Category Archives: Book Reviews

January ’14 Issue of Credo Magazine

The latest issue of Credo Magazine is now available.  I was fortunate enough to be involved in the proofreading for this issue and there are a lot of great articles.  It is a theologically rich, online magazine with excellent formatting and best of all its free!  Take a look below at some of the articles included in the current issue:

  • Thomas Schreiner review N.T. Wright and his book Paul and the Faithfulness of God.
  • Executive Editor of CredoMag, Matthew Barrett, interviews Michael Horton, Brian Vickers, J.V. Fesko, Guy Waters, Korey Maas, and Philip Ryken on whether Justification by Faith is still the Dividing Line.
  • Barrett writes on “The Biblical Beauty of Sola Fide: Understanding Faith in Christ with John Owen”
  • Fred Zaspel “Let the Children come to Jesus” (an encouraging article on teaching your children the meaning of justification)
  • There are also additional interviews and several book reviews of recent publications including: Preaching: A Biblical Theology by Jason Meyer, One with Christ: An Evangelical Theology of Salvation by Marcus Johnson, Church History, Two Volumes by Everett Ferguson, John D. Woodbridge, and Frank A. James III, and Four Views on the Role of Works at the Final Judgment by Wilkin, Schreiner, Dunn and Barber.

Check out this latest issue and be sure to check out their regular blog at CredoMag.com

A Response to Historic Premillennialism

Below is the first of 4 posts interacting with the prominent views of the millennium (and eschatology) as they are included in the book: The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views.  For a discussion on 3 of the millennial views, please see the following video post: An Evening of Eschatology .

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hispreSeveral months ago (maybe a year?), I purchased an older out-of-print book entitled The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views.[1] It was part of an early series that allowed four theologians holding different views on a particular doctrine to present their own view and then offered them the opportunity to critique and interact with the other views, not too dissimilar from the “Evening of Eschatology” video I showed last time. This counterpoint series continues today, though this particular volume has been updated. In this work, the four theologians, George Eldon Ladd, Herman A. Hoyt, Loraine Boettner, and Anthony Hoekema each present their various positions on the millennium, which is a reference to the thousand year period mentioned in Revelation 20. In the 4+ years I’ve been writing on this blog, I don’t think I have one post that mentions anything about the end times, or the period leading up to the end times (also known as eschatology or the study of last things). This has been due in large part to my lack of understanding or really my lack of desire to devote attention to this massive subject, hence the book referenced above. Since this book presents the 4 main views on the thousand years, Historic Premillennialism, Dispensational Premillennialsim, Postmillennialism, and Amillennialism, I won’t take the time here to describe each position, but I’d like to devote a post interacting with each essay from the book.

In reading The Meaning of the Millennium the first essay is written by George Eldon Ladd and he represents his view called “Historic Premillennialsim” (hereafter HP). Ladd describes Premillennialism as the “doctrine stating that after the Second Coming of Christ, he [Christ] will reign for a thousand years over the earth before the final consummation of God’s redemptive purpose in the new heavens and the new earth of the Age to Come.”[2] While even that definition might sound complex, largely this view is based on an understanding that Christ will return prior to the 1000 year period described in Revelation 20:1-6 and establish His earthly kingdom, reigning on an earthly throne until the period of 1000 years ends. The “Historic” addition to the doctrinal name distinguishes it from Dispensational Premillennialism and the widespread belief is that many of the early church fathers (Ireneaus [140-203], Polycarp [69-155], Justin Martyr [100-165], and Papias [80-155])[3] held to a form of this position, though at the time it would have been called “chiliasm”.

This was my first exposure to the writings of Ladd and I can safely say he is an enjoyable read and a knowledgeable theologian. His writing style is smooth, logical, and flows well. He would have nearly convinced me of his position had it not been for his interpretation of Revelation 19 and 20. There is much to commend in Ladd’s explanation of HP. He begins with an overview of the position followed by a section on Hermeneutics[4] (the science of interpretation) wherein he begins to draw a line in the sand between HP and dispensationalism.[5] He states, “Dispensational theory insists that many of the Old Testament prophecies predict the millennium and must be drawn in to construct the picture of Messiah’s millennial reign. This view is based upon the hermeneutic that the Old Testament prophecies must be interpreted literally.”[6][7] Perhaps a better term than literal interpretation would be “grammatical-historical interpretation”.[8] By stating this, Ladd goes on to point out that dispensationalism sees the distinction between Israel and the Church.[9] This becomes a major focus for Ladd, and rightly so, as he must distinguish his position from the position that shares a similar view on the 1000 years. The dispensational view sees God as having two distinct plans and peoples, Israel and the Church. However, as Ladd points out, this is where the “literal” hermeneutic of dispensationalism begins to focus too narrowly on the prophecies of the Old Testament while failing to see their fulfillment in the New Testament. To describe this, Ladd states that the opposite to a literal hermeneutic, or what some might call a straightforward/natural interpretation, of the Old Testament is a “spiritualizing” hermeneutic.[10] This is my first real disagreement with Ladd. There is no “opposite” to a grammatical-historical hermeneutic, but there are valid options such as a redemptive-historical hermeneutic utilized by Christ and His apostles. Ladd appears to advocate for this particular way of interpreting the Bible without actually naming the method. He states, “The fact is that the New Testament frequently interprets Old Testament prophecies in a way not suggested by the Old Testament context.”[11] (emphasis his) He adds that the Old Testament is often “reinterpreted” in light of the person and work of Christ.[12]

