The relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament

By Tim Keller:

I find it frustrating when I read or hear columnists, pundits, or journalists dismiss Christians as inconsistent because “they pick and choose which of the rules in the Bible to obey.” What I hear most often is “Christians ignore lots of Old Testament texts—about not eating raw meat or pork or shellfish, not executing people for breaking the Sabbath, not wearing garments woven with two kinds of material and so on. Then they condemn homosexuality. Aren’t you just picking and choosing what they want to believe from the Bible?”

It is not that I expect everyone to have the capability of understanding that the whole Bible is about Jesus and God’s plan to redeem his people, but I vainly hope that one day someone will access their common sense (or at least talk to an informed theological advisor) before leveling the charge of inconsistency.

First of all, let’s be clear that it’s not only the Old Testament that has proscriptions about homosexuality. The New Testament has plenty to say about it, as well. Even Jesus says, in his discussion of divorce in Matthew 19:3-12 that the original design of God was for one man and one woman to be united as one flesh, and failing that, (v. 12) persons should abstain from marriage and from sex.

However, let’s get back to considering the larger issue of inconsistency regarding things mentioned in the OT that are no longer practiced by the New Testament people of God. Most Christians don’t know what to say when confronted about this. Here’s a short course on the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament:

The Old Testament devotes a good amount of space to describing the various sacrifices that were to be offered in the tabernacle (and later temple) to atone for sin so that worshippers could approach a holy God. As part of that sacrificial system there was also a complex set of rules for ceremonial purity and cleanness. You could only approach God in worship if you ate certain foods and not others, wore certain forms of dress, refrained from touching a variety of objects, and so on. This vividly conveyed, over and over, that human beings are spiritually unclean and can’t go into God’s presence without purification.

But even in the Old Testament, many writers hinted that the sacrifices and the temple worship regulations pointed forward to something beyond them. (cf. 1 Samuel 15:21-22; Psalm 50:12-15; 51:17; Hosea 6:6). When Christ appeared he declared all foods ‘clean’ (Mark 7:19) and he ignored the Old Testament clean laws in other ways, touching lepers and dead bodies.

But the reason is made clear. When he died on the cross the veil in the temple was ripped through, showing that the need for the entire sacrificial system with all its clean laws had been done away with. Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for sin, and now Jesus makes us “clean.”

The entire book of Hebrews explains that the Old Testament ceremonial laws were not so much abolished as fulfilled by Christ. Whenever we pray ‘in Jesus name’, we ‘have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus’ (Hebrews 10:19). It would, therefore, be deeply inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible as a whole if we were to continue to follow the ceremonial laws.

The New Testament gives us further guidance about how to read the Old Testament. Paul makes it clear in places like Romans 13:8ff that the apostles understood the Old Testament moral law to still be binding on us. In short, the coming of Christ changed how we worship but not how we live. The moral law is an outline of God’s own character—his integrity, love, and faithfulness. And so all the Old Testament says about loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, generosity with our possessions, social relationships, and commitment to our family is still in force. The New Testament continues to forbid killing or committing adultery, and all the sex ethic of the Old Testament is re-stated throughout the New Testament (Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Corinthians 6:9-20; 1 Timothy 1:8-11.) If the New Testament has reaffirmed a commandment, then it is still in force for us today.

Further, the New Testament explains another change between the Testaments. Sins continue to be sins—but the penalties change. In the Old Testament things like adultery or incest were punishable with civil sanctions like execution. This is because at that time God’s people existed in the form of a nation-state and so all sins had civil penalties.

But in the New Testament the people of God are an assembly of churches all over the world, living under many different governments. The church is not a civil government, and so sins are dealt with by exhortation and, at worst, exclusion from membership. This is how a case of incest in the Corinthian church is dealt with by Paul (1 Corinthians 5:1ff. and 2 Corinthians 2:7-11.) Why this change? Under Christ, the gospel is not confined to a single nation—it has been released to go into all cultures and peoples.

Once you grant the main premise of the Bible—about the surpassing significance of Christ and his salvation—then all the various parts of the Bible make sense. Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed. Because of Christ the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties. It all falls into place. However, if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mish-mash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.

So where does this leave us? There are only two possibilities. If Christ is God, then this way of reading the Bible makes sense and is perfectly consistent with its premise. The other possibility is that you reject Christianity’s basic thesis—you don’t believe Jesus was the resurrected Son of God—and then the Bible is no sure guide for you about much of anything. But the one thing you can’t really say in fairness is that Christians are being inconsistent with their beliefs to accept the moral statements in the Old Testament while not practicing other ones.

