Sunday, January 27, 2008

Eschatology in Popular Evangelicalism

A good litmus test for whether one has a good understanding of the biblical narrative and its relevance for exegesis is to ask one about their eschatology. If their eschatology is loopy, there is a good chance that they lack in their understanding of the significance of the wider biblical narrative.

I say this because I watched GODTV for a while today. On the channel I recently saw a sermon by Rick Warren and, I am not at all ashamed to confess (sorry Jim!), I was impressed. Today was a different matter. The guy who runs the channel told his (massive) audience about his discoveries in a new book by a certain Grant Jeffrey. Based on a few verses in Ezekiel, stirred together with another from Leviticus, a potent cocktail was developed to justify 1948 as the so-called third return from exile.

This was coupled with calls from a co-presenter to visit Israel, who made exclamations to the effect that he could not understand why Christians do not visit Israel and Jerusalem in particular. This was interrupted with further enthusiastic comment that God is present in a special way in Israel, and that just as God 'made a nation in a day' (referring to 1948), so God is going to suddenly fulfil all of his promises in your life 'during this season'! I was starting to get a little bit angry.

Apart from the obvious arbitrariness in the way Scripture was treated in these arguments, it was shocking that no knowledge of the significance of Maccabees was demonstrated. What is more, this kind of handling of Old Testament prophecy fails on at least two more points:

  • it does not recognize the context of the language and the Prophetic literature. Talk concerning the return from exile in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and in some of the Minor Prophets, is associated with such themes as the new covenant, the giving of the Spirit, the giving of a 'new heart', etc. These issues find the beginning of fulfilment in and through the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. That is why Luke frames much of his 'ancient biography' by bringing Anna and Simeon into the narrative as Jesus is first bought the temple. They are waiting for the consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem (compare the LXX of Is 40:1!). That is part of the point behind Matthews genealogy with which he frames his whole Gospel (See also 2 Cor 3).
  • The prophetic literature envisages the restoration of the tribes of Judah and Israel, i.e. all the 12 tribes. 1948 is not a literal fulfilment of this. The 10 northern tribes had long since been assimilated into Assyria, and so Jesus symbolically reconstitutes the 12 tribes of Israel by choosing 12 disciples.

And with this I do not mean to assert a replationist Israelology. That implies discontinuity where there is continuity and ignores, among other things, the image of ‘in grafting’ which Paul uses in Romans 11. I think it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Paul, when he speaks of all Israel being saved in Romans 11, envisaged a salvation waiting for ethnic Israel. In other words, God is not done with Israel. But these points aside, Christian Zionism needs to be challenged and those who do not like what we say need to responsed to the arguments without irresponsibly throwing the label 'anti-Semitic' around.


At 1/27/2008 4:02 AM, Anonymous Cliff Martin said...

Is there any area of Christian teaching that has been the subject of more twisted and hair-brained exegesis that eschatology?

At 1/27/2008 10:00 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

Jesus symbolically reconstitutes the 12 tribes of Israel by choosing 12 disciples?

Where is the evidence for this?

I often see it written, but it is a myth surely - as there is not one word in the NT about this alleged symbolism.

Later, people made up this symbolism and then claimed they knew what was in the mind of Jesus when he called 12 disciples.

But how did they know that what they had made up was correct?

At 1/27/2008 10:02 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

'I think it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Paul, when he speaks of all Israel being saved in Romans 11, envisaged a salvation waiting for ethnic Israel. In other words, God is not done with Israel.'

Well, that is one way of saying that the wrath of God had fallen on the Jews - as Paul is alleged to have written in 1 Thessalonians.

But equating wrath with salvation is not an easy fit.

At 1/27/2008 2:22 PM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...

replationist brings one four hits on google...two to your site. Looks like you have also been publishing at a mormon-apologetics site as well. Interesting hobby, CT.

I think the answer is getting 1 and 2 Macc into the canon for some folks. Any chance of that? Could CTRVHM do some prophesying from Macc and send it out to folks? Perhaps start a fundamentalist trend of celebrating Hannukah?

You could also do like the mormons and send people a "free copy of the companion to the Scriptures"...only have it be the books of Macc instead of the book of mormon.

At 1/27/2008 2:36 PM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

'I think the answer is getting 1 and 2 Macc into the canon for some folks.'

I think your prayers have already been answered.

At 1/27/2008 2:56 PM, Anonymous Brian said...

so you are a dispensationalist!!

At 1/27/2008 3:05 PM, Anonymous James Crossley said...

And let's no forget Christian Zionism has its own issues of 'antisemitism' or 'anti-Judaism' (or whatever) it needs to answer: are Jews being used in pre-end time times and will they survive if they do no convert?