In reaching his conclusion on this section, Ladd realizes that while much of the Old Testament, in its context, focuses on national Israel, the reality is that much of the New Testament takes many of these OT references and applies them to Christ and the Church. In this way he views the Church as the “spiritual Israel”.[13] With this conclusion I am in much agreement with Ladd. He summarizes this section with the following, “Dispensationalism forms its eschatology by a literal interpretation of the Old Testament and then fits the New Testament into it. A nondispensational eschatology forms its theology from the explicit teaching of the New Testament.”

Ladd transitions from his view on Israel and the Church to a discussion on the millennium, namely his understanding of Revelation 20:1-6, by providing the New Testament context for the millennium, particularly that of Christology or how it relates to the person and work of Christ. I found this section extremely helpful. In laying out his view, Ladd refers to this as the “heavenly session of Christ”.[14] Biblically we would find a reference to this in Hebrews 1:3, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (emphasis mine). See also: Heb. 2:7-8; Heb. 10:12-13; Psalm 110:1; Rev. 3:21; 1 Cor. 15:24-26. This passage speaks clearly of Christ’s reign as Messianic King. The reason Ladd points this out is because the dispensational premillennialist view sees the millennium as the 1000 year literal reign of Christ as he sits on David’s throne in Jerusalem. As Ladd states, “The New Testament does not make the reign of Christ one that is limited to Israel in the millennium. It is a spiritual reign in heaven which has already been inaugurated, and its primary purpose is to destroy Christ’s spiritual enemies, the last of which is death.”[15] Ladd states his belief that Christ’s reign “is a spiritual reign in heaven which has already been inaugurated.”[16] He confirms this by pointing out Peter’s inspired reference to Psalm 110:2 in Acts 2:34-35, “For David did not ascend into the heavens; but he himself says, “The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet’.” [17] Ladd interprets this to mean that Peter, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has transferred the throne of David from Jerusalem to Zion, i.e. heaven. [18] This position sounds very similar to that held by amillienialists, but again I find myself in agreement with Ladd.

With this established, Ladd moves toward his discussion on the millennium and begins with the assertion that “a millennial doctrine cannot be based on Old Testament prophecies but should be based on the New Testament alone. The only place in the Bible that speaks of an actual millennium is the passage in Revelation 20:1-6.” [19] Ladd is quick to point out the apocalyptic genre of Revelation and its use of highly symbolic language. This brings up a secondary question of the validity of a dispensational “literal” hermeneutic applied to a largely symbolic text. Are we to expect literal dragons and beasts? Hardly, and while this is an oversimplification, it goes to show that one must allow the genre and the context of God’s Word to speak.

Summarizing Ladd’s view on the millennium, he first notes that the events of Revelation 20 follow the vision of the Second Coming of Christ (19:11-16). He points out that Christ returns with the only weapon mentioned, the sword, which He uses to smite the nations (Rev. 19:15). [20] There is something to note right away in Ladd’s interpretation. Notice that he fully recognizes that Christ destroys the nations by the sword in Revelation 19:15. If Ladd is correct in his assumption that Revelation 20 follows the vision of Christ’s second coming in Revelation 19 and at that second coming He is wielding the sword, who then are the nations that Satan is to deceive in Revelation 20? There is no indication that Christ puts His sword away and prepares for a 1000 year period of peace because the context goes on to say, “And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshipped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.” Revelation 19:19-21 If, as Ladd states, Revelation 20 follows chronologically upon the second coming of Christ in Revelation 19, who then is left to comprise the nations that Christ has just slain? The deception of the nations has taken place; they have the mark of the beast, have worshipped him and have now suffered their due punishment at the hand of Christ. This is a question that Ladd has not answered using his interpretation.

