Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Oh That 70th Week

The dispensationalist premillennial view of the seventy weeks of Daniel, the cornerstone of their eschatology, results from one slightly tortured piece of exegesis. Take a look at the familiar passage:
24 "Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place.
25 "So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.
26 "Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.
27 "And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate."(Dan 9:24-27)

The decree to rebuild Jerusalem, mentioned in verse 25, is reasonably assumed to come from Artaxerxes in 445 BC (Neh 2:1-8). There is general agreement for treating each week as seven years (perhaps of only 360 days, but that is a detail). The point of the prophecy is so that one might discern, at least roughly, when to expect the Messiah, namely after sixty nine weeks, or 483 years, which is in the ball park (especially with 360 day years, but no matter).

The problem with the premillennial view comes in the all-important seventieth week, and it is twofold:

  1. Dispensationalism views the seventieth week as starting just after the rapture, at the onset the "great tribulation" wherein the antichrist has made a pact with Jerusalem, only to renege on the deal halfway through the week (3 ½ years). However, as we all know, the rapture has not yet occurred. This means the dispensationalist pre-trib pre-mill view has the first sixty-nine weeks as continuous, while for some reason there is a (two-thousand years and counting) gap between week sixty-nine and seventy, a gap that receives no mention whatsoever in scripture.
  2. The second problem is related to the first. The subject "he" in verse 27 is taken to be the antichrist, or the "prince" of verse 26. However the general rules of grammar hold that if a subject is ambiguous, then it is assumed to be the subject of the previous sentence. The antecedent of "he" in verse 27 is "the Messiah" of verse 26, not the "prince". Much like the construct:

    The man took the dog out in the morning. He picked up the newspaper.

    Here, absent further elaboration, we are compelled to assume that the "he" who picked up the newspaper was the man, not the dog.
For postmillennials and amillennials the "he" in verse 27 is Christ (You gotta love it, some say it’s Christ, some say its antichrist) and the half-week refers to Christ’s roughly 3 ½ year ministry. There is no "gap" between weeks sixty-nine and seventy.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Technical Problems

My blog has been experiencing paroxysms of agony recently. Is it just me, or are all/many blogspotters seeing more and more of the dreaded "page not found" when hitting their site? Not to mention problems with speed, permalinks, and occasional faulty formatting.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

It's not the European Union

I understand the pre-trib, premillennial position, and how it fits snugly with dispensationalist theology. I even have an appreciation for dispensationalism as a self-consistent systematic theology.

But what I don’t understand is the overwhelming tendency among the per-trib, premill crowd to be extremely confident that we are currently living in the end times.

Now by end times I do not mean last days, for surely we are living in the last days
but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. (Heb. 1:2)

14Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: "Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! 16No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17" 'In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams. (Acts 2:14-17)
By the end times what is meant is the end of the present age and the commencement of the eternal state.

Allowing 40 years per generation, there have been about fifty generations since the time of Christ. No doubt in every single one of those generations, there were a sizable percentage of all Christians who believed they were in the end times. Like the Christians of today, they looked at the political situation of the day, and at recent natural disasters, and convinced themselves the signs were obvious. Like Tim LaHaye of the modern era, they probably thought that only the biblically illiterate could not see the obvious.

Yet they were all wrong. If you think history is almost over, can you honestly say why every other generation was wrong, but this time you’ll be right?

And are you simply ignoring passages such as:

So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Mat 24:44)

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone (Mat 24:36)

Do you know more than the Son?

If you spend your time pondering whether 10 horned beasts are the European Union, I submit that you are in fact wasting your time.

Here is an exercise. Go back and study the Messianic prophesies and see, just based on that text, how accurately you could have predicted the precise nature and timing of Christ’s ministry. For example, we rightly look to
his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 21:23)
as a prophesy fulfilled in Christ’s crucifixion. Yet it does not talk about crucifixion, but about a tree. Indeed, crucifixion was unknown at the time. So there is no way that an old testament LaHaye could have predicted, especially if he adopted a strictly literalistic approach, that Christ would be crucified on a cross. Yet the LaHayes and the Lindseys claim that level of detail in their predictions of the end times, in spite of the fact that passages such as Mat 24:36, 24:44 (above) imply that the prophesy concerning the second advent can not be as clear as the prophesy concerning the first.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

2 Pet 3:8-9

8But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet 3:8-9)
This passage, which is sometimes used against Calvinism, is in fact not a problem for the Reformed crowd. In addition, it supports postmillennialism.

