Category Archives: Hermeneutics

Interpreting Scripture – Questions

Interpreting Scripture is a challenging task. But when you read Scripture, you are interpreting it.

Here are some questions to answer which will help you interpret Scripture so you understand it as it was intended. When these questions are answered, you will discover that the fulfillment is greater than the prediction, just as the antitype is greater than the type:

  • Does the New Testament quote it or allude to it?
  • How does the New Testament treat the oracle’s themes and theological points?
  • Who is the author of the passage?
  • To whom were they writing?
  • What is the outline/structure of the passage?
  • Is the choice of words, wording, or word order significant in this particular passage?
  • Are any words repeated? Any significance to the repetition?
  • What is the cultural, historical background and context of the passage?
  • What was the author’s original intended meaning?
  • How did the author’s contemporaries understand him?
  • How would the original audience have been affected by the passage?
  • Why did he say it that way?
  • Are there any unusual words in the passage that call for more exploration?
  • How does the passage fit into the surrounding paragraph? Chapter? Book?
  • Why did the author place the passage here and not somewhere else?
  • In one sentence, what is the main point of the passage?
  • How does this passage connect to the overall storyline of the Bible?
  • How does God want this passage to function in my life?
  • What kind of response does this passage call for?
  • How does this passage reveal Jesus as savior?
  • Father, I believe this passage is about the gospel of your Son. Help me see how!

What other questions would you add?

Interpreting Scripture

Reading the Bible is challenging. We are 2,000+ years removed from when the content was written and the time(s) it was written about.

Much of the struggle in reading Scripture is truly understanding what is meant by the original author(s) rather than understanding it from our 21st Century mindset.

Striving to understand Scripture from its original context is called hermeneutics. Hermeneutics is the method of interpreting Scripture.

Of course, rules for interpreting Scripture are needed. I strive to follow nine (9) rules of interpretation:

  1. Literal Sense – Seek the one intended or literal sense of the text, and to do so with the recognition that God in some cases has chosen to convey meaning through symbolism and figures of speech (e.g., metonymy, metaphor, and simile). Making the sense plain to others is not necessarily looking to the plain sense. With this said, though, be faithful to Scripture, not necessarily literal.
  2. Shortened Perspective – Events in the near and the distant future are often telescoped into one picture, like mountain peaks when seen from a distance. Sometimes the prophets focus on the immediate future and at other times on the distant future; however, both are seen at the same time.
  3. Historical Times-Coloring – Seeking the meaning of the text within the immediate historical situation. Reflecting the historical situation in which they spoke, the prophets preached to a definite life situation and delivered their oracles in terms which their original hearers could understand.
  4. Typical or Typological nature of Eschatology – A type is a person, institution, or event which prefigures and foreshadows a new and greater reality (the antitype). The antitype historically and theologically corresponds to, elucidates, fulfills, and eschatologically completes the type. The antitype is no mere repetition of the type but is always greater than its prefigurement. And since the Scriptures are Christological, the Old Testament’s types (which are so indicated by Scripture) are related to, centered in, and fulfilled in Christ (and His people, the church, reap what Christ has sown).
  5. Christological Focus – The Old Testament prophets were both “foretellers” and “forthtellers.” They were preachers of the covenant, proclaiming the Law and the Gospel to their original hearers. Even their eschatological predictions were given not to provide unrelated bits of information or to satisfy curiosity about the future, but to lead their hearers to repentance and faith.
  6. Old Testament Israel prefigured Christ and Christ is the True Israel – Christ is the New Israel, Israel reduced to one.
  7. Analogy of Faith – “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly” (Westminster Confession (1.9)).
  8. Interpret the Less Clear by the Clear – “There must be a consistency in all revealed truth because it represents absolute truth in the mind of God. Therefore each passage can have only one certain and simple sense. As the infallibly inspired word of God, the Scriptures are reliable, self-consistent and carry within them all that is needed for clarity. Since all that God makes known fits with what He knows perfectly, it is always proper to assume that no contradictions or dual realities can be attached to what He speaks.” (Bob Burridge)
  9. The Christian interpreter must regard the final form of the canon as the norm for interpretation – For instance, the New Testament provides clear and concise statements which should influence our understanding of the Old Testament. And the Old Testament provides the basis for our understanding of the New Testament.

What do you think? Are there any rules that should be added? Changed?

What about Acts 2?

Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”’
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. ~Acts 2:29-36

According to Peter in Acts 2, Jesus is sitting on David’s throne.

Here is the main point Peter makes,

Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ

I do not know how to read this statement any other way than how it is plainly written. Peter is proclaiming that Jesus is, in fact, sitting on David’s throne by (and because of) His resurrection.

How do you understand this passage?

