How important is it that we rightly divide the Word of God? In todays world of multiple erroneous and/or false teachings, its imperative that we learn to do so for false teachings and beliefs have a way of multiplying and building upon each-other, until finally the ‘whole house’ of theology we have erected is on shaky ground: And when it falls, which it will eventually, it leaves us confused and even possibly doubting God’s Word period. I’ve watched this occur over the years to many who started out well, but got caught up later in bad theology.
Kevin Daly at Messianic Good News (a very good ministry-details here) has written an excellent (2) part teaching on this important topic titled: Challenging false teachings – Rightly dividing the word of truth – Part 1and Part 2.
A portion of part (1)
In a recent correspondence, Dr Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Director of Ariel Ministries and author of the books Israelology: The Missing Link In Systematic Theology and The Footsteps Of The Messiah: A Study Of The Sequence Of Prophetic Events, challenged the understanding that the New Testament is the fulfilment of the Old, and suggested that the Bible should rather be interpreted according to the following principles:
·The New Testament may not be read as an interpretation of the Old Testament;
·The Old Testament must be understood in its original context, unaffected by the teachings of Christ and of the New Testament;
·God originally meant or intended by His promises something different to the meaning and intention stated for those promises in the New Testament.
Dr Fruchtenbaum further suggested that if the New Testament does not permit the Old Testament to be interpreted independently or in isolation from the New Testament (i.e. in order to have a meaning other than or in addition to that revealed in the New Testament), then it (namely, the New Testament) is a fraudulent document.
Although other dispensational expositors may phrase these principles differently, Dr Fruchtenbaum’s rendition is typical enough to deserve a thorough examination.
Why is this an important matter?
Many Christians have adopted an approach to the Jewish people, to the modern State of Israel and to political Zionism that stems from doctrines derived through the method of interpretation advocated by Dr. Fruchtenbaum. In particular, it is commonly asserted that there are certain “unconditional promises to the Jews in the Old Testament,” which “have not yet been fulfilled” and which Christians are obligated to support in the present time to bring to fruition. Dr Fruchtenbaum, for instance, believes that “the Old Testament promises a national salvation of Israel, it promises a natural restoration when the Jews will live in peace in the whole Promised Land.”
As a result of this understanding, a very significant portion of church resources is being spent on Jewish migration and in support of the Jewish State. Christians are moreover being drawn into the political cause of Zionism and have actively promoted war in its interest against Arab and Islamic nations. Furthermore, dispensational views have had a dramatic impact on the gospel that is preached to the Jew, with many evangelicals ceasing altogether to proclaim it, and others trying to convert Jews on the basis of what God is doing right now, and must and will yet do, for the Jews “when Jesus comes again.” None of this is compatible with Biblical Christianity – as a true interpretation of the New Testament will clearly show.
Does the Bible permit various methods of interpretation?
If the scriptures (those writings that we accept as ordained by God) did not provide the basis for their own interpretation, the Bible would support a great number of discrepant ideas and beliefs (as is often claimed). Yet, God is not an author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33) and desires His word to be set forth plainly so that we may “all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:13).
Jesus prayed for his followers to achieve this unity (John 17:20-23), and the faithful are warned to mark those who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which you have learned (Romans 16:17). Paul wrote: “there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval” (1 Corinthians 11:19). None of this contemplates the possibility of different, but equally valid, interpretations.
The dispensational scheme of interpretation in the light of scripture
Dispensationalists are not among those guilty of tolerating diverse modes of interpretation – usually insisting that theirs alone is valid. But is the dispensational scheme of Bible interpretation biblical?
While most heresies can be isolated to specific teachings, errors of interpretation are pervasive, eventually infecting all areas of doctrine. Faulty interpretation cannot produce valid theology and conclusions made from mistaken suppositions are untenable.
Dr Fruchtenbaum’s scheme of Bible interpretation (as representative, or at least indicative, of the principles employed by dispensationalists more generally) must be carefully scrutinised in the light of scripture. The words in italics are his.
(1) “Every Old Testament passage must be interpreted as to actually what it means contextually and exegetically in its own context. Once that is established then precede [proceed?] and interpret subsequent revelation about what God gave previously. Whatever additional information subsequent revelation gives, it cannot so totally change what the original revelation says.”
