"Replacement Theology" - Is It Wrong to Use the Term? (Part 1)

Recently I have been reminded of the Reformed community’s aversion to the label of supercessionism, or worse, replacement theology. In the last decade or so particularly I have read repeated disavowals of this term from covenant theologians. Not wanting to misrepresent or smear brethren with whom I disagree, I have to say that I struggle a bit with these protests.

“We are not replacement theologians” we are told, “but rather we believe in transformation or expansion.” By some of the objectors we are told that the church does not replace Israel because it actually is Israel — well, “true Israel” — the two designations are really one. This move is legitimate, they say, because the “true Israel” or “new Israel” is in direct continuity with Israel in the Old Testament.

In this series of posts I want to investigate the question of whether it is right; if I am right, to brand this outlook as replacement theology and supercessionism.

Basics: What Is a “Replacement”?

A good thing to do as we begin is to have a definition of the word at issue. Websters New World Dictionary defines the word “replacement” thus:

1. a replacing or being replaced 2. a person or thing that takes the place of another…”

The entry for “replace” says,

1. to place again; to put back in a former or the proper place or position. [obviously, this does not apply to our question.]
2. to take the place of… 3. to provide a substitute or equivalent for.

The synonym “supersede” means that something is replaced by something else that is superior. In the way I use the terms in a theological context I mean “to take the place of.” The third meaning (i.e. to substitute) is somewhat relevant since some may be claiming that OT Israel has been switched out for another Israel. By “supercessionism” then, I mean any theology that teaches a switching out of “old Israel” with “new,” “true Israel.”

The question before us is whether the Church takes the place of Israel in covenant theology, and if so how? To answer that question we must ask several more. These include such important questions as, ‘what exactly do covenant theologians say about the matter? And do they ever use replacement terminology themselves?’; ‘Can their understandings of Israel and the church, and so their “expansion” language, be supported from the Bible?’

If “Israel” and “the church” are the same thing then clearly we have our answer, and I can stop writing. If the church and Israel are the same any question of replacing one with the other starts and stops with the simple swapping of names.

Identifying “Israel”

In the Old Testament Israel is either a person, the man Jacob who was renamed “Israel” by God in Genesis 32:28, or the nation of people (sometimes a part of them either in rebellion or redeemed) who stem from Jacob who are called “the children of Israel” in Genesis 32:32 (Israelites), or a designation for the promised land (cf. Josh. 11:16, 21).

Covenant theology adds to these designations another. For example, an anonymous devotional at Ligonier’s website entitled “Who is Israel?” claims that,

Finally, the term Israel can also designate all of those who believe in Jesus, including both ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles. In Galatians 6:16, the Apostle applies the name Israel to the entire believing community—the invisible church—that follows Christ. Paul does not make this application specifically in Romans 11; however, this meaning is clearly implied in his teaching about the one olive tree with both Jewish and Gentile branches (vv. 11-24).

Although nowhere does the New Testament explicitly equate Israel with the church, the assumptions that lead the writer to his conclusion (not to mention his exegesis of Gal. 6:16 and his use of the Olive Tree metaphor) come into focus once his view of the church is understood.

Chapter Twenty-five of the Westminster Confession of Faith defines the Church like this:

I. The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all.

II. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ,the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

You will notice that this definition places every saved {elect} person in human history into the Church. It also places all the those elect who will be saved into the Church. The Church is also seen as the Body of Christ, as well as “the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God” outside of which there is no salvation.

Acceptance of this definition pretty much wraps things up as far as OT Israel is concerned. The saved saints under the Mosaic covenant were simply the Church of the time. Also, the kingdom which was repeatedly promised to the remnant of Israel is, well, the Church. Not the land, not Jerusalem, not the national throne or the temple on Mt. Zion, just the Church.

There is reason to dissent from the honored position of the Puritans cited above, and I shall have to do so later on. But right here my intention is simply note that according to this way of thinking the elect Church and elect Israel are the same thing. If this is the right tack then there is nothing wrong with the following thought from Anglican theologian Gerald Bray:

As men and women who have been grafted into the nation of Israel by the coming of Jesus Christ, Christians…lay claim to [the] love and the promises that go with it. – God Has Spoken, 41

Very well, we are to believe that Christians have been grafted into Israel. Bray too is alluding to Paul’s metaphor of the Olive Tree in Romans 11. Again, “Israel” here must mean believers, therefore, all believers are “Israel.” That is, IF these claims are true.