Recapitulation

Genesis 1-2 provides the initial account of creation. Scripture makes the practice of recapitulating the creation account in some form or fashion.

What is recapitulation?

re·ca·pit·u·la·tion/ˌrēkəˌpiCHəˈlāSHən/
Noun:
An act or instance of summarizing the main points of something

Scripture is replete with recapitulation of the creation story. Creation is not the only subject that is recapitulated; the Exodus, Matthew recapitulates Israel’s history via Jesus’ life, the Psalmists recapitulated (rehearsed) the works of God (i.e. Psalm 40:5), are a few other examples.

Preaching the Gospel is recapitulating the Person and Work of Jesus to others (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15). Paul recapitulates the Gospel to Christians in all of his letters.

Recapitulation is standard fare in Scripture

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. ~Genesis 1:1, 31

You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. ~Nehemiah 9:6

O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. ~Psalm 104:24-25

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. ~Colossians 1:15-16

Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. ~Deuteronomy 10:14

Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. ~1 Chronicles 29:11

The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them. For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.’ ~Psalm 24:1-2; cf. Psalm 89:11; 1 Corinthians 10:26

He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD. By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. ~Psalm 33:5-6

The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. [The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works.] The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. ~Psalm 145:9, 13; cf. Psalm 145:17

In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind. ~Job 12:10

You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. ~Nehemiah 9:6

He who planted the ear, does he not hear? He who formed the eye, does he not see? ~Psalm 94:9

O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. ~Psalm 104:24

Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: ~Isaiah 42:5

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb: ‘I am the LORD, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself, ~Isaiah 44:24

It is I who by my great power and my outstretched arm have made the earth, with the men and animals that are on the earth, and I give it to whomever it seems right to me. ~Jeremiah 27:5

The oracle of the word of the LORD concerning Israel: Thus declares the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him: ~Zechariah 12:1

All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. ~John 1:3

Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. ~Acts 14:15

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. ~Acts 17:24-25

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. ~Romans 1:20

But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. ~1 Corinthians 15:38-39

and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, ~Ephesians 3:9

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. ~Colossians 1:16-17

And he said with a loud voice, ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.’ ~Revelation 14:7

Do The Promises Made To The Nation of Israel Still Stand?

The heart of all theology revolves around this question,

“Do the promises made to the Nation of Israel still stand?”

As my friend, Bobby Grow expresses it,

“I would say yes, … But qualified in a way that sees Jesus as the ground and fulfillment of what it means to be Israel. The Nation of Israel has the same purpose, in Christ (cf. Eph. 2:11ff) as every other nation. The promises made to Israel are indeed irrevocable (cf. Rom. 11:29), but Israel was always intended to be understood through her ground and purpose and fulfillment, ‘in Christ’. This is the key, that is, Christ is the key to sourcing an understanding of a properly constructed ‘literal’ method of biblical interpretation. The New Testament authors thought so, and thus; so should we. … this is where this whole debate really dwells. That is, how it is that we conceive of our philosophies of biblical interpretation?”

Guy Davies shares this about the Gospel of Matthew:

“Time and time again, the First Gospel bears witness to the fact that Jesus is the true Israel. He is the seed of Abraham and David, Matthew 1:1-17. The exodus is reenacted when he returns from Egypt to the Promised Land, Matthew 2:13-15. His temptation for forty days in the wilderness echoes Israel’s temptations during the forty wilderness years, Matthew 4:1-11. Jesus is the Servant of the Lord who brings light and salvation to the nations in a way that Israel failed to do, Matthew 12:18-21 cf. Isaiah 42:1-4, 18-20. In the Gospel According to Matthew, Jesus recapitulates Israel’s history and as he does so, fulfils Israel’s destiny.”

Others have seen a similar undercurrent of meaning in the Gospel of Matthew. Kim Riddlebarger explains it this way:

First, in Matthew 12:15-21, for example, when Jesus withdrew from the crowds who had followed him, Matthew reports that this event fulfilled what had been spoken in Isaiah the prophet. This event serves to demonstrate that Jesus is the true servant of the Lord.

Second, as Jesus cast out demons and healed the sick, Matthew saw in this the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecies of a suffering servant who would take upon himself our infirmities and carry our diseases (Matthew 8:17 with Isaiah 53:4).

Third, in Luke’s gospel, Luke speaks of both Israel (cf. Luke 1:54) and David as the servant of God (Luke 1:69). Yet in Acts, Luke pointedly speaks of Jesus as the servant of God (Acts 3:13). After his crucifixion, God raised Jesus from the dead so that people everywhere might be called to repentance (3:26).

Fourth, when the Ethiopian eunuch hears a reading from Isaiah 53:7-8 and asks Philip about whom this prophecy refers, Luke tells us that Philip informed the Ethiopian that this passage does indeed refer to Jesus (Acts 8:34-35).

