Romans 11 and the Destiny of Israel: A Comparative Study

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Photo Credit: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Introduction

There is no shortage of biblical scholarship pertaining to the destiny of Israel in Romans 11. Amillennialists and premillennialists alike have posited heavily researched articles and books that attempt to place Romans 11 in the context of the Apostle Paul’s letter. Both have also tediously endeavored to correctly analyze the grammar and syntax of this controversial yet important chapter in God’s Word. Despite such painstaking efforts, it is doubtful that simply the exegetical arguments presented by the amillennialist will convince the premillennialist, and vice versa. The reason being has virtually nothing to do with intelligence or close-mindedness, but rather with one’s theological method. Therefore, in this research, the views espoused within amillennialism and premillennialism must be first considered as stated by their proponents. Subsequently, several exegetical observations will be addressed to identify where the differences are between amillennialism and premillennialism, but most specifically in regards to the destiny of Israel, namely, whether or not a mass conversion awaits national Israel in the future. Based on a comparison between the views, it will be contended that the premillennial perspective provides the most natural and normal interpretation of the data, which is based on a literal hermeneutic that seeks to understand the text of Scripture without basing assertions largely on theological presuppositions.

Amillennial Views of the Destiny of Israel in Romans 11

John Calvin is a Christian thinker heavily respected by men and women who adhere to both amillennial and premillennial positions of eschatology. While Calvin’s soteriology might be more broadly shared between the two views, his eschatology favors the amillennial view. According to Calvin, “The Israel of God is what [the Apostle Paul] calls the Church, gathered alike from Jews and Gentiles.”[1] Therefore, when Romans 11:26 speaks of how “all Israel will be saved,” Calvin’s interpretation, which is shared by many amillennialists, would indicate that Israel has no ethnic purpose in this context, but is equated with the universal Church. The amount of diversity in opinion from amillennialists alone, however, is notable. Charles Hodge has explained the opposite opinion of Calvin in regards to the ethnic ramifications of Romans 11: “Israel, here, from the context, must mean the Jewish people, and all Israel, the whole nation. The Jews, as a people, are now rejected; as a people, they are to be restored. As their rejection, although national, did not include the rejection of every individual; so their restoration, although in like manner national, need not be assumed to include the salvation of every individual Jew.”[2] Calvin and Hodge are two renowned Reformed thinkers who would share similar beliefs about eschatology, but Romans 11 is a passage that can divide amillennialists.

One of the reasons why amillennialists have trouble finding common ground with fellow proponents of their eschatological system is the interpretive question of how to understand the time length involved in “Israel’s” salvation. Some believe that the timeframe is “synchronic,” which refers only to “Israel” at the end of the time of the “fullness of the Gentiles,” while others take the “diachronic” view, which requires “all Israel” to be referring to ethnic Jews, and specifically to believing Jews of all times.[3] There are amillennialists who take the synchronic view that would only consider “all Israel” as referring to the elect believers who are ethnically Jewish, and that number could be quite minimal. Charles M. Horne argues, “[W]hen Paul states that ‘all Israel shall be saved’ he means to refer to the full number of elect Jews whom it pleases God to bring into his kingdom throughout the ages until the very day when the full number of the Gentiles also shall have been brought in. In keeping with the context, ‘all Israel’ means ‘the remnant according to the election of grace’ (11:5), not the nation in its entirety.”[4] There are even some amillennialists who think that there will be some type of mass conversion prior to the return of Christ.[5] But Horne has adamantly insisted, “If Paul is speaking in 11:26 of a future mass conversion of the nation of Israel, then he is destroying the entire development of his argument in chaps. 9-11.”[6] Thus, the synchronic view of the timeframe noted in Romans 11 is an open discussion within amillennialism.

The diachronic view is also a thoroughly defended theory within amillennialism that must be evaluated. Regarding the timeframe of the fullness of the Gentiles and the relevancy of “Israel” being saved, Ben Merkle has written, “This phrase is essentially terminative in its significance, implying the end of something. Yet, only the context can determine where the emphasis lies after the termination. Often the phrase is used in an eschatological context, where the termination envisioned contains a finalization aspect that makes questions concerning the reversal of the circumstance irrelevant.”[7] Merkle compared the construction of ἄχρι οὗ (translated “until”) with First Corinthians 11:16, referring to partaking of the Lord’s Super “until” he comes.[8] N.T. Wright holds a similar view as Merkle, viewing Jews who are saved in the present age as composing “Israel,” that is, elect believers within the Jewish nation.[9] All of these amillennial views are theoretically plausible, as interpreters have found ways to fit the texts of Romans 11 into a particular conclusion, even though the different views within amillennialism cannot coexist. The question is whether or not the theological method instituted to arrive at such conclusions is most preferable.

Premillennial Views of the Destiny of Israel in Romans 11

Premillennialists likewise have plenty of flexibility among themselves in terms of opinions on matters related to eschatology. Whereas covenant premillennialists consider only one people of God throughout history, dispensational premillennialists distinguish between Israel, which includes saved and unsaved people throughout history, and the Church, which only includes believers, both Jew and Gentile, in the present age. Nevertheless, premillennialists can find some common ground in the meaning of Romans 11. Michael G. Vanlaningham has argued:

Currently beset by a partial spiritual hardening toward God, a significant group of Jews will experience a future repentance and salvation. This will come at some future point in the church, perhaps as one of the series events that will compose Christ’s second coming. Paul adduces proof of this salvation with two quotations from Isaiah. Through this significant passage God’s future program for Israel becomes clearer than before.[10]

 

Meanwhile, John F. Walvoord, a stalwart defender of dispensational premillennialism would not view the timing of Romans 11 as being during the church age, but during the end of the Tribulation, and preceding the Second Coming of Christ. Walvoord has said, “The contrast throughout the passage is not between the believer and unbeliever, but between Gentiles as such and Israel as a nation. In Romans 11:25, the issue is brought to a head with the revelation that Israel’s present blindness and unbelief will be concluded at the same time that the present Gentile opportunity is ended.”[11] Thereafter, “all Israel” will be saved.

