Replacement Theology: Is it wrong to use the term? (pt.1)

Recently I have been reminded of the Reformed CT community’s aversion to the label of supercessionism, or worse, replacement theology.  In the last decade or so particularly I have read repeated disavowals of this term from covenant theologians.  Not wanting to misrepresent or smear brethren with whom I disagree, I have to say that I struggle a bit with these protests.  “We are not replacement theologians” we are told, “but rather we believe in transformation or expansion.”  By some of the objectors we are told that the church does not replace Israel because it actually IS Israel; well, “true Israel” – the two designations are really one.  This move is legitimate, they say, because the “true Israel” or “new Israel” is in direct continuity with Israel in the Old Testament.

In this series of posts I want to investigate the question of whether it is right; if I am right, to brand this outlook as replacement theology and supercessionism.

Basics: what is a “replacement”?

A good thing to do as we begin is to have a definition of the word at issue.  Websters New World Dictionary defines the word “replacement” thus:

“1. a replacing or being replaced 2. a person or thing that takes the place of another…”

The entry for “replace” says,

“1. to place again; to put back in a former or the proper place or position.” (obviously, this does not apply to our question).

“2. to take the place of… 3. to provide a substitute or equivalent for.”

The synonym “supersede” means that something is replaced by something else that is superior.  In the way I use the terms in a theological context I mean “to take the place of”.  The third meaning (i.e. to substitute) is  somewhat relevant since some may be claiming that OT Israel has been switched out for another Israel.  By “supercessionism” then, I mean any theology that teaches a switching out of “old Israel” with “new”, “true Israel.”

The question before us is whether the Church takes the place of Israel in covenant theology, and if so how?  To answer that question we must ask several more.  These include such important questions as, ‘what exactly do covenant theologians say about the matter?  And do they ever use replacement terminology themselves?’; ‘Can their understandings of Israel and the church, and so their “expansion” language, be supported from the Bible?’

If “Israel” and “the church” are the same thing then clearly we have our answer, and I can stop writing.  If the church and Israel are the same any question of replacing one with the other starts and stops with the simple swapping of names.

Identifying “Israel”

In the Old Testament Israel is either a person, the man Jacob who was renamed “Israel” by God in Genesis 32:28, or the nation of people (sometimes a part of them either in rebellion or redeemed) who stem from Jacob who are called “the children of Israel” in Genesis 32:32 (Israelites), or a designation for the promised land (cf. Josh. 11:16, 21).

Covenant theology adds to these designations another.  For example, an anonymous devotional at Ligonier’s website entitled “Who is Israel?” claims that,

Finally, the term Israel can also designate all of those who believe in Jesus, including both ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles. In Galatians 6:16, the Apostle applies the name Israel to the entire believing community—the invisible church—that follows Christ. Paul does not make this application specifically in Romans 11; however, this meaning is clearly implied in his teaching about the one olive tree with both Jewish and Gentile branches (vv. 11-24). 

Although nowhere does the New Testament explicitly equate Israel with the church, the assumptions that lead the writer to his conclusion (not to mention his exegesis of Gal. 6:16 and his use of the Olive Tree metaphor) come into focus once his view of the church is understood.

Chapter Twenty-five of the Westminster Confession of Faith defines the Church like this:

I. The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all.

II. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ,the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

Continue reading “Replacement Theology: Is it wrong to use the term? (pt.1)”

The Covenant in Classical Covenant Theology (2)

Part One

If we turn to Covenant theology’s own explanations of their system we find a curious dualism of frankness and subterfuge.  I do not use “frankness” in the ethical sense, just in the sense that there is sometimes a willingness to face the text and deal with what it actually says.  Likewise, by “subterfuge” I am not saying there is an unethical motive in these men, but that they almost instinctively avoid the clear implications of passages which undermine their teaching.  Robertson, for example, when dealing with the inauguration of the Abrahamic covenant, carefully picks his way through Genesis 15 (and 12:1) without mentioning God’s land-promise (Ch. 8).  He first constructs his thesis with the help of certain NT texts, and then deals with the land issue once he has a typological framework to put it in.  He is more “up-front” when he refers to Jeremiah 31, 32 and Ezekiel 34 and 37 on pages 41-42 of his book, but this plain speaking about God’s planting of His people “in this land” to “give them one heart and one way”[10], and his explicitly linking the land promise to Jacob through the Abrahamic covenant[11], does not last for long.  Needless to say the land promise to Israel withers under the flame of Reformed typology as Robertson’s book progresses (Ch. 13), and the Church becomes “Israel” through its participation in the new covenant[12].

In none of this does one find any solid exegetical demonstration.  Instead, at the crucial moment, in order to get where they want to go, CT’s will rely upon human reasoning (e.g. “if this, then that”) to lop off covenanted promises which contravene their theological covenants.  The land promise stated over and over in the Abrahamic covenant (e.g. 12:1, 7; 15:18-21; 17:7-8) and repeated in the prophets (e.g. Isa. 44; Jer. 25:5; 31:31-40; 32:36-41; 33:14-26; Ezek. 36:26-36), is ushered into a room marked “obscurity” using the covenant of grace.  How ironic; the land promise is expressly stated and restated all over the OT, and the covenant of grace never once puts in an appearance!  But this maneuver can be carried out under the auspices of this brand of theology due to what Gerhaardus Vos called “a consciousness of the covenant”, meaning the covenant of grace.  I might humbly point out that there are other, more perspicuous covenants that ought to have our attention as Bible readers.

Another noted Covenant theologian who exemplifies the phenomena I have been referring to is Michael Horton.  His book God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology, takes back with one hand what it appears to give with the other.  Placing an enormous burden of proof on Galatians 4:22-31, which it was never supposed to bear, Horton sometimes seems to interpret the covenant passages at face value.  He repeatedly admits that both the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants were unconditional.  He rivals any dispensationalist in his belief in the unilateral nature of these biblical covenants[13].  But then he makes the land promise part of the Mosaic covenant, whence it can be safely dispatched.  As he says for example,

The Mosaic (Sinai) covenant is an oath of the people swearing personal performance of the conditions for “living long in the land,” while the Abrahamic covenant is a promise by God himself that he will unilaterally bring about the salvation of his people through the seed of Abraham.[14]

This is an amazing statement.  Although he is right to say that possession of the land was tied to obedience to the Mosaic covenant (e.g. Lev. 26), even the Mosaic covenant looked forward to a New covenant whereby God would circumcise the heart (Deut. 30:6), so that “in the latter days” they would not be forsaken, but would be remembered because of the existing terms of the Abrahamic covenant (Deut.4:30-31; 30:19-20).

