Republished with permission from Dr. Reluctant. In this series, Dr. Henebury responds to a collection of criticisms of dispensationalism entitled “95 Theses against Dispensationalism” written by a group called “The Nicene Council.” Read the series so far.
Despite the dispensationalists’ claim that the descendents of the patriarchs never inhabited all the land promised to them in the Abrahamic covenant and therefore, since God cannot lie, the possession of the land by the Jews is still in the future; on the contrary, Joshua wrote, “So the LORD gave to Israel all the land of which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they took possession of it and dwelt in it… Not a word failed of any good thing which the LORD had spoken to the house of Israel. All came to pass” (Joshua 21:43,45).
Response: Here it is! Read it again. This is the passage with which they will beat into submission all those verses in the Prophets which continue to promise Israel a literal land. What is to be done? Surely Gen. 15 was fulfilled hundreds of years before Jeremiah bought Hanamel’s field (Jer. 32)? Clearly, if we follow this kind of reasoning, when God promised Abraham and his descendants a specific geographical location on earth in perpetuity He was using hyperbole (by the way, is hyperbole appropriate in contracts?):
I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. (Gen. 17:7-8).
The most obvious answer to employing Joshua 21 as an acid to eradicate the Land Covenant of Genesis 15, Deuteronomy 30, etc. is to point out that God was still promising the land to Israel hundreds of years after Joshua was dead (1 Chron. 16:17-18). Those who wish to cling to Joshua 21 like a drowning man to a piece of driftwood will not want to read the following verses:
Isaiah 11:11-12:6, 43:5-7, 62:1-12; Jeremiah 16:14-15, 23:5-8, 30:18-22, 31:27-40, 32:37-42, 33:10-13, 33:18-26; Ezekiel 11:14-18, 34:11-31, 36:24, 37:1-14; Hosea 13:9-14:9; Micah 2:12; Zephaniah 2:19-20; Zechariah 12:10-11, 14:16-21.
Furthermore, it is vain to try to use Joshua 21 to prove that the entire area of Genesis 15 was under Israelite rule at that time. The “fathers” of Joshua 21:43-45 are not the Patriarchs but those heads of the tribes who came out of Egypt (see 21:1-2). And any reader of Joshua 23:1-5, 9-13 can see that 21:43-45 cannot be meant as a fulfillment of the Land Covenant, otherwise, why would Joshua later urge them to complete the job?
Despite the dispensationalists’ so-called literalism demanding that Jerusalem and Mt. Zion must once again become central to God’s work in history, in that “Jerusalem will be the center of the millennial government” (Walvoord), the new covenant sees these places as typological pointers to spiritual realities that come to pass in the new covenant Church, beginning in the first century, as when we read that “you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb 12:22; cp. Gal 4:22-31).
Response: At least we can be glad that the Nicene group are not pretending to employ literal interpretation when converting Jerusalem and Israel into the Church. As can be seen, it takes changing hermeneutical horses to accomplish this feat. But it is worth noting that this sort of spiritualizing must appeal to literal interpretations of hand-picked Bible verses (albeit, often by ignoring the context) to sustain itself.
But what does Hebrews 12:22, which locates a Jerusalem in heaven amid “an inummerable company of angels” (strangely omitted from their quotation!), have to do with the Church? Well, it does have to do with the saints, but whether all the saints in heaven are part of the Church is dubious in the extreme. Again, instead of proving their theology they are assuming it. Appealing to Hebrews 12:22 is a desperate measure.
What of Galatians 4:22-31 then? Well, this is an allegory (4:24 allegoreo). The only clearly identifiable one in Scripture. Therefore, we are not meant to take the symbolism literally as if Jerusalem = the Church. Besides, Paul is speaking about the two covenants, not about whether the Church is now Israel.
It is well for any Bible student who reads these men to first ponder exactly what points they are making, and from there study the passages that they use in their contexts to see whether those texts really say what these men tell us they say. Sadly, we are demonstrating here that this kind of biblical interpretation cannot be trusted to handle the text fairly without surrounding them with meanings which their authors would not have envisaged. This is in marked contrast to the way dispensationalism, at its best, treats the biblical text. For example, does the Bible support Walvoord’s claim that Jerusalem will be the hub of the millennial reign? Jerusalem is special to the Lord (Psa. 87:2; 132:13-14). Jeremiah says the city will be called “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” in a future day (Jer. 33:16). He will dwell in Jerusalem and will reign from there (Ezek. 43:1-7; 48:35). The reader is encouraged to study Isaiah 2:2-4, 60:1-20, 62:1-7; Mic. 4:1-8 and Zech. 14:10. If he is tempted to say these passages were fulfilled, we would ask for a detailed list of the fulfillments. Hebrews 12:22 doesn’t cut it.