In recent years, premillennial scholars have put forward interpretations of many different aspects of Israel’s future in regards to Romans 11. Four of them are worth considering in this discussion, though more exist. First, while many often attack the discontinuity approach from a premillennial perspective in the understanding of history, Samuel A. Dawson sees both continuity and discontinuity in the plan of God throughout the ages. He has explained:

To forcefully drive this point home Paul uses an olive tree analogy to establish the continuity and discontinuity of God’s plan in dispensing his mercy. And although Paul begins this analogy by emphasizing the one historical root from which God dispenses his mercy to both Jew and Gentile (continuity), he mainly emphasizes the diverse way in which God dispenses his mercy throughout history (discontinuity), which opens up a future salvation for Israel that is in harmony with Old Testament prophecies.[12]

 

A second important contribution to premillennialism comes from Jim R. Sibley in his work on Romans 11:15. This verse reads in the Greek as follows: “εἰ γὰρ ἡ ἀποβολὴ αὐτῶν καταλλαγὴ κόσμου, τίς ἡ πρόσλημψις εἰ μὴ ζωὴ ἐκ νεκρῶν;” The issue here is whether or not Paul’s question of Israel’s “rejection” is to be rendered as an objective genitive or a subjective. Especially since Paul just insisted that God would never reject His people of Israel, and for a variety of other reasons, Sibley affirms that the phrasing of Romans 11:15 should be understood as Israel rejecting salvation in the present age, not as God rejecting Israel.[13]

David Q. Santos has provided yet another interpretation worth evaluating. His research focused on Romans 11:19-24, though in his article he provided a thorough background of the epistle as a whole. His thesis might be summarized as follows: “Paul’s conclusion regarding Israel is that, while it may be a mystery, Israel does have a future in God’s plan. There will be a time when the blinders will be removed from the nation and Israel will no longer live in unbelief. At that point, those natural branches will be regrafted and all Israel will be saved.”[14] Finally, Matt Waymeyer’s analysis of Romans 11:28 requires some attention:

Romans 11:28 is an often neglected verse that helps in determining which of the views is correct, because the pronoun “they” in v. 28 refers to the same people as the “all Israel” of v. 26. Since context requires that the pronoun “you” in v. 28 refers to Gentiles, the “enemies” and the “they” of v. 28 must be ethnic Jews, thereby eliminating the possibility of “all Israel” being the church. The two clauses in v. 28 describe what is true of ethnic Israel at the same time, not on condition prior to Israel’s salvation and another subsequent to that salvation. That eliminates the view that “all Israel” depicts an elect remnant of believing Jews, because they could hardly be enemies according to the gospel after becoming believers. The view that “all Israel” is the ethnic nation of Israel has v. 28 speaking of Israel’s dual status: simultaneously they are enemies according to the gospel and beloved because of the fathers.[15]

 

Both amillennialists and premillennialists have put forth countless hours of research to prove that one view is superior to the other in terms of understanding the context of Romans, grammatical observations, and general theological principles. Thus, a conscientious awareness of where the differences are is urgent, requiring a closer look at some exegetical observations from Romans 11.

Exegetical Observations in Romans 11

The first exegetical point requiring focus is the identity of Israel in Romans 11. According to Walvoord, “[T]here is not a single reference in the New Testament to Israel which cannot be taken in its plain meaning. Not a single instance requires the term to include Gentiles.”[16] Amillennialists would surely have a problem with Walvoord’s assertion. The first clause might be challenged in reference to Romans 9:6, which says, “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (οὐ γὰρ πάντες οἱ ἐξ Ἰσραήλ, οὗτοι Ἰσραήλ).[17] The NASB added the phrase “descended from,” so the verse could read: “For not all of Israel are Israel.” In the context of Romans 9, it can be readily deduced that Paul is referring to the fact that not all people within the nation of Israel are truly “Israel,” which is to distinguish the “children of the flesh” (national Israelites, but unbelievers) from the “children of the promise” (national Israelites, but believers). Walvoord’s second clause, however, places much more of a burden of proof on amillennialists. In Romans, Paul speaks quite frequently of Israel, and he does distinguish, as Romans 9 indicates, between believing and unbelieving Israelites. However, a literal interpretation of the data requires one to restrict “Israel” to only include Jews, but never Gentiles. In chapter 11, Paul includes the title “Israel” in verses 2, 7, 25, and 26. Clearly, he is referring to national Israel in verses 2 and 7, and there is no indication whatsoever of a change in meaning in verses 25 and 26. Jews and Gentiles share equal privileges in the Church, but in Romans 11 and elsewhere in the epistle, the amillennialist relies on a presupposition that “Israel” can include Gentiles. A much more natural reading of the text would restrict “Israel” to simply Jews, and the context would determine whether or not Paul is speaking of believing or unbelieving Jews.

A second exegetical observation necessitating comment is the meaning of the “fullness of the Gentiles.” Similarly to how Paul had already identified Israel in this context prior to verses 25 and 26, so also has he spoken about Gentiles (verses 11-13). The most natural way to interpret “Gentiles” is to conclude their identity as being non-Israelites. Therefore, when verse 25 speaks of the “fullness of the Gentiles,” the people being identified can be contrasted with national Israelites. Most believers in the present age are indeed Gentiles, but there will be a future moment in which the last Gentile will be redeemed. Furthermore, the Old Testament quotations of Isaiah 27:9 and Jeremiah 31:33-34 are massively significant. Ungodliness will be removed from “Jacob,” which can be understood as Israel since the patriarch, Jacob, had his name changed to Israel, and he is the progenitor from which the twelve tribes of Israel arose. The second passage refers to the New Covenant, which again originally referred to the nation of Israel, but in Jeremiah 31. Although Paul did not include the first clause from Jeremiah 31:34, surely he would not have disregarded its importance, where it says, “‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them.” Jeremiah 31 speaks comprehensively of Israel, which fits the context of Paul’s argument in Romans 11, “and so all Israel will be saved.” The partial hardening will not last forever over the people of Israel, but the fullness of the Gentiles must first come to a completion.

Conclusion

There are a variety of opinions on the meaning of Romans 11 and the destiny of Israel. However, Paul gives no clear signs that he means something different regarding the identity (and thus, the destiny) of Israel in verse 2 compared to verse 26. The fullness of the Gentiles indicates a time in which, according to both the Old and New Testament, all of Israel will be saved. This usage of “Israel” is no different than the Israel Elijah accused of killing God’s prophets and tearing down His altars (Romans 11:3). What is distinct is not the identity of Israel as being composed of something other than Jews, but that the fullness of the Gentiles will have to accomplish its purpose in provoking Jews at the end of their “partial hardening.” Walvoord summarized it well many decades ago, “During the present age a remnant of Israel is saved through the Gospel. The hardening or blindness is ‘in part.’ When Christ returns, the situation will be changed. Instead of a remnant, instead of a small part, Israel as a whole will be saved. It will be a national deliverance.”[18] Marvin Richardson Vincent has rendered “πώρωσις ἀπὸ μέρους” (Romans 11:25) as “Not partial hardening, but hardening extending over a part.”[19] Indeed, a large part of Israel is spiritually blinded from the true Messiah, while there is a remnant composed of believing Jews. The destiny of Israel is based off of the New Covenant promises of Jeremiah 31. Paul, in Romans 11, differs in no way in describing that future glory, but until the fullness of the Gentiles is completed, Israel remains composed of a remnant of believers and a large portion of unbelievers.

 

Notes:

[1] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, trans. and ed. John Owen (Grand Rapids: Baker, reprinted 1993), 437.

[2] Quoted in John F. Walvoord, “Eschatological Problems IX: Israel’s Restoration,” Bibliothecha Sacra 102:408 (October 1945), 411. Italics original.

[3] Ben Merkle, “Romans 11 and the Future of Ethnic Israel,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43:4 (December 2000), 711.

[4] Charles M. Horne, “The Meaning of the Phrase ‘And Thus All Israel Will Be Saved’ (Romans 11:26),” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 21:4 (December 1978), 334.