One way to respond to the charge of inconsistency may be to ask a counter-question—“Are you asking me to deny the very heart of my Christian beliefs?” If you are asked, “Why do you say that?” you could respond, “If I believe Jesus is the the resurrected Son of God, I can’t follow all the ‘clean laws’ of diet and practice, and I can’t offer animal sacrifices. All that would be to deny the power of Christ’s death on the cross. And so those who really believe in Christ must follow some Old Testament texts and not others.”

Identifying the Colossian Heresy

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Nicholas T. Batzig writes:

One of the more difficult aspects of biblical interpretation is identifying the precise historical background of the book or letter being read. In the NT epistles there are almost always enough internal clues for the interpreter to come to a settled understanding of what error, if any, is being confronted. Of all the polemical letters (which would include almost every book in the NT. For a brief survey see this!) most of us would agree that Galatians is the far and away the most polemical and–in some ways–the most difficult to interpret; the letter to the Colossians, however, is certainly not far behind. In fact, the nature of the Colossian heresy–which the apostle sought so vigorously to refute with the Gospel–is perhaps the most difficult to identify. On first glance the internal evidence seems to show three errors that had infiltrated the fledgling church: (1) Philosophical speculation (Col. 2:2-4; 8), (2) Angel worship (2:18), and (3) religious asceticism (2:16; 20-23). Martyn Lloyd-Jones once suggested that the Colossian heresy was actually an amalgamation of these three different strains of Satanic counterfeiting of the work of God in the mind, heart and will of man packaged as a kind of Gnosticism. Likewise H.C. G. Moule explained the Colossians heresy in the following way:
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“[In the epistle to the Colossians] errors and confusions in the Church are in view—a subtle theosophy and also a retrograde ceremonialism probably both amalgamating into one dangerous total. And St. Paul’s method for his converts there—what is it? Above all it is the presentation of Jesus Christ in the glories of His Persona and His work. He places HIM in the very front of thought, first as the head, Founder and Cornerstone of the Universe, Then as the Head, Redeemer and Life of the Church. With Him so seen he meets the dreamy thinker and the ceremonial devotee; Christ is the ultimate and only repose—alike for thought and for the soul.”1

1. H.C.G. Moule Studies in Hebrews (New York: Hodder and Stouten, 1909)

Read the entire article here.

Goldsworthy: “the history of the word…climaxes in the word becoming flesh”

“It is clear from the New Testament that the primary means by which the church grew was through the preaching of the gospel. The apostle Paul, who wrote to the Corinthians that he was determined to know nothing among them but Christ and him crucified, expressed it simply: “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor. 1:23; 2:2).

“The act of proclaiming, or preaching, was not the giving of opinions or of reinterpreting old religious traditions in new and creative ways. It was proclaiming the word of God. Whatever the form of the proclamation, the content was the gospel of Jesus, and it was by this means alone that people were added to the church. “Faith comes through what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). We note to begin with that the word of God now attaches to both Jesus and to the testimony about Jesus. It is the latter that extends to-apply to the final canon of this testimony, so that we rightly refer to the Bible as the word of God.

“…the soundest methodological starting point for doing theology is the gospel since the person of Jesus is set forth as the final and fullest expression of God’s revelation of his kingdom. Jesus is the goal and fulfillment of the whole Old Testament, and, as the embodiment of the truth of God, he is the interpretative key to the Bible.

“Another reason for beginning with Jesus Christ is that our encounter with him is where our faith journey begins. When we are converted to Christ everything changes for us, including our view of the Bible. Whereas we may previously have regarded it as a fallible, human book, full of contradictions and reasons for not believing, we now see it as God’s word of truth through which we gain a grasp on reality, a perspective that is totally new and comprehensive.

“…all biblical texts testify in some way to Jesus Christ. This makes him the center of biblical revelation and the fixed reference point for understanding everything else in the Bible. Furthermore, as Paul reminds us in Romans 1:16, the gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes. As we develop a biblical understanding of salvation we recognize that it involves the whole process by which God brings us out of our sinful darkness into the light of Christ, conforms us into his image, and, on the last day, perfects us in his presence for eternity.

“What is the role of preaching in this grand plan of salvation? In starting with Jesus as we seek to develop a biblical theology of preaching, we note some key assertions. For example, in John 1:1-14 and 14:6, he is the very Word of God that has become flesh and that is the embodiment of truth. Jesus did not come merely to tell us the truth; he is the truth. The implications of these statements for hermeneutics and biblical theology are enormous. Unless we want to maintain that there are two words of God, two different messages, then the very closest relationship is established between Jesus Christ and the Bible. They are not identical, for one is God come in the flesh whom we worship as God; the other is an inspired book that is not God and that we do not worship.

