Biblical Studies

Falling through the Porch: My Reply to A Critique (4)

Part Three

This is the fourth and last installment of my reply to some NCT’s who did a critique of my Forty Reasons For Not Reinterpreting the OT with the NT. (link, link)  I believe I have probably given their podcast more attention than it deserved; not because it criticizes me (which is fine), but because of the sloppy and frankly facetious way the criticism was done.

At the end of the last post I mentioned their reference to Galatians 6:16.  Here is the verse from the NASB:

And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. – Gal. 6:16

Their opinion is that reading the passage as dividing “those who walk by this rule” and “the Israel of God” (as the NASB does), “overthrows Paul’s whole argument”, whereas CT’s and NCT’s, who want to read the kai in the verse as “even” are rightly understanding Paul in equating the two.  As I showed last time, many top-flight biblical scholars insist that the Apostle intentionally separates the two groups with the kai (the primary meaning of which is “and”) and does not conflate them.  If he had wanted to make them one and the same all he had to do was not place a kai in the sentence.

But what about Paul’s argument in Galatians?  In the immediate context in chapter 6 we see that the first six verses concern person-to-person good works.  There follows a section (6:7-10) which warns against evil works and urges again good works.  The next section turns back to the Judaizing influence of those who were insisting that these Christian Gentiles had to be circumcised to be really right with God.  A key verse says,

As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. – Gal. 6:12  

As you can see the verse refers to a group of false teachers who have secondary motives for their heresy.  Which group do you think those advocating for circumcision would be?  They would be Jews.  But they would not be godly Jews representing godly Israel (whom Paul calls the Remnant in Rom. 11:1-5).  So what would someone who would go on to convey his “great sorrow and continual grief” for his own people (Rom. 9:2-3) say about those Israelites (see Rom. 9:4) who were people of God?  Might he not call them “the Israel of God”?  And might he not hold out a hope for an eventual national restoration after “the fullness of the Gentiles”? (Rom. 11:25).  Paul continues,

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. – Gal. 6:15

As far as the gospel is concerned it is justification by faith plus nothing.  Then we get,

And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and (kai) upon the Israel of God. – Gal. 6:16

First, which “rule” is he talking about?  Obviously, the rule of care or love he has just been talking about.  So there is good reason to think that Paul was contrasting godly Christians with the ungodly Jewish teachers, but that he, being zealous for the doctrine of the Remnant of Israel, would want to teach his readers that God has not forgotten about restoring the nation of Israel.  Therefore, no, in their “Conversation on the Porch” my three critics’ argument that the traditional separation undoes Paul’s argument is completely bogus. (more…)

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

Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Falling Through the Porch: My Reply to a Critique (2)

Part One

Any Old Port in A Storm

We’re still on the ‘Conversations on the Porch’ objection to the first of my Forty Reasons why the OT is not reinterpreted by the NT, since according to my three protagonists, if this first one falls, they all fall.

There are always stock passages that are referred to by proponents of reinterpretation.  For example, 1 Peter 1:10-12 says this:

Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.  To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things which angels desire to look into.

The first thing to take notice of here is what Peter himself tells us he is talking about; and it is decidedly not the use of the OT in the NT.  It is the subject of salvation.  In particular it has to do with Christ’s passion and what it would bring about.   The passage therefore has nothing to say about my 40 Reasons.  It surely does not say anything about my first reason, which concerns whether or not the Apostolic authors give clear instructions for us to reinterpret the meaning of OT passages.

But the first Reason went on to assert that, “No Apostolic writer felt it necessary to place in our hands this hermeneutical key, which they supposedly used when they wrote the NT.”  What about that?  The guys on the Porch have a reply: “The hermeneutical key is the way the NT writers interpret the OT.”  Well, there’s no key in 1 Peter 1. There’s a deduction that Peter is giving permission to reinterpret the OT with the New when he isn’t writing on that issue.

After this we’re taken to Galatians 3 and informed that, “Paul is telling us how this Abrahamic covenant is fulfilled.”  I dealt with this issue in a series of posts, Galatians 3, the Land, and the Abrahamic Covenant, (which I want to update), but what is significant here is that one of these objectors admits that the Apostle quotes only one of the promises within the Abrahamic covenant.  Well, that gives the farm away.  That is exactly what I claim.  Ergo, Galatians 3 does not deal with the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant en toto, but only with the provisions for blessing to the nations (Gen. 12:3).