[5] For this discussion, see Lee Irons, “Paul’s Theology of Israel’s Future: A Nonmillennial Interpretation of Romans 11,” Reformation and Revival 6:2 (Spring 1997), 104.

[6] Horne, “The Meaning of the Phrase ‘And Thus All Israel Will Be Saved’ (Romans 11:26),” 333.

[7] Ben Merkle, “Romans 11 and the Future of Ethnic Israel,” 715.

[8] Ibid.

[9] For a critical essay of Wright’s view, see Michael G. Vanlaningham, “An Evaluation of N. T. Wright’s View of Israel in Romans 11,” Bibliothecha Sacra 170:678 (April 2013), 189. Vanlaningham says Wright’s “weakest” part of his argument concerns a lack of explanation of ἄχρι οὗ. However, taken under the umbrella of Merkle’s explanation, Wright’s view would likely be little or no different.

[10] Michael G. Vanlaningham, “Romans 11:25-27 and the Future of Israel in Paul’s Thought,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 3:2 (Fall 1992), 141.

[11] Walvoord, “Eschatological Problems IX: Israel’s Restoration,” 405.

[12] Samuel A. Dawson, “The Historical Outworking of God’s Plan to Dispense His Mercy Illustrated in the Olive Tree of Romans 11:16-24,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 21 (2016), 107. Italics original.

[13] See especially Jim R. Sibley, “Has the Church Put Israel on the Shelf? The Evidence from Romans 11:15,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 58:3 (September 2015), 576-580.

[14] David Q. Santos, “Israel and Her Future: An Exegesis of Romans 11:19-24,” Journal of Dispensational Theology 19:56 (Spring 2015), 84.

[15] Matt Waymeyer, “The Dual Status of Israel in Romans 11:28,” The Master’s Seminary Journal 16:1 (Spring 2005), 57.

[16] Walvoord, “Eschatological Problems IX: Israel’s Restoration,” 409.

[17] All English translations are from the New American Standard Bible.

[18] Walvoord, “Eschatological Problems IX: Israel’s Restoration,” 410.

[19] Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, vol. 3 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1887), 130.

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God and Gary Johnson

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Religion has played an important role regarding presidential elections in the United States for many years. Some presidents and presidential hopefuls have greatly emphasized their religious beliefs and values, such as Abraham Lincoln, and Woodrow Wilson would probably fit that bracket as well. But others have generally kept their faith to themselves, such as John Quincy Adams. Many have heard during the current presidential election season about Donald Trump’s Presbyterian background, his alleged status of having been recently “born again,” and his memorable recitation of “Two” Corinthians 3:18.[1] On the Democratic Party’s side, Hillary Clinton has not had as many headlines published related to her religious views, but even her views have been clearly made known as relevant to her public and political work, as Paul Kengor’s God and Hillary Clinton illustrates. Although the presidential race has already proven to be unique in many ways, the rise of Gary Johnson as the Libertarian option for president has certainly had major ramifications. Among the millions of Republicans, there are certainly plenty of Donald Trump fans. However, there are undoubtedly numerous Republicans that have begrudgingly given their support to the GOP nominee. Meanwhile, there is even a group of voters that have decided they will not support Trump, if not due to policy issues, then likely because of concerns of conduct. For the straying Republican, Gary Johnson has become quite the candidate of interest. Johnson, nevertheless, has not made his religious views a major component to his candidacy or core convictions. Still, I would contest, Gary Johnson’s view of God does play an important role for potential voters. But even more personally, I would say that his view of God affects his own conceptions of governmental policy, and that many Americans find plenty of religious commonality with him.

 

For a man who supports the legalization of marijuana, gay marriage equality, and is not adamantly trying to eliminate abortion, Johnson might appear to be a thorough secularist. He has commonly been called fiscally conservative, but a social liberal. Earlier in the year, Johnson was asked about his religious views during a town hall, televised by CNN.[2] According to his own statements, he was raised a “Christian.” From that background, he admits, “if there’s one thing that I’ve taken away from Christianity,” it would be “do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”[3] Johnson does not attend a church and seems to not assume the title of being a Christian anymore, but that does not mean he has jettisoned a belief in God altogether. In fact, he stated, “I have to admit to praying once in a while.”[4] Thus, he is not a Deist. When pressed specifically about his understanding of God, he said, “the God that I speak to…doesn’t have a particular religion.”[5] Judging from these statements, it would seem that Johnson holds to a form of non-institutional Unitarianism (though I’m thinking he probably would not like to be given a label). Johnson does believe in God, and prays to Him “once in a while,” but as far as his Christian upbringing is concerned, he seems to have mostly just kept his “golden rule” ethic. These ideas do not appear to be all that significant, unless they are placed in a context of Johnson’s Libertarianism.

 

Libertarianism is inherently a little tough to define because, at its core, it essentially advocates the prerogative of personal liberty. And where there is liberty, there is generally diversity. Nevertheless, most Libertarians are united under this principle of individual freedom. Libertarians also tend to dislike the oversight of the federal government, which is why they believe in keeping federal power to a minimum; hence the reason why Libertarians usually call for lower taxes, a non-interventionist military, and fewer federal laws (especially on things pertaining to personal liberty like gun rights, marijuana legalization, and the like). In other words, Libertarians would prefer that the government stay out of the way and let them live their lives. Ironically, this model of government is ideologically similar to Gary Johnson’s religious views. In both realms, the hierarchical overseer (federal government/God) generally stays out of the way. In both realms, the autonomy of the individual is of great importance, so much that little interaction is made between the person and the overseer. Because of this autonomy, institutionalism is generally bypassed (limited government/lack of church attendance). One might even say that Johnson’s religion is, in fact, Libertarian. This may cause us to ponder, do Johnson’s religious views affect his political views, or do his political views affect his religious views? Perhaps it would be best to conclude that the causal relationship is impossible to determine with certainty. More likely is that the two views, political and religious, share the common principle of having liberty with limited oversight.

 

Since religion is such a private matter for Johnson, those that are much more public with their faith may question whether or not their liberties would be retained under a Johnson presidency. It is clear that Johnson has not supported some of the recent legislation pushed in states like North Carolina regarding LGBT rights and religious liberty. However, both Johnson and his running mate, Bill Weld, have stated their approval of recent legislation passed in Utah. Though I have not been able to confirm which bill they have referred to in the talks that I have heard, it is quite likely that Johnson and Weld were speaking of S.B. 296.[6] Religious liberty advocates can breathe a sigh of relief since this bill protects religious institutions from being sued over sexual morality claims of discrimination. That means BYU, a well-known Mormon university, can continue to have the legal freedom to enforce standards of sexuality (such as prohibiting students from homosexual behavior), and pastors cannot be forced to marry couples they deem inappropriate to join in matrimony. While Johnson and Weld could probably do more to ease the concerns of religious liberty advocates, they do not appear to be on the quest to hinder the free exercise of religion, preferring to try to find a balance between granting civil rights to the LGBT community and not interfering with the religious community either.

