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Horatius Bonar, the Blessings and Curses, and Hermeneutics and Application

May 7, 2020 12 comments

It’s been ten years since I read Horatius Bonar’s Prophetical Landmarks, and it’s time to revisit it, a good refresher, now that my overall doctrinal views in other areas – from the last several years of study – more closely align with the 19th century covenantal premillennialists.  (For reference, here are posts from 2010 on Horatius Bonar:  On Interpreting the Prophets  and On the Millennial Question.)

While reading through the Westminster Confession and catechisms (a calendar year reading), along with the scripture references, I noticed WLC question 28

Q 28. What are the punishments of sin in this world?

The punishments of sin in this world are either inward,
as blindness of mind,
a reprobate sense,
strong delusions,
hardness of heart,
horror of conscience,
and vile affections;
or outward, as the curse of God upon the creatures for our sakes,
and all other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, estates, relations, and employments;
together with death itself.

The highlighted phrase in the answer, includes as scripture reference, a large section from Deuteronomy 28, verses 15-68 — which describes the prophecy regarding the nation of Israel in its apostasy.

Now, as I understand, the Westminster Divines added the ‘scripture proofs’ only upon request from the Parliament, and their intent was for people to focus not so much on the actual scripture proofs, but as a guide to their commentaries on the scripture references.  That would be the next step in a study here, to find and read their commentaries on this passage.  I understand the general application purpose—from apostate Israel and the temporal evils that befell them, to the general precept of what can happen, temporally, to unbelievers.  That unbelievers, along with the godly, suffer affliction in this life is clear from many places; Thomas Boston’s The Crook in the Lot (which I’m currently reading), an exposition of Ecclesiastes 1:15, explains well the type of suffering experienced by everyone, and the purpose of that suffering in unbelievers, as contrasted with its purpose in the lives of God’s people.

Deuteronomy 28, though, includes very specific prophecies, regarding what would happen to the Jews in the centuries and millennia after Moses’s speech – specific things that were later experienced, including drought, defeated before enemies, property being given to the nation’s enemies, cannibalism, followed by being scattered throughout the world and even to the point that they would offer themselves as slaves to their enemies, but “there will be no buyer.”  If Deuteronomy 28 could be used as an application and a scripture reference for the temporal suffering experienced by unbelievers generally, then Deuteronomy 7:12-14 and 28:3-14 should equally apply in a general application sense to believers.   As both sets of passages apply to the same people group (in this case Israel, the Jewish church), I see that a general application could be made:  the one part, curses, applies to the unbelieving part of Israel (the visible members of the covenant community, who do not have the true inward saving faith), while the other part, the blessings, to the invisible church, those who actually are saved.  Yet the specifics of these passages, the primary meaning, has reference to the specific nation of Israel and its history, with specific, detailed curse events as well as detailed blessing events.

Horatius Bonar was writing in response to 19th century spiritualizing amillennialists, and provided a great lesson on plain-language literal hermeneutics and the treatment of prophecy in scripture, such as this chapter on Israel.  Regarding the idea of literal curses upon Israel (which were fulfilled, the curses mentioned in Deuteronomy 28) versus “spiritual” blessings in Christ, Bonar observed:

Up to this hour, then, everything respecting Israel has been literally accomplished. Nothing in what has hitherto occurred in their strange history gives the slightest countenance to the figurative interpretations for which some so strenuously contend. Why is Israel still an exile, an outcast, a wanderer, if there be no literal curse? Why is Jerusalem laid in heaps, and Mount Zion ploughed as a field (Jer. 26:18)? Why is the crown of Samaria broken, its ruins rolled down into the valley, and its vines all withered from the mountain side (Jer. 31:5; Mic. 1:6)? Why is Lebanon hewn down, the oaks of Bashan withered, the roses of Sharon gone? Why do the fields of Heshbon languish? Why is the vine of Sibmah uprooted, the summer fruits of Elealeh faded, and why is Carmel bare? Why is baldness come upon Gaza, and why is Ashkelon cut off? Why is Ammon a couching-place for flocks, and the palaces of Bozrah swept away? Why is Moab fled, Idumea become a wilderness, and Mount Seir laid desolate? Why is all this, if there be no literal curse? And why, if there has been such a literal curse, is the literal blessing to be denied?

It is foolish to answer, as many do, “The spiritual blessing is far richer; why contend about blessings of meaner value?” Why? Because we believe that God has revealed them; because we believe that as God has been dishonored by Israel’s being an outcast from the land of promise, so He will be honored by their peaceful settlement again; because as we know He was glorified in leading up Israel, His firstborn, out of Egypt, from the tyranny of Pharaoh, through the wilderness into Canaan, so we believe He designs to glorify Himself by a second exodus, and a second establishment in the land given to Abraham and his seed; because as He magnified His name and power in the sight of the heathen by bringing His people out from Babylon after seventy years’ captivity, so we believe He will magnify that name again by leading them out of Babylon the Great, and planting them in their ancient possessions to inherit them forever; never to be disturbed by the enemy; never to hear the voice of war again.