“The prologue to John’s Gospel reminds us that the divine communication by which the worlds were made is the same word that has taken human flesh in order to dwell among us. This passage alone is sufficient to send us back to the beginning of creation to examine the way the creative word has worked until now. John is telling us that there is a history of the word that is part of salvation history, and this climaxes in the event he describes in v. 14 as the word becoming flesh and tabernacling among us.

“In making the comparison between Moses and Jesus, John does not detract from the ministry of Moses but links it to the greater word of God that brings grace and truth. In describing the incarnation of Jesus as a “tabernacling,” John deliberately links the incarnation to the dwelling of God among his people in the tabernacle as recorded in the Old Testament.

“This is confirmed by the way he moves very quickly to incorporate the account of the cleansing of the temple in chapter 2. Here the temple of Herod is but a symbol of the true temple that has come with Jesus. Jesus’ reference to the destruction of the temple is clearly a reference to his own death, for his claim to rebuild it in three days is interpreted by John as a reference to the resurrection.

“The effect of John’s treatment of the logos in this prologue passage is to place the incarnation of the living Word, Jesus, firmly in the context of salvation history in Israel, and to extend the line of this holy history back to the creation and behind that to the preexistence of Christ as the eternal Word of God.

“…The word of God by which all things were created is the word that establishes a covenant with a people being redeemed, and that finally bursts into our world as the God-man, Immanuel… John begins his Gospel by recalling the first words of the book of Genesis, but in so doing he identifies the word of God by which creation was effected as the same word that became flesh.”

– Graeme Goldsworthy, “Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture”, pp. 32-35

Russell Moore: “Every text of Scripture–Old or New Testaments–is…about Jesus”

“There’s plenty of Veggie Tales preaching out there, and it’s not all for children. As a matter of fact, the way we teach children the Bible grows from what we believe the Bible is about–what’s really important in the Christian life. There’s also such a thing as Veggie Tales discipleship, Veggie Tales evangelism, even erudite and complicated Veggie Tales theology and biblical scholarship.

“Whenever we approach the Bible without focusing in on what the Bible is about–Christ Jesus and His Gospel–we are going to wind up with a kind of golden-rule Christianity that doesn’t last a generation, indeed rarely lasts an hour after it is delivered. Preaching Christ doesn’t simply mean giving a gospel invitation at the end of a sermon–although it certainly does entail that. It means seeing all of reality as being summed up in Christ, and showing believers how to find themselves in the story of Jesus, a story that is Alpha and Omega, from the spoken Word that calls the universe together to the Last Man who governs the universe as its heir and King.

“I have never seen the film, The Sixth Sense, and I doubt I ever will. It’s not only because my movie picks don’t typically extend to horror pictures (although that’s true). It is also because the movie’s been ruined for me. Long ago, a friend explained to me the premise of the film. A detective, played by Bruce Willis, investigates a young boy who ‘sees dead people,’ ghosts who can only be seen by him. At the end of the move–at least according to my friend–the Bruce Willis character is himself seen to be a ‘dead person,’ a ghost, who can only be seen by the troubled little boy. ‘When you see the movie the second time, you’ll notice that Bruce Willis is never seen interacting with anyone of the other characters,’ my friend said.” “He is just shown talking directly to the boy.” If I were to see the movie now, I would see the same film that everyone else saw at its release, but I would be seeing it with the mystery decoded. I would notice patterns and themes. I would see where the story was going.

“The same is true of the storyline of Scripture. The apostles announce that a great mystery has been revealed in the gospel of Christ Jesus–a mystery that explains the “whys” of everything from the creation itself to the existence of the nation of Israel to the one-flesh union of marriage. What God has been doing in His universe for all these millennia, Paul tells the church at Ephesus is not accidental or haphazard. It is part of a blueprint, a purpose “which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:10). Paul tells the church at Colossae of Jesus that “all things were created through Him and for Him” and that “in Him all things hold together” (Col 1:16-17).

“Every text of Scripture–Old or New Testaments–is thus about Jesus, precisely because, at the end of the day, everything in reality is about Jesus. Why is there something instead of nothing? Why are human beings religious? Why do people want food and water and sex and community? Why are there galaxies and quasars and blue whales and local churches? God is creating all that is for His heir, for the glory of Jesus Christ. When you see through Jesus, you see the interpretive grid through which all of reality makes sense.

