Strategy 2 The Word of God Session 2 Frameworks for (mis-)understanding

The first 2 sessions in this section focus on the Big Story of the Bible. There are several views as to what this is, or more specifically, how it is worked out through Israel and the Church. The framework we adopt has serious consequences for how we view the Scriptures – do we take them literally, or are there hidden meanings that have to be teased out according to certain principles?

In this second session, we explored the frameworks for (mis-)understanding Scripture in more detail.

1 Tim. 3:15 The Church is the pillar and buttress of the truth, but for centuries it struggled under self-imposed darkness (the so-called Dark Ages) which served to bury the truth and led to such tragedies as the Crusades, the Inquisition and ultimately the Holocaust. We will see that the Reformation didn’t ditch that framework, whilst, for the most part, rejecting the excesses that came from it.

We call it Supercessionism or Replacement Theology, with its sister doctrine, A-Millennialism. The idea that the Church has permanently superseded or replaced Israel as the vehicle for God’s purposes on earth, resulting the denial of a future earthly Kingdom with Jesus reigning from Jerusalem.

Finds it roots in Alexandrian school of interpretation, which takes the Bible figuratively, as opposed to the Antiochian school of interpretation, which takes the Bible literally – more in this next week.

Dominant thinking in Christendom for 1800 years – the Church has replaced Israel and God has no further interest in, or purpose for, the nation and land of Israel. We argue that this has come from influence of pre-Christian Greek philosophers. Nowhere taught in the Bible!

But there have always been dissenting voices but they have been marginalised – don’t fit the narrative of the Church Triumphant. But history has shown that the narrative is at a minimum lacking in explanatory power of Biblical prophecy and, at its worst, has been responsible for excesses which has caused the Name of the Lord to be vilified and profaned by the World.

  1. Beware of Greeks bearing gifts!

So how did we get into this debate? Thanks to Plato and Aristotle – pre-Christ, yet profoundly influential in the early Church. Unrecognised, camouflaged, Trojan Horse!

A few highlights from “How the Church lost the Truth” Steve Maltz ch. 8 p.95ff

  • Marcion – highly influenced by Plato – physical bad, spiritual good; ergo world cannot have been created by God but by some demiurge and is essentially bad, ergo god of OT is not the God of the NT whose job is to rescue what He can from the mess. Rejected all things to do with Israel, rejected OT (which was the Bible of his day), produced his own list of ‘recognised’ writings which were then circulating (parts of Luke’s gospel, Acts and one of two of Paul’s epistles) carefully edited to remove any Jewish references
  • Justin Martyr – philosopher in Plato’s school of thought, applied his philosophical thinking to the OT (didn’t have the NT) and in his writings, particularly Dialogue with Trypho (a Jew) develops the Creation-Fall-Redeemer-Final Judgment framework – distancing the church from Jewish understandings and hopes
  • Irenaeus had another challenge – the Gnostics (more of them in a moment). Whereas Justin only had the OT, by Irenaeus’ time, they had substantially the whole Bible as we have it and he had to defend it and harmonise the Old and the New. He adopts the Justin’s framework, seeing God’s covenant with Israel as prefiguring the covenant with the Church, building in supersessionism even as he tries to unite Israel and the Church. (More in Soulen!)
  • Augustine – schooled in Aristotelian thought. Organised and developed what had gone before. The master of allegory. Had to be trained to understand the Bible (apart from making it say what you wanted to!) City of God – Made our hopes ‘other worldly’
  • Thomas Aquinas – faith and reason – not revelation. Master theologian – still the basis of Catholic dogma today – trained in that, and Aristotle (pictured in Vatican with Plato) Developed allegory into an art form
  • Reformers – trained in Greek thinking and Plato’s views, didn’t abandon allegory and were children of their age (Enlightenment and Renaissance) disregarded Israel as an anachronism – Jewish dreams – CofE
  • Carries through right to today in Reformed churches and streams like Kingdom Now, Dominion Theology. NAR and Seven Mountains Mandate, and influences other streams like the “Word of Faith” movement
  • What are the basic influences? Plato Spiritual/physical (Gnosticism) Aristotle – pursuit of the intellect Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason – using Reason to do it!
  • “This world is not my home” So close to Biblical truth! Yet undermines any understanding of OT prophecies as being literally fulfilled and reduces salvation to you and me getting to heaven. Laid the basis for Humanism and Individualism and Higher Criticism. This influence redefined:
    • Salvation – it’s all about the individual (Hebraic: it’s about community/the Body and the transformation of the Universe)
    • How we read the bible – Inform the head (Hebraic: inflame the heart)
    • Israel – no place for Messianic Kingdom on Earth physical = evil (Hebraic: God’s purposes worked out in the material sphere)
    • Heaven – an ethereal existence – owes more to Greek thinking than the Bible (Hebraic: Ha Olam)
    • Christian living – secular vs spiritual (Hebraic: homogeneous – no distinction)
    • Church – somewhere we go at a special time on a special day to watch special people do special things, that have little relevance to daily life (Hebraic: something we are all the time)