Among the general principles that Bonar sets forth for the literal interpretation of prophecies regarding Israel, is this one:

When their scattering and their gathering are placed together, and when we are told, that as they have been scattered, so they shall be gathered. Very striking and explicit are the prophecies to this effect in Deuteronomy, where the plainness of the style precludes the idea of figures. How, for instance, could the most ingenious spiritualizer contrive to explain away such a passage as this,—“If any of thine be driven out unto the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will he fetch thee; and the Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers” (Deut. 30:4)

Horatius Bonar’s Prophetical Landmarks is still good reading, with Bonar’s rich prose style and use of scripture, and its explanation of solid hermeneutical principles.

What’s in a Name? (Understanding of Dispensationalism)

August 22, 2013 10 comments

An uproar in the online blog world this week started with David Murray’s post at Ligonier, actually an excerpt from his book, in which he suggested – rather casually, in passing – several reasons why preachers avoid teaching the Old Testament.  Reason #4 was quite out of place amongst the others: Dispensationalism, or rather the author’s mistaken concept of dispensationalism based on lack of familiarity with what dispensationalism actually believes and teaches, plus John MacArthur’s comments in this interview.   Jesse Johnson at the Cripplegate soon responded, and then David Murray at his blog featured a guest post from Dan Phillips, also in response to this erroneous idea that dispensationalism leads to neglect of the Old Testament.  The comments continue at those two posts, but what I want to focus on, here, is an overall look at some of the common doctrines (and some myths) associated with ‘dispensationalism’ by outsiders, and clarify these issues.

Dispensationalism Focuses Too Much On The Dispensations Rather Than the Covenants

This may be true of some seminaries and perhaps Arminian dispensational churches, at least the ones mentioned from people’s past experiences.  But current-day dispensationalism – and by this I mean Calvinist Dispensationalism as represented today at the Masters Seminary and associated teachers – gives the proper emphasis to the biblical covenants and understanding of the unconditional, unilateral covenants, especially the Abrahamic, Davidic and New Covenants.

Dispensationalism Leads to Neglect of the Old Testament

This issue has been well addressed this week by Jesse Johnson and Dan Phillips.  My own observation here is that actually the dispensationalists have a stronger overall unity of scripture and God’s overall purpose, including the overall biblical theme of the Kingdom of God, which covers everything from Genesis to Revelation (and special emphasis on the reverse-parallels seen in Genesis and Revelation).

Dispensationalism Teaches Two Ways of Salvation

This myth has been responded to many times, yet some non-dispensationalists keep repeating it, seemingly in willful ignorance.  See this article from Tony Garland, also this previous post and its quote from Dr. Richard Mayhue.  Dispensationalism has never taught such; dispensationalism addresses eschatology and ecclesiology but not soteriology.

The Pre-Trib Rapture

Current-day dispensationalism does consider the pre-trib rapture a secondary matter, of lesser importance and not essential to the basics of dispensationalism.  See, for instance, Michael Vlach’s list of six essentials of dispensationalism.  That said, it is true that the vast majority of dispensationalists, and even progressive dispensationalists, believe in the pre-trib rapture, though a few hold to mid-trib or pre-wrath (3/4) rapture.  I’ve found the writings of one person who refers to himself as a Post-Trib Progressive Dispensationalist (but that individual is also evidently a non-Calvinist).  It is also worth noting that, often, those who hold to the essentials of dispensationalism (as defined by Dr. Vlach) yet post-trib rapture, distance themselves from the term “dispensationalism” due to the strong association of that term with the pre-trib rapture.  S. Lewis Johnson in his day certainly viewed dispensationalism as closely associated with the pre-trib rapture, observing in the Divine Purpose series (mid-1980s) that this is one challenge for dispensationalists: to work on the fine points of the hermeneutical claims, the defense of their millennialism against recent challenges to their position on the relation of pre-tribulationism to dispensationalism on their soteriology and on their integration of dispensational truths and to the biblical covenantal unfolding of Scripture which they themselves often acknowledge.  Barry Horner (author of Future Israel) never calls himself a dispensationalist yet holds to the essentials as defined by Michael Vlach.  Horner further describes several of the 19th century classic premillennialists as “non-dispensational” though they too believed in the future restoration of Israel; among these teachers, notably B. W. Newton, S.P. Tregelles, and Nathaniel West, believed basically the same as the early dispensationalists (and current day dispensationalists as described here) but with post-trib rapture.

