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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.”

Millennial Views: When Is Christ Returning?

May 7, 2014 4 comments

Recently, in an example of perhaps an extreme reaction against popular dispensational-style “date setting,” R.C. Sproul Jr. opined that Christ will likely not return for tens of thousands of years, apparently basing his view on an interpretation of Exodus 20:5-6, where “showing mercy to thousands” means “thousands of generations” rather than thousands of people – and extrapolating out many thousands of generations even beyond the current 3400+ years since Moses. (I note here from the ESV translation and footnote, that this text may also mean “to the thousandth generation.”)

As to his reaction against dispensational-style date setting (“I know that every odd astronomical event, every middle eastern hot spot fires up the end times hysteria machine, but I’m not willing to get on that ride,”), a wise observation from J.C. Ryle comes to mind – and a good reminder that extremism in reference to the Second Coming is nothing new:

It proves nothing against the doctrine of Christ’s second coming and kingdom, that it has sometimes been fearfully abused. I should like to know what doctrine of the Gospel has not been abused.  Salvation by grace has been made a pretext for licentiousness, election, an excuse for all manner of unclean living, and justification by faith, a warrant for Antinomianism. But if men will draw wrong conclusions we are not therefore obliged to throw aside good principles. .. And where is the fairness of telling us that we ought to reject the second advent of Christ because there were Fifth Monarchy Men in the days of the Commonwealth, and Irvingites and Millerites in our own time. Alas, men must be hard pressed for an argument when they have no better reasons than this!

I am not familiar with the specifics of Sproul Jr’s beliefs, though suspect his could well be similar to Sproul Sr.: non-futurist and likely preterist, and amillennial. The main point I would address here is the general worldview of scripture: is the Bible really just a book about spiritual truths, in which the message of the gospel itself is the primary and only clear teaching? Or is God’s word all-encompassing, to include God’s purposes to be accomplished in history and in the real world around us?  Can we really “watch” for signs of Christ’s return and recognize the general season; or is Christ’s Return a truly sign-less, imminent event that could come at any time, just as likely in 28,000 years as in 50?

Discussions among premillennialists often consider the question of “imminence” versus whether certain events must first come to pass (before the resurrection and rapture), but generally all premillennialists recognize at least “stage setting” of events that must come to pass in order to literally fulfill Christ’s Second Coming (in similar manner as the literal fulfillment of prophecies regarding Christ’s First Coming). For instance, in 2 Thessalonians 2:2 Paul describes a future “man of lawlessness” entering the temple and declaring himself to be god – which presupposes a future temple to exist in order for such to happen. The Old and New Testament prophecies concerning Babylon have not literally been fulfilled, which led even 19th century expositors (Benjamin Wills Newton, for example) to expect a future rebuilding of Babylon – which has actually begun within the last several years. Stage setting to make possible the communication logistics described in Revelation 11:8-11 has already occurred (reference this post with quote from Horatius Bonar). The regathering of Jews into the land of Israel, predicted by historic premillennialists (from their reading of God’s word) such as Charles Spurgeon and J.C. Ryle – has come to pass, though they did not live to see it.

Thus, the premillennial worldview recognizes in God’s word 1) events that truly have not happened yet (and logical precursors that only recently developed), and 2) the real world impact, the relationship between God’s word and real world history and actual world events; the full counsel of God is not merely that which gives spiritual guidance and “the plan of salvation” but a “both / and” reality affecting both our spiritual lives and the physical creation itself. As such, we can see the development of world events to know at least the general season and anticipate Christ’s return as likely within the next 50 to 100 years, perhaps sooner.

It turns out that actually, it is the non-futurist non-millennialist, who thinks all prophecy (except Christ’s return) has already been fulfilled, who really has a “sign-less” and “any moment” Second Coming – a Second Coming that might as well be tens of thousands of years from now and will be completely unexpected without any warnings and nothing to “watch for.”

The Corinthian Church: Over-Realized Eschatology

April 19, 2013 4 comments

Continuing through S. Lewis Johnson’s 1 Corinthians series  come some quite interesting observations from 1 Corinthians 4: the Corinthians’ eschatology.  I had read through Paul’s comments to the Corinthians at this point — where Paul sarcastically refers to them as already being kings, and wishing that they really were kings so that “we might reign with you” – but hadn’t really thought about the eschatological views implied in this section.

I don’t think the modern-day term “futurist premillennialism”  had yet been coined when Dr. Johnson delivered this message in 1994 (his last sermon book series), but here he gives an instructive overview concerning “futurist eschatology” and the then-new idea of “realized eschatology”:

 In theology, there is what is called futurist eschatology in which we look toward the future.  To see what the Bible has to say about the future we read Daniel.  We read the Book of Revelation.  We read the prophetic portions of the gospels and those prophetic portions of some of the epistles of the New Testament, the second epistles like 2nd Thessalonians and 2nd Peter, those epistles that seem to major on eschatology.  And we look into the future.  And our imagination sometimes takes over, and we seek to set dates for the things that lie ahead of us.  … one point that’s been made constantly: we do not seek to set dates.  But futurist eschatology is eschatology that centers on the coming of our Lord.

Now, theology today has invented a new term called ‘realized eschatology’, or ‘inaugurated eschatology’.  It’s very common, very popular with more liberal professing Christian professors, teachers, and preachers, because it’s an attempt, in one sense, to fight the emphasis on the future and the talk about the coming of the Lord, which to some people is a mistake — it’s not a mistake to me.  I think that’s something we ought to talk about.  We ought to have as a sense of imminence in our — imminency in our thinking about the coming of the Lord because the apostles did.  But there is a way in which we can overdo that.