Acts 2, Acts 15, and Galatians 4

The podcast mentions Acts 2 and Acts 15 as examples of fulfillment texts which encourage us to view fulfillments in unexpected ways.  I covered some of the Acts 2 issues here.  I will not repeat myself.  Patently, the things described in Joel did not occur in Acts, although they might have done.  But that takes us too far afield.  Even many non-dispensationalists admit that there is more going on theologically in Acts 2 than people like G.K. Beale and my objectors will admit.  And it is passing strange that Beale will insist on being a “literalist” in Acts 2:16 when it permits him to spiritualize the verses surrounding it.  This falls foul of “Rule 9” of my Parameters of Meaning (not that it is a rule for anyone save myself.)  Here it is:

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 9: If a literal interpretation leads you into wholesale allegorizing, or causes head-on conflicts with other clear texts, which then have to be creatively reinterpreted, it is an illegitimate use of “literal”. There will always be another literal meaning available which preserves the plain-sense of the rest of the passage in its context. (N.B. I promise I will complete that series)

In Acts 15:14-19 James uses Amos 9 to prove that Gentiles turning to God was always God’s intention.  He does not say that Amos 9 was fulfilled in Acts 15.

The three NCT’s then venture into the allegory in Galatians 4:21-31 to prove, well, that the Apostle is taking the liberty to reinterpret the Scripture!  Closer inspection will reveal that Paul is illustrating the way inclusion into either the Mosaic covenant or the New covenant results in bondage to the one or freedom in the other.  It is an allegory, not a green card into the reinterpretation of the covenants themselves. (more…)

Falling Through The Porch: My Reply to a Critique (1)

A little while back Fred Butler told me that he had passed on my Forty Reasons article to a group of brethren connected with a network called Bible Thumping Wingnut.  These men are proponents of New Covenant Theology and host a podcast called ‘Conversations on the Porch.’  They decided to spend some time on a critique of my article.   This series of posts is my belated rejoinder to what they had to say.

First off, I have to admit that it is not easy to argue well with people who don’t put much effort into understanding your position.  This was evidenced any number of ways, including the pain-inducing way at least one of the three presenters read from my article, which showed a lack of attention to what I wrote.

What was perhaps most frustrating to me was how, despite these brothers claiming to deal with some of the “reasons”, they paid little attention to the words of the article and “rebutted” points which I did not raise.  And even though their podcast was entitled “40 Reasons Paul Henebury is Wrong…” they only dealt with ten of my points, chosen at random.  For this reason I will not go through each of their ten responses since they just keep repeating the same set of stock answers.

“Distinctive Number Two”

Early on in the two hour recording the presenters agreed that the premise that the NT has to interpret the OT is “a huge distinctive for NCT”.  They call it “distinctive number two” of New Covenant Theology.  Their attempts to show this were pretty shallow.  It basically resolved itself into citing a NT precedent, often without a context, and treating it as a fait accompli.  This leaves me with next to nothing to respond to, since I might simply point out that, for instance, the introduction to the Book of Hebrews does not give carte blanche to people who want to treat OT details as symbolical foreshadowings.  But here goes.

Problems with My Intro

Although they failed to represent my intro properly, they did stop for a few criticisms. They straight away appealed to Hebrews 1:1-2.  Those verses say that God has spoken through His Son.  This is all that is needed for us to be told “the greatest revelation is Jesus Christ”.  But what does that mean?  If it means that Jesus’ first advent ministry of three years plus constituted the highest expression of God’s word to those who saw and heard Him, who will not agree?  What it does not and cannot mean is that Jesus’ words were more inspired and authoritative than the words of the Hebrew Bible.

One of the presenters then informed us that “there is progressive revelation”, as if that just settles it.  But progressive revelation is a very different animal from their perspective than from mine.  You see, as used by CT’s and NCT’s it is neither really progressive, nor is it very revelatory.  It does not mean that God’s revelation is traceable in verbal continuity backwards and forwards through the Testaments, but means only, “this is what all that stuff in the OT really meant” revelation.  I have previously written on this.  One observation I made was this:

It would be absurd for a person who professed to come across a bear to claim that the bear made the leopard tracks he was following.  Even so, a person is acting this way who looks back from Christ’s first coming and declares that the covenants which promised land and Davidic throne and prosperity to national Israel are “transformed” or “expanded” so that they are fulfilled spiritually or typologically by the Church.  Discontinuity in the meaning of words often features large in such approaches.  In reality, this is a non-progressive approach, wherein any supposed connections between the building blocks of revelation (i.e. the progressions) are not self-evident, but merely dogmatically asserted to be such.  What is on view here is not really progressive revelation, it is “supercessive” or “substitutive”, “transformative”, or at least “revised” revelation, wherein one entity is switched out for another or morphed into something else.

It can easily be demonstrated that there is an inspired intertextual usage of earlier OT texts by later OT writers: earlier covenants are cited unchanged in Psa. 89:33-37; 105:6-12; 106:30-31: 132:11-12; Jer. 33:17-18, 20-22, 25-26; Ezek. 37:14, 21-26).

