Tuesday, July 19, 2011

‘Radical Reinterpretation,’ New Testament Priority, and the Hermeneutics of George Ladd

As I continue my discussion on Historic Premillennialism (HP), I want to focus my thoughts on the hermeneutics of HP’s #1 defender in the 20th century—George Ladd. Specifically, I want to address Ladd’s views on how the New Testament (NT) uses the Old Testament (OT). Since Ladd is often looked to as a primary leader of HP, his views on hermeneutics should be examined to help us understand HP or at least modern expressions of HP.

In regard to how the NT uses the OT, I will point out that Ladd affirmed three things: (1) the NT used the OT non-contextually; (2) the NT reinterpreted the OT; and (3) the NT has priority over the OT.

Non-contextual Use of the OT
Ladd believed that the NT writers used OT prophecies non-contextually:

The fact is that the New Testament frequently interprets Old Testament prophecies in a way not suggested by the Old Testament context.[1] (emphasis is Ladd’s)

Responding in agreement to Ladd’s statement, the amillennialist, Anthony A. Hoekema, wrote, “I agree with him [Ladd] that the Old Testament must be interpreted in light of the New Testament and that a totally and exclusively literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecy is not justified.”[2]

Ladd also argued for deeper meaning for OT passages given by the NT: “Old Testament prophecies must be interpreted in the light of the New Testament to find their deeper meaning.”[3]

NT Reinterpretation of the OT
In addition, Ladd believed in NT reinterpretation of the OT. In doing so he argued that physical promises to Israel are “reinterpreted” and may find their spiritual fulfillment in the church:

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.[4]

Two passages highlight Ladd’s methodology. First, concerning Matt. 2:15 which states, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son,” Ladd offered the following:

In Hosea [11:1] this is not a prophecy at all but a historical affirmation that God had called Israel out of Egypt in the Exodus. However, Matthew recognizes Jesus to be God’s greater son and deliberately turns a historical statement into a prophecy. This is a principle which runs throughout biblical prophecy. The Old Testament is reinterpreted in light of the Christ event. (Emphasis is Ladd’s)[5]

Second, Ladd held that Rom 9:24–26 is evidence that the Christian church fulfills promises made to national Israel. He states, “Paul deliberately takes these two prophecies about the future salvation of Israel and applies them to the church. The church consisting of Jews and Gentiles has become the people of God. The prophecies of Hosea are fulfilled in the Christian church.”[6]

Third, according to Ladd, Jesus’ exaltation as discussed in Acts 2 means “new redemptive events in the course of Heilsgeschichte (“salvation history”) have compelled Peter to reinterpret the Old Testament.”[7]

 At times, Ladd escalates the concept of “reinterpretation” to “radical reinterpretation.” In regard to Peter’s understanding of Jesus’ ascension in Acts 2, Ladd said:

This involves a rather radical reinterpretation of the Old Testament prophecies, but no more so than the entire reinterpretation of God’s redemptive plan by the early church.[8] 

In regard to Heb 8:13 and the new covenant Ladd states: “Here again we have a radical reinterpretation of the Old Testament prophets. . .”[9]

NT Priority over the OT
Along with the concept of “reinterpretation” or “radical reinterpretation” of the OT, Ladd explicitly affirmed NT priority over the OT. He did this when comparing Dispensationalism with non-dispensationalism:

Here is the basic watershed between a dispensational and a non-dispensational theology. Dispensationalism forms its eschatology by a literal interpretation of the Old Testament and then fits the New Testament into it. A nondispensational eschatology forms its theology from the explicit teaching of the New Testament. It confesses that it cannot be sure how the Old Testament prophecies of the end are to be fulfilled for (a) the first coming of Christ was accomplished in terms not foreseen by a literal interpretation of the Old Testament, and (b) there are unavoidable indications that the Old Testament promises to Israel are fulfilled in the Christian church.[10]

One important thing to note here is that Ladd views NT priority over the OT as more than just being his own personal view—it is a “watershed” issue that separates non-dispensational theology from dispensational theology. Thus, one can determine whether he or she is a dispensationalist or not based on this understanding. As a dispensationalist, John Feinberg affirms this difference:

Nondispensationalists begin with NT teaching as having priority and then go back to the OT. Dispensationalists often begin with the OT, but wherever they begin they demand that the OT be taken on its own terms rather than reinterpreted in the light of the NT.[11]

(When Feinberg made this statement he did so with Ladd’s previous statement in mind.)

