Sunday, November 10, 2013

Fire and smoke

17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,    and your young men shall see visions,    and your old men shall dream dreams;18 even on my male servants and female servants    in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above    and signs on the earth below,    blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;20 the sun shall be turned to darkness    and the moon to blood,
38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:17-20,38-39).
I'm going to comment on some remarks by Ed Dingess:
The text in question is Acts 2:16, which says, “This is what was spoken through the prophet Joel.” Is the antecedent of “this” the miraculous language-speaking ability that has accompanied the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost or is it the divine act of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit itself that is being referenced? Since Peter says “this” is the same thing essentially that Joel spoke about, then the “this” must be the same phenomenon predicted by Joel.

That's a false dichotomy, as if it must either be the outpouring of the Spirit or else tongues, prophecies, dreams, visions, signs, and wonders. 

Brown seems to think that the signs that accompany this new age must continue until that new age reaches its culmination, and that is simply not the case. God has indeed given us these signs so that we can know that this new age has begun, but it does not necessarily follow that they must continue in order for the new age to continue. God may point to this incident at Pentecost and say, “When you see this, then you know that I have begun a new age in which I will now include all in my covenantal relationship.” There is no necessary relationship between God pouring out His Spirit on all flesh and the continuation of the sign He gave to accompany it at the outset. These signs point to the greater event, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit in the new covenant.

Several problems with Ed's analysis:

i) Once again, he artificially dichotomizes the fulfillment, as if tongues, dreams, miracles, &c. are merely signs of the fulfillment rather than the fulfillment itself. He arbitrarily separates the two, as if the covenant promise is something different from the tongues, dreams, miracles, &c. 

But that cuts against the grain of the text. In the narrative, they don't simply herald or accompany the fulfillment. Rather, they express the content of the promise. This isn't just a sign that the ancient oracle is being fulfilled; rather, this is what the ancient oracle prophesied. This is the substance of the prophecy. An integral expression of the new covenant, as Peter explicates the event. 

They don't simply "point" to the gift of the Spirit. They are gifts of the Spirit. Part and parcel of the new covenant. Ed disregards the actual wording of Joel's prophecy. 

These aren't incidental pointers to the fulfillment. Rather, that's how Joel unpacks the outpouring of the Spirit. These are the direct and intended effects of the outpoured Spirit. That's what the Spirit pours out: dreams and visions, wonders above and wonders below. 

ii) In addition, Ed acts as though 2:17-18 was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. But that's clearly not the case. Pentecost inaugurates the new age. Pentecost represents the initial fulfillment of the ancient prophecy. 

We know this in part because there are no dreams and visions on the day of Pentecost. Rather, the subsequent history of Acts recounts dreams and visions, as well as other miracles. Therefore, the day of Pentecost was simply the beginning of the fulfillment, not the end. 

iii) And that's what Peter leads us to expect. For the promise is diachronic. The promise is transgenerational (vv38b-39). 

Joel 2:31 clearly indicates that the signs that this age of the new covenant, of God’s Spirit-outpouring on all flesh will culminate with His final judgment. There will be signs in the heaven above, blood, and fire, and columns of smoke. Now this we did not see at Pentecost even though Peter referenced it as part of “this” which was spoken by Joel. Clearly, Peter is not speaking just about the events these Jews are witnessing on Pentecost. 

The text doesn't says "signs in the heaven above." Rather, it says "And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below." Ed acts as if 2:17-18 was completely fulfilled on the day of Pentecost, while 19-20 will be fulfilled on the day of Judgment, with nothing of the kind in-between. But the rest of Acts illustrates the ongoing nature of the fulfillment. Dreams, visions, and miracles continue in the history of Acts. And, needless to say, the world doesn't come to an end where the Book of Acts ends. Church history continues after Acts 28–as does the promise.  

Acts 2:17ff. is a programmatic statement for what follows in the remainder of Acts. Subsequent dreams, visions, and miracles exemplify that enduring principle. 

So the promise that Peter mentions in Acts 2 is not the promise of tongues or prophecy or miracles or revelations. It is the promise of being baptized by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ and being filled with His wonderful presence daily. 

That's a false dichotomy. Ed is rewriting the explicit terms of the prophecy. Although the new covenant includes the forgiveness of sins, it doesn't exclude the other phenomena. It's all part of the same package. 

And that stands in stark contrast to the OT status quo ante, where dreams, visions, and miracles were confined to a few. What we have now is not the cessation, but the expansion, of such phenomena. Extending the circle rather than contracting the circle to nothing.  

At the same time, that doesn't predict for the relative incidence of tongues, dreams, and miracles in time and place. That's up to God. That's something for us to discover. 

The Charismatic argument that Peter had the signs in mind when he said “this” is what Joel spoke about is simply the product of theological bias. Joel had the actual gift of the Holy Spirit, the outpouring itself to which the signs pointed in mind. 

Except for the awkward little fact that Ed stamps the text with his theological cookie-cutter, dividing what the text unites. 

1 comment:

  1. And, needless to say, the world doesn't come to an end where the Book of Acts ends. Church history continues after Acts 28–as does the promise.

    Not being familiar with the literature, I wonder how common preteristic cessationists appeal to the destruction of Jerusalem as the end of the Jewish Age which therefore explains why the charismatic gifts ceased in their view.

    Though, from what I can tell historically, the miraculous didn't de facto end with the destruction of Jerusalem, or the death of the Apostles or the death of their last direct disciples. I myself slightly favor preteristic postmillennialism or amillennialism.