For instance, when we come to “land” in Genesis 13 and 15, we find it to be interpreted as the very same “land” hundreds of years later in Psalm 105:6-11

When you follow footprints in the snow you have definite expectations of who or what made them.  Progress and expectation are connected.  By contrast, CT and NCT practices are rather like having those expectations completely overturned (no “progress”).  What progressive revelation boils down to in this approach is their interpretations of the NT.  In my intro I stated:

the New Testament is believed to have revelatory priority over the Old Testament, so that it is considered the greatest and final revelation. And because the NT is the final revelation of Jesus Christ, the only proper way to understand the OT is with the Christ of the NT directing us. Though proponents of this hermeneutic may define “reinterpret” with slippery words like “expansion” or “foreshadowing,” they are still insisting the OT can be, and in some cases, should be, reinterpreted through the lens of the NT.

The Pivotal First Reason…and the Deathblow

Let me reproduce the first of my forty reasons why the NT doesn’t reinterpret (sorry, “interpret”) the OT.

Neither Testament instructs us to reinterpret the OT by the NT. Hence, we venture into uncertain waters when we allow this. No Apostolic writer felt it necessary to place in our hands this hermeneutical key, which they supposedly used when they wrote the NT.

The three antagonists agreed that if this first reason fails then the other 39 also fail.  I myself cannot see the logical connection; not even between Reason 1 and Reason 2.  Although there is some development in my list, there is also a fair amount of diversity in the arguments I raise.  Toppling one does not unduly effect all the rest.   I understand that these brethren would claim that the NT does give explicit permission to them to (re)interpret the OT with the NT.  Fine, but how do they prove it?  Do they deliver the “deathblow” they speak about?  Nein!  The only way one would think that is by sheer partisanship.

The presenters give Heb. 10:1 and Col. 2:16-17 as justification for viewing the prophecies and covenants in the OT as foreshadowings.  Now Hebrews 10:1 refers to the Law having a shadow of things in its sacrifices.  Which things and what sacrifices?  In answer to the first question, it is the sacrifices, especially at the Day of Atonement (Heb. 10:3), that are shadows of Christ’s final work.  The verse does not say that the prophetic covenants of the OT are shadows.  And Col. 2:16-17 refers to the ceremonial observations of the Law which are eclipsed by Christ, who is the substance of what these regulations portended. How so?  Well in Paul’s argument in Colossians it has to do with Christ’s sufficiency and finality for acceptance with God.  The Gospel is not Christ-plus, but Christ alone.

So there are foreshadowings in the OT, but how does this address my concerns in the 40 Reasons?  How does this prove the Apostles employed ‘transformational’ hermeneutics?   (more…)

Archive: Forty Reasons for Not Reinterpreting the OT by the NT: The First Twenty

I have been made aware that a group of New covenant theologians have discussed some my list of forty arguments for not reading the New Testament back into the Old Testament.  I intend to write a Response soon.  But I thought it worthwhile to repost the original list.  I have yet to encounter a serious attempt to refute these Reasons.


It seems to be almost an axiom within contemporary, evangelical Bible interpretation that the New Testament must be allowed to reinterpret the Old Testament. That is, the New Testament is believed to have revelatory priority over the Old Testament, so that it is considered the greatest and final revelation. And because the NT is the final revelation of Jesus Christ, the only proper way to understand the OT is with the Christ of the NT directing us. Though proponents of this hermeneutic may define “reinterpret” with slippery words like “expansion” or “foreshadowing,” they are still insisting the OT can be, and in some cases, should be, reinterpreted through the lens of the NT.
Not unusually the admission is made that the original recipients of the OT covenants and promises would not have conceived of God fulfilling His Word to them in the ways in which we are often told the NT demands they were fulfilled. This belief in the interpretative priory of the NT over the OT is accepted as “received truth” by a great many evangelical scholars and students today. But there are corollaries which are often left unexplored or ill-considered. Did the prophets of the OT speak and write in a sort of Bible Code which had to be picked through and deciphered by Apostolic authors resulting in hazy allusions and unanticipated concretizations of what seemed to be unambiguous language? Did God speak to men in times past in symbolic language so that we today could unravel what He really meant? Doesn’t this strongly imply that the OT was not really for them, but for us?

Here are forty reasons (there could be more but it’s a good number) why a student of the Bible should not adopt the common tactic of reading the New Testament back into the Old, with the resultant outcome that the clear statements of the Old Testament passages in context are altered and mutated to mean something which, without universal prevenient prophetic inspiration, no Old Testament saint (or New Testament saint who did not have access to the right Apostolic books) could have known.

In presenting these objections to the reinterpretation of OT passages by favored interpretations of the NT I am not throwing down the gauntlet to anyone. If someone wishes to respond to these objections I would be fascinated to read what they have to say. But no one is under pressure to agree with me. However, I hope these forty reasons will be given thoughtful consideration by anybody who comes across them.