“With this in mind, the Scripture tells us that all of Scripture tells us the story of Jesus. The Gospel writers show us how Jesus fulfills the Scripture, but, interestingly enough, He doesn’t simply fulfill direct and obvious messianic prophecies. He also relives the story of Israel itself–exiled in Egypt, crossing the Jordan, being tempted with food and power in the wilderness during a forty-day sojourn there. Jesus applies to Himself language previously applied to Israel and its story–He is the vine of God, the temple, the tabernacle, the Spirit-anointed kingship, the wisdom of God Himself.”

– Russell D. Moore, The Henry Institute: Commentary: “Beyond a Veggie Tales Gospel: Why We Must Preach Christ from Every Text

(HT: The Vossed World)

Interview with Tom Schreiner

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I can’t wait to get hold of Tom Schreiner’s new book, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ. Midlands Bible College and Divinity School recently interviewed Dr. Schreiner about the book. You can read the interview here, but here’s a sample that particularly interested me:

Let’s consider two things that you focus upon in your book. The first is the theme of magnifying God and the second is the theme of salvation history. Taking the first of these, what do you mean when you say, “the New Testament is radically God-centred”?

What I mean by that is that the New Testament’s ultimate aim is to lift us up into God’s presence so that the purpose of the New Testament is not merely intellectual but is doxological, that we will glorify, honour, and praise God for his saving work in Christ. I have 10 plus chapters on the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit but the majority focus on Jesus Christ, for the person of Christ is central in the NT witness. My book is subtitled, Magnifying God in Christ because that is the interest of the New Testament writers themselves. It seems obvious, but if we don’t centre on what God has done in Christ through the Spirit, then our NT theology does not accord with the documents themselves. Our first task is not to be creative, but as Schlatter said to observe the subject matter before us, to try to see in depth what is laid before us in the New Testament.

Do I detect some influence here from Dr John Piper?

John has had a huge influence on me – I was in John’s Church for 11 years and he’s a good friend and I heard John exposit the Scriptures year after year and I am convinced that he is on target so yes I credit John in my Pauline theology and also my Romans commentary. I am so grateful for his ministry and his influence on me.

You state that, “the focus of New Testament theology is the supremacy of God in Christ.” I understand there’s been some criticism of your position that God seeks to bring glory to himself. How would you respond to that?

Yes, there has been criticism of that. Some think this is a wrong way of speaking about God and that it depicts him as selfish. But we must start first and foremost with exegesis and not our own conceptions. We must observe what is before us. In text after text after text we see that God’s glory in Christ is paramount. Note that in the great Philippian hymn of Phil 2:6-11 that Christ’s ministry, death, and exaltation bring glory to God the Father. Or, we can think of texts like Ephesians 1, or John 17, or the Lord’s Prayer. In every case we see that God’s aim is to glorify and honour himself. Three times we are told in Ephesians that God chose us to the praise of the glory of his grace. Jesus tells us in John 17 that the purpose of his ministry was to glorify the Father. Jesus instructed us to pray, “Hallowed by thy name.”

God aims to glorify himself but he does so through the saving work of Christ, by loving and delivering us. We glorify God when we delight in him and trust in him. Yes, there is more than a hint of John Piper there, but we find the same themes in Augustine, Edwards, and many others. We must remember that God is the Lord. He is a transcendent God and we must beware of inverting the image (so to speak) so that we read God through our own lenses and our own experiences.

Let’s talk about the second major theme in the book: the perspective of salvation history, sometimes called the “already not yet” paradigm. Can you explain what we mean by salvation history?

Another term for it of course is redemptive history. What I had in mind especially when I think of the kingdom of God or this age and the age to come, is that when we read the Old Testament story, the world is plunged into sin and curse and death and that God promises in the history of salvation to redeem his people, to bring in his kingdom. I think this is described in a lot of different ways in the Old Testament such as a new exodus or in terms of a new creation or a new covenant.

This is picked up in the New Testament with the language of the kingdom of God and my argument is that those saving promises of God are fulfilled in the ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection itself signals that the age to come has arrived, the age of salvation is here. But we say “already not yet” because even though that age of salvation has arrived and is inaugurated, it’s not consummated. We enjoy the new creation that has begun but we do not yet enjoy it in its fullness because death still exists and the curse is not completely gone.