What happened?  Is the Abrahamic covenant only about salvation as Horton claims?  I invite anyone to read Genesis 12-17, Jeremiah 33 or Ezekiel 36 and demonstrate such a single track in regards to the Abrahamic covenant.  It is a patently false reading.  In fact, there is no provision for salvation at all in the Abrahamic covenant itself.  Although the Seed promise (singular) is there, it is developed through the New covenant, not per se the terms of the Abrahamic.  All the talk about typology (Horton’s book is also filled with it) cannot alter these facts.

That God must be gracious to sinners if they are to be saved is not at issue.  What is at issue is whether there is any such thing as the covenant of grace (I have focused on it since it is the main support for CT’s interpretations and theology).  I have no qualms in describing it is a figment overlaid on the biblical covenants.  It is the lens which makes CT’s see only the salvation of the church in the covenants.  It is what encourages them to transform the NT Church into “new Israel”.  It stands behind many of the dogmas of covenant theology.  But the covenant of grace, together with the “covenant of works”, is nonetheless absent from the Word of God.

=====================================================

[10]  O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, 41

[11] Ibid. 42

[12] E.g. 289

[13] See Michael S. Horton, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology, 42, 45, 48-49

[14] Ibid. 48

 

The Covenant in Classical Covenant Theology (1)

I think it is fair to say that the whole impetus for the covenants of redemption, works and grace in the Reformed Confessions stems from the assumption that the Old Testament must be read through the lens of the extra light of the New.  If that assumption is flawed, as I believe it certainly is, then the whole project is in serious trouble.

The release of the Westminster Confession of 1647, although it was preceded by over a century of formative thinking about the covenant, stands out as the principal document of what is known as Covenant Theology.[1]  Covenant is employed as a fillip to understand and arrange the “doctrines of grace”, and is central to the Confession’s portrayal of redemption.[2]  This means that the concept takes on a deliberate soteriological hue.  The WCF treats its concept of covenant as principally a gracious relationship; a condescension.  And there is no doubt that in this it is correct.  The Westminster Divines did not lay stress on a pre-creational ‘covenant of redemption’, although their anticipatory language of salvation for the elect in the ‘covenant of grace’ is in tune with it[3], and it is there in WCF 7:3.

Biblical Covenantalism is centered around the twin concepts of God’s words and God’s covenants.  To repeat what has already been stated, the present work calls attention to the relationship between God’s words (therefore thoughts) and His actions, and relates them to the covenant commitments which God makes in the Bible.  The motif of God’s words = God’s actions (the GWGA motif), segues into the covenants which He has made in that these covenants are an amplification of God’s promissory words to those to whom He commits.  Whatever else covenants are, they function as reinforcements of speech.  Thus, when a man marries a woman he does not only say words of promise to her on their wedding day, he enters into a committed relationship of promise with his bride.  The presence of a covenant amplifies and underlines the word of promise and binds them together.  It is the same with the covenant God.  This “binding of God” in covenantal obligation has to be carefully studied and traced out in Scripture.  It is not, please note, a theological “binding” first.  That is, we are not to deduce that God has covenanted with X because we have arrived at certain theological convictions.  Rather, the only way we know that and how and with whom God has entered into covenant is through the clear testimony of God Himself.

To set out this difference more plainly, let us think of the “covenant of grace” of covenant theology.  In Reformed theology this covenant of grace has specific content.

The “Covenant of Grace”, which is often simply called “the covenant” by CT’s, wields tremendous, we might say decisive hermeneutical power over CT’s biblical interpretation.  But before one gets to use such a potent hermeneutical and theological device, one needs to prove that it is actually Scriptural.

As Herman Witsius defines it,

The Covenant of grace is a compact or agreement between God and the elect sinner; God on his part declaring his free good-will concerning eternal salvation, and everything relative thereto, freely to be given to those in covenant by, and for the mediator Christ; and man on his part consenting to that good-will by a sincere faith.[4]

Witsius goes on to make it clear that the covenant insures that there is only one people of God, the Church, in both Testaments.  This means, for one thing, that whenever one comes across any passage which seems to point to a separation of, say, OT Israel from the NT Church, this must not be allowed to stand, since the “covenant of grace” will not permit it to stand.  Therefore, CT’s must first demonstrate if it is possible to establish a “Covenant of Grace” from the text of Scripture rather than from human reason, and then they must show that this covenant is the very same covenant as the Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants, which are very clearly found within the Bible.

So what is the exegetical basis for the Covenant of Grace?  Well, don’t hold your breath!  Even dyed-in-the-wool Covenant theologians like O. Palmer Robertson admit that there is slender exegetical apparatus from which to derive it (he thinks the “covenant of works” fairs better, expending much effort on making Hosea 6:7 refer to a pre-Fall covenant).  In reality I would say there is no exegetical justification at all!

Reformed theologian Robert Reymond, who boldly claims that “The church of Jesus Christ is the present-day expression of the one people of God whose roots go back to Abraham”[5], does no better in coming up with actual biblical texts which support this extra-biblical covenant.  He, like all CT’s, insists the issue be settled by the Scriptures[6], but he begs leave to spiritualize the texts whenever it suits[7].  Reymond also insists that the OT be interpreted via (his interpretation of) the NT.  In having things this way he can still maintain that the land promises “were never primary and central to the covenant intention”[8].  Quite how one can read Genesis 12-17 and come away believing that the land was not a primary issue escapes me.

Following the reasoning of CT’s as they dive in and out of selective passages, often avoiding the specific referents within the context ( E.g. land, Canaan, Jerusalem, mountains of Israel, Judah, etc.), can be a mind-numbing experience.  One needs to try to keep in mind what they are attempting to prove: that God has made one covenant with the elect of both Testaments to guarantee that there will be one people of God, inheriting heavenly promises in Christ.  For example, Robertson says,

The covenants of God are one.  The recurring summation of the essence of the covenant testifies to this fact… All the dealings of God with man since the fall must be seen as possessing a basic unity…Diversity indeed exists in the various administrations of God’s covenants.  This diversity enriches the wonder of God’s plan for his people.  But the diversity ultimately merges inti a single purpose overarching the ages...The various administrations of the covenant of redemption [i.e. grace] relate organically to one another…[9]

That may sound okay, but what one has to realize is that this means that anything found in the biblical covenants which does not fit this preconceived picture (e.g. a physical land for the people of Israel, a literal throne of David in Jerusalem), is demoted to an ancillary and temporal place or is transformed into a “type” or “shadow” of a spiritual reality which comports with the requirements of “the covenant.”