Not anti-Calvinistic

The argument given here is from R. C. Sproul. There are two issues here to resolve. The first is what is meant by [God] is not willing. The second is who the "any" are that God is not willing should perish.

The will with which He is not willing might refer to any of the typically three types of will ascribed to God:
  1. God’s Sovereign will. This has to do with God’s decrees. Anything in God’s Sovereign will is absolutely certain to happen, such as when God willed the universe into existence.
  2. God’s Preceptive will. This has to do with what God desires but does not go so far as to decree. For example, he wills that we obey His law, but he doesn’t make us, and in fact we will fail miserably.
  3. God’s Permissive will. This has to do with what God allows but reflects neither a decree nor a desire of God.

Now for the any in not willing that any should perish. There are two possibilities here. One is that the any refers to all men. The other is that it refers to the immediate antecedent, which is found in the word us which occurs earlier in verse 9. Then it would be in reference to the group that includes both Peter and the intended audience of his epistle. This audience is evident from the letter’s salutation:
Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: (2 Pet 3:1)

Clearly the us refers to the elect (believers). So the word any in verse 9 means either all men or the elect.

Three choices for wills. Two for any. Let’s enumerate the possibilities. In a given cell we place a paraphrase of what the text means if you accept the corresponding meaning for will and for any.

 Any = all menAny = elect
SovereignGod decrees all are savedGod decrees the elect are saved
PreceptiveGod desires all are savedGod desires the elect to be saved
PermissiveGod allows all to be savedGod allows the elect to be saved

The interpretations based on God’s permissive will make no sense at all. Nor does God desires the elect to be saved —no doubt true but terribly redundant. God decrees all are saved is universalism, which the bible clearly rejects. No, it must be either God desires all are saved or God decrees the elect are saved. Arminians favor the former, which eliminates neither Arminianism nor Calvinism, while Calvinism favors the latter, which rules out Arminianism. Gramattically, the latter also has the more persuasive argument, given, that the text does not use the phrase any man (or person) and, as mentioned, the immediate antecedent is the word us.

Relationship to Postmillennialism

This argument is purely inference, but it is not without merit. A paraphrase of both verses, using the Reformed view of verse 9 as described above, might be:

Beloved, do not forget that God is not in a hurry, but will take the time, in spite of human rebellion, to fulfill His promise that all the elect should be saved.

The reason this supports postmillennialism is that, in this interpretation, it gives a sense of a long term plan. God will redeem His people on his schedule, not matter how long it takes. He has an elect to save, and He will lose none of them. Christ will not come until those elect have heard the gospel and have accepted Him as Lord and Savior, and only then will He return in glory.

Don't look to the newspaper to discern when Christ will return. Look to scripture.

Friday, May 09, 2003

Predestination, Once Again

This is my one year anniversary blog. It’s hard to believe. As a reward to myself, I will post yet again on my favorite subject: Predestination. This time I am even going to allow myself to take off the gloves and shout:


To me, the Bible is clearest on the following points, more or less in order, with the top three tied in absolute perspicuity:

1) God made everything
2) God is Sovereign
3) Jesus died as a substitute for us
4) Man is totally depraved
5) God has predestined some for salvation
6) Salvation (Justification) is by faith alone

I don't want to quibble over this list. Quite possibly I left some things out. The point is that I think the Bible is amazingly clear when it comes to predestination.

Numbers 4 and 5 are the T (Total Depravity) and U (Unconditional Election) in the TULIP acrostic.

Now I don’t want to spend too much time on Total Depravity. If you like, take a look at this post.