As many others have said, we live in the overlap of the ages between the already and not yet. We are already saved and yet we await final salvation. We are already adopted but we await the full adoption of the restoration of our bodies. I find that to be immensely practical as well. Many errors in NT theology will be avoided if we understand the already and not yet tension.

Everyone Who Has Been Born of God Overcomes the World

Here’s the outline of  great sermon from John Piper on the signs of new life in Christ from 1 John. You can hear, watch or read the whole thing here.

The apostle John wrote his First Epistle to believers, with deceivers in their midst, to give them rock-solid confidence in their possession of eternal life as born-again children of God, so that they would not be drawn away after sin—all to the completion of his joy.

At the heart of John’s reason for writing was his desire to help his born-again readers know that they were born again—that they already had new, spiritual, eternal life.

In his letter, John gives eleven evidences of those who are born of God:
1. They keep God’s commandments (2:3-4; 3:24).
2. They walk as Christ walked (2:56).
3. They don’t hate others but love them (2:9; 3:14; 4:7-8, 20).
4. They don’t love the world (2:15).
5. They confess the Son and receive (have) him (2:23; 4:15; 5:12).
6. They practice righteousness (2:29).
7. They don’t make a practice of sinning (3:6, 9-10; 5:18).
8. They possess the Spirit of God (3:24; 4:13).
9. They listen submissively to the apostolic Word (4:6).
10. They believe that Jesus is the Christ (5:1).
11. They overcome the world (5:4).

These tests of the new birth are rigorous, but John does not mean for us to infer either that the born-again are perfect or that the born-again can loose their salvation. He affirms that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves” (1:8) that those who go out from us “were not of us” (2:19).

Those who are born again enjoy the dual comfort that they need not be perfect and that they will never ultimately fall away.

Excerpt from Schreiner’s NT Theology

Justin Taylor posts on Tom Schreiner’s new book:

Baker Academic has posted the introduction and chapter 9 of Tom Schreiner’s forthcoming magnum opus, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (due out in May 2008)

The introduction is well worth a read. Here’s some extracts to whet your appetite. As you can imagine, I love Schreiner’s emphasis on the importance of the ‘Already Not Yet’ –  “promise fulfilled but not consummated”.

The thesis advanced in this book is that NT theology is God-focused,
Christ-centered, and Spirit-saturated, but the work of the Father, Son,
and Spirit must be understood along a salvation-historical timeline; that
is, God’s promises are already fulfilled but not yet consummated in Christ
Jesus. We will see that the ministry of Jesus Christ and the work of the
Spirit are fundamental for the fulfilling of God’s promises. The coming
of Jesus Christ and the work of the Spirit are the prime indications that
God is beginning to fulfi ll the saving promises made to Abraham.
In the succeeding chapters we will examine in more detail the theme
that God’s saving promises in Christ and through the Spirit have already
been fulfi lled but have not yet reached their consummation. In this
chapter the aim is to give a kind of guided tour or small taste of the main
thesis of the book, so that readers will see that the primacy of God is
communicated in a story that unfolds God’s saving work in history. We
could say that God is central to the NT witness, but such a claim without
elaboration could be viewed as abstract and removed from reality. I will
argue for the centrality of God in Christ in the concrete and specific witness
of the NT as it unfolds God’s saving work in history. Another way
to put this is that God will receive all the glory for his work in Christ by
the Spirit as he works out his purpose in redemptive history. Further,
redemptive history is characterized by inaugurated but not consummated
eschatology, so that the glory that belongs to God has not yet reached
its zenith but it will.

[…]

Indeed, the already–not yet theme is so woven into Paul’s theology
that discussing it could easily launch a full-fledged treatment of Paul’s
theology. We will focus on some aspects of his view of the fulfi llment
of God’s promises in more detail in due course. Here I want to note the
pervasiveness of this theme in Paul’s thought. Looking at inaugurated
but not yet consummated eschatology in Paul is akin to looking into a
kaleidoscope. As we shake the kaleidoscope, we get a different picture,
but the same thought is expressed from a different point of view. To
shift the analogy, if we consider Paul’s theology from the perspective of
an archaeological dig, wherever we dig a shaft, we find the already–not
yet, even though the precise terms in which this theology is expressed
may differ. It seems, then, that inaugurated but not yet consummated
eschatology belongs to the fundamental structure of Paul’s thought. Thus
our purpose here is not to exposit these themes but to strike the keys so
that we see how this theme pervades Paul’s theology.

