Below is a brief statement on salvation in the Old Testament by Dr. Mark Dever. Though I’ve devoted several recent posts on the biblical evidence of the substance of the video below, Pastor Dever’s thoughts are brief, concise, and representative of what I’ve tried to communicate recently.
It’s never fun when one’s beliefs are misrepresented or when straw men are used in an attempt to undermine a particular conviction that one may have. Even still, it falls under the category of misrepresentation to say that a person who holds to a particular view or conviction necessarily represents everyone else who holds to the same view.
Now, while the video shown here indicates clearly that the perspective being presented regarding salvation in the Old Testament is dispensationalism, I wanted to give another example of a dispensationalist that rightly views salvation in the Old Testament. I believe this is fair, so as to avoid any unfair criticism. Below is a video of the well-respected Tommy Nelson. I interacted briefly with his understanding of dispensational theology here.
In this video, Nelson, himself a dispensationalist, rightly points out salvation in the Old Testament and makes particular mention of the types that point forward to Christ. As a side, it’s interesting to hear him conclude that God’s true religion has always and only been Christianity, i.e. faith in Christ. He even goes so far as to call Christianity the right expression of Judaism, i.e. that it is Christ that has come from the line of Judah. Not to undermine Dr. Nelson’s explanation here, but this should go to show that there exists a wide-range of views which identify themselves under the umbrella of dispensational theology.
Below is a video which highlights some of the various misunderstandings I pointed out in the last post. In the video, Dr. Randy White attempts to answer the question that we began looking at in that post, Were Old Testament People Saved?
This is not a personal attack on either Dr. White or his ministry, it’s simply an interaction with the doctrinal views that he sets forth in the video below. As a side note, I am thankful that in putting forth his answer, Dr. White has indicated his theological position as a dispensationalist. That is extremely helpful in understanding what he is trying to say and the direction he is coming from. Take a listen to his response and perhaps re-read the last post. I hope to follow this critique up with a post addressing some of the passages he brings up, but more fully the continuity of salvation between the Old and New Testaments.
Below the video, I’ve transcribed some of his more interesting notes/comments in black, along with my interaction in red.
What about the salvation of those who lived before Jesus Christ 2:10 This is the fundamental question.
We look back (propitiation) Glad that Dr. White has pointed out the biblical necessity of propitiation, more on this later.
3:05 Dispensational theologian This is good. He helps us identify where he is coming from.
4:00 simplistic answer – “Saved in OT just like in NT; saved in that day just like in this day- by faith in Jesus Christ. We look back, they looked forward” His summary of this view is fair.
4:50 No doubt that Jesus was promised in the OT; The first promise of salvation Gen. 3:15 This is interesting that Dr. White has recognized the protoevangelion, or first Gospel because this is precisely what I brought up in the previous post.
Were they saved by simply looking forward to the coming Messiah or is there something else to it? Good summary of the problem.
5:30 – Proof text He identifies what a proof text is; This is helpful, but it’s a setup for a straw-man.
Genesis 15:6 – This is the text identified as a Proof text. Those who use this text say everyone is saved by believing; by grace through faith
Counted unto him for righteousness – Abraham believed in the Lord and it was counted unto him for righteousness.
Charge to be Berean -like Acts 17
Does this answer square up with the Bible? Ask a few questions: What did Abraham believe? What does credited unto righteousness believe? These are fair questions to ask
7:20 “In the Context of Genesis 15 it wasn’t that Abraham had belief in a coming Messiah, I think he already did that. I think he already had that belief and held to that belief.” Notice what Dr. White is saying here. He is asserting that Abraham had faith in the coming Messiah. How did he know about a Messiah? Let alone have faith in him? And as we’ll see it is THIS faith that results in righteousness being credited or imputed to him.
He really believed that God would give him an offspring.
From his own body. This is true, in the near context. However, the Apostle Paul’s explanation of this passage offers much more.
So “just believe and they were saved. That’s how Abraham was saved. But what did he believe” In his coming son.” With all due respect to Dr. White, he seems to take a condescending tone to the concept of salvation by faith alone. I’m uncertain if this is intentional or not, but later on this will come up again.