============================================

[1] See Peter Golding, Covenant Theology, 15.  This is an excellent historical account.

[2] Ibid., 60.  Although the ‘covenant of works’ is not redemptive because it deals with man in his innocence, it nevertheless puts forth “life” as something to be achieved or forfeited dependent upon man’s observance of God’s “law”.  See WCF 7:2 & 19:1

[3] See especially the Westminster Longer Catechism 31.

[4] Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man, 1.165 [Bk. 2. Ch.1.5].

[5] Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 525f.

[6] Ibid. 528

[7] Ibid. 511 n.16

[8] Ibid. 513 n.19

[9] O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants, 52, 55, 61, 63 (my emphasis).

Part Two

Should ‘Presuppositional’ Apologetics Be Rebranded As ‘Covenantal’ Apologetics?

Recently K. Scott Oliphint of Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia has published a book which he has called Covenantal Apologetics.   I reviewed the book here and recommend it.  But I expressed reservations about the writer’s agenda of rebranding Van Til’s apologetic teaching in line with the book’s title.  Coming as it does from one of the foremost representatives of Van Til’s presuppositional approach around the thesis deserves attention.  As I said in my review, by “Covenantal” Oliphint means the ‘covenants’ of covenant theology.

Now nobody is going to disagree that Van Til often spoke about fallen man as a covenant-breaker.  And no one will dispute that by that designation he had in mind the theological covenants of Reformed Covenant Theology.  You cannot read Van Til very far before running into statements he makes about ‘the Reformed apologetic.’  For example,

All men are either in covenant with Satan or in covenant with God. – Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 4th edition, edited by K. Scott Oliphint, 300.

This is the kind of thing covenant theologians say (or used to say).  Van Til did not refer to his approach as ‘Covenantal Apologetics’, but I think he might not have minded too much.  Still, is it right?

Van Til’s argument for allying his apologetics with the resources of covenant theology should be seen against the backdrop of his conflating covenant theology with Reformed Calvinistic theology.  But any reader of the Jacob Arminius is well aware that he too was a covenant theologian.  This needs to be noted because Van Til’s point is mainly anthropological and soteriological.  He memorably observes,

We should add that according to Scripture, God spoke to man at the outset of history.  In addition to revealing himself in the facts of the created universe, God revealed himself in Words, telling man about what he should do with the facts of the universe.  Since the fall, all men, as fallen in Adam (Rom. 5:12), continue to be responsible for this twofold revelation of God given to man at the beginning of history. – Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 19

This is a point which can be made from the Bible through exposition of Romans 1:18-32 or Psalm 19.  Among his other contributions to theology Van Til stressed this revelatory nature of knowledge before and after the Fall:

For Adam in paradise God-consciousness could not come in at the end of a syllogistic process of reasoning.  God-consciousness was for him the presupposition of the significance of his reasoning on anything. – The Defense of the Faith, 113

But he did not always appeal to the Bible for his authority.  Like so many covenant theologians of the past and present he counted on the Westminster Standards to support his contentions.  So right after the above statement we read this one:

To the doctrine of creation must be added the conception of the covenant.  Man was created an historical being.  God placed upon him from the outset of history the responsibility and task of reinterpreting the counsel of God as expressed in creation to himself individually and collectively.  Man’s creature consciousness may therefore be more particularly signalized as covenant consciousness.  But the revelation of the covenant to man in paradise was supernaturally mediated…Thus, the sense of obedience or disobedience was immediately involved in Adam’s consciousness of himself.  Covenant consciousness envelops creature consciousness. In paradise Adam knew that as a creature of God it was natural and proper that he should keep the the covenant that God made with him. – Ibid.

Here, as Oliphint explains in a footnote in this edition, Van Til is appealing to the WCF 7.1.  The “covenant” to which Van Til is referring in this quotation is not any covenant found in the description of paradise in the first chapters of Genesis.  The “covenant” is the ‘covenant of works’ invented, along with the ‘covenant of grace’, by covenant theologians as a theological explanatory device to describe our relationship with our Creator.  No Scripture is provided to show the presence of this covenant, and for good reason: there is none.  

In arguing for the name covenantal apologetics, Oliphint uses the same method.  In all his argumentation for the idea there is a noticeable dearth of scriptural appeal.  For instance, for his definition and understanding of the term “covenant” he does not go to the Bible but to the Westminster Confession (See K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics, 39, 49, 61-62, 93).  The Confession does indeed refer to God’s condescension in relating to us as “covenantal.”  But is that the way the Bible itself uses the idea of covenant?  I think not.

For one thing, it begs the question to have the Westminster Confession authorize the name-change from presuppositional apologetics to covenantal apologetics.  Without reinventing the wheel, I have tried to show in other places (e.g. here), that covenant theologians have misread biblical covenants, like the New Covenant, in fitting them into their extra-biblical inferential scheme.  Oliphint himself does this on page 59 of his book when confusingly quoting Hebrews 6:17-18, which refers back to the Abrahamic covenant (6:13), and forwards to the New covenant, of which Christ is the Mediator (Hebrews 8 and 9 go on to explain this).  But Oliphint’s quotation is not in reference to either of these biblical covenants, but (as we saw with Van Til) in service of a supposed covenantal relationship enacted at the outset of creation.  

Covenant theology has often been criticized for making their theological covenants ride roughshod over the clear covenants of the Bible, effectively stripping them of any specifications not required by their approach.  The example just given is quite typical.

Like Van Til Oliphint wants man’s knowing to be covenantal (44, 82, 152).  But this is neither necessary nor particularly relevant.  It is not necessary because our relationship to God need not be viewed within the terms of covenant.  We would do better and would stay within the boundaries of the biblical text to speak of “creaturely obligations” or “image-accountability” than introducing covenant language.  Although covenants in the Bible do establish relationships and commitments, no one is free to read and then define the terms of a covenant for which there is scarcely any warrant.  And interpreting our knowing as covenantal is not relevant  for two reasons.  First because Arminians have often been adherents of covenant theology and Van Til was often at pains to try to show that only Calvinism could support his position (see, e.g. A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 81ff.).  Therefore, his real emphasis while using the Westminster Confession should more often than not be understood to be Calvinistic.  Second, because nowhere in the Bible is our knowing depicted this way.  While all assent that the new birth brings with it new outlooks (cf. Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 4:17-5:17), such things were hardly necessary in Eden.  Divine covenants obligate God to do something.  But in paradise we read of no such Divine obligation; still less do we read of a covenant oath!  In Scripture, all the covenants which are plainly discoverable come after the Fall: indeed, they come after the Flood!  Covenants are not required where the relationship is not sundered and in need of reconciliation.

