Tag Archives: Dispensationalism

relying on a bad/faulty premise

If you want to have a go at Dispensationalism, then you need to be prepared to account for a number of eschatological topics and their (assumed necessary) relationship with each other. (You also need to be ready to deal with questions of interpretative approach, but that’s a different ballgame). For example, if you start an eschatological discussion with a Dispy, you are bound to be asked about (at the very least): Daniel’s 70 weeks, the focus of Matthew 24-25, the (so-called) “rapture”, the (so-called) “millennium”, the (so-called) “great tribulation” and when it occurs, the “great white throne of judgment”, the (supposed) battle of Armageddon… you get the idea.

In some ways, it can be overwhelming and even exhausting to get through this type of discussion simply because of the tangled web of ideas and theology that Dispensationalism has weaved. Thus, instead of going at the thing whole-hog and dismantling Dispensationalism in toto (quite frankly: you’d have an easier time convincing a Jehovah’s Witness that “Jehovah” is not even a word), it’s better to examine the individual parts and discern their respective validity. The one I want to focus on in this post is the so-called, “Restrainer” in 2Thess 2.6. Here is a more or less standard (Dispensational) approach to this issue:

Our identification of the Restrainer must ultimately be determined by the question, What person is able to hold back the efforts of Satan?  To effectively counteract and restrain the personal activities of Satan demands a person, and one that is more than human.  Only a supernatural person can truly frustrate the supernatural workings of Satan.  This would at once rule out human agencies as well as all evil supernatural agents.

–D. Edmond Hiebert, The Thessalonian Epistles: A Commentary (1971), 313

The stuff that follows Hiebert’s question is understandable and, in the main, a reasonable conclusion. And a number of scholars (mostly Dispensational) contend that only the work/power/person of the Holy Spirit fits the needed criteria to restrain Satan.[1] However, there are serious theological problems with seeing the (so-called) “restrainer” as the Holy Spirit, but I will have to side-step that conversation for now. I will simply echo John Chrysostom who said: “if [Paul] meant to say the Spirit, he would not have spoken obscurely, but plainly” (NPNF 1.13: 388).[2]

My issue is that there is a more fundamental problem with Hiebert’s argument. Despite the understandableness and even the reasonableness of Hiebert’s observations, all of it ultimately relies on a bad or faulty premise–namely: 2Thess 2.6 is in fact talking about “the Restrainer”, and this (supernatural) person can be identified. To put it more bluntly: the legitimacy of his question and the proposed conclusion are dependent upon the validity of the presupposition that drives his question and conclusion. Without the presupposition, his argument falls flat at best or becomes meaningless at worst.

I am working on a longer treatment of this discussion, so if you want the details: please be patient. Until then, I will summarize things by saying: 1) the identity of “the Restrainer” in 2Thess 2.6 is not as clear-cut or obvious as Hiebert (and his fellow Dispys) believe, and 2) the rendering “the Restrainer” is not the only option for how one can translate the Greek verb, κατεχω (especially in the light of grammar and syntax). With regard to the first point, a number of suggestions have been made throughout the history of interpretation; the Holy Spirit is only one of those. In other words, we cannot (as Hiebert and his Dispy friends have done) conclusively assert unambiguously or unequivocally that Paul is talking about the Holy Spirit in 2Thess 2.6.

With regard to the second point,[3] in terms of Greek grammar and syntax, κατεχω does mean “restrain” (or “hold back”), but only when it is accompanied by an object. At this point, Hiebert and his Dispy buddies seem to be vindicated because nearly every English translation of the passage mentions a “him” as the recipient (i.e. the object) of the Restrainer’s efforts. However, this vindication is valid only if we rely on English translations. Things change when we look to the original Greek text. In the Greek of 2Thess 2.6, there is no object associated with κατεχω. And in terms of Greek grammar and syntax, when this happens κατεχω means “prevail” (or “rule”). And just in case Hiebert et al think I’m being overly pedantic or liberally inventive, this intransitive use of κατεχω is not without support in Greek literature.[4]

Now, those holding to a “Restrainer” interpretation might come back at me and say: “Ah, well, you see, you’re forgetting one of the cardinal rules of interpretation, which is to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. In every other instance of κατεχω in the NT, it means ‘restrain’ or ‘hold back.’ Thus, when we use ‘restrain’ or ‘hold back’ in 2Thess 2.6, we’re simply following Scriptural precedent.” To which I would respond: “Fine, but you not only become guilty of committing the ‘illegitimate totality transfer’ fallacy[5]; you also fail to recognize that the other instances where κατεχω appears in the NT, it has an object associated with it. Thus, the translation ‘restrain’ or ‘hold back’ in those cases is appropriate. But 2Thess 2.6 is completely unlike those other instances for one simple reason: it has no object.”

I would think Paul, being a fairly educated man, would be aware of the transitive and intransitive uses in Greek and the differences in meaning they convey. Moreover, the intransitive use of κατεχω (and the switch from neuter in 2.6 to masculine in 2.7) does better justice to Paul’s argument in 2Thess 2.3-10. In other words: the “mystery of lawlessness” (neuter) is what now prevails, as  illustrated in 2.3-4, but which is currently unseen for what it truly is; and the “man of lawlessness” (masculine) is the one in charge of what prevails, and the one who will be revealed/exposed and defeated at the end, as noted in 2.8-10. This reading also prevents really wild and wicked views about the Holy Spirit and his role in salvation–views that I cannot, in good conscience (let alone academic integrity) support or even entertain.

