Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Redemptive-Historical Hermeneutic vs. The Foreign-Eschatological Hermeneutic

Bobby Grow Says:
May 17th, 2006 at 1:22 am

Interesting discussion! Although I find it highly problematic, for the Covenant/Amil side to argue for a “normative” NT hermeneutic, as it appears, Evan, you’re endorsing/forwarding. In other words it seems that the Covenant exegete assumes that he/she has been able to discern a uniformed hermeneutic merely by observing the “way” NT author’s “used” the OT. How is this possible when the NT authors in fact used many different interpretive principles, i.e. midrash, atomization, spiritualization, allegory; and further they used different “text-types”, i.e. LXX and Hebrew Text, in a seemingly “ad hoc” kind of way (albeit under the inspiration and authority of the Holy Spirit–which of course we aren’t privy to). If this is true how do you Evan, make the arguement that you do, of approaching the OT through the NT lens in a normative way?

1. The Pendulum swings both ways. The Covenantal hermeneutic interprets the Old Testament in light of the New testament. The Dispensational hermeneutic interprets the New in light of the Old. Both camps must defend their hermeneutical methods. We don’t simply assume a Dispensational hermeneutic until we find something better.

2. The nature of the hermeneutic lies in the nature of the Testaments of the Covenants: the New Covenant is new, better, more clear. And the revelation of the New Covenant (the New Testament) more clearly presents Biblical truth. Which Testament more clearly presents the doctrine of the Trinity: the Old or the New? Which Testament more clearly presents the deity and person of Christ: the Old or the New? Which Testament more clearly presents justification by faith: the Old or the New? The resurrection of the saints? The second coming of Christ? This isn’t to state that the Old Testament is deficient in these categories (the more we dive into the Old Testament, the more we note its richness in presenting doctrinal treasures). Rather, this is simply to recognize a Biblical fact: the New Covenant Testimony brought clear revelation in categories where the Old Testament gave but a glimpse.

3. Much of the Covenantal hermeneutic isn’t so much “the way NT authors used the OT,” but simply being fair to a text in its own context. Dispensationalists habitually rip OT prophecies from their redemptive-historical context and force them into a foreign eschatological context. It’s almost as if Dispensationalists believe that the prophets couldn’t find a topic to speak about: one moment they’re talking about restoration from the exile; the next moment they’re talking about folks disappearing out of their clothes on an airplane.

4. When Jesus claims that all of the Scriptures speak of him, he means it.

5. But, it must be noted that the Covenantal hermeneutic is not some knee-jerk, arbitrary dogma of “spiritualize any Old Testament prophecy whatsoever.” Rather, we deal with texts on their own merit. We want to be fair to what the text itself states, and we exegete them on a case-by-case basis (and for this reason, I am glad that Bobby posed a text rather than simply speaking generically).

As an aside, often the Dispensational interpretation of certain passages is hardly “literal,” but “literalistic.” That is, the application of the text is something terribly foreign to the historical context. Take Daniel 9, for instance. Daniel, in searching the Scriptures, realizes that the 70 years Jeremiah predicted were about to come to a close (9:2). And while he prays in response to this (his prayer, by the way, is permeated with covenantal references to God. Keep that in mind when you read that one whom Dispensationalists believe to be the antichrist will “confirm a covenant with many,” 9:27), Gabriel appears to him in a vision (9:21), and he tells him that “seventy sevens” and “sixty-two sevens” (references to sabbatical weeks, Lev 35:1-4) are decreed to follow (9:25). That is, a total of 490 years (an ultimate Jubilee, Lev 24:8), the messianic age. But the Dispensational interpretation of this text (the supposedly “literal” interpretation) forces an at least 2000 year break (or “an indeterminate gap of time”) between the end of the sixty-ninth and seventieth week, a disjunction which the text no where posits. This is directly contrary to the Dispensationalist’s professed “literal” hermeneutic! And this forcing of something into the text which is not present (something that used to be called “eisegesis”) has terrible consequences: confusing Christ with the antichrist!