(To be continued…)

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There are 35 Comments

G. N. Barkman's picture

It seems to me that replacement theology, like beauty, is largely in the eye of the beholder.  To dispensationalists, the concept of the church being identified as spiritual Israel looks like replacement.  Israel has been replaced by the church.  To non-dispensationalists, this looks like fulfillment, not replacement.  The church is the fulfillment of promises made to Israel.  Israel has not been replaced, but promises God made to Israel have been fulfilled in spiritual Israel.  Believers in Jesus Christ are the true children of Abraham, both Jews and Gentiles.  Unbelievers are neither in the church, nor are they true Israel, whether Jews or Gentiles.

So, is this replacement theology?  It all depends upon your presuppositions and interpretative conclusions. It doesn't look like replacement to me.

G. N. Barkman

Paul Henebury's picture

G. N. Barkman says that whether it is fitting to use the term "replacement theology" or not is in the eye of the beholder.  While I understand his point, and I do not question his integrity, I think that to settle such an important theological point with such a relativistic slogan is unsound.  The point of these articles is to achieve a bit more clarity on the issue.  If "fulfillment" is something akin to a man predicting a set of defined events which he later claims have been realized in a form different than his original words led everybody to expect, then I suppose "fulfillment" can be claimed by anyone.  E.g., the 144,000 Israelites in Revelation 7 are fulfilled by the Jehovah's Witnesses, who were predicted in Isaiah 43.

To my mind this is not fulfillment, since nothing other than a realization of the things the words led one to reasonably expect could be a fulfillment.  A better term for what the JW's claim would be "replacement" or "supercession."

Anyway, I appreciate the comment and I respect the one who made it, but I think these sorts of things are clarified in what is to come.   

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Andrew K's picture

What has always struck me as inappropriate about the term is that it seems to suggest a faulty parallelism; i.e., Israel and the Church can simply be swapped out for one another, as one might a tire, or a line worker. But the classic CT conception of the relationship between Israel and the church is much more complex than that--to say nothing of the relationship between Israel and the church suggested in the Baptist variant of CT, "1689 Federalism," in which Israel is a fleshly "type" and the church is the substance. 

If we thought "replacement theology" was an accurate term, we honestly wouldn't have a problem with it. The fact that we reject it suggests there is something in it we might find objectionable. You don't have to agree with our "fulfillment" language (equally value-laden), but neither does that mean we are going to embrace your term, which smuggles in a gratuitous oversimplification of our view .
 

Karl S's picture

While I don't think that the issue is purely in the "eye of the beholder", I will say that I have observed much of both sides talking past each other on this issue. The result is a lot of heat generated from the burning of straw men.

Reformed, or Covenant theologians usually eschew the term "replacement", often with much vigor. This often happens because those using this term pejoratively are often referring to punitive supersessionism, which entails the idea that God cast away the Israelites for their rejection of Christ, and sought a people for His own possession from the Gentiles instead. Although this general idea had traction in varying degrees throughout much of church history, it is uncommon among the Reformed today. More from the dispensational side of the aisle should be knowledgeable of the ubiquitous "fulfillment" or "expansion" idea, which is a much gentler theology than many who use the term "replacement" recognize.

Conversely, however, most well-informed Dispensationalists are not willing to adopt the "fulfillment" or "expansion" descriptors for the reformed position, because of the necessary consequences of the theology. Even if ethnic Israel is not "replaced" wholesale under the New Covenant, there being a complement of every tongue, nation and tribe in the elect (including Jews), yet the consequence is that the term "Israel" is "replaced" with a different meaning than the apparent use throughout the OT, and many promises explicitly given to ethnic and national Israel are interpreted as typological rather than literal, the recipients of which are "replaced" by a group not necessarily composed of ethnic Israelites. Therefore, many on the covenant side of the aisle need to recognize the distinctions which are important to the dispensational perspective which often warrant the term "replacement", even if not used in reference to punitive supersessionism.