I believe, of course, that the NT does throw much light upon the OT text. But it never imposes itself upon the OT in such a way as to essentially treat it as a sort of ‘palimpsest’ over which an improved NT message must be inscribed. By way of illustration, there are huge ramifications in making a dubious allusion in John 7:38 to Zechariah 14:8 a basis for a doctrine of the expansion of the spiritual temple over the face of the earth. Such a questionable judgment essentially evaporates huge amounts of OT material from, e.g., Numbers 25; Psalm 106; Isaiah 2; 33; 49; Jeremiah 30-33; Ezekiel 34; 36-37; 40-48; Amos 9; Micah 4-5; Zephaniah 3; Zechariah 2; 6; 8; 12-14; and Malachi 3, as well as all those other passages which intersect with them. I believe that the cost is too high as well as quite unnecessary.

With that introduction in mind, here, then, are my forty objections for consideration:

1. Neither Testament instructs us to reinterpret the OT by the NT. Hence, we venture into uncertain waters when we allow this. No Apostolic writer felt it necessary to place in our hands this hermeneutical key, which they supposedly used when they wrote the NT.

2. Since the OT was the Bible of the Early Christians it would mean no one could be sure they had correctly interpreted the OT until they had the NT. In many cases this deficit would last for a good three centuries after the first coming of Jesus Christ.

3. If the OT is in need of reinterpretation because many of its referents (e.g. Israel, land, king, throne, priesthood, temple, Jerusalem, Zion, etc.) in actual fact refer symbolically to Jesus and the NT Church, then these OT “symbols” and “types” must be seen for what they are in the NT. But the NT never does plainly identify the realities and antitypes these OT referents are said to point towards. Thus, this assumption forces the NT into saying things it never explicitly says (e.g. that the Church is “the New Israel,” the “land” is the new Creation, or the seventh day Sabbath is now the first day “Christian Sabbath”).

4. Furthermore, this approach forces the OT into saying things it really does not mean (e.g. Ezekiel 43:1-7, 10-12).

5. It would require the Lord Jesus to have used a brand new set of hermeneutical rules in, e.g., Lk. 24:44; rules not accessible until the arrival of the entire NT, and not fully understood even today. These would have to include rules for each “genre”, which would not have been apparent to anyone interpreting the OT on its own terms.

6. If the OT cannot be interpreted without the NT then what it says on its own account cannot be trusted, as it could well be a “type,” or even part of an obtuse redemptive state of affairs to be alluded to and reinterpreted by the NT.

7. Thus, it would mean the seeming clear predictions about the Coming One in the OT could not be relied upon to present anything but a typological/symbolic picture which would need deciphering by the NT. The most clearly expressed promises of God in the OT (e.g. Jer. 31:31f.; 33:15-26; Ezek. 40-48; Zech. 14:16-21) would be vulnerable to being eventually turned into types and shadows.

8. It would excuse anyone (e.g. the scribes in Jn. 5:35f.) for not accepting Jesus’ claims based on OT prophecies – since those prophecies required the NT to reinterpret them. Therefore, the Lord’s reprimand of the scribes in the context would have been unreasonable.

9. Any rejection of this, with a corresponding assertion that the OT prophecies about Christ did mean what they said, would create the strange hermeneutical paradox of finding clear, plain-sense testimony to Christ in the OT while claiming the OT cannot be interpreted without the NT. One could not maintain this position without calling the whole assumption under review.

10. The divining of these OT types and shadows is no easy task, especially as the NT does not provide any specific help on the matter. NT scholarship has never come to consensus on these matters, let alone “the common people” to whom the NT was purportedly written.

11. Thus, this approach pulls a “typological shroud” over the OT, denying to its Author the credit of meaning what He says and saying what He means (e.g. what does one make of the specificity of Jer. 33:14-26 or Zeph. 3:9-20?).

12. If the Author of the OT does not mean what He appears to say, but is in reality speaking in types and shadows, which He will apparently reveal later, what assurance is there that He is not still speaking in types and shadows in the NT? Especially is this problem intensified because many places in the NT are said to be types and shadows still (e.g. the Temple in 2 Thess. 2 and Rev. 11).

13. This view imposes a “unity” on the Bible which is symbolic and metaphorical only. Hence, taking the Bible in a normal, plain-sense should destroy any unity between the Testaments. What we mean by “normal, plain-sense” is the sense scholars advocating this view take for granted their readers will adopt with them, which we would identify as “literal.”

14. However, a high degree of unity can be achieved by linking together the OT and NT literature in a plain-sense, even though every question the interpreter may have will not be answered. Hence, this position that the NT must reinterpret the OT ignores or rejects the fact that, taken literally (in the sense defined above) the OT makes good sense. But in ignoring this truth, Christians may pull down upon themselves the same kind of accusations of defensive special-pleading which they accuse religions like Islam and Mormonism of using.

