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The Prophet Zechariah and Modern Criticism: David Baron

June 26, 2014 1 comment

The book of Zechariah, especially the last few chapters, often is mentioned as being a challenge for non-futurists and non-premillennialists.  A recent online conversation among a group of preterist amillennialists, for example, involved people citing various commentaries in support of various “spiritual” or allegorical ideas not related to the specific text itself.

David Baron’s Zechariah commentary, written nearly 100 years ago, shows that nothing is new in biblical commentary and criticism. Here is a look at this rather interesting issue, the various “interpretations” of higher criticism and the idea that Zechariah chapters 9 through 14 were not authored by Zechariah.

Before the modern liberal thought, 17th century Joseph Mede argued for pre-exilic authorship and attributed chapters 9 through 14: to justify inerrancy of the reference in Matthew 27:9-10, which ascribes a prophecy in Zechariah 11 to Jeremiah. And proceeding from this point of view, he discovered, as he thought, internal proof that these chapters belonged not to Zechariah’s, but to Jeremiah s time. He was followed by Hammond, Kidder, Newcome, etc. Here Baron considers the possibility that the mistake occurred with the transcribers of Matthew’s Gospel – rather than the Jewish Church making a mistake in their canon of scripture.

The more serious, unbelieving criticism came later, in the era of “modern criticism.” Like the claims of a “deutero Isaiah” and other anonymous writers who added to the original prophets’ writings, this comes from the root of naturalism and an anti-supernaturalist presupposition, the idea that it is not possible for a human writer to so well predict the future.

reading the many, and for the most part conflicting opinions of modern writers on this question, one is struck with the truth of Keil’s remarks, that the objections which modern critics offer to the unity of the book (and the same may be said also of much of their criticism of other books of the Bible) do not arise from the nature of these scriptures, but “partly from the dogmatic assumption of the rationalistic and naturalistic critics that the Biblical prophecies are nothing more than the productions of natural divination; and partly from the inability of critics, in consequence of this assumption, to penetrate into the depths of the divine revelation, and to grasp either the substance or form of their historical development so as to appreciate it fully.”

All operating from the same naturalist presupposition, the various writers come up with several different ideas, with their only thing in common their rejection of the obvious, their insistence that it could not have been written by the prophet Zechariah. Some say it was written by someone during the later, post-Zechariah, post-exile time period (anywhere from 500 to 300 B.C.), while others give it a pre-exile date as in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s time. S. Lewis Johnson’s observation so well applies here: “When we lack the will to see things as they really are, there is nothing so mysterious as the obvious. David Baron well points out the problem with the pre-exilic view:

it must be pointed out that the prophecy, had it preceded the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans, could not have been earlier than the reign of Jehoiakim, since the mourning for the death of Josiah is spoken of as a proverbial sorrow of the past. But in that case the prophecy which ” anticipates” a miraculous interposition of God for the deliverance of Jerusalem would have been in direct contradiction to Jeremiah, “who for thirty-nine years in one unbroken dirge predicted the evil” which should come upon the city; and the inventive prophet would have been “one of the false prophets who contradicted Jeremiah, who encouraged Zedekiah in his perjury, the punishment whereof Ezekiel solemnly denounced, prophesying his captivity in Babylon as its penalty ; he would have been a political fanatic, one of those who by encouraging rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar brought on the destruction of the city, and in the name of God told lies against God.

It is such an intense paradox that the writing of one convicted by the event of uttering falsehood in the name of God, incorrigible even in the thickening tokens of God s displeasure, should have been inserted among the Hebrew prophets, in times not far removed from those whose events convicted him, that one wonders that any one should have invented it. Great indeed is the credulity of the incredulous!

The full chapter goes into great detail concerning the views of many scholars of that time, and their flawed reasoning. David Baron provides a good summary of those who stand on the shaky ground of human wisdom:

But there is truth in the remark that “Criticism which reels to and fro in a period of nearly 500 years, from the earliest of the prophets to a period a century after Malachi, and this on historical and philological grounds, certainly has come to no definite basis, either as to history or philology. Rather, it has enslaved both to preconceived opinions; and at last, as late a result as any has been, after this weary round, to go back to where it started from, and to suppose these chapters to have been written by the prophet whose name they bear.”

Evangelism, Islam, and the Kingdom of God

June 19, 2014 5 comments

A speaker from a Christian missionary group recently presented an evening conference at a local church, about how to evangelize and reach Muslims. The presentation was a condensed form of material sometimes presented in all-day seminars, covering several interesting points: basic history of the Muslim faith, the cultural connection with blending of state and religion, the overall population of Muslims worldwide (only about 20% are Arabic, and representing many dialects and ethnic groups even within the Arab world), as well as the main beliefs and the 5 or 6 “pillars” of Islam, and how this works-based religion approaches these pillars: really good Muslims will try to follow most or all, while others may skip on some of the works while performing others.