The trajectory of Ladd, which I have been in much agreement with up to this point (except where mentioned above) begins to take a turn in his remaining interpretation. While Revelation 19:6-10 discusses the marriage supper of the Lamb with His bride, Ladd is forced to insert a gap period between this (re)union and a later reference to the bride in Revelation 21:2. He is forced to insert this gap in order to make his understanding of the millennium fit. It doesn’t seem to be the natural reading of the passage. The order of events seem clearly laid out in chapter 19 with no need to insert a gap. This must call into question the meaning of the millennium in Chapter 20. Ladd, like all premillennialist, believes that upon Christ’s return He seals up Satan in the pit and then begins His 1000 year reign at the conclusion of which, Satan is loosed, deceives the nations (weren’t they destroyed already in Chapter 19?), and leads a rebellion against the enthroned Christ.

Ladd spends several pages discussing the translation of “they came to life” in Revelation 20:4. This is where an understanding of the biblical mention of a 1st and 2nd resurrection is helpful, as mentioned in Revelation 20:5. Ladd rightly asks, “Is it literal, a resurrection of the body, or spiritual, a resurrection of the soul?” [22] The answer to this question, he states, is the key to the solution of the millennial question. Ladd goes on to say that the spiritual interpretation cannot be discarded because elsewhere the Bible speaks of a spiritual resurrection, i.e. Ephesians 2:1-6. Referencing John 5:25-29 Ladd points out the emphasis on spiritual resurrection and bodily resurrection in the same context. He states that nonmillenarians argue that Revelation 20 should be interpreted in a way analogous to John 5. An argument that I’m not certain Ladd adequately defends nor does it seem can be easily dismissed. The Apostle John is the writer of both his Gospel and Revelation and it would seem that his understanding of the resurrection would be consistent. Pointing out this example would not seem to justify Ladd’s view, but actually could serve to hurt it. Continuing through his explanation of the first and second resurrections mentioned in Revelation 20:4 and vs. 5 respectively, Ladd concludes that this passage, “4 And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection,” is referring to a literal, physical resurrection. [22] For me, this discussion deserves additional attention, because I’m not sure Ladd has impressed upon me the importance of proving a literal resurrection here as a proof for the premillennial position.

As Ladd begins to conclude his position, he points out that the strongest argument against the millennial position is that the 1000 years is only mentioned in Revelation 20. [23] It would seem precarious to build a major doctrinal position on such a difficult and isolated passage as Revelation 20, but the burden of proof rests on the millenarian. In conclusion of reviewing Ladd’s historical premillennial view, I’d like to provide some questions that Ladd raises in his concluding remarks: 1) Upon death, Scripture is clear that the righteous inherit eternal life and the wicked eternal punishment; the premillennial view however, would lead either to the position of no death in the millennium or that upon death a believer enters back into the millennium in their glorified bodies, neither of which is supported in Scripture. Ladd states, “Eternal life (from Matthew 25:46) is not the millennium but the eternal life of the Age to Come.” The logical conclusion from this statement would seem to undercut his position of the millennium and his explanation of a literal resurrection prior to the millennium. 2) From Ladd, “I can find no trace of the idea of either an interim earthly kingdom or of a millennium in the Gospels.” Interestingly the phrase Kingdom of God is used some 50+ times in the Gospels, not to mention the use of Kingdom of Heaven 30+ times, yet according to Ladd neither is ever in used in relation to a millennium. A point so critical to the fulfillment of the person and work of Jesus Christ, as the millennial kingly reign would appear to be, and yet Jesus never mentions it one time. 3) “The New Testament nowhere expounds the theology of the millennium, that is, its purpose in God’s redemptive plan.” As Ladd points out in this quote, this is among the most serious difficulties with the premillennial position.

These questions (and others) would lead one to ask, if the millennium serves no purpose in “eternal life”, has no clear reference to the Kingdom and reign of Christ in the Gospels, and is never clearly developed as a doctrinal position nor connected to God’s redemptive plan in the New Testament, what then is the purpose of the millennium? Ladd seemingly concludes that it is to “reveal to the world as we know it the glory and power of Christ’s reign” [24] and upon the release of Satan to lead the rebellion of men, it serves to “commend the justice of God in the final judgment.” [25] Neither of these reasons seem compelling to convince me of the historic premillennial position, as both reasons have been progressively answered/revealed throughout the pages of Scripture into the present.

Next: A Response to Dispensational Premillennialism

[1] Ladd, George Ladd, et.al. The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1977.