Different than believing in the propitiation of a coming Messiah. This is true, but God had not yet revealed this to Abraham, or anyone else for that matter. Even as a dispensationalist, Dr. White should recognize and agree with the doctrine of progressive revelation and realize that God calls Abraham to believe in the promise of a coming Seed; yes, in the near context this is his own son, but more was revealed to Abraham in Genesis 12. He is not asking him to provide a dissertation on substitutionary atonement, simply to believe.
9:05 Romans 4 “counted unto righteousness used in reference to justified.” Dr. White offers a warning of using these terms in reference to personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
It may mean something else. You can be justified in a number of different ways.
– 9:42 Gen. 15 used in the NT as an illustration – In the same way God made a promise to Abraham He makes a promise to us.
– Given to us by faith.
– 10:15 Paul uses the illustration to say that Abraham was saved by grace through faith. James comes to say, using the same
verse, to say Abraham was not saved by faith alone by also by works. When we begin to ask questions is not as cut and dry and as simple. There are several problems to be noted with this section, not the least of which is that Scripture never contradicts itself. In a subtle way, Dr. White has left this door wide open without explaining how Paul in Romans and James do not contradict each other, but rather compliment each other. Secondly, dispensationlists are fond of using the term “illustration” when citing the New Testament use of the Old Testament because it frees them from the responsibility of seeing continuity between the Testament’s and allows them to remain “rightly divided”. The Apostle Paul is using the reference to Abraham as much more than an illustration, but as an example and one with application to Paul’s audience and our own day. Namely, that just as with Abraham, so now, salvation is by faith alone. He cites Genesis 15:6 to show that Abraham was justified, i.e. made right with God prior to his circumcision, i.e. obedience to the law. The “counted as righteousness” is actually better translated imputed righteousness, giving clear implication to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to Abraham. More on this passage in the next post.
Dr. White cites Ephesians 2:11-12 and comments You Gentiles in times past (previous dispensation) were aliens, foreigners, not in commonwealth of Israel; strangers from the promise; Because of this you had no hope, without God in the world
– Clear and powerful words
– Gentiles in the previous dispensation, unless they found a way to come into the commonwealth of Israel were without hope; absolutely no hope
– What does this do to “Just believe and you are saved?”
– Well not if you were a Gentile you didn’t; you were without hope.
– Only in THIS dispensation (but now) are made nigh by the blood of Jesus.
– Previously it didn’t matter if you had faith, didn’t matter if you were sincere, didn’t matter if you believed in a coming Messiah
– YOU WERE WITHOUT HOPE The use of this passage would fit well with his description of a “proof text”. If I understand him correctly, he is using the phrase “without hope” to mean that the Gentiles had no chance of salvation prior to Christ. This is alarming to say the least. Why then would God waste His time by sending the prophet Jonah to the gentiles in Ninevah? Maybe it should be noted that Abraham was a gentile also. Who exactly was a Jew? One whose father was “Jewish”? That would eliminate Jacob and our Lord Jesus Christ by the way. So maybe its through matrilineal descent; then what about the entrance of Ruth into the line of David. Not to mention the line of Christ which included the gentile women Ruth, Rahab, and Bathsheba. Dr. White may want to rethink his supposition that gentiles, simply because of their race or heritage, could not be saved in the OT. It is meant to be a general statement referring to those people who did not fear God and obey His commandments, summarized as “gentiles in the flesh” (which is an important reference to the uncircumcised), because they were outside of the Jewish community and the benefits and promises that God had given them. No hope does not mean no chance, as Dr. White seems to imply.
13:40 So then, maybe it was just the Hebrew people that could have faith. But what about the law? What about the sacrifices? What about the Passover Lamb? Was all that symbolic, did it just take faith to be saved? Or did it also take the sacrificing of a lamb and the placing of the blood on the doorpost? This is the erection of a classic straw-man argument.
14:12 If you had faith but didn’t have obedience, then I wonder would you have been saved? If you had faith but no lamb would you have been saved? If you had faith but you had some kind of physical ailment that prevented you from putting blood on the doorpost would you have been saved? Not according to Scripture. According to Scripture – it was the physical blood on the doorpost that was the sign to cause the Angel of Death to pass by. What Dr. White has actually set forward here is that Jews, because they had the law, were saved on the basis of that law. In other words faith + works. And thus we have the classic dispensational two-ways of salvation. The entire book of Hebrews undermines this assertion. In fact, if salvation could come under Old Covenant obedience to the law, then there was no need for Christ. He ruined a good thing. He was unnecessary. Surely Dr. White would not assert this, but by necessary implication this is where his view ultimately leads.