Premillennialism With Future Restoration of Israel to Their Land

This is one of the defining essentials of dispensationalism.  Here, too, is some irony.  As noted concerning the pre-trib or post-trib rapture, here is where some believers, who hold the essentials of dispensationalism (including Future Israel) yet are post-trib, distance themselves from the label of “dispensationalist.”  Yet it is on this very point, premillennialism with future restoration of Israel, that non-premillennialists over-generalize, unaware of the different variations in various individuals’ overall Christian beliefs: anyone who believes this “must be dispensational,” which of course includes the whole package of other ideas of that label (pre-trib rapture, antinomianism, two ways of salvation, neglecting the Old Testament).  Especially appropriate here, and to conclude, Barry Horner observes:

This writer’s frequent experience has been, especially within a Reformed environment, that upon his expression of a future premillennial hope, he is then subjected to careful scrutiny. Qualification is sought as to whether one is an historic premillennialist, after the manner of George Eldon Ladd, or a dispensationalist after the lineage of Darby, Schofield, Chafer, Walvoord, etc. The tone of the enquiry suggests that the former is acceptable while the latter is unacceptable. So explanation is made that one believes in a glorious future time when the redeemed people of God, distinctively comprising national Israel and the Gentile nations, will enjoy the consummation of their salvation on an earth of renovated spiritual materiality where the glorious, spiritually tangible and substantial Jesus Christ will reign from Jerusalem in the midst of Israel. At this juncture, the common response is that such a belief identifies one as a dispensationalist, especially since Ladd is said to have not incorporated such particularity concerning Israel within his premillennialism. In other words, if a person was an historic premillennialist, he would not retain any clear-cut distinction between Israel and the church, but especially within the one redeemed people of God in their future manifestation. When one then points out and specifically names a number of notable Christians who were not dispensationalists, such as Horatius Bonar, J. C. Ryle, and C. H. Spurgeon, even postmillennialist Jonathan Edwards, who nevertheless believed in the aforementioned scenario, that is Israel and the Gentile nations retaining their distinctive identity under the earthly reign of Christ, the frequent response is that of a blank stare.

Historic (Classic) Premillennialists: Free Online Books

August 20, 2013 18 comments

Update (addition) to the resources listed here:  an online discussion group for Historic (Classic) Premillennialism.

Barry Horner, in Future Israel and other writings (see page 5 here and page 14 here) has mentioned several names of classic (Judeo-Centric) historic premillennialists.  The list mentioned by him, and mentioned elsewhere in connection with Horner’s work, includes well-known preachers such as Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle, and many others as well:  Adolph Saphir, David Baron, Andrew and Horatius Bonar, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, George N.H. Peters, Nathaniel West, Henry Grattan Guinness, B.W. Newton, S. P. Tregelles, Joseph Seiss, and Charles Simeon. These men lived and wrote during the 19th and early 20th century, and much of their work is now available in the public domain, free in online and e-book format.

See this previous post for many available works from Adolph Saphir and David Baron.  The following is a links-reference to the many available works by these other Christian premillennialists, as well as a good resource from a 20th century writer, Robert D. Culver.  Note that many, but not all, of the titles here relate to prophecy and premillennialism.  Google Play is one of the formats available, but for those desiring e-pub or PDF format, note that Google Play includes options to download e-pub and/or PDF formats available for many of the titles.

Robert D. Culver (1916-) :  Daniel and the Latter Days (1954)

Andrew Bonar (1810-1892):

Horatius Bonar (1808-1889):

Volume 1 (1849)
Volume 2 (1850)
1854 
1855
1857
1858
1864
Volume 19 (1867)
Volume 23 (1871)

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900):


George N.H. Peters (1825-1909):

Nathaniel West (1826-1906):


Henry Grattan Guinness

Joseph A. Seiss  (1823-1904):


 Benjamin Wills Newton (1807-1899)

Many of the titles are tracts less than 50 pages.  Full-length books include:

Tracts relating to eschatology:


Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (1813-1875)


Alexander Keith (1791-1880)


Websites:

The True Historical Premillennial View: Not George Ladd’s Version

September 14, 2012 19 comments

From the material available online today, many would conclude that “historic premillennialism” refers to the teaching of 20th century theologian George Elton Ladd—and no other view.  See, for example, Michael Vlach’s article “How Does Historic Premillennialism Differ from Dispensational Premillennialism?”,  this “Eschatology Comparison” chart, and this article “An Historical Premillennialist Takes Issue With Pretribulational Dispensationalism.”

Similar to how many people associate the specific teachings of classic dispensationalism with any reference to dispensationalism, here too is a real point of confusion: the failure to recognize the different beliefs within the label of “historic premillennialism”–or any form of premillennialism other than “dispensational premillennialism.” Occasionally people mention “covenant premillennialism” to highlight the view of some, such as Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle, who believed premillennialism yet who held to the theological covenants of Covenant Theology (as contrasted with the Calvinist disp-premill emphasis on the biblical covenants).   “Historic premillennialism” is the more common term, though, and yet George Ladd’s version of premillennialism could more accurately be called “contemporary (non-dispensational) premillennialism.”  As a commenter at the last link above pointed out, “Ladd’s overall position appears to be of more recent vintage than Classic Dispensationalism. Thus I find it ironic that he’s now considered to be the standard bearer for Historic Premillenialism. He departed significantly from the historic premillenialism of men like Horatius Bonar, J.C. Ryle and C.H. Spurgeon, just to name a few. None of the above men were pretrib, but they all believed in a physical restoration of the Jews to the land, which today is generally regarded as a dispensational distinctive.”