15. Saying the types and shadows in the OT (which supposedly include the land given to Israel, the throne in Jerusalem, the temple of Ezekiel, etc.), are given their proper concrete meanings by the NT implies neither the believer nor the unbeliever can comprehend God’s promises solely from the OT.

16. Thus, no unbeliever could be accused of unbelief so long as they only possessed the OT, since the apparatus for belief (the NT) was not within their grasp.

17. This all makes mincemeat of any claim for the perspicuity of Scripture. At the very least it makes this an attribute possessed only by the NT, and only tortuous logic could equate the word “perspicuity” to such wholesale symbolic and typological approaches.

18. Thus, the OT is deprived of its own hermeneutical integrity. This would render warnings such as that found in Proverbs 30:5-6 pointless, since the meaning of the OT words must be added to in order to find their concrete references.

19. A corollary to this is that the authority of the OT to speak in its own voice is severely undermined.

20. In consequence of the above the status of the OT as “Word of God” would be logically inferior to the status of the NT. The result is that the NT (which refers to the OT as the “Word of God”) is more inspired than the OT, producing the unwelcome outcome of two levels of inspiration.


“A Possible Problem with Your Reasoning”

I am in the middle of several things right now, but I had the idea of rehearsing a recent interchange with some CT’s and adding a few reflections.  I think it typifies what I tend to run into when trying to communicate my reservations about CT.  I kick it off with a remark made by my main interlocutor about God’s way of communicating.  He declared that,   

God may do other than what the original audience understood. God’s promises will be fulfilled exactly in the way He intended.

I replied with: “Well, that’s the trouble isn’t it? If God raised expectations in the OT which He didn’t intend to carry through, doesn’t that make Him an ambiguous communicator at best (recall Jer. 33:17-26!), and disingenuous at worse?

I then added:

What inside line does —— have that our understanding of God’s promises in the NT won’t be “other” than what we are led to understand? And how are we to put faith in the words?”

My CT interlocutor came back with (numerals and highlighting added):

To suggest that someone’s position you disagree with makes God disingenuous seems desperate. To imagine that every audience understood God’s intentions is naive.  (1) The first disciples of Jesus after three years with Him didn’t get it. (2) There’s only trouble if one is looking for expectations which weren’t the intention of the original author. Did God raise expectations or did the audience? God doesn’t carry out everyone’s expectations. (3) We know for a fact that the Jews of Jesus day had expectations they read into the prophecies. Jesus overturned them and clarified them as did the apostles. Many in His day were looking for a restored national kingdom. Jesus inaugurated His kingdom according to His Father’s will not according to human expectations.  (4) As I said, God may do more than what was understood or expected. God’s promises to us now may be “other” than what we understand. They may be more. They won’t be less.

My reflections:

(1) What is it that Jesus’ disciples didn’t get?  According to the Gospels it was that He would have to die (e,g, Mk. 9:31-32; Matt. 16:21-24; Lk. 9:44-45), NOT that the kingdom, when it came, would be other than a literal restored nation of Israel.  There’s no hint of that.  Not a sausage.  Somebody’s ignoring the context.

(2) He dodged my question by pretending that it was the recipients’ fault that they had false expectations from God’s words.  This would imply also that their faith was false and misguided.  They believed the wrong thing!  But if God wanted us to have faith in Him, how else could He ensure it apart from communicating with words that would guarantee our trust was in the right thing?  If He promised over and over that Israel would be redeemed and restored to their land, which would become like Eden; where Christ would reign from Jerusalem, and God’s sanctuary would be a magnet for all peoples (cf. e.g., Isa. 11; Jer. 33; Ezek. 36-37; Zech.14), wouldn’t that be what was to be believed?  In what world would we be expected to believe anything else?

Notice the example I gave: I said “recall Jer. 33:17-26!”  If God did not mean exactly what He said in this passage, how could anyone be sure He means anything He says anywhere?  Indeed, isn’t that the very conclusion God wants us to come to after reading the passage? If someone will answer, “of course not, He meant that all of this is fulfilled in the Church”,  then the burden of proof has to be on them to explain how God did not raise false expectations.

(3) Notice the dogmatism here.  The expectations of the Jews about the kingdom were wrong.  Jesus set up the kingdom according to the Father’s will but not according to the expectations of the Jews.  Okay, but who raised the expectations?  That the Jews didn’t have it all right is clear (especially their need of righteousness).  But they had a lot right, and nowhere in the NT are we told that Jesus inaugurated the promised kingdom.  In fact, the Lord often talked about the kingdom as future.

Do you have expectations that your sins will be utterly wiped away and you will be given a glorious body and everlasting life?  Who raised those expectations?  Did you?  Did God? How do you know you have eternal life?  Is it not by trusting that God means what He said in the words you are trusting?

