Monday, February 25, 2013

The everlasting Mosaic covenant

’m going to comment on these two posts:

One of the problems of dealing with Hays is that while he lumps me in with the general run of dispensationalists…

Henebury is always free to distance his own position from the general run of dispensationalists. However, it’s up to him to state his own exceptions. That’s not something I can anticipate.

…he will not permit me to cite his fellow covenant theologians against him; especially when they admit to reinterpreting the OT with the NT, or to spiritualizing the text.

Quoting covenant theologians against me is a diversionary tactic. Henebury is debating me, not Beale or Robertson or Poythress or Riddlebarger. Quoting covenant theologians who disagree with me does nothing disprove my own position. It’s not as if dispensationalists march in lockstep.

(Num 25:10 -13) There is no need to go into minute exegesis of this passage to see that God freely enters into an eternal covenant with Phinehas and his descendents – who happen to include Zadokites!  Psalm 106:30-31 recounts…If this is true; that is, if God meant what He said in the covenant (and covenants have to mean what they say), then whether or not we can figure out the whys and wherefores, there has to be a Levitical priesthood and temple forever in fulfillment of this covenant.  This is stressed further by Jeremiah in Jer. 33: (Jer 33:14-18).

There are several problems with this appeal:

i) Henebury constantly falls back on his little formula: “if God meant what He said.”

I’m demonstrated that that formula is ambiguous at best and false at worse. It is unethical for Henebury to ignore counterarguments.

ii) Olam has a range of meanings. It doesn’t only mean “forever.”

iii) The Pentateuch routinely describes the Mosaic covenant as a series of “everlasting statutes.” Here are some examples:

And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever (Exod 12:17).

You shall observe this rite [the Passover] as a statute for you and for your sons forever (Exod 12:24).

Then his master shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall bore his ear through with an awl, and he shall be his slave forever (Exod 21:6).

And they shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they go into the tent of meeting or when they come near the altar to minister in the Holy Place, lest they bear guilt and die. This shall be a statute forever for him and for his offspring after him (Exod 28:43).

They shall wash their hands and their feet, so that they may not die. It shall be a statute forever to them, even to him and to his offspring throughout their generations. (Exod 30:21).

16 And the priest shall burn them on the altar as a food offering with a pleasing aroma. All fat is the Lord's. 17 It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations, in all your dwelling places, that you eat neither fat nor blood (Lev 3:16-17).

17 It shall not be baked with leaven. I have given it as their portion of my food offerings. It is a thing most holy, like the sin offering and the guilt offering. 18 Every male among the children of Aaron may eat of it, as decreed forever throughout your generations, from the Lord's food offerings. Whatever touches them shall become holy (Lev 6:17-18).

20 This is the offering that Aaron and his sons shall offer to the Lord on the day when he is anointed: a tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a regular grain offering, half of it in the morning and half in the evening. 21 It shall be made with oil on a griddle. You shall bring it well mixed, in baked pieces like a grain offering, and offer it for a pleasing aroma to the Lord. 22 The priest from among Aaron's sons, who is anointed to succeed him, shall offer it to the Lord as decreed forever (Lev 6:20-22).

Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations (Lev 10:9).

The thigh that is contributed and the breast that is waved they shall bring with the food offerings of the fat pieces to wave for a wave offering before the Lord, and it shall be yours and your sons' with you as a due forever, as the Lord has commanded (Lev 10:15).

And it shall be a statute to you forever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (Lev 16:29).

And this shall be a statute forever for you, that atonement may be made for the people of Israel once in the year because of all their sins (Lev 16:34).

And you shall eat neither bread nor grain parched or fresh until this same day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings (Lev 23:14).

And it shall be a statute forever for them. The one who sprinkles the water for impurity shall wash his clothes, and the one who touches the water for impurity shall be unclean until evening (Num 19:21).

That’s just a sample. If we think olam means these statutes are absolutely everlasting, then there’s no room for the new covenant to succeed and supersede the old covenant.

