Thursday, May 12, 2011

Yes, "Reinterpret" Is Sometimes Used By Non-dispensationalists

Sometimes I get complaints for claiming that non-dispensationalists believe that the NT “reinterprets” the OT. While I certainly acknowledge that some do not use that specific term, we must be honest and acknowledge that some have. Here is a sample of those who explicitly use “reinterpret” language (note that the emphases below are mine):

George Ladd:   “The Old Testament must be interpreted by the New Testament. In principle it is quite possible that the prophecies addressed originally to literal Israel describing physical blessings have their fulfillment exclusively in the spiritual blessings enjoyed by the church. It is also possible that the Old Testament expectation of a kingdom on earth could be reinterpreted by the New Testament altogether of blessings in the spiritual realm.”(George E. Ladd, “Revelation 20 and the Millennium,” Review and Expositor 57 (1960): 167. Emphasis mine.)

Kim Riddlebarger: “But eschatological themes are reinterpreted in the New Testament, where we are told these Old Testament images are types and shadows of the glorious realities that are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. (Kim Riddlebarger, A Case for Amillennialism: Understanding the End Times (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003, 37).

Kim Riddlebarger: “This [literal interpretation of the Bible] leaves dispensationalists frequently stuck in the awkward position of insisting on an Old Testament interpretation of a prophetic theme that has been reinterpreted in the New Testament in the light of the messianic age which dawned in Jesus Christ.”(Ibid., 38.).

Stephen Sizer: “Jesus and the apostles reinterpreted the Old Testament.” (Stephen Sizer, Zion’s Christian Soldiers: The Bible, Israel and the Church (Nottingham, England: InterVarsity, 2008, 36.)

Gary Burge: “For as we shall see (and as commentators regularly show) while the land itself had a concrete application for most in Judaism, Jesus and his followers reinterpreted the promises that came to those in his kingdom.” (Gary M. Burge, Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to “Holy Land” Theology Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010, 35).

My purpose in offering these quotations is not to claim that all non-dispensationalists use this terminology, but many have and it is right to point this out. If others want to use “interpret,” “transcend,” “fulfill,” etc. that is okay. But let’s be clear that several key non-dispensationalists use “reinterpret” to explain their view. Thus, it is a legitimate term to bring up in the discussion.


  1. Dr. Vlach -

    You are correct that some non-dispensationalist do use reinterpretation terminology. However, as you also said, there are some who do not. Rather they use fulfillment language.

    I'd love to see you interact with some non-dispensationalists who do not speak of reinterpretation but of fulfillment. Men that come to mind are: D.A. Carson, Thomas Schreiner, & Greg Beale.

    This understanding that the NT fulfills the OT is primary as we see a renewed interest in the area of Biblical Theology. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don't see many dispensationalists doing work in this area. If my observations are correct, do you have any ideas why?

  2. This is a discussion I'd like to see more on.

    Any and all eschatological positions claim scriptural foundation for their views. Therefore, the issue does not rest in any position being “more biblical” than the other but in hermeneutics. The crux issue of eschatology is hermeneutics leading to the relationship of the OT to the NT.
    A literal vs. symbolic hermeneutic is not the issue, because a “literal hermeneutic” allows for symbolic use of language. Both Amillennial and Pre-Millennial use literal and symbolic language!

    Since my time in both seminar's I've attempted to refine my hermeneutical presuppositions. All eschatological positions affirm what we will call, for the sake of the argument, “testamental priority.” Below is the refinement I've attempted to accomplish.

    1. The Old Testament is the starting point of constructing theology. It can stand alone to provide salvation (2 Tim 3) and inform New Testament ideas. OT theology informs the NT, not vice versa. NT theology does not inform OT theology. If it does, it would undo original intent of the progress of revelation. NT reinterpretation of the OT will misinform eschatology.

    2. The only time NT may explain a fuller meaning is with type/anti-type relations. However, types are valid only when the NT explicitly states it as such. Consequently, reading the OT with an understanding of the type/anti-type relation does not nullify the original intent of the OT passage. The original intent does not have a pre-understanding the type/anti-type fulfillment.

    3. Not all OT promises need to find fulfillment in Christ to have validity. Any promise/fulfillment not culminating in Christ is not less important or invalid.

    4. If promises are made in the OT that do not find fulfillment within the OT or NT era, than there is still anticipation of its fulfillment. Promises or prescripts finding no fulfillment are still valid unless stated to be otherwise. (E.g. Mosaic Law with 10 Commandments. With the abrogation of the M.L. with the N.C., the 10 commandments should cease to bear weight. However, every one of the 10 commandments are re-instated in the N.T. Consequently, they lose their Mosaic purpose of providing prosperity to obedience.)

    5. Having the OT preceding the NT within the progress of revelation will prohibit “promise transference.” If a promise or prophecy is given in the OT to a designated people, person, or object, there will not be a transference or abrogation even if it is silent in the NT or has a different application in the NT. If having a new object or application in the NT, it will add to the original promise not remove the original intent.