In recent years Barry Horner has done much in researching and publishing the history of millennial views, as in his “Future Israel” book and related website, as well as this work available online: “Judeo-Centric Eschatology: An Ethical Challenge to Reformed Theology.”  In this publication, Horner suggests another term to describe the truly historical premillennial view:  Judeo-Centric Premillennialism.  Chapter Five especially looks at the views of many premillennialists from centuries past, sketching out the details concerning “Israel and Judeo-centric Premillennialism beyond the Reformation” followed by “Israel and the Contemporary Historic Premillennialism of George Eldon Ladd.”

As Barry Horner explains regarding true historic premillennialism as opposed to the current day George Ladd version:

“… (then) explanation is made that one believes in a glorious future time when the redeemed people of God, distinctively comprising national Israel and the Gentile nations, will enjoy the consummation of their salvation on an earth of renovated spiritual materiality where the glorious, spiritually tangible and substantial Jesus Christ will reign from Jerusalem in the midst of Israel. At this juncture, the common response is that such a belief identifies one as a dispensationalist, especially since Ladd is said to have not incorporated such particularity concerning Israel within his premillennialism. In other words, if a person was an historic premillennialist, he would not retain any clear-cut distinction between Israel and the church, but especially within the one redeemed people of God in their future manifestation. When one then points out and specifically names a number of notable Christians who were not dispensationalists, such as Horatius Bonar, J. C. Ryle, and C. H. Spurgeon, even postmillennialist Jonathan Edwards, who nevertheless believed in the aforementioned scenario, that is, Israel and the Gentile nations retaining their distinctive identity under the earthly reign of Christ, the frequent response is that of a blank stare.”

…we will most definitely maintain that, in general, both historic premillennialism and progressive dispensationalism have upheld a diversity involving Israel and the Gentile nations within the redeemed people of God. Reluctance on Ladd’s part to bring Judeo-centric clarity and definition into his eschatology at this point places him outside the overwhelming emphasis of historic premillennialism. Hence, in this most important aspect of premillennialism, his perspective is decidedly not historic or normative.

The outline of this chapter further explains:

1. The two peoples of dispensational premillennialism:

… earlier belief in two new covenants was eventually abandoned by Walvoord, Ryrie, and presumably Fruchtenbaum, in favor of the one new covenant revealed in Jeremiah 31. … further development … has more willingly accepted the implications of this one new covenant for the redeemed, whatever distinctions they might incorporate…. Israel and the church are in fact one people of God, who together share in the forgiveness of sins through Christ and partake of his indwelling Spirit with its power for covenant faithfulness, while they are nonetheless distinguishable covenant participants comprising what is one unified people.

2. The one people of classic historic premillennialism: classic historic premillennialism, with exceptions acknowledged, nevertheless has specifically upheld the place of national Israel within the people of God of the church of Jesus Christ.

3. The one people of Jesus Christ’s assembly/church according to Scripture.

In a world where Gentile Christianity predominates, there is a necessity to offer some considerations here concerning the “Church” which name has, over the centuries, been “Gentilized” so that its mention is commonly identified with Gentile congregations, indeed a Gentile kingdom of God…. Hence the New Jerusalem shall not only acknowledge the twelve gates named after the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel, but also the twelve foundation stones named after the twelve apostle, all twenty-four names being Jewish.

Michael Vlach: Has the Church Replaced Israel?

April 5, 2012 11 comments

A friend sent me a copy of Vlach’s recently published book, “Has the Church Replaced Israel?”  I don’t often have opportunity to read current books, and so I’ve enjoyed reading this one.  Vlach’s book is one of only a few that give serious treatment to the scriptural and theological issues of biblical dispensationalism. I’ve read some of his online articles at his website (Theological Studies.org), so it was nice to read this book also.  I’ve not completed the book yet, just the first ten chapters, and so the following is from my observations thus far.

Vlach notes the standard objection from those who don’t like to use the term “replace,”  and establishes the definition from the fact that, regardless of what term people want to give for their belief, that belief does involve replacing one promise to one people group with another promise to a different group.  The well-known amillennialist story of a dad promising his son a set of wheels, so that he expects a car, and instead gets a super-duper sports car, is told here, with the clear point that the illustration is not accurate.  In supersessionism, the dad gives the fancy sports car to someone else instead of to his son.