The speaker had experience mainly with Turkish Muslims, and thus no reference to Muslims in more radical Islamic countries.  Rather, he emphasized the variation among individual Muslims and varying commitment level to their faith, while acknowledging that yes, parts of the Koran (Mohammed’s later writings as compared to earlier) do advocate violence.  Nothing was said regarding present-day events, such as the trend evident in Europe, of the increasing Muslim population and the gradual overthrow of European society by these immigrants. Likewise nothing was said regarding Muslim eschatology and the Mahdi, or even any mention of the historic and ongoing enmity between Jews and Muslims.

Much of what the speaker had to say included general evangelistic principles, applicable to any group of unbelievers, whether Muslims, Jews, or secular atheists: personal evangelism rather than theological debates; most Muslims you meet on the street are not that expert in what their religion teaches, so talk to each one and find out what they believe).   As anyone who has spent any time in facebook group theological discussions knows, yes of course such “debates” are not useful for changing someone’s beliefs: whether unbelievers to Christianity, or even for convincing believers of secondary doctrines they misunderstand.  Also, same as with other unbelievers, it usually takes many experiences of hearing about Christianity before God works in the heart; we plant seeds and pray for God to change the heart, but often it takes many years and a lot of exposure to Christian truth before a Muslim, or any other unbeliever, comes to Christ.

It was the speaker’s handling of one doctrinal issue that led me to tune out briefly. After pointing out the Muslim’s negative association with the term “crusade” as referencing what was done in the name of Christianity (Catholicism) so many centuries ago, he asserted that the kingdom is only spiritual and not an earthly kingdom such as that attempted by the crusaders. The second part of that is certainly correct: the kingdom of God is not something such as was attempted by the medieval Crusades. But why not rather acknowledge that Christians do have differing views of this, including the fact that the church itself was generally premillennial for the first 300 years, and that premillennialism returned early in the Protestant era? Instead the speaker gave a brief one-sided and partial “exposition” of Acts 1: just before Jesus’ ascension, the disciples are asking if the kingdom will be restored; after all this time of Jesus teaching them they are still confused, they don’t get it and they don’t know that the kingdom is only spiritual — and instead they need to be out evangelizing the world. As usual with amillennial teaching, the speaker stopped at that verse and did not continue to consider Christ’s actual response in the very next verse.  He did not rebuke them or give any indication that they had an incorrect understanding (that they were such idiots for thinking Christ’s kingdom is a real, physical kingdom), but merely said it was not for them to know the “times or seasons.” And Peter’s speech in Acts 3, plus other references later in Acts, tell us that the apostles later on were still expecting the future kingdom.

A proper perspective helps at this point. Yes, certainly, it is better that Muslims be saved even if with incorrect understanding of a secondary doctrine. The Unitarian, who denies the divinity of Christ yet participates in online Christian eschatology groups, who understands and can defend premillennialism with all the scriptures, yet isn’t even a Christian at all, serves as a clear example of what Al Mohler likely meant by “theological triage.”  Still, premillennialism is not some evil doctrine that would prevent anyone, including Muslims, from coming to Christ. To evangelize Muslims and address this point of the nature of the kingdom — as contrasted with the negative Crusade experience — one can simply explain that the kingdom is something that will be established by Christ upon His return, not that which has been attempted by the outward visible “Church” during this age.

The Apostle Paul, the Intermediate State, and the Resurrection

June 12, 2014 1 comment

Spurgeon once observed (I cannot recall the specific sermon, though somewhere during his first five years or so) that, given the choice between being among the dead who will be resurrected, or being alive and caught up, at Christ’s Second Advent, he would choose the former. His reasoning was in identification with Christ’s sufferings and the common experience of all men through the thousands of years, as contrasted with those still alive at Christ’s return – that they would not have had that same experience and identification with previous generations of believers who did experience corruption of this body and the disembodied state prior to the resurrection.

Yet a study through 2 Corinthians 5 (S. Lewis Johnson’s series) reveals something more basic, that most of us can surely relate to. Here the apostle Paul describes the intermediate state, and, consistent with his words elsewhere (1 Thessalonians 4, and 1 Corinthians 15), Paul understood the two alternatives available: to die and experience the intermediate state (unclothed), or the instant, in the twinkling of an eye experience of those who are caught up to meet the Lord in the air. Here Paul expresses his own personal desire, that if the Lord wills, he would prefer to meet the Lord at His Coming:

The apostle is a person who is afflicted with what someone has called world strangeness. And so he lives here, but he’s not really happy here ultimately. To him, to live is Christ, but to die is gain. But he wants to die in a certain way. He doesn’t want to be naked, as he says in the following verse, inasmuch as we having put it on shall not be found naked…. He wants to avoid the disembodied state. He doesn’t want to be a spirit or soul without a body. The intermediate state is just such a state. Those who have died as Christians and have gone on from our presence now are with the Lord, but they don’t have their bodies yet.