“An emaciated Gospel that focuses solely on personal fulfilment and eternal healing [for me] and not on the transformation of the Universe” (D. Bosch Witnesses to the Word 1980) that only needs Gen 1 -3 plus NT. No place for Israel and, as Kendall Soulen argues, makes the OT largely inconclusive or even irrelevant for determining the Christian Theology of God

Or as Dwight Prior says regarding the God of the (whole) Bible: “He has a name [Jahweh], He has an identity [the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob], and in His sovereign, free and gracious election, He has chosen to identify Himself with a particular family, and through that family to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.” And I would add, we play that down or ignore it to our own great peril!

So is the OT just a useful story book for Sunday School classes? Has it been made obsolete by the New Covenant? Or is there more? Why has God caused the OT to be preserved for more than three millennia?

One of the main passages ignored or reinterpreted: Rom. 11:1-15, 25-36

It is vital to understand all the purposes of God and especially for His people Israel and the land He promised them. Someone wrote “The Church lost its way in second century and has struggled since then under the curse that God pronounced in Gen. 12”. Increasingly, Bible teachers are taking that stand. New doctrine? No, rediscovered. (Not the only one! Justification by faith re-discovered by Luther in 16th Century after 1200 years if kying in the dust)

  1. Definitions – let’s look at some of the views which are competing in the Church
  • Supercessionism – the Church has permanently superseded Israel as the vehicle for God’s purposes on earth
  • Replacement Theology – ditto!
  • A-Millennialism – Christ is now reigning in His Millennial kingdom which it is the Church; all prophecy in the Bible has already been fulfilled, the only Kingdom of God on the earth is the Church – things will probably deteriorate and at some point, the Final Judgment will bring in the New Heavens and Earth
  • Post-Millennialism – the only Kingdom of God on the earth is the Church, which will usher in either a figurative or literal Millennium bringing in the conditions for Christ to return
  • Supercessionism – Replacement Theology, or Fulfilment Theology. Soulen “According to this teaching, God chose the Jewish people after the fall of Adam in order to prepare the world for the coming of Jesus Christ, the Saviour. After Christ came, however, the special role of the Jewish people came to an end and its place was taken by the Church, the new Israel” and that notwithstanding Romans 11:1-2; 11-12, 25-26 Conceit?!
  • Nowhere taught in NT. Taken as a given in most theological handbooks and dictionaries. Results in reading most instances of “Israel” in NT as meaning the Church Try that out in Romans 11: 25-26 (David Pawson xounted 61 times the word Israel occurs in the New Testament, and only once could it possibly be a reference to an entity other than Israel, the land of the people.
  • Majority view since 2nd Century

So the Church is seen as the sole vehicle for the fulfilment of God’s purposes for Creation, and that in some ethereal domain, sitting on clouds in neat robes, playing harps for eternity.

Kendal Soullen identifies three views expressed in Church history/theology:

  • Punitive or permanent (cf Rom. 11:28-29) Their rejection of Christ eliminates them from God’s Covenant love and provokes Divine retribution – from which there is no return despite Rom 11! The sort of teaching which led to Luther’s rants against the Jews (following John Chrysostom’s lead) and ultimately resulted in the Holocaust. Ultimately, it’s anti-semitic and Derek Prince understood that as the spirit of anti-Christ
  • Economic – Israel prefigures and prepares the way for the Church, and in some views, is then subsumed into the Church, losing her identity in the process. The Church inherits the promises to Israel through being ‘in Christ’ who is the ‘true Israel’ (but ethnic Israel still inherits the curses)
  • Structural – and this is the point, the ‘Scarlet thread of redemption’ has so permeated Christian thought that it is now almost the only hermeneutic used to understand the Bible, including by those who understand something of God’s purposes for Israel.

This led to the abandonment of the teaching that Christ would return to Earth to set up His Kingdom, which would last 1000 years before the final General Resurrection and Judgement.

Pictured in the Standard Model

  1. Comparison of views regarding the Millennium and the outworking of God’s purposes
  1. Pre-Millennialism

The belief that the Church age will end with a time of great tribulation, after which the Lord Jesus Christ returns to earth to establish His Messianic kingdom and reign over Israel and all nations for a thousand years from the throne of David in Jerusalem. All Israel will be saved and be restored as the head of the nations. Also known as Chiliasm – from the Greek word for one thousand.