After establishing the definition, several chapters cover church history, from the 1st century to the present, and provide great detail concerning the church-replacement views of various theologians.  The basic content here is similar to Barry Horner’s coverage in his “Future Israel” book (which Vlach also mentions among his sources), though with different coverage in some of the details.  I had forgotten some of the details from Horner’s book, and Vlach’s material is likewise refreshing.  Among the important points, Vlach brings out the fact that church replacement was already well entrenched by the time of Justin Martyr, who was only saying in his own words an idea not original with him.  Vlach also emphasizes the difference between “strong supersessionism” (no future for national Israel) with “moderate supersessionism” (future large-scale salvation for Israel, associated with the Second Coming), and he presents good evidence that throughout history the majority of the church have held to moderate supersessionism.  Only Martin Luther, in some of his later writings, is especially noted as taking a strong supersessionist view.  From the historical case Vlach further suggests that strong supersessionism is a minority view.

Next, Vlach considers the theological and hermeneutical issues, including treatment of specific passages.  This book covers very well the overall distinctions, such as the difference between the supersessionist  “either-or” and the “both-and” view of non-supersessionists.  A NT passage can have application to us in the church age, but that in no way negates the original prophecy and its meaning.  Vlach also discusses the idea of partial-fulfillment, and so it appears he takes more of a “progressive dispensationalist” approach regarding some of the specific texts he addresses:  partial fulfillment of a text “in some way” by the church, with future complete fulfillment.

Another good topic covered is typology, an issue which supersessionists rely heavily on for support of their replacement view.  Again, Israel is not a type of the church, even if some aspects of Israel’s experience have application for us in the church today.  Vlach (like John MacArthur) takes the more limited definition of typology, that only those things explicitly revealed in the NT as “types” can be called types – and “types” are something different than illustrations.  I considered this matter last year (this post), and now better understand the different definitions of “types.” Vlach is among those who see two categories, “types” versus “illustrations,” whereas some like-minded teachers view all illustrations as types (the words being synonymous): regardless of whether an explicit mention is made in the NT, a type/illustration follows the rules regarding the parallel correspondences.  The main problem with supersessionist typology, as I see it, is the broadbrushing without addressing specific passages.  It’s not enough to just say “Israel is a type of the church, God’s people” and disregard most if not all of the Old Testament as not worth serious study.  Types (regardless of whether they are specifically called that in the NT) involve specifics: a specific Old Testament passage, and specific correspondences between the original event, person, or institution and the New Testament equivalent understanding.

What I learned and found especially interesting is the treatment of specific passages, and the different variations of interpretations even amongst non-supersessionist theologians.  For instance, Vlach’s handling of Acts 15, where James cites Amos during the Jerusalem council, seems rather weak as compared to other expositions of that passage (see this post and this follow-up). Here, he does point out the importance of looking at the overall context, that Acts 15 is not a passage talking about eschatology; the main topic is the acceptance of Gentiles as Gentiles rather than Jewish converts, and so no one should use that text to prove the amillennialist view.  He also notes that James only says that “this agrees with” rather than citing fulfillment.  But then Vlach takes what appears to be a middle-road approach, that James must have seen this as somehow a partial fulfillment “in some sense” of the original Amos passage.  Yet I did not see where he further explained what he meant there.

Despite a few shortcomings (such as the handling of Acts 15), though, I have enjoyed reading Michael Vlach’s book, Has the Church Replaced Israel?  Vlach gives a good read overall, concerning the basic issues and answering the overall reasons that supersessionists give for their interpretation.

Common Claims Against Dispensationalism: Responses

August 15, 2011 Leave a comment

The following come from various online discussions with individuals who cited reasons for rejecting dispensationalism, along with my responses.

Claim:  Dispensationalism is constantly changing from classic to modified to Progressive.

Response:  Dispensationalism is not “constantly changing from classic, to modified, to Progressive.” The way to describe what you have observed is: within the overall “umbrella” of dispensationalism some variations exist, on the lesser points such as the number of dispensations, the rapture timing, or on issues that really do not pertain to dispensationalism (such as Lordship salvation views, which is soteriology). These “changes” or differences also do not come from the same men changing their own views, but from these relatively minor differences among different theologians.

That said, it is equally true that the overall “umbrella” of Covenant Theology has just as much variation among different theologians. Some within overall CT hold to infant baptism, others do not. Some within CT see a future large-scale national salvation for Israel, while others think “all Israel” only means those Jews saved during the church age. Hoekema mixes things on his definitions of the Millennial Earth versus the Eternal State New Heavens New Earth. Some within CT formed another view of “New Covenant Theology” departing from some parts of CT while clinging to others. Some within CT are postmillennial with dominion theology ideas, while others are amillennial. Some postmills and amills are preterist, while some are historicist, and even a few amills are futurist, believing in a future great time of trouble before the end and Christ sets up the Eternal State. CT itself was only formulated in the 17th century and has had many variations since.

So we might as well say that “Covenant Theology is constantly changing, and thus unreliable and untrue.”

Another Claim:  As far as the idea that the New Testament “continually spoke with distinctions regarding Jews and Gentiles,” check out Ephesians 2:11-19. It clearly implies that gentile believers are no longer excluded from citizenship in Israel and strangers to the covenants. As far as, “The New Testament writers never said that the prophets were writing about the church or that those OT promises were transferred to the church age,” check out Peter’s use of quotes from Exodus 19:6 and 23:22 in I Peter 2:9.