Dispensationalists have responded to Ladd’s claim that the NT overrides the meaning of the OT. John Feinberg claimed that:

No NT writer claims his new understanding of the OT passage cancels the meaning of the OT passage in its own context or that the new application is the only meaning of the OT passage. The NT writer merely offers a different application of an OT passage than the OT might have foreseen; he is not claiming the OT understanding is now irrelevant.[12]

In response to George Ladd’s declaration that the NT reinterprets the OT, Paul Feinberg asked some relevant questions: “If Ladd is correct that the NT reinterprets the OT, his hermeneutic does raise some serious questions. How can the integrity of the OT text be maintained? In what sense can the OT really be called a revelation in its original meaning?”[13]

My purpose here has been to focus specifically on the hermeneutics of George Ladd and his understanding of how the NT uses the OT. I am not saying all historic premillennialists agree with Ladd on every one of Ladd’s assertions. But since Ladd is often looked to as the leading proponent of HP, it is helpful to look at his beliefs in this area and understand that Dispensationalism has strong differences with Ladd on how the NT uses the OT.

[1] George Eldon Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism,” in The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (IVP, 1977),  20. Emphasis in original.
[2] Hoekema, “Amillennialism,” in  The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views 55. Emphasis is mine.
[3] Ladd, 23.
[4] George E. Ladd, “Revelation 20 and the Millennium,” Review and Expositor 57 (1960): 167.
[5] Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism,” 21.
[6] Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism,” 24.
[7] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Eerdmans, 1974, Revised edition, 1994, 372.
[8] George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament , 373. Emphasis mine.
[9] Ladd, The Last Things: An eschatology for Laymen, Eerdmans, 1978, 27. Emphasis mine.
[10] Ladd, “Historic Premillennialism,” 27.
[11] John Feinberg, “Systems of Discontinuity,” in Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments, ed. John S. Feinberg (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1988), 75.
[12] John Feinberg, “Systems of Discontinuity,” in Continuity and Discontinuity
[13] Paul Feinberg, “Hermeneutics of Discontinuity,” in Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments, 116. Emphasis in original.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dispensationalism, Historic Premillennialism, and the Restoration of Israel

As I continue with my thoughts on how Dispensational Premillennialism (DP) differs from Historic Premillennialism (HP) I want to make some additional comments regarding my earlier statement in another blog that DP differs from HP in that DP affirms a restoration of national Israel while HP does not affirm this. The Orange Mailman expressed strong rejection of my claim:

. . . Vlach states something that is just flat-out not true.  You can tell because he cites no source whatsoever to back up his claim.  He states that Historic Premillennialists do not believe in a future restoration of the nation of Israel.  I quoted in the comments section from Ladd himself where he states that there would be a future restoration of the nation of Israel.  Older premillennialists also held out this hope.  So will there be a retraction of certain aspects of Vlach’s post?  I doubt it. (http://theorangemailmanmyblog.wordpress.com/2011/07/10/historic-pre-millennialism-misrepresented-again/)TOM then offers a quote from Ladd where Ladd uses the term "restoration" in regard to Israel:

Consider this quote from The Gospel of the Kingdom which concerns Romans 11:26.  " It is quite impossible in light of the context and the course of Paul’s thought in this passage to understand "all Israel" to refer to the Church….  But secondly, there is to be a greater turning to the Lord on the part of Israel after the flesh, of such proportions that Paul can say that "all Israel," i.e., Israel as a whole, will be saved….  When God’s purpose for the Gentiles is fulfilled, so this verse implies, Jerusalem will no longer be trodden down.  There will be a restoration of Israel; "all Israel will be saved." "Since Ladd uses the term "restoration" for Israel, does this mean I was wrong in my affirmation that only DPs believe in a restoration of Israel? I don’t think so.