But this is not all that is in view here. In Hosea 11:1, Hosea predicted a time when “Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” But in Matthew 2:15, the evangelist tells us that Hosea’s prophecy was fulfilled when his parents took Jesus to Egypt to protect him from Herod’s “slaughter of the innocents” (Matthew 2:3-18). Yet, after Herod had died, God called Jesus and his family to return to Nazareth. Matthew takes a passage from Hosea, which clearly refers to Israel, and tells his reader that this passage is now fulfilled in Jesus Christ! He does this to prove to his largely Jewish audience that Jesus is the servant of the Lord, foretold throughout the Old Testament (especially Isaiah).

By now it should be clear that according to many New Testament writers, Jesus is the true servant, the true son and the true Israel of God. Recall too that it was Isaiah who spoke of Israel and the descendants of Abraham as the people of God. It as through the seed of Abraham that the nations of the earth would be blessed.

Therefore, even as Jesus is the true Israel, he is the true seed of Abraham. This is the point that Paul is making in Galatians 3:7-8, when he says “know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, `In you shall all the nations be blessed.’”

Paul’s words here, are important for several reasons. First, Paul tells us that Abraham believed the very same gospel that he preached to the Gentile Galatians. There has only been one plan of salvation and one gospel from the very beginning. This, of course, raises very serious questions about the dispensational notion of “clearly distinct” redemptive purposes for national Israel and the Gentiles, as is evident when Paul goes on to say in Galatians 3:29, that “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”

Second, the one gospel promise from the very beginning of redemptive history is that the true children of Abraham, whether they be Jew or Gentile, are heirs of the promise, if they belong to Jesus Christ, the true seed of Abraham. But as Robert Strimple points out, an important word of clarification is certainly in order. “We [amillennarians] say: `Yes, the nation of Israel was the people of God in the old covenant. Now in the new covenant the believing church is the people of God.’ And thus we quickly run past (or we miss the blessed point entirely) the fact that we Christians are the Israel of God, Abraham’s seed, and the heirs to the promises, only because by faith, we are united to him who alone is the true Israel, Abraham’s one seed.” (See Strimple, “Amillennialism,” in Bock, ed., Three Views of the Millennium and Beyond, 89).

The ramifications for this upon one’s millennial view should now be obvious. If Jesus is the true Israel of God, and if the New Testament writers apply to Jesus those Old Testament prophecies referring to Israel as God’s son or servant, then what remains of the dispensationalist’s case that these prophecies remain yet to be fulfilled in a future millennium? They vanish in Jesus Christ, who has fulfilled them!

Martin Downes concludes his thoughts on Matthew 2:

“He [Matthew] is saying that Jesus, God’s Son, is Israel, the true Israel. And that Jesus will retrace Israel’s steps. They went down to Egypt and so will He. They were tested in the wilderness and so will He be (Matt. 4:1-11). But where the nation of Israel failed, Jesus the true Israel, the obedient Son, will prevail. This is the biblical background to the doctrine of the active obedience of Christ. He was born under the law to redeem those who were under the law. Whereas Adam and Israel were law-breakers, Christ was the true law-keeper and this not for His own sake but for ours.”

Read all of Downes’ The Great Escape: Matthew 2 as the Remake of a Classic Story.

Justin Taylor shares a good, concise summary of the Israel/remnant theme from a New Testament perspective in Jesus as the New Israel:

“The New Testament authors understood Jesus to be the culmination of the Old Testament. He is the Last Adam, true Israel, the suffering servant, the son of David, the faithful remnant, the ultimate prophet, the reigning king, the final priest.

“. . . Jesus had become a remnant of one. He was the embodiment of faithful Israel, the truly righteous and suffering servant.

Unlike the remnant of the restoration period, he committed no sin (Isa. 53:9; 1 Pet. 2:22).

As the embodiment of the faithful remnant, he would undergo divine judgment for sin (on the cross), endure an exile (three days forsaken by God in the grave), and experience a restoration (resurrection) to life as the foundation of a new Israel, inheriting the promises of God afresh.

As the remnant restored to life, he becomes the focus of the hopes for the continued existence of the people of God in a new kingdom, a new Israel of Jew and Gentile alike.

As the nucleus of a renewed Israel, Christ summons the “little flock” that will receive the kingdom (Dan. 7:22, 27; Luke 12:32) and appoints judges for the twelve tribes of Israel in the new age (Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30).

The church is viewed as the Israel of that new age (Gal. 6:16), the twelve tribes (James 1:1), “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (Ex. 19:6; 1 Pet. 2:9).