Notice the role of the Branch (i.e. Christ).  He “executes” or “does” righteousness on the land (eretz).  This agrees with Isaiah 2:2-4 (set “in the last days”).  Micah is very similar (Mic. 4:1-7, where we are told that God “will reign over [the Remnant] in Mount Zion from now on [the last days – v.1] and forever.”).

And how does that mesh with Henebury’s belief in a thousand-year reign? The dispensational millennium is not “forever.”

The righteous reign of Messiah is seen in statements like Isa. 26:9; 51:3-5; 62:1-5.  The paradisaical conditions described in Isa. 62:1-5 involve the whole creation, as Hosea 2:16f. and  Isaiah 11:6-8 make perfectly clear (Cf. Rom. 8:18-23).

Which is a reason to assign new creation statements, not to the millennium, which is a temporary phase that’s part of the fallen, old world order, but to the final state.

So in Ezekiel 37:25-28 we read of God setting up His sanctuary under these fulfillment conditions…Please do not miss the heavy covenantal emphasis of that prophecy.  The sanctuary is the temple.

Actually, that passage sabotages Henebury’s argument:

i) In 37:27-28, Ezekiel uses two terms that antedate the temple. Both terms go back to the portable shrine in the wilderness. Miskan (“tent,” “tabernacle”) generally denotes the tabernacle proper whereas miqdas (“sanctuary”) generally denotes the larger tabernacle complex. Cf. NIDOTTE 2:1078-86; 1130-33. Although miqdas can denote the temple in later OT usage, the term is not specific to the temple, while miskan is specific to the tabernacle.

Therefore, Ezekiel’s terminology doesn’t single out a temple. The fact that Ezekiel uses fluid, inconsistent terminology underscores the symbolic nature of his designations.

Did God make an everlasting covenant of peace with the returnees?

Why does Henebury assume that God didn’t make an everlasting covenant of peace with the returnees? Does he think that’s because the returnees didn’t enjoy the sort of peace envisioned by the “covenant of peace”?

If so, that’s confused. The fact that the original generation with whom a covenant was made didn’t participate in all the benefits of the covenant doesn’t mean God never made a covenant with that generation. Covenants are diachronic and intergenerational. Although a covenant may take its inception with a particular individual or generation, later generations may be the actual beneficiaries. The Abrahamic covenant is a paradigmatic example.

By the same token, God preserves a remnant in every generation. That’s the thread of continuity. 

Did His Glory return to the Second Temple?  No.  The temple being referred to is the one in Ezek. 40ff., which IS in paradisiacal conditions (ch. 47), when God shall dwell with Israel forever (43:7).

We may add to this the prediction from Malachi 3:2-3, which speaks of a purified priesthood in what appears to be (contra Steve Hays) a Second Advent context (Mal. 3:1 does refer to the First Advent).

i) Notice how Henebury artificially splits up Mal 3:2-3 from Mal 3:1.

ii) It’s striking to compare Henebury’s interpretation to that of fellow dispensationalists. For instance:

The NT identifies the messenger of Mal 3:1 as John the Baptist (Mt 11:10; Mark 1:2)…

Though not totally without distant eschatological import (cf. Mal 4:5), the passage at hand is fundamentally to be connected to the first advent. The promise is that the way having been prepared, the Lord will come to His Temple (cf. Mt 3:1-3; 21:12-17; Lk 2:41-51). The messenger who prepares the way does so as a covenant spokesman, one who reminds his hearers that the long-awaited (“whom you are seeking”) one has come to establish the kingdom of God as the ultimate expression of the ancient covenant promises (Mt 11:11-13).

Most specifically, John’s message and ministry were directed to the religious leadershp of Judaism, an element that could easily be accommodated under the loosely defined rubric of “Levite.” “Levites” appears to be a general term for priests here.

Many of the priests and other religious leaders believed (cf. Jn 3:1; 19:39; Acts 6:7), and in that important sense became purified and qualified to serve as priests of a new order.

