Nov 1, 2012

Why I Read the Scholars, Yet Believe God Means What He Says

Paul HeneburyBy Dr. Paul Henebury
Veritas School of Theology

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Recently, I have been immersing myself (not for the first time) in the works of writers who would disagree very strongly with the views espoused at Veritas and by traditional dispensationalists in general. Trawling through these big books, paying attention to each argument and their use of Scripture, and repeatedly coming across assertions that seem to make God guilty of double-talk is, to be brutally honest, a sort of self-imposed torture. So why do I do it? I read these works because I want to be informed about the latest arguments against my position. I want to keep abreast of how evangelical scholars think. I don't want to be a Bible teacher and theologian who is ignorant of what's going on around him.

Another reason I read books by those with whom I disagree is because if a good argument arises which demonstrates I am wrong I want to see it. So far, I have to report that I have not found any argument which impresses me that way. In fact, the more I read of these men, the more convinced I become that they are, hermeneutically speaking, barking up the wrong tree. Let me give you an example:

"Perhaps one of the most striking features of Jesus' kingdom is that it appears not to be the kind of kingdom prophesied in the OT and expected by Judaism."—G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 431 (my emphasis).

You might need to read that statement more than once. What Beale says is quite startling. Here we have a respected evangelical NT scholar asserting that OT prophecies about the kingdom had fulfillments which differed from what the prophets themselves predicted! Since the Author of Scripture is God, we have God giving His prophets a misleading prophecy. God puts confusing words in the prophets' mouths! Naturally, Beale would cry foul. But think about it. In Deuteronomy 18:22 we have God telling His people how they are to test a true prophet sent from Him:

"When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him."

In this passage God plainly tells His people that they can spot a true prophet from a false prophet by whether what they say will happen actually transpires. But doesn't Beale's view of prophecy render God's tests of a true prophet both unworkable and futile? If, as Beale says, an OT prediction can be "transformed" in "unexpected ways" (both terms he uses), we must ask, "How then is one to know if what a prophet has spoken is true or false?" It seems the only way to really know the answer is if God Himself tells us it occurred, but the fulfillment came about in an unexpected way.

But if that is the case, how could we recognize a false prophet? If what a true prophet predicted need not come to fulfillment as his words would cause one to expect, couldn't a false prophet declare that what he had predicted came to pass, but also in an unexpected fashion? Wouldn't we need God to tell us that what such and such a prophet said was false? If someone answers, "No, we would know someone was false if what he said didn't come to pass." But that brings us back to Deut. 18:22, and the problem of testing prophets if their prophecies can be unexpectedly "transformed" and, therefore, the fulfillment "not be the kind of [thing] prophesied by the OT" as Beale puts it. This reduces God's Word to absurdity.

"I believe in a God who means what He says"

Imagine someone telling you they were going to do something specific; say, meet you at a certain coffee shop at 9 am next Thursday morning. You duly arrive there at 9am on the designated day and he never shows. Then you call him later and he asks you what's wrong. He did what he told you he was going to do. He met another friend at a restaurant at noon. What he told you earlier was a type of what he actually did. Hence, he did fulfill his promise, just in an unexpected way! Who would accept such a lame excuse? Yet Beale seems to think that is how God operates!

Here's another quote:

"When we see that Israel is, according to the Old Testament, the last Adam, and as later Jewish tradition understood it [they cite a c. 3rd to 5th century AD text], the one undoing the sin of Adam, we see the background for Paul's understanding of Christ as the last Adam, because as history unfolds, Jesus accomplishes in his person and work what God intended for Israel as a people."—Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom Through Covenant, 228.

Gentry thinks Israel is "the last Adam," not because the Bible calls the nation by that name, but because he spies a motif or pattern which he thinks implies such a teaching. Then he refers the reader to a Jewish midrashic text to substantiate his point. The Jewish text cited by Gentry (Genesis Rabbah 14) also tells us that Adam was formed with a tail like the other animals (actually, the part he cites [14:6] is equally wacky!). Moreover, this text was written at least three centuries after the Ascension of Christ.

Next, Gentry somehow equates his "findings" with Paul's identifying Christ as "the last Adam" in 1 Cor. 15, because Jesus accomplished what God had wanted Israel to accomplish! No matter that the Law was never intended to justify anyone (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:11). No matter that this makes God's covenants to the nation of Israel both unnecessary and meaningless. What is important to scholars like Gentry is not what God says (the words He uses), but the structural patterns He employs while saying it.

Let me bring some sanity back to this by asking a simple question: "Is the Bible primarily aimed at scholars who can find types and transformations and structural patterns in the different books?" Is it possible for the common man or woman to study the Bible and understand what it is saying? If you opt to follow the Beale's and Gentry's of this world you would have to answer that question negatively. You would also be left with a God who says one thing and means something else. In short, a God who cannot be trusted to do what He says He will do.

I do not and will not believe such a thing about God. To quote the apostle, "I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told." (Acts 27:25). I believe that about the Gospel. I believe that about the Creation. I believe that about the Global Flood, and unconditional covenants that God has obligated Himself to fulfill. I believe it all because I believe in a God who means what He says and who will not fulfill a prophecy in a totally unexpected way because, like the friend in the coffee shop story, He mislead me because He meant it typologically.