A sinful nation, Israel could not suffer vicariously to atone for the sins of the world. The sinfulness of the nation made it unacceptable for this role, just as flaws would disqualify any other offering. Only a truly righteous servant could bear this awful load.”

—Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, “Isaiah,” An Introduction to the Old Testament, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 315.

The two best books I’ve read on this fulfillment theme are Hans LaRondelle’s The Israel of God in Prophecy: Principles of Prophetic Interpretation and David Holwerda’s Jesus and Israel: One Covenant or Two? (Keith Mathison has a good review of Holwerda’s volume here.)

Jesus is the true Israel, and the church becomes the Israel of God as it unites to True Israel. The same is true for ethnic Israel, whom God has not abandoned. But their only hope is to be united with Jesus, the ultimate suffering servant.”

RT France explains:

“Matthew also seems to present this idea that Jesus himself is the true Israel. Perhaps it is already implicit in his presentation of Jesus as ‘King of the Jews’, but it comes to more obvious expression in some of the typological references to the Old Testament. The use of Hosea 11:1 in 2:15 makes sense only if Jesus, as God’s son, is equated with Israel as ‘God’s son’. The same typology underlies the references to Deuteronomy 6-8 in the account of Jesus’testing in the wilderness (4:1-11). The parable which most clearly speaks of the failure and replacement of Israel (21:33-43 concludes with Jesus’ reference to Psalm 118:22, a passage about Israel’s unexpected vindication but now transferred to Jesus in his vindication over against Israel’s rebellion.

In discussing Matthew’s typology above we noted his remarkable concentration in chapter 12 of Jesus’ sayings about ‘a greater than the temple/Jonah/Solomon’, the effect of which is to place Jesus as the ‘fulfillment’ of the main pillars of the institutional life of Old Testament Israel. The implication is that the focus of the true Israel is not now in the cult, the prophet, or the king, but in Jesus.

But the theme of Jesus as the true Israel is not the dominant one in the Gospel. For the result of Jesus’ ministry was the creation of a community of those who responded to his message. There is evidence in Matthew that it was not only in Jesus himself, but also in this disciple group, in distinction from unbelieving Israel, that the true people of God was now to be found.

Jesus seems to have thought of them as a sort of ‘righteous remnant’ of Israel, such as the prophets often spoke of. Thus in 13:10-17 he speaks of the majority of his hearers in words taken from Isaiah’s call to preach to unresponsive Israel, but contrasts them with his disciples, to whom the privilege of understanding God’s secrets has been given. They are the ‘meek’ who in the Psalms represent God’s true servants (5:5). They are called to fulfill the special calling of Israel to be holy, as God is holy (see on 5:48). They are the true flock of God as described in Zechariah (26:31). They will constitute Jesus’ ekklesia, a prominent Old Testament word for the congregation of God’s people (16:18).

The focus of Israel’s national life in the Old Testament had been the covenant made at Sinai, but now Jesus’ blood will seal a new covenant such as Jeremiah had predicted (26:28); and a new covenant means a new basis of existence for the people of God. In speaking of the temple destroyed and rebuilt (see on 26:61, and cf. the implications of the saying of 12:6 and the repudiation of existing temple worship in 21:12-13) Jesus looked forward to a new basis of worship for the true people of God, and one which envisaged the literal destruction of the old order (24:2).

Such pointers towards a new people of God are given further substance by Jesus’ deliberate choice of twelve disciples as the leadership of his new community, and the implication is spelt out in 19:28, which envisages them sitting ‘on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel’.

Matthew records no explicit description of the disciples as ‘Israel’, ‘the true Israel’ or the like, but the indications listed above point unmistakably towards the idea, as do a number of passages where Old Testament prophecies relating to Israel are applied to the disciples of Jesus (8:11;24:31).

Through its rejection of God’s final appeal the nation as such has forfeited its claim to be the people of God. Jesus now represents all that Israel should have been, and in those who belong to him the purposes of God for Israel find their fulfillment.”

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” Colossians 2:16-17.

This is why the promises made to the nation of Israel still stand. Jesus (literally) fulfills the promises and is the True Israel. And any ethnic Israelite (or gentile) who believes in Jesus takes part as joint heirs of Christ.

“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” Ephesians 2:11-22.

Who Is Israel?

My initial thoughts coming out of my studies as of late regarding the descendants of Abraham. Please remember these are still forming and are not exactly concrete in my thinking, but they’re close! I reserve the right to tweak and change my thoughts as I continue.

Genesis 12 presents the Abrahamic Covenant with characteristics that should be noted:

“the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.'”

Undoubtedly, God’s covenant with Abraham is also for Abraham’s descendants which leads us to the question,

Who constitutes Abraham’s descendants?