Response:  So??  Ephesians 2:11-19 agrees with the point of Romans 11 and the wild and cultivated branches of the Olive Tree.  We are all included in the one people of God, which includes both Jews and Gentiles; we are now included in the same Olive Tree and receive the same promises given in the root, the Abrahamic covenant promises.

That does not nullify the distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, any more than where Paul says in Gal. 3:28 that “…there is now no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  Just because all are now included in the people of God does not mean that men become women or women become men, or that slaves and free cease to have their distinct identities and roles.

Same with 1 Peter 2:9, just as the Jews have that identity as a chosen race and holy nation, so Gentiles who are brought to believe are brought into the one people of God, into that olive tree that includes BOTH Jews and Gentiles, yet distinctions of persons and roles still exist.  We’re all believers, but have our different roles and functions within God’s Divine Plan and Purpose:  slaves, free, great or small, male or female, Israelites (descended from Jacob), or Gentiles (descended from Japheth or Ham, etc.).

Follow-up Claim:
It’s amazing that every time that passage (Gal 3:28) is cited, dispensationalists are quick to explain what it ~doesn’t~ mean, but never really get around to explaining what it does mean. Given the context of (Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ…) it seems clear that Paul'”

Response:  Read Barry Horner’s “Future Israel” which explains it very well.  One aspect of the Abrahamic covenant referred to a singular seed of Abraham (Christ), but another part of that covenant very clearly talked about plural descendants (see Gen. 17:7-8).  In Galatians Paul dealt with one aspect of the Abrahamic covenant, but that covenant included other provisions as well, and those other provisions in the covenant are still there.  Just because someone gives particular commentary about one part of a covenant or contract, does not mean that the other parts of that covenant are null and void.

Heaven: Spiritual Vision or New Creation

May 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Michael Vlach’s recent blogs have articulated something I had sensed but was unable to define and put into words.  At the local church (and probably common at many churches), heaven is mentioned infrequently and in a somewhat-detached way:  we want to live out our lives here and go to heaven when we die, yet with no joy of the anticipation of our blessed Hope that Christ will return and bring us to Him (ref. John 14:3 and 1 Thess. 4).  The topic of heaven comes up (as recently), only when a few members of the congregation are afflicted with cancer and facing physical difficulties ahead.  We hear platitudes about how we must endure, that God be glorified in the lives of those afflicted with cancer, and talk about ultimately going to a place of peace and rest.  Yet throughout I get the distinct impression that they really would prefer living here as long as possible, that they are not really longing for heaven–only that the idea has been thrust upon them due to physical distress.  No mention is made of the resurrection and our physical bodies, but only of “heaven” — by which they mean the biblical place of paradise (our intermediate state, before the Second Coming and the resurrection).

Listening to such a seemingly disinterested perception of heaven, I am reminded of Barry Horner’s observation concerning the heavenly city Jerusalem.  Contrary to what the standard Reformed amillennialist thinks about Hebrews 11:10, nothing in that text states or implies that the “real” land of promise is only a spiritual name for heaven, or that the city Abraham was looking forward to is confined to a non-physical location up in heaven.  Rather, Abraham desired the place where God was — and such is not to be confined to a non-material place.  The real point is to be in the presence of God: and that can be here on the renovated Earth during the kingdom, or on the new Earth (Revelation 21), just as easily as in present-day heaven.

At Vlach’s site, two recent postings about “Models of Eschatology” have defined the two ideas regarding heaven:  the “Spiritual Vision” model  and the “New Creation” model.  The “Spiritual Vision” model describes the inherent philosophy and thinking behind such disinterested attitudes so commonly observed among church-goers:

The spiritual vision model was inherently linked to allegorical and spiritual methods of interpretation that were opposed to literal interpretation based on historical-grammatical contexts. Blaising also notes that the spiritual vision model “was intimately connected with practices of ‘spiritual interpretation’ that were openly acknowledged to be contrary to the literal meaning of the words being interpreted.”  “The long term practice of reading Scripture in this way so conditioned the Christian mind that by the late Middle Ages, the spiritual vision model had become an accepted fact of the Christian worldview.”

By contrast, the “New Creation” model describes the biblical view of heaven — that which Barry Horner has referred to as “spiritual materiality.”  This model “emphasizes the physical, social, political, and geographical aspects of eternal life. It emphasizes a coming new earth, the renewal of life on this new earth, bodily resurrection, and social and political interactions among the redeemed.”

This approach follows the language of passages like Isaiah 25, 65, 66; Revelation 21; and Romans 8 which speak of a regenerated earth. A new creation model emphasizes the future relevance of matters such as renewal of the world and universe, nations, kings, economics, agriculture, and social-political issues. In sum, a new creation model operates on the belief that life in the future kingdom of God is largely similar to God’s purposes for the creation before the fall of Adam, which certainly involved more than just a spiritual element. Thus, the final Heaven is not an ethereal spiritual presence in the sky. As Russell D. Moore points out, “The point of the gospel is not that we would go to heaven when we die. Instead, it is that heaven will come down, transforming and renewing the earth and the entire universe.”