Here is the irony. Almost all Christians, including Arminians, as long as they are not alerted as to where you are going, will agree with the doctrine of Total Depravity. (Of course you had better not call it that, just present what it means.) But they will absolutely reject Unconditional Election (Predestination). Yet the T without the U means nobody is saved. Total Depravity coupled with Conditional Election means (a) we cannot choose God in our natural state, yet (b) we must choose God in our natural state. That impossibility results in an empty heaven, as far as people are concerned.

So if you accept that man is totally depraved and does not seek God of his own volition, then you had better hope the Bible teaches predestination, or we all are lost.

Fortunately it does. So clearly. In so many places. Let’s look at just one passage, from Romans 9.

10And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac 11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), 12it was said to her, "The older shall serve the younger." 13As it is written, "Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated."

The important part comes in verses 11-13, where God has reversed the natural order, and has blessed the younger rather than the older (firstborn) son. And why does he do that? The text tells us both the reason as well as what is not the reason.

The reason is so that the purpose of God according to election might stand.

The reason is not because of anything good or bad either twin had done (manifestly true since the choice was made before birth) or would ever do. The choice is independent of any work, good or evil. It is simply that it pleased God to love Jacob, and to hate Esau.

At this point, I’d like to paraphrase an argument from R. C. Sproul. The apostle Paul must be teaching either an Arminian or Calvinistic perspective. It seems clear that it is the latter, especially in light of what comes next. For if Paul is really saying that Jacob was predestined for salvation and Esau wasn’t, and it had nothing to do with something good that Jacob would do of his own natural will, then anyone who has ever taught predestination knows what the immediate objection will be: hey, that’s not fair!

That is exactly the objection Paul, as a good teacher, anticipates:

14 What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!

If Paul had been teaching the Arminian view, something like: Jacob and Esau were both presented with a chance to place their faith in God, and God foresaw that Jacob would assent while Esau would reject, and that is why God loved Jacob and hated Esau, well then nobody would complain hey, that’s not fair!, and Paul would not have anticipated that complaint. But he did. Because he was teaching predestination, and he knew it would immediately be criticized as unfair. He then goes on to explain why there is no basis for that criticism.

15For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion." 16So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. 17For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth." 18Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.

We all deserve hell. God would be on solid moral ground to send us all to eternal damnation. Yet to save a people for Himself, He has decided to have mercy on some. Not for what they do of themselves, for none of us can do anything pleasing to God in our fallen state. It is not because anyone runs or anyone wills, but entirely of grace. How could scripture be clearer?

But Paul is not done. He then goes to answer another objection to predestination, the complaint that we are just puppets. Again, this objection is never raised to Arminianism, only to Calvinism. Ask yourself, if it is Paul’s intents to teach the Arminian position, why does he bother to anticipate another objection to predestination, and then provide an answer?

19You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?" 20But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" 21Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? 22What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

In verses 20-21 we read a rebuke to those who would foolishly challenge God’s sovereignty. In verse 22 we read of the utterly non-Arminian notion of vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. Their purpose? To demonstrate God’s glory to the vessels of mercy, prepared beforehand.

Do you find comfort in the doctrine of predestination? I do. What a burden it relieves. What if you don’t like it? Again, a paraphrase from Sproul: You are required to believe and teach what the bible says, not what you wish it said.

Thursday, May 08, 2003

Genesis 22: Test? Moral Dilemma? Nope, it's neither

Note: This was motivated by this post (May 6).

In Genesis 22 we read of Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac.

Of course God knew the outcome of the entire episode in advance. If not, then His plans can be thwarted and He is not sovereign, in which case He is not God, and we have no hope that His (in that case, his) promises will be kept. If His plans can be circumvented by human activity, then maybe He is even dead.

Virtually every Bible has a heading such as "Abraham Tested" before Genensis 22. But I don’t think it was a test at all. It was a lesson. And it wasn’t a lesson for Abraham; it was a lesson for us.

And the lesson is this: People in Old Testament times are reckoned righteous before a Holy God in the exact same manner as those in the present age: by faith in Christ. For Abraham, is was a trust in what God promised regarding redemption and atonement, for us it is a trust in what Christ has accomplished in that regard. It is only a difference of tense. This is what Paul belabored in Romans 4. Paul tries to beat it into our heads that Abraham’s obedience (i.e. passing the so-called test) had nothing to do with his covenantal reward, it was his faith.