Abraham himself was a Gentile called out of the land of Ur, and there were also the Gentiles who became proselytes to the faith of Abraham (Genesis 12:5). They were not ethnic Israelites.

There was also the mixed multitude who went out from Egypt with the Israelites (Exodus 12:38). The term “mixed multitude” describes the people that were not Israelites who left Egypt, were saved with the Israelites, and included as Israelites.

“The sojourner who is in your camp” (i.e., the Gentiles who joined themselves to Israel) and even “with whoever is not here with us today,” describing some individuals who did not belong to that time, that place, or that people, and were included in the covenant (Deuteronomy 29:10-15).

Beside the fact the Gibeonites had deceived Joshua and the leaders of Israel into making a covenant with them, their lives were spared and they became “cutters of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord” (Joshua 9:27) Their faith in God allowed them to enter into His covenant, although they were not Jewish (Joshua 9:9-10).

Further, let’s consider David. Who was David and to what extent was he ethnic Israelite? Looking at David’s Israelite ethnicity, Matthew 1 sheds light on this issue: “Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.”

Rahab lived in Jericho which was a city in Canaan. She was a Canaanite woman and a prostitute. She had chosen the Jewish people and their God. From the perspective of her countrymen, had they survived, Rahab was a traitor and a betrayer. But ultimately, life is only judged by God’s standard. She was not an ethnic Israelite yet was the great grandmother of David and as Matthew 1 demonstrates, in the lineage of Jesus.

Ruth, a Moabite, chose the unknown of a new people and a new land, and a walk with God. Though she remained “Ruth the Moabitess,” she was grafted into Israel, both physically and spiritually and was the grandmother of David. This means David was at least one quarter Moabite and one eighth Canaanite. Both women were counted as Israelites and partook of the blessings which were designated for Abraham’s descendants.

During the exile, in the time of Esther and Mordecai, the Jewish people were about to be annihilated by the hatred of Haman. God turned things around, and preserved and prospered His people. Though there were great, numerous, and powerful enemies arrayed against them, many joined with the Jewish people for their defense. (Esther 9:27) Many of these allies actually became proselytes (Esther 8:17).

What then is the position of the strangers, gentiles and sojourners who truthfully joined themselves to the Lord and to His people? Can they only be servants as the Gibeonites were? Or can they expect to be honored as Ruth and Rahab were? We read in the book of Isaiah: “Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people’; …For thus says the Lord, ‘…the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to Him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath, and holds fast My covenant; even those I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.'” (Isaiah 56:3-7).

We can see in the Old Testament God called Gentiles “Israelites” or at the very least were counted as an Israelite- included IN THE COVENANT COMMUNITY. Even these converted Gentiles receive all the blessings of the promises of God just like someone who is an ethnic Israelite1.

So, does “Israel” always mean ethnic/genetic Israel? It can’t be- not every time. It means the covenant people of God who are spiritual Israel who has always comprised of both ethnic Israelites and Gentiles in the midst of a national Israelite economy. It’s always been to all those who believed in the Messiah (i.e. Jesus) both ethnic Israel and Gentiles. For without believing in the Messiah, they will perish. So not all Israel are heirs of promise unless they believed in the promised Messiah (Jesus the Christ) and partook of the faith of Abraham thereby becoming Abraham’s descendants. Ethnic lineage is not enough.

References
1On Israel and Promise

Another Look at 1 Corinthians 15

In last week’s article in this Eschatology series, we linked to an article discussing 1 Corinthians 15 and the Rapture. Today, we look at a rebuttal of the Dispensational Premillennial Rapture.

If it weren’t for 2 Corinthians 15:50, I probably would have never begun to question premillennialism. I find in this verse an explicit denial of one of the essential tenets of all premillennial theories. Premillennialism must have people entering the future kingdom in their natural, unglorified bodies. This is due to the fact that a lot of people are said to rebel against God and Christ at the end of the millennium (Rev 20:7-10).

But where do these folk come from if premillennialism is true? The only explanation is that these rebels are the children of those who originally entered Christ’s millennial kingdom. Since, however, people who experience resurrection cannot procreate (Luke 20:34-35), then there must be saints who somehow enter the kingdom without having experienced glorification. Everyone agrees that,

If there are no people who enter the premillennium unglorified, then premillennialism is untenable and simply cannot be correct

Well, I find clear and irrefutable evidence that such is the teaching of 1 Corinthians 15:50, “Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.” All commentators are agreed that Paul is speaking here of glorification, the transformation of one’s physical body into a body like Christ’s. The only real point of contention is, what exactly does Paul mean when he refers to “the kingdom of God”?

The context makes it clear that the “kingdom” in view is the one which is established directly after Christ’s return. Paul amplifies verse 50 by saying: “Behold, I tell you a mystery: we will not all sleep but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will all be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality” (vs. 51-53).