Little wonder that so many church-goers are more focused on this life and enjoying it, when their notions of the after-life are associated with a very non-physical “spiritual presence in the sky.”  Certainly we cannot understand very much about heaven, thinking from our limited mortal understanding, but the “new creation” model — the view expressed in so many great scripture passages about the future kingdom and eternal state — gives us a few glimpses into wonders far greater than anything we can imagine, especially imaginations limited to non-physical Platonic ideas.

Covenant Theology, Amillennialism and Replacement Theology: A Brief History

March 14, 2011 2 comments

An online friend recently asked this question:
Covenant theology…I’m mixed up.  I agree with the big parts — grace, works, redemption through the ages, but why are so many CT’ers amils?  And that Israel is all but taken out of God’s promises?

Like many others, this person had come across various references to Covenant Theology, Reformed Theology, and other general concepts — mainly from reading Christian blogs — but had not (yet) researched the subjects enough, and so wanted a general framework of how all these pieces fit together.

Following is my response, a very brief overview from church history.  For those already more familiar with these issues this may seem too simplistic, and lacking in detailed explanation — but I put this forward for those desiring the basic framework.  I have also included a few links for further reference.

1.  Church Replacement Theology — the idea of the Gentile church taking priority over the Jews — began by the mid-to-late 2nd century, brought about as the result of increasing anti-Semitism and Gentile pride, as the church became increasingly dominated by Gentile believers (who forgot what Paul said about pride, in Romans 11) and the apostate Jews became increasingly hostile and continued to persecute the Christians.
For additional reference, see Barry Horner’s Future Israel, chapter 2, “The Patristic Period,” p. 39

2.  Amillennialism was invented by Augustine in the early 5th century.  Augustine first believed the standard view of the time, premillennialism, but he was also influenced by Greek platonic thought — the same thinking that produced gnosticism, the basic idea that physical and material is evil, and spiritual, non-physical is good.  Augustine was also morally repulsed by the behavior of some Christians, in a group called the Donatists, who took a rather carnal approach to the idea of the kingdom and enjoyed their love feasts (food, drink, revelry).  This was also shortly after Constantine, and the church enjoyed the power, privilege and protection of the Roman Empire.  Anti-Semitism was also quite strong, the Jews hated throughout the Roman world, and by that time they were scattered and clearly without power — so the biblical message that the despised and weak Jews would one day be given prominence and the other nations would come to them, appeared totally contrary (and unacceptable) to their observed world reality.  So Augustine formulated the idea of the spiritual-only kingdom, relating it to the Church triumphant, the Roman church of his day.  His new idea, amillennialism (which he described in “The City of God”), along with most everything else that Augustine taught, was incorporated into the Roman Catholic Church — and became (and still is) standard Catholic teaching.
Additional resources:
“The Allegorists Who Undermined the Normal Interpretation of Scripture,” by Mal Couch

Audio only:  Jim McClarty eschatology series: #89 “History of Amillennialism” and #90  “Augustine’s Amillennialism”

A thousand years later, Luther and Calvin came on the scene, and of course they came out of the Roman Catholic system.  They only reformed the soteriology — how we are saved, the doctrine of justification — but “imported” the rest of Catholic teaching including eschatology and ecclesiology, unchanged and assumed to be true.
Additional resources:

John MacArthur, “Why Every Calvinist Should Be A Premillennialist,” six-part series

3.  Covenant theology is relatively recent — developed in the 17th century, especially in Holland and central Europe.  It was developed largely in order to come up with a theological reason to support infant baptism, which was still practiced (from the Medieval Catholic era) and considered important as part of the church-government structure and census records.  The ideas of church-supremacy and amillennialism were already a given in this system, and several theologians of 17th century Protestantism came forth with the ideas of these three covenants and especially the overall “covenant of grace” for all believers since Adam.
Additional resources:

S. Lewis Johnson’s The Divine Purpose series
The History of Covenant Theology – I
The History of Covenant Theology – II

Bible Reading: The Abrahamic Covenant’s Plural Offspring

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

In my recent reading through Genesis (list 2 in a modified Horner Bible Reading Plan), I noticed again the references to Abraham’s offspring, or “seed.”  Though Reformed Theology emphasizes the singular offspring (Christ), spoken of by Paul in Galatians 3, yet it is obvious from just reading Genesis 17 that some of the Abrahamic covenant texts use offspring in a plural sense, and a sense that clearly cannot be talking about God.  For instance, Genesis 17:7And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

I especially noticed the phrase “to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”  Of course this is not talking about Christ as the singular seed of Abraham, or of Christ being the true Israel — for that would be saying that God is “to be God” to Himself.  The very next sentence, verse 8, gives the land promise in terms that could not be plainer:  And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.”

