[The following paper was presented by retired pastor, Carl Cassel. The views of the paper are his and not those of the Annual Conference or the Study Committee on the Millennium. Carl seeks to lay out in a brief way some of the distinctions between three positions on eschatology - amillennialism, dispensational premillenialism, and historic premillennialism. Carl has stated that he holds the view of historic premillennialism.]
Exegetical Differences Between Interpreters
Carl C. Cassel April 24, 2007
Annual Conference has asked this Study Committee to do a significant task. The doctrine of our Lord's return is important in Scripture and has been in the life of the Bible Fellowship Church. Because different time lines have been drawn by groups of Bible believing people, either name calling or silence has characterized the interaction between those whose time lines are different. To be true to our responsibilities as pastors and elders to teach the Word of God, we may not fail to declare this part of "the whole counsel of God.." In this generation we must declare clearly, loudly and often that this life is not all there is. God's control in the consummation of history in the return of his Son is the basis of hope and comfort in our generation..
A great part of the discussion between evangelical believers focuses at this time on the
difference between a premillenial and an amillenial understanding of what Scripture says about our Lord's return. A postmillenial approach, once advocated by some Puritans, has lost its attractiveness because in the nineteenth century it came to be associated with an evolutionary philosophy of history and the idea of progress.
Every pattern of thinking about our Lord's return wrestles with texts that are problematic for its position. No position - dispensational premil, historic premil, amil - seeks to interpret arbitrarily or subjectively. Each of the positions seek to ground its conclusions in proven exegetical methods. Recognizing these difficulties and differences should help us interact with others humbly, should create in us respect for fellow believers seeking the meaning of what God has revealed, and should not be a cause for exclusion.
Dispensationalism draws conclusions which do not seem to me to be supported by careful attention to the language of Scripture.
1. Concepts and expressions are used as the basis for interpreting Scripture which are part of a thought pattern brought to Scripture rather than being derived from Scripture.
Evidence to support this - dispensationalism uses the word "dispensation" to mean a period of time in which God is testing mankind in a certain way. In each dispensation God's way of working with humans is different.
Other evidence - In the New Testament the word "dispensation" is used four times (KJV) 1 Cor. 9:17; Eph. 1:10; 3:2; Col. 1:25. It is the translation of the word oikonomia. That word is also translated "stewardship' in Luke 16:2-4 and 1 Tim 1:4. As a verb this root occurs once and as a title the root is used ten times being translated steward, governor or chamberlain. The word is a combination of the word for "house" and the word for "make" or "rule" and literally means "to apportion the household" Neither in the meaning of the word, nor in its common use, nor in its theological adaptation does oikonomia imply a time element. The stress is on present responsibility of the steward rather than on the larger plan of God.
(b) Distinction between kingdom of heaven and kingdom of God.
Evidence to support this - The kingdom of God is his universal rule over all things; this kingdom is entered by the new birth. The kingdom of heaven is Messianic, mediatorial and Davidic, and has for its object the establishment of the kingdom of God in the earth; entering this kingdom is by having a righteousness greater than that of the Pharisees. When the Jews rejected this kingdom, many of its aspects were transferred to the church. The important manifestation of this kingdom is future.
Other evidence - Many of the parables in Matthew where the term "kingdom of heaven" is used are recorded also in Mark and Luke using "kingdom of God" as descriptions of the same concept. The particularly Hebraic tone of Matthew's gospel gives reason for the use of "heaven" rather than "God" in these parables. This leads some interpreters to reject the distinction between these two terms.
2. The kingdom of God is spoken of as if all (or almost all) of it is future.
Evidence to support this - When Christ came, he called Israel to repentance and offered the kingdom to that nation. That offer was rejected officially at the crucifixion. With the rejection of that offer, the kingdom was postponed and an age of grace ushered in.
Other evidence - Both the ministries of John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus begin with the announcement that "The kingdom of God/heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17; Mark 1:14,15). This kingdom was described in many ways in the parables of Jesus (Matthew 13 and parallels). One of these is that the kingdom is here, slowly growing, but will be large and significant. Jesus announced that the kingdom is here now - in your midst (Luke 17:21)
3. Israel and the church are distinct entities in both time and eternity.
Evidence to support this - In his book, Dispensationalism Today. Charles Ryrie, declares that a distinguishing mark of dispensationalism is a distinction in time and in eternity between Israel and the church. Ryrie is clearly a proponent of dispensationalism. In his dissertation Daniel Fuller, _______________________, declares that a distinguishing mark of dispensationalism is a distinction in time and in eternity between Israel and the church. Fuller is clearly not a proponent of dispensationalism When friend and foe agree on such an important distinction I conclude it must be a significant issue. I’ll not cite the evidence from these authors here, but it is clear in both books.
Other evidence - Yet in several NT passages the union of Jew and Gentile believers in the church is evident. Acts 5:14 speaks of people in the temple, likely people of Israel, being "added to the Lord" and Acts 11:22-24 speaks of people in Antioch, likely Gentiles because Barnabas was sent to learn of the work there, being added to the Lord. Both were "added to the Lord." Ephesians 2:11-18 speaks of the enmity between "the circumcision" and Gentiles in the flesh being set aside and peace coming between "the circumcision" and "the uncircumcision" through the death of Christ. By his work our Lord broke down the dividing wall of hostility between these groups and made of them "one new man, in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross, thus killing the hostility."
