Tag Archives: dispensationalism

Flotsam and jetsam

Who can name earth shattering changes in the way people looked at the world when what was thought to be true was shown to be mistaken?

This is gonna be like that for some of you. If what we look at tonight is real, then much of what you know about your Bible is going to change.

“Say what you like,” we shall be told, “the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And, worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.’ And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else.”

It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible.

C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night: And Other Essays, p.97

A pagan wrote an essay called Why I am not a Christian agrees with Lewis and says that the main reason he is not a Christian is b/c Jesus was wrong.

Jesus was either wrong or he was not. Jesus prophesied the end of the world within the lifetime of his apostles and it either happened or he is a false teacher. It will not do for us to make his words timeless by saying that he predicted the end of the world and since the world is still here, it must still be future. No, Jesus clearly declared that what he was talking about was only 40 years away.

DISCLAIMER:

Pay as much attention to what I say as to what I do not say. If I did not say X, then don’t say I did. Something I say might elicit a question or conclusion in your mind, but if I do not say it then I didn’t say it. And of course you may ask as many questions as you like.

Do you know God’s favourite game? Hide-and-seek. He loves to hide things and watch us look for them, knowing that in the looking, we are becoming more and more wise. Proverbs 25:2

In what languages is the Bible written? Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, and SYMBOLISH.

How much of the Bible is applicable to us today? Do you know why this is the case?

Is Genesis relevant? Numbers? Daniel?

The relevance of the Bible is not due to the fact that it predicts the future and if the future is still future it is relevant. So, if there is nothing future for us, does this remove the relevance?

Prophecy and covenant theology are two peas in a pod: the one flows out of the other and both are intended to shape and direct history, not even merely “predict” it.

Do you know why not everyone ought to be a SS teacher? B/c not everyone knows enough to be safe; everyone knows just enough to be dangerous.

I remember as a child thinking and having it repeated by some other child: If Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned, would we all still be naked…giggle, snort, guffaw? Depending on how one answers that question will determine whether or not that one ought to be a teacher (now, this is a bit overstated, but nonetheless, teachers ought to have more a foundation off from which to jump). One might well guess the next childish question: will we all be naked in heaven? Or, why were Adam and Eve naked? What are we supposed to take from that? The Bible doesn’t have a running commentary to explain everything it says. But there is an answer and it isn’t immediately evident from the story itself; the answer comes from the greater story of which we have only scratched the surface.

Let’s start with a little pop quiz:

Are things either true or false?

Can you know one thing for sure to be more true than another?

Did God create the world or was it the BB?

Did Noah take two of every animal on the ark?

Was Moses put into the river Nile?

Did Jesus rise from the dead?

Is God trinity? Must he be? Can he not be?

Is Jesus God and man?

Does church have to be on a Sunday?

Is Calvinism or Arminianism correct?

Are infants to be baptized or not?

Is communion supposed to be wine or not?

Does God still have a plan for Israel or not?

Is Jesus King of the Church or of the nations?

If what I say next is right, then it is something that must needs affect our reading of the NT. It might not make sense at first, but when it is considered and accepted…everything will change.

What is the single most important event in the [first century] world? Note I did not ask what was the single most event in the NT. The single most important event in the first century was the vindication of Jesus in the destruction of Jerusalem. Why do I say that? I say it b/c as prophet, Jesus utters a promise that either proves he is a true messenger from God or not. If Jerusalem did not Fall, Jesus is not true. It is b/c the words of Jesus concerning Jerusalem in his Olivet discourse were the words of a messenger of the covenant: a covenant lawsuit wherein the husband lays accusation against his wife and calls her to task for her harlotry. What is the difference between a harlot and a whore? The first one is married and the second one is not. Terms are important and hold great weight. Israel is a harlot and she has rejected her husband who took on flesh to woo his bride.

If we believe a thing to be true or false, we will live in a certain way b/c of that belief. What we believe matters, no matter how slight a thing it is. Don’t let anyone tell you that doctrine (that is, anything the Bible teaches about God and man) divides and all you need is Jesus. Whoever tells you that is…

Doctrine doesn’t divide. Angry people divide. People who do not want to think divide. Everything we believe is doctrine: God, man, creation, Jesus, etc. There must be peace when we disagree to be sure, b/c God in his providence has not seen fit to make everyone agree on all points in the Bible; but that does not mean that particular truths in the Bible are both/and; there is no both/and, there is only either/or. Either the entire NT is preparation for Jesus’ coming to Jerusalem in AD 70 to destroy it for killing him and raping his bride or it is not. And if he did return as he promised, what does that mean?

The judgement that Jesus foretold in his Olivet discourse was not only a judgement against Israel but also against the whole of creation in a true biblical sense: the oikumene as well as the bride of Yahweh. The economy is the system of government at the time of the NT which was Rome. This model of the world began with Daniel’s Man of Earthen Metal. The statue in the vision is made of the same material as the tabernacle. What does this require as we consider its meaning? We must ask what the tabernacle was in all its fullness.

Daniel’s prophetic work established a new heavens and earth wherein the gentile nations were set up to be the governing lights over the world or oikumene. This is the world that existed when Jesus came on the scene. Since Daniel the ruling authorities had converted to the faith and were blessing the people of God. As long as this continued, all would be well until God changed the structure by establishing the Son of Man as supreme authority over the world. And this Jesus claimed for himself before his ascension.

Very often the Bible doesn’t explain what it means by what it says b/c it expects the reader already to know what is going on and not have to play catch up.

Symbolism: numbers are symbols, some of which are these. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and derivatives thereof.

A covenant isn’t ever broken per se. It is, rather, enacted and this can either be positive or negative.

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On baptism, again…

The Baptist’s point, “only a mature person can be instructed as a disciple” precludes infants as such because there is no cognizant response. This is a false dilemma and a straw man. The paedobaptist position is rather, “Who better to be the subject of teaching all that Christ has taught but infant-like children?” Our position is presuppositional as we assume (not that all children are saved) but that the nature of the covenant demands that children of believers are raised as believers. A Reformed Baptist’s claim to be covenantal in his hermeneutic is undone here and it is his position that the new covenant is only made up of true believers that prevents his affirmation of infants as the subject of baptism. It is, then, the nature of the covenant which is at stake. If the nature of the covenant is primarily soteriological, then his position is tenable. However, that is not the case. The nature of the covenant is not soteriological but generational. It is the nature of the covenant to presuppose that the children of believers will be raised to procure, promote and propagate the faith. This does not ensure that all will be saved, nor does it mean baptism ipso facto saves. The meaning of baptism is ordinal. It is an ordination ritual wherein the proper subjects of the rite are laid hold of by the Master of the covenant for service in his kingdom. Whether or not those subjects do this by faith is a whole other matter.

Again, a Baptist makes a straw man when he says that it is contrary to John 1.12 to baptize infants b/c only those born of God are sons of God and baptizing infants is man’s work and John 1.12 says it is not by will of man that makes a person a son of God. This is not a tenable argument and it is not the paedobaptist position. John says, “But as many as received him, he gave them the authority to become God’s children, to those who believe in his name, who, neither by blood nor by the desire of the flesh nor by the will of man but born of God.” As a paedobaptist, I affirm all of this in John’s gospel. It is not my presupposition to baptize my children based on their being my children (born of blood, nor my desire, nor my will). It is my presupposition to baptize my children because God requires it in the nature of the covenant (but born of God). Baptising infants is not man’s desire or will (which is what Baptists assert); it is God’s will.

Whom does God expect to be baptized? Believers and their children. The Baptist asserts more than he wills to. If baptism is God’s action, then it is God’s will and not man’s. If, therefore, God has ordained that his Spirit works in and through and with water, then it is non-sense to assert that when a man baptizes, he is forcing God’s hand. It is God who is forcing the hand. He says to baptize and he says what that action means.

It is interesting to note that the Bible is not a store house of proof texts. John 1.12, 13 are not isolated words. They follow what John has been saying heretofore: Jesus came to his own (the Jews) and even the world (the Jews) did not receive him. The reader must ask, “Why does John say what he says in vv. 12, 13?” Against whom is he speaking when he delineates not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the will of man? Answer this and his point has nothing to do with baptism’s subject per se.

Picture this: a youth who was baptized as an infant grows up not following the Lord. At a point in his life he hears John 1.12, 13 and understands that he must receive Jesus by faith. So he does. What of it? Does this negate his baptism? No. Soteriology is only a fraction of the meaning of baptism. Baptism is not merely about being saved but it is merely about service to God and that by faith. This youth is simply now living out the calling placed on him at his baptism: the fear of Jesus is the beginning of knowledge. To wit, do I hope my children never read John 1 because it is a proof text against paedobaptism? No. I hope they read it because it is a proof text for faith in Christ.

One Baptist refers to Eph.2 8,9 and says that grace must be freely given to be grace according to this: for by grace you have been saved, not by baptism….” Right here, he shows his hand and he gives the game away. The reformed, covenantal position is not that baptism saves and it never was. Baptism does not save apart from faith. Baptism is a means to an end whose end is either destruction or salvation. The whole debate is now defunct because a Baptist is arguing for a position untenable by covenantal standards. Were I arguing with him I would have to retort, “Hey, wait-a-minute. That’s not what I believe. Against whom did you think you were arguing?”

The Baptist is right to point out that Noah’s flood and the Exodus have nothing to do with baptism….per se. They do have to do with covenant theology, however. Baptism depends upon covenant theology, not the other way around. Paul says that all who went with Moses out of Egypt were “saved?” No. He says that they all were baptized in the cloud. Well, what does this mean. What ever it means, it is covenantal, not propositional soteriology.

Think about this conversation.

Father: Son, do you think you are saved?

Son: Yes.

Father: How do you know?

Son: Jesus is my priest, King-prophet and I have been baptized into his name.

Father: Does baptism save?

Son: Why are you asking me this question? Are you trying to trick me? This is a non-sequitor, Dad. Asking if baptism saves is like asking if praying saves (which it does) or if taking communion saves (which it does). Nothing we do saves us; only God saves and that by faith. Baptism is a means to an end and it was begun in me when I was an infant.

Father: So, what does it mean that you are baptized?

Son: Positively, it means that God has laid claim on me and that I am his and that I am allied to Jesus who is my priest, King-prophet. I have been buried with Christ and that I have put on Christ; it means that my sins are forgiven and that I have been circumcised with Christ. It means that I have been washed in regeneration by the Spirit. All of these things the Bible says are mine by baptism and I believe them to be true. Negatively, without faith, all of that is undone and instead of life I am consigned to death.

Baptists make much of the aspect of “faith” regarding intellect and awareness. That is, faith requires understanding a proposition and if there is little to no understanding, then, there is no basis for baptism. This begs the question. Is faith to be measured out by a certain level of intellect? Is faith merely cognizance? If so, is there a test for meeting this level? Of the following who is the proper subject of baptism? A three year old? A five year old? A nine year old? A 15 year old? A 23 year old? A forty year old? It must be conceded that all will have differing levels of maturity regarding what they are able to know and express. A 40 year old will certainly know more than a 3 year old. Does this preclude the three year old from baptism? If not, then what must the three year old “know”? Faith is much more robust than that. Faith is not merely intellectual but also relational. Faith is not merely trust and belief and knowledge; it is an allegiance, a relationship, a way of living. This allows for an infant to be allied to Christ in the same way a 40 year old is; both are called to “kiss the Son (faith), lest he be angry with you and you die in your way; blessed are all those who take refuge (faith) in him.

Again, “On baptism 2”

Jesus’ great commission to his disciples for world wide conquest of the good news is ground breaking and establishes the means for such a conquest. First, it is ground breaking in that the sign of the covenant is applied to all the nations, not just Israel. Therefore, all are ordained to priestly service (or are “disciple-ized”) in the kingdom of God for the life of the world. Second, it establishes how this ordination takes place which is primarily baptism and teaching all that Jesus commanded naturally follows baptism; however, it is not the teaching wherein a disciple is made but the baptism. Without baptism there is no disciple. Baptism makes disciples and contextualizes the teaching.

Baptists want to contextualize this teaching immendiately following one’s being made a disciple and argues that this precludes paedobaptism precisely because infants cannot immediately learn or have “visible” faith. But this is too constricted an idea of discipleship. Paedobaptism presupposes faith and treats the baptized infant as a latent disciple who will receive proper tutelage in its time. In fact, practically speaking, the only thing that separates the Baptist from the Presbyterian is the absence of the sign. Both will discipline or evangelize the child of professing believers to believe in Christ. Both will teach and train in the disciplines of prayer, confession, repentance, and corporate worship. That is the irony: Baptists are truly closet-presbyterians.

I disagree with the Baptist estimation of the supremacy of the New Covenant. I affirm the exact opposite in that it is in every way of the same quality and it is precisely different quantitatively. The superiority of the New Covenant to the old can be likened to that of a cheque and gold. In the Old Covenant were written many checks and in the New those checks are cashed. Everything a believer had in the old covenant a believer has in the new but better because the check has been cashed so-to-speak.

The contrast between the Old and the New is not in not-having and having. That is, it is not that in the Old they did not have but in the New they do have. This is a possible interpretation of the Jeremian quote in Hebrews but it is not the only one. Here are the possible erroneous interpretations of what is better about the New Covenant:

  1. cannot be broken
  2. spiritual realities
    1. law into minds
    2. written on hearts
    3. God will be their God
    4. They will be his people
  3. Everyone will know the Lord
  4. God will be merciful to their iniquities
  5. God will not remember their sins

It is my contention that these are not new realities which did not exist in the Old Covenant. Here are a few of only numerous available proof texts:

a. Leviticus 4. 20 So the priest shall make a covering for them, and they will be forgiven.

b. Psalm 40.8: 8 I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart.

c. Deut. 4. 35, 39: “To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him. 39 “Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other.

d. Psalm 85.2 You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin.

Again, quotes like these can be multiplied so the issue really is not whether these realities were experienced by OT believers but the issue is that which upon the realities were based. This then leads into my greatest disagreement with the interpretation that says the new covenant cannot be broken. But first, the author of Hebrews is not distinguishing between one covenant and another in this statement, they did not continue in my covenant but rather he is simply recounting what happened in the past. And what happened? They did not continue in God’s covenant. This is not a point of contrast between the two eras however as it is within the nature of “covenant” that it can be violated. This begs the question as to what is meant by broken.

Breaking the covenant from a human standpoint means that the covenant has been violated and that the curses of the covenant are enacted. Within the nature of the covenant lies the possibility of apostasy which is the greatest form of disobedience. Conversely, not every sin is a breaking of the covenant. In truth the greatest form of disobedience leading to apostasy is what the Bible calls disbelief. Ironically, Jamin’s desire to use the New Covenant’s nature as a proof text for its surety is found within the same book where the author has spent numerous chapters warning against this precise sin. Jamin very often says, The author assumes thus and such. The author of Hebrews assumes that the nature of the covenant has not changed and says to Christians in the New Covenant, “Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God.” That’s a direct quote. Contrary to New Covenant theology, even Christians can break the covenant and so, the covenant is made up of both elect and non-elect in the New Covenant.

If this is true; if it is true that the covenant is made up of believers who will persevere and those who might not, then it is my contention that infants not only are able to be covenant members but are made so, not by natural birth, but by the washing of regeneration which is being born from above by the Spirit and water, not by the will of man, but born of God. The reason this is so, is because baptism does not guarantee salvation but places the believer within the sphere of the covenant where she is called to persevere by faith.

Again, “On baptism”

To answer the question, Does the Bible teach the baptism of disciples only, one must begin with defining terms. What is a disciple and what is baptism? The Baptist position is that a disciple is a person who has heard the Gospel and has responded positively to its message. The Baptist position is also that infants are not capable of such a kind of faith and so ought not be baptized. This is not the Presbyterian position. The Presbyterian position is that discipleship begins with baptism itself, not merely the profession of faith.1 In this way, baptism can precede or follow “faith” per se and so the Presbyterian affirms those worthy of receiving the sign are those who profess the true religion and their children.2 And so, terms must be defined.

As defined above, the issue peels further into whether or not infants are disciples. According to the Baptist, infants are not capable of cognitive, emotional, spiritual responses of “faith” and so are not to be baptized. According to Presbyterians, infants are able to be discipled according to their stage in life and presuppose that “faith” will express itself in an age appropriate manner. Further defined, “faith” is not always “saving” and so the Westminster Standards wisely caveat, “those who profess the true religion.”3 As a disciple, the infant is raised and trained in the life of the covenant with the expectant hope that perseverance will ensue.

To answer the question, Are infants the proper subjects of baptism, one must begin with what the presuppositions are re: both infants and baptism and the relationship between those two and God as the one who oversees and governs his creation as transcendent Sovereign.

We will begin with the latter of the three and argue thence. The relationship between God and his image bearer in the Bible is called a covenant and this covenantal relationship is dependent upon the ontological Trinity. All three members of the Godhead are in a covenantal relationship wherein each dies a sacrificial death of love and service to glorify the other members—indeed, it is a relational, structural bond which joins the three Persons of God in a community of life, and in which man was created to participate.4

When Adam began to live under the hierarchy of God’s ethical mandate with its promise of death for disobedience, he was to begin a life of humility and submission to God which would eventually lead him into a more and more mature glory. This covenantal relationship, too, eventually would spread out into the society of his marriage and family and civil life. But sin did enter into the equation and, thus, brought into effect the sanctions of covenant life: death for sin. Without sin, there still would have been good deaths to be had by all as all men, immature as they would be in sinless glory, would die to themselves for the good of others. One could very well imagine that God could have laid out the Deuteronomic sanctions before Adam and closed as he did through Moses, “I have laid before you both life and death; therefore, choose life.” Or one could imagine God’s giving one stipulation to Israel: “Do not covet.” It was a simple act of obedience for his subject required by the Sovereign King over all.

It is the nature of the covenant that is at stake in this debate. What one says about the nature of the covenant will determine how he answers this question of baptism. There are two heads of humanity according to the Apostle Paul and so there are “two” covenants. The covenant with Adam in the Garden of Eden is the covenant under which all men find themselves and if a man remains in Adam he will die; if he is raised to newness of life in Christ, he will live. The covenant in Christ is simply the covenant with Adam resurrected and in this sense it is a new covenant. However, from Adam to Christ there were various other heads of humanity with whom God covenanted and further developed a life of the covenant which would be brought to fruition in the person, ministry, and kingdom of Jesus of Nazareth.

While all these covenants were still in Adam and “insufficient” as the author of Hebrews says, it was not the ontology of the covenant itself which was lame but the surety upon which it was based. What needs to be understood by the reader of scripture, then, is the ontology of the covenant. It is not the nature of the covenant that is “new” in the new covenant but the fruition of its basis in Jesus Christ.

The nature of the covenant which governs the life of all men under God is this. God is God and man is not. God is the transcendent Sovereign who rules over his creation by his Word and Spirit. As Sovereign he directs man in the way he should go with an ethical system of “do’s and don’ts.” Compliance to this ethical standard is met with blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience or “life and death” as it were. It must be understood that this way of life established by God for man is not directly related to what is normally called eternal life, so that salvation from God’s just wrath due to sin both in this life and the next was never, ever through obedience to God. No, this way of life established by God for man was simply “life-the-way-it-should-be.”

Finally, the obedience of a man up to this point would then determine how the future would play out and “in the covenant” children are the future (who knew Whitney Houston was a covenant theologian!). Were a man to comply with God as faithfully as he could in a fallen world, he would ipso facto direct his children in the way they should go.5 It is this model of the covenant which must be understood in order for the Presbyterian argument. Within the life of the covenant all men are either faithful or unfaithful, believing or disbelieving, obedient or disobedient, humble or rebellious. Entrance into the covenant as a disciple according to Jesus is begun by baptism and so, baptism is a ritual of initiation.

Now to the nature of baptism in part. I say in part because we cannot address every theological nuance belonging to the sign.

It is within the covenant life of Adam and Noah that God “cuts off” the flesh of Adam and singles out Abraham’s descendents for service to God and the nations with the rite of circumcision. Circumcision is ¼ the ritual of priestly ordination wherein the other ¾ of the ritual are completed in the Levitical ordination as Yahweh’s “palace servants” with the typified circumcisions of the ear, thumb, and toe. It is the latter three “circumcisions” which help to illuminate the former. The priestly ordination-circumcision of the hand, foot, and head proves that the circumcision of the male organ was primarily priestly in nature.

With this in mind, let us consider circumcision as ordination as priest for the life of the world. There were two people groups in the OT who were saved: Israel and Gentiles. Only one of these were priests to God for the life of the other. There were plenty of OT Gentiles saved by faith who received the “circumcision made without hands” and whose “uncircumcision” was considered “circumcision.” No Gentile was required to be circumcised for salvation in the OT.6 Why should he be? Only Israel was ordained as priest to the nations. It was only if an “alien” wanted to participate in Passover wherein he was required to be circumcised (and thereby receive ordination as priest and adoption as a “son”) with a circumcision made with hands. Baptism, then, corresponds to this. Baptism, first of all, is an ordination to priestly service to the world and now, in Christ, all alike are baptized as priests.

Infants are therefore the proper subjects of baptism in the same way they were the proper recipients of circumcision. In infancy, children of believers were to be ordained for service in the kingdom; not to be disciplined as enemies of God but as children of God, as disciples. The symbolism of this priestly rite extended further than mere ordination, too. Baptism, like circumcision, is transitional. The symbolic week of the ritual points to this. For 7 days (one creation week) the child was dead in Adam and on the eighth day he was raised to newness of life. This is not strictly soteriological but covenantal. It might have to do with true salvation but that is not essential; it is, however, always essential that it is covenantal.

Ordination to service in God’s kingdom required the symbolic removal of that which is unclean. All children are unclean by nature because all children are iniquitous by nature. Children were never “naturally” born of God simply because born to covenanted parents.7 Even the children of covenanted parents were born dead in trespasses and sins. In order for children to be accepted by God, that which corrupted them needed to be “covered” or “cut off.” The ritual, then was transitional (an adoption, if-you-will) and not transformational. 8

Baptism, holds the same symbolism. In baptism, God says, “There is something inherently wrong with this child and I am doing something about it. This child is dead and unless I make him alive, he remains unclean and subject to death.” Baptism, therefore, is for the forgiveness of sins and covenantally and symbolically speaking baptism does wash away sins. Being comfortable with this way of speaking takes time if one is raised to believe the Baptist position.

Baptism is a covenantal sign of initiation and as such it has dual sanctions. On the one hand, it holds out the promise of life for those who by faith live out its positive benediction. On the other, it holds out the threat of death for those who live contrary to its design. Just as the waters of Noah and the Red Sea gave life to the people who passed through, so, too, those same waters destroyed the wicked. That is the nature of covenant signs. Think of Paul’s allusion to the “inspection of jealousy” in I Corinthians 10 and 11. The Lord’s Supper brought forth both life and death. It just depends upon the posture of the participant.

This perspective allows for the continuity of the application of the sign to be given to children. Children then, are ordained for service in God’s kingdom and receive God’s promised benediction of life when faith is lived out. However, it is also those same children who can prove to be “sons of Eli” and receive the curse of the covenant if faith is not lived out.

This is the nature of the covenant which has not changed. The covenant sign when applied, ordains all its recipients into the regeneration of the kingdom. Are all recipients of the sign also recipients of its benediction? No. Not all participants in the kingdom persevere in faith. Many make shipwreck of their faith.

The position which affirms that the Bible only teaches that disciples are to be baptized must take these definitions of disciple, baptism, and covenant into account. These are the terms.

1 Salvation is always by faith alone soteriologically speaking. Covenantally speaking, no one is “saved” without baptism. Do not misunderstand this way of speaking “Presbyterian-ly” otherwise we will be talking past one another.

2 Ironically he could affirm that the Bible does teach only “disciples” are to be baptized.

3 Westminster Confession of Faith 28.4 and Shorter Catechism 95.

4 James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), p. 4. Emphasis in the original.

5 By the way, it is interesting to note that translation of Proverbs 22.6 could very well read, Train up a child according to his way and when he is older he will not depart. And so if one lets a garden grow the way of nature, eventually it will be a jungle.

6 Nor were any Israelites required to be circumcised in order to be “saved.” Whatever “cut off” means, it did not mean “no circumcision = no salvation.”

7 In an unfallen world however, this paradigm would have been effected as every son of Adam would be God’s son, too.

8 The former is to speak as a covenant member and the latter is to speak as a Roman Catholic.

What are words for?

What are words for?

Beginning Greek

Berea fancied himself a budding Bible student. He enjoyed listening to the technicalities of a deep expository sermon. He shared his hopes with his grandfather who, being an avid puzzle builder and Sudoku solver, asked him what he would need to begin this venture.

“Well, I would need a Greek New Testament and grammar book, a notebook and some flash cards for vocabulary words.”

“When you find what you need, just let me know and I will take care of the purchases.”

Berea recalled that he had come across a Greek New Testament in a used book store in town one day whilst perusing for Calvin and Hobbes tomes. Having returned to ensure it remained unsold, he told his grandfather who made good on his word and procured the United Bible Societies text with dictionary. Berea liked this one much more than the one he saw his pastor use whose book only had a paper binding. This one was had a plastic cover which gave him more a sense of nostalgia.

So, where to begin? He first memorized the Greek alphabet and to his amazement he learned that the English word alphabet was a contraction of the first two Greek letters alpha and beta. Word origins tickled his fancy, too. He was always curios about from where idioms and colloquialisms originated. As sometimes was the case when studying other subjects, Berea made himself a mnemonic diddy he thought quite clever:

Alpha, beta, gamma, delta; say that again and I’m gonna belt ya!

Epsilon, zeta, eta, theta; wouldn’t wanna meet Darth Veta!

Iota, kappa, lamda, mu; now you can sing along too!

Nu, xi, omicron, pi; you’re the apple of my eye!

Rho, sigma, tau, upsilon; I don’t know what rhymes with upsilon!

Phi, xi, psi, omega; learn this song and you’ll never be a begga!

Berea often visited one of his church’s members in the local nursing home about his endeavors. On his most recent visit Granny Smith told him of her interest in angels since she was a child and he told her he would make that his first word-study. It seemed to fall nicely in line with his etymological leanings as well. He soon discovered a new word for himself: transliteration. Angel it turns out is not an English word for the Greek aggelos, but simply an adapted phonetic spelling of the Greek into English. The double “gg” in Greek contract to form the sound “ng” rendering ἄγγελος (ahn-ge-loss) into “angel” (eighn-jel). Berea knew his Granny Smith would find this very interesting. (Which she did.)

You say angels, I say messengers

What Berea also found interesting was the conflict of interest he felt was at stake. Transliterating a word from Greek to English only seemed to add one more step to the process of exegesis.

“God bless you.”

“Huh? No, Granny, exegesis is the discipline of establishing what the Bible means by what it says.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, what the Bible says and what the Bible means by what it says are not the same thing.”

“Can you give me an example?”

“Sure. While I was studying the word ἄγγελος I looked up a number of verses that contained the word. Remember I told you that the word’s precise meaning is messenger? Well, that is the translation from Greek to English of the word; so, the English word for ἄγγελος is messenger. So, every time the Greek word ἄγγελος is translated, it ought to read messenger. For instance, Mark 1 quotes from the prophet Malachi where the expectation of a new messenger from God originates. When the Greek translates the Hebrew word messenger it uses ἄγγελος.

“That seems pretty straight-forward.”

“Sometimes, yes. But remember I also told you that in places where ἄγγελος is translated angel it is because the messenger is believed to be an actual “angel.” So, we’ve now moved from simple translation to interpretation.

“I don’t get it.”

“Ok. Think about Mary and Joseph’s finding out about Mary’s pregnancy. Who came to them and announced what God was doing?”
“Gabriel the angel.”

“Yes and no. Strictly speaking it was Gabriel the messenger. Instead of translating the Greek and allowing the reader to determine what kind of messenger Gabriel was, the translators interpreted for us what they think the Bible meant by ἄγγελος. Interpreting the Bible means the reader is supposed to determine what the Bible means by messenger, whether it is human or heavenly. In this passage the issue is not very dire. But the effect is that whenever one reads angel he doesn’t readily think of a human messenger, but a spirit being with wings and a halo.”

“So, is there a place where this translation has more weight to it?”
“Yes. There is a section of scripture where I think it is a mistake to translate ἄγγελος

as angel rather than messenger. In the first chapter of Revelation, we read

In his right hand he held seven stars….He placed his right hand on me and said, …the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches…

So, what do you think angels means here?”

“Well, like you said. When I hear the word angel I think of a spirit being.”

“Yes, and unfortunately, I think this is not the meaning of the passage. That’s where I get my turn-of-phrase all translation is interpretation. Instead of translating the word for us and allowing us to determine its meaning, the translators overstep their bounds and with their transliteration interpret for us what they think the word refers to. So, we end up talking about what it means for a church to have its own angel. We end up wondering, further, whether or not this is what it means for present-day churches as well.”

“So what you are saying is that in English from the Greek, the sentence ought to read the seven stars are the messengers of the seven churches? And that from there the reader is supposed to determine who the messengers are?”

“Right. So if our translations read messengers, of whom might you think?”

“Well, if there is a messenger of a church, I guess I would think it would be the one who speaks to the church.”

“Ok. So, you can see that the word can refer either to a human messenger or an “angelic” one and the context ought to lead the reader in the right direction. In this case, what I would like to see it this. ἄγγελος means messenger; that’s not it’s nuance or connotation, that is what it means. I’d like to see a translation where we read much of what the Bible itself says, with the reader being influenced by the context alone and regarding this word; messenger should be the translation in every place.

“And so we are back where we started when you said there is a difference between what the Bible says and what it means by what it says. You are saying that the way translations go, I have been programmed to interpret a passage not by the scriptures alone, but with a little help from my friends.

“Right. I am of the mind that much of what we believe the Bible to mean has been influenced by the translations we use. Now, that’s not to say that our translations are wrong; taking one language into another is a challenge and so there has to be a bit of nuance when choosing this way of speaking over that. I just happen to think that the reader is robbed of spiritual, mental, and biblical exercise when he is told what a passage means by the translation. And sometimes, I think the choice of translating a word or phrase a certain way can be entirely wrong.”

“Like “the angels of the churches?”

“Yes. I think it was a poor choice to transliterate the Greek there. But hold on, I just had an epiphone.”

“Gesundheit!”

“Thanks. No, really. I just thought of another word that I have come across that has given me pause to think. Am I boring you with this? We can stop if you’d like.”

“No. I don’t mind. In fact, I am interested in your next revelation.”

What in the world?

“Funny you should say that. I am fully convinced that translation is important; so much so, that I would say the authors of scripture chose their words intentionally and with great care. What I think this entails is the reality that if an author of scripture could say something one way and he chooses to say it another, then there is a reason for that choice and we need to understand it. So, my next word study involved the word world.

“Oh, I remember Pastor Meyers talking about that word once. He said the Greek word for world is where we get our word for cosmetics. I always found that interesting.”

“I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, huh? And do you remember what the Greek word was?”

“I believe he said it was kos…something or other. He also said its where we get our word cosmic.

“That’s right. The Greek word is κόσμος and it basically means “harmonious arrangement” but its nuance can refer to the inhabitants of the world. So, what do you think of when you hear or come across that word in the Bible? Like John 3:16, “For God so loved the world…”

“Oh, that’s one of my favorites. Reminds me that God’s salvation is bigger than just me; that God loves everyone.”

“Well, we can discuss that one later, but notice how you are interpreting the word world. How did you interpret it? Did you interpret it literally? As in God loves the physical orb upon which we live? Because if we do that, then all it means is that God loves the ground, water, and molten magma at the earth’s core.”

“Oh! So you want me to see that the Bible says world, but what does that mean?”

“Exactly. So does world mean this physical orb or does it mean the “people” on it? And does that meaning carry over into every other time it is used?”

“Can you think of another place where the Bible uses the word world but does not mean any of the above?”

“I can. Does this sound familiar to you? Do not love the world nor the things of the world?

“Yes, that’s in I John.”

“Right. So let’s put our thinking caps on and ask What do most people think this passage means by world?”

“Well, if I am most people, I have always been taught that it means just, the world, the things of the world that are against God’s ways. Like it says in the next verse, for all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the father, but is from the world which is passing away…”

“Well, look who knows so much!”

“So are you going to tell me that world does not mean world there?”

“Yes. I could be wrong but I believe that to be consistent with the whole New Testament’s message, world in that context (and even in John 1) means the apostate nation of Israel.”

“What do you mean by John 1?”

“In John 1 we read this:

In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God; he was in the beginning with God and nothing came into being that has been… He was in the world and though the world was made through him it did not know him. He came to his own and his own did not receive him.

So, to make a long story short: there is a parallel idea here between world and “his own” so that they are the same reference. You might switch them up if you like: he was among his own and though he made his own they did not know him. He came to the world and the world did not receive him.

“Wow. That totally changes the meaning of the word! Which rocks my world! Ha! Get it?”

“Please don’t do that again, Granny. It’s weird. But yeah. So, here’s a bit more of my point. I believe the whole New Testament is about the end of the Old Covenant with Israel and the beginning of the New Covenant with the church (which is actually another word study I looked into). So, going back to I John, if the world is the apostate world of Judaism, that is the conflict about which John is writing. Most if not all the NT authors are arguing against Judaism and turning to Christianity and that is what John is talking about.”

But that’s only ½ of what I wanted to show you.”

“Oh? What’s the other half?”

“The word world that we looked at is what cosmos means and so I have no quibbles with that translation. But there is another Greek word that is translated world in certain places that ends up making interpretation confusing.”

“You said, ‘In certain places.’ “

“Yes. The word I am talking about is οἰκουμένη and it means “inhabited land.” When Jesus was born, in order to tax his empire, Caesar Augustus took a census of the οἰκουμένη and in my Bible it doesn’t say “world” it says inhabited earth. But in many other places it is translated world. I find this irresponsible and inexplicably unconscionable on the part of the translators because they are imposing their interpretation of the word and not simply translating it. I mean, why do that in Luke 4 but not in Matthew 24? I believe they do not do so because of their commitment to a theological system that has predisposed them to reading the Bible a certain way.”

“And you think I have been taught to read the Bible with the same view point because of how my pastor has taught me?”

“Well, in a way, yes I do.”

“Hmmmm. I am inclined to be persuaded by your argument and I’d like to hear more.”

All translation is interpretation

“Before we do that Granny Smith, let me restate a bit of my point. What I would like to see is this. Translations need to do less interpretation of texts and more straight translation. They need to expose the reader to what the words are, not what they are for. That is our job. They should give us a sentence (the what) without giving us the why (the meaning). Nuance and connotation are a part of interpretation rather than strictly translation. So, I say, give me the word and let me interpret its meaning.”

“So, what is our next stop, Captain Kirk of the Scripture Trekkies?”

“Hmmmmmm. Well, there is a word that I have come across that is not consistently translated in my opinion and the significance of this word is very great. Let me start by saying that in every concordance and lexicon I have consulted—even the dictionary in my Greek NT—the very first definition of the word is the same, but in every translation of the word, the nuance has been given to the reader and in many places it is not consistent. What this means is this. If I were a budding Bible student studying the Greek, I would be led by all the major study helps to conclude that the first meaning of the word is what the word itself means.

“The word in Greek is μέλλω and it is a verb. As far as I can tell its primary meaning is to be about to do something or by implication to intend to do something. So, if I am to stick by my guns and say that the responsibility of the translator is to give the meaning of the word and not its nuanced interpretation, then every time this word occurs…”

“It has to be about to.

“Right.”

“Ok, so? What’s the problem?”

“If I am right, everything we thought we knew about the New Testament is about to change. But let me ask you to assist me here. Let me show you demonstrably what I have found and you tell me what you think. To begin with, let’s say that I only have my UBS text and the Editrice Pontinfico Inistituto Biblico…

“Gesundheit!”

“Oh, you’re funny. So here we go! First is the UBS dictionary:

  1. Pg. 113 of the dictionary under the word μέλλω (following an infinitive)is

      1. Be going to

      2. Be about to

      3. Intend to

      4. Must

      5. Be destined

  2. Second, from the EPIB under List of words occurring more than 60 times in the NewTestament, pg xxxii, μέλλω with an infinitive

      1. Be about to

      2. Be destined to

      3. Intend to remain

      4. stay

Now, since I do not have access to anything else, I do some work on the web and find these lexical helps. First is

  1. Thayer

      1. Be about

      2. On the point of suffering

      3. To intend or have in mind

  2. Strong

to intend to, that is, be about to be, do, or suffer something (of persons or things, especially events; in the sense of purpose, duty, necessity, probability, possibility, or hesitation): – about, after that, be (almost), (that which is, things, + which was for) to come, intend, was to (be), mean, mind, be at the point, (be) ready, + return, shall (begin), (which, that) should (after, afterward, hereafter) tarry, which was for, will, would, be yet.

  1. Louw-Nida

(http://www.laparola.net/greco/parola.php?p=%CE%BC%E1%BD%B3%CE%BB%CE%BB%CF%89)

be about to

Free your mind

“So, what do you think?”

“Well, based on what you’ve said heretofore, I’d say you would want to hear this. A word has one primary meaning and it is that meaning which the translation ought to convey. Once we know what the word means however, we need to interpret it within the context of the passage. So, for instance: what does world in John 3:16 mean? What does inhabited earth in Luke 4:5 mean? Right?”

“So far, so good. What I would add is this. A word’s meaning is not necessarily also its nuance or denotation, or to say it another way, interpreting the intended nuance of the author’s intention is not necessarily synonymous with the word’s meaning.

“Ok. So, what’s so special about this word? You said everything would change. I am dying to know what would change.”

“Ok. Let me begin by asking you what you believe the Bible teaches about when Jesus will return.”

“Well, I’ve always been taught that Jesus could come back at any time and that when he does, all of the prophecies about the last judgement and the tribulation and the end of the world will be fulfilled. Does that sound right?”

“It doesn’t have to sound right; I just want to know what you believe about it all.”
“Well, I guess that’s what I believe.”

“Are you ready for this? I used to believe what you just described…”

“Used to? What do you mean?”

“What I mean is I no longer believe Jesus will return at any moment, but that his future return is perhaps 1000s of years in the future. What I mean is I no longer believe that the tribulation is future. What I mean is I no longer believe that what Jesus described as the sun, moon, and stars coming undone has anything whatsoever to do with our future. It has already happened.”

“So, you believe the resurrection has already happened and that Jesus is not coming back?”

“In a way, yes; and, in a way no. Now, I do not have all the answers to this new way of seeing things, but what I do have is just about as wild as if the Matrix were real. Everything is about to change. Freeing your mind from the misguided way of seeing the Bible will take some time and you will very often feel like Neo retching from the stress of understanding that what he thought was real is not.

“Now, most people are hesitant to go where I am going to show you, but I think it’s the right way. Let me now show you a bit more by putting together what we have seen above for you.”

Choosing the red pill or the blue

“The verb μέλλω means “about to” and within the New Testament it is linked with a coming judgement that many people think refers to something that is still future and sometimes that combination also happens with the Greek noun οἰκουμένη. Let me say it this way by quoting from what Luke records in the Acts. When Paul was preaching to the Athenians in the areopagus he said something profound. Let me quote from the New American Standard and then my translation.

“First, because he has fixed a day when he will judge the world in righteousness through a man whom he appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising him from the dead.

Now mine, because he has fixed a day in which he is about to judge the inhabited earth in righteousness by a man whom he appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising him from the dead. What is the difference between the two translations?”

“Well, the first one seems to imply what I believe will happen at the end of time and the second one, yours, seems to imply that the judgement is sooner, but I’m not sure what to understand by inhabited earth because it could still mean the whole world. But that’s not what you believe?”

“No, that’s not what I believe and it would take a really long time to show you why that is, but let me just say this. I believe οἰκουμένη is best understood within the first century’s context and that it ought to be interpreted as empire or that inhabited earth is meant to be understood that way because of its use in Luke 4 when Caesar Augustus taxed his οἰκουμένη. Remember, Luke could have used cosmos, but he didn’t. He chose a different word for a reason.”

“But what does it mean that God is about to judge the οἰκουμένη?”

“Remember that I said that it would take a long time to explain that? Let me say that the Old Testament is full of passages wherein God judges all the nations based upon their relationship to Israel—how they treated God’s people. The term οἰκουμένη has to be interpreted theologically and theologically this term refers to the system of government established by God during the exile. It is in the book of Daniel where God introduces a new world to his people—a world wherein they are under the rule of the nations. But it is a world wherein God’s people are housed much like they were when the temple was intact.”

“I am not following you.”

“Ok. Remember Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the statue?”

“Yes. Each portion of the statue referred to a different period of time when other nations would be in power, right?”

“Right. But how do you interpret what the Bible says about the parts of the statue? What does each element mean?”

“Hmmmmm. You are really trying my retention of the sermons I have heard about this, but from what I can recall I think that each element represents the quality of each government. One was gold; another was silver; another bronze and the other terracotta. I was always told that each was different because each is of a different value, so it moves from the best to the least. Am I right?”

“Yes. I was taught that as well.”

“But you don’t believe that anymore?”

“No. It seems best to me to be as theologically consistent as possible, so that the Bible uses symbols consistently leading the reader to understand one passage based on another.”

“Ok. I follow you.”

“So, can you think of anywhere in the Bible where we read about gold, silver, and bronze?

“Well, the only place I can recall that combination is in the tabernacle and temple.”

“Exactamundo! That is exactly where I think we ought to go when interpreting this dream. So, what now?”

“I’m not sure. Can’t you just say what you think and I’ll go from there?”

“Sure. The tabernacle was God’s presence with his people. It was proof that God dwelt in the midst of his people. The statue was made up of the same materials and each material represented a different kingdom in the future. God was telling his people that the new tabernacle would be the ruling nations. God would still be with his people even though they were out of the land and his presence would be with them even though they were under the control of Gentile nations. See, most people think that Rome was the enemy of Israel in the New Testament.”

“But it wasn’t?”

“No. Rome wasn ‘t the enemy. Israel was her own worst enemy because she was bucking the system that God established back in Daniel. And Jeremiah rebuked the leaders of Israel warning them to pray for the peace of the nation which ruled over them. He didn’t want them to rebel against Rome. Think about this. Whom did Rome persecute in the Acts?”

“Well, I want to say the church, but I can guess you would say no.”

“Right. Consistently in Acts we see Rome punishing the Jews who rejected Paul’s message. You see, God set up a newer version of the Abrahamic covenant in the exile. The Gospel message in the exile was: those who bless you I will bless; those who curse you I will curse. There were consecutive emperors who blessed Israel and there were some who cursed them. I believe Nebuchadnezzar, Darius (who was Esther’s husband, Ahasuerus, the Great King), and Cyrus were converted Gentiles. As long as the ruling empire favoured God’s people, all was well. When the new covenant comes along, so does a new people.”

“So, you don’t believe the Jews are God’s people any longer?”

“No, I don’t. And neither does the Bible.”

“But what about what Paul says when he says that someday the Jews will become jealous to the point of turning to the gospel?”

“I believe that already happened. When Paul wrote that he was still in the infant stage of the church and through his ministry he was looking to make the Jews jealous now to seek God through Jesus alone. Today’s Jews are nowhere near what the Jews were in the decades following Jesus and they are not jealous of us as they were in the beginning of the church. In fact, there is no longer Jew or Gentile. The new man is christian. There is too much at stake not to say this. To assert that the Jews will one day again be the people of God is to deny Christ himself. To assert that someday in the future the Jews will once again be God’s people is to completely deny the whole New Testament. Just read (at least) Hebrews, Galatians, and Revelation.”

“But isn’t Revelation about the end of the world?”

“It is, but not the end of the world as we know it. Consistently in Revelation, οἰκουμένη is used in relation to the war which the kings wage against the church (Rev. 16:14). And in the beginning of the Revelation, Jesus warns one of the churches about an about to coming hour of testing upon the whole οἰκουμένη. “

“So that leads me to a question.”

“Ok?”

“What does that mean? What does the οἰκουμένη have to do with being tested or judged?”

“Ah. Very good, young Skywalker. Ask the right question you have. Remember that the theology of the Bible is just as (if not more) important as the translation. The New Testament is not only about Jesus putting an end to the sacrificial system and dying for the sins of man. It’s also about the end of the οἰκουμένη and the end of old heavens and the earth. It’s also, then, about the new heavens and earth one in which there is a new world order with a new emperor on the throne. The old οἰκουμένη is judged by her response to the gospel (Matthew 25) and this is what Paul and Silas were singing in prison and what Paul preaches to Felix and to Festus and Agrippa .”

“But aren’t the new heavens and earth about eternity?”

“Most people think so, but the immediate reference is to the new world Jesus institutes. The original term “new heavens and earth” (which John uses in Revelation) is a reference to Israel from Isaiah 65, not a literal new heavens and earth. Here’s the passage the way I see it.

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing And her people for gladness.

There are many parallelisms in this passage. Note their symmetry here:

A Because the former troubles are forgotten, and because they are hidden from My sight!

B “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;

A’ And the former things will not be remembered or come to mind.

C “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create;

B’ For behold, I create Jerusalem

C’ for rejoicing and her people for gladness.

Note primarily, what God creates: he says he creates a new heavens and earth. Is this literal? No. Why should the reader draw this conclusion? He must draw another conclusion based on the clear parallel God himself makes: God calls the city Jerusalem the new heavens and earth. The parallel is clear and not forced. God says, “I create new heavens and a new earth…be glad and rejoice I create Jerusalem for rejoicing…and gladness.” Israel is to expect a make over, a renewal by the grace of God. God’s calling Jerusalem “new heavens and earth” is a politically symbolic reference going all the way back to Genesis 1, 7-9, and 37.

This hermeneutic must not be rejected out of hand and yet that is what many indeed do. Many reject this interpretation for fear of its precluding a more full future fulfillment when Jesus returns at the close of the final festal age. But this need not be the case. It need not be the case that one reject this symbolic interpretation for fear that it means losing a future fulfillment at some remote time.

As was stated above, some reject this hermeneutic because of its application to the words of Jesus in the Revelation when he talks about the new heavens and earth in the latter part of the vision (ch.21). It is my presupposition that the Revelation is the judgement of God against Israel as a body politic for her adultery against her covenant Master and murder his Messiah (Psalm 2). Adultery because she rejected the new Bridegroom (Matt. 25) and murder because she persecuted the new Bride (Matt. 23-25; Acts; Hebrews; the Epistles). Further, when Jesus talks about the new heavens and earth, he is talking about a new body politic (Matt.28.18)—a new bride, a new city (Rev 21, 22).

Following the structure seen before in Isaiah, note the parallels here in Revelation:

Rev. 20:11

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them.

Rev. 21:1

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer a sea.

The association to make here is connected to Isaiah. Jerusalem is the former heavens and earth which is fleeing from the presence of God and which passes away like an old garment (Psalm 102). The new heavens and earth which are created is seen in the following verses. Note the parallels made between the Bride and the City as they are one and the same. The Bride is the City and were Paul to have written a commentary here he would say and the City is the Body and who is the Body and Bride and City of Christ but his people, the Church, the New Israel.”

Whew! Now, that was a mouthful! You’ve given me enough to chew on for quite a while. And look at the time! It’s going to be a night of fits and starts. I’ll probably dream about this!”

Good night, Granny Smith. I look forward to our next get-together.”

You say world; I say inhabited earth

 

“So, something you said last time, Berea, came to my mind after we said good-bye.”

“What was it?”

“You said that the word for inhabited earth was translated that way in Luke 4, but then you intimated something about Matthew 4 that you never followed up on. Do you think you could do that now?”

“Sure.  Remember my thesis: a Greek word must be translated, not interpreted as much as is possible?”

“Yes. If a word means “this” it must not be translated as if it meant “that.”

“Yeah.  That’s a good way of putting it. So. in Luke 4 we read that Caesar taxed the whole inhabited earth.  Well, in Matthew 24, Jesus tells us that the Gospel of the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth, not “world” as my translation has it.  Jesus did not say “cosmos,” he said “oikumene” and if word choice matters, I think Jesus knew which word to choose. Within the context of Matthew (that judgement is coming) itself, Jesus’ Olivet discourse establishes the context for the rest of the New Testament. Everything after Matthew 24 is about Matthew 24. The message of the Gospel that is to go out to the “world” is the message of Psalm 2, not salvation from the fires of eternal hell.”

“What do you mean by that last part?  I thought the Gospel was about Jesus dying on the cross for our sins.”

“Yes, that is part of it, but that is most definitely not what the Apostles and Paul went about preaching. Jesus calls them “witnesses” or testifiers. And to what did they testify?  They testified to the resurrection, ascension and coming adjudication of Jesus within the lifetime of the generation of Jews within 40 years of Jesus’ ministry. And Jesus says that before the judgement comes, they will have preached the message throughout the oikumene/ empire or inhabited earth.  But our translations are not consistent here because they think Jesus is talking about the final judgement and so the whole world is what is meant.  But oikumene does not mean “world” in the same way and the same sense that cosmos does.

What about the resurrection?

I have an acquaintance who wishes to remain in anonymity who has asked me to consider two bibilcal texts which seem to imply the historical expectation regarding the resurrection.

He asked me to discuss two texts which imply the resurrection: John 5.29 and Acts 24.15.

I am not denying there are texts which seem to support a general resurrection for the righteous and the wicked.  However, I see the entire NT as concerned only with one coming judgement which includes all nations/oikumene and which is clearly portrayed in Revelation (which is not concerned with the end of time).  Even if you do not know Greek you can get into the text anyway.  Our current translations are heavily influenced by presuppositions based on historical tradition (cf. hell).  Chris, this is the second passage where Paul addresses the resurrection and a coming judgement using the Greek adverb mello. Here are some passages where mello  is found but translated with a bias:

Acts 17:30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he [mello] will judge the [oikumene]world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Acts 24:15
 having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there [mello] will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.
Revelation
2:10 Do not fear what you are [mello] about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
3:2
Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is [mello] about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.
​3:10
Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is [mello] coming on the whole [oikumene] world, to try those who dwell on the earth.
Now, prima facia mello ought be translated the same in each passage.  I contend it is not in
Acts 17 and Rev 3:10 b/c the translaters were predisposed to another hermeneutic.​  However, I am very pursuaded that if mello is left about to in all these passages, it will leave no doubt as to its meaning.  Not only that, but oikumene is a term that does not mean “world” like cosmos.  Much like kronos and kairos have diff connotations for time, cosmos is more universal while oikumene is particular.  In this case, oikumene is the system of government set up in Daniel where the statue and beasts are the oikumene that remain until AD 70 when God puts them down and the kingdom of the Son of Man takes over.
Just as you contend the church has been wrong about hell for quite a while, I contend the same about the resurrection.  There is no way to argue that the Spirit would protect the church from one error but not another.
My friend:
That doesn’t answer my question.
Me:
I don’t mean to sound obstinate, BUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUT, how is my answer not an answer?
In short, the Greek term “mello” means “about to.”  Paul says in Acts 24 that the resurrection of the just and the unjust is about to happen.  The book of Revelation explains this resurrection as well.  Jesus’ words in JOhn 5 are similar: an hour is coming and now is when the dead/ those in the tomb will hear his voice.  I guess my answer is,  Yeah.  See. The language is all imminent and therefore supports my suspicion: we have misunderstood the resurrection (just as we have misunderstood hell.)  Now, one doctrine might be more vital in your mind, but that doesn’t remove the elephant in the room.  The two texts you gave me are flexible and can be read either way.  But only one way is more consistent than the other.
My friend:
It’s not an answer because you haven’t told me what these verses refer to in the perspective you’ve offered. You’ve told me what they can’t refer to–a future, bodily resurrection (which is what has me worried about you, and which I think is untenable)–and you’ve told me that whatever it is it was about to happen, but that’s it.
Me:
So, first: can we not have this conversation on the blog? (If not, may I leave it anonymous?)
2nd: I can’t give you a definite answer b/c I am still wrestling through it.
C: The two passages you gave me are only two, very minimal.  In Acts I am fully persuaded that the resurrection to which Paul referred was imminent: “about to happen” as the Greek makes clear (and to which I offered as an answer earlier).  Along the same lines, Jesus’ words seem to imply imminence: the hour is coming and now is. Both in John 4 and 5 Jesus uses this turn of phrase to refer to changes in the world b/c of his work and both times he says that the hour is coming (soon).
4th:  Simply b/c I reject a 2nd coming motif coupled with a resurrection, does not mean I reject the historical doctrine.  I am simply trying to see how to have my cake and eat it too.  I think that Biblical Theology (primarily in the sacrifices) helps here and will offer an explanation for the resurrection.
Lastly, to reiterate: I affirm the NT teaches only the coming of Christ within the generation of his audience.  There is no text anywhere in the NT that expects another final coming. If it does ( and I am a traditionalist, so I know the texts; and I very well could be wrong), it is obscure and out of sync with the Olivet Discourse which lays the groundwork to interpret the rest of the NT: everything after Matt 24 is all about Matt 24.
MF:
I appreciate that you’re wrestling with these texts, and I think it’s certainly fair to reply to my original question by saying, as you’ve just done, “I can’t answer your question.” My point was only that it wasn’t an answer to my question 🙂

I want to focus on what has me concerned for you the most. As I demonstrate in that link I sent you, biblically resurrection is, by definition, a return to bodily life, and the texts I asked you about explicitly say both the saved and the lost will be so resurrected. I understand why you’re compelled at this point to believe that the event referred to in those texts must have already taken place, but that cannot be concluded in a vacuum apart from the clear biblical teaching that resurrection is, by definition, a return to bodily life.

I’ll soon want to bring in Revelation, which teaches that this resurrection will happen in our future, but to keep things narrowly focused, let’s leave it for now, and let me simply ask you this: How do you reconcile the bodily resurrection of saved and lost in those two texts I asked you about with your conviction that it happened in the first century?

Me:
As with any good argument, terms are crucial.  I do not accept all references to “resurrection” to mean “physical bodily resurrection.”  Here are some vital concepts linked to resurrection:

1. Coming back to life, resuscitation: Lazarus, etc.

2. Rising to glorified, transfigured life as individuals: Jesus.

3. Cultural revival: Ezekiel 37; Romans 11.

4. Not used for ascension to rule, unless it is used that way in Rev 20.

5. Arguments for seeing the resurrection here as cultural revival:

a. Contrast between “judgment” and “reign.”

b. The millennium is on the earth, not in heaven, according to the preceding verses.

6. This is the resurrection of the Apostolic or First fruits Church, martyred in Revelation 14. The resurrected Christ now has a resurrected Bride.

My reconciling texts that seem to imply physical resurrection with a first century occurrence?  Let me repeat: Acts 24:15 clearly states that there is “about to be” (Gr. mello) a resurrection of both the just and the unjust.  Are you aware of this?

MF:

1. Right. Bodily resurrection.

2. Right. Bodily resurrection.

3. No. Resurrection here does not “mean” cultural revival; it symbolizes it, in a genre quite different from the texts I asked you about.

Me:

I am not sure how you can deny Ez 37 is national/cultural resurrection.  If Ez 37 is not symbolic of the North and South coming to life, what is it?

MF:  Re: Romans 11–No. If it’s a reference to cultural revival here–which I dispute, but we can table that–it’s an idiomatic/analogical reference to it, and the word resurrection isn’t used.

Me:  I interpret Romans 11 preteristically.  The jealousy in Acts that the Jews displayed fits in nicely with what Paul says here.  The salvation of Israel of which Paul speaks here is 1 c.

MF:  4-6.  In Rev 20, resurrection means resurrection. John sees the saints bodily raised in the imagery. Now, you can argue that it symbolizes cultural revival like it did in Ezekiel 37; fine. (I don’t agree.) But again, that has no bearing on the texts I asked you about.

Me:  It does have bearing in the theology of the NT.

MF:  The word ἀνάστασις is certainly used to refer to bodily resurrection in Matt 22:23, 28, 30, 31; Mark 12:18, 23; Luke 14:14; 20:27, 33, 35, 36; Acts 1:22; 2:31; 4:2, 33; 17:18, 32; 23:6, 8; 24:21; 26:23; Rom 1:4; 6:5; 1 Cor 15:12, 13, 21, 42; Phil 3:10; Heb 6:2; 11:35; 1 Pet 1:3; 3:21. I don’t think it’s questionable in the few others, either. And I think it’s certainly used in Rev 20:5, 6 to refer to bodily resurrection as well, but in apocalyptic imagery in which it may symbolize something else–which is not true in John 5:29 or Acts 24:15. 

Me:  From what I can see, your texts above are @ Christ’s resurrection, but some (Heb 6) are not. The expectation in the first century regarding Matt 24-25 is the hermeneutical key.  Not all resurrection (explicit or not) is physical.

In Acts 24:21 ἀνάστασις means bodily resurrection (given those to whom he’s appealing), and it strains credulity to suggest that it means something different in verse 15.

Me: Prove this.  Prove that “anastasis” here is only about physical resurrection.  I challenge that it is your presuppositions that are directing your interpretation (as are mine), but that is a far cry from an undeniable fact.  Just as a person’s presuppositions lead him to believe in a literal, eternal hell and cause him to force his interpretation on the text, so too, here with you.  I assert that from Matthew 1- Revelation, the natural reading of what was coming to the world was AD 70.

MF:  In John 5:29, there’s no reason to think it’s not referring to bodily resurrection; Jesus explicitly says “all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out.” He doesn’t say in verses 28 and 29 that the hour in which this occurs “is now here” like he did in verse 25, and there he didn’t reference a resurrection of the lost, nor necessarily resurrection at all in the sense of explicitly using the language of coming out of tombs. In that verse he could be using the language of resurrection as a metaphor for regeneration; I don’t think that’s at all certain, but it’s certainly plausible. But again, that language didn’t include the lost, nor of coming out of tombs, so John 5:29 still heavily favors bodily resurrection.

Me:  Simply b/c Jesus does not repeat his turn of phrase again, does not mean it does not carry through.  Consider this:

John 4–Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.

So, is Jesus talking about two different events here?  In one place he says, “and now is” but right after that he does not?  What are we to understand?  I assert we are to understand that both statements are imminent.  So, to paraphrase, Woman, believe me, soon you will neither worship the Father on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem [because of AD 70].…But soon and very soon, the true worshippers…

I argue the same for John 5 which reads,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. 28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

Again, just because Jesus doesn’t repeat the exact same words, doesn’t mean the connotation doesn’t carry.  He is saying the same thing again. Note the parallelism:

Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.

and

Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.

Note bene:

1.”the dead” parallel “all who are in the tombs.”

2. Both “hear the voice of the Son of God”, or “his” voice. (Is it some one else’s voice since John doesn’t repeat “Son of God?)

3. “those who hear will live” is parallel to “resurrection of life.” Jesus’ additional words about the dead are just that.

MF:  Besides all of that, you still haven’t offered any possible interpretations of what ἀνάστασις might mean when John 5:29 and Acts 24:21 say the unjust will be resurrected unto judgment. None of the meanings you claimed is intended in the other passages appears to fit its use here.

Me: If it is symbolic, then its meaning is open for interpretation. I believe Matt 25 and Rev 20 are past and symbolic.  Just as Jesus’ words about “fiery hell” were symbolic of judgement and not literal, so too, here.  What is important is the act of judgement.

MF:  Now, when it comes to μέλλω, what you’ve offered is not a reconciliation of the texts. You’re still just asserting that whatever the ἀνάστασις of the unjust unto judgment is in John 5:29 and Acts 24:15, it must have occurred in the first century, but that’s not a reconciliation. The very thing that needs reconciling is the fact that ἀνάστασις is almost certainly a reference to bodily resurrection in these texts with the claim that μέλλω certainly puts the event in the first century. Just repeating the latter point doesn’t reconcile anything. You need to either explain that a corporate bodily resurrection did occur in that time frame, or you need to explain what besides bodily resurrection is being referred to in these two texts.

I, on the other hand, deny that μέλλω must mean “about to” in Acts 24:15; that’s how I reconcile them. “About to” is certainly within the word’s semantic domain, but I see no reason to believe that of the meanings within its semantic domain, “about to” is the intended meaning in Acts 24:15. Or are you denying that μέλλω has a semantic range to begin with, insisting instead that simply always means “about to”?

Me:  I am not sure I can offer a reconciliation, but rather my interpretation which I believe I have made clear.  I believe a corporate resurrection of the body of Christ happened in Rev 14 and 20. μέλλω  is an adverb just like “taxei” in Rev 1.  My dispensational friend asserts not that Jesus is coming quickly, but that “when” he comes, it will be swift.  That is some pretty fancy gymnastics.  So, too, with you: yes, μέλλω means “about to.”  There are many times when Greek is not so fluid as we would like.  I think my citations from before are adequate proof of its denotation.  But again, we must acknowledge where our presuppositions are driving us and I believe the burden of proof lies with you.

7 is the perfect number for creation

I have a friend with whom I am discussing interpreting the Bible.  She is shying away from my supposition that the Bible’s way of speaking is symbolic.  In the previous article I asserted that the term “heaven and earth” can refer to a political entity as well as the physical referents.  And so “heaven and earth” are symbolic of the nation of Israel and the Temple.  My friend does not approve of this hermeneutic b/c her comfort level in symbolism is not very high.

So my question becomes, is there any level of comfort in seeing symbolism in the Bible?  Let’s start with the number 7.  Every Christian will admit that the number 7 is symbolic of…that’s right, perfection.  Here’s my question: where in the Bible does it teach this? I will confidently assert that it doesn’t.  I will also confidently assert that the number 7 is more biblically the number of…creation.  Consider this when reading Revelation 2-3.  There are 7 churches.  Why?