. . . modern theologians and our contemporary New Testament scholars like to say Paul has changed his views of his life expectancy. That’s possible. He may have become convinced that the experiences are such and he’s growing old…. so far as his theological doctrine, there is no evidence at all that he changed his eschatology. Those two alternatives were always before the apostle. He always set them forth. And all he does here is simply reveal his preference; his preference is the rapture, being caught up in the presence of the Lord, and not his physical death. Paul’s preference is mine as well. And I imagine it’s the preference of every believing person.

The Second Coming of Christ: Charles Spurgeon

June 9, 2014 5 comments

I’m now reading through Charles Spurgeon’s “The Second Coming of Christ” (available on Kindle for 99 cents), a collection of seven lectures on several prophetic texts. Spurgeon himself observed that he rarely addressed the doctrine of eschatology, yet through the years he delivered quite a few messages. I have read some of his sermons on this topic, not in this collection, including sermons on the First Resurrection (Revelation 20) and about the future restoration of Israel – but these seven specifically relate to Christ’s Second Advent and are collected together in this work available in print as well as in electronic format.

It is Spurgeon’s textual style of preaching, in which he examines all the facets of a text itself and expands on those words, with excellent insights, application, and practical considerations.  The seven sermons look at the following texts: Revelation 1:7, Matthew 25:31-36, Acts 1:10-11, Romans 2:16, Titus 2:11-14, 1 John 2:28, and Luke 12:37-38.

These can also be found in the Spurgeon Gems collection of PDFs:

Among the highlights of what I’ve read so far: emphasis on the certainty of Christ’s Return (Revelation 1:7) and that every eye will see Him in His glory, including all who ever lived:

All that dwell upon the face of the earth— if not all at the same moment, yet still with the same certainty— will behold the once crucified Lord. They will not be able to hide themselves nor to hide Him from their eyes. They will dread the sight, but it will come upon them, even as the sun shines on the thief who delights in the darkness. They will be obliged to own in dismay that they behold the Son of Man. So overwhelmed with the sight, they will not be able to deny it. He will be seen of those who have been long since dead. What a sight that will be for Judas, for Pilate, for Caiaphas, and for Herod! What a sight it will be for those who, in the course of their lives, said that there was no Savior and no need of one, or that Jesus was a mere man and His blood was not a propitiation for sin! Those that scoffed and reviled Him have long since died, but they will all rise again to this heritage among the rest: they will see Him whom they blasphemed sitting in the clouds of heaven.

Concerning the reward of the righteous, and its time as contrasted with the present situation:

To be despised and rejected of men is the Christian’s lot. Even among his fellow Christians, he will not always stand in good repute. It is not unqualified kindness or total love that we receive, even from the saints. If you look to Christ’s bride herself for your reward, you will miss it. If you expect to receive your crown from the hand of your brothers in the ministry who know your labors and who ought to sympathize with your trials, you will be mistaken. “When the Son of man shall come in his glory” is your time of recompense— not today, tomorrow, or at any time in this world. Reckon nothing that you acquire, no honor that you gain, to be the reward of your service to your Master; that dividend is reserved for the time “when the Son of man shall come in his glory.”

And, regarding our separation from the world:

Even on earth, you will have the most enjoyment of Christ when you are most separated from this world . Be assured, although the separated path does not seem an easy one and it will certainly entail persecution and the loss of many friends, yet it is the happiest walking in the world. You conforming Christians who can enter into the world’s mirth to a certain degree, you cannot know— and never will know as you now are— the inward joys of those who live in lonely but lovely fellowship with Jesus . The nearer you get to the world, the further you must be from Christ. I believe the more thoroughly a bill of divorce is given by your spirit to every earthly object upon which your soul can set itself, the closer will be your communion with your Lord.

The third chapter was personally convicting, with emphasis on proper balance in our lives, to fulfill our responsibilities and not allow excessive curiosity such as the apostles who remained there staring up at the sky after Christ had disappeared from sight:

A steadfast gaze into heaven may be to a devout soul a high order of worship, but if this fills up much of the working time, it might become the most idle form of folly…. Do not misunderstand, beloved. I would have you understand all mysteries, if you could. But do not forget that our chief business here below is to cry, “Behold the Lamb!” (John 1: 29). By all means, read and search until you know all that the Lord has revealed concerning things to come, but first of all see to it that your children are brought to the Savior’s feet and that you are workers together with God in the building of His church.