 

Paul Henebury's picture

I think the following articles will clarify my thesis, but you will find no straw men here.  Although I don't expect many CT's to agree with me, I want to address this one question: whether replacementism is a real thing and where it is chiefly found.  I think these are but two sides of the same coin.  My object is not to settle whether those who employ supercessionist expressions will like my conclusions.  To me at least, steering clear of certain words ("replacement"; "supercessionism") is a coming to ones own ideas in a negative way.  If ones theology involves ideas of replacement and supercession then what is to be avoided?   

As for talking past each other, well again I think that this will be reduced if we avoided unsatisfactory synonyms and (if one is bothered by pejoratives) contemporary euphemisms.  

I look forward to the continuing interactions which I hope this series produces. 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Larry's picture

Moderator

It seems to me, at the end of the day, that the issue is fairly simple. The OT promises were made to a particular group of people who are identified by their ethnicity and genealogy. Those promises . The idea, suspect as it may be in some instances, that some of the promises were typological does not change that. If those promises are not fulfilled with that group but rather fulfilled in some other group, then in some major sense the second group has replaced the first. To borrow from the Bard, a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. So reject the name "replacement" if you wish, but it doesn't change the fundamental issue.

 

Paul Henebury's picture

Quite so

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Andrew K's picture

Larry wrote:

It seems to me, at the end of the day, that the issue is fairly simple. The OT promises were made to a particular group of people who are identified by their ethnicity and genealogy. Those promises . The idea, suspect as it may be in some instances, that some of the promises were typological does not change that. If those promises are not fulfilled with that group but rather fulfilled in some other group, then in some major sense the second group has replaced the first. To borrow from the Bard, a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. So reject the name "replacement" if you wish, but it doesn't change the fundamental issue.

 

To borrow from the good Dr. Johnson, words have meanings. Wink

Larry's picture

Moderator

To borrow from the good Dr. Johnson, words have meanings.

Exactly my point. 

Kevin Miller's picture

But what if someone tries using the Bible itself to define the terms? I'm sure these verses will be covered in the series, so they do not need to be examined in this thread, but Galatians 3:16 says 'The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say, “and to seeds,” meaning many, but “and to your seed,” meaning One, who is Christ.' And verse 29 says "And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise."

I can certainly see, from an initial reading, how a person could come to think that the church fulfills the promises.

Looking forward greatly to the rest of the series.

Paul Henebury's picture

Thanks for the comment.  Unfortunately my purpose here is more modest than to examine the biblical foundations for this form of theology.  I am here concerned about whether it is proper to call this theology by terminology of replacement.

As for Galatians 3, I tried to address some of the issues in my article "Galatians 3, the Land and the Abrahamic Covenant" 

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Kevin Miller's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

Thanks for the comment.  Unfortunately my purpose here is more modest than to examine the biblical foundations for this form of theology.  I am here concerned about whether it is proper to call this theology by terminology of replacement.

As for Galatians 3, I tried to address some of the issues in my article "Galatians 3, the Land and the Abrahamic Covenant" 

Ah, I see. Thanks for the link.

Steve Davis's picture

Larry wrote:

It seems to me, at the end of the day, that the issue is fairly simple. The OT promises were made to a particular group of people who are identified by their ethnicity and genealogy. Those promises . The idea, suspect as it may be in some instances, that some of the promises were typological does not change that. If those promises are not fulfilled with that group but rather fulfilled in some other group, then in some major sense the second group has replaced the first. To borrow from the Bard, a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet. So reject the name "replacement" if you wish, but it doesn't change the fundamental issue.

We might like it simple but it's not. Ethnicity and genealogy meant nothing apart from faith in the OT.  There's only one group that counts, the by faith group. The NT makes it clear that promises were fulfilled in the quintessential only obedient Israelite who is the final sacrifice, the Temple, the inaugurator of the one New Covenant, etc. Those who have the faith of Abraham are Abraham's true descendants regardless of ethnicity but including ethnic Jews who believe. I wouldn't call it replacement but expansion. The Church is the chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession. OT language for NT believers. Those OT descriptors describe the Church where there are both Jews and Gentiles and in which there is neither Jew not Gentile. 

Paul Henebury's picture

I disagree with Steve's opening remark about ethnicity.  Where does he get that from? (though I think I know). This looks like a good statement of supercessionism to me.  Not of the bald "the church supplants Israel" variety, but what I will call "conceptual replacementism".