At 1/27/2008 5:54 PM, Anonymous dan said...

I absolutely agree with your statement about the importance of eschatology for our understanding of the biblical narrative. In fact, I've actually narrowed my thesis topic to "Eschatology and Politics in Paul's Day and Ours" (my current working title) as I am increasingly convinced that shoddy political applications of Paul are rooted in shoddy eschatologies. Furthermore, I think imperial forms of eschatology (by that the imperialism of Rome, or of late capitalism) are one of the most insidious barriers to Christian living.

At 1/27/2008 9:19 PM, Anonymous Jeremy Priest said...

"Jesus symbolically reconstitutes the 12 tribes of Israel by choosing 12 disciples? Where's the evidence for this?"

Some thoughts:

Matthew 4:12-23 describes Jesus as fulfilling Isaiah 8:23-9:3. Hezekiah was expected to bring light to the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, to those who bore the first fires of the Assyrian Exile. Jesus is the one who begins to reconstitute the Twelve Tribes, to bring light to their darkness. Matthew shows him doing this by beginning to gather to himself the new Twelve right in the place where the destruction of the Northern Tribes took place: in 4:18 and 4:21 he calls two sets of brothers to follow him.

Matthew is the most outspoken in showing Jesus as the Son of David and King of Israel. Yet, Matthew is not the only evangelist to do this. It is notable that St. James addresses his letter "To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion" (1.1).

I know Brant Pitre over at Singing In The Reign argues that part of Jesus' mission is the reconstitution of the Twelve Tribes in his book, Jesus the Tribulation and the End of the Exile. I believe NT Wright also argues that Jesus' symbolically restores the Twelve Tribes in the Twelve Apostles in his book, Jesus and the Victory of God.

Seeing the Twelve Apostles as the men who will "sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Mt. 19:28; alt. Lk. 22:30) is something that all the Church Fathers and much of the New Testament recognizes. These Twelve reconstitute the Twelve Tribes. This might be why the Eleven are so cognizant of replacing Judas in Acts 1. The Didascalia Apostolorum sees this as its basic foundation: the Church is the reconstitution of the Twelve Tribes that in herself gathers in all the nations: the 144,000 and the great multitude (Rev. 7:4-9). It is hard to see the Twelve Apostles in this light if one does not read the Bible as one story of God and his people.

At 1/27/2008 9:54 PM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

How does appointing 12 people to judge the 12 tribes of Israel mean that the 12 disciples 'symbolically reconstitute the 12 tribes of Israel'?

A judge of something is not the something which is judged.

the Church is the reconstitution of the Twelve Tribes that in herself gathers in all the nations:

SO what reconstitutes the 12 tribes - the church or the 12 disciples?

And why was Jesus bothered about the 12 tribes of Israel?

Is there more than 6 people in the entire world who thinks that reconstituting the 12 tribes of Israel should be on a wish list of things to do?

At 1/27/2008 10:09 PM, Anonymous T.B. Vick said...


You should pioneer the "Loopy Litmus Eschatology Test." You could probably market that fairly cheap, distribute the test to millions of churches worldwide and then sit back and retire young and wealthy!

This could be sorta like the spiritual gifts tests that certain churches have their members take.

At 1/28/2008 7:54 AM, Anonymous Casey Truelove said...

Under the Old Covenant, the twelve tribes of Israel were God's people. And, yes, the Church is the New Covenant people of God--His family--but we cannot help but understand a notable numerology in the twelve tribes and twelve apostles.

Jeremy noted some great examples from Matthew, but let's also pay particular attention to Revelation 21:2,12,&14. In these verses, John is describing the New Jerusalem, coming down out of Heaven (vs. 2) and notes that there are twelve gates on which are inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of Israel (vs. 12). There are also twelve courses of stones as foundation, on which are inscribed the names of the twelve apostles (vs. 14). We see a direct link that a New Jerusalem--a new city of God--was coming down, built upon the foundation of the apostles, but not without connection back to the twelve tribes. Of course, we will particularly note the Rock, Peter, upon which Jesus built His Church (Matthew 16:18), but all twelve apostles were the foundation of this New Jerusalem--even Judas, whose office it was so important to fill that we read of the apostles as on of their first "Acts" (1:20-26).

After Pentecost, we know that the apostles went out to surrounding areas to spread the news to the whole world. They were going out into those territories, which had once belonged to the twelve tribes--and eventually past them. The apostles first had to "re-conquer" these lands--not in the sense of warfare, but in the sense of conversion. Then, like all Old Testament types, this New Testament reality had to be even greater--and it is still so--the Church spread throughout the world.

Mr. Carr's questions are strange to some of us, but I think it is (perhaps) because we might be coming at the definition of the word "reconstitute" differently.

