Tag Archives: Dispensationalism

The Old Testament – Messianic?

Last week I finished up my seminary Hermeneutics class, which is largely why I haven’t posted recently.  The course caused me to really reflect on the Scriptures, particularly its Christ-centered nature.  In my reflection, there were some things brought out from the course that I felt deserved some additional thought, one of which was the New Testament use of the Old Testament.  Coming from a background where most of the churches I’ve attended have been dispensational, who largely dismiss the Old Testament as Jewish Scripture with little, if any value for the New Testament Christian, it’s interesting to think through how the NT uses the OT.  I‘ve never really felt comfortable with the dispensational view because of its tendency to drive a wedge between the continuity of God’s Word.  For the dispensationalist, what are we to do with all of the New Testament references to the Old?  What about when the New Testament makes explicit references to the Gospel and the person and work of Jesus Christ from the Old Testament?  To answer these questions, and others, I’d like to make a proposition, as stated by Jim Hamilton: “The Old Testament is a messianic document, written from a messianic perspective, to sustain a messianic hope.”[1]  In this way, the New Testament interprets the Old Testament and the Old Testament is always pointing forward to Christ.  Here is a brief collection of some passages I pulled together which seem to support this or at least cause a deeper reflection:

Matthew 21:42 (quoting Psalm 118:22-23) “Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Matthew 22:29-33 “But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.”

Matthew 22:34-40 “34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 26:54 (Jesus at His Betrayal in the Garden) “But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

Mark 14:49  (Jesus speaking) “Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But let the Scriptures be fulfilled.”

Luke 24:25-27;44-47 “Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

Luke 24:44-49 “Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

Luke 1:67-71 “67 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, 68“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people 69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, 70as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us;

John 5:39-40 “39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. “

Acts 2:25-31 “25 For David says concerning him, “‘I saw the Lord always before me,  for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken: 26therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. 27For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. 28You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’”

Acts 8:29-35 “29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. 33In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.

Acts 10:43 “To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Acts 17:2-3 “2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”

Acts 18:24-28 “24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit,he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.”

Acts 26:22-23 “22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

Romans 1:1-3 “1 Paul, a servantof Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning his Son, who was descended from Davidaccording to the flesh”

Romans 3:21-22 “21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction”

Romans 15:4 “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

Romans 16:25-27 “25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 “3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”

2 Timothy 3:15-16 “15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,17 that the man of Godmay be complete, equipped for every good work.”

 

In Hamilton’s work from which the above proposition was cited, he proves his thesis by working from the Old Testament forward, beginning with the proto evangelion in Genesis 3:15 progressing through the rest of the Bible.  He concludes, “The Old Testament is a messianic document, written from a messianic perspective, to sustain a messianic hope.  I believe the messianic thrust of the OT was the whole reason the books of the Hebrew Bible were written.  In other words, the Hebrew Bible was not written as the national literature of Israel.  It probably also was not written to the nation of Israel as such.  It was rather written, in my opinion, as the expression of the deep-seated messianic hope of a small group of faithful prophets and their followers.”  I concur with Hamilton’s conclusion.

The Old Testament is referenced or alluded to in all of the New Testament books except Philemon and 2 & 3 John.  The above is just a sampling of the more explicit references to the Old Testament by the New Testament, but I think they equally prove this massive proposition.  Interestingly enough, Trevin Wax[2] has consolidated 7 example categories for Christ centered preaching based on Sidney Griedanus’ book Preaching Christ from Genesis. They are as follows:

  1. Redemptive-Historical Progression  (For more information on the redemptive-historical hermeneutic see Dennis Johnson’s excellent book Him We Proclaim.)
  2. Promise-Fulfillment   (This is what Hamilton does with Genesis 3:15)
  3. Typology (I’ve pointed out some examples of typology here: Jesus Calms the Storm here: Preaching Christ from the Old Testament and here: Every Story Whispers His Name )
  4. Analogy (See Matthew 24:37-41; also the parallels between God and Israel and Christ and the Church)
  5. Longitudinal Themes (from Wax, “Examples of these themes would be God’s kingdom (brought ultimately by Jesus Christ the King), God’s presence (foreshadowed in the Temple but fulfilled in Christ’s incarnation), and God’s judgment (seen in God’s actions against sin, but also His willingness to bring salvation through judgment)”).
  6. New Testament References (This is what I’ve attempted to show above)
  7. Contrast (This would be what is commonly referred to as “discontinuity”, whereas the majority of those above would be focused primarily on the the continuity between the Old and New Testaments)

God has always had one plan of redemption for one people through His Son Jesus Christ and all Scripture, both Old and New point to that reality.  You can clearly reach that conclusion from either direction.  The question remains, given the Christ-centered focus of Scripture, why would anyone be content preaching stories from the Old Testament or morality from the New Testament. Preach Christ!