I disagree also when Steve dogmatically asserts:

"The NT makes it clear that promises were fulfilled in the quintessential only obedient Israelite who is the final sacrifice, the Temple, the inaugurator of the one New Covenant, etc."

The NT makes it clear?  I think it does not do anything of the kind.  What makes it clear is the theological interpretation which Steve is employing.  But this is not a series about that subject per se.  Those interested might care to read the posts on "Disingenuousness" beginning with this one: https://drreluctant.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/disingenuousness-and-expansion-language/    

I should say that I do not agree with those dispensationalists who use the term as a club or a put down.  Rather, I use it as many CT's themselves have used it, and as Kendall Soulen, Michael Vlach and Ronald Diprose use it - to describe what the theology does.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

G. N. Barkman's picture

"What makes it clear is the theological interpretation which Steve is employing."  And what makes it obscure is the theological interpretation that Paul is employing.

I find the New Testament's handling of OT texts definitive in the way I must interpret the OT.  DT begins with its interpretation of the OT, and rejects any NT interpretation which calls its OT interpretations into question.  In my earlier years, I accepted that hermeneutic.  The more I studied, the less acceptable it became.  When I began to understand how NT authors interpreted the OT, I was compelled to revisit my OT interpretation in the light of NT revelation. I am convinced that NT revelation must clarify the way we understand the OT.

G. N. Barkman

Larry's picture

Moderator

Ethnicity and genealogy meant nothing apart from faith in the OT.

I wouldn't agree with that at all. The NT seems to undermine this fairly clearly by its emphasis on the inclusion of the Gentiles. The reason that was hard for Jews is because ethnicity and genealogy did mean something in the OT. It wasn't everything, but it was something major. Even unbelievers were included in the covenant blessings on the nation. The change to that in the NT was troubling to them and hard to accept because of what the OT taught.

The NT makes it clear that promises were fulfilled in the quintessential only obedient Israelite who is the final sacrifice, the Temple, the inaugurator of the one New Covenant, etc.

I wouldn't agree with that either. The NT appeals so the OT too many times in too many specific ways for this to stand. I think this can only stand if we seriously minimize the OT teaching and the NT use of the OT. 

 The Church is the chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession. OT language for NT believers. Those OT descriptors describe the Church where there are both Jews and Gentiles and in which there is neither Jew not Gentile. 

Using the same descriptors doesn't mean it is the same group, or that the promises given to one of them transfer to the other. 

I know you are writing briefly, as am I, and neither is taking the time to unfold everything. But I am also confident that you know that this is not a good response to the issues I addressed. Dispensationalists have long since addressed these issues and I don't think it is complicated. I think the alternative complicates matters more because it requires us to essentially ignore what the text says. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

 When I began to understand how NT authors interpreted the OT, I was compelled to revisit my OT interpretation in the light of NT revelation. I am convinced that NT revelation must clarify the way we understand the OT.

Which leads to this question: If you realized you couldn't interpret the OT without the NT, why are you so sure you are interpreting the NT correctly? 

It seems to me that the OT had to have meaning in and of itself. Those people in the OT were held accountable to the OT revelation without the NT clarification. Your hermeneutic seems to undermine that since it essentially argues that we cannot properly interpret the OT without the NT. Yet the OT people were punished or blessed based on that revelation alone without the NT. 

G. N. Barkman's picture

Is the NT superior revelation, or not?  I don't have time just now to look up texts, but several NT statements indicate that it is.  The way NT authors interpreted the OT is definitive.  Their understanding is perfect, ours is not.  How do I know that my NT interpretation is correct?  I don't, though I believe it is closer to correct than those who squeeze the NT to fit a previously locked in OT interpretations.  However, I, like all God's people, have imperfect understanding, and must continue to study and endeavor to arrive at the true meaning of Scripture. 

It goes without saying that OT saints also wrestled with questions and partial obscurity, which the NT helps to clarify.  Total clarify will not come in this life.  I cannot accept the premise that God will not hold us responsible for partial revelation unless we have total understanding of all revelation.

G. N. Barkman

Steve Davis's picture

Thank you for the pushback. I don't think we're looking for agreement so it's good to discuss these issues. 