E. Merrill, An Exegetical Commentary: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (Moody 1994), 430-31,33.

iii) Henebury likes to quote Jewish opinion. Well, here’s the interpretation of a Messianic Jewish scholar, who is also, I believe, a dispensationalist:

First, we’ll look at Haggai 2:6-9…Where was this glory at the dedication of the Second Temple? It was nowhere to be seen!…It must be asked, therefore, in what way the glory of the Second Temple was greater than the glory of the First Temple.

To answer these questions, we turn to the next piece of prophetic evidence, coming from the Book of Malachi…Here we have a more explicit statement: there was to be a divine visitation at the Second Temple.

We see from this passage [Mal 3:1-5] that the Lord  (in Hebrew, ha’adon, always used with reference to God in the Hebrew Bible when it has a definite article), preceded by his messenger, would visit the Second Temple, purifying some of his people and bringing judgment on others. That is to say, there would be a divine visitation of great import that would occur in the days of the Second Temple[emphasis his].

After reviewing the prophecy we just read from Haggai 2, we can now put two big pieces of the puzzle together: the glory of the Second Temple would be greater than the glory of the First Temple because the Lord himself–in the person of the Messiah–would visit the Second Temple!

M. Brown, Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus: General and Historical Objections (Baker 2000), 1:75-78.

Now, I’m not claiming that just by quoting these two scholars, that this ipso facto disproves Henebury. But I did it to make the following points:

a) One doesn’t have to be amillennial to agree with my interpretation, and disagree with Henebury’s. Even dispensationalists can agree with me, in opposition to Henebury’s interpretation.

b) Henebury acts as if special weight attaches to Jewish scholarship. Well, I just gave him an example that takes issue with his own interpretation.

c) I’m not just quoting scholarly opinion. Both scholars argue for their interpretation.

Back to Henebury:

If all this is not enough we find Zechariah predicting a temple which will be built by the Branch (Messiah) when He combines the offices of priest and king in Himself when He rules upon His throne (Zech. 6:12-13).  And what do we find at the end of the Book?  We find, as I have said many times, a Day when the Lord comes to the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:11 anyone?), when the topography of the land is drastically altered (Zech. 14:4), following which  “living waters will flow out of Jerusalem (Zec 14:8), “Jerusalem will dwell in security” (Zec 14:11), and the nations will come up to Jerusalem to worship the King – who therefore must be Divine – (14:16-17), and sacrifices will be offered at the Lord’s house (14:20-21).

As these predictions are predicated on what we now know is the Second Coming, clearly they are in the future and their realization should not be searched for in the past.   The conditions under which all this will be done are New covenant conditions (Cf. Zech. 12:9-13:1):

Amillennialists might want to turn all of these passages into metaphors (and they do), but they make perfect sense as they stand.  There is no mess.  We don’t have all the information, but we have enough.  Once amils try to tackle the specifics of these passages, that’s when the train wrecks.  So, for the most part, they don’t even try.  They just read their interpretations of the NT into them.

The obvious problem with Henebury’s appeal to Zechariah is that, in context, Zechariah is referring to the Second Temple.

Not in chapter 14 he isn’t.  I have shown why (cf. Isa. 2:2-3; Zech. 8:3, 20-23; 14:16f.).

    The temple built by Zerubbabel (Zech 4:6-10). Same thing with Haggai (2:2-4).

A person may grant that the temple in chapter 4 is the second temple.  But I didn’t cite chapter 4.  It’s obvious to me that Steve is ignoring the details of the passages I did cite.

Ezekiel is shown a very detailed and huge temple which cannot be constructed on the present Mt. Zion.

Zechariah predicts a future temple built after Jerusalem has been changed topographically…

Several problems:

i) Dispensationalism combines what Scripture divides while dividing what Scripture combines. On the one hand, Henebury bifurcates the temple in Zech 4 from the temple in 6, 8, and 14. On the other hand, he combines the temple in Zechariah with the temple in Ezk 40-48.