In truth, while the genius of covenant theology may be brought to bear on Van Til’s apologetic, the real issue is whether his approach is supportable from the text of Holy Writ.  And the answer to that question is certainly Yes!  As Greg Bahnsen showed in his Always Ready, there is plenty of biblical justification for presuppositional apologetics, without the need to appeal to covenant theology.  While Bahnsen was a proponent of covenant theology, he wisely sought to establish his apologetics on a different and firmer foundation.  What we want to know is whether Van Til’s apologetic is biblical, and indeed it is.  Because that is so the question of nomenclature might be easily solved by calling it, as a recent fine exposition does, simply Biblical Apologetics.

The question of whether covenant theology is biblical is much harder to prove.                 Continue reading “Should ‘Presuppositional’ Apologetics Be Rebranded As ‘Covenantal’ Apologetics?”

The Transmission of the Soul (Pt.4)

Part One, Two, Three

The Question of the Incarnate Christ

What do we do with Christ’s human soul in this matter of transmission?  Do we commit the Apollinarian heresy of the Early Church, which says Christ had a human body but a divine soul?  Or are we to fall into the Eutychian heresy, where Christ was said to have had a human body mixed with the divine soul?  Those are not orthodox positions.  But there are certain passages which speak to this doctrine and must be clarified.  What is one to do with these texts?

For instance, Romans 1:3 says,

Concerning his Son, who was descended (who was born) from David according to the flesh.

Whether one is a creationist or a traducianist, there is no getting around the need for the miraculous when it comes to the birth of Christ.  The creationist may point to the logic of Christ’s human soul being newly created by the Father at conception, but the traducian realist will ask how that soul remained sinless in a sinful mother, and will again call attention to the implication that if the human body does not stain the soul the only other road open to the creationist is to say that God makes each new soul sinful (all except Christ that is). 

In place of this miracle the traducian view will say that although the soul may be passed on through the female, the absence of a human father could account for why the sin nature was not passed on to Jesus.  If this conclusion seems unsatisfactory the alternative is to say that God protected Christ’s soul from the stain of sin.  Either way, the realist position has less explaining to do than the creationist – federalist view. 

More Evaluations

In his great volume on Sin, the Dutch theologian G. C. Berkouwer spends many pages evaluating both the realist (traducian) position and the federalist (creationist) position.  His problems with the traducian position basically boil down to the imputation of guilt (something which will have to be taken up elsewhere).  But it should be noted that many theologians, both in the early church and after the Reformation, did not tie in the imputation of guilt with the imputation of sin. 

Berkouwer’s problems with federalism are more numerous and severe.  They can be summed up in his statement about the double-meaning of imputation as guilt accounted because of our sinning, and ‘alien guilt’ foisted upon us by God’s ordinance (458-459).  He continues,

Realism has done us the service of sharpening our insights concerning the meaning of imputatio.  Is [this] concept at odds with the very nature of his justice?  Does it contradict the statement of Ezekiel [ch.18:4, 20, 25-26] concerning the activity of God?  Surely the “rule of Ezekiel” underscores the correlation of guilt and punishment in a very unambiguous way. (460).

Certain passages of Scripture clearly imply realism rather than mere federal representation.  Surely John 1:14 designates the human nature of Christ, body and soul?  And what is one to do with Hebrews 7:9-10?

One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.

If Creationism is true this statement would be untrue.  In fact, it would be nonsense.

This genealogical passage in the early chapters of Genesis should also feature in the debate:

This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth.Genesis 5:1-3

Regarding the image of God, is this passage just talking about Seth’s physical body and not also talking about his soul? If only Seth’s body is under consideration then surely ‘likeness and image’ in Genesis 5:3 refers just to the physical makeup?  But if we allow that interpretation we must allow it as the right interpretation of ‘image and likeness’ in Genesis 1:26-27.  Of course, no Creationist would wish to assent to that! 

 What about the great proof text for Creationism:

Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? – Hebrews 12:9

Straight away the antenors go up, for the verse seems hardly to be asserting that God the Father is responsible for implanting new spirits within newly conceived human beings. 

As Robert Culver says:

Is this contrasting human males as fathers of our material nature and God as Father of our immaterial nature? Quite to the contrary! Note it is not said that God is Father of our spirits, but simply of spirits. The argument is from the less to the greater to encourage reverence toward God.  So the author is arguing that if we revere the lesser earthly parents of our humanity, we surely should revere the greater universal heavenly Father, God of all spirits. The manner of generating parts of human nature is not even under consideration. – Systematic Theology, 279. Continue reading “The Transmission of the Soul (Pt.4)”

The Transmission of the Soul (Pt. 3)

This is the belated third installment of a series I started last year on the topic.  I do apologize for dropping the ball on this one.  The material is taken from a lecture from the course, “The Doctrine of Man & Sin” at Telos Biblical Institute.

Part Two

The Traducianist Position: Traducianism (from a word meaning ‘to sprout’), holds that both the material-bodily substance of a person, and the soulish part of a person is passed on from parent to child through all generations, and because of this, the sin nature is passed on through all generations. This involves what is called a realistic view of the impartation of sin, within the transmission of the soulWhy “realistic?”  Because it actually happens; it is not something whereby guilt is just decreed, but because we participate in sin by sinning according to the fallen nature which we inherit from Adam.

As W.G.T. Shedd writes,

Sin cannot be transmitted along absolute nonentity; neither can it be transmitted by merely physical substance. If each individual soul never had any other than an individual existence and were created ex nihilo in every instance, nothing mental could pass from Adam to his posterity; there could be the transmission of only bodily and physical traits. There would be a chasm of 6000 years between an individual soul of this generation and the individual soul of Adam, across which original sin or moral corruption could not go by natural generation. –  W.G.T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology,446

I myself am drawn to the Traducianist view for the following reasons:

     1.   It appears to be everywhere assumed by Scripture that through conception via our human parents, we inherit sin natures, and not just physical bodies.  So the psalmist says, “…in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa. 51:5b). 