 

For questions of sexual morality, clearly Johnson holds to a pretty common Libertarian perspective, and that is that government should not prohibit homosexual behavior, or even gay marriage. I would assume that Johnson likewise would not think the same things to be immoral as well. Regarding worldview, it seems clear that the Libertarian candidate for presidency does not accept the Bible as grounds for ethics and governmental policy, and that shouldn’t be surprising since his own statements make it very clear that his religious views are unorthodox and, according to my perception, even Libertarian. But I think that Johnson’s religious views speak of something greater, namely, that his ideas of God are strikingly similar to what Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton have termed “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”[7] Like Johnson, MTD argues that doing good to others, the “golden rule,” is the essence of religion. MTD is “therapeutic” in the sense that people can come to God with their problems when they need Him, as if He was a “divine butler,” which sounds a lot like Johnson’s prayer activity of speaking to God “once in a while.” Finally, the “D” in MTD refers to a type of Deism, meaning God generally stays out of the way of the dealings of mankind (unless He’s really needed, hence the “T” in MTD). The “D” in MTD is, of course, quite Libertarian, as inferred above. It’s no wonder that many Americans, particularly Millennials, are willing to vote third party—Gary Johnson’s worldview is so much like their own. For Americans that hold to a more orthodox and/or evangelical Christianity, they are left with the choice of figuring out if they want to form an alliance with someone who, though starkly different in theological and social views, has been successful in private businesses and as governor of New Mexico for two terms. After all, Clinton and Trump both possess several qualities that don’t sit well with many Christians. Whether or not one votes for Johnson, it looks like his views of society and government have resonated with many Americans, and as I have argued, both are derived to a certain extent from his view of God.

[1] On Trump’s conversion experience, see https://www.drjamesdobson.org/news/commentaries/archives/2016-newsletters/august-newsletter-2016 [accessed October 1, 2016]. Also, it should be noted that Trump’s statement of calling II Corinthians “Two Corinthians” may not be as embarrassing as some have claimed. When my wife traveled to England, she recalled that some Christians there also used the phrase, “Two Corinthians.” Since Trump has Scottish roots, it’s possible that he was simply speaking of the passage the way he was taught, as strange as it sounds to many American ears.

[2] http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/2016/06/22/transcript-cnn-libertarian-town-hall-moderated-by-chris-cuomo/ [accessed October 1, 2016].

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] http://le.utah.gov/~2015/bills/static/SB0296.html [accessed October 2, 2016].

[7] Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

Is an Unaccredited College or Seminary a Viable Option for Theological Education?

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photo credit: proecclesia.net

I once received a phone call from a regionally accredited university, whose admissions counselor’s first words were something like this: “First of all, congratulations on achieving such a high GPA.” She then proceeded to ask a question, “Was your college accredited?” I explained that it was nationally accredited (but not regionally accredited). The phone call quickly ended, after I learned that their institution would not accept anyone unless they had a regionally accredited bachelor’s degree–I was applying to their graduate school. This literally infuriated me. How could a university’s admittance process be so narrow-minded in determining which students are equipped to enter one of its programs? Providentially, I applied to another grad school, which had a better program anyway, where I was accepted and will hopefully finish my M.A. this fall. This phone call taught me two valuable lessons. First, a regionally accredited school is not necessarily “better” (in terms of educational quality) than a nationally accredited school. I have compared syllabi and sat in on classes from regionally schools, and rarely do they require more from their students compared to my alma mater. Secondly, though, accreditation can potentially open more doors. The subject for this article, however, is directed not at national or regional accreditation. Instead, the question I am concerned with here would be, “Is an Unaccredited College or Seminary a Viable Option for Theological Education?”

  • Why Would a Theological Institution Not Pursue Accreditation?

I have surveyed probably hundreds of websites from theological institutions, and most of them have a page on accreditation. For schools that are unaccredited, they usually refer to some of these reasons. (1) They avoid accreditation to keep costs low. For a school to obtain or retain their status with an accreditation body, it requires a lot of time and money. Generally, unaccredited schools are much cheaper in tuition rates. (2) They avoid accreditation to separate themselves from the workings of the federal government. Most college students have spent hours filling out FAFSA forms. If they (or their parents) don’t make a lot of money, then might be able to obtain grant money and loans. Students that attend unaccredited schools cannot apply for federal aid (to the best of my knowledge), but then again, costs are also lower there. (3) They avoid accreditation to retain doctrinal autonomy with their faculty members. I have heard this referred to critically as “institutional in-breeding,” but I would also provide an alternative view. Some theological institutions hold to minority views on certain issues, so it can be somewhat difficult to put together professors that agree to certain beliefs that are not mainstream. Also, I think there is a biblical precedent to hiring graduates to become teachers. In Second Timothy 2:2, Paul said to Timothy, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Granted, the context here is referring to the local church, but is it too much of a stretch for this to apply to theological institutions?

  • Degree Mills vs. Legitimate Theological Schools

One of the biggest challenges that graduates from unaccredited theological institutions may face is the perception that they earned their degree from a so-called “degree mill.” There are places that, for a small price, can give anyone a degree, even doctorates. In studying logic, students learn of the “guilt by association” fallacy, but unfortunately, many unaccredited schools are unfairly viewed as degree mills. Consider, however, that many college graduates (from accredited institutions even), particularly in fields like music and psychology, have a very difficult time finding a job in their field with just that degree under their belt. I say this because when approaching the issue of accreditation, we should not have this false dichotomy in mind that an accredited degree automatically makes for a great career, while unaccredited degrees make for poor careers. Furthermore, since many graduates of theological institutions will pursue a career with local churches, it should also be noted that even an accredited doctorate will not automatically guarantee a successful ministry. Plenty of pastors with the prefix, “Dr.” before their names have endured intense anguish as leaders of troublesome churches. At the same time, borrowing from the principle noted in my introduction, an accredited degree can open up more options, which may be enough of a reason to stick with an accredited degree path.

  • Why Someone Would Not Pursue an Unaccredited Degree

As I mentioned in the introduction, my bachelor’s degree was nationally accredited (along with a master’s degree from the same institution), and to be honest, I am glad for it. One of the most important reasons for why someone should pursue an accredited degree is so that he/she can have the most possible options for further education. And for those that desire to serve in educational roles career-wise, it would be very challenging to do so with all unaccredited degrees. Still, there are some that have done quite well with an accredited bachelor’s and master’s degree, but an unaccredited doctorate (R.C. Sproul, James White, Tommy Ice, to name a few). They key issue centers on what someone desires to gain from a certain degree

  • Why an Unaccredited Degree is Sometimes a Viable Option for Theological Education

For some people, it would not be a wise decision to pursue an unaccredited degree, such as those that want to teach at an accredited institution or want to be ordained in a denomination that requires certain accreditation standards in their education. But there are a lot of people that would do well to choose an unaccredited degree, as long as the program is rigorous and biblically-centered. In particular, pastors, missionaries, and Christian writers that desire to study the Bible with the instruction of teachers and fellow students can be greatly enriched by numerous unaccredited schools. Just because an institution is unaccredited, it does not necessarily mean that the professors are poor instructors in the Bible. From a personal perspective, I am interested in resuming my D.Min. program at an unaccredited seminary once I complete my M.A. (which is at a regionally accredited school). I don’t expect the D.Min. to help me gain entrance as a professor into an accredited seminary, but I do hope it will help enrich my knowledge of the Bible so that I can be a better writer and teacher. On the other hand, my career goal is to eventually teach history at the college level in accredited institutions, so that is why I am pursuing options for a Ph.D in history at accredited institutions. If I finish my D.Min., I would not consider it a useless degree, and I don’t think others should think that of their degrees from unaccredited schools if they were able to have learned more about God and His Word.