(4) For sure God may do more than we expect, but can He do completely differently than what He leads us to expect?

Another CT chipped in with this objection:

(1) Didn’t Jesus, make clear in John 16:25, that he said these things in figures of speech.  (2) They were still expecting him to setup the kingdom at this time (Acts 1:6). (3) They studied, carefully and they still did not understand how Christ’s promises and covenants would be fulfilled (1 Peter 1:10-12).

(4) Is not the purpose of prophecy and promises, not that we fully understand them today, but that when they are fulfilled, we can validate them against the Word of God?  

(1) John 16 has nothing to do with the kingdom.  This is textual transplantation at its worse.

(2) Yes, the disciples were expecting the kingdom, since Jesus had been teaching them all about it (Acts 1:3).  But they asked about the time when He would set up the expected kingdom.  Jesus only corrected them on the timing, not on the expectation.  The inference made by CT that they were mistaken in their understanding of the kingdom finds no foothold in Acts 1.

(3) I Peter 1 is not about the promised kingdom.  Again a text is being misused.

(4) The irony of this statement was entirely lost on my opponent.  How can any “fulfillment” be checked against the Word of God if the words of the original prediction do not match it?  Isn’t that precisely the problem CT interpretation raises?  The point is, the original words of the prophecy can’t be used to verify the fulfillment because it was “fulfilled” differently!

As I said in a comment (slightly edited): “how can one test a prophet whose “prophecy” turns out to be “fulfilled” in a way totally different than the words he used in the prediction?  How can the tests of a true prophet be of any use? In fact we can go further. What is the use of even declaring that such and such will happen if it all turns out so utterly differently?   The OT Prophets might just as well have said nothing for all the use it was.” (more…)

Replacement Theology: Is it Wrong to Use the Term? (Pt.9)

Part Eight

This is the final post in this series, the purpose of which has been to ask whether “replacement theology” and “supercessionism” correctly describe what some theologies, covenant theology especially, do with the nation of Israel and its OT promises in teaching fulfillment through “transformation” into Christ and the church.  I am not saying that every CT (or NCT) will want to see themselves undercover of these names, only that the names fairly describe this aspect of the way these good people interpret the NT’s use of the OT.

We have seen that replacement theology exists.  I have shown that some CT’s actually use the term “replace” (or “supercessionism”) to describe their approach in their own works, and that they recommend books that unashamedly use it.  More anecdotally, I have encountered this opinion many times in conversations.

Of course, replacement theology is not confined to orthodox Reformed covenantalism, but they are the ones whose books and lectures I know best.  In this tradition, it is common to view the history of Israel as primarily a structural learning device; a tool for teaching the Christian church through narrative and type; a “means to an end” as R. Scott Clark put it.

A Third Kind of Replacementism

What is engendered by this is an elevation of the NT above the OT, even though the NT relies on the OT in large part for its validation.  A dual-level understanding of revelation is created in the mind (often as not it goes unnoticed), wherein the voice of the OT is always recirculated through the voice of the NT.  This fosters a third variety of replacementism, this time involving the original voice of the OT in its context.  That voice is stifled and re-transmitted through a particular understanding of the NT and its function.  What results is what OT scholar John Sailhamer called a “devaluation of the Old Testament.”  He reminds us that,

We must remember that those who first saw Jesus did not have a NT version of Jesus to compare with the OT.  They had only the version of Jesus they knew, or knew about, to compare with the OT.  Their comparison was later enshrined textually as the NT against the background of the OT.  It was the end result of much reflection on the meaning of the OT Scriptures not the NT. – John H. Sailhamer, The Meaning of the Pentateuch, 555

Additionally, the dissemination of the writings of the NT has often not been given much thought by those whose theological picture is informed by a hermeneutical determinism (i.e. the OT is interpreted through the NT) which was quite impossible for first century Christians.  Put bluntly, these saints did not have a NT to interpret the OT with!  What the most fortunate of them did have was a Gospel or two and several letters.  But this was comparatively rare.

Another by-product of this is what R. Kendall Soulen has labelled “Israel-forgetfulness”.  In his own words,

To recall, the model’s foreground is the sequence of episodes that constitute the standard model’s overarching plot: God’s creation of Adam and Eve for the purpose of consummation, the fall, redemption in Christ through the church, the final judgment and final consummation.  Although the model’s foreground is by definition not identical with the model as a whole, it does depict how God’s consummating and redemptive purposes engage humankind in universal and enduring ways.  The foreground can therefore be said to encapsulate what the standard model depicts as theologically decisive for a Christian reading of the Bible.  The difficulty, of course, is that the foreground wholly omits the Hebrew Scriptures with the exception of Genesis 1-3. – R. Kendall Soulen, The God of Israel and Christian Theology, 49