Paul in Galatians 3:16 refers to “the promises” and Genesis 18:18, “and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.”  Just because Paul cites one aspect of the Abrahamic covenant in no way invalidates other aspects of that covenant.  The same principle is at work in other oft-cited passages brought forth as “proofs” of Church Replacement Theology:  just because the writer of Hebrews cites the full passage of the New Covenant from Jeremiah 31 does not take away from its meaning in the original text or change its meaning.  Acts 15, with James’ citation of Amos 9, is similar.  All that James says is that the words of the prophets “agree with” what was happening — which is clearly not the same as having the meaning changed to some unexpected “new meaning.”

Barry Horner, in Future Israel  (p. 98) further expands on the issue of singular and plural senses of “seed”:

… the promise of Genesis 12:3 is not made to Christ as the mediator, but to Abraham, and this Scripture overwhelmingly affirms. Further, the seed of Abraham having application to Christ according to Galatians 3:16, this in no way invalidates the “seed” of Genesis 12:1-3 being the nation of Israel anymore than does “seed” in Genesis 13:15; 17:7. The exegetical reason is that God says to Abraham, your “descendants [seed]” shall be as the innumerable stars of heaven (Gen. 15:5). These references clearly refer to the nation of Israel, and not exclusively Christ as an individual. Paul’s employment of Midrash, distinctive Jewish, applicatory interpretation, incorporates Christ as the root of promised blessing without at all denying the obvious promise of national blessing, the plurality of “Abraham’s descendants [seed], heirs according to the promise” (Gal. 3:29).  Plainly the terms of the curse/blessing in Genesis 12:2-3 principally refer to the national seed here, notwithstanding the attempted textual manipulation which betrays a difficulty that the obvious sense presents. To be sure, Christ is the ground of covenant blessing, but this does not nullify national blessing as is plainly indicated.

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Future Israel: The Seed of Abraham

August 24, 2010 5 comments

I’m now reading through Barry Horner’s Future Israel, which includes many examples of the wrongs brought about by supersessionist eschatology.  I previously noted that often the people who are already prejudiced against Jews, upon conversion to Christianity, will choose a theology that suits their own ideas, and thus replacement theology is a natural fit for such individuals.  Yet I also see his main point, that we can judge a particular eschatology, discern whether it’s right or wrong, based on the type of fruit it yields.  Does the Augustinian Church replacement view produce Christians with the same fervency, passion and love that Paul expresses in Romans 11, that he almost wishes he were cursed and cut off, for the salvation of his people Israel?  Only a right biblical understanding of Israel’s place in God’s Divine Purpose can understand that kind of compassion for Jews.

In chapter three of Horner’s book he gives a point-by-point refutation of the points in an “Open Letter to Evangelicals” (p. 66 and following) by anti-Zionists, for a good contrast between the two belief systems.  Here he addresses the common mistake of confusing the unconditional Abrahamic covenant with the conditional Mosaic covenant.  (See my previous blogs about the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, from S. Lewis Johnson’s Divine Purpose series, for further information.)  The following is a good explanation concerning the different aspects of the Abrahamic covenant:

From Future Israel (page 72):

(From the Open Letter):  The inheritance promises that God gave to Abraham were made effective through Christ, Abraham’s True Seed (Gal. 3:16).  … Since Jesus Christ is the Mediator of the Abrahamic Covenant, all who bless Him and His people will be blessed of God, and all who curse him and his people will be cursed of God. (Gen. 12:3; Gal. 3:7-8)  These promises do not apply to any particular ethnic group, but to the church of Jesus Christ, the true Israel.  The people of God, whether the church of Israel in the wilderness in the Old Testament or the Israel of God among the Gentile Galatians in the New Testament (Gal. 6:16), are one body who through Jesus will receive the promise of the heavenly city, the everlasting Zion…

Horner responds by pointing out, first, that Jesus Christ is never said to be the “mediator of the Abrahamic covenant.”  But even if we grant that idea, that does not do away with the additional use of seed (in the Abrahamic covenant) in its national meaning:

Furthermore, the seed of Abraham has application to Christ according to Galatians 3:16, but this in no way invalidates the “seed” of Genesis 12:1-3 being the nation of Israel anymore than does “seed” in Genesis 13:15; 17:7.  The exegetical reason is that God says to Abraham, “your descendants (seed)” shall be as the innumerable stars of heaven (Genesis 15:5).  These references are to the nation of Israel, not exclusively to Christ as an individual.  Paul’s employment of midrash (a distinctive Jewish, applicatory interpretation) incorporates Christ as the root of promised blessing without at all denying the obvious promise of national blessing, the plurality of “Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).  Plainly the terms of the curse/blessing in Genesis 12:2-3 principally refer to the national seed here, notwithstanding the textual manipulation which betrays a difficulty that the obvious sense presents.  To be sure, Christ is the ground of covenant blessing, but this does not nullify national blessing as is plainly indicated.