  • Conclusion

The question that some readers may be asking is, “Should I pursue an unaccredited degree?” Hopefully I made it clear that a good percentage of people should pursue a degree from an accredited institution. The most important reason has to do with career options. But there are also valid reasons why someone may want to forego the accredited program and stick with something else. It may be worthwhile to ask yourself, will an unaccredited degree potentially prohibit me from pursuing my career goals? For those that answer with a clear “yes,” then I think an accredited school is preferable. However, for those that are uncertain, it would probably be wise to contact people who are currently working in the career you desire (as well as employers, depending on the field), and ask them if an accredited degree (and specify if it needs to be regionally or nationally accredited) would be needed. If career goals are not hindered by an unaccredited degree, then the next question would be, which institution would best help me study the Bible? It very well may be an accredited school, but I don’t think an unaccredited school should be left out as a possibility. There are also other questions such as finances, flexibility, and doctrinal preferences, which could play a part in a wise decision. Additionally, while options are limited, I have heard of some accredited seminaries accepting graduates of unaccredited colleges into their programs–sometimes with a probationary period to start (this is definitely something to ask a prospective seminary, especially those that may be in the middle of an unaccredited degree). Altogether the choice of attending a theological school is not usually easy. Likewise, much of what I have said here is my opinion, but I have tried to back up my opinions with valid reasoning. I have greatly enjoyed being an advising professor at an unaccredited seminary. Many of the students there have put forward tremendous works of scholarship. And while an unaccredited college or seminary is not the right fit for everyone, I believe it is a viable option for some people.

(John 15:1-11) The Vine and the Branches

220px-Frontenac_grapes

The Context

  • —Jesus’ Audience in Chapter 15: 11 of his 12 disciples (Judas Iscariot was not present, see John 13:30)
  • —John’s Overall Purpose for His Gospel: John 20:31 (that his audience might have knowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, and have eternal life through believing in Him)
  • —Key Interpretive Questions: —Is this passage talking about “perseverance of the saints” vs. “loss of salvation”? Or is it meant for believers?

Is This a Prophetic Invitation to Repentance?

  • —Chapters 13-14:
    • —(13:21-30) Judas’s betrayal predicted
    • —(13:36-38) Peter’s denial predicted
    • —(14:1-14) Heavenly promises
    • —(14:15-31) Earthly promise – the Holy Spirit
  • —Observation: Chapter 15 seems to draw from the previous two chapters. It is, therefore, a passage of hope to the unfaithful, and it provides encouragement for living empowered by the Holy Spirit.

***Scriptural quotations taken from the King James Version***

1.I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

  • —The “true vine” – In the OT, Israel was called the “vine.” (e.g., Isaiah 5:1-7)
  • —The husbandman – It could also be translated “farmer,” but “vinedresser” is probably best.

2.Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

  • —“purgeth” – Can also be translated, “cleans” (see vs. 3)

3.Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

  • —Clean – In other words, a believer is “purged” by the word of Christ (previous instruction in ch. 13-14, though the rest of the Scriptures are probably implied)
  • —The word’s abiding power – Distinguishes a believer from unbeliever (John 5:38)

4.Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

  • —Abide – Not only does the word need to abide in us for justification (salvation), but we also need to abide in Christ for sanctification.
  • —“Bear fruit” – To produce results, probably the fruit of the Spirit.
  • —Application: Be Patient – It takes time for a pruned branch to bear fruit. We should take this principle into account when we disciple new believers.

5.I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

  • —“the same” – “this” (doing this: abiding)
  • Double negative – literally “you cannot do nothing” (in Greek, a double negative is used for emphasizing a point)

6.If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

  • —Analogy – Up to the semicolon, it expresses how Christians who don’t bear fruit as cast aside (outside of fellowship with God) as branches during the fall pruning. After the semicolon, Jesus is talking about what happens to the branches, but He is not saying unfaithful Christians are subject to being burned. It’s an analogy to state the worthlessness of not abiding in Christ.

7.If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

  • —“ask” – this is an imperative verb, so the disciples were actually commanded to “ask.” (see 14:12-14)
  • —“will” – literally, “desire”

8.Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.

  • —“Herein” – in this (bearing much fruit). In other words, God wants you to be a fruitful Christian.
  • —“that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples” – better translated, “that ye might bear much fruit and might be my disciples” (subjunctive verbs). The subjunctive mood indicates something that is indefinite but probable. Therefore, bearing fruit and obeying Jesus are choices believers need to make, that are probable (since the Holy Spirit lives in us) but not forced.

9.As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.

  • —“loved” – this is not to say that the love of the Father and Son stopped; it’s a simple statement of fact.
  • —“continue” – the same word for “abide” that’s been used several times in this passage. How do you do this? (see vs. 10)

10.If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.

  • —Keep = to observe (practice).
  • —Do this mean that if we sin, then God will no longer love us?
  • —Response: It means that we will not “abide” in His love, which is different from saying God will no longer love us.

11.These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.

  • —“remain” – There actually isn’t a verb here for “remain.” It’s better stated, “that my joy [be] in you.”
  • —“joy might be full” – Again, John uses a subjunctive verb. So the idea here is that Christians can have “full joy” (or “complete joy”), but they have the responsibility of following Jesus’ commandments. So, there is the possibility that a Christian may not be a joyful Christian (even though it’s entirely avoidable).

 

A Synthetic Overview of the Bible

Introduction

At the time of this writing, the well-achieved online company, amazon.com, announced a new program that will enable all who enlist at a price of $9.99 per month to gain access to over 600,000 eBooks and thousands of audiobooks. Undoubtedly, stories have captured the minds and hearts of billions of people in all of world history, and it does not look like people will be avoiding them any time soon. Christians, then, have the magnificent blessing of being part of a religion that has arguably the most awe-inspiring (and wholly factual) story that has ever been recorded, that is, the Holy Bible. And the way in which one understands the Bible as a whole is likewise important. Although many people despise doctrines and those who are dogmatic in their beliefs (sadly, even Christians fall in this category), Dorothy Sayers once wrote, “[T]he dogma is the drama.”[1] Indeed, the Bible presents the greatest story ever told, but one can become easily bewildered by the sheer magnitude of the Bible’s length. Thankfully, many proficient Bible scholars, pastors, theologians, and even ordinary laymen have made great attempts to systematize the Bible, that is, divide the Bible into sections in order to make the whole more understandable and cohesive to contemporary audiences. This research will attempt to further develop previous writers’ ideas (exegeted from the Bible, of course) with the goal of producing a cogent, biblical, lucid, and sufficient synthetic overview of the Bible.