For example how does the Amil/Cov deal with a passage like this:

“And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious. 11. It shall come to pass in that day that the LORD shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left, from Assyria and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush, from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath and the islands of the sea. 12. He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” –Isaiah 11:10-12 NKJV

How does the amillennialist interpret this to correspond to the “church”? The passage clearly makes a distinction between ethnic Israelies and Gentiles (the church—just like Rom. 9—11 does). This seems to, indeed, be a crux-interpretum (“difficult interpretive passage”) for the amillennial interpreter. In other words there are “two” returns spoken of in this passage. They are both post-exilic, i.e. the first one referencing the return in Ezra-Nehemiah–but what of the “second” return? This seems to be speaking yet proleptically to a “future” time in the “last days”. If you say the “second” gathering is referencing the “church” this seems precarious given the reference to the “gentiles” in vs. 10, and not only that, but its primary referent (i.e. the people of the second gathering) and elucidation is made clear vs. 12b. Again making a distinction between the “Nations” and the “nation” of Israel (i.e. the remnant).

I would argue that this second gathering indeed finds correlation, yet future, at the time that Christ sets up the “physical” side of the Davidic Kingdom (I’m Prog. Disp.), thus initiating the Messianic Age and His thousand yr reign (Rev. 20).

Anyway, I’d be interested in hearing your response . . .

1. Just as a quick note: there is nothing “millennial” about this text. Even if an Amillennial interpretation fails, that does not justify the assumption that this passage is connected with Revelation 20. There are so many components in this text that are absent in Revelation 20, and vice versa.

2. If Bobby will permit, I’d like us to instead look at a parallel promise. This prophecy shares the same language of the Isaiah 11 text, and, no doubt, Bobby would connect this text as well to Rev 20, but this text has something which the Isaiah 11 text does not have: a New Testament interpretation. Here we go:

Amos 9:11-12 In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old, that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by my name,” declares the LORD who does this.

How did the Apostle James interpret this passage when he needed to address an issue relevant to the Church?

Acts 15:13-20 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, “After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’ Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.

James viewed this prophecy as being fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection and in the reconstitution of his disciples as the new Isreal. Notice that both Jews and Gentiles are present, which should not only answer Bobby’s question, but prove that the prophecy had been fulfilled.

When James applied this text to the Church, was he “spiritualizing” the Old Testament text? Was it some knee-jerk, “read it figuratively!” mentality that drove James to this interpretation, or was he rightly reading it though a Christocentric lens?

“After this” tells us that the prophecy referred to what God would do for Israel after the exile. Dispensationalists assert that “after this” refers to “after the age of the church.” But this is foreign to the Acts 15 context. Paul and Barnabas were seeking guidance on a matter that was immediate to them: must Gentile converts be circumcised? And James, in addressing this topic, was not pointing to a distant future millennial age. Rather, his interpretation of the text led to an application to their very present concerns.

The Dispensational interpretation of this text is hardly the “plain meaning.” It completely ignores the context of Acts 15 and puts a subject into the mouth of James for which he had no concern when he spoke these words.

Evan May.


  1. And all God's people said...AMEN!

  2. The first redemption=the deliverance from Israel.

    The second is either the return from exile (note the names of the countries listed and the known destination of the exiles...I'd add here that archaelogy does show that some Jews left Palestine for the land known as Cush, passing through Egypt and then into Ethiopia) or the gathering of the elect, for the very next verse speaks of Emmanuel raising a banner for all the nations and assembling the scattered people of Judah..."all the children of God scattered abroad" (John's own words for "world" in 1 John 2:2 and the parallel text in John 11.) Most Reformed commentators take this as the gathering of all the elect from the foundation of the church @ Pentecost onward, as if it is made to answer to the return from Babylon, it doesn't fully answer, since on Judah and Benjamin returned. However, there may be some allusion to it by way of a type/antitype in that some of "indeterminate origin" did return, and there was obviously exchange between the Jews in Ethiopia (Cush) and Jerusalem in the First Century (the Ethiopian eunuch being an obvious example).


