Behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.  I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them.  I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them,” says the LORD your God. – Amos 9:11-15

Everybody knows that a portion of this passage (i.e. 9:11-12) is cited by James from the LXX in Acts 15:15-18.  I shall of course deal with James’s use of Amos in the proper place, but in this context it seems pretty clear what is being set forth.  When put into the mouths of the prophets as Seers and foretellers, the phrase “on that day”or “in that day”, (which is especially common in Ezekiel), seems to indicate the future Day of Divine interposing; that is, the future “Day of the Lord” or its wonderful aftermath. [1]

For the prophet Amos and his contemporaries; indeed, for Jews in Old Testament times, the raising up of the booth of David would have had only  one meaning: the restoration of the Davidic line and kingdom in right relationship to and pursuance of God, enjoying the covenant blessings of God.

The reference to those among Edom and the Gentiles who are God’s (“called by my name”) would remind hearers of God’s promise to Abraham to bless the nations in Genesis 12:3; 22:18; and in the case of the former, Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17-19 would come to mind.[2]  It does not mean that these people groups will be included in some expanded “Israel.”  There is a demarcation in the text which should not be trammeled by preferential kinds of eschatology – the kinds that have no place for a restored Israelite nation.

Later Obadiah would speak of “saviors” who would come into Edom once it became incorporated into Yahweh’s kingdom (Obad. 21).  Amos 9:11 comfortably embraces both Abrahamic and Davidic covenantal expectations.

What comes next involves several concepts which will be repeated in the prophets: (1) the unusual productivity and blessing upon the land (“the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed” – Amos 9:13); (2) the return of Israel’s captives and the rebuilding of cities to dwell in; and (3) guaranteed perpetuity in the land that God gave them.[3]  Indeed, Amos records God’s pledge that the land of Israel is “their land” (Amos 9:15).[4]  So even though much of Amos is concerned with societal woes and short-term prophecy, the very end of the Book looks to the great hope of a united Israel in right relationship to God dwelling in its own land.  This would come to pass in the last days.[5]


[1] I will have to examine “The Day of the Lord” in another place.

[2] See John H. Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology, 250-251

[3] E.g. Isa. 35:1-2, 6-7; 55:13; Jer. 31:12; Ezek. 34:26-27; 36:33-38; 37:21-28; 47:12; Joel 2:18-19, 21-27; Zech. 8:11-13; cf. Lev. 26:40-45.

[4] In Ezekiel we read of God calling Israel “my land” (Ezek. 34:5) but then calling it “their own land” in settings both of rebellion (Ezek. 34:17), and of final restoration (Ezek. 37:21).  For Amos, it is still Israel’s land even when their sins have absented them from it (Amos. 7:17)

[5] See Gary V. Smith, Interpreting the Prophetic Books, 76; Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Preaching and Teaching the Last Things, 87; even William J. Dumbrell, The Search for Order, 79.  Although lying within the critical tradition, the assessment of Brevard Childs is that in Amos 9:11, “The discourse moves into the realm of eschatology (11, 13).  It turns on the possibility of a new existence after the end has come.  The promise concerns the raising up of the shattered ‘booth of David’ – that is, David’s larger kingdom, which can again lay claim on the land.  No human ruler can achieve this feat; the initiative lies solely with God.  The hope is miraculous and logically incomprehensible.  It is placed within the eschatological framework of the last days.” – Brevard S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 407