[…]

As we have seen previously, the gift of the Spirit is the signature of
the new age. The coming of the Spirit represents the emblem of God’s
saving promises, and hence the Spirit is featured in Pauline theology
(cf. Rom. 8:1–17; Gal. 3:1–5, 14). The gift of the Spirit represents the
eschatological tension in Paul, for the Spirit is the guarantee that God
will fi nish what he has begun, so that believers experience the end-time
resurrection (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13–14). The Spirit is the firstfruits,
indicating that God will redeem the bodies of believers (Rom. 8:23). So
too the coming of the Spirit indicates that God has fulfilled his new covenant
promises (Jer. 31:31–34; Ezek. 11:18–19; 36:26–27), promises
that never came to fruition under the Mosaic law—the old covenant
(2 Cor. 3:14). But now that the Spirit has come, believers are enabled to
do what could never be done by the letter (grammar—i.e., the law without
the Spirit [Rom. 2:28–29; 7:5–6; 2 Cor. 3:6]). In fulfillment of God’s
new-covenant promise they are enabled to observe God’s law (Rom. 8:4;
2 Cor. 3:17; cf. Gal. 5:14).

[…]

Believers are presently citizens of heaven, and yet there is an eschatological
proviso, for they await the promise of the resurrection (Phil.
3:20–21). Believers are now hidden with Christ in God, and yet they
await Christ’s coming and future glory (Col. 3:3–4). God’s promises are
fulfilled in Christ in the fullness of time, so that those who have the
Spirit are God’s children (Gal. 4:4–6). The focus of NT theology is the
supremacy of God in Christ through the Spirit, and hence we fi nd that
God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ by the Spirit.

Eschatology Q & A: What Are the Strengths and Weaknesses of the Different Millennial Views?

This is a very helpful article on the Millennial views by Kim Riddlebarger.

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Lëmi asks (October 31, 2007): “Could you explain briefly all the millennial positions pointing out their main strengths and weaknesses?”
Thanks for the question Lëmi. Although I could write a book-length answer to your question (and hopefully will one of these days), I’ll do what I can to give you as concise an answer as possible.
Lets start with premillennialism. As for its strengths, there seem to be two. One is the fact that Revelation 19 depicts the return of Christ, while Revelation 20:1-10 depicts the reign of Christ on the earth. If these chapters describe consecutive events (a point with which I would take issue) then this would place the millennial age after Christ’s return. A second apparent strength is that a number of church fathers state that this was the teaching passed on to them by the eyewitnesses to the ministry of the apostles, although this was not the only view in the early church (see Charles Hill’s Regnun Caelorum)–Click here: Amazon.com: Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity: Books: Charles E. Hill


There are several serious weaknesses with premillennialism. The first weakness is that premillenniarians have to explain how it is that people make it through the return of Christ and yet remain in natural bodies. Jesus taught that his return marks the end of the age (Matthew 13:39) and that after his return, people no longer marry or are given in marriage (Luke 20:34-36). At Christ’s return, he judges the world, making it tough for someone to be judged and yet not eternally condemned or rewarded with eternal life (Matthew 25:31-46). This is especially problematic for premillennarians, since they claim that their view is based upon a “literal” interpretation of prophecy. Where, then, is the one-thousand year gap between the return of Christ and the judgment (which, according to premillennarians takes place at the end of the millennium) when Jesus teaches that judgment takes place at his return? Those who take the Bible “literally” find themselves having to insert a gap into the biblical text which isn’t there.