Ethnicity and genealogy -  the OT promises given to ethnic Jews are of little or no account without faith. There is so much in the NT that sheds light on the OT and the NT  teaching becomes definitive (in agreement with G. N. Barkman). According to Jesus unbelieving Jews of his day were offspring of Abraham but not Abraham's children (John 8); the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into outer darkness (Matt. 8). Jesus has spoken. So yes what Jesus (and the apostles) says takes precedence over how old covenant people understood or misunderstood what was spoken and written. No surprise, Even the prophets didn't always understand. What counts in the era inaugurated by Jesus is being in him, not flesh and blood. In Christ we don't lose our ethnicity but it doesn't count for anything. 

As for the descriptors you either have one group or two. Of course if someone believes there's two peoples of God, Israel and the Church then sure the descriptors can apply to both. I believe the Scripture teaches the unity of God's people. The wall has come down making "both one," "one new man," both have access in one Spirit, etc, etc. Like GNB I read Scripture through a dispensational hermeneutic for years and made things fit. I can still argue that way because I think I see the logic of it once one begins going down that trail. I just can't defend it anymore. I don't need to change anyone's mind.  

 

Paul Henebury's picture

G. N. says, "What makes it clear is the theological interpretation which Steve is employing."  And what makes it obscure is the theological interpretation that Paul is employing."

If what he says is correct then ALL interpretation is theological interpretation and all those new books on the theological interpretation of Scripture as a viable hermeneutic are pointless.  Now I think the reason that G.N. finds my interpretation "obscure" is that he believes that the OT cannot be understood without the NT.  Of course, that stance automatically makes the OT obscure and makes a nonsense of the doctrine of the clarity of the OT.  The reason CT's do this is because they believe, sincerely, that the writers of the NT reinterpret the OT.  What they do not see is that the reinterpretation (they may adopt a softer term) is done, not by the Apostolic authors, who can be understood very well in hermeneutical continuity with the OT, but by them.  It is their interpretation of the NT that drives things.

A second point may be made from another of G.N.'s remarks:

 "Is the NT superior revelation, or not?  I don't have time just now to look up texts, but several NT statements indicate that it is."  

If it is then we have primary and secondary scriptural revelation, i.e. the NT is "superior" to the OT in what way?  We certainly have two levels of perspicuity.    

I respect the fact that G.N. doesn't have time to provide the requisite texts to prove his thesis.  But I think he ought to take some time to do it.  Even though he has taken the thread down this (important) road, I want to put a reminder in here that this is not the subject of the article.  Perhaps after Parts 2 & 3 this matter will be clearer?  

Is the NT superior revelation to the OT?  In a word, No.    

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Paul Henebury's picture

Steve said,

Like GNB I read Scripture through a dispensational hermeneutic for years and made things fit. I can still argue that way because I think I see the logic of it once one begins going down that trail. I just can't defend it anymore. I don't need to change anyone's mind.

He's quite right.  I respect that.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

TylerR's picture

Editor

This is a good series. I hope Steve and GNB will stick around for the rest of it. It will be fun. I'm just waiting for Bro. Henebury to publish his book on Christ as the center! Smile

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

Is the NT superior revelation, or not?

I can't imagine saying that one part of the Bible is superior revelation to another part as if part of God's revelation can be relegated to an inferior status. But I think you have tapped into a common problem--that people denigrate (uintentionally) one part of God's revelation in favor of another part. I don't think there is any merit for that, at least that I can find.

The way NT authors interpreted the OT is definitive.  Their understanding is perfect, ours is not.

Let's assume this is true. (I think it is true though it needs more explication.) You are interpreting their interpretation. And you have acknowledged that you don't know your  interpretation is correct. So you are really no better off, are you? Which leads back to my original question: Why do you trust your interpretation of the NT more than your interpretation of the OT?

I think it is more complex.

I don't, though I believe it is closer to correct than those who squeeze the NT to fit a previously locked in OT interpretations.

Here I am not sure how to respond because I don't know what "previously locked in OT interpretations" means. As a dispensationalist, I feel no need to "squeeze the NT to fit a previously locked in OT interpretations."

Let me ask you a series of questions and see if perhaps I can make some headway in understanding your position (or whoever will answer):

Were OT saints held accountable to believe and obey the OT revelation without benefit of the NT revelation? (If not, then I think the discussion is over and any talk of a coherent bibliology or revelation is finished.)