Yes, Abraham had free will to obey or not to obey; God did not manipulate him into compliance. But we choose what we desire, that is what free will boils down to, and Abraham’s desires had already been changed, by God through a Divine initiative from a totally corrupted, natural state (wherein through moral inability nobody seeks or pleases God, as in Rom 3:10-12, Eph 2:1) into a sanctified will, a heart of flesh, which freely chooses to obey.

What does predestination have to do with this? Quite a bit actually. Paul writes in Romans that Abraham was regarded as righteous before his circumcision. Obedience had nothing to do with it. Obedience was an inevitable effect, not a cause. If Abraham had not been chosen, then he would not have been quickened. He would remain in bondage to sin. He could not bootstrap himself out of his state anymore than Lazarus could resurrect himself. And in his flesh he could not have passed any test, for nothing of profit can accrue to the flesh (John 6:63-65). If he were reckoned righteous because of the obedience of his natural will, and only then saved, then we have a direct contradiction of our Lord’s words in John 6:63, for in that case Abraham’s flesh profited a great deal more than nothing, it profited him eternal life.

There is no moral dilemma here. We are all born in rebellion to God. Isaac was in rebellion. The question is not why would God even entertain the possibility of Abraham killing Isaac, the question is why doesn’t God destroy all of us. For Isaac to die at God’s request is not murder; the worst it could be called is justice, no different from ordering the slaughtering of the Midianites. Yet God has mercy upon whom He will, and Isaac (and Abraham) are fortunate recipients of that mercy.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003


I once for all totally renounce National Review Online and banish it from my bookmarks. I was never a huge fan (although I was and am a huge WFB fan), but I stuck around because of loyalty to conservative causes. But their frequent misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Protestantism has finally pushed me over the limit. (Dreher has committed such offenses on a number of occasions, and today Kurtz refers to Protestant "sects".) In additional, the Corner is laden with self-aggrandizing self-references and book tour promos. I have had enough. And for my tastes, a little bit of Goldberg's sarcasm goes a long way.

Post-Reformation Postmillennialists1

The greatest American theologian off all time, and the so-called "father of American Postmillennialism", was Jonathan Edwards. He was unabashedly postmillennial. In A History of the Work of Redemption, he wrote:
The future promised advancement of the Kingdom of Christ is an event unspeakably happy and glorious. The scriptures speak of that time, as a time wherein God and His Son Jesus Christ will be most eminently glorified on earth.

Edwards believed that that last thousand years (or so) of the church age would be the millennial period, and it would a period of great triumph for the church on earth. Since he believed it would be substantively better than the present state, it is fair to say that he did not believe it had yet begun. The consequence of this position is both profound and immediately evident: Edwardsian type postmills are almost alone among Christians in thinking that the Second Coming is still in the distant future. While they (we) may hope that Christ returns today, and strive to live as though he may, (who knows, we might be wrong) the scriptures seem to indicate a glorious promise of success for the Church that has not yet occurred.

Charles Hodge is another renowned theologian and postmillennialist. He wrote:
As therefore the Scriptures teach that the kingdom of Christ is to extend over all the earth; that all nations are to serve Him; and that all people shall call Him blessed; it is to be inferred that these predictions refer to a state of things which is to exist before the second coming of Christ. This state is described as one of spiritual prosperity; God will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh; knowledge shall everywhere abound; wars shall cease to the ends of the earth, and there shall be nothing to hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord. This does not imply that there is to be neither sin nor sorrow in the world during this long period, or that all men are to be true Christians. The tares are to grow together with the wheat until the harvest. The means of grace will still be needed; conversion and sanctification will be then what they ever have been. It is only a higher measure of the good which the church has experienced in the past that we are taught to anticipate in the future. This however is not the end, After this and after the great apostasy which is to follow, comes the consummation.