Revelation 5:9 and 7:4-12 both state that in the heavenly worship people from every "nation, from all tribes and people and languages" worshiped saying, " Salvation belongs to God who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb!" Although the twelves tribes mentioned in vv. 4-8 are tribes of Israel, the "every nation, tribes, peoples, languages" unites these worshipers as Ephesians 2 describes.
Amillennialism draws conclusions which do not seem to me to be supported by careful attention to the language of Scripture.
1. Israel and the church are virtually identical.
Evidence supporting this view - Galatians 6:15 says: "And those who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God." People of faith are sons of Abraham (Galatians.3:7,29). On this kind of basis, statements and promises made to Israel and Judah understood as fulfilled in the church. The people of God in the OT were called Israel; the people of God in the NT were called the church. In many cases terms used exclusively to refer to Israel in the OT are now used to describe believers in the Messiah in the NT (l Pet.2:2,9). Paul speaks frequently that there is one body comprised of both Jew and Gentile, and that the one flock Jesus spoke of was comprised of believing Israel and Gentiles.
Other evidence - Romans 9-11 makes clear that in God's plan some promises are made to a group of dark skinned, hook-nosed people who are physical descendants of Abraham. Despite those promises many of those people did not believe; that is Paul's passion in Romans 9-11. Their unbelief was costly to them, but brought blessing to people who were not of that line. In Romans 11 those outsiders are also promised some sort of outpouring of God's Spirit. Many of them will come to faith. The result of all that will bring praise to the God who established a plan of working among men which will result in his praise. However the important point here is to note that "Israel" even in Paul's day was a term referring at times to unbelieving Jews (vv. 7, 9-11) and at other times to all God's believing people whether they came from the natural olive branch or from the wild olive branch (vv.12-14, 25-27).
2. The kingdom of God is present with virtually no future manifestation in a different form in history.
Evidence supporting this view - The kingdom came with the coming Jesus (The kingdom is at hand - Mark 1:14). The kingdom is within or in the midst of you (Luke 17:21 - The kingdom is in your midst or within you.) Salvation entering the kingdom (Mark 10:23-27; Colossians 1:13). Jesus say in Luke 11:20- "But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you."
Other evidence - There are statements that speak of a future more powerful manifestation of the kingdom. Many of the texts that caused people to miss Messiah when he came to suffer support the claim that there will be a future manifestation in power. New Testament passages supporting this concept are Luke 13:28,29 ("There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being cast out. And they will come from east and west, and from north and south, and will recline at table in the kingdom of God..") Although Jesus called people to repent because the kingdom was near, he also taught those who repented to pray: "Thy kingdom come." That coming meant the doing of his will. (Matthew 6:10). Although Paul taught that believers
are translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God's dear Son (Colossians 1:13), he also lived with the confidence that "The Lord will deliver me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom" (2 Timothy 4:18). Although obviously disputed by some interpreters, John states in Revelation 20 that Christ will reign with resurrected believers for a thousand years.
3. The OT is interpreted by the NT in ways that reinterpret OT statements.
Evidence supporting this view - When we read Matthew 2:15,16 that the return from Egypt by Joseph, Mary and Jesus was a fulfillment of Hosea 11:1, this shows us that the language of Hosea 11:1 can mean something different from what it means in its context in Hosea. When we read in Hebrews 2:5-9 that the writer says Psalm 8 is speaking about Jesus and his rule over all things, he shows us that the language of Psalm 8 can mean something different from what the Psalm seems to say. Many interpreters allow that similar approaches to hermeneutics are acceptable in the way we read the OT.
Other evidence - Although these texts are difficult to see as illustrations of the use of the grammar and word meaning of OT words, there are many more that do use quotations from the OT in precisely the way the OT writer used them. Illustrations: Jeremiah 31:31-34 in Hebrews 8; Isaiah 6:9,10 in Acts 28:26,27; Deuteronomy 21:23 in Galatians 3:13; Psalm 18:49; Deuteronomy 32:43 and Psalm 117:1 and Isaiah 11:10 in Romans 15:9-12. There are many more. Also if one allows that Matthew 2:15,16 and Hebrews 2:5-9 are illustrations of the NT using the OT in ways different from their original use, that can be an acceptable practice for the Holy Spirit who inspired Matthew and the writer of Hebrews, but it is a dangerous thing for mere men without the kind of guidance of God's Spirit gave the writers of Scripture.
The kingdom of God arrives in the person of Jesus Christ. This is clearly central in the New Testament. Both John the Baptist and Jesus began ministry with a call to repentance because the kingdom is near. When Christ is born, he is acknowledged as king. His gospel is called "the gospel of the kingdom" repeatedly. Both Jesus and Paul called their message "the gospel of the kingdom." It must be preached to the whole world before the end of the age. This kingdom is an everlasting kingdom.
Dispensationalism appears at times to take too much of the NT teaching about the kingdom and sees it only in the future with little present manifestation. Amillennialsim appears at times to take too much of the NT teaching about the kingdom and sees it so fully here and now that there is little room for a different manifestation in the future.
To be acceptable interpreters of Scripture we must be committed to listening to God's
voice in Scripture. This must be true of dispensational premils, amils and non-dispensational premils (historic premils). Our differences about what Scripture says should call us to open and considerate interaction over the text.
The return of our Lord is not something humans are responsible to bring about. God says his Son will return at the time God has established. Since that is so, and since what God has said in Scripture should be the focus of our study and preaching even about his return, should not faithful servants adopt a proposal that will de-emphasize time lines and encourage greater openness in our study and greater eagerness to see him as we await Christ's coming?