If so, was God holding them accountable to something false or something true? If false, then why are they held accountable to believe and obey something false? If true, then isn't the OT sufficient for true belief in that era? And if true, in what sense can that change without them having been called to believe something false at least for a time?

It goes without saying that OT saints also wrestled with questions and partial obscurity, which the NT helps to clarify. 

But the question is how does it clarify? Does it clarify by adding new unknown revelation? By extending previous revelation? By changing previous revelation?

I think it is true that the NT can bring additional revelation that was previously unknown (such as the church) or add information to previous revelation (such as a fuller understanding of the Messiah's mission). But that can't change the OT revelation to be something it wasn't.

I cannot accept the premise that God will not hold us responsible for partial revelation unless we have total understanding of all revelation.

This is exactly what I would say. And the OT saints were held accountable to believe and obey the partial revelation, even as we are. 

 

 

Steve Davis's picture

Paul Henebury wrote:

Steve said,

Like GNB I read Scripture through a dispensational hermeneutic for years and made things fit. I can still argue that way because I think I see the logic of it once one begins going down that trail. I just can't defend it anymore. I don't need to change anyone's mind.

He's quite right.  I respect that.

Still part two and part three Smile

G. N. Barkman's picture

Larry,  Are you saying that OT Saints could not be held responsible for partial revelation unless they could clearly understand it all?  But the NT makes obvious that most first century Jews did not understand the prophecies about Christ very well, if at all.  Were they, therefore, not held responsible?  Or, perhaps you are saying that God could not hold them ressponsable unless the OT Scriptures were capable of being correctly understood.  But its one thing to say they could be correctly understood, and another to assert that you, or I, or anyone else, does in fact understand them correctly. 

If I have an understanding of the OT that clashes with a declared understand of Christ or the Apostles in the New Testament, then I must yield my understanding to theirs.  New Testament Scripture trumps OT interpretation.  That's what I am trying to say. 

Paul, I retract my statement that NT Scriptures are superior to the OT. What I meant to say is that my interpretation of the OT is trumped by the inspired interpretation of the New Testament.  My previous statement was incorrect because it was imprecise, but perhaps this will help.

G. N. Barkman

Paul Henebury's picture

Appreciate the way you have re-expressed what you meant.  Thank you.  I too (like Larry) believe that the NT furthers the revelation of the OT.  Our differences stem from our interpretation of the NT.

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Are you saying that OT Saints could not be held responsible for partial revelation unless they could clearly understand it all?

I am actually saying quite the opposite, that they were responsible for it even if they didn't understand it fully. It was clear enough for them to understand and be held responsible without the NT. To me, that flies in the face of those who say that the NT is necessary to understand the OT. I don't see how that can be sustained. Jesus condemned the Pharisees and even a couple of followers for not believing the OT on its own merits.

But the NT makes obvious that most first century Jews did not understand the prophecies about Christ very well, if at all.  Were they, therefore, not held responsible?

Somewhat true. There was enough revelation to believe and they are judged for not believing it (e.g., John 5, Luke 24). Jesus called them foolish and slow because they refused to accept the OT on its own.

If I have an understanding of the OT that clashes with a declared understand of Christ or the Apostles in the New Testament, then I must yield my understanding to theirs.  New Testament Scripture trumps OT interpretation.  That's what I am trying to say. 

I can agree with that. But that assumes that you have properly understood the NT. And that assumes that we can do what they did. I am persuaded that Longenecker was onto something in his article on "Can We Reproduce the Exegesis of the New Testament?" (and an article by John Walton in TMSJ). In essence, the answer is no. They were operating under inspiration. We are not. Much of their use of the OT does not seem to be historical grammatical exegesis. And therefore, it can't be replicated by non-inspired people.

So when we come to a place where the NT does not interpret the OT we are back to exegesis. And that must assume that the OT is intelligible and coherent on its own merits, even if not complete for us.

So the NT furthers the OT and adds additional revelation that the OT doesn't have. and doesn't add to or clarify some revelation the OT does have. But it doesn't contradict or change the OT.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Exactly.  Their inspired interpretations of OT prophecies do not conform to most DT interpretations.  Therefore we should examine their interpretations carefully to:  1) learn what the OT passages that they interpreted actually mean, and 2) allow them to guide us in the proper way to interpret other OT passages.