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[1] See e.g. L.S. Chafer, “Dispensationalism,” (1936): 428; E.S. English, Re-Thinking the Rapture (1970), 70-71; R. Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation (1973), 125-28; J. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit (1977), 115; R.L. Thomas, “1, 2 Thessalonians,” (1978), 325; M. Rosenthal, Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church (1990), 257-61; C.E. Powell, “The Identity of the ‘Restrainer’,” (1997): 327. Cf. also C. Ryrie, First and Second Thessalonians (2001), 114-16.
[2] R.L. Thomas tries to wiggle out of this by claiming (without any support whatsoever): “It appears that to katechon (“what is holding back”) was well known at Thessalonica as a title for the Holy Spirit on whom the readers had come to depend in their personal attempts to combat lawlessness” (“1, 2 Thessalonians” [1978], 325).
[3] Here I am relying on the arguments of C. Wannamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians (1990), 250-54 and J. Weatherly, 1 & 2 Thessalonians (1996), 258-62.
[4] See e.g. Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, 1.10, 3.89; Andocides, Speeches, 1.130; Aristotle, Politics, 1307b; idem, Meteorology, 345a; Lysias, Speeches, 3.42; Aristophanes, Ecclesiazusae, 434; cf. Homeric Hymns, 2.126; Herodotus, Histories, 7.188; Polybius, Histories, 1.25.7; Plutarch, Lives: Theaseus, 21; Sophocles, Philoctetes, 221; Euripides, Heracleidae, 83; idem, Helen, 1206; idem, Cyclops: Odysseus, 223; Antiphon, Speeches, 5.21.
[5] See J. Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (1961).

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doubting Thomas

One of the (nerdy) joys I have is re-acquainting myself with my personal library–after being separated from it for just over 5 years. I find books that I’ve been wanting to read and now can (seeing that I have the time to do so), encounter others that I had forgotten about, and discover a few that now have accidental duplicates. On the most recent scan of the shelves, I came across, Four Views on the Book of Revelation (1998)–edited by Stanley Gundry and C. Marvin Pate. This one, oddly enough, falls into the first two categories: been wanting to read, and forgot I had it.

Because I had forgotten about it, I failed to remember that one of the four views explored was “A Classical Dispensationalist View” (pp. 177-230), advocated by Robert Thomas. And because I failed to remember this, I was visibly and audibly surprised when I saw it. So much so that my, “Are you kidding me?!” outburst (and nearly coming out of my chair) solicited funny looks from other Dunkin’ Donuts patrons. And a couple mothers drawing their children in closer.

I was surprised for two key reasons–one less substantial than the other: 1) that such a view would be included in a book on scholarly approaches to the book of Revelation, and 2) that there is an academic who is still willing to promote the view–especially in 1998! I was fairly confident that the Classical Dispensationalist view of anything (let alone Revelation) had been relegated to those very small pockets of Christendom still tied to John N. Darby and C.I. Scofield. And I could have sworn that it was no longer considered a viable, scholarly, academic position to hold. Apparently I was wrong.

There is not enough time or space in a simple blog post to address the details of Thomas’ argument. Thus, I will mention two of the leading issues of his claims (and his critique of the other views) that prompted further outbursts from me and other funny looks (and reactions) from DD patrons.

First, I had trouble with Thomas’ critique of the other views in the book (i.e. Preterist, Idealist, and Progressive Dispensationalist).  At times, he was a bit unfair in how he represented the other views (and their interpretative decisions). Moreover, he was rather curt and occasionally discourteous towards his “opponents”–simply because he thinks the other views are flawed at the hermeneutical level and thus open to ridicule. Specifically, Thomas dismisses the arguments of his “opponents” because they do not (in his view) adhere to a specific line of interpretation (i.e. the so-called, grammatical-historical [or: literal] approach)–a line that he sees as the only valid means for interpreting the book. Alternatively, he openly and passionately accepts (and thus promotes) the Dispensationalist reading because it does adhere to the G-H approach.

Thus, prima facie, Thomas’ critique is not: “the other views are wrong/false/invalid because they are not Dispensational”; instead, it’s: “the other views are wrong/false/invalid because of they do not follow the G-H interpretative approach; but because of it’s loyalty to G-H interpretation, Dispensationalism is the more appropriate reading of Revelation.” In effect, Thomas presents his case as though: 1) the G-H approach is open to all and is completely objective in its processes, 2) the other views have rejected this approach and have been forced to create wild and fanciful readings of the text–readings that are not reflective of either history or theology, but 3) only Dispensationalism has earnestly accepted the approach and consistently applied it to the biblical text, thus producing a uniform reading that is faithful and true to both history and theology. However, there is a serious problem with this presentation. I’ll come back to it in a moment.

Second, I could not get past the theological and cognitive dissonance of Thomas’ (counter)arguments. In particular, Thomas chastises one of his “opponents” for allowing his presuppositions and hermeneutical approach to dictate his interpretations. Specifically Thomas declares (p.187 n.19):

C. Marvin Pate opts for a twofold outline because of his preunderstanding of an “already/not yet” hermeneutical key, through which he interprets the book. This illustrates how one’s preunderstanding, if allowed in the hermeneutical process, influences the interpretation of Scripture.

Thomas utterly fails to recognize the essential necessity for Dispensationalism to operate in accordance with specific preunderstandings, without which the whole system would collapse. As Bruce Waltke has clearly demonstrated:¹

  • (Classical) Dispensationalism begins with a small handful of (unqualified/unsubstantiated) presuppositions,² and uses them as “rules” for interpretation
  • it then reads the whole of Scripture through the lens of these presuppositions/rules, and this holistic reading (conveniently) leads to the Dispensationalist system
  • it then allows this system to govern as the hermeneutical principle by which individual parts of Scripture are understood
  • and then finally it uses the conclusions about the parts to justify the holistic view of Scripture, which then legitimates both the Dispensationalist system/reading of Scripture and the presuppositions with which it began. (Still with me?)