The other problem with premillennialism is, if it be true, there is a great apostasy on the earth after one thousand years of Christ’s rule (Revelation 20:7-10). If there cannot be people on earth in natural bodies during the thousand years (which supposedly comes after Christ returns), then who are the people who revolt against Christ at the end of the millennium? And that after Christ’s own rule? It makes much more sense to see Revelation 20:1-10 as a description of the entire inter-advental age, since the scene takes place in heaven where the thrones are (vv. 1-6), before shifting to the earth in verses 7-10.
As for dispensational premillennialism, both the strengths and weaknesses of premillennialism generally apply. But if we consider dispenationalism on its own terms, its main strength is a stress upon progressive revelation (the careful consideration of how God interacts with his people throughout the different stages of redemptive history). We can also say that one of its strengths is its emphasis upon the imminent return of Christ.
As for weaknesses, there are many. One is that the presuppositions of dispensationalism (which, despite protests to the contrary, is a hermeneutic) cannot be sustained. The belief that God has distinct redemptive purposes for Israel and for the Gentiles is highly problematic in light of a text like Ephesians 2:11-22. Another serious problem with dispensationalism is the way in which the “literal interpretation” of Scripture is worked out in practice. The dispensational stress upon “literalism” actually amounts to an Israel-centered hermeneutic, largely taken from the Old Testament prophets which then predetermines what the New Testament authors can tell us about Israel.
As I have argued elsewhere (Click here: Riddleblog – A Reply to John MacArthur), this approach is seriously flawed. The New Testament presents a Christ-centered reading of redemptive history and reinterprets the place of Israel in that redemptive history in light of the coming of Jesus Christ, who is the true Israel.
As for postmillennialism, remember that both postmillennarians and amillennarians hold in common the idea that the millennial age precedes the return of Christ and the consummation. So the structural strengths and weaknesses of each will be similar. The essential difference between postmillennialism and amillennialism is in how we understand the nature and character of the millennial age.
Postmillennialism’s greatest strength is the rhetorical stress upon optimism regarding the kingdom of God and its ability to transform the nations of the earth before Christ returns. Postmillennarians extend the kingdom of God beyond spiritual matters (word and sacrament) to the transformation of culture–a point with which I would disagree. Postmillennarians generally believe that Jesus returns to a saved earth, he does not return to save the earth (as amillennarians believe).
This means that the biggest weakness of postmillennialism is the determination of the beginning of the millennial age–“when do the thousand years begin?” Some have seen this in the conversion of Israel, the overthrow of Antichrist (usually defined as Romanism or Islam) and the conversion of the nations. Obviously, these things have not yet happened. Therefore, the biggest weakness of postmillennialism is the denial of an imminent return of Christ–which explains why so many postmillennarians are attracted to preterism, the understanding Christ returned in judgment upon Israel in A.D. 70.
As for amillennialism, it has no weaknesses whatsoever, since it is the biblical position (I’m being facetious). In all seriousness, Amillennialism’s strength is its understanding that imminent return of Christ is the consummation of all things and marks the fullness of both the kingdom of God and the age to come. Christ will return to judge the world (Matthew 13:36-43; Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9), raise the dead (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57) and make all things new (2 Peter 3:3-15). He does not return to set up a kingdom (as in premillennialism), but to usher in the eternal state and create a new heaven and earth–the final consummation.
The biggest weakness of amillennialism is in the details–what does John mean by the binding of Satan? Can we really say Satan is bound now? (I say “yes”). What about the first resurrection in Revelation 20? Is John referring to regeneration, or the bodily resurrection? These things require a fair amount of explanation, especially since most American evangelicals know only the premillennial view.
That’s a very brief answer. For more information, I would suggest my two books: A Case for Amillennialism (Click here: Riddleblog – A Case for Amillennialism – Understanding the End), and Man of Sin (Click here: Riddleblog – Man of Sin – Uncovering the Truth About Antichrist), or the book by Anthony Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Click here: Amazon.com: The Bible and the Future: Books: Anthony A. Hoekema)

The Spirit of Holiness

I found this article by Michael Haykin helpful for some current research I’m doing into the understanding of the link between the Spirit and ethical transformation in the Old Testament.

One does not have to read far in Romans—the most systematic of all of Paul’s letters—to encounter a reference to the Spirit’s sanctifying work. In Romans 1:4 Paul describes the Spirit with a phrase that is unique in the New Testament—he is the “Spirit of holiness.”[1] What exactly does the Apostle mean by describing the Spirit thus? Why does he not use the more common term “Holy Spirit”? For some writers the terms “Holy Spirit” and “Spirit of holiness” are simply synonymous and they would understand the term “Spirit of holiness” to mean something like “the Spirit whose character is holiness.” There is another way, though, to understand this phrase and that is to see it as a description of the Spirit’s work: he is the giver of holiness, the One who supplies holiness to all who call upon the name of Jesus.[2] Given the Old Testament form of the phrase “Spirit of holiness,” the latter interpretation is probably the better of the two. It highlights the fact that central among the activities of the Spirit is the sanctification of the people of God. In fact, for Paul as for the other New Testament authors, the Holy Spirit is indispensable for living a life that pleases God.[3]