This principle of interpretation depends on a number of critical suppositions, being –
- that God always wanted His intentions to be understood in the time at which He spoke, and in that context;
- that God does indeed want us to disregard all subsequent revelation for purposes of understanding what He meant by an earlier oracle; and
- that we can establish the original, contextual interpretation of every Old Testament passage with certainty. (If we cannot, we clearly cannot say whether subsequent information would “totally change what the original revelation says.”)
These suppositions are invalidated by scripture. We examine each of them in turn.
Did God always speak in such a way that His intention could be understood in the time and context of the oracle?
(a) – Both the Old and New Testaments teach that, in certain matters, God purposefully prevented His intention from being understood at the time of a revelation.
At the time of the Babylonian exile, Daniel could not understand a vision he received and God refused to reveal its meaning to him at that time.
I heard, but I did not understand. So I asked, “My Lord, what will the outcome of all this be?” He replied, “Go your way, Daniel, because the words are closed up and sealed until the time of the end” (Daniel 12:8-9; see also Daniel 8:26-27).
Before the exile, the Jews were kept from understanding the meaning of Isaiah’s prophecies – until the cities of Judah had been destroyed and the people taken into captivity. Only then would God permit them to understand what was prophesied:
He said, Go and tell this people: “Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.” Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.
Then I said, “For how long, O Lord?” And He answered: Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken (Isaiah 6:9-12).
The details of Israel’s final deliverance were also kept hidden until that glorious day should finally come. First the whole nation would be stupefied:
The LORD has brought over you a deep sleep: He has sealed your eyes (the prophets); he has covered your heads (the seers). For you this whole vision is nothing but words sealed in a scroll. And if you give the scroll to someone who can read, and say to him, “Read this, please,” he will answer, “I can’t. It is sealed.” Or if you give the scroll to someone who cannot read, and say, “Read this, please,” he will answer, “I don’t know how to read.” (Isaiah 29:10-12)
Then, at the appointed time, the arrogant mockers would be judged (Isaiah 29:20-21) and those who enjoyed God’s favour would be permitted to see and hear:
In a very short time, will not Lebanon be turned into a fertile field and the fertile field seem like a forest? In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see. Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 29:17-19)
The New Testament claims to reveal a profound mystery that God had purposely kept hidden from earlier generations. This mystery being –
- Christ, God’s wisdom for achieving the righteousness, holiness and redemption of those who believe (1 Corinthians 2:7);
- the indwelling Spirit of God, namely “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27);
- that all nations should believe and obey God (Romans 16:26);
- that “through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body and sharers together in the promise of Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 3:6).
The New Testament claims to reveal this mystery as God’s eternal purpose (Ephesians 3:8), what He had intended before the beginning of time (2 Timothy 1:9); in other words, NOT as something different or in addition to what God had desired or intended originally or in the days of the Old Testament.
Furthermore, the New Testament claims that its message is contained in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament (Romans 1:2), in which it was hidden for ages and generations (Colossians 1:26), and not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit (Ephesians 3:5). At the advent of Christ, by the command of the eternal God, these things were then revealed and made known through the prophetic writings (Romans 16:25). The prophets were not serving themselves [i.e. their own time and context] but you [who received the gospel], when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things (1 Peter 1:12).
Fruchtenbaum suggests: “to interpret the Old Testament by the New means that the Old Testament documents cannot be understood, or the meaning cannot be determined until centuries later when the New Testament came into being and that is just a faulty way to treat the Holy Scripture.”
But this is precisely what the New Testament claims. The New Testament presents its revelation as the eternally ordained and originally intended meaning of the Old Testament prophetic writings now made clear. The historical, contextual understanding of the earlier revelation is inconclusive – when it’s ultimate meaning had been withheld, by God’s express design, until the time of Christ.
(b) – In certain cases, the original, contextual understanding was not what God really intended.
God is not constrained by the manner in which His creatures understand or interpret His promises. May He not do exceedingly more than we can ever ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)? Does it not please Him “to confound the wisdom of the wise and bring to naught the understanding of the prudent” (1 Corinthians 1:19)?
Devout and God-fearing men throughout the ages thought that they understood what God intended, only to have their expectations surpassed by the superior wisdom and greater providence of God.
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).
Scripture means what God intends by it, not what men understand by it.
*to continue go here