In short: without this predetermined hermeneutical method being used in interpretation, Dispensationalism does not work. And by reading Thomas’ argument in the Four Views book, it does not take much effort to see his reliance on (and need for) this Dispensationalist approach. But the dissonance does not stop there, for Thomas even goes on to say (p.226):

[Pate] attempts to justify his “already-not yet”[³] hermeneutical key by recourse to Revelation 1:1, 3, 19, but he reads into those verses a meaning borrowed from Oscar Cullmann.

Here Thomas (conveniently) overlooks the fact that his views on the so-called rapture of the church, the supposed two comings of Christ, the seven-year (great) tribulation experienced by only those “left behind” (i.e. not raptured), the implied distinction between Israel and the Church–along with the respective fulfillments of prophecy–are not the inherent or natural readings of the text(s); they are presuppositions foisted onto the text and are nothing more than the creation of people such as John Darby, C.I. Scofield, Lewis Chafer, John Walvoord, Charles Ryrie, Dwight Pentecost, Hal Lindsey, etc. The double-standard should be obvious, but for whatever reason it’s not. And then he has the temerity (a fancy, academic word for: cojones) to claim (p.227):

The grammatical-historical way to approach the book is to put one’s predispositions aside and let the facts of history and principles of grammar within the book speak for themselves. Recent hermeneutical trends have pushed aside this time honored quest for objectivity, but they have done so through allowing intrusions by man-made and man-centered philosophical emphases. Inclusion of human preunderstanding has no place in biblical interpretation. . . . A [classical] dispensational view of Revelation strives for objectivity by putting aside all preunderstanding and bias, so that the text of the book may speak for itself. This is grammatical-historical interpretation historically construed.

In the words of Frank Barone: “Holy crap!” Classical Dispensationalism is just as guilty–if not more so–in all of these respects. It does not put aside predispositions and biases and read the text objectively, without the intruding man-made philosophical emphases; it completely uses them and absolutely needs them. Without them, (Classical) Dispensationalism falls to the ground. Moreover, (Classical) Dispensationalism is not so much concerned with hermeneutical loyalty–as Thomas presents it–as it is with theological sustainability. In other words, its loyal to a particular hermeneutical approach is not out academic honesty or because it is the only one available; it’s loyal to that approach only because it is the one that enables an existing theological system to be sustained. Why Thomas thinks otherwise or fails to admit this is beyond me.

 

[At the very least, this post will ensure that I would have serious difficulties being hired at Master's Seminary].

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¹ this reworks Waltke’s argument from a(n audio) lecture given at Westminster Theological Seminary.
² i.e. an exclusively literal approach to Scripture; a clear and definite distinction between Israel and the Church, each having its own salvific program as depicted in Scripture; a literal (physical) fulfillment of all prophecies made to Israel alone.
³ I’m not exactly sure why Thomas switches from “already/not yet” (on p.187) to “already-not yet” (here in p.226).

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feeling feisty

Ever since a well-meaning individual tried to convince me of the merits of Dispensationalism,[1] I have done my best (when I have the spare time) to become acquainted with its ideas/teachings/hermeneutic/etc. I do this because I want to be sure that I am either accepting or rejecting something for the right reasons. That study began just over 6 years ago, and I’m sure it will continue for many more–and I’m okay with that.

What I’m not okay with are the repeated attempts by some Dispensationalist scholars to (try and) substantiate a position or interpretation that is otherwise passé or even unsustainable. In particular, I am thinking of the twin (and necessarily linked) ideas of: 1) a clear and essential distinction between Israel and the Church, and 2) the pre-tribulation rapture of the Church. To put it mildly: both of these are crap (especially the second one) and there is no biblical support for either one–or both. The only way one reaches something remotely close to these ideas is if one presupposes the “truth” of both and then imposes them onto a small handful of text(s) that supposedly teach them.

However, throughout 6 years of studying Dispensationalism and reading through countless books and articles on the subject, I cannot begin to recall the number of times I’ve seen people still trying to uphold these two points and claiming them as taught/supported/proved in the Bible. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why this sort of thing persists. The only guess I can fathom is that such scholars are seeking to preserve loyalty to Dispensational teaching rather than allowing Scripture to speak for itself. (That may be a tad extreme…). One fairly recent example should suffice, which comes from an article by the late Zane Hodges (1933-2008).  Please note the assumptions and presuppositions driving his entire line of argument:

A growing number of evangelicals question the doctrine of the Pre-tribulation Rapture of the Church, claiming that the New Testament nowhere teaches it.  Even proponents of the Pre-tribulation Rapture often defend it as if it results from a series of inferences drawn from scattered biblical texts.  Or, they may cite a few isolated proof-texts (like Revelation 3:10).  Unfortunately, few pre-tribulational expositors attempt to justify this doctrine by appealing to a coherent exegesis of an extended passage of Scripture.  Yet, the apostle Paul directly teaches the Rapture of the Church as a deliverance before the Great Tribulation’s judgments in one such passage, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.

–Z. Hodges, “1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 and the Rapture,” CTS Journal 6 (2000): 22

There are so many things I could say about this paragraph, but for the sake of my own sanity I will confine my remarks to Hodge’s final point: “the apostle Paul directly teaches the Rapture of the Church as deliverance before the Great Tribulation’s judgments in one such passage, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.” Let me see how I can say this… Paul teaches no such thing–not in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 or anywhere!  (I think that works). In order to say that Paul does teach such a thing, one has to presuppose a clear and essential distinction between Israel and the Church, which further presupposes (and requires) separate divine agendas for each, and then read 1Thess 5.1-11 through that lens.  Moreover, one has to do all of this in spite of the fact that Paul would never endorse that twofold presupposition–in fact, his arguments (elsewhere) about “Israel” and the church obliterate the foundation for such a distinction. Thus, if Hodges is going to follow the principle of “interpreting Scripture with Scripture”, then he’s going to have a difficult[2] time squaring what Paul does say about “Israel” and the church with what Dispensationalism assumes the Bible/Paul says about them.