He doesn’t show that Zechariah thought he was referring to two different temples. Conversely, Ezekiel doesn’t make his temple contingent on Zech 14:4. Henebury is making things go together despite the fact that Ezekiel and Zechariah never align their material in that fashion.

ii) How does Zech 14:16f. imply a future temple? The Feast of Tabernacles doesn’t require a temple. It goes back to the wilderness. The returnees celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles before the Second Temple was built (Ezra 3:4,8).

iii) The reference to warhorses in Zech 14:20 is quite anachronistic if projected into the distant future.

iv) What about the “drastically altered topography” in Zech 14:4? Let’s begin by quoting the current standard dispensational commentary on Zechariah:

“Mountain [Zech 4:7] as metaphor for insuperable opposition or resistance is common in the OT, especially when it is overcome and reduced to a valley or plain (Isa 40:4; 41:15; 42:15; 64:1,3; Mic 1:4; Nah 1:5; Jer 4:24; 51:25-26; Hab 3:10; Zech 14:4-5). Zerubbabel will be able to face this mountain, level it to a plain, and completely achieve the rebuilding committed to his charge.

Coupled with this [Zech 14:4] is the mountain of vision five (Zech 4:7), that which before Zerubbabel would become a level place. In the latter passage the mountain was seen to be an obstacle standing in the way of Zerubbabel to prevent him from discharging the task of temple-building and administering the affairs of the revived Davidic state. Because of its impenetrability, its sheer hardness, “mountain of bronze” would be an apt description. A problem remains that only one mountain appears in vision five, whereas there are two here [Zech 6:1] in vision eight. This may be where Zech 14:1-8 fits into the equation. In the day of YHWG, Zechariah says, YHWH will stand on the Mount of Olives which will split asunder beneath His feet, in effect creating two mountains, one to the north and one to the south.

Though the scenes are quite different in all three passages, the common imagery and symbolism cause one to suspect that the author is using stock literary devices in an integrative way to communicate one overall, consistent message.

E. Merrill, An Exegetical Commentary: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, 160, 183.

If the mountain in Zech 4:7 is figurative, and if the bronze mountains in Zech 6:1 are figurative, then why assume the mountain in Zech 14:4 is literal? Does Henebury think the mountains are literally made of bronze? And note the parallel between the two mountains in Zech 6:1 and a mountain split in two in Zech 14:4-5. We’re dealing with a common mountainous metaphor.

v) There is also the new creation motif in Zech 14. As the same commentator notes:

The coming of YHWH to do battle will bring about cataclysmic changes in the terrain itself, as well as in the patterns of light and darkness and in the seasons (vv4-8)…They attest to His power as the Creator and to the new creation that will be founded on the ashes of the old.

This is no mere earthquake in Zechariah, however, but a shaking of the whole universe as YHWH comes in judgment.

The eschatological day of YHWH is a de-creation in its judgment, but one that gives way to an even more glorious re-creation. A token of that recreation is the issuance of living waters from Jerusalem…

Ibid. 347,349,352.

However, the millennium is not a recreation of the old order. The millennium is a temporary phase belonging to the old world order.

vi) In addition, Zech 14:4 isn’t the same genre as Acts 1:11. The account of the Ascension belongs to a historical narrative. It furnishes an eyewitness description, in observational terms.

By contrast, Zech 14:4 depicts the warrior God as a gigantic figure (e.g. the Colossus of Rhodes) under whose immense weight the mountain divides: “Parts the mountain by the very act of treading upon it” (ibid. 348).

If Zech 14 envisions the Parousia, it does so in metaphorical terms–like so much else in Zechariah’s complex imagery.

Back to Henebury:

I have already given reasons why the returning exiles would not have thought to take up the task of constructing Ezekiel’s temple.  These include the obvious fact of the sheer size of the structure, together with the geographical requirements involved.

Except that God promises Zerubbabel and the returnees divine empowerment to complete the task (Zech 4:6-7; cf. Haggai 2:4). Therefore, preexisting logistical obstacles would be no impediment to building Ezekiel’s temple after the exile.

Then the clear differences between the Mosaic institutions and Ezekiel’s vision.

Which may be because Ezekiel’s temple is symbolic. The added fact that Ezekiel’s temple lacks some of the essential furnishings of the Solomonic temple should cue us that Ezekiel’s temple is just a symbolic shell. A stage-set.