Necessary Presuppositions for a Synthetic Overview of the Bible

            As Charles Ryrie notes, “Consciously or unconsciously everyone operates on the basis of some presuppositions.”[2] Within this research, certain presuppositions are present in the attempt to formulate a synthetic overview of the Bible. First of all, the beliefs that the Bible is inspired, inerrant, infallible, and sufficient are all steadfastly insisted. Without a high view of Scripture, one is left without an ample basis. Secondly, the presupposition of “Sola Scriptura” is also urged. Michael Horton clarifies that this Latin phrase means “by Scripture alone,” and that “Ultimate authority always resides outside the self and even outside the church, as both are always hearers of the Word and receivers of its judgment and justification.”[3] Thirdly, this research presupposes that God has revealed His Word progressively, or to use the technical term, “progressive revelation.” Paul Enns explains, “God did not reveal all truth about Himself at one time but revealed Himself ‘piecemeal,’ portion by portion to different people throughout history (cf. Heb. 1:1).”[4] Fourthly (and this presupposition separates the author of this research from other conservative, theological perspectives), the practice of a consistent hermeneutic that is literal (that is, plain and normal), grammatical, and historically concerned is crucial. When something is obviously figurative, then a literal interpretation of that text would be to explain that which is figurative to mean something figurative. Otherwise, one should interpret the Scriptures in the most natural sense that the author intended. Finally, the presupposition is affirmed that God’s purpose for all of His creation is intrinsically doxological—glorifying to God. Christopher Cone has argued rather proficiently for this truth: “The major works of God revealed in Scripture all serve the doxological purpose.”[5] Therefore, upon presupposing these five beliefs, one can readily discern a synthetic overview of the Bible that is true to the pages of the Word of God.

Options for a Synthetic Overview of the Bible

            When one attempts to organize the Bible in a systematic, divisional manner, there are essentially two options to choose from: canonical or chronological. If one chooses to work in a method pertaining to the first (canonical), then there the major emphasis would seem to be on manner of synthesizing according to the way in which the Bible is canonized. Thus, the first “dispensation” in that framework would begin in Genesis 1 with the creation of the world. The canonical approach would seem to be more of a “biblical theology” focused methodology (i.e. a book by book and author by author approach). However, if one chooses the latter option (chronological), then the dimension of focus is in “systematic theology,” meaning that, the theologian does not necessarily establish the system moving from Genesis to Revelation, but draws from various books of the Bible to produce a biblical overview that is consistent with the progression of time since eternity past. For example, one would not look to Genesis 1:1 on the teaching of election, but to a passage such as Ephesians 1 or Romans 8, which is much later in the unfolding of progressive revelation. Ultimately, while both methods of formulating a synthetic overview of the Bible are helpful, the canonical method of systematization is somewhat limited. Yet, that might also be due to the inherent definitions of what constitutes a dispensation. Charles Ryrie, who holds to a canonical perspective, believes “A dispensation is from God’s viewpoint an economy; from man’s, and in relation to progressive revelation, a stage in it.”[6] In other words, man has a responsibility in that dispensation, and oftentimes, there will be judgment for man’s failure.[7] This, of course, is limited in some instances, such as in election where man was not responsible for the sovereign choices of God. Therefore, how one ends up in producing a synthetic overview of the Bible is most likely a result of his definition of a dispensation.

To be more specific in the systematization of a biblical overview, there are two main views to consider[8]: Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism. Now, it should be noted that both positions believe there are “dispensations” in the Bible, but where the two differ is in the distinction between Israel and the Church. Such a difference results in distinguishable systems and differing dispensations. Covenant Theology views the Bible in light of two or three theological covenants: the covenant of works and the covenant of grace (the third being the covenant of redemption). Michael Horton, an unabashed supporter of Covenant Theology, has provided widely accepted definitions that will be used in this research. Horton refers to the covenant of works as the “covenant of creation” (or covenant of nature) and states that this was a “covenant between the triune Lord and humanity in Adam, with Adam as its covenant representative (federal head). With disobedience, Adam (and humanity whom he represented) would die (Gen. 2:15-17; Rom. 5:12-18).”[9] After Adam and Eve sinned, there was allegedly a proposed covenant of grace defined like so:

[It was] between the triune God and Christ with the church, with Christ as its head and mediator. It began with God’s promise of salvation to Adam and Eve and continued through the family of faith leading from Seth to Noah and on to Abraham and Sarah all the way to the new covenant as inaugurated by Christ’s death. In this covenant, God promises to be our God and to make believers and their children his own redeemed family, with Christ—the Last Adam—as its federal representative, head, and mediator. It is the historical unfolding of the eternal plan of God in the covenant of redemption.[10]

Some proponents of Covenant Theology, Horton included, hold to a third covenant, the covenant of redemption, which holds the following: “[This] covenant [was] entered into by the persons of the Trinity in the councils of eternity, with the Son mediating its benefits to the elect. This covenant is the basis for all of God’s purposes in nature and history, and it is the foundation and efficacy of the covenant of grace.”[11] It should also be noted that some covenant theologians even maintain that there are dispensations within the framework of the covenant of works and grace. For example, Charles Hodge proposes four dispensations: (1) Adam to Abraham (2) Abraham to Moses (3) Moses to Christ (4) The Gospel Dispensation.[12] One can, therefore, be a covenant theologian who professes that there are biblical dispensations without being a “Dispensationalist,” which would include Charles Hodge and others. The main distinction, then, pertains to how one views the relationship between Israel and the Church. Covenant Theologians often see the Church as the fulfillment of what national Israel could not complete, whereas Dispensationalists staunchly argue that God will indeed fulfill all of His unconditional covenants made with Israel (Abrahamic, Land [Palestinian], Davidic, and New Covenant).

Upon exegeting the Scriptures, and utilizing a literal, grammatical, and historical hermeneutic, Dispensationalists still differ between one another as to the exact number of dispensations, but this is due in large part to the way in which a dispensation is defined. The Greek word “oikonomia” means “house-law,” and connotes an idea of economy or management.[13] Most importantly, it is a biblical term, and it is sometimes translated as dispensation (KJV).[14] Furthermore, a necessary distinction to be made is that a dispensation is not simply a period of time (though it requires time), but that there are operations at work between God and man. Another facet to consider is the actual purpose of each dispensation. Different writers have emphasized different foci such as the progression towards the Kingdom of God, salvation, and doxology as the goal of each dispensation. Since everything was created for God’s glory (Revelation 4:11), one can reasonably assume that dispensations are also doxological in their supreme intent, even though the Kingdom of God and salvation are very important as well. Overall, then, one’s definition of “dispensation” will greatly influence how one organizes and identifies the dispensations.