I’ll finish reading Hodges article, primarily because I already started it but also fairness dictates I consider the whole of his argument. However, I have terrible suspicion that it’s going to be nothing but a Dispensationally-driven eisegesis of a Pauline text that deserves more respect than that.

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[1] I should point out that, based on several conversations with the individual noted, the “Dispensationalism” in question is an amalgam of the Classical and Revised (or Modified) varieties.
[2] On this point, I’m being kind.

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“old” vs. “new”

Early this morning, about half of the fence that divides our back garden from our neighbors’ collapsed. A couple of months ago, we thought this might eventually happen because of the poor state of the support posts–i.e. they were rotted out near the ground. Given that poor state and the 30+mph winds early this morning, the collapse was no real surprise. Unfortunate and slightly inconvenient, but not surprising. I immediately went round to the neighbors, but no one answered–presumably because it was just after 7am–so I came back to wait for a bit before trying again.

To pass the time, and waiting for the coffee to finish brewing (a slightly uneven blend of IKEA and Peruvian), I decided to read through a recent article by Bruce Baker, entitled, “Israel and the Church: The Transcendental Distinction Within the Dispensational Tradition” (Journal of Ministry and Theology 8.2 [2004]: 57-86). It didn’t take long to realize that Baker’s article is both a polemic against Progressive Dispensationalism (=PG) and an apologetic for Classical (or “Traditional”) Dispensationalism (=CD), with support from Revised (or Modified) Dispensationalism (=RD). Baker’s sparing partner throughout the article is none other than Craig Blaising, a notable advocate for PG and respectful critic of CD in particular and RD in general.

Baker chooses Blaising for what appears to be a singular purpose or reason: Blaising questions the legitimacy of Charles Ryrie’s sine qua non, specifically–as the article’s title indicates–the necessary distinction between Israel and the Church as a consistent presupposition throughout the history of Dispensationalism (which ain’t very long, by the way. The house we’re in at the moment is almost as old as Dispensationalism). In particular, Blaising sees Ryrie’s presuppositions as reflective of RD and not those held within either CD or PD. Thus, for Blaising, the problem is that Ryrie takes his (later) definition and applies to the whole of Dispensationalism as though it is universally valid and/or representative. Baker’s article, so far as I have read, essentially argues: “Nuh-uh.” I’ll have to wait to see how Baker justifies his argument in full, seeing that I have not yet finished reading it.

For now, I simply want to mention two small(ish) parts of Baker’s argument that seem a bit troublesome. First, while Baker might be able to make a case for key Dispensational presuppositions being consistently held (e.g. the Israel-Church distinction), he cannot escape the fact that such a case only works for the history of Dispensationalism. His case does not apply to and/or work for the 1800+ years that precede the emergence of Dispensationalism. At best he could appeal to Marcion (c.85–c.160 CE), who did advocate a clear separation between Christianity and Judaism, but much bigger problems arise by making such an appeal. Or Baker might follow the line of argument proffered by John Walvoord, who said: “the development of the most important doctrines took centuries” (The Rapture Question [1957], 52). However, and leaving to one side its inherent presumptions, that argument amounts to nothing more than special pleading.

And second, via Ryrie, Baker relies on Lewis Chafer–one of the early proponents of Classical Dispensationalism in the US–in order to prove the historical continuity within Dispensationalism about the Israel-Church distinction. What troubles me is that Baker emphasizes Chafer’s remark about “partial dispensationalists”–i.e. those who see God as carrying out a single plan–and says Chafer uses this “label” to describe those who adhere to Progressive Dispensationalism. Two problems here: 1) Chafer does not do that, because he can’t, because PD did not emerge until the early-1980s and Chafer died in 1952; and 2) by saying Chafer does do this, Baker becomes guilty of the very thing that Blaising criticizes Ryrie doing–i.e. applying a later definition to the whole of a system.

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not a knockout punch; more of a glancing blow

In what little spare time I have at the moment, I’ve been slowly working through 2 Thessalonians, especially the eschatological section of 2Thess 2.1-12. This portion of the letter has been a veritable hotbed of debate, although for various reasons. On one extreme, since the work of Schmidt (1801), furthered by Kern (1839) and Baur (1845), most critical scholars see it as evidence that Paul did not compose the letter.¹ On another extreme, since (at least) the work of Scofield (1909), furthered by a number of Dispensational writers since then, many evangelical scholars see this passage as evidence of Paul’s knowledge of what will take place at the eschaton.

Both of these perspectives have their merits (and faults) and both should be examined carefully and honestly by all who engage with this letter. Since Paul Foster recently addressed the issues in the first extreme (see “Who Wrote 2 Thessalonians? A Fresh Look at an Old Problem,” JSNT 35.2 [2012]: 150-75), and since I agree with most of what he argues, there is no need for me to enter into that discussion. Instead, my concern here is with the second extreme, specifically the kind of knowledge that Paul had about the eschaton and the reasons why he says what he does.