 



[1]James Hamilton, “The Skull Crushing Seed of the Woman: Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Genesis 3:15,” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology 10.2 (2006), 44, n.5. Readers may find this online in its entirety at: http://jimhamilton.files.wordpress.com/2008/04/hamilton_sbjt_10-2.pdf

[2] Trevin Wax: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2013/06/04/7-ways-of-preaching-christ-from-the-old-testament/

 

 

One Body, One Church

Ephesians 2:11-22 11 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— 12 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. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 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, 16and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

In the late 1800s to early 1900s a unique system of theological thought emerged on the scene primary birthed by John Darby, Louis Sperry Chafer, and C.I. Scofield and was brought into the mainstream by Charles Ryrie and others.  This “dispensational” system of biblical interpretation is summarized by Ryrie in 3 main points:

  1. A clear distinction between Israel and the Church
  2. A literal interpretation of Scripture
  3. The glory of God as the primary goal of history

Without question, any Christian holding strongly to a biblical worldview would agree wholeheartedly with point #3.  The glory of God is the supreme chief end of all that God does and as is stated in 1 Corinthians 10:31 should be the primary goal of all that we Christians do as well.  Point #2, while on the surface would get a rousing ‘Amen’, should be analyzed more closely as to what exactly is meant and then understood that the context of a passage dictates the interpretation and not vice versa.  For instance, in Psalm 50:10 the Lord says, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.”  If read “literally” apart from context, then we are left with the cattle on hill 1001 belonging to someone else.  That’s not the case here, as this reference was to simply prove a point that the magnitude of God’s “ownership” over His creation is immense.  Similarly, much of the prophetic passages in the Bible use imagery, visions, and other language to describe future events.  An example would be Revelation 13:1-3 “And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads.  And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth.  And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.”  Taken in a strict literal sense apart from context, the end times would be marked by a beast that resembles something out of a science fiction movie, rather than having prophetic meaning behind the imagery that is used here which lends itself to a better understanding of who this individual Antichrist might be.  The classic dispensationalist, ala Ryrie, is then forced to decide, are they to stick with a wooden literal interpretation from Genesis to Revelation and force a meaning into Scripture, or are they to let context and the author’s original intent, i.e. literary genre, determine how the passage of Scripture is to be read.  This of course is not to deny that the Bible is the literal Word of God, nor does it mean that when Jonah describes being in the belly of a fish he actually is using imagery.  No, it was a literal fish and again, context must reign.  Allegorizing God’s Word is a dangerous error and as has been pointed out even though multiple writing styles (poetry, prophesy, parables, etc.) are utilized it must be understood that the Bible is to be interpreted literally within its context.  For a discussion on dispensational use of “literal interpretation” see the article by Vern Poythress, “What is Literal Interpretation?” found here: Monergism – Dispensationalism.

This aside, the classic dispensational system has its greatest challenge in their first point, “a clear distinction between Israel and the Church”.  It  is this point that forces a division to be read into Scripture rather than understanding biblical theology from Genesis to Revelation maintains a central thread of the redemption of God’s people from all times through His Son Jesus Christ leading to the consummation of Christ and His bride for the very purpose of the glory of God.  To this system of dispensational theology, Charles Spurgeon wrote the following admonition:

“Distinctions have been drawn by certain exceedingly wise men (measured by their own estimate of themselves), between the people of God who lived before the coming of Christ, and those who lived afterwards. We have even heard it asserted that those who lived before the coming of Christ so not belong to the church of God! We never know what we shall hear next, and perhaps it is a mercy that these absurdities are revealed at one time, in order that we may be able to endure their stupidity without dying of amazement. Why, every child of God in every place stands on the same footing; the Lord has not some children best beloved, some second-rate offspring, and others whom he hardly cares about. These who saw Christ’s day before it came, had a great difference as to what they knew, and perhaps in the same measure a difference as to what they enjoyed while on earth meditating upon Christ; but they were all washed in the same blood, all redeemed with the same ransom price, and made members of the same body. Israel in the covenant of grace is not natural Israel, but all believers in all ages. Before the first advent, all the types and shadows all pointed one way—they pointed to Christ, and to him all the saints looked with hope. Those who lived before Christ were not saved with a different salvation to that which shall come to us. They exercised faith as we must; that faith struggled as ours struggles, and that faith obtained its reward as ours shall.” (From his sermon “Jesus Christ Immuntable” [emphasis from here http://www.spurgeon.org/misc/eschat2.htm ].

For a system that so greatly relies on a supposed literal interpretation, great damage is done not only to biblical theology, but to innumerable passages that highlight the uniting of Jews and Gentiles in Christ.  The passage above from Ephesians is one such passage.

Just prior to it, in Ephesians 1:1 – 2:10, the Apostle Paul had just outlined God’s plan of redemption “before the foundation of the world” which includes both Jew and Gentile, as Paul, being a Jew, is writing to a Church of Christians, which was likely comprised of both Jew and Gentile.  Therefore, his use of “we” and “us” is inclusive of all believers in Christ.  However, in Ephesians 2:11 he makes a new distinction and now shifts his focus specifically to the Gentiles.  His purpose for doing so seems to be what is missed in the classic dispensational system, primarily a lack of understanding that although national Israel, meaning those born of the flesh of Abraham, were a people chosen by God (Deut. 7:6-7), through whom Christ would come (Galatians 3:16), salvation is not inclusive of them, nor is it exclusive of non-Jews, but rather it is “children of the promise” (Romans 9:8), namely God’s elect, who will be saved.

The Apostle Paul wrote of God’s plan of redemption in great detail in his Roman epistle and Romans 9-11 specifically addresses the misconception that somehow race or ethnicity was a determining factor of salvation.  Let us not be guilty of this same error, but let us realize that God’s purpose of election throughout history is through His sovereign grace alone and that it is He that chooses to show mercy to whom He wills.  Without the fulfillment of His plan in this manner, through predestination and election, salvation would have never come to the Gentiles.  All those who repent and bow the knee to Jesus in faith and declare Him as their Lord and Savior will be saved joining the saints of old, the saints of present, and those soon to come into the fold as one body in Christ Jesus, His Bride – The Church.