Edwards and Hodge represent the two major divisions within postmillennialism (leaving the question of reconstructionism and preterism aside). While all postmills, by definition, agree that Christ will return after the millennium, and while all postmills are optimistic about the future of the world and the Church’s position therein (a view unique to that eschatology), some (Edwards) hold that the millennium hasn’t yet commenced, and that it will be quite distinctive from the present state. Others (Hodge) believe that the millennium began at the first advent. In a sense, the latter are distinguished from amillennialists only by their optimism that before Christ returns a large part of the world will be converted.

1 Much of this discussion comes from Postmillennialism, An Eschatology of Hope, Keith A. Mathison, P&R Publishing, 1999.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

The Eschatology of the Reformers1

In addition to reforming (i.e., restoring) the church’s view on justification and salvation, the reformers diverted from the eschatology of the medieval period, returning the church to a more orthodox view of redemptive history. In the medieval period, a view took hold wherein the present age was seen as nothing more than an interlude, with no historic significance, between the two advents. In this way, the church was depicted as just pilgrims on a wayward journey. This changed significantly during the 16th century, when emphasis on the importance of the present age in God’s redemptive plan resulted in renewed interest in eschatology.

Martin Luther affirmed the orthodox Augustinian view of a visible second coming and a bodily resurrection and final judgment. He joined with the Roman Catholic Church in rejecting an earthly millennial kingdom. Of course he did have his eschatological differences with the Catholic Church, in that he identified Rome as the seat of the Antichrist. It is hard to say whether he should be considered amillennial or postmillennial, for (much like Augustine) he does not fit either term in the modern sense. We can just be sure (again, like Augustine) that Luther was not premillennial.

John Calvin’s eschatology is similarly nebulous, although there are found in his writings tenets of both modern amillennialism and postmillennialism. Like Luther, he identified Rome as the "see of the Antichrist." As for premillennialism, he wrote: "[it is] too childish to either need or be worth a refutation". He did favor a spiritual view of the Kingdom of God, which would place him in the amillennial camp. Yet he also looked forward to a sweeping success of the Great Commission, a central theme of postmillennialism.

The Westminster confession does not endorse amillennialism or postmillennialism (although it, like the creeds, implicitly rejects chiliasm (the 1000 year earthly kingdom). In answering the question regarding the second petition of the Lord’s prayer (Larger Catechism, Q191), many tenants of modern postmillennialism are evident, including the optimistic hope of a massive conversion of ethnic Jews2(I might be one of them, depending on how you define ethnic Jewishness):

Q. 191. What do we pray for in the second petition?
A. In the second petition, (which is, Thy kingdom come) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed the gospel propagated throughout the world the Jews called the fullness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.

1 Much of this discussion comes from Postmillennialism, An Eschatology of Hope, Keith A. Mathison, P&R Publishing, 1999.
2 For scriptual references (proof texts) see this site.

Monday, May 05, 2003

Have Catholics Misinterpreted The Council of Trent?

One of the biggest divisions between conservative Protestants and conservative Roman Catholics is the doctrine of sola scriptura, or scripture alone. In fact, it is often said that sola scriptura was the formal cause of the Reformation, and the doctrine of justification by faith alone, or sola fide, was the material cause.

Many areas in which mindless, sometimes bigoted debates (on both sides) take place, such as Marion doctrine, purgatory, and Papal Infallibility are actually derivative of the debate on sola scriptura.(Not all such debates are mindless, indeed these positions of the Catholic Church represent, in my view, serious error. What I mean to say is that unthinking people will immediately launch into such discussions without really knowing what they are talking about.)

Protestants claim only one source of special revelation: the Holy Scriptures. Only the Bible can bind the conscience. It does not mean that everything is in the Bible, but rather everything we need to understand our relationship with God is contained therein. The Bible is necessary and sufficient.

The Roman Catholic Church adds an additional source of special revelation, the sacred traditions of the church. Unlike Protestants traditions, Roman Catholic traditions are binding. The Bible is necessary but not sufficient.