What about the law given to Moses at Sinai – were they just ceremonial? I don’t think so. If an Israelite chose not participate in the covenants of Israel, would he be saved? Even if he had faith? No I don’t believe so, it really did take some more. Salvation has never been faith + works, but though saved by faith alone the believer now has a desire to obey and “work” so to speak. The Pharisees were guilty of superficial obedience to the law, when God required a heart of obedience (Mark 12:29-33).
The problem is we’re asking the wrong question that the OT doesn’t answer. Redemption in OT is actually a word about the redemption of creation. Salvation is about Israel and created order. OT is more about the redemption of creation than it is the salvation of an individual. Only when we come into this dispensation do we see any word about going to heaven after you die or having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This isn’t what the OT is about; it’s about something else. There is alot in here to respond to, but let me just summarily say that these statements, while partially true, fail to recognize that the entirety of the Old Testament anticipates the coming of the Messiah, who will redeem not only creation, but a people for Himself and this begins no less with the people of the Old Testament.
Going to OT to ask about personal salvation, but it is not a book about personal salvation
17:00 Many people of the OT were people of faith, no doubt about it. Sites Hebrews 11. If the OT has many people of faith, what was their faith in? What good was it for?There are certainly people in the OT who walk by faith. Faith in Whom? He has no answer for this, nor an answer for salvation in the OT, so he again resorts to Genesis 15:6 and sets up an argument for how it doesn’t mean what Paul says it does in Romans 4 by taking the phrase “counted to him as righteousness” and showing how Scripture uses it in other ways.
Ps. 106:30-31 Counted to him as righteousness; same words as Abraham. Unto all generations for evermore; even stronger than Abraham. He is using Scripture against Scripture again without any explanation and this is simply indefensible.
Too simplistic to just believe; dangerous just to simplify Scripture Too simplistic to just believe? Friend, this is precisely what Scripture commands, a simplistic, child-like faith.If we are required to DO anything in addition to our faith, then we have a works-righteousness religion and the Reformation never happened.
Deut. 6:25 – Righteousness for us, if we do these commandments
21:30 Luke 10 – story of Good Samaritan. If you love the Lord your God…you shall live. “Wait a minute Jesus, why didn’t you tell them if you believe? You told them they had to do the law.” Paul quotes the same verse, those who live by the law its how they shall live. This is simply shocking. Using the OT to defend a belief that the Jews were saved by faith + works is one thing, but using the NT, a quotation of Jesus no less, to prove faith + law= salvation is simply wrong! I sincerely hope this is not what he meant, but it is what he said. He is showing here how his dispensational system cannot only rectify salvation in the OT, but law in the NT. It is a flawed understanding of Law/Gospel that is at the heart of dispensationalism and ultimately drives the distinction between Israel and the Church.
22:00 Cannot put away obedience to the law; would marginalize the strict nature of the law in the OT. Again, this is faith + works and it violates everything the OT says about the law and certainly everything the NT says about the law, namely Romans 3:21-31. Obedience is required of believers, but not for their salvation.
22:10 “Ugh, just believe! Well it did take belief. The Lord wants belief even before He wants sacrifice, but in the OT He wanted that sacrifice as well.” I don’t wanna marginalize the law. On the one hand he affirms the necessity of faith, then on the other affirms faith plus works. The contradictory nature of his responses reveals much about the position he represents. It is internally inconsistent and therefore unbiblical.
If we come along and we see that there really is a difference before the cross of Christ and after the cross of Christ, then I think what we’re doing is exactly what Scripture tells us to do and “Rightly divide the word of truth.” This is a fundamental dispensational misapplication of this passage to “rightly divide the word” which they take to mean divide it between the testaments. - There’s alot of sloppy division going on. Agreed, primarily within the dispensational stream (sorry couldn’t resist!).
If you’ll rightly divide the word of truth and recognize there really is a difference in dispensation, that will help you to understand the whole word of God in a way that is rich and true and powerful. This video helpfully illustrates the point I was interacting with in the previous post and it serves to reveal the fundamental error of two-ways of salvation that the classic dispensationalist sets forth. The Bible, in both testaments, has only known salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone and Lord willing, I can show that more fully in a subsequent post.
Ephesians 4:15 "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ"