A Response to Doug’s Intro on Hermeneutics and Dispensationalism

Introduction

My brother Doug and I have just begun a public conversation on the relationship between the Church and Israel.  I am grateful for much of what Doug accomplished for us in his introduction by both in introducing the topic of hermeneutics and presenting how that influences the conclusions we come to.  I found myself agreeing with the large majority of what he presented.  In this post I will address things that I either disagreed with or wasn’t sure if I did or not and so needed more clarification on what he meant by the statements.  Where I quote Doug, I will italicize his comments and keep mine normal except for emphasis.  I have addressed the quotes in the order I received them from His post.  In the end, our goal is to accurately understand and teach the Scriptures.

Clarification

Like I mentioned above, Doug, you did a helpful job introducing basic rules of interpretation.  Understanding things such as Authorial Intent and seeking to understand who the original audience was, the context in redemptive history it was in, and the grammar or literary genre it is in are all fundamental to understand the meaning God has intended to be taught.  You then quote a friend and brother in the LORD in affirmation of two points:

1. “If we’re going to honor (sic) and respect God’s revelation on its own terms—i.e., as communication—we must seek to understand it as we would aim to understand any other form of communication.”

2. “The goal of Bible interpretation is to discover the original, divinely intended meaning of the author who wrote the text”

which then you and Mike Ricarrdi concludes this third point:

The only logical conclusion to be reached from these truths is that our default orientation to any passage of Scripture must be to read it in the plain, normal sense.

What do you mean by this?  I could find myself agreeing with this or not depending on how this would play itself out.  One could make a case that the reason the 1st century Jew misunderstood the Messiah is because they did not have the Spirit to give them understanding of the Scriptures and instead relied upon the “plain and normal sense” meaning of the OT Scriptures.  Does Jonah being in a belly of a whale speak of the Messiah being buried in the belly of the earth in the “plain and normal sense?”  My concern, brother, is by the using of the phrase “plain and normal sense” we may fail to understand what Jesus taught His disciples on the road to Emmaus.  That is, that all the prophets from Moses to Malachi spoke concerning Him (Luke 24:44-49).  Everything is to point to Him and find its ultimate fulfillment in Him.  Whether it is: the sacrificial system, the Sabbath, circumcision, cleanliness laws, the temple, etc. the Scriptures are testifying about Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my concern is by seeking to understand the “plain and normal sense” this would get overlooked.  All that being said Doug, I think you would agree with my statements and you are seeking only address the interpreters who would seek to gut the meaning in the text in hopes of finding some deeper spiritual truth (more on this later).

Disagreements

Disagreement #1

Doug, you go on saying that applying these rules of hermeneutics inform you that,

“…Israel and the church as two distinct groups with both groups finding their ultimate destiny in their union with Jesus the Messiah.”

I concur that the nation of Israel and the Church are two distinct entities.  However, I do NOT agree that the Israel of God and the Church are two distinct entities (more on that later).

Disagreement #2

You then shares your concern of “covenantal brothers” ( love it 🙂 ) who regularly use the NT to understand and interpret the OT in stating,

One of the issues I was confronted with when I worked through these issues was that the subtle reality that we tend to read the Bible from back to front. By that I mean, we often read the Bible with the idea that the NT is the controlling grid by which we interpret the OT.

I agree that the OT authorial intent cannot be twisted and skewed to fit any meaning that someone pulls from the NT.  However, we must make a distinction between Reinterpreting OT Scriptures with the NT and using the NT inspired writers to interpret the OT.  The fundamental rule of hermeneutics when handling Scripture is to use Scripture to interpret Scripture.  This is because the Bible is a holy and divine book and thus it is not given to man’s interpretation but to God alone.  Therefore, because the Bible is ultimately written by God, He is to inform us how we are to understand each text.  Therefore, the plain meaning may not be the right interpretation if men of God under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit explicitly state to us otherwise.  We cannot insist our plain meaning upon what Scripture explicitly or implicitly states otherwise elsewhere.

Disagreement #3

You then brother attribute a common argument leveled against us Covenantal brothers in stating we do not believe in a future physical kingdom for God’s people.

If we understand the idea of authorial intent rightly, then why the OT goes to great pains to speak of what appears to be a physical kingdom for Israel at the end of days under the rule of Messiah, only for the NT to suggest there are speaking more of spiritual realities than actual, earthly promises as the natural reading of the text seems to suggest.

A future physical kingdom is not contingent upon the Israel of God and the Church being two distinct people with two distinct plans, blessings, and purposes.  All orthodox views would hold to ultimately a New Heavens and New Earth upon which God’s “physical” kingdom will forever reign and all His people will live in perfect submission to Him and His laws.  However, insisting that gentile believers cannot be brought into the Israel of God by their Union with Christ is not a prerequisite to these fulfillments.  Perhaps I am missing something Doug, and you will be able to flesh this out more and explain this conclusion more.

Disagreement #4

Doug, I praise the LORD that you affirm that Jesus is the true Israel of God in this statement:

This is not to disagree with my more covenantally-leaning brothers who rightly point out that Jesus is the true Israel. He is! Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of everything that Israel was intended to be – so much so that Isaiah can prophesy and speak of Jesus as “[Yahweh’s] servant” (Isa 49:8).

But if indeed you agree that Jesus is the true Israel of God would that not clearly imply that all those “in Christ” are a part of true Israel.  This is indeed what us covenantal brothers mean when we speak of the Israel of God being the Church.  Our union with Christ brings us into the community of the Israel of God.

Disagreement #5

Although you affirm that Jesus is the Israel of God you then state,

That being said with much joy, that does necessarily mean that the people under the Old Testament category of “Israel” now finds their culmination in the New Testament Church.

If believing Israel cannot be likened to the Church, which is Christ’s body, what exactly can they be.  Salvation can only be found “in Christ” and if you are “in Christ” then you are a part of the Body, that is, the Church.  In fact, understanding the Church as the culmination of all that Israel hoped and waited for makes perfect sense when we look at what was promised to Israel in the future and what the Church has received.  For example:

  • Israel was promised the New Covenant and the Church is the recipient of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:31-34, Lk. 22:14-21, 1 Cor. 11:25; 2 Cor. 3-4 specifically stated in 3:6, Heb. 8 [whole chapter], Heb. 9:15, 12:24).
  • Abraham and his descendants promised to be heirs of the world so also the Church is promised to be heirs of the world (Romans 4:13; Ephesians 6:1-2; Revelation 21-22; Matt. 5:2,5,10).
  • Israel was promised an age in which the Holy Spirit would be poured out in greater measure and indiscriminately (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:1-16; Acts 1:8).

There are many others (many of which are found under the promises of New Covenant umbrella) but the point is, there is nothing that is promised to Israel in the OT that the NT does not attribute to being given to the Church (Eph. 2:11-16).  Therefore, it is completely consistent to understand that the Church is the culmination of what was promised to Israel.

Disagreement #6

Later in your post, you seek to make your case for why the Israel of God and the Church much be distinct by arguing these four points:

  • In Matthew 16:18, Jesus speaks of the church as a future reality and not as the continuance of Old Testament Israel

Does true Israel stand upon any other foundation that Jesus Christ the cornerstone (Ps. 118:22; Is. 28:16; Zech. 10:4; Mk. 12:1-12)?  In addition, Jesus goes on to say that He is going to entrust the authority to bind and loosen those who can enter the Kingdom of Heaven to this Church (assembly).  Would the disciples conceive of anything other than this assembly being some form of the continuance of Israel?

  • Acts 2 is the beginning of the Church as we understand it – the body of Spirit-baptized people united by the death and resurrection of Christ  (cf 1 Cor. 12:13)

Again, this is exactly what Joel prophesied as a promise to Israel now being given to the Church.

  • The church is frequently called a mystery in the Pauline epistles (cf. Ephesians 3:3-5, 9; Col 1:26-27) – a truth (not) revealed at that point which was known in the OT.

The mystery was not generically concerning the Church, but rather, the massive ingathering of Gentiles in comparison to the Jews into the Church. Take note to verse 6 in Ephesians 3.  Sadly, Doug, you skipped verses 6-8 in your ref.  Also note how Paul concludes this thought of the Church in vs. 21.  He states, “to Him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”  How can glory to be given to God “in the Church” throughout “all generations” in a dispensational view with a dividing of the saints of each age?

  • The church is referred to as the one new man in Ephesians. The surrounding context (2:11-3:6) suggests three different groups – Israel, the Gentiles and the one new man (a similar construct appears in 1 Cor 10:32)”

***(response for this is found in the closing thoughts)***

Closing thoughts

I agree with you Doug that the Church is a new organism born in Acts 2.  The New Covenant had not yet been inaugurated, nor had the promised Messiah come.  So the Church as we see in Acts 2 could not yet be.  Yet, that does not mean that OT saints are not “in Christ” or that they cannot be attributed to being members of the Church.  Just as justification and Christ’s righteousness had not yet come but was credited to the OT believer, so too was their admittance to the body and their Union with Christ was credited to them.

I also agree to your point that the NT states that there are three categories of people.  However, I do not see you aligning the three categories as the Apostle Paul does in Romans 1-3, 9-11, Galatians 3-4, Philippians 3, or the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2:9-12, or lastly the Apostle John in his gospel 8:39-47 and his book of Revelation 2,19-22.  The three categories seen in Scripture are: unbelieving Israel, unbelieving gentiles, and the Church.  Because Jesus Christ is the true Israel of God all those who are united to Him (whether Jew or Gentile) become part of the true Israel of God.  They become co-heirs with Christ and heirs according to promise (2 Cor. 1:20, Gal. 3:26-29, Eph. 2:11-16). Again here is an illustration diagramming those three categories.

1 Israel of God

Notice my brother what the Apostle Paul teaches in the passage you  listed above (Ephesians 2:11-3:6) where he states,

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near (To the things that were listed above that they were formerly, without Christ, “separated from,” that is: Jesus, commonwealth of Israel, covenants of promise, hope, and God.)  by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both ( And there we have our three categories, the Jew, the Gentile, and Jesus Christ’s body the Church) one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. -Ephesians 2:11-16 (emphasis and parenthetical comments are my commentary and thus are my words and not Scripture.)

Therefore brother, is it even conceivable after reading such a statement that believing Gentiles are not entitled to all that was promised to Israel by their union in Christ?  Both Jew and Gentile find their common ground in that to lay hold of any right to: Christ, commonwealth of Israel, the covenants of promise, hope, and reconciliation with God, they must be united to Him in regeneration and belief in the Messiah.

Blessings brother!  I look forward to your response.  May the LORD give us wisdom in all these things!

Your bro in Christ,

Stephen

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