I make this my focus partly because David Dean (tenuously) argues for Paul’s knowledge of these events as being chronological in nature, and it was this chronological knowledge that he imparted to the Thessalonians during his brief sojourn.² That seems to handle the “kind” question. With regard to the “reason” question, Dean sees this imparting of chronological knowledge as necessary for a right understanding of the eschaton–particularly the timing of the (so-called) “rapture.” Specifically, for Dean, the “rapture” takes place before all of the other events described and Christians can rest assured that the other events have not taken place because the “rapture” has not yet happened.

Dean makes this argument on the basis of what he sees Paul saying in 2Thess 2.1-12. By way of summary: after stating the concern (cf. 2.1-2)–i.e. a faulty teaching concerning the return of Christ–Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to remain true to what they know (cf. 2.3a). He then launches into what appear to be “signs” that will precede Christ’s return (cf. 2.3b-12)–e.g. the apostasy, the revelation of the man of lawlessness, the removal of the evil that prevails, the defeat of the man of lawlessness at Christ’s return, and judgment.³ In fact, the logical and syntactical construction of the Greek reveals a necessary causal relationship between the “signs” and Christ’s return. Paul’s remarks, therefore, could be seen as endorsing a chronology.

However, I am not so sure that Paul’s knowledge is necessarily chronological–in the strict detailed sense that Dean proposes. Specifically, I do not see Paul saying: “Before the return of Christ happens: first, there will be ‘the apostasy’; second, there will be the ‘unveiling of the “man of lawlessness” ‘; third, this ‘man’ will oppose God and exalt himself over all gods; fourth, he will take ‘his seat in the temple of God’ and claim to be God; fifth, that which prevails will be revealed and then taken out of the way; sixth, the ‘lawless one’ will be defeated by Christ; etc.” Paul’s language in this text does not come across as being that precise.

Moreover, contrary to what Scofield argued (cf. notes on 2.3) and Dean rehashes, I don’t think Paul sees all of the “events” in 2Thess 2.3b-12 as reserved exclusively for the distant future. In particular, and contrary to how the NIV, TNIV, NLT, NCV, and CEV translate it, the details pertaining to the “man of lawlessness” are not waiting to be climatically revealed (cf. 2.4); Paul’s language stresses that nearly all of the details are already taking place. In other words: the “man of lawlessness” is presently opposing (ἀντικείμενος) God; he is presently exalting (ὑπεραιρόμενος) himself over all other gods; and he does this because he has already taken his seat (καθίσαι) in the temple of God and is presently displaying (ἀποδεικνύντα) himself as God. The only detail waiting fulfillment in the future is this “man” unveiling (ἀποκαλύπτω; cf. 2.3b), which Paul goes on to describe as contemporaneous with the appearance (ἐπιφάνεια) of Christ’s return/coming/presence (παρουσία; cf. 2.8). And since the bulk of what Paul says up to 2.5 is about the man of lawlessness, the reminder in 2.5 would seem to refer to that previous teaching and not Dean’s proposed chronological eschatology.

At the very least, this creates problems for the rather absurd theories of Dispensationalists like Tim LaHaye (again) and Thomas Ice (et al), who both drone on about the birth, upbringing, ethnicity, political affiliations, and identity of this “man of lawlessness”, whom they inappropriately call the “Antichrist”. Such suggestions reveal a lack of understanding of Paul’s overall meaning and his use of apocalyptic language. The contemporaneity of the “man’s” unveiling (and subsequent defeat) and Christ’s appearing also create problems for the usual (Classic) Dispensationalist eschatological “timeline”. In particular, the contemporaneity raises serious doubts about the so-called pretribulation rapture of the saints, which is based on the more troubling notion of a two-stage return of Christ. Moreover, a “rapture of the saints” or even its (supposed) timing is not even close to being Paul’s concern–either here in 2Thess 2.1-12 or the only passage in the whole of the NT that indicates something like a “rapture”: 1Thess 4.17.

As he states at the beginning of his argument, Paul’s concern (for both the Thessalonians and anyone else who might read his letter) is about faithful patience, allegiance to truth about what God has done and will do in and through Christ, and not being swept away by speculative theories about Christ’s return. You know, theories like those (explicitly or implicitly) proposed by: Joseph Smith, William Miller, Charles T. Russell (twice), later Jehovah’s Witnesses (multiple attempts), Hal Lindsey (twice), Edgar Whisenaunt (twice), John Hinkle, Harold Camping (repeatedly), etc.

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¹ The letter is dislodged from Paul’s hands on account of its (apparently) different eschatology vis-a-vis that of 1 Thessalonians. Specifically, 2Thess seems to advocate a recognizable chronological sequence of events that precede Christ’s return (cf. 2Thess 2.3-12), whereas 1Thess appears to indicate that the return will be without warning (cf. 1Thess 4.13-5.11). Moreover, while 1Thess reads as though Paul sees himself as alive when Christ returns, 2Thess gives the impression that Paul is giving up on that hope. In other words: 1Thess anticipates an imminent return (i.e. in Paul’s lifetime) whereas 2Thess allows for considerable delays (i.e. well after Paul’s death). Thus, the “consensus” for how to explain these differences is that Paul wrote 1Thess and someone writing in his name penned 2Thess.
² See “Does 2 Thessalonians 2.1-3 Exclude the Pretribulation Rapture?” (Bibliotheca Sacra 168 [2011]: 196. I plan to deal with some of the finer points of Dean’s argument in a different post.
³ Props to those who recognize the variant I proposed. Don’t worry, I have reasons for doing so; I’m not just making stuff up for the Gehenna of it.

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be careful in polemics . . .

because (apparently) it might cause forgetfulness, misrepresentation or an uncontrollable urge to speak untruths. One example comes from the always feisty Thomas Ice, an ardent mouthpiece for (Classical) Dispensationalism.