[2] Page 17

[3] http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Eschatology/Millennial-Views/Historic-Premillennialism/ (accessed June 29, 2013)

[4] Page 18

[5] http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Dispensationalism/ (accessed June 30, 2013)

[6] Page 18

[7] For a discussion on the difficulty of defining “literal interpretation” see Vern Poythress’ article “What is Literal Interpretation?” available here: http://www.the-highway.com/literal1_Poythress.html

[8] Grammatical-historical interpretation may be defined as: “an objective procedure for determining the meaning intended by the human author through an examination of the language of the text and its historical circumstances.” See: http://www.frame-poythress.org/the-presence-of-god-qualifying-our-notions-of-grammatical-historical-interpretation-genesis-315-as-a-test-case/

[9] Page 19

[10 Ibid.

[11] Page 20

[12] Page21

[13] Page 25; He cites Romans 4:11, Romans 4:16, Galatians 3:7, Galatians 3:19, Romans 2:28-29, and Galatians 6:16 as a few examples.

[14] Page 29

[15] Page 29-30

[16] Page 30

[17] Page 31

[18] Ibid.

[19] Page 32

[20] Page 33

[21] Page 35

[22] Page 37

[23] Page 38

[24] Page 39

[25] Page 40

Book Review: Exegetical Fallacies

Recommendation: Recommended; Caveat: This book contains a significant amount of Greek

Introduction

One word can be used to describe opening the pages of D.A. Carson’s challenging book Exegetical Fallacies, caution.  From the opening chapter on, Carson sets forth argument after argument against the common fallacies that are seen in so many exegetical works and sermons.  The word caution comes to mind because his style, delivery, and content should actually serve to cause any current or prospective pastor/theologian to proceed with caution in their exegesis.  There is a very real potential that readers of this book will feel crippled by it lest they run their exegesis of any and every passage through the grid that Carson establishes.  Not without warning though, Carson sets forth in his introduction a section entitled “The Dangers of this Study,”[1] wherein he points out the risks of such an impact on the student.  He adds, “If there are so many exegetical traps, so many hermeneutical pitfalls, how can I ever be confident that I am rightly interpreting and preaching the Scriptures?”[2]  Carson however, rightly points out that avoiding a study like this will only cause the exegete greater difficulties and mistakes than if they faced the challenges set forth in the book.

With this perspective, one can begin to see that this study is intended to become less crippling for the exegete and more thought-provoking and instructive.  In the “Introduction”, the primary danger of this study is defined as “distanciation”, which Carson says, “is a necessary component of critical work; but it is difficult and sometimes costly.”[3]  Distanciation is defined as “setting or keeping something at a distance, especially mentally.”[4]    Simply put, what he is implying here is that often a critical study of the Bible can become so cerebral as to create a distance between the student and work being studied, in this case God’s word.  In following his introduction, Carson lays out 4 main categories of fallacies that will each be reviewed: word-study fallacies[5], grammatical fallacies[6], logical fallacies[7], and presuppositional and historical fallacies[8].

 Summary

Chapter One of Exegetical Fallacies addresses the largest group of fallacies categorized by Carson, the word-study fallacy.  He further breaks down this collection into 16 individual errors.  One of particular interest was defined as the root fallacy which the author describes as “one of the most enduring of errors…presupposes that every word actually has a meaning bound up with its shape or its components.”[9]  This fallacy was especially instructive because it included the ever-popular agapeand phileo (forgive my lack of Greek fonts) distinction.  Carson argues that these words, both translated into English as love, have “substantial overlap; and where they overlap, appeal to a ‘root meaning’ in order to discern a difference is fallacious.”[10]  Therein lays the fallacy, when the exegete seeks to draw a distinction between the two words based on root meaning, the root fallacy evidenced.  Concluding, Carson writes, “My only point here is that there is nothing intrinsic to the verb agape or the noun phileo to prove its real meaning or hidden meaning refers to some special kind of love.”[11]  Carson moves on in his examination of word-study fallacies to include several semantical fallacies in which either the modern use of a word is read back into the text or where a historical meaning of a word is assigned to the corresponding word in the text.[12]

Grammatical fallacies are the focus of chapter 2 and admittedly, the driver in this shortened discussion is the limited grammatical focus of theology students.[13]  It would be superfluous to summarize every one of the 7 fallacies listed in this chapter, however, Carson groups these into 2 categories: Fallacies Connected with Various Tenses and Moods[14] and Fallacies Connected with Various Syntactical Units.[15]  The former group is not found to refer to tense in any traditional sense of the grammatical use, such as past tense, present tense, etc., but instead Carson uses it to refer to “morphological form, with no implications whatsoever with respect to time. “[16]  These forms which Carson examines include the aorist tense, first person aorist subjunctive, and the middle voice.  Moving to the second category of grammatical fallacies, the author shifts his focus to fallacies of various syntactical units, or in other words, a fallacy based on incorrect assumptions from how a sentence is structured.  Of note in this group is the Granville Sharp rule[17], which is related to the grouping of words using kai.