And so in order to combat that, those who have held to this view have sought to stress those passages of Scripture that stress what we have already — what has already happened to us as a result of our Lord’s work on Calvary’s cross.

Fred Zaspel’s The Theology of Fulfillment is a good resource as well, concerning what we have now, along with an important caveat from Zaspel:  So in all of this “realized eschatology” we should not lose sight of the future. What we have today is the glorious realization of the OT hopes. But what lies ahead is more glorious still.  A significant hermeneutical guide arises out of all this also. That a promised blessing is realized here and now does not, ipso facto, rule out its fuller realization later. For example, there is nothing here that rules out the premillennialist’s hope of the future manifestation of the kingdom—nothing at all. That the age to come is present and coming is a matter of simple Biblical statement. And if there is already a realization of these blessings within history we should not be surprised to learn of a still fuller manifestation of them.

Colossians 1:13-14 is a good example of what we have now in “realized eschatology,” which  emphasizes our position (now) in Christ. From SLJ again:

Your position is in Christ, and you’re in the kingdom because you’re under His authority.  And that is, of course, a truth.  The balance between the emphasis on the future and the promises made to the Nation Israel and the promises made to the church in relation to Israel are very important, in the word of God; but it’s also important to realize the things that have taken place because the blood has been shed; atonement has been accomplished.

Moving past the idea of realized eschatology, we find the Corinthians – in their arrogance and puffed-up state – thinking that they have actually arrived, that they now have everything of the Christian experience: an overrealized eschatology.  S. Lewis Johnson’s comment here indicates that the term “overrealized eschatology” already existed by this time (1994) but did not originate with him:

 So evidently the Corinthians had what some of the interpreters have called an over-realized eschatology.  They not only looked to the future and looked to the present, but the present is so significant for them that they have already begun to reign.  They’re in the millennial kingdom right now, is the idea the apostle is underlining here. …

They should have been looking to the coming our Lord Jesus Christ and the entering into the kingdom of God upon the earth.  But already these individuals are in the kingdom.  Already they are full.  And so the idea of the kingdom was a place — was a kingdom in which men would have the things that they lacked.  They would have all the food, all the pleasure, all the luxuries, and they are in that kingdom before we are.  This is really an overrealized eschatology.  They thought they were in the kingdom already.

This lesson is certainly applicable to believers today, to keep the proper focus, that we have not yet arrived, that we do not yet already have everything of the Christian experience. As we look at what the New Testament says, including this passage in 1 Corinthians 4, we also affirm that this life is not the kingdom:

 what Paul regards as the present life is anything but a kingdom, in the sense in which they understand it.  He says:  “God has displayed us last, the last of the apostles, as men condemned to death for we have been made a spectacle to the world both to angels and to men.” The only glorious line — the only glorious thing that one can say about this is that we are following in the same train of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and that would be glorious.

Millennial Positions and Revelation Interpretive Views

August 22, 2011 6 comments

From online discussion with fellow Calvinist-Dispensationalists, I have noticed a common point of confusion concerning the millennial positions and the differing interpretations of Revelation.  Often, for instance, it is assumed that amillennialism by definition includes preterist belief, or that only premillennials are futurists.  Further confusion comes when they talk to particular amillennialists and get differing answers regarding the preterist issue.

So for a basic explanation:  preterist/historicist/futu​rist is a different “column” of criteria from the millennial choices premillennial, post-millennial or amillennial.  The time-reference choice refers to one’s interpretation of Revelation:  are the events described in Revelation 4-20 past (preterist), present church age (historicist), or future (futurist)?  Or are the events of Revelation merely symbolic (spiritualized) of general truth about good and evil, with no specific reference (idealist)?  In the idealist view, Revelation becomes a book with “symbols of nothing.”

These two groupings can be combined in various ways (though some combinations are more common than others): one of the millennial choices, and one of the time-reference choices. Historicist amillennialists include the Reformers, with their idea that the prophetic events of Revelation refer to things going on during the church age. The “pope is antiChrist” and Rome is Babylon comes from that historicist view. Futurist amillennialists (less common but they are out there) see the events of Revelation as future, that those events will occur in the future before Christ returns and brings the resurrection and Eternal State.

Thus, the term “futurist” by itself does not mean only dispensational or premillennial.  A “futurist premillennial” believes that the events of Revelation will take place during the future Great Tribulation, and believes in a future literal thousand year kingdom.  An amillennial futurist, on the other hand, would not believe in the future literal kingdom, but would affirm that the events in Revelation will take place in the future, in the years just before Christ returns.  See this page from an online message board, where someone defines himself as Amillennial futurist and gives his idea of the sequence of future events.  A good way to understand premillennialism and futurism is that all premillennialists are futurists–but not all futurists are premillennial.

Here is a simple table showing the possible combinations:

Probably the majority of amillennialists today are preterist or idealist, but I wouldn’t know percentages. Yet futurist and historicist amillennialists also exist.  Postmillennialists often are preterist, but could be historicist or even idealist, but generally not futurist since they think the future is better, not worse, and the events in Revelation simply don’t agree with that future scenario.  Premillennial and futurist generally go together, though some premillennialists have a mixture of historicist and futurist.