The topic of discussion is the (rather untenable) notion of a secret pre-tribulation rapture of the saints as the first stage of Christ’s second coming–i.e. what Classical Dispensationalists (mis)label the parousia.[1] Ice’s beef is not necessarily with the teaching itself but with the qualifying term “secret” being attached to it.[2] Expressing his angst with those who (wrongly–in his view) describe the pre-tribulation as “secret”, Ice says the following:

Sorry, but this is another mistake, another myth. In all my reading of pretribulationism and discussion with pretribulationists, I have never, that I can recall, heard a pre-trib rapturist use the nomenclature of “secret” to describe our view. I have only heard the phrase “secret” rapture as a pejorative term used exclusively by anti-pretribulationists. Why. Apparently they enjoy fighting a straw man.

T. Ice, “Rapture Myths” (accessed, 25-Dec-12);
cf. also the same article, yet posted here.[3]

Ice then pins the blame for this “myth” on Dave MacPherson, a staunch critic of both Ice and (Classical) Dispensationalism, and asserts that MacPherson misrepresented the truth in order to fuel his criticisms. However, it is in voicing his animosity against using “secret” and his railing against MacPherson that Ice slides into trouble in a number of ways.

First, it is simply not the case that MacPherson (or anyone else) created the description for (Classical) Dispensationalism’s understanding of the (supposed) first-stage in order to mock it. Dispensationalists long before and after MacPherson’s book (The Rapture Plot [1994]) regularly employed the term. For example:

  • Clarence Larkin, Dispensational Truth (1918), 13-14
  • Michael Baxter, Forty Prophetic Wonders (1918), 153
  • Hal Lindsey, Late Great Planet Earth (1970), 142-43
  • Robert Gundry, Church and the Tribulation (1974), 104
  • Warren Wiersbe, Be Ready (1984), 19, 144
  • Tim LaHaye, Prophecy Study Bible (2004), note on 1Thess 4.13
  • Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology (2005), 4:623
  • cf. also Charles Feinberg, Millennialism: Two Major Views (1985), 287

This raises the second problem: not one of the sources just listed uses the term “secret” in a negative way–contrary to what Ice boldly claims. In fact, not once in these works is “secret” used in any way other than an axiomatic description for the (so-called) pretribulation rapture. Thus, in this case, it would seem that it is Ice who has created the straw man argument, not the so-called anti-pretribulationists (e.g. MacPherson, Ken Gentry).

Third, Ice’s adamant assertion that in all his reading he has not encountered the term “secret” used for the pretribulation view of the rapture is untenable. (Admittedly, he supplies his own escape-hatch with the qualifier: “that I can recall”). With someone as entrenched in Dispensationalism as Ice is, one would think that he’s read the likes of Larkin, Lindsey, Feinberg; and with LaHaye being his colleague at the “Pre-Trib Research Center”, it would safe to assume that Ice has read LaHaye’s stuff.

Even if we can’t assume that, let’s go on what we can know. In his 1990 article, “Why the Doctrine of the Pretribulation Rapture Did Not Begin with Margaret MacDonald,” Ice quotes directly from John Walvoord’s book, The Blessed Hope and Tribulation (1979). I mention this because Ice’s quotation ends on the same page where Walvoord mentions the secret rapture (i.e. p. 43). And since Ice later quotes from p. 44 of Walvoord’s book, we can be reasonably sure he noticed the reference to a “secret” rapture–that is unless Ice is reading selectively.

This is not just a one-off. In the same 1990 article, Ice refers to two other works that make explicit mention of a “secret rapture” (Timothy Weber, Living in the Shadow of the Second Coming  [1984], 21; Harold Rowdon, The Origins of the Brethren 1825-1850 [1967], 231-32), and in both cases the tone is no where close to being pejorative. I have not had the opportunity to check other Ice articles to see if a similar phenomenon occurs. But on the basis of this 1990 article alone, I’m having a hard time believing Ice when he says he’s never heard or read pre-trib rapturists use the term “secret” to describe the event in question.

Now, Ice might play his “I don’t recall” card on these occasions, and if we’re in a decent mood we might let it slide. Maybe. But there is one final problem for Ice when he blasts “anti-pretribulationists” for misrepresenting his view, and it is a problem that his trusty trump card cannot settle. In 2001, a book misleadingly called, Charting the End Times: A Visual Guide to Bible Prophecy & Its Fulfillment,[4] asserts the following (p.112):

When examining Scripture, the honest seeker after truth must face the fact that there are 15 differences between the two phases of Christ’s coming that cannot reconciled. This alone makes it impossible for them to be the same event. One is a secret coming, the other is public for all to see. One will cause participants to rejoice, and the other will cause people to mourn. [emphasis added]

Notice that the statement is not pejorative, misrepresenting or even anti-pretribulationist. It specifically refers to a “secret coming” [i.e. rapture] of Christ as nearly axiomatic of “biblical” prophecy, and something that is a positive find for “the honest seeker after truth.” The authors of this book? Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice.

It would seem that in his haste to ridicule those who disagree with him, Ice has wrongly accused his opponents of crimes they did not commit; he has not accurately represented what other Dispensationalists are saying; and he has apparently forgotten his own contribution to the problem he seeks to eradicate. But it is often the case that when anger sets in, the mouth opens and the eyes shut.

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[1] For now I will side-step the discussion on how Classical Dispensationalists argue for a two-stage return of Christ and how the term “parousia” (supposedly) refers to the first stage.
[2] In some ways, Ice’s argument resembles John Walvoord’s attempt to avoid the term “secret” and yet accept the idea (cf. Church in Prophecy [1964], 83, 136-37).
[3] I have taken screenshots of both sites, just in case Ice wants to erase alter retract his original statement.
[4] The sub-title should read, “A Visual Guide to Dispensational Prophecy & Its Fulfillment”.