I find it curious that most people start quoting these verses as if Paul’s logic begins in verse 51

But it is clear that verses 51 through 53 do not form a complete thought in themselves. Instead, they serve to explain why “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” (v. 50). As such, the “kingdom” which is in view is the rule and reign of Christ directly after He returns to earth. If so, then premillennialism is ruled out as an option.

The only way out of this is for premillennialists to claim that verse 50 refers to the New Heavens and New Earth. This is a strange maneuver because in verses 42 to 49 Paul discusses the resurrection of the righteous dead. And he does so again in verses 51 to 57. Thus, these verses refer to events that occur in connection with the return of Christ.

Are we really to believe that verse 50 stands alone in its context, so that it looks 1000 years beyond the events of its surrounding discussion?

This strains the principles of interpretation too much. It is much more natural to believe that verse 50 is intimately connected to the verses that precede and follow it. The only reason why we would believe that its claims are out of place is if our system doesn’t let it stand in its context. Here is clear example of where premillennialists are doing what they accuse amills and postmills of:

Letting a system interpret the Scripture instead of the Scripture interpreting the system

Charles Hodge comments on this verse:

“The common millenarian [i.e. premillennial] doctrine is, that there is to be a literal resurrection when Christ shall come to reign in person upon the earth, a thousand years before the end of the world, and that the risen saints are to dwell here and share with Christ in the glories of his reign. But this seems to be inconsistent with what is taught in I Corinthians xv. 50. … It is here expressly asserted that our bodies as now constituted are not adapted to the state of things which shall exist when the kingdom of God is inaugurated. We must all be changed. From this it follows that the spiritual body is not adapted to our present mode of existence; that is, it is not suited or designed for an earthly kingdom” (Systematic Theology, Vol III, 843).

Evaluating the Rapture: A Look at 1 Corinthians 15

Ken Stiles over at Shepherd The Sheep ~ Three men who love Jesus and His church wrote a very good article providing evidence for the Rapture.

Ken writes,

“In today’s post, we look at another passage that does not teach a pre-trib rapture per se: 1 Corinthians 15. It is worth pointing out that 1 Corinthians 15 is also urged by some to completely rule out premillennialism. …

…Paul’s discussion of the rapture begins in verse 50. After arguing that the Father is excepted from Jesus subduing all other power and authority, and demonstrating the absurdity of certain rituals if the dead are in fact not raised, and exposing the foolishness of incredulity concerning what kind of body people will have in the resurrection; Paul tells the Corinthians that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom. Some have urged this fact against certain premillennial positions because said positions allow that some non-glorified (i.e., flesh and blood) people who survive the tribulation would enter into the millennial kingdom. In response it may be noted that Paul has already discussed the kingdom up through Jesus turning it over to the Father. This would be the eternal state phase of the kingdom then that Paul is speaking of, not the millennial phase of the kingdom, when he says that flesh and blood cannot inherit it. There will be no non-glorified people in the eternal state.”

Check out the whole article: Part V: Evaluating the Rapture.

An Amillennial Rebuttal to Dispensationalism 2

A Christological Focus

But the greatest challenge (and the greatest privilege) in preaching the Old Testament is finding the way that it points to Christ and bringing that to the congregation in a way that clearly honors the Old Testament passage and makes much of Christ. This is not a call for importing some artificial connection to Jesus whenever we preach. Just the opposite. This calls for understanding and expositing the specific ways in which Old Testament passages point to Christ. But it does presuppose, based on Jesus’ own words in John 5 and Luke 24, that every passage of the Old Testament does indeed point to him.1

It is very true national Israel lies at the heart of all biblical eschatology and covenants, the Old Testament promises made to national Israel are the hermeneutical center of Scripture. However, Scripture Itself does not leave this principle where Dispensationalists plant their feet. The New Testament (see the book of Matthew) goes to great lengths to show that Jesus Himself fulfills all of the promises made to national Israel. Matthew explains that Jesus is very much an Israelite, He is very much the Son of David, presenting Jesus as the representative of all of Israel, thereby Christ’s rightful place in Scripture is the center.

1). Isaiah’s servant songs have a double referent that has long baffled Jewish commentators. On the one hand, they refer to Israel, God’s chosen one and servant (Isaiah 41:8-9; 44:1-2, 21; 45:4; 49:3). On the other, they seem also to refer to some individual (Isaiah 42:1-4). These prophecies are interpreted by the New Testament as referring to Christ (Matthew 8:17 and Acts 8:30-35)

2). Matthew sees a double referent in Hosea 11:1, (“Out of Egypt I called my son” Matthew 2:15)

3). Paul identifies Christ, not physical Israel, as Abraham’s seed (Galatians 3:16). Galatians 3:7 and Romans 4:11, 16, moreover, identifies the church as Abraham’s offspring.

