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Inductive Reasoning and Doctrinal Error: The Mosaic Covenant

April 19, 2017 2 comments

I have appreciated recent books from covenantal premillennialist Michael Barrett, and so now I’m listening to some of his lessons available on Sermon Audio.  Currently I’m going through his 10-part series, “Refuting Dispensationalism.”  This series was done in the 1980s, and so he interacted with the classic and revised dispensationalism of that time, particularly quoting from Charles Ryrie as well as Darby and the Old Scofield Reference Bible.  The issues dealt with are the ideas that originated with dispensationalism, such as the two peoples of God, the law of God versus law of Christ, and the postponement theory of the “Kingdom of Heaven.”

The second lesson brings out an interesting point, which really goes back to the problem of inductive reasoning:  reasoning from a specific case to a general conclusion.  In the case noted by Barrett: the idea, taught by Scofield and others (including full NCT in our age), that the Mosaic law was a “works covenant” that Israel was placed under, as works-salvation with stringent focus on keeping the law and the ceremonial observances; therefore, per this reasoning, since all of this law was a works-salvation for them, none of it is relevant or applicable to us today; we in the church age are under the “law of Christ” which is different from the law revealed in the Old Testament era.

This idea (Israel placed under a works covenant) comes from something else that is true:  many Jews, in the apostle Paul’s day as well as previously, did view the Mosaic covenant as something external, to be kept and performed as a means to salvation.  As Dr. Barrett points out here, though: just because some people believed that a certain thing to be true, and believed that the Mosaic arrangement established by God meant works-salvation–does not mean that God actually intended it that way.  And numerous passages throughout the Old Testament prophetic books make it clear that God was not at all pleased with the Israelites’ external, outward compliance with the Mosaic rituals and ceremony–it was always about the heart intention, not merely the outward observance.  Here, as Barrett points out, a similar comparison could be made in our day.  Some people in our age really do read the Bible (misread it) and think that salvation is based on some type of works, what they do and what they contribute to their salvation.  Yet, just because some people believe that, does not make the actual idea, of actual salvation by works, true.  Both of these could be considered examples of inductive reasoning—reasoning from a specific case (what some people believe about a particular teaching) to the general, and thus concluding what the general, true belief is, based on what some people erroneously think.

Another, similar case I recall — a Bible teacher who reads Acts 8, the account of the Ethiopian Eunuch, including the man’s question to Philip about what he is reading in Isaiah 53 – who was the prophet referring to, himself, or someone else?  — and has concluded that because the Ethiopian eunuch (a specific case, a specific individual) did not understand Isaiah 53, that therefore all people in the Old Testament age (a general conclusion), all those people who lived before the New Testament age (which made everything clear), were all just as confused and unable to understand Isaiah 53, no different from the Ethiopian eunuch. But nothing in the Acts 8 case demands such a general, widespread conclusion; it simply recognizes that this man was studying the text and was still confused.  Other New Testament texts — notably, 1 Peter 1:10-11 — make it clear that in the Old Testament age at least some of them, by “the Spirit of Christ in them”  recognized “when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories

In a post several years ago, I referenced S. Lewis Johnson’s observations regarding the problem with inductive reasoning.  His point was particularly in reference to an appeal to science, and how inductive reasoning will fail.  The same points made here, though, apply to any case of inductive reasoning:

You can never know anything from induction.  In fact, science has done such a great job of propaganda that people say, the way to study the Bible is by inductive Bible study.  Would anybody question that?  Well, they ought to.  You can never know anything by induction.  You can never actually know anything by induction.  In the first place you can never know you have all of the facts necessary for the induction.  You can never know that your hypothesis is the hypothesis that explains the facts as you see them.  So, you can in never know that your hypothesis is the only possible hypothesis.  You can never know anything by induction.  People ought to know things like this, but they don’t, unfortunately.

 

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Intercalation in God’s Divine Purpose

June 11, 2010 Leave a comment

From S. Lewis Johnson’s “Divine Purpose” series comes a new big word, intercalation, which refers to an inserted time period that has nothing to do with events before or after it.  An example of an intercalation is the half-time in a football game.  Dr. Sperry Chafer, a dispensationalist who had ultra-dispensational tendencies, thought of the Church Age as an intercalation in God’s program, and S. Lewis Johnson tells of times when Chafer liked to impress his students (at Dallas Theological Seminary) with the big word.

I’ve come across the word intercalation a few times, but more commonly its synonym, parenthesis, and generally in the context of comparison / contrast between Israel and the Church.  The church did not exist until Pentecost, and was the mystery not revealed in the Old Testament, and so some have described the phenomena of the Church as a parenthesis, the time interval during which Israel is scattered in judgment and God is gathering His elect (the Church Age), from the nations throughout the world.  God dealt with Israel in the past, and will continue His dealings with Israel after the rapture.

Anti-dispensationalists often think that means that the Church is somehow less important — that dispensationalists exalt Israel as being greater than the Church — and rant against it without dealing with the biblical texts or the truth of what dispensationalists teach.  The local preacher expressed that during a series through Galatians, when one time he ranted that “dispensationalists think that the Church is the parenthesis, but they’ve got it backwards, it’s Israel that’s the parenthesis.”  Despite the “amens” he got from some of his loyal followers, he did not examine the matter biblically, nor represent dispensationalism accurately, but only expressed his own prejudices.  Paul Henebury has addressed the matter of the parenthesis a few times, as in this article (excerpt):

I don’t know where these authors got the idea that Israel is “the major plan of God in history” from.  In Dispensationalism, the Church is just as important to God as is Israel.  Christ died for both His Bride and the Remnant.  Certainly, the story of Israel dominates the OT, and it is not set aside in the New.  Speaking of the Church as a “parenthesis” does NOT mean it was “a temporary aside” or an afterthought. … The fact is, from man’s point of view the Church is a kind of interlude in revelational history.  But from the point of view of God’s eternal and comprehensive decree it is part of the warp and woof of redemptive history.  Prior to Abraham there were no “Hebrews” and hence no Israel (Jacob).  God’s creation of Israel was no “temporary aside” from His previous work.  Israel and the Church must be seen in the larger panorama of God’s Plan in world history.

S. Lewis Johnson, in the Divine Purpose series, stated his own disagreement with Chafer’s description, primarily because he too thought of “intercalation” as a term that minimizes the importance of the Church in God’s overall plan, a plan in which both Israel and the Church are equally important and all a part of the one people of God.  So he basically agreed with the dispensational understanding as expressed above, but didn’t like the term intercalation as a description of the Church Age.

But in SLJ’s subsequent discussion about Law and Grace, he brings a different use and sense of the term intercalation: that, within the context of the different ages and the biblical covenants, the true parenthesis is the Age of Law, as characterized by the Mosaic covenant.  As the New Testament teaches, the law was introduced 400 years after the Abrahamic Covenant, and was then set aside when the New Covenant began with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.  The Jews, from Jesus’ time till now, have erred in that they put their focus on Moses instead of Abraham.  If they would direct their understanding back to Abraham they would have the correct perspective and see the promise realized in the New Covenant. The Mosaic system was temporary, never meant to become the legal code that the Jews made it into.

This is an interesting way to look at it, a good description of the sequence of biblical dispensations and covenants, and the roles each has played.  The Abrahamic, Davidic, and New Covenants follow a progression, with the conditional Mosaic covenant in the middle, serving its purpose for a time but then rendered obsolete (Hebrews 8:13).  God’s plan has always been one of grace, and the Mosaic law was an interlude in God’s overall redemptive plan.