This was the consensus view of the early church in the first two centuries. It is the view held by most of the early church fathers, especially by those who had either known the Apostles or their immediate disciples, e.g. Polycarp (taught by John), his disciple Papias who taught Irenaeus

The most striking point in the eschatology of the ante-Nicene age … is the belief of a visible reign of Christ in glory on earth with the risen saints for a thousand years, before the general resurrection and judgment.… a widely current opinion of distinguished teachers, such as Barnabas, Papias, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Methodius, and Lactantius. Philip Schaff (cited in Vlach 2012:251), a well-known church historian and neither friend nor foe of chiliasm (i.e. belief in a physicall Millennium).

What caused the Church to forsake the doctrine of the coming Messianic kingdom on earth? Three reasons (there are more):

First, when Constantine (272-337 AD) became Caesar in 324 AD, he not only ended the terrible persecution of the Church, but he also merged church and state. Literally overnight the Church became mixed with all sorts of pagan, idolatrous religions that existed in the Roman Empire. To now argue that when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to the earth He will reign as King of kings over a literal, earthly Messianic kingdom — and that the Caesar of the Roman Empire will not be king — that was a rather politically incorrect thing to teach (cf. Ryrie 2005:22).

Second, after Constantine became Emperor, the allegorical interpretations of the school of Alexandria won more converts, and chiliasm was attacked, with Augustine finishing it off, especially in his book, “The City of God”!

Third, because the Church began to lose the Jewish perspective on the Scriptures, specifically the Old Testament teaching about the Messianic kingdom, she lost her doctrinal unity and purity (Fruchtenbaum).

The Reformation opened up the Scriptures and people began to see that this had been suppressed by the Church for over 1000 years. The rediscovery led to detailed study of the prophetic Scriptures and God’s purposes, leading to the pre_millennial Return of Christ being expected and eventually Pre-Tribulation Rapture being expounded (something which is found in one or two early church writings and occasionally in the centuries following). New? Solas?

  1. A-Millennialism

So what did the Church believe in the intervening centuries?

  • All prophecies in Old Testament fulfilled in the Church (the blessings, that is – the curses are inherited by Israel)
  • All prophecies of New Testament, e.g. Olivet Discourse, Revelation, have been fulfilled:
    • Fall of Jerusalem AD70
  • Jesus’ reign as pictured in the book of Revelation is viewed as Christ reigning at the right hand of the Father now
  • Satan was bound at the Cross and is now chained in the Bottomless Pit (on a very long chain!)
  • The Millennium is coexistent and coterminous with the Church
  • No place for a nation or land of Israel in God’s purposes, therefore no future millennial reign of Christ from Jerusalem
  • Society will, through growing rebellion, continue to deteriorate, resulting in final judgement

Not too optimistic, so don’t worry about this world. Let’s focus on getting through this life as quickly as possible because heaven is all that matters (most people’s lives were really horrible anyway).

  1. Post-millennialism

Daniel Whitby 1707AD “New Hypothesis”

  • The Church will proclaim the Gospel in all the world, resulting in nations, institutions and individuals becoming Christianised
  • No place for a nation or land of Israel in God’s purposes, therefore no future millennial reign of Christ from Jerusalem
  • All prophecies in Old Testament fulfilled in the Church (the blessings, that is – the curses are inherited by Israel)
  • Christ’s Second coming is seen as occurring after this. Two schools of thought:
    • Revivalist Postmillennialism: the millennium represents an unknown period of time marked by a gradual Christian revival, followed by widespread successful evangelism. After these efforts is the return of Christ foreseen.
    • Reconstructionist Postmillennialism: the Church increases its influence through successful evangelism and expansion, finally establishing a theocratic kingdom of 1,000 years duration (literal or figurative) followed by the return of Christ.
  • The popularoity of this scheme has waxed and waned with secular history – when things were going well and scienctific progress and peace were advancing, it was hailed as the progress of the Church. When things were bad, say, around the two World Wars of the 20th century, it was less popular. It has had something of a revival in the late 20th and early 21st century and is now the driving theology behind a lot of Charismatic churches and movements, such as the New Apostolic Reformation.
  1. Does Supercessionism have “A Different God?” (see book of that title by Dwight Prior, published by CFI Communications)
  • Universal vs. Specific and Particular

The God of the Bible is not the God of the Philosophers, the Unmoved Mover, the First Cause, but a specific God who reveals Himself to specific men and at specific times, choosing a specific people. Supercessionism seems to point away from this.

  • Abstract vs. Concrete and Historical

 “Supersessionism tends to think of God in abstract terms, universal terms…”

  • Individual vs Corporate

“… and of salvation in individualistic and metaphysical categories”

  • Fulfilment – completed/obsolete? Or filled up, continuously (Heb. 8 only specific parts obsolete)
  • By their fruits you shall know them:

The Jews deserve the most severe penalties.  Their synagogues should be levelled, their homes destroyed, they should be exiled into tents like the gypsies.  Their religious writings should be taken from them.  The rabbis should be forbidden to continue teaching the Law.  All professions should be closed to them.  Only the hardest, coarsest work should be permitted them.  Rich Jews should have their fortunes confiscated, and the money used to support the Jews who are willing to be converted.

