Sunday, May 27, 2012

Throttling Dispensationalism?

I never cease to be amazed at the circular reasoning people will indulge in to defend their theology. Blogger Doug Cox took issue with Dr Paul Henebury’s review “A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith” by Robert Reymond. Aside from a little reading miscomprehension of Dr Henebury's clear statement, he makes the following argument that he feels supports his view:

Judah and Israel are names that apply to the church. But because dispensationalists deny this, they are blinded to the fact that Christ has been reigning in the lives of the saints for the whole age of the church.

Amos 9:11 In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old:

By quoting this prophecy in Acts 15, James identified the church with the tabernacle of David, which throttles dispensationalism!
(Emphasis mine)

The cross referencing of Acts 15 with Amos 9 and Joel 2 with Acts 2 is a common strategy used by critics of dispensationalism to attempt to show that 1) Dispies aren’t always literal, 2) the NT re-interprets the OT and 3) The church is now true Israel.

Dispensationalism denies that Judah and Israel are names for the church just isn’t biblically supported. In fact, apart from making assertions and a “near enough is good enough” approach to Scripture, Cox cannot produce a single text to support that contention.

Alistair Donaldson joins the foray in his thinly-disguised anti-Israel polemic “the last days of dispensationalism”. Of the Amos 9-Acts 15 connection he states:

“The connectedness between the events taking place in James’s time and the words of Amos is clear – people from the nations are being incorporated into the people of the true Davidic King. There is a direct correspondence of the two; there James equates the present events as being fulfillment of Amos’s words. In doing so he has interpreted Amos in a nonliteral (sic) manner and therefore establishes within the text of Scripture itself an interpretive principle that is in direct contradiction to Ryrie’s literalism...It should be noted from this example that James is willing to attribute the fulfillment of the prophet’s words within the church age despite the dispensational insistence that what is spoken to national Israel must be fulfilled in national Israel.” (pp 24-25)

James does nothing of the kind. Donaldson is making him say more than the text intends. Here are the biblical references, just to put things into perspective:

“In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David, And wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins And rebuild it as in the days of old; That they may possess the remnant of Edom And all the nations who are called by My name," Declares the LORD who does this. “Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "When the plowman will overtake the reaper And the treader of grapes him who sows seed; When the mountains will drip sweet wine And all the hills will be dissolved. Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, And they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them; They will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, And make gardens and eat their fruit. I will also plant them on their land, And they will not again be rooted out from their land Which I have given them," Says the LORD your God. Amos 9:9-15

"Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: `After this I will return And will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, And I will set it up; So that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, Says the LORD who does all these things.' Act 15:14-17

While digressing somewhat, I should point out that Donaldson is an amillennialist (p 146). He believes that Revelation’s apocalyptic genre allows him to “symbolize” the resurrection of the martyrs in Rev 20:4 (p 141). If you “symbolize” that resurrection then you don’t have to deal with the problem that the saints are “regenerated” post-martyrdom. Donaldson can’t fathom how one thousand years could possibly contain all those myriad OT prophecies if they were literal (pp 129-130) though he doesn’t substantiate this assertion. In fact most OT prophecies (and Revelation events) occur pre-millennium (Zec 14 etc). Comparatively less detail is given about the millennium itself. Amils like Donaldson will consistently redefine or dispute plain statements such as the nature of the 144,000, the incarceration of Satan, the resurrection of the martyrs and the length of the millennium on pretext of apocalyptic genre. Given that dispies take these statements at face-value (while considering symbolism) and amils seek another understanding – one wonders what category each falls under when considering Rev 22:18-19.

Typically, neither Donaldson nor Cox comment on Amos 9:14-15. In “Evidence from Jeremiah” (p116) in “A Case for Premillennialism: A new Consensus” Walter Kaiser notes:

“Nowhere can it be shown that most, all, or even some of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or David, have been nullified, modified, exchanged, or transformed in value.”

Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for a light by day, The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, And its waves roar (The LORD of hosts is His name): "If those ordinances depart From before Me, says the LORD, Then the seed of Israel shall also cease From being a nation before Me forever." Thus says the LORD: "If heaven above can be measured, And the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel For all that they have done, says the LORD. Jer 31:35-37

In “ISRAEL – The Land and the People” (chapter 9) John Jelinek notes:

“What is revealed at first in Scripture (or precedes in God’s revelation) is not contradicted by what follows in Scripture. What OT authors wrote had a comprehensible meaning for their contemporary audiences and has a revelatory significance in its own right. What these audiences understood depended on both the prophetic message itself and the previously revealed prophetic messages from God. It is a problematic hermeneutic that must either resignify the OT message or see some aspect of an OT theme reiterated in the NT before it can lend legitimacy or permanency to its relevance. Language that says one thing concerning authorial intention but actually means something else is some form of allegory....A historically sensitive study reveals that the NT develops OT teaching as divine history progresses, but the teaching of the OT is not lost in the process. Promises that are made to Israel, therefore, must be fulfilled by God. God can do more than He promised, but He cannot do less. The primary question of the exegete of texts on the land of Israel must ask is, Do I have sufficient biblical data to indicate that God is doing more or less than He promised with respect to the land promises to Israel? At least the original promises concerning the land must be fulfilled, lest God be found unfaithful.”

In “Systems of Discontinuity” Feinberg writes:

“No NT writer claims his new understanding of the OT passage cancels the meaning of the OT passage in its own context or that the new application is the only meaning of the OT passage. The NT writer merely offers a different application of an OT passage than the OT might have foreseen; he is not claiming the OT understanding is now irrelevant.” (p 77)

In “Has The Church Replaced Israel?” Mike Vlach notes:

“Claims that Acts 15 and Hebrews 8 teach that the NT has reinterpreted the OT expectation of a restoration of Israel are not persuasive. James quotes Amos 9 in Acts 15 as one example of an OT prophet who predicted that Gentiles would be saved without having to become Jews. The issue at hand here is Gentile inclusion in salvation, not whether Israel’s restoration is being fulfilled entirely with the church. The purpose of this passage is primarily soteriological and not eschatological. Hebrews 8 shows that Jesus is the mediator of the superior new covenant. But it is difficult to see how the inauguration of the new covenant means that national Israel has been separated from this covenant.” (p 204)

"Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah--not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." Jer 31:31-33

And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins." Rom 11:26-27

See also Acts 1:6-7; Acts 3:25; Rom 11:28-29.

Could it be any clearer?

I strongly recommend Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s “Israelology” for those who want to explore these issues. He elaborates on Joel 2-Acts 2, Amos 9-Acts 15, David’s throne and David’s booth.

One can’t take a “near enough is close enough” attitude to Scripture by leaving out verses like Amos 9:14-15 and ignoring the plethora of OT promises to Israel (by no means an exhaustive list). To assume that it’s OK to do that because one thinks the church is now Israel is both unbiblical and an exercise in circular reasoning.

Far from “throttling dispensationalism”; these people are strangling the promises of God to Israel!

P.S. Doug Cox states:

“Dispensationalism of the classical kind denies that the government is upon Christ’s shoulder, and denies that he reigns upon the throne of David, and that he has ordered it, and established it, for whole age of the church–what blindness!”

Dispies respond:


When and Where Does Christ Sit Upon the Throne of David?