This is a case where we have different understandings of the term, "restoration." Ladd and DPs use the term in different ways. I and other dispensationalists use the term "restoration" more specifically to mean that Israel will not only be saved but restored as a nation in the sense of having a specific role to play to other nations in the millennium and perhaps beyond. While Israel and all believers are saved in the same way and have the same spiritual blessings in Christ, the nation Israel has a role to play in the millennium that is not shared with other groups.

I think Arnold Fruchtenbaum is right when he states that Dispensationalists believe in both the salvation and restoration of national Israel (see Israelology: The Missing Link in Systematic Theology) while non-dispensationalists do not affirm both. HPs usually affirm a salvation but not a restoration of Israel. Restoration goes beyond salvation and indicates that national Israel will lead the nations in service, worship, and example when Jesus returns to earth—just as the OT predicted (see Isa 2). It is this meaning of "restoration" that DPs affirm and HPs usually do not. In his book, The Millennial Maze, Stanley Grenz makes this point when explicitly comparing HP with DP:

According to historic premillennialists the object of the prophesies of a golden age is not a future regathered nation of Israel, as in dispensational thought, but "spiritual Israel"—the church. The group that will enjoy the millennial blessings, therefore, is not composed of an end-times restored nation of Israel, the natural offspring of Abraham, but the true Israel of God composed of Abraham’s spiritual children in all generations. (Stanley J. Grenz, The Millennial Maze, IVP, 1992, 136).Grenz also says:

Historic premillennialists continue likewise to reject the dispensationalist understanding of the tribulation and the millennium, which views them in terms of God’s program for his Old Testament people. These eras do not belong to some purported Israel phase of salvation history, historic premillennialists argue. (Grenz, 130).Grenz appeals to historic premillennialist, Clarence Bass, who says that historical premillennialists believe, "that the church is indeed spiritual Israel; that the covenantal relations of God to Israel have indeed passed over to the church." (Clarence C. Bass, Backgrounds to Dispensationalism, Baker, 1960, 152.)

Russell Moore, who appears to take a Ladd-like view of HP states his difference with DP on this issue: "Dispensationalists, even progressives, mistakenly speak of the millennial Israel as having a 'mediatorial' role in dispensing the blessings of God to the nations." For Moore, "Scripture presents this mediatorial role as belonging to Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). (The Kingdom of Christ, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 118.)

When I read George Ladd and other HPs after Ladd (Grudem, Erickson, Moore, etc.), I sense that many HPs affirm a salvation of Israel and some even see Israel "restored" in the sense of being placed in their land. But I do not see them (at least Ladd and post-Ladd HPs) saying that the nation Israel will have a mediatorial role of leadership, service, and example to the other nations as prophesied in the OT. The closest thing I have seen to this is a chapter by Richard Hess, where he argues for a literal restoration of Ezekiel’s temple in the coming millennium (see "The Future Written in the Past: The Old Testament and the Millennium," in A Case for Historic Premillennialism, ed. Craig Blomberg and Sung Wook Chung, Baker, 2009, 23-36).

My purpose here has not been to argue which side is right although as a dispensationalist I believe DP is correct. But I think it fair to say that DP affirms a restoration of Israel as a national entity with a role to play to other nations in a way that HP does not.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Yes, George Ladd Believed that the Church is the "New Israel"

Recently a blogger called The Orange Mailman called me out for stating that George Ladd held that the church is the “new Israel.” Not only is he unhappy with my claim but he has rebuked me in a blog and has asked whether I will offer a retraction of my comments on this (as well as some other things). Below are two segments from his blog:

Vlach cites Ladd, but he does so in such a way that you think that Ladd believes that the church is the new Israel, which is not the case. Ladd never wrote that the church is the new Israel as he always used the term “the true Israel”. Notice how Vlach frames Ladd’s quote: Ladd asserted that the church is now the new “spiritual Israel.” You see how the word “new” is not in the quotes, only “spiritual Israel” is in the quotes.