A solution to the various dispensational schemes resides in the meaning the word dispensation, allowing room for two types of dispensations. Dispensationalists are well aware of the “two parties” involved in most dispensations (God and man), as Ryrie notes in his overview of the characteristics of a dispensation: “Basically there are two parties: the one whose authority it is to delegate duties, and the one whose responsibility it is to carry out these charges.”[15] However, Louw and Nida simplify the definition of “oikonomia” as meaning “a plan which involves a set of arrangements.”[16] While it is true that the biblical inclusions of the word “oikonomia” usually speak of God giving man a responsibility, in the case of eternity past, God was the sole “administrator.” He essentially gave Himself the stewardship of saving those whom He elected. Whereas, in the case of, say, the dispensation of “Innocence,”[17] God is the administrator, but Adam and Eve were the stewards. Therefore, this research proposes that it is acceptable to differentiate between a bilateral and unilateral dispensation. One should not think that a bilateral dispensation is left up to chance, for in both types of dispensations God is sovereign and will see to it that His plan (as administrator) is carried out. However, the unilateral dispensations actually form bookends, and they are comprised of eternity past and eternity future.[18] Since the biblical inclusions of “oikonomia” only reference the bilateral dispensations, one would do well to consider the proposition of the two types of dispensations with humility. But it is nevertheless an honest attempt to make sense of Scriptural data in order to formulate a synthetic overview of the Bible.

Conclusion

            Now that the necessary presuppositions have been discussed, along with a comparison of potential viewpoints for arranging a synthetic overview of the Bible, it is finally time to briefly include the proposed dispensations in this research:

  • (1) Unilateral – Eternity Past[19]
  • (2) Bilateral – Innocence (Garden of Eden)[20]
  • (3) Bilateral – Conscience[21]
  • (4) Bilateral – Human Government[22]
  • (5) Bilateral – Promise[23]
  • (6) Bilateral – The Law (Kingdom in Sight)[24]
  • (7) Bilateral – The Church (Kingdom Delayed, but Not Lost)[25]
  • (8) Bilateral – The Tribulation (Purification)[26]
  • (9) Bilateral – The Kingdom[27]
  • (10) Unilateral – Eternity Future[28]

To be clear, all of these dispensations are under the sovereign will of God, nothing will thwart God’s plan (Daniel 4:35). But at the same time, a significant amount of responsibility has been given to humanity. It is hard to fathom what eternity will be like, especially since sin among those who dwell with God will no longer be a possibility (as is the case from dispensations 2-9). But we can trust this glorified future with confidence because it is promised in God’s Word. This (hope for a world unadulterated by sin) and other great theological treasures can be found in one’s attempt to produce a synthetic overview of the Bible. Indeed, such a study is not mere information; it can lead to transformation as well.

 

———————

Sources:

[1] Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos (New York, NY: Harcourt & Brace, 1949), 3.

[2] Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1999), 16.

[3] Michael Horton, The Christian Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 187, 194.

[4] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1989), 20.

[5] Christopher Cone, Prolegomena on Biblical Hermeneutics and Method. 2nd edition. (Hurst, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2012), 16.

[6] Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism: Revised and Expanded (Chicago, IL: Moody, 2007), 36.

[7] Ibid., 44-45.

[8] Other views that have a strong following of adherents include New Covenant Theology and Progressive Dispensationalism. Due to brevity, this research will not be able to include these latter two positions.

[9] Horton, The Christian Faith, 992.

[10] Ibid., 992-993.

[11] Ibid., 993.

[12] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1946), 2:373-377.

[13] Cone, Prolegomena on Biblical Hermeneutics and Method, 297. It should likewise be noted that the Latin word “dispensatio” is the linguistic base for the later English term dispensation.

[14] See especially Ephesians 1:10, 3:2; Colossians 1:25.

[15] Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 30.

[16] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1996), 1:357.

[17] See Appendix, “The Traditional ‘Canonical’ View,” dispensation 1.

[18] It should also be noted the unilateral dispensation of “Eternity Past” is still being fulfilled, though certain facets have been accomplished (i.e. the death of Christ, the salvation of many of the elect). One could reasonably argue that both unilateral dispensations (Eternity Past and Eternity Future) are one long dispensation that never really ends, whereas the bilateral dispensations all come to a point of completion.

[19] See John 17:24; Romans 8-9; Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20. Most of the dispensations’ biblical support comes from Cone, Prolegomena on Biblical Hermeneutics and Method, 331, but with some adaptation.

[20] See Genesis 1:1-3:6.

[21] See Genesis 3:7-8:14.

[22] See Genesis 8:15-11:9.

[23] See Genesis 11:10-Exodus 18:27.

[24] See Exodus 19:1-Acts 1:26.

[25] See Acts 2:1-Revelation 3:22.

[26] See Revelation 4:1-19:10.

[27] See Revelation 19:11-20:6.

[28] See Revelation 20:7-22:21.

An Analysis of the Sacrificial System and Its Relationship to Salvation

High_Priest_Offering_Sacrifice_of_a_Goat

Introduction

It is no secret to Bible-believing Christians that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross was a substitutionary sacrifice efficacious for the forgiveness of those who believe on Him (John 3:16, 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 1 John 2:2, etc.). That one would link the death of Christ on the cross as sufficient for his/her personal salvation is a fairly basic doctrine of Christianity. One doctrinal matter that may seem foreign to Christians, especially in the 21st century, is the Old Testament sacrificial system. Such a doctrine poses a serious question, therefore: “What was the relationship between the sacrificial system and one’s salvation?[1]” The Bible is abundantly clear in that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, but such dogmas may seem somewhat out of place when considering Old Testament ceremonial sacrifices. Therefore, to determine the meaning of the sacrificial system and its place within soteriology, it is necessary to analyze what the Scriptures teach and come to a satisfying theological conclusion.

Biblical Observations of the Old Testament Sacrificial System

            Even before the sacrificial “system” was developed with commands and specifications under the Mosaic Law, sacrifices were a part of life. The very first sacrifice was actually instated by God Himself, covering Adam and Eve with animal skins to hide their shame resulting from sin (Genesis 3:21). There are other instances between Eden and the Mosaic Law (Genesis 4, 6, 12, etc.), but the main concern of this paper is to focus on the latter’s sacrificial system and the theological conclusions that can be drawn in relation to soteriology.

According to John Swann, “Levitical sacrifices were carefully regimented according to the guidelines of the covenant, and they were the exclusive purview of the priests.”[2] Under the Law, the types of sacrifices included the following: burnt offerings, grain (or “meal”) offerings, peace offerings, sin offerings, and guilt (or “trespass”) offerings. While each type of sacrifice held its own distinct importance, there are general principles that can be seen. A few examples would include the quality of the sacrifice, the location of where these sacrifices would need to be made, and the idea of substitution.[3] These descriptions, of course, do not answer the question of how sacrifices are related to one’s salvation, but they do provide an overview of “what” a believer under the dispensation of the Law was instructed to follow.