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asking for trouble

My day typically begins c. 6.45am; 7.00am if I’m feeling lazy. By 7.15am/7.30am the first round of coffee is about to be consumed, and I start my search for mental jolt. (For some reason, for me, coffee fails in the jolting business). This usually means finding a book or article that I know will bug me and put me on the defensive. The sooner I’m kicked into critical thinking mode the better. This morning, the chosen jolt was an article with the prickly title, “Who Is Wrong? A Review of John Gerstner’s Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth” (R.L. Mayhue in The Master’s Seminary Journal 3.1 [1992]: 73-94).

To clarify the basic tension of the article (for those who are unaware): Gerstner’s book, as the tagline reveals, is a “Critique of Dispensationalism”, and his chosen adverbiage, “Wrongly” indicates where he comes down on that critique.¹ He ain’t in favor of it (at least its particular hermeneutic). The Master’s Seminary Journal is produced and disseminated by none other than The Master’s Seminary (California), and TMS, as their statement of faith indicates (briefly here and especially here), is an advocate of Dispensationalism. Since Mayhue is on staff at TMS, we can safely guess where his “review” of Gerstner’s critique is headed. (The implied either-or of his title and the choice to use TMS’s journal to offer the “review” are telling clues).

Here’s what bugged me about the article, and it’s something Mayhue said quite early in his discussion/monologue. Mayhue states (more or less; more on the less side) one of Gerstner’s key problems with Dispensationalism–i.e. it fails to do proper justice to biblical soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology, and the necessary links between them. Mayhue accuses (albeit in subtle ways) Gerstner of allowing his Reformed tradition (i.e. Calvinism, specifically) to govern his interpretation of both the biblical doctrines in view and Dispensationalism. The implication is that Mayhue see such allowance as inappropriate. Then Mayhue asserts:

[Gerstner] seems to debate from the following basic syllogism, though he never states it so succinctly as this:

Premise 1: Calvinism is central to all true theology
Premise 2: Dispensationalism does not embrace Calvinism
Conclusion: Dispensationalism is a ‘spurious’ and ‘dubious’ expression of true theology (p. 2).

Thus, he strongly calls for dispensationalism’s quick surrender.

–Mayhue, “Who Is Wrong?,” 75.

The reason this bugged me has three parts. First, Mayhue (subtly) criticizes Gerstner for allowing his theological tradition (i.e. Calvinism) to dictate his interpretation. On this point, Mayhue (rightly) states: “Presuppositions and assumptions undergird all reasoned thought” (81). However, Mayhue does not acknowledge (or recognize) that Dispensationalism must necessarily be included in that truth. He overlooks the fact that Dispensationalism has its own presuppositions and assumptions and they necessarily govern the interpretative process. In fact, Classical and Modified (or Revised) Dispensationalism² essentially require loyalty to the interpretative system they establish in order to understand properly the theological conclusions they find.

Second, Mayhue’s “review” (=polemic) operates on the basis of the suggested syllogism, which Mayhue acknowledges as never clearly articulated as he gives it. This means Mayhue’s criticisms focus on Mayhue’s interpretation of Gerstner’s logic as though that interpretation is an accurate reflection of what Gerstner clearly argues. (Admittedly I have not read Gerstner’s book, so I do not know for sure how accurate Mayhue’s interpretation is).

Third, Mayhue’s own argument in particular and Dispensationalism in general are not exempt from the charges of the suggested syllogism. To say this differently: the same argument Mayhue uses against Gerstner can be turned around and used against Mayhue. In effect it would go something like this:

Premise 1: Dispensationalism is central to all true interpretation of Bible (i.e. “rightly dividing the word of truth”)³
Premise 2: Non-Dispensationalists do not embrace the hermeneutical system of Dispensationalism
Conclusion: Non-Dispensationalist readings do not represent true interpretations of the Bible; they are all ill-informed, dubious, spurious, liberal, and unorthodox.

The implication of this argument is that if one does not embrace Dispensationalism, then one does not embrace the true meaning of the Bible; and if one does not embrace that true meaning, then one cannot be faithful to its message; and if one is not faithful to its message, then how can that person truly claim to be evangelical? The trouble is that the Dispensational hermeneutic and its particular emphases are what need to be embraced, and they tend to be prioritized over core tenets of historic Christian orthodoxy. In the words of Levar Burton: “You don’t have to take my word for it.” Here is a confession from a former Dispensationalist named, Clarence Bass (in the 1960s):

Even today some of my dearest friends are convinced that I have departed from the evangelical faith. No affirmation of my belief in the cardinal doctrines of faith–the virgin birth, the efficaciousness of Christ’s death, the historicity of the resurrection, the necessity of the new birth, even the fervent expectancy of the person, literal, actual bodily return of the Lord to earth–will convince them, because I have ceased to ‘rightly divide the word of truth’.

–quoted in S.J. Grenz, The Millennial Maze (1992), 92–emphasis original.

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¹ Also, for those who don’t know, Gerstner’s title takes a not-so-subtle jab at an earlier work called, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (1896) by C.I. Scofield–the champion of Dispensationalism in the US.
² While I am generally not a fan of Classical and Modified (or Revised) Dispensationalism (and its proponents), I am more appreciative of so-called Progressive Dispensationalism (and its advocates). However, please do not mistake appreciation for acceptance.
³ What Scofield meant by this phrase (taken from 2Tim 2.15) is not what Paul meant by that phrase. In fact, how Scofield uses that passage to construct and justify his Dispensational interpretation reveals his ignorance of Paul’s meaning.