So, Mr. Carr, if Jesus wasn't "reconstituting" the twelve tribes of Israel by choosing twelve apostles, do you see any direct correlation between the two, especially when taking into context the above cited quote from Revelation and the citations made by the others? If so, what correlation do you see and how is that different than your definition of "reconstitution"?

At 1/28/2008 8:13 AM, Anonymous Jeremy Priest said...

I see reconstituting the 12 Tribes as a test of God's faithfulness. "All Israel" seems to be significant to to St. Paul in Romans 9-11. The apostles seemed concerned with keeping the number at twelve (Acts 1). James writes to the "Twelve Tribes" in the dispersion. There is some significance to the number. This seems the most logical one to me. I guess I've never heard another offered.

Who cares if the Twelve Tribes are reconstituted? Well, if God does not keep his promises he made through the prophets to gather the Twelve Tribes together after their exile (cf. Jeremiah 33:7; Zechariah 8:13 -- just two examples of many). it might seem that God hasn't been faithful. Paul seems concerned about "All Israel" being saved. The concern for the Twelve Tribes might be indicated in Mt. 4's reference to Zebulun and Naphtali.

Jesus is a Messiah figure who gathers around himself twelve men and also a different set of 70 or 72(Luke 10). The Gospels indicate that this was intentional on Jesus' part, not merely random (cf. Mk. 3:14-15). A first century Jew, a man widely referred to as a prophet (persons famous for symbolic action) who intentionally gathers around himself groups of people in such specific numbers like these would seem to be intent about saying something with such numbers.

I think it's likely that he's showing himself as "the prophet" the "new Moses" leading the Twelve Tribes along with a reconstituted set of 70 / 72 elders (appointed by Moses in Numbers 11). [It is acknowledged that the 70/72 could certainly be a reference to Jesus' international mission: # of the nations on earth in Gen. 10. It might also be a reference to the # of persons in the Sanhedrin.]

I've not heard any other explanation proposed as to why Jesus spent a night in prayer and then specifically chose Twelve Apostles (Luke 6:12-16; Mk. 3:14-15). Maybe it's just random, though Jesus doesn't seem to do random. That they are a symbolic reconstitution of the Twelve Tribes seems to have more explanatory power than any other explanation I've heard. I guess there might be other explanations.

What other possibilities can be offered?

At 1/28/2008 8:15 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

I see.

So there is not one word in the New Testament about the 12 disciples being the 12 tribes of Israel.

And 12 foundation stones, which have the names of the apostles, not linked to any tribes.

And 12 gates, on which are the names of the tribes, but not linked to any apostles.

Of course, Jesus had to choose 12 disciples, because how else could Revelation talk about a vision of a heavenly city with 12 foundations with a name on each?

I guess if you are the creator of the universe , come down to impart a message to all mankind, you have to get these details right, or else you won't get books written claiming to have visions of cities of gold with 12 gates with 12 angels and 12 foundations with the names of 12 apostles on them.

And then where would you be?

At 1/28/2008 8:20 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

God seems to work in mysterious ways, and Jesus appears to be a lunatic , obsessed with numerology.

At 1/28/2008 2:09 PM, Anonymous James said...

Well said Steven Carr! The "12 apostles" argument is, I agree, spurious.

Chris - so too, I suggest, is the argument about the 10 Northern tribes being assimilated: Anna's presence in Luke shows they weren't completely assimilated, and (I think I am right in saying) the genealogies of those who returned from exile include representatives of all 12 tribes.

At 1/28/2008 6:33 PM, Anonymous Casey Truelove said...

Of course there is not "one word in the New Testament about the apostles being the 12 tribes." A man is not a tribe. Although, one might see an obvious link between an office (bishopric), which a man holds and the headship of a section of people and so might see this section as a new "tribe"--reconstituted, but, like all New Testament counterparts, in a different form. See Luke 22:30: "that you [the apostles] may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel." [Matthew 19:28 says almost the same thing.]

With regard to these two quotes, Hahn & Mitch write: "As the new Davidic king, Jesus gives his apostles a share in his kingdom, enabling them to exercise his royal authority over God's people (Luke 1:32-33). The role of the apostles is described in terms that recall how King David's cabinet ministers ruled Israel from thrones in Jerusalem (Psalm 122:3-5; Isaiah 22:20-23)." And (respectively): "Jesus portrays the Church as the restored kingdom of Israel (cf. Revelation 7:4-8). As the royal son of David (Matthew 1:1), he reconstitutes the Davidic empire that governed the 12 tribes (2 Samuel 5:1-5) along with other nations (2 Samuel 8:1-15). He thus appoints the apostles to his royal cabinet and invests them with authority to minister and judge in the new kingdom (Luke 22:28-30). Jesus language recalls Psalm 122:3-5. In context, Jerusalem is the city where the thrones of the Davidic kingdom stood and where Israel's tribes went to find justice. In the New Covenant, Christ imparts justice through his apostles in the liturgy of the heavenly Jerusalem (cf. Hebrews 12:22-24; Revelation 21:1-14)."