The next two chapters of Exegetical Fallacies expose errors of the logical and presuppositional/historical variety, chapters 3 and 4 respectively.  In Chapter 3, Carson sets forth his argument against fallacies that are logical in nature, which very simply refers to those fallacies in which the misapplication of evidence has been used to reach a faulty conclusion.  This, at least it would appear, seems to be one of the more widespread categories of fallacies, but perhaps the least often recognized.  Chapter 4 concludes Carson’s examination of fallacies with a look at presuppositional and historical fallacies.  This chapter, as Carson readily admits[18] could easily be addressed in a book of its own.  Surely, one must agree that an exegete’s presuppositions are critically important to understanding the exegete’s conclusions.  Related are those of the historical variety in which an exegete often misrepresents historical reconstruction.

Concluding his work, Carson reflects on the possibility for at least seven additional fallacies which could have been investigated in another book.  Nevertheless, he addresses well the potential pitfalls and discouragements that might come from reading a book like this by adding, “A little self-doubt will do no harm and may do a great deal of good: we will be more open to learn and correct our mistakes.  But too much will shackle and stifle us with deep insecurities and make us so much aware of methods that we may overlook truth ourselves.”[19]  In other words, the very danger of distanciation that Carson alluded to at the beginning of his book.

Strengths

D.A. Carson’s book has obvious strengths for any study of its kind that seeks to make the theologian, both of the student and pastoral variety, more aware of inherent fallacies that can persist without careful attention to detail and exegesis.  Such strengths include improved accuracy in the handling of Scripture, greater awareness of the types and varieties of fallacies, and providing an exegetical grid to work from in sermon and writing preparation.  Certainly, all interested parties would answer in the affirmative to a desire to more rightly handle the Word and Exegetical Fallacies can serve as a tool to help that become more of a reality in evangelical pulpits.

Weaknesses

It is difficult to highlight particular weaknesses in a book that has such obvious strengths and a central thesis that is necessary for today’s study of Scripture without becoming overly critical or sensitive.  However, there are glaring limitations of a study of this kind that cannot go unmentioned.  Chief among them may be the tone of delivery for a book that seeks to correct the large majority of errors that are taking place among one’s peers.  It is near impossible to determine the intended tone from mere words on a page, so one is limited to perception.  Far from accusing Carson of taking a haughty tone on purpose, it is difficult to ignore how he sometimes comes across to his audience as singularly holding the theological keys to exegesis which many well-respected theologians have not had the privilege, education, or experience to hold.

Similarly, another particular distraction from the fallacies that Carson outlines throughout his book seems to be his particular bent in naming offenders of the various fallacies he outlines.  While it may be necessary to describe fallacies, while likewise ascribing them, it could have the appearance of either a witch-hunt or unnecessarily throwing peers “under the bus” while simultaneously asserting that he alone holds the premium on exegetical faithfulness.  As Carson himself admits to his own less than precise exegesis[20] in the latter part of the book, it would seem then that he could have maintained greater integrity of the book and accomplished its goal of identifying exegetical fallacies while limiting the number of personal references.

Conclusion

There is little questioning the importance of this book for the Church today.  Pastors, teachers, and lay leaders alike will benefit greatly from D.A. Carson’s analysis as they observe the various fallacies and pitfalls in personal exegesis.  The strengths severely outweigh any perceived weaknesses, though one reading this book should do so while keeping the warnings that Carson describes in mind to avoid the potential “paralysis of analysis” that may result from such an intense work.

 


[1] D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd edition (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1996). 22

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 23.

[5] Ibid., 27-64.

[6] Ibid., 65-86.

[7] Ibid., 87-123.

[8] Ibid., 125-136.

[9] Ibid., 28.

[10] Ibid., 31.

[11] Ibid., 32.

[12] Ibid., 33-36. The former refers to semantic anachronism and the latter to semantic obsolescence.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 67.

[15] Ibid., 77.

[16] Ibid., 67.

[17] Ibid., 81.

[18] Ibid., 125.

[19] Ibid., 142.

[20] Ibid., 113.