Finally, the fact that these chapters are prophetic and look to the time when God’s covenants with Israel will be realized under New Covenant conditions: conditions which have not yet been met, but which shall be met “after the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:24-27).

The problem with appealing to new covenant conditions is that Ezk 48-48 envisions the continuance of the sacrificial system, which is classically Mosaic. So you can’t transport it en bloc to the new covenant era.

If, as Steve Hays says, the people in exile enjoyed better access to God than when they were in the land, why rebuild any temple?  Hays answers, it is because they were under the Law.  But were not the exiles under the Law?

Henebury is making no effort to present a serious objection. Needless to say, the Babylonian captives were in no position to rebuild the temple. That requires a degree of national self-determination, which–by definition–the Babylonian captives did not enjoy. In their captivity, they were not at liberty to engage in sacred building projects. They were under the boot of their heathen conquerors and overlords.

Leviticus 26:36 hardly depicts the future exiles having confident access to the Lord.

Henebury fails to distinguish between apostate Jews and pious or penitent Jews. Indeed, the exile was, itself, a refining process. There was a godly remnant. Ezekiel and Daniel are a cast in point. And some former covenant-breakers were chastened by the remedial punishment of the exile.

But what about Ezekiel 11:16?  Steve writes that “God tabernacled with the exiles.”  This is supposed to prove that God was a moving temple for the exiles.  Does this mean the Glory which departed the temple in Ezek.10 dwelt with the Jews in Babylon?  Duguid, Ezekiel (NIVAC), 151, implies it, but the temporary sanctuary of v.16 is not the Shekinah, which is what God’s presence in the temple meant, so we are not dealing with the same thing in Ezek. 11.

11:16 doesn’t have to denote the Shekinah. The Shekinah is a visible manifestation of God’s presence. That doesn’t mean God is absent unless he is visibly present.

Besides, temples did not always signify a god’s presence with the people.  I showed that from Rodney Stark last time.

Stark is a sociologist, not an OT scholar or ANE scholar. Henebury then cobbles together some snippets (sheared of context) from miscellaneous scholars. For instance, he quotes some dispensationalists who unsurprisingly support the dispensational interpretation. Oddly enough, he also cites Douglas Stuart, even though Stuart favors the amillennial interpretation.

He quotes Brevard Childs, but Childs takes the position that Ezekiel contains editorial vaticina ex eventu. He cites Greenberg, but Jacob Milgrom, Greenberg’s collaborator, reportedly thought Ezekiel’s temple was modeled on the temple at Delphi!

What does Henebury hope to accomplish by citings scholars who agree with him? (And not all the scholars he cites even agree with his overall position.) After all, I can quote scholars who agree with me. What matters is not collecting scholarly opinions, but sifting scholarly arguments.

The different categorizations of general premillennialists which Steve diverts us with (there are different kinds of amillennialists for that matter), is wholly beside the point I am making in these posts.  They use different hermeneutical approaches as any student knows.  Being broadly “premillennial” doesn’t answer to anything in this thread.

Henebury is prevaricating. He attributed varieties of amillennialism to the alleged subjectivity of amillennial hermeneutics. I cited the counterexample of varieties of premillennialism. By parity of argument, we should attribute that to the subjectivity of premillennial hermeneutics.

I responded to Henebury on his own terms. As usual, he’s not honest enough to be consistent.

My main argument relies upon the weight of the wording of the biblical covenants.

Why would we impose that framework when a Bible writer is not discussing Biblical covenants. That’s extraneous to the text at hand.

One gigantic “placeholder” or vehicle for the conveyance of a few truths about Christ and the Church!

That’s just another bald-faced lie. As I already explained to him, I don’t refer it all to Christ and the Church. I think some elements were realized in postexilic times. The exiles were repatriated. They rebuilt the temple. They reinstituted the sacerdotal and sacrificial systems.

But it also portends a greater fulfillment. Imagery is inherently flexible.

We know the New Jerusalem has no need of the moon, so Jeremiah cannot be referring to that.  Unless, of course, the troublesome details in Rev. 21 are emptied of significance.