Your argument is teetering on the edge of Sola Scriptura. If we went ONLY by what is written in the Bible, we'd still be celebrating our main worship service on Saturday, we would have no idea how to understand the Trinity, people wouldn't fold their hand when they pray, nor would they wear wedding rings, and there would be a whole slew of other examples of things that aren't spelled out in the text. We, however, understand that Jesus opened the minds of the disciples to understand the scriptures (Luke 24:45) and that he did many other things that weren't written down (John 20:30 & 21:25), but were passed on orally (2 Thessalonians 2:15). That oral tradition is just as valid as the written tradition and we can trust that those students, who remained faithful to the teachings of the apostles, taught the correct faith to their successive generations.

St. Hillary wrote: "Their following Christ in thus exalting the Apostles to twelve thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel, associated them in the glory of the twelve Patriarchs."

Pseudo-Chrys.: "On these thrones then the Apostles sit, parcelled into twelve divisions, after the variety of minds and hearts, known to God only. For as the Jewish nation was split into twelve tribes, so is the whole Christian people divided into twelve, so as that some souls are numbered with the tribe of Reuben, and so of the rest, according to their several qualities."

At 1/29/2008 7:50 AM, Anonymous psychodougie said...

what a sensationalist! tho with a much lesser readership, this post got lots of comments, on the same line.

it's just too easy really, but i do find it interesting how it all seems to stem from dodgy biblical theology, ie not managing(?) to get the whole picture of the bible in their heads at once.

At 1/29/2008 2:44 PM, Anonymous Jeremy Priest said...

I agree, a sense of the whole Biblical narrative is essential. Yet, it's also hotly contested in terms of what the parts of the story means.

You bring up a good question, Steven. There were obviously people from the Northern Tribes still around even after the Assyrian Exile. There might even be some today. There were also people still around before the groups returned from the Babylonian Exile.

I guess the question is, what constitutes a return from exile. Certainly not everyone was carried away with the Assyrians. How many constitute a return? Is a return constituted by numbers or by the reestablishment of a government?

Did the rebuilding of the Temple constitute the return from the Babylonian Exile? Was it something else?

At 1/29/2008 10:50 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Some helpful comments, thanks to you all.

For those who are denying the significance I am lending to the twelve disciples, do see Meyer's, The Aims of Jesus, as well as Wright, JVG, and Pitre's Jesus, Tribulation and the Return from Exile. I think the significance I read about the twelve disciples is obvious in light of the sort of second Temple lit. examined by Pitre. Also see my short article in the forthcoming Encyclopedia of the Historical Jesus. Until then, do have a read of the following:
Deut 4:19; 30:3-5; Isa 11:10-16; 49:6; 54:7; 63:17; Jer 23:3-8; 29:14; 31:8,10; 32:37; Ezek 11:17; 28:25; 34:14; 37:15-28; 39:27; 47:13; Tob 13; Bar 2:34; 4:37; 5:5; 2 Macc 2:18; Pss. Sol. 8:28; 11:2; 17:26, 28, 44; 4 Ezra 13:39-49; Sir 36:1-17 etc.

Concerning the return from exile and the lost northern tribes. We need to distinguish between the tribes as a whole and the loss of their alloted part of the land, and the erroneously supposed loss of every single individual in the northern tribes. Notice, as James pointed out, Anna of the tribe of Asher. But also notice the retention not just of the geneology of certain individuals, but also that geographical areas could be described according to traditional tribal divisions (Matt 4:13 )! Were the tribes as a whole restored to their own segment of land? No. Were the people as a whole therefore restored? No. Just as Ezekiel prophetically symbolised the restoration of the tribes of Judah AND Israel, so to Jesus with the 12.

Carr, some of your comments reflect badly on you.

OK, JB, it looks like I made that word up!

At 1/29/2008 11:34 PM, Anonymous Bjørn Are said...

While Steven's allegations need to be answered, be aware he's not quite the innocent bystander.

Considered rather a troll (or triumph card depending on viewpoint;-) on several sites and blogs, if one does one's google duty.

At 1/30/2008 4:46 PM, Anonymous N. T. WRIGHT said...

Silly mortals, I have answered all of your questions. I pronounce, for all Anglicans everywhere, that this discussion is closed.


Post a Comment

<< Home