Dismissing their conclusions because we are not inspired misses the point  It is precisely because they were inspired that we must give greater weight to their conclusions than to the exegesis of uninspired commentators.

G. N. Barkman

Larry's picture

Moderator

  Their inspired interpretations of OT prophecies do not conform to most DT interpretations.

I am not sure I would grant this at all. What passages do you have in mind?

Remember, the NT use of the OT is multi-faceted. There are more than dozen ways that the NT uses the OT from simply borrowing words to direct fulfillment identification and a whole lot in between. And frankly, we don't always know what they are doing or how they are doing it. Sometimes the NT doesn't give an interpretation at all. 

Therefore we should examine their interpretations carefully to:  1) learn what the OT passages that they interpreted actually mean, and 2) allow them to guide us in the proper way to interpret other OT passages.

You sound like Dennis Johnson or Pete Enns here (among others). I think it is flawed in a number of ways. I think Kaiser's response to Enns in the Three Views book was pretty devastationg.

With respect to #1, the NT use may not be a guide because it doesn't give a meaning in some cases. Again there are a number of different ways and not all of them give the OT meaning. So the NT doesn't always tells us what the OT passage meant in its context.

With respect to #2, remember that much of the OT isn't even addressed by the NT so there is no guide for that. I think you are underemphasizing the fact of inspiration. We are not inspired and therefore we cannot replicate what they did in some cases. We don't even know what they did so how can we imitate what we don't even identify? 

Walton rightly say, :The credibility of any interpretation is based on the verifiability of either one’s inspiration or one’s hermeneutics” (Walton 2002, 70). IF you don't have inspiration, then you have only exegesis (or imagination/making it up). The burden of preaching is to show that the text says what we are saying. The only way to do that is through exegesis of the text. 

Dismissing their conclusions because we are not inspired misses the point  It is precisely because they were inspired that we must give greater weight to their conclusions than to the exegesis of uninspired commentators.

I agree absolutely but this is simplistic. We must not dismiss their conclusions. But what about the times when they don't give an interpretation? Or again, when they don't even address a text. And what about the complexities? Scholars today, to say nothing of pastors, don't agree on how the NT uses the OT in particular cases. 

It seems to me, at the end of the day, we have the text in front of us and God has called us not to give our imaginative thoughts on it but rather to say what the text says, to "preach the word." Preaching the word requires exegeting the text in its immediate context and its canonical context. But the text has to rule. If at the end of the sermon, the audience cannot clearly see the conclusion in the text, I think we have not done our job.

G. N. Barkman's picture

If we will start with the OT Scriptures cited in the NT and accept their inspired interpretation, we have a good foundation to better understand for those more numerous Scriptures of which the NT writers say nothing.  Let's not jump to the un-addressed passages until we have given due consideration to those which are addressed.

I will give two example in general terms, since I am facing a deadline and do not have time to look these up.  Example # 1.  The NT declares repeatedly that John the Baptist is the Elijah foretold in the OT.  In other words, the Elijah who is to come was not the literal OT prophet, but rather one who would come in the power and spirit of Elijah.  Reading ony the OT text in Malachi, I doubt that i would have understood that prophecy correctly.  Reading the words of Christ I now can.

Example # 2.  Jeremiah foretold a new covenant to be made with the house of Judah and Israel.  The book of Hebrews identifies this with the New Covenant inaugurated by Christ which embraces the church.  Conclusion:  the church fulfills the prophesy made to Judah and Israel and in fact is the Israel and Judah of which the OT prophet speaks.

I have read DT explanations which deny these conclusions.  I find them unconvincing.  They seem strained, as if to protect DT at the expense of NT illumination.  IOW, these statements can be and are of necessity explained away, but explained away is not the same as correctly explained.  If historical grammatical exegesis is applied to these NT texts, a less than strictly literal interpretation of the OT texts emerges.  If strictly literal exegesis is utilized with the OT texts, something less than plainly literal is imposed upon the NT explanations of these texts.  Either way, some strictly literal interpretation must give way.  With DT, the NT is always required to give way to the OT.  I find that odd.  I am more convinced by the approach that takes a straight-forward understanding of the NT, and re-interprets the OT in the light of the inspired NT interpretation. 

G. N. Barkman

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