     When Charles Hodge, himself a staunch creationist, to avoid the conclusion that God creates sinful souls, declares ‘We do not know how the agency of God is connected with the operation of second causes, how far the agency is mediate and how far it is immediate’, and then admits in his later discussion of Original Sin that, “it is, moreover, a historical fact universally admitted, that character within certain limits is transmissible from parents to children; every nation and every tribe and every extended family of man has its physical, mental, social, and moral peculiarities which are propagated from generation to generation”, he has effectively abandoned his Creationism, for if God does immediately create souls at conception or at birth, the mental and moral characteristics of parents cannot be propagated.

2.      Creationism allows for only the physical or corporeal connection between Adam and his offspring, and has to explain how human souls, immediately created by God, with no soulish connection to their parents, become evil.  Whereas Traducianism has a ready answer for why the individual is guilty in Adam and is thus corrupt (see e.g. Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 424-425).

 Lewis and Demarest add,

Neither do we find adequate evidence to support the view that spirits are individually created at conception or birth. The passages teaching that spirits come from God can be interpreted providentially and ultimately, rather than miraculously and approximately. Creationists raise the problem of how Christ could be without sin if souls are derived from parents along with bodies. The point is irrelevant to normal conceptions however, because the conception of Jesus was miraculous! The conception of Jesus by a virgin, involved both a biological miracle and a moral miracle, so that Mary’s sinful nature was not transmitted to Jesus and he was holy…(Lk 1:35). The major problem with a Creationist hypothesis is that for all normally born persons, the Holy One allegedly directly creates their souls with sinful dispositions. Scriptural teaching traces sinfulness not to the body but to the inner soul or spirit…(Jer.17:9). The “flesh” refers in moral contexts only secondarily to the body as the instrument of the fallen spirit; primarily the flesh is the sinful nature conceived at conception. Since throughout Scripture God is the source of good and not of moral rebellion against Himself, it seems unthinkable that He, the Holy One, should specifically create each human soul with a bent toward disbelieving and disobeying him.” – Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest, Integrated Theology, Vol. 2. 170

To this I add the comment of Robert Culver:

It seems to this writer that it takes some shading of evidence from sincere convictions drawn from another quarter of doctrine to suppose that adam and anthropos whence ‘anthropology’, ever means just man’s body to the exclusion of his soul. – Robert Culver, Systematic Theology, 279

But that is what Creationists must teach.  So, how do Creationists say that we are sinners and we are guilty of Adam’s transgression if we didn’t participate in it, and really we had nothing to do with it? They say that it is because God imputes his sin to us in the same way as God imputes righteousness in Christ to us. Well, we understand why God has to impute the righteousness of Christ to us: because we’re not in ourselves connected to the righteousness of God in Christ. But we also understand that we are connected to Adam!

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. – I Corinthians 15:22

Why Do We Die?

Why do we die? Because we are “in Adam.”  We need to get into Christ to be made alive. But how do we get into Christ? By a new birth.  We have to be joined to Christ, and we are joined to Him through adoption and the new birth by the Holy Spirit.  That is when His righteousness is imputed to us. But why do we need Adam’s sin and guilt heaped on us?  

As Shedd says, “to make the eternal damnation of a human soul depend upon vicarious [i.e. “in our place”] sin, contradicts the profound convictions of the human conscience.”

To say that because Adam sinned we’re damned, just because that’s the way God decides it, and not because of any relationship we bear to Adam, would be unjust.  Calling on God’s freedom to do as He wants to validate such a thing amounts to redefining God’s desires along voluntarist and nominalist lines.  This is a card played all too often by some theologians. 

Arguing against Traducianism and for Creationism, Herman Bavinck introduced covenant theology to bolster his doctrine.  He wrote:  

The so-called realism, say of Shedd, is inadequate both as an explanation of Adam’s sin, and as an explanation of righteousness by faith in Christ.  Needed among human beings is another kind of unity, one that causes them to act unitedly as a moral body, organically-connected as well as ethically-united, and that is a federal unity, that is a covenant unity. Now on the basis of a physical unity an ethical unity has to be constructed; Adam as our ancestor is not enough, he must also be the covenant head of the human race just as Christ, although he is not our common ancestor in a physical sense, is still able as covenant head to bestow righteousness and blessedness upon his church. Now this moral unity of the human race can only be maintained on the basis of Creationism, for it has a character of its own, is distinct from that of animals, as well as that of the angels, and therefore also comes into being in its own way; both by physical descendent [Adam] and by a created act of God [Creationism], the two of them in conjunction with each other. – Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2.586

Of course, Traducianism is not inadequate for an explanation of Adam’s sin, because we are connected to him spiritually.  As the Bible clearly declares, God created the whole person:

The Creation of Eve So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.Genesis 2:21-22

Did God just bring a body to the man, or did he bring a person, body and a soul?  There is nothing here to say that God breathed a soul into Eve like he did with Adam in verse 7.  Here, God just takes the material as it were – the substance, the essence of the man – from the man and creates a woman, body and soul.  In the Old Testament the words for  ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ (especially the former), designates more often than not the whole person.

More to come…

A Review of ‘Covenantal Apologetics’ by Scott Oliphint

Review of Covenantal Apologetics: Principles & Practices in Defense of Our Faith, by K. Scott Oliphint, Wheaton: Crossway, 2013, 277 pages, pbk.

K. Scott Oliphint is Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  He has written several good books of apologetics and philosophical theology; most notably his Reasons for Faith and God with Us.  He is, as far as my opinion counts, the main successor to Van Til and Bahnsen and their apologetic approach.  This new book, Covenantal Apologetics, is his introductory textbook on how to defend the Christian Faith.  But it is something else too.  It launches the author’s project of re-conceiving Van Til’s presuppositional apologetics as distinctively “covenantal” – meaning grounded within Reformed covenant theology.

I shall not say much about the success of this venture in this review, but it seems to me that even though Van Til would likely not protest, his particular apologetic stands on its own because it is clearly biblical; whereas covenant theology has slightly less going for it in that department.

Looked at simply as a book about presuppositional apologetics this is a welcome addition.  Between the customary Introduction and Conclusion there are seven informative chapters.  Although the methodological stuff is contained, as usual, in the opening chapters, the author has thought through how best to present the logic of the approach, and he brings in some useful refinements in this area; refinements which readers will appreciate.