Their rotten and unbending stiffneckedness deserves that they be oppressed unendingly and without measure or end and that they die in their misery without the pity of anyone.

First quote – Luther; second – Calvin. Examples could be multiplied from second century onwards. So much for the Gospel of Grace!

How do the Jews view the religion which is supposed to make them jealous and seek salvation in Christ This is what one Jewish writer thinks as quoted by Michael L Brown in his book ‘Our Hands are Stained with Blood.’

Instead of bringing redemption to the Jews, the false Christian messiah has brought down on us base libels and expulsions, oppressive restrictions and burning of (our) holy books, devastations and destructions.  Christianity, which professes to infuse the sick world with love and compassion, has fixed a course directly opposed to this lofty rhetoric.  The voice of the blood of millions of our brothers cries out to us from the ground: ‘No, Christianity is not a religion of love but a religion of unfathomable hate!  All history, from ancient times to our own day, is one continuous proof of the total bankruptcy of this religion in all its segments.’

  1. The Mystery of History

Weakness of Replacement/Amillennialism, often go together, but not inseparable – doesn’t do justice to the bigger story. Inconsistent with a covenant-keeping God, who finishes what He starts.

Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones writing some 70 years ago (title of this slide section is taken from his book on Habbakuk “From Fear to Faith”) talks about people’s perplexity over events in history, and in our time, that seem incompatible with the providence of God:

“Why are people troubled about it? [what was going on then – he was writing against the background of WW2] The main reason, it would seem, is that there are those who use the Bible in a narrow sense, as being exclusively a text book of personal salvation. Many seem to think that the sole theme of the Bible is that of man’s personal relationship to God. Of course that is one of the central themes, and we thank God for the salvation provided without which we should be left in hopeless despair. But that is not the only theme of the Bible. Indeed, we can go so far as to say that the Bible puts the question of salvation into a larger context. Ultimately the main message of the Bible concerns the condition of the entire world and its destiny; and you and I, as individuals, are part of a larger whole … The great and noble teaching of the Bible is concerned with the whole question of the world and its destiny.”

READ Col. 1:15-20

  • Greek – cyclical, endless, meaningless – escape to spiritual realm which is the only ‘real’ thing; work becomes something to be avoided and death welcomed as a friend, an escape from this meaningless world (death is an enemy!)
  • Supercessionist – is linear in its thinking – each stage becomes redundant as next stage of God’s purposes unfolds (described as “rocket model theology” by Marvin Wilson). Most Christians are interested in going up; God is interested in coming down! (Prior) i.e. Creation, Flood, Babel, Egypt, Sinai, Incarnation, 2nd Coming, New Jerusalem.

Supercessionism is unsatisfactory as it leaves undone:

Removal of the outward manifestation of sin in this creation and leaves God’s purposes thwarted and only realised in another sphere v.15, 16a

Vindication of Christ in the world that He created and maintains – that rejected Him v.16b, 18

Reconciliation of all things v.20

Vindication of God’s promises to Israel  – not for their sake, but for His Name’s sake (Exek.36)

Vindication of God’s promise to bless the world through Abraham – fulfilled in Christ, but there is more Rom 11 their fullness = life from the dead – resurrection!

Makes nonsense of the fact that the New Covenant was made with the Houses of Israel and Judah Jer. 31:31 in context of descendants of Israel never ceasing to be a nation

The God who finishes what He starts

The Climax of History is the unfolding of God’s plan for the Universe and the Scriptures show that He has a specific order. God had in mind before Creation a complete work, a New Creation which required a ‘helper suitable’ for His Son. At the end of the day, it’s all about Jesus!

1 Cor. 10:32 describes ‘everyone’ as being either, Jew or Gentile or part of the Church. The Bible records God’s work as staring with the world, calling out from the mass of humanity one man who will be the forefather of the Jews through whom God wants demonstrate His kingdom, but when that fails, calls out of Jew and Gentile the One New Man, the Church – working in from outside in the circles in our picture. But He doesn’t end in the middle! He works out again – at the Second Coming, the Church is completed, all Israel is saved and the workd is restored to Edenic conditions in the Millennium.

So we note that:

  • the Cross is the crucial moment, but not the consummation – Eph 1:8-9
  • the Second Coming is not the consummation – Eph. 1:20-21;
  • consummation of the Church in Rom 11:25 – is the basis for
  • Consummation of Israel Rom. 11:26 – which is the basis for the blessing of the nations Rom. 11:12 leading to
  • Consummation of the nations (millennial kingdom) 1 Cor 15:22-28

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has it entered into the heart of man, those things that God has prepared for those that love Him – but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit”

The video of this session can be found here