4). Henceforth, we are in Christ the true Israel: Galatians 3:26-29, Romans 2:28-29, and Philippians 3:3.

5). The Old Covenant is obsolete, having been superseded by the New: Hebrews 8:8-12 identifies the new covenant with Israel (Jeremiah 31:33-34) with the covenant instituted by Christ with the church. Most importantly, Hebrews 8:13 declares the old covenant obsolete and passing away. This makes impossible the dispensational view of Ezekiel 40-48 as a reinstitution of temple sacrifice.

6). The upshot is that the Old Testament did not see how its own prophecies were to be fulfilled – indeed, it could not prior to Christ. The New Testament authors were able to interpret the Old Testament in the light of His coming of the new covenant that He instituted. So should we2.

This means that Jesus is the true Israel, and that all Scripture–especially its prophetic sections–must be read through a Christ-centered hermeneutic, not a dispensational one which centers upon national Israel3.

References
1The Greatest Challenge and Privilege of OT Preaching by Mike Bullmore Senior Pastor of CrossWay Community Church in Bristol, Wisconsin.
2Amillennialism by Prof. Robert B. Strimple – The Mountain Retreat.
3“John MacArthur on Calvinism, Dispensationalism, Israel and Hermeneutics: A Few Comments by Kim Riddlebarger

An Amillennial Rebuttal to Dispensationalism

As I have posted the Dispensational viewpoint of how one should read Scripture, see here and here, I am posting the Amillennial rebuttal.

Summing up the Dispensational viewpoint, one person wrote:

It has been my practice to approach Scripture with the grammatical historical method of interpretation, also called the literal interpretation method . This can also be called the normative approach (and the one I prefer) as the literal meaning of words is the normal approach for understanding and communication in any language. This method, basically stated, attempts to interpret Scripture 1) Grammatically—that is to say according to the normal and plain understanding of grammar and in accordance to its rules, 2) Historically—that is to say according to the geographical and historical setting of the original audience, and 3) Contextually—that is to say in accordance to the immediate context of the passage and to the larger context of its place within Scripture.

It is my belief that one can apply this method of interpretation throughout the entirety of Scripture. I do not see the need to abandon this method of interpretation when faced with a prophetic passage but rather interpret prophetic and non-prophetic passages alike by adhering to the same rules of interpretation for both.

Critiquing Dispensational Hermeneutic

“When one allows God himself to interpret the meaning of his prophecies through later revelation, it becomes impossible to employ a naturalistic, Dispensational hermeneutic. Dispensationalists claim to have a literal hermeneutic, taking prophecies in a simple, material sense unless the immediate context demands otherwise. The problem with this approach is that it arrives at interpretations which are later contradicted by the New Testament. In opposition to this principle, [we] recognize the validity of ‘the analogy of faith,’ that is, that the best interpreter of scriptures is other scriptures. The hermeneutic which allows the Author to foreshadow spiritual realities through physical means, and later interpret them in clear, didactic writing, is actually a more natural and literal hermeneutic than one which demands a physical/material sense unless an immediate absurdity arises thereby, even when other scriptures contradict this physical/material sense. The basic question is this: will our hermeneutic allow God to explain himself, or will it allow our own human understanding of what is more literal to negate the interpretation of God himself?” ~Nathan Pitchford

Interpretational Warning

Walter Kaiser, in Toward an Exegetical Theology, explains,

“the Church at large (since the time of the Reformers especially) is in error when she uses the analogy of faith (analogia fidei) as an exegetical device for extricating meaning from or importing meaning to texts that appeared earlier than the passage where the teaching is set forth most clearly or perhaps even for the first time” (p.82). While the concept of progressive revelation suggests interpreting the Old Testament in light of the New, Kaiser argues that this is not a license to read meanings into the OT that are not there.”

The possibility of interpretational abuse is not qualification of wholesale rejection of analogia fidei (analogy of faith). Where else can we learn to interpret Scripture but from Scripture?

Problems with Dispensational ‘Literal’ Interpretation

1) Tacit acknowledgement that a literal reading of the text need not exclude a spiritual meaning or figurative and symbolical language. In the original position of Scofield himself, a somewhat arbitrary distinction is made between the historical and prophetic texts in the Bible. This distinction is made in order to allow for the possibility that the historical texts may have both a literal and a spiritual meaning. Though Scofield maintains that this is never possible in the case of prophetic texts, there seems to be no reason why this cannot be the case. Why can historical texts that speak of Jerusalem have a spiritual meaning, while prophetic texts that speak of Jerusalem must invariably have a literal meaning? Furthermore, the possibility of non-literal elements indicates that it is somewhat simplistic and misleading to insist that texts always be read literally.

