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.
(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…)