No sea, no sun, no moon. To say that’s symbolic hardly empties it of significance. Rather, it has whatever significance the symbolism signifies.

Henebury is a Baptist. He interprets the bread of life discourse (Jn 6) symbolically. Imagine a Lutheran debating him on the eucharistic interpretation. The Lutheran would raise the same objections to Henebury that Henebury is raising to me.

Without wishing to be rude, I can respect a man who is honest enough to tell me he is reinterpreting the data through the NT, or that he is “spiritualizing” or “transforming” the apparent meaning of these texts.  I can respectfully disagree with Graeme Goldsworthy…

I’m not courting Henebury’s respect. It’s egotistical for Henebury to imagine that his personal approval should influence my outlook.

At least these men admit to what they are doing.  Steve won’t join them but pins his hopes on the hypothesis that the exiles (meaning those hearing Ezekiel) and the returnees interpreted the vision as an emblem; although I don’t see how they could know about the Church!

I never suggested the returnees interpreted Ezk 40-48 in churchly terms. Henebury is constantly shadowboxing with opponents other than me, then substituting what they say for what I said. Henebury lacks focus.

We’re not told how this temple is built.  It is presented to Ezekiel as completed.

So if we’re going by Ezekiel, why assume it’s a future physical temple rather than a present celestial temple?

He quotes Jn. 1:14 and says “Christ embodies what the Temple signifies.”  The verse says “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  I take that to mean the Divine One who was with God in the creation became human and lived with humans.  Steve infers it means the temple symbolism has become human and been realized.  I rate his interpretation as loaded with outside assumptions.

The verse doesn’t actually say “dwelt” with us. That’s an idiomatic English rendering, but in Greek, John uses a more specific, and evocative term. The Greek text literally says “tabernacled” with us. Moreover, what tabernacled with us was God’s glory (doxa) personified. Christ is the Shekinah incarnate, as well as the tabernacle Incarnate. I’m not importing “outside assumptions” into Jn 1:14. Rather, that’s all right there in the text. Makes you wonder if Henebury ever bothered to exegete Jn 1:14.

Steve’s paragraph is a good sample of the deductive theology of covenant theologians.  They know what the verses say but they don’t believe what they say.  They believe their true meaning must fit within their covenant of grace (which itself is found nowhere in Scripture).

Yet another bald-faced lie. In all my lengthy exchanges with Henebury, I never used the covenant of grace to frame or justify my position.

To give another example of dubious use of “visionary genre”: Revelation 12:1-2, 5 is usually said by CT’s to represent the Church (for problems with that see Here).  But Genesis 37:9-10, together with the fact that the Church did not give birth to Christ, surely identifies the woman as Israel (cf. Dan. 7:24-27 with Rev. 12:14).

Henebury utterly lacks intellectual discipline. Instead of responding to my actual arguments, he constantly attacks arguments I didn’t use, firing off rounds into the bushes. The man has no attention span.

I think that “if the plain sense makes sense, then seek no other sense.”

That’s not a sound hermeneutical principle. The objective of exegesis is to choose the best interpretation. More than one interpretation of a given text might make sense. More than one interpretation can might be consistent with a given text. That’s not enough. Your interpretation ought to be implied by the text.

I believe the Bible is written for Everyman.

Prophecy is often obscure. That’s why prophets themselves sometimes seek clarification (e.g. Dan 7:15-16,19-20). Or why a character in the vision (e.g. an angel) provides editorial comments on what the seer is observing.

 Hence, if correct interpretation depended on the shifting trends in biblical scholarship we would all be up the creek without a paddle.

Henebury’s own understand of Biblical prophecy is mediated by dispensational scholarship.

A quick search on Google will produce many complaints about Steve Hays from Christians both Reformed and non-Reformed, Roman Catholics, and Atheists.

It may well be that I’d lose a popularity contest with Henebury. It’s quite possible that Henebury would win the atheist, abortionist, universalist, theistic evolutionist, open theist, Muslim, Mormon, unitarian, idolater, apostate vote. If that’s the voting block he’s vying for, he’s welcome to it.

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