2) For Dispensationalism to begin with a commitment to the ‘literal, plain or normal reading of a text’ entirely begs the question as to what that sense is. To say that the literal meaning of biblical prophecy and promises must always be the most plain, concrete and obvious meaning, is to prejudge the meaning of these texts before actually reading them ‘according to the letter’, that is, according to the rules that obtain for the kind of language being used.

3) For Dispensationalism to begin with a commitment to the ‘literal, plain or normal reading of a text’ entirely begs the question as to whose “literal, plain or normal reading of the text do we rely upon? What may be literal, plain or normal to one person may be different for another. Do we rely upon the majority view?

4) A tacit rejection of NT interpretation of OT texts which do not change the meaning so much as the referent (see Acts 2 – If Acts 2 is not the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy, why does Peter say it is?

How do we account for the issue of a second sacrificial system being set up even though Christ is the final sacrifice? Is there another meaning for the word final?

Grammatical-Historical

It has been common since the time of the Protestant Reformation to speak of a grammatical-historical reading of the biblical texts. This is one that takes the words, phrases, syntax and context of the biblical texts seriously — hence, grammatical — and also takes the historical setting and timing of the texts into careful consideration — hence, historical.

Eric Adams explains the issue of the Dispensational hermeneutic this way:

The problem is that the Dispensational hermeneutic is not based upon the exegesis of Scripture. “Literalism” is a presupposition, a philosophical pre-commitment. In fact, Dispensationalists routinely teach that one should not look to the Bible to obtain sound interpretive principles. Matt Waymeyer … wrote an article called “Don’t Try this at Home: Today’s Interpreter and the ‘Apostles’ Hermeneutic.'” While the NT use of the OT can be a thorny issue, and Waymeyer does raise some valid concerns, his conclusion is that we should not even attempt to find interpretive principles in how the NT writers used the OT. Hence, the warning in the title is “Don’t try this at Home.” Other Dispensationalists have argued the same thing. This is shocking. Dispensationalists routinely argue that Scripture ought to be our standard for everything, except for interpretive principles. The Dispensational hermeneutic is not derived from Scripture itself. “Literalism” is a philosophical presupposition. Thus, the ultimate foundation of Dispensationalism is not the Scriptures themselves, but philosophy. This philosophical principle of “literalism” is then used to interpret the Scriptures, which produces many of the distinctively Dispensational doctrines (e.g., a future Jewish millennium). These doctrines appear to be Scriptural, but they are arrived at using interpretive principles that are foreign to Scripture. While the application of “literalism” is a notorious problem, the foundation of “literalism” is even more deeply flawed.

This is not denying the literalness of communication. Communication is based upon a literal meaning. There is a difference between what a text says and what it means and sometimes are the same thing but not always. Another way to say it is, Interpreting Scripture “literally” is to focus on Its meaning and not necessarily what it says. Scripture interprets Itself on so many levels and in so many ways via many authors, much time and genres that It provides us with a lens by which we can interpret Scripture.

Making the sense plain to others is not necessarily looking to the plain sense. Be faithful to Scripture, not necessarily literal.

Scripture Itself does not always interpret Scripture literally.

Scripture Itself provides us with a robust hermeneutical paradigm.

To deny how Scripture interprets Itself on any point is to reject Scriptural objective literalism, which in turn, is a rejection of the authority of Scripture Itself.

To interpret the Scriptures literally
To interpret the Scriptures “literally” simply means to interpret them as literature. The wonderful thing about Scriptural literature is that it self-interprets at enough points (over many authors, centuries, and genres) to give us fairly robust hermeneutical paradigm. Denial of this paradigm is not objective literalism, it is anti-literalism because it dismisses the signals within the literature itself.

This is the chief failure of dispensationalism – it approaches the OT with a naive / one-dimensional perspective that dismisses the NT interpretive paradigm.

Two-Sided Coin
The Dispensationalist condemns the Amillennialist for “picking and choosing” what various words and phrases mean; they charge that the final rule of interpretation is the Amillennialist’s whim.

The other side of this coin is relying upon a strictly and woodenly literal interpretation. Both sides claim their interpretation is the meaning of the passages in question.

The Dispensationalist is hoisted upon their own petard.

If you notice, the Amillennialist continually points to Scripture and says, essentially, “this is why this word or phrase means x because Scripture tells us what it means,” whereas, the Dispensationalist relies on the surface meaning of the word: “the number 7 is always a quantity of 7 (unless, of course, it inherently produces “bad theology” (i.e. the 7 spirits of God in Revelation).