Put more simply, by only requiring a minimal grounding in the soil of the OT because of the perceived superiority of the NT, the “standard model” (i.e. supercessionism) forgets about God’s enduring commitments to Israel in the OT, and by the adoption of typological understandings of that relation, feels no need to find its roots in those commitments.  The resultant theology will be actual, conceptual or “original voice” replacementism.  That original voice is a covenantally supported voice, and formal covenants of the kind God made with Noah, Abraham, Phinehas and David are not subject to change, “expansion”, “transformation”, and certainly not “transferal.”  Once set down and sealed by a solemn oath, they are hermeneutically fixed forever.  It is this very fixity which, I hold, provides the basis for biblical interpretation.  Since these covenants are in the OT, the NT cannot (and I argue does not) reimagine them in any way.

I should add here that Dispensationalists normally would never follow me here, and I would never follow them in their advancing of “stewardships” above covenants.  This is a big reason why I call myself a Biblical Covenantalist.

Matthew 21:43

Several times we have seen that Matthew 21:43 is used by CT’s to teach that God has done with Israel as a nation, and now the “kingdom” is given to the church.  Within such an interpretation there is no wiggle-room for saying the church expands Israel or grows out of it.  The “kingdom” is given to another “nation.”  There is no organic identity between the one nation and the one that replaces it.  G.K. Beale, for instance, in his interpretation of Matthew 21:41, employs Matthew 21:43 to mean that,

Jesus… interprets this to mean that ‘the kingdom of God will be taken away from you [Israel] and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. – A New Testament Biblical Theology, 673. (N.B. The insertion of [Israel] is by Beale).

Speaking of the same text on page 680 he writes of Jesus, “rejecting ethnic national Israel as God’s true people.” Furthermore, he interprets the stone cut out without hands, which smashes the image in Daniel 2 as smashing, “the ungodly nations, which also includes Israel.” (682).  In Part Two I cited Greg Durand using Matthew 21:43 this way. In Part Four Hans LaRondelle was shown using it the same way. (more…)

Replacement Theology: Is it Wrong to Use the Term? (Pt.8)

Part Seven

My stated intention in these posts is to try to settle whether or not it is proper to speak in terms of theologies of supercessionism or replacement theology.  It is not my design to argue for the opposite view (which I have done many times before).  I am coming towards the end of my article, with probably one post left to go.  I said that I wanted to take a look at two OT passages to discover how those holding to one or more forms of supercessionism handle them.

Jeremiah 31:31-37

The first passage is the famous New covenant prophecy in Jeremiah 31:31-34.  It involves a prediction of cleansing and salvation for Israel and Judah and their reunification.  The passage is repeated in Hebrews 8:8-12.  But attached to the original prophecy is a crystal clear guarantee that if man can tinker with the ordinances of creation,which stand fast (Psa. 33:9), “then the seed of Israel shall also cease from being a nation before Me forever.” (Jer. 31:36).  That sounds like a rock solid affirmation of the perpetuity of the existence of Israel as a nation!  

But God then underscores the promise by speaking of His secret counsels (cf. Deut. 29:29) in establishing the dimensions of the heavens and earth, and stating that if human beings can fathom them then Israel as a distinct people will be cast off for their disobedience (31:37).  Yet this is exactly what several of the writers I have quoted have claimed.

How do covenant theologians (whose theology is usually identified with replacementism), deal with verses 35 to 37?

Gary DeMar writes,

Jeremiah’s prophecy was given more than 2500 years ago. Prior to 1948 and after A.D. 70, Israel had not been a nation. So we have a few interpretive choices regarding the Jeremiah passage: (1) God lied (impossible); (2) the promise was conditional (not likely); the promise was postponed (always the dispensationalist answer and untenable); (4) or the fulfillment was fulfilled in the new nation that grew out of the New Covenant made up of Jews and non-Jews(most likely). Consider what Jesus tells the religious leaders of His day:

“Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust. When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them” (Matt. 21:43–45). –

DeMar ignores the details of the vow God made and moves straight to sort through the alternatives as he envisions them, using Matthew 21:43-45 to transform the unconditional language of continuity (remember Jer. 33:37) into conditional language threatening termination.  The NT is brought in to nullify the solemn vow of God in the OT.  Is that how Scripture should be used to interpret Scripture?  One might employ a little irony here by pointing out that if one waits long enough God will change the apparent meaning of what He has said, no matter how strongly it was put, and the expectations will change along with it.  As Michael Brown has observed in his commentary on “Jeremiah” in the revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary, this dissolves any fixity of meaning in Divine Revelation.  Can Jeremiah 31 really be redirected by Matthew 21? or is DeMar guilty of trivializing a Divine pledge?

Notice the equivocation on the word “nation” in DeMar.  When he writes of a “new nation” growing out of the New covenant does he reference the promise of national and ethnic permanence which accompany it?  He does not.  Israel the nation becomes “Israel” the “nation.”