Despite the dispensationalists’ fundamental theological commitment to the radical distinction between “Israel and the Church” (Ryrie), the New Testament sees two “Israels” (Rom. 9:6-8)—one of the flesh, and one of the spirit—with the only true Israel being the spiritual one, which has come to mature fulfillment in the Church. (The Christian Church has not replaced Israel; rather, it is the New Testament expansion.) This is why the New Testament calls members of the Church “Abraham’s seed” (Gal 3:26-29) and the Church itself “the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16).
Response: Citing Romans 9:6-8 for proof that there are two Israels—carnal and spiritual is fine. But where does the text say the spiritual Israel (not spiritualized or “expanded” into something else) is the Church? It doesn’t! Paul is dealing with the problem of Israel (see 9:1-5). We ask the reader to peruse Romans 9-11 and carefully note how Paul contrasts Israel with the Gentiles throughout. He never, ever calls Israel the Church or vice versa. Certainly, the Gentiles participate in the promises to Abraham via the New Covenant (Gal. 3:5-9, 26-29), but notice how the apostle quotes the part of the Abrahamic Covenant that pertains to the salvation of the Gentiles (Gal. 3:8), and does not abrogate the rest of the promises or “expand” them so that Israel—an ethnic people group comprising the Jews—is replaced (and that is the right word) by a multi-ethnic people group comprising Jews and Gentiles in one organic spiritual body.
The citation of Galatians 6:16 without any attempt at an exegetical explanation of why Paul added the kai (and) if he didn’t want to distinguish Israel and the Church is of no value. Many non-dispensational interpreters hold that “the Israel of God” in the passage is national Israel (e.g. H.D. Betz, G.C. Berkouwer, J.D.G. Dunn, E. DeWitt Burton, F.F. Bruce, F. Mussner, W.D. Davies, P. Richardson, D.B. Wallace etc).
Despite the dispensationalists’ claim that Jews are to be eternally distinct from Gentiles in the plan of God, because “throughout the ages God is pursuing two distinct purposes” with “one related to the earth” while “the other is related to heaven” (Chafer and Ryrie), the New Testament speaks of the permanent union of Jew and Gentile into one body “by abolishing in His flesh the enmity” that “in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace” (Eph 2:15), Accordingly, with the finished work of Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek” in the eyes of God (Gal 3:28).
Response: In the Church there is neither Jew nor Gentile. A Jew who is saved today is incorporated into the Church today. He shares in the future blessings given to the Body of Christ. But dispensationalists believe that God has unfinished work with the remnant of Israel; that He must come through on what He has promised without altering or “expanding” the terms of the contract He Himself has made with Israel. We believe we have strong biblical grounds for saying this (e.g. Jer. 30-33).
Unlike those who cannot bring themselves to think of two peoples of God, the dispensationalist has no problem with the concept at all. Why should he? God is clearly a God who loves variety. If sticking to the plain-sense of the texts of Scripture means there are two peoples so be it (Rev. 21:2, 9-11, 23-26).
Contrary to dispensationalism’s implication of race-based salvation for Jewish people (salvation by race instead of salvation by grace), Christ and the New Testament writers warn against assuming that genealogy or race insures salvation, saying to the Jews: “Do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Matt 3:9) because “children of God” are “born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12b-13; 3:3).
Response: This is a slur unworthy of anyone who purports to be interested in the truth or to worship God in spirit and truth. Supposedly there are ex-dispensationalists among the Nicene Council and its supporters. If they really were dispensationalists, they should blush at this preposterous statement. Where in the writings of any recognized dispensational scholar is it asserted that there is “salvation by race instead of slavation by grace”? Either these men are inept as theologians or they are deliberately making false implications without solid grounds for doing so (John Hagee, as these men know, is not a dispensational scholar, nor is he representative of dispensational views on Israel’s salvation). We are sorry to have to say this, but this does not exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matt. 12:37).