Broadly defined, the first four chapters draw out the biblical and theological basis for this apologetic, as well as the reasoning behind the preferred title.  The fifth chapter tackles the problem of evil, in part by clarifying what it is and how ones perspective on it affects the “problem.”  Chapters six and seven address evolutionary naturalism and Islam respectively.  Each of these later chapters contains a mock interchange with an unbeliever which draw the reader more into the apologetic situation.  The brief Conclusion reminds us about the need for humble dependence on God as we give unbelievers a reason for our hope.  The volume is completed by a Bibliography and General and Scripture indices.

Oliphint defines apologetics as “the application of biblical truth to unbelief.” (29).  The first chapter deals with the pertinent details of covenant theology, which Oliphint believes undergirds his approach.  Whether that it so or not the chapter is worth reading.  I gravitated to this reminder about how we see the world:

We are to think about and live in the world according to what it really is, not according to how it might at times appear to us. (35. Cf. 96) 

That is worth writing out and placing over the shaving mirror, and it shows why Van Tillian apologetics also helped spawn the biblical counseling movement.

This first chapter also includes the author’s ‘Ten [crucial] Tenets for a Covenantal Apologetic’ (47-54, and summarized on 55).  Although the word “covenantal” crops up in each tenet, I see no necessity for its inclusion.  These ten tenets are extremely helpful and are called upon throughout the test of the book.  Along the way Oliphint is careful to deal with the notion of antithesis (33), self-deception (36, 76-77), irrationality in non-Christian worldviews (45), the peril of relying on classical formulations of God’s attributes rather than listening to the Bible (80f.),  and the matter of “burden of proof”; which is covered well (109-110).  Oliphint (contra Bahnsen) even recommends assuming it as a ploy to set out what Christianity teaches.

While writing about “God’s Unabated Revelation” he introduces Calvin’s teaching on the sensus divinitatis or “implanted” knowledge of God, which everyone has because being made in God’s image (97-104).  Because of this truth the Bible may be used as a “faith-weapon” (cf. 37) in witnessing to unbelievers and should not be left out of the apologetic encounter.

The fourth chapter rolls out Oliphint’s helpful “Trivium of Persuasion” set out in terms of Christian character (ethos), audiencial context (pathos), and biblically rooted argumentation (logos).  This part of the book exhibits well the inner workings of a biblical apologetic.

The dialogues in the book are well done.  They increase in complexity toward the end of the book.  The first of these is found in chapter three, where the construed discussion is with a humanist over the irrationality inherent in belief in blind determinism.  One of the ways these discussions work is to show how to “encourage our opponents to make plain where they rest their own case.”  This is crucial as “The issue of authority is always primary.” (163).

The ten page dialogue with an Atheist Objector on the problem of evil does contain a heavier dose of theology than might be expected, but it illustrates how to make the objector self-aware, and also how to turn an objection to that end.

The imaginary discussion with Daniel Dennett in chapter six is used to good effect to demonstrate the way unbelievers often naively set up the Christian apologist for a fall by prescribing the rules of the game beforehand.  Oliphint has his apologist respond,

The net you that propose to use for our verbal volley is not one that I myself am able to use…what you think is rational argument is, in fact, a judgment that precludes my position…You are anxious to have the net up, as long as the net contains only those principles that you claim to be rational.  But if that is the case, then surely the game is fixed from the beginning…” (211).

As anyone knows who has engaged unbelievers (particularly atheists), they can be relied upon to assume that they are neutral and dispassionate, all evidence to the contrary.  At the end of chapter six is a cautionary word about “plausibility” which often is defined against larger considerations of worldview. Continue reading “A Review of ‘Covenantal Apologetics’ by Scott Oliphint”

The Future of an Allusion – G.K. Beale’s N.T. Biblical Theology (Pt.4 – Critique)

Part Three

This is my final installment in my lengthy review of G. K. Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology.  During the previous three parts of the review I have tried to provide the thrust of Beale’s “already-not yet new creational” model with few critical remarks (though, as a “Dispensationalist” I clearly have a bias against the author’s new way of presenting covenant theology).

In this piece I shall enter into criticism more plainly.  I had envisaged a detailed critique and had lined up several pages of references to problems I see in the book, but that would be impracticable.  There are literally dozens of issues where I believe Beale is seeing things that just aren’t there while missing things that plainly are there.  But I will have to be satisfied with more selective comments.

The book has received more than its share of adulation since its release, and, from the perspective of supercessionist theologies, it is easy to see why.  The book represents a very impressive presentation of the amillennialist thesis, mixed, as contemporary presentations of that approach are, with G.E. Ladd’s “already/not yet” hermeneutic.  It employs fully up-to-date arguments and extensive “exegetical” reasoning.  It seeks to persuade readers that this is how the Bible itself presents its interpretation.  Moreover, despite its considerable size (circa, 1,000 closely printed pages), it makes appeal to other significant studies by the same author in support of its teachings.  I want to say that the author is both brilliant and reflective.  In pushing his theology into farther reaches he has done precisely what I believe a generation or more of recumbent dispensationalists have not done (I do not include progressive dispensationalists in this number, since, although one can learn from it, I believe PD is a different animal than the dispensationalism of Scofield, Chafer, Walvoord, Ryrie, or even Erich Sauer or Michael Vlach).

The following critique is from a certain point of view.  Notwithstanding, I stand behind it as a solid basis for not recommending Beale’s work as an accurate account of biblical theology.

Some Quick Miscellaneous Criticisms:

1. The prolixity of the author’s style.  Beale takes a long time to say what he means.  Granted, one must argue a point, but Beale still needs more words than necessary to say it.  Just a look at his headings and subheadings proves my point. One example from among many will do the job: chapter 19 is entitled “The Story of the Eden Sanctuary, Israel’s Temple, and Christ and the Church as the Ongoing Eschatological Temple of the Spirit in the New-Creational Kingdom.”  Nuff said.

2. This problem leads to another one, which is the dearth of references to or critical interaction with opposing views (a rare example includes a note on page 350 n.94).  As with some other of this author’s work (e.g. The Temple and the Church’s Mission), one gets the feeling that Beale thinks he’s just right and doesn’t need to defend his views.  Hence, someone wishing to find involved discussion with other viewpoints will not find it here.  This is acutely the case with dispensational writers (hardly even mentioned).  This is a covenant theologian writing for covenant theologians.