Another key text with regard to the Spirit’s sanctifying work is found in Romans 15:8-21. Here, the Apostle begins by indicating that one of the ultimate goals of Christ’s ministry was that Gentiles might come to glorify the God of Israel for being a God of mercy. The citation of four Old Testament texts, drawn from various parts of the Old Testament canon, supports this affirmation (Romans 15:8-12). Christ’s intentions with regard to the Gentiles is of central concern to the Apostle for he has been called by God to preach Christ among the Gentiles where the name of Jesus has never been heard (Romans 15:20), or, as he puts it, “to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God” (Romans 15:16). Using imagery drawn from the Temple worship of Israel to describe his ministry, Paul argues that Gentiles—who were formerly ritually impure and thus utterly unacceptable to God—have now become acceptable to God. In the immediate context of these verses, what has made them acceptable is their embrace of the gospel, which, in turn, was made possible by the Holy Spirit’s power (Romans 15:19). In Paul’s words, they have been “sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:16), that is, set apart to serve God and to fulfill his purposes, which, because of God’s holy character, inevitably involves leading lives of godliness.[4] It is on the basis of this sanctifying work of the Spirit that Paul, later in this chapter and in the one that follows, can call believers “saints” (Romans 15:25-26, 31; 16:1, 15).

Earlier in this letter, the sanctifying work of the Spirit had also been highlighted in Romans 8:1-4. Christ came into the world so that those who believe in him would be able to truly obey the essence of the Law (Romans 8:4). Central to Christ’s death is the liberation of men and women from the death-dealing bondage of sin. This obedience and freedom is made a reality in believers by the Spirit, who is none other than the “Spirit of life,” that is the Spirit of the living God, the source of all that is good. Thus, the liberating work of the Spirit is rooted in the saving work of Christ (Romans 8:2).[5]

Again in this chapter, Paul emphasizes that the Spirit’s indwelling presence in the life of the believer provides him or her with rich resources to fight sin: Romans 8:12-14. Although the believer has been radically delivered from sin’s tyranny, this does not mean—as so much of the teaching of the New Testament makes clear—that he or she now experientially enjoys perfect holiness. There is an ongoing battle with sin and thus the necessity of heeding the Apostle’s admonition to mortify sin (Romans 8:13).

This work of mortification—the “gradual annihilation of all the remainders of this cursed life of sin,” as the Puritan author John Owen (1616-1683) aptly puts it[6]—involves the believer’s complete involvement, though ultimately it is the Spirit’s work. Owen well sums up the Apostle’s thought in this regard when he states in his classic exposition of Romans 8:13, The Mortification of Sin in Believers (1656), that the Spirit

“doth not so work our mortification in us as not to keep it still an act of our obedience. The Holy Ghost works in us and upon us, as we are fit to be wrought in and upon; that is, so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience. He works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures; he works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that his assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no occasion of neglect as to the work itself.”[7]

In other words, this is a variation on one of the central ethical principles of the New Testament: be what you are. Because you are saints lead holy lives; live in holy conformity with the Spirit who indwells you. Since he is holy, be holy. Paul puts it this way at the close of another well-known passage that deals with the sanctifying work of the Spirit: “if we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25, ESV).



[1] As James D.G. Dunn notes, the term “Spirit of holiness” would almost certainly be understood by Paul and the first Christians as denoting the Holy Spirit” [Romans 1-8 (Word Biblical Commentary, vol.38A; Dallas: Word, 1988), 14-15. See also Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 43. [2] C.E.B. Cranfield, Romans: A Shorter Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1985), 7; Gordon D. Fee, God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 483.

[3] See Smith, “Pauline Studies: Pauline Pneumatology.”

[4] See the similar idea in 1 Corinthians 6:11. See also the comments of James D.G. Dunn, Romans 9-16 (Word Biblical Commentary, vol.38B; Dallas: Word, 1988), 860-861; Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 626-627; David Peterson, Possessed by God. A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1995), 58-59; Schreiner, Romans, 766-767.

[5] Cranfield, Romans, 174; Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, 519-538.

[6] A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit [The Works of John Owen (1850-1853 ed., 16 volumes; repr. London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965-1968), III, 545].

[7] Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers (Works, VI, 20). See also the comments of J. I. Packer, “ “Keswick” and the Reformed Doctrine of Sanctification”, The Evangelical Quarterly, 27 (1955), 156.

Scripture Congregates About Jesus/Gospel

D.A. Carson:

“Strictly speaking, then, Christians are not to think of the New Testament books as just like the Old Testament books, bringing the next phase of God’s redemptive plan to us. Mormons argue that that is all they are — and then say that Joseph Smith brought a still later revelation to us, since he was yet another accredited prophet. But the author of Hebrews sees that the climax of all the Old Testament revelation, mediated through prophets and stored in books, is not, strictly speaking, more books — but Christ Jesus himself. The New Testament books congregate around Jesus and bear witness to him who is the climax of revelation. Later books that cannot bear witness to this climactic revelation are automatically disqualified.”

(HT: Gospel Muse)