This brings us to Trent, that historic 16th century council called in response to the Reformation. In the fourth session we read:
…seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself…
Ever since Trent, "written books, and the unwritten traditions" has been interpreted as meaning some revelation comes in the scriptures and some other revelation in tradition. However, there is some interesting history here.

The original language proposed was more like [revelation] is partly in the scripture and partly in tradition. This is unambiguous, and is in fact the view of the Catholic Church ever since. However during the fourth session two Italian conferees objected to the wording on the grounds that it weakened the authority of scripture. There is no record of the ensuing debate, if there was one, and soon war broke out on the continent, ending the council. When the proceedings were published, the language had been changed from partly scripture and partly tradition to scripture and tradition, but the interpretation remained the same. The explanation given is that it was merely a stylistic change.

Perhaps it was just stylistic. However, scripture and tradition can mean redundant rather than complementary sources. For example, if I say that the basic gospel message is contained in the books of Luke and John, what I mean is that it is in either of them. They are alternative sources for the same information (insofar as the basic gospel message is concerned). That is very different from saying the message is partly in Luke and partly in John.

Is it possible that Trent did not mean to imply that tradition was a source of additional revelation, only an alternative verification of scripture? Subsequent councils affirm the partly scripture partly tradition interpretation unambiguously. Can it be that it is a result of misinterpreting Trent?

Friday, May 02, 2003

Prophesy (cont)

Yesterday, I wrote how Boettner claimed that the primary purpose for prophesy is not for predicting the future, but for looking back—and consequently for God’s glory in fulfilling his promises.

There is some biblical support for this in Peter’s epistle:
10Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, 11trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. 12It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Pet 1:10-12)
Here we read that the prophets searched intently for the time and place of the Messiah, but of course they did not succeed, for they were not serving themselves but you, i.e. the church, which can now look back and marvel at what they prophesied.

A difficulty arises among postmillennialists due to this non-literal interpretation of prophesy concerning the future glory for Israel. All postmillennialists agree that the Church is the new Israel. However, since the prophecy is not expected to be fulfilled literally, there is sometimes debate concerning whether it has already been fulfilled. (Not the preterist question—this is a milder form even among those without preterist leanings.) For example, Boettner taught that Is 2:2-3 was already fulfilled by the establishment and success of the church to date, while other postmillennialists such as John Jefferson Davis see a future fulfillment in the golden age when the Church achieves world wide domination, prior to His return.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

The Language of Prophesy

Consider the following three passages:
And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise you on the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel." (Gen 3:15)

"Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. (Mal 4:5)

3A voice is calling,
"Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.

4"Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;

5Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken." (Is 403-5)
What do these have in common?

• Each was a prophecy of the first coming of Christ.

• None was fulfilled literally.

As we look back, we are comforted that there are so many (over 140) Messianic prophesies, and it doesn’t bother us that they were not fulfilled in a literal sense. Christ came and defeated Satan on the cross, but as far as we know he didn’t literally bruise him on the head.

This points out, according Loraine Boettner, a wrong headed view of prophesy. Its main purpose is not to give us a glimpse into the future, that is secondary. The primary purpose is to provide comfort and to strengthen our faith when we look back at prophesy that has been fulfilled.

We should keep that in mind when it comes to prophesy that has yet to be fulfilled.

Much prophecy, if taken literally, does point to a future restoration of Israel as something more than a political entity. However, if that prophecy is spiritualized, much like the Messianic prophecies provided above, then we can interpret the fulfillment to be in terms of the church (the "new" Israel) rather than the literal nation of Israel. For example, take Isaiah’s prophesy of a new heaven and earth (Is 65:17-25).
Taken literally, this passage is in support of the restoration of the nation of Israel in glory, not in the advancement of the church.

I know there is a reluctance to sacrifice a literal interpretation of prophesies. But keep in mind that, as mentioned, many Messianic prophesies were fulfilled spiritually. Also, in the form of a warning, the rejection of Christ by the Jews could be explained by the fact that they were waiting for and insisting upon a literal fulfillment of the restoration of the nation to glory.

Prophesies concerning a "golden age" for Israel will be fulfilled, but not in Israel the nation, but rather in Christ’s church.