Synthesizing the Sacrificial System With Biblical Soteriology

That participating in these sacrifices would bring salvation was never a purpose for the Law as a whole, or in the sacrificial system specifically. F.F. Bruce writes,

The blood of slaughtered animals under the old order did possess a certain efficacy, but it was an outward efficacy for the removal of ceremonial pollution…. They could restore [the believer] to formal communion with God and with his fellow-worshippers…. Just how the blood of sacrificed animals or the ashes of a red heifer effected a ceremonial cleansing our author does not explain; it was sufficient for him, and no doubt for his readers, that the Old Testament ascribed this efficacy to them.[4]

Bruce’s words are in complete harmony with Hebrews 10:1-2, which states, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.” Verse four confirms that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Speaking more generally on the Mosaic Law (but including the Old Testament sacrifices), Paul says in Romans 3:20, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.” Therefore, it is abundantly clear what the Old Testament sacrifices did not do, namely, bring salvation to the one who participates in them.

The next answer to obtain is what the Old Testament sacrifices did do. Bruce already alluded to it in the above quotation, but Walvoord also helps in this discussion. He says,

Such sacrificial blood could never cleanse the conscience or save the soul (Heb 10:1–2), so God repeatedly sent prophets to call his people to love and obey their God from the heart. Apart from such genuine faith, all the ceremonially “kosher” animals in the whole world would avail nothing in the spiritual realm (Ps 50:7–15; Isa 1:12–20; Amos 4:4–5; 5:20–27; Hos 5:6; Mic 6:6–8; Jer 6:20; 7:21–23). It was not to be either faith or sacrifices; rather, it was to be both faith and sacrifices (cf. Ps 51:19).”[5]

The call to Israel was to obey God in the sacrifices in order to be “ceremonially clean.”[6] Walvoord explains that during sacrifices, “What happened was temporal, finite, external, and legal—not eternal, infinite, internal, and soteriological. Nevertheless, what happened was personally and immediately significant, not simply symbolic and/or prophetic.”[7] The uncleanness of those who sacrificed was covered, but ceremonial cleanness was not sufficient for salvation.[8]

Furthermore, Jerry Hullinger clarifies that “the foundational rationale of the Mosaic sacrificial system is the presence of the divine glory. The Mosaic system was instituted in Leviticus subsequent to the descent of the Shekinah in Exodus. Because of the communicability of uncleanness, the purity of God’s presence needed to be protected.”[9] Overall, then, the sacrificial system was not instituted to bring salvation; it was apparently two-fold: for pronouncing worshippers ceremonially clean and to provide a way that God’s presence would be able to dwell with Israel. “[T]he animal offerings of the Old Testament and the offering of Christ were instituted for different purposes, each efficacious on its own respective level.”[10] Therefore, the sacrificial system’s relationship to salvation is only associated insofar that it foreshadows an even greater sacrifice, namely, the Lamb who was slain to take away the sins of the world.


[1] The term “salvation” will appear several times in this research. In each instance, salvation is not referring to a temporary deliverance (one sense of the word) but to the reconciling, converting, regenerating, and justifying work of God in a believer’s life – spiritual salvation.

[2] John T. Swann, “Sacrifice in the Old Testament” in The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry and Lazarus Wentz (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012).

[3] Ibid.

[4] F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 201, 204.

[5] John Walvoord, “Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifices in Israel,” GTJ 6:2 (Fall 1985), 210. Italics added.

[6] F.F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrew, 201, 204.

[7] John Walvoord, “Christ’s Atonement and Animal Sacrifices in Israel,” GTJ 6:2 (Fall 1985), 209.

[8] Romans 3:25 makes the clear statement that God “passed over” former sins (not just ceremonial uncleanness) in His forbearance, but that Jesus’ death provided the means for salvation.

[9] Jerry Hullinger, “The Divine Presence, Uncleanness, and Ezekiel’s Millennial Sacrifices,” BSAC 163:652 (Oct 2006). See also especially Leviticus 16:16, 19.

[10] Jerry Hullinger, “Two Atonement Realms: Reconciling Sacrifice In Ezekiel And Hebrews,” JODT 11:32 (2007).

A Biographical Evaluation of Rezin, The Last King of Aram

aram4

 

Introduction

In thinking about the nations that have threatened Israel most severely, there are several that may come to mind. Especially during the inception and early life of Israel, the nation of Egypt would seem most imposing. As the people of the theocracy demanded a king, the Philistines were one among many threats to consider. Even further, when Israel was divided into two kingdoms, one is drawn to think about the nations of Assyria and Babylon, and for valid reasons. After all, Israel and Judah were overtaken by these latter two nations. One nation, however, that is rather unfamiliar to most casual students of the Bible (and even to some that are well versed in Scripture), is Aram. Leading that nation at its conclusion was a king named Rezin, and in order to more adequately understand the historical context of pre-exilic Israelite history, a brief evaluation of Rezin, the last king of Aram, shall be undertaken.

 

Overview of Aram

 

The people of Aram have a somewhat complex history, though enough clues exist to help provide a sufficient basis for understanding its history. Deuteronomy 26:5 speaks of the curiously similar progenitors of both Israel and Aram: “And you shall make response before the LORD your God, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous…” According to Tim Turnham, “The Aramaeans were rarely gathered into a cohesive political group; rather they lived as independent towns and tribes settled by nomads prior to 1000 B.C. Although the Aramaeans were quick to form alliances with each one another or with other countries if threatened, once the crisis was ended they disbanded and often fought among themselves and against their former allies.”[1] Thus, some of the later Arameans (8th century B.C.), who, like the Israelites were descendants of Shem (Genesis 10:22), eventually formed into more of a distinct entity, sometimes referred to in the Bible as “Syria.”[2] And it is precisely the life and death of Rezin that must be examined to further understand the ramifications surrounding this lesser known king.

 

Biblical Significance of Rezin

 

The divided kingdom of Israel and Judah was dramatically in opposition between itself during the rule of King Rezin. As Assyria became an emerging threat to all surrounding nations, Aram and Israel (under King Pekah) joined as allies, but adding Judah to the defense seemed necessary for survival.[3] Judah declined the invitation to this alliance, so the threat was made that Aram and Israel would overtake King Ahaz of Judah and replace him with a “puppet king,” the son of Tabeel (Isaiah 7:6).[4] This pressing charge does not simply strike fear in Ahaz for his life itself, but it is also an assault on the Davidic line.[5] Indeed, this passage in Isaiah 7 is Messianic, leading to the sign of God’s providence and protection over His Davidic King, doubly fulfilled in the immediate context as well as in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:23). God defended His Davidic heir against the pressures of King Rezin and his political operations, and has done so throughout all of history. Second Kings 16 narrates the failed plans and ultimately the death of Rezin, providing an excellent reminder of God’s providence and protection over His own plans. The arrangement to usurp[6] God’s authority over His King and Kingdom will never succeed; on the contrary, it is Christ who will “put all his enemies under his feet” (First Corinthians 15:25).

 


[1] Tim Turnham, “Aramean or Aramaean” in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 94.

[2] See Daniel C. Browning, Jr., “Syria” in Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Chad Brand, Charles Draper, Archie England et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 1547-1548. It is also worth noting from Browning that this entity of Aram/Syria in pre-exilic biblical literature is often associated with the capital of the kingdom, namely, Damascus.

[3] J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 86.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] The Bible Knowledge Commentary even proposes the possibility that Rezin “may have usurped the throne of Aram.” John A. Martin, “Isaiah” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1:1046.