3. The author’s thesis, drawn as it is from his interpretation of allusions and types, is, I firmly believe, quite beyond the ken of the vast majority of Bible students past or present.  This is esoteric theology funded by esoteric reading of the Bible.  Scripture’s constant “transformations” of seemingly clear teachings via the sorts of subtleties Beale appeals to make it the preserve of scholars.  The Bible is not for Everyman, since the key to its interpretation is an enigma to most of us (saved or lost).  Instead of just using language to tell us straight, it seems, if Beale is to be followed, that God hides the reality within the symbolically concealed.  A man who can write, “Perhaps one of the most striking features of Jesus’ kingdom is that it appears not to be the kind of kingdom prophesied in the OT and expected by Judaism” (431 my emphasis), without contemplating the gravity, philosophically speaking, of what he is saying, is not, in our estimation, a safe guide.  What use then are the tests of a prophet (Deut. 18:22) if fulfillments can be transformed into something the original hearers wouldn’t have understood?  Those who take their queue from Paul, who told others, “Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God, that it will turn out exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27:25), have, it would seem, gotten hold of the wrong end of the interpretative stick.

What is Missing:

1. The most glaring absentees from Beale’s book are the biblical covenants.  Although one might argue that this is explained by this being a New Testament theology, the author’s subtitle, “The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New” fairly screams for attention to the covenants.  He does briefly refer to covenants (e.g. 42-43, 166), and he uses Hugenberger’s definition, which, as already pointed out, presupposes covenants cannot undergo transformation and must mean exactly what they say.  The “problem” of the covenants, as I see it, is that they are useless unless their words are stuck to (see Gal. 3:15).  And God Himself appears to be of the same opinion (see Jer. 34:18-20).  Indeed, the live illustration of the Rechabites in Jer. 35 would lose all its poignancy if the meaning of God’s words could undergo the sorts of “transformation” which Beale and others envisage.   To my way of thinking at least, any biblical theology which ignores the biblical covenants needs to go back to the drawing board.  The biblical covenants act as sentinels against wayward theological constructions – if they are heeded!  But who heeds them?

2. Ignoring dissimilarities.  A real danger for Bible interpreters is to fasten on to similarities which appear to support their position while disregarding important dissimilarities.  Proponents of the mythical Jesus, for instance, like to compare the resurrection stories to ancient myths of Osiris and Tammuz while neglecting major differences between them.  Evolutionists commonly do this in their superficial discussions of homology; choosing not to notice crucial discrepancies in their comparisons.  The dissimilarities tend to show themselves in the details (i.e. in the context).  His remarks about God overcoming chaos and establishing “creational order” (39) find no foothold in Genesis.  On page 40 he avers, “Just as God had achieved  heavenly rest after overcoming the creational chaos…”  Where does he get this?  Assuredly from connecting Genesis 1 with ANE creation accounts (cf. 247 n.44; 630 n.36).

Millennial references are routinely given new creational (as in New Heavens and Earth) fulfillments (56, 71, 101, 109, 121, etc.).  In chapter 19 Ezekiel’s Temple is equated with the New Jerusalem (615), which in turn is the entire new cosmos (616).  As an aside, thanks to the pliability of “apocalyptic genre” Stephen Smalley, in his commentary, can make New Jerusalem the new covenant!  Unperturbed that the New Jerusalem is distinguished from “the new heaven” (Re. 21:1-2), and “the new earth” (Rev. 21:24), and “no temple [is] in it” (21:22), or that the temple in Ezek. 40ff. has specific detailed measurements differing markedly from those in Rev.21:16-17, which God commands it to be built to (Ezek. 43:10-12); that Zadokite priests minister in it (43:19; 44:15), including offering sacrifices for sin (43:21), whereas other Levites serve within it in a lesser capacity (44:10-14), and that it is distinguished from the land around it (47:12-23), the similarities trump all this and the dissimilarities are assimilated.

Are Abraham and Israel truly given Adam’s commission (47-53)?   Does the fact that the Church shares the same general descriptions as Israel mean the many discontinuities between the two vanish in the typological ether?  Do all the patent repetitions of covenant oaths to Israel run out of gas when Jesus comes?  Just what is God saying in Jer. 33:14-24?  Continue reading “The Future of an Allusion – G.K. Beale’s N.T. Biblical Theology (Pt.4 – Critique)”

The Future of an Allusion: G. K. Beale’s NT Biblical Theology (Pt.3)

Part Two

As we continue to the end of this impressive book we come to the second part of Beale’s two chapter treatment of supercessionism (although the doctrine permeates the whole work).

The author is among those who believe all the phenomena in Joel’s prophecy recited by Peter on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:16-21 came to pass, even though it didn’t really.  But that is ancillary to his argument, which is that the prophecy was aimed at Israel (689), and in Christ gentiles become tagged as Israel (690).  This is helped by another allusion, this time to Isaiah 2:2-4; the first part of which “implies that gentiles become identified with Israel.” (691).  Once more, some will miss the subtlety of the connection Beale makes, more particularly because of the physical phenomena described in Isaiah 2 and its seemingly obvious connection to places like Isaiah 11:1-10; Zechariah 14 and Romans 8:18f., which appear to place this transformation after the Second Advent.

The same passing over descriptions of physical transformation occurs in the writers comparison of Isaiah 32:13 with Acts 1:8 (693).  Chapter 20 closes with a look at the work of Rikki Watts and David Pao and their extension of “the view of such scholars as C. H. Dodd and Francis Foulkes that the citation of or allusion to OT passages in the NT are indicators of broader hermeneutic frameworks, storylines,…” and such like (699).  Beale lists five points from Pao which he thinks show that hearers of these OT allusions in the early church would have been able to make the same connections a few twentieth and twenty-first century scholars have made (700).  How many readers and hearers since that time have been able to do likewise is an open question.

Chapter 21 examines several NT passages pertinent to the discussion: Rom. 9:24-26 and 27-29; 10:11-13, 25-26; 2 Cor. 6; Gal. 4:22-27 and 6:16; Eph. 2:13-18; and sundry passages in Hebrews, 1 Peter and Revelation.  It would take extended comments to analyze Beale’s treatments of these texts, but the upshot is that few naysayers would be won over to his views, whereas those already in agreement would feel more secure in their position (the exception would be Romans 9:24-29 where even many “Dutch school” covenant theologians would argue against Beale).

The author’s decided replacementism surfaces again in his closing comment on Gal. 6:16:

Here [Gal. 6:16], as in 2 Cor. 5:14-7:1, it needs to be emphasized that the church in fulfilling Israel’s end-time restoration prophecies [n.b. Israel didn’t fulfill them!] is also fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecies of new creation. (724).