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there and back again

This video has been making the rounds in the blogosphere.* I saw it first on Jim West, then Joel Watts, and then Gavin Rumney (a new blog to me). The main reason why I’m reposting it is because Rossing provides an explanation that needs to be considered, at least as a beginning point for a proper understanding of what the Bible teaches. I’m also a tad sadistic in that I enjoy seeing weak/poor theology being smacked around.

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* I would have uploaded the video here, but I’m not exactly sure how to do that–or even if I can, seeing that I have a basic [i.e. free] version of wordpress.

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problems with proof-texting (2)

In the previous post, I tried to signal a vexing tendency within certain approaches to biblical studies, namely: proof-texting as a methodological tool for systematic theology.  Admittedly, that post was rather general in scope and intentionally left open for discussion; it was not meant to be either comprehensive or conclusive in sorting out the problem(s) raised.  In this post, I want to look at an example of how this tendency plays itself out, and my focus here deals with a specific issue within this article by the always entertaining, Jack Kinsella.

A while back (here), I examined the work of Kinsella where it appeared as though he flat-out lifted material from other places and presented it as his own thoughts (i.e. he plagiarised).  Whether or not he did something similar in this article is not my concern.*  Moreover, my concern is not to deal with the entire argument of the article; there are too many issues, and it would take all day to address them.  My concern here is how Kinsella’s proof-texted theology becomes disrupted when he proof-texts in order to support something he believes to be true.

For the sake of theological context, Kinsella is a strong proponent of Dispensationalism.  He adheres strongly to the belief in the so-called ‘rapture’ of the saints, which he believes will be secretive, based on what he terms ‘the Doctrine of Immanency.’  Moreover, Kinsella believes that this ‘rapture’ will be prior to the so-called ‘great seven-year tribulation’, where Jews and Gentiles who are not a part of the believing church will be tested and given the opportunity to confess Christ as Lord.  Connected with this is Kinsella’s belief that this ‘tribulation’ period precedes the so-called ‘Millennial Kingdom,’ which will consist of those who were ‘raptured’ and those Jews and Gentiles who repented and confessed Christ as Lord during the ‘tribulation’.  The rest (i.e. the unrepentant) are basically screwed.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that there is legitimacy to this proof-texted theological system.  Accordingly, those who are ‘raptured’ are those who have repented of their evil ways and have confessed Christ as Lord.  Those who belong to this category are those who live between Pentecost and Christ’s secret coming–i.e. the ‘rapture’ of the saints.  Because not everyone during this period has so repented and confessed, the time between the ‘rapture’ and the ‘Millennial Kingdom’ represents an opportunity for them to change their future fate.  (This is the ‘tribulation’ period, for those keeping score).  Thus, it is during this seven-year interval that those ‘left behind’ are able to repent and thus become a part of God’s people–i.e. the Church.  Those who continue unrepentant during this period will get their just fruits when Christ comes to judge the righteous and the sinner.  (The more detailed version of this argument, as given by Kinsella, can be seen here).

Here’s my concern with Kinsella’s argument, which is found near the end of the article, where he says this:

But the Bible says that those living when all the signs of His return begin to come to pass, we are to look up, and lift our heads, for our redemption draws near (Luke 21:28) [emphasis original]

With this Kinsella means that the beginning of the ‘signs’ points to the imminence of the expected ‘rapture’, which precedes the tribulation period.  Notice, this verse only applies to those believers in the so-called ‘Church Age.’  He justifies this by saying (and please ignore the historical smugness of his claim):

We watch the signs of the times because they are evidence that the Bible is true, that Bible prophecy is being fulfilled in this generation and therefore, there is no time to waste.  If we can see the signs of the coming Tribulation, and there is an interval in between, then it means that the Rapture is even closer.

Where Kinsella’s proof-texted theology becomes disrupted is when he proof-texts something else he adamantly believes to be true that is connected with his other beliefs.  This belief and textual support appear right in between the two quotations just given.  He says:

But the Bible also says that the Lord will wait until the last possible moment to Rapture His Church for the sake of the last repentant sinner.  “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2nd Peter 3:9) [emphasis original; and so is the '2nd' bit, which is odd]

If his statement is valid, and if the passage he cites justifies his statement, then a problem emerges with regard to the sequence of eschatological events.  If Christ is truly patient towards humanity and desires all to come to repentance, and if Christ will truly wait until ‘the last possible moment . . . for the sake of the last repentant sinner’; that in itself should raise questions about the need for a so-called seven-year tribulation period.

Moreover, if the tribulation period is meant to give an opportunity of repentance for those Jews and Gentile who rejected Christ during the so-called ‘Church Age’, and if such a repentance during that period entitles them to become a part of God’s people–i.e. the Church; that in itself should raise questions about the need for a so-called ‘rapture’ prior to the so-called ‘tribulation’ period.

However, and this is the final point, things go really pear-shaped with the last line in Kinsella’s article:

And once we’re gone, there’s no second chance for those who are left behind.

Hang on a minute.  If that’s true, then this creates a contradiction for Kinsella’s theological beliefs regarding the nature and purpose of the tribulation period. If he believes (as he does) that, following the ‘rapture’, the ‘tribulation’ period is an opportunity for Jews and Gentiles to repent and confess Christ as Lord; that in itself constitutes a ‘second chance.’  However, he explicitly states that once believers are ‘raptured’, there is no second chance.  If that is the case, Mr Kinsella; then who is truly a part of the ‘Millennial Kingdom’?

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* Honestly, and I apologise if this sounds rude, I’ve nearly given up on him saying anything original.

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just for fun

I came across this earlier this morning and thought it was great.  Anything that has a go at Dispensational theology, I enjoy.

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