    It's funny how those claiming "the literal interpretation" go all the way to Rev. 20 without looking to the most literal the names of the nations in the text and the other NT allusions to this text.

    If you do tie it to Rev. 20, it must come through several steps. That is, the events described type and antitype each other. For example, the virgin birth also calls out Samuel's birth and Samson's birth..type/antitype relations. Rev. 20 does as well. The calling of the elect is possibly typed on the return from Babylon, which is pegged to the deliverance from Egypt; the calling of the elect by the gospel is very certainly drawn on the exodus from Egypt, and the gathering of the redeemed in the end age is typed on these same elements. You can't just go from Isa. 11 without including that whole span. Bobby's hermeneutic overlooks this basic concept.

  3. Brilliant.

    That's all I got.

  4. thats awesome! I can't wait to share this post with all my Dispensational buddies!

  5. I didn't even realize this post and thread were running over here too! I did make some mild, i.e. under-developed responses to Evan, over at his Veritas site!

    In Christ,

    Bobby Grow

  6. Dear Brothers,
    I would suggest that in Acts 15, James took a principal from Israel's past and from a yet unfulfilled prophecy and applied it to the present situation of the early church.

    The principal begins with the historical fact that Israel was numbered with the Gentiles until taken from the Gentile pool. Now Christ has taken Jews and Gentiles and formed a new body, the church.

    In the future, when God restores Israel to her true spiritual glory and world dominance, many saved Gentiles will share her blessing.

    So James suggests a prior physical unity with Gentiles, a future spiritual one, and a present one based on mutual faith in Christ.

    In effect, he is saying,let us, the present church, made up largely of Jewish converts, treat these Gentile converts now, in the same manner of the future treatment predicted for them by God.

    As we were once all Gentiles, all saved Jews and Gentiles will be together again and belong to God when Israel is restored. In the same way, we are brothers presently in the church, both Jew and Gentile. So let us treat one another according to this principal; we now all belong to God in a wonderful spiritual union.

    Acts 15:13-20 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name.

    James is saying, in other words, until God made a choice, we (Jews) were all in the same basket, Gentiles. The scripture backs up what Peter said; And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, “After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;

    I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’

    At the time that this prohecy is going to be fulfilled, the church is in Heaven. But when God restores Israel both spiritually and physically, many Gentiles will be included via salvation. This is not the church; this is the remnant of the Gentiles, a term never used for the Bride of Christ.

    When the prophecey was written, the church was still a secret, hidden in God. These are the sheep, designated as such at the Judgement of the Nations upon the Second Coming of Christ. Their kind treatment of the Jewish people during the Tribulation at the risk of their own lives indicates their faith in Christ and His word.

    They enter the millennial reign of Christ while the goats go into destruction on the basis of their unbelief .

    1When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: 32And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

    33And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 34Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:

    35For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

    37Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? 38When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? 39Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

    40And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. 41Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:

    42For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: 43I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. 44Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?

    45Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. 46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

    Notice the distinction between those who may properly be called the Lord's BROTHER'S and those being judged, who are Gentiles. The Lord's brothers are, in this case, saved Jews who have repented and received Christ.

    Zechariah 12:10 "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.

    11 On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be great, like the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 The land will mourn, each clan by itself, with their wives by themselves: the clan of the house of David and their wives, the clan of the house of Nathan and their wives,

    13 the clan of the house of Levi and their wives, the clan of Shimei and their wives, 14 and all the rest of the clans and their wives.

    They also are blood relatives of Abraham and here the Lord's Covenant to him is being honored in more ways than one.

    This understanding of this
    passage(s) is offered in a spirit of Christian brotherhood and gratitude toward God for His marvelous grace and wisdom.

    It is not intended to put anyone down, but to encourage deeper explorations of God's wonderful Word. God bless all who read, Dennis Clough