On page 728 Beale provides five ways in which the new covenant has been understood.  However, he misses a sixth way: that the same new covenant, who is Jesus Christ, is made with both the church (at the first coming), and with national Israel (at His second coming).  As all God’s covenant obligations depend for their consummation on righteousness obtained through Christ, once that righteousness is given, nothing stands in the way of literal fulfillment of the original covenanted promises [see e.g., this post].

In the next chapter (22) Israel’s land promises are dealt with.  The now common route of expansion of “the land” is the tack taken.  As per writers like O. Palmer Robertson, the promise is thought to  begin in Eden (751) of which the land covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a recapitulation.  This is called an “expansive temple-land theology” (753) wherein the “temple/land” is to extend throughout the new earth of Rev. 21.  As usual, none of the texts used to prove the contention actually say that this is the case.  Neither is the simple fact that Israel is never equated with its temple dealt with.  What needs to be in place to make it all work is the joint assumption that the NT reinterprets the OT, and the deductive skills of the interpreter play a magisterial role.  For an instance of the latter, the author cites Heb. 11:13 as teaching that Christians have reached New Jerusalem even while living on earth (766), whereas the writer of Hebrews appears to say nothing of the kind. Continue reading “The Future of an Allusion: G. K. Beale’s NT Biblical Theology (Pt.3)”

The Future of an Allusion: G.K. Beale’s NT Biblical Theology (Pt.2)

Part One

The Argument of the Book (continued)

I said in the first part of this review that Beale is a supercessionist (he believes the Church is the “true Israel”), and the second half of the book makes this crystal clear (although it is not absent from the first half).  Although building on things said in the first half, I found the allusions and Beale’s interpretations of them (especially in light of what was overlooked in the contexts), to be more strained and partisan than the previous sixteen chapters.

Part Six investigates the role of the Holy Spirit in the “already/not yet eschatological” paradigm which Beale has set up.  He cites Ezekiel 36:26-27 and 37:1-14 (560-561) as examples of OT Spirit-texts.  Although he has commented on these passages before he does not read them in light of their clear covenantal context (e.g. 34:11-15, 23-27, 36:22-28; 37:22-26), nor does he notice the constant refrain “O mountains of Israel” tying these chapters together.  One should beware of coming to these chapters only to plunder one or two proof texts before departing.  Beale ties these passages to Isaiah 32:15 (but notice v.1) and 44:3-5 (“Jacob” is referred to 3 times in the context, and also in vv.21-22).  Taken as read they relate to a time when “Jacob” (Israel) will be redeemed and blessed in their land and shepherded over by the promised Davidic king; a covenant promise which Beale has already shown was expected to be fulfilled literally.  But it quickly becomes apparent that for Beale “Jacob” is not national Israel, and the fulfillment is upon the “true Israel” and the national promises have dissipated.  Beale associates, rightly, Ezekiel 36 with John 3, and draws the common though questionable conclusion that,

Jesus himself” interprets the new birth as “the inbreaking new age as [being] the beginning fulfillment of the Ezek. 36-37 prophecy that the Spirit would create God’s new people by resurrecting them. (570).

But there is a good deal in Ezekiel 36 and 37 (not to mention chs.34, 40ff.) which is being filtered into this opinion; especially when it is realized that Beale’s now-but-not-yet “resurrection” is in view, along with the belief that “God’s new people” means different people than the nation addressed by the prophet (see 572, 592).  A couple of pages later is a chart (Table 17.2) where comparisons between several Isaianic passages are supposedly being alluded to in Acts 1:8, but I’m afraid all I see are coincidences in wording, which can scarcely be avoided.

2 Corinthians 5:1-4 is then appealed to to prove that we are participating in resurrection life now (579), and then I Cor. 15:20, 23 and Rom. 8:23 are brought together to teach “the believer’s new resurrected spiritual being” (582) shall in future be united to the resurrected body.  The thinking is that we are already resurrected in Christ’s resurrection, even though that resurrection was physical. There follows a section connecting the fruit of the Spirit with Isaiah, although again, some scholars see things others do not.  Next the “two witnesses” of Revelation 11:11-12, whom Beale believes represent the church, are connected with the symbolic resurrection depicted in Ezekiel 47:5, 10, thus closing the circle.

The next chapter (ch.18) develops the author’s previous work on the church in Jesus as the “End-Time Already-Not Yet Eschatological Temple.”  Jesus proclaimed Himself as the the end-time temple in John 2:19-22 (593), and “the underlying narrative” of Acts 2 is interpreted as Christ’s ongoing construction of the spiritual temple by His Spirit.  He cites Isa. 4:2-6, 30:27-30; Jer. 3:16-17, and Zech. 1:16-2:13 to show that the OT itself conceives of  “a nonarchitectural temple” (594. cf. 643 n.55) – these prophecies finding initial fulfillment at Pentecost.  Some Bible students may fail to make the same connections Beale does.

The author also believes that through allusions to Jewish interpretations of Exodus 20:18a,

Luke was intending to some degree that his readers have in mind God’s revelation to Moses at Sinai as a backdrop for understanding the events leading up to and climaxing at Pentecost. (596).

If this is so then Acts (and so also Luke) was clearly written for a Jewish audience (which seems problematic).  This would simplify the problem of interpretive expectation, but would intensify other matters (e.g. Acts 1:6; 3:19-21; 26:7).  Also, did the people prophesy in Acts 2:16-17?  Beale thinks so (602).  What about Acts 2:19-20?  Even non-premillennial interpreters are cautious with their interpretations of Joel’s prophecy in Acts 2.

There follows an enlightening excursus about Sinai being a kind of temple, although it is surely possible to see a temple as a physical representation of the true tabernacle (Heb. 8:2-5)?

Chapter 19 is where he really gets going with the temple motif, where he summarizes the argument of The Temple and the Church’s Mission.  Rev. 21:1-22:5 is called an “apocalyptic vision” (615), raising questions about what New Jerusalem really is.  Then there is some interesting information about the parallels between Eden and Solomon’s Temple along with the reassertion of Adam being the one referred to in Ezekiel. 28:13 (618), his fall being depicted in 28:16 (621).  While this speculation has more going for it than most, it could be argued that the temple was more a remembrance picture of Eden (e.g., A. P. Ross), than Eden itself being a temple.  Still, it is worth pondering. Continue reading “The Future of an Allusion: G.K. Beale’s NT Biblical Theology (Pt.2)”