Jeremiah 33:14-26

As if to drive His covenant dependability home, this long section, which begins with a prediction of the Messianic rule from Jerusalem (not New Jerusalem) over a righteous earth, proceeds with a promise that the Davidic covenant and the ministration of the Levites (doubtless related to the covenant with Phinehas in Num. 25:10-13) will continue (33:17-18).  This is followed by avowals of fidelity to the Davidic covenant and the Priestly covenant based on God’s constancy to the Noahic covenant (cf. Gen.8:21-22) and then the creation ordinances (Jer. 33:19-22).

What appears next is most informative for our discussion:

Have you not considered what these people have spoken, saying, ‘The two families which the LORD has chosen, He has also cast them off’? Thus they have despised My people, as if they should no more be a nation before them. – Jeremiah 33:24

In replacement theology, the very thing that is at issue is the continuance of Israel as a nation.  And that is what this form of theology denies!  Another instance of this is when John Frame expressly says that through unbelief Israel “lost its special status as God’s elect nation.” – The Doctrine of God, 49 n. 3.

Jeremiah closes off his chapter by reiterating the fixity of God’s purposes for ethnic Israel (33:25-26).  How do CT’s respond to such a God-proffered bond?  I’m afraid they regularly ignore Jeremiah 33:14-26 completely.  But there it sits, witnessing against them. (more…)

Replacement Theology: Is it Wrong to Use the Term? (Pt.7)

Part Six

Gary Burge: Replacement Theologian

The name of Gary Burge  of Wheaton College is familiar to many Christians who teach eschatology that includes the restoration of the remnant of the nation of Israel, but not for positive reasons. His positions on Israel, fueled in large part by his associations with the anti-Israel group Kairos USA, Naim Ateek, Stephen Sizer, and Pro-Palestinianism in general, hardly encourage fuzzy feelings.  On the theological front, Burge freely speaks of spiritualizing and reinterpreting Scripture.  Not surprisingly, Burge is a convinced replacement theologian.

For as we shall see (and as commentators regularly show) while the land itself had a concrete application for most in Judaism, Jesus and his followers reinterpreted the promises that came to those in his kingdom. – Gary M. Burge, Jesus and the Land, 35

In this quote Burge claims that although the land given to Israel was “concrete” for Jews in ancient times, still the OT covenant promises to Israel were reinterpreted by Jesus.  How were they reinterpreted?  In an article written for the I. Howard Marshall festshrift, Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ, (edited by Joel B. Green and Max Turner), Burge enlarges on this theme.  His piece is entitled, “Territorial Religion, Johannine Christology, and the Vineyard of John 15.”  In this article Burge starts off writing about the importance of land ownership in the ancient world (386).  His introduction is a restatement of the work of W.D. Davies’ called The Gospel and the Land.  Basically, the idea is that in Jesus the “landless” become the “landed” and the other way round.  There is very little appeal to Scripture in these pages (e.g. 384-388), and what is used is misused.  But he procures a thesis:

For the most part the NT does not view The Land as the object of messianic promise.  Typically, Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 seems to reject ‘land messianism’ outright.  Revelation and salvation can be found anywhere from Egypt to Mesopotamia, according to Stephen. – Gary M. Burge, “Territorial Religion”, 388

He continues by claiming that the Land is frequently “spiritualized” (his word), giving Hebrews 4 as an example, where, as Burge thinks, the land of Canaan as a type of heaven receives such treatment (Ibid).  According to Burge,

John uses the concrete gifts of The Land (Jerusalem’s temple with its festivals, Israelite cities, and holy places) in order to show that what these places promise can be found in abundance in Christ… Jesus replaces the temple and its festivities as the place where God is revealed.  Simply put, Jesus is the new “holy space” where God can be discovered. (388).

This sets him up for his study of the Vineyard in John 15.  His approach is summarized when he says, “The crux for John 15 is that Jesus is changing the place of rootedness for Israel.” (393, emphasis in original).  This means that instead of the land of Israel being the place of “revelation and salvation” and “rootedness”, these are to be found in the “one vine growing in [God’s] vineyard” (393), therefore, “Attachment to this vine and this vine alone gives the benefits of life once promised through The Land.” (394).  From this theological springboard we are told that,

In a way reminiscent of diaspora Judaism, Jesus points away from the vineyard as place, as a territory of hills and valleys, cisterns and streams.  In a word, Jesus spiritualizes The Land. (395, emphasis in original).

No one will disagree that Jesus is the one vine through whom salvation comes, but whether this leads one to spiritualize the land (and the covenants) is another matter. Not surprisingly, Burge utilizes Mark 12:9 to teach that “Israel’s vineyard is devastated… [and] given to others” (396). (more…)