So will there be a retraction of certain aspects of Vlach’s post? I doubt it. (http://theorangemailmanmyblog.wordpress.com/)

I thought it was common knowledge for those interested in eschatology that George Ladd believed that the church is the “new Israel.” If you scan the internet you’ll see that many others have rightly come to this conclusion as well (Mike Stallard says, “. . .  Ladd treats the Church as a kind of 'New Israel' in his commentary on Revelation.” http://faculty.bbc.edu/mstallard/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/PDChallenge.pdf)

But since I have been challenged on this let me offer three quotes from Ladd that show that Ladd believed the church is the “new Israel”:

“James cites the prophecy of Amos 9:11-12 to prove that Peter’s experience with Cornelius was a fulfillment of God’s purpose to visit the Gentiles and take out of them a people for his name. It therefore follows that the ‘rebuilding of the dwelling of David’ which had resulted in the Gentile mission, must refer to the exaltation and enthronement of Christ upon the (heavenly) throne of David and the establishment of the church as the true people of God, the new Israel. Since God had brought Gentiles to faith without the Law, there was no need to insist that the Gentiles become Jews to be saved” (George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, Eerdmans 1974, 355). (emphasis mine)

“Here, in two separate places, prophecies which in their Old Testament context refer to literal Israel are in the New Testament applied to the (Gentile) church. In other words, Paul sees the spiritual fulfillment of Hosea 1:10 and 2:23 in the church. It follows inescapably that the salvation of the Gentile church is the fulfillment of prophecies made to Israel. Such facts as this are what compel some Bible students, including the present writer, to speak of the church as the New Israel, the true Israel, the spiritual Israel.” (George Ladd, “What About Israel.” http://articles.ochristian.com/article14710.shtml (emphasis mine)

Here is an outstanding difference between participation in the old and new Israel. Membership in the old Israel required circumcision and acceptance of the Law; membership in the new Israel required individual personal faith and confession of Christ as Lord (Rom 10:9).  (Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 545.)

Make no mistake. George Ladd believed that the church is the “new Israel.”

I also recommend those interested to check out mac-eschatology.blogspot.com. Some good points are made here.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Parable of the Minas and the Future Coming of the Kingdom of God (Luke 19:11-27)

Jesus’ parable of the minas reveals significant information about the kingdom program and is evidence that Christ’s kingdom was viewed as being in the future late in Jesus’ earthly ministry. Luke 19:11 states:

While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.

The audience (“they”) were those who heard Jesus’ words regarding the salvation of Zaccheus which included both the multitude and the disciples of Jesus (Luke 19:1–10). Several important theological points should be noted from this verse.

First, Luke tells us that the Jesus’ parable was occasioned by the belief that “the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately.” There was a heavy expectation that Jesus would soon establish the kingdom as He approached Jerusalem. This certainly included the expectation of the deliverance of Israel from oppression and the restoration of the nation.

Second, it does not appear that Jesus or His audience viewed the kingdom of God as having already been established or inaugurated. Jesus and the disciples earlier had preached that the kingdom was near (Matt. 4:17 and Matt. 10:5-7), but Luke 19:11 indicates that both Jesus and His hearers viewed the kingdom as future from their immediate standpoints.  This supports the view that the kingdom was near in that it was imminent but it had not yet been inaugurated. There is no sense in Luke 19:11 that the kingdom had already officially arrived.

Third, the purpose of the parable is to correct the idea that the kingdom would be established immediately. It was not to correct the belief that the kingdom would come to earth or involve a restoration of Israel. In other words, the parable is about the kingdom’s timing not its nature. McClain is correct that “the people were not wrong in looking for a very genuine appearing or manifestation of the Messianic Kingdom; but the error of which they needed to be cured was the supposition that the Kingdom could come at once without first a departure and a return on the part of the King.”[1]

Moving on, Luke 19:12 states: “So He [Jesus] said, ‘A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return.’”

The historical background for this parable as McClain has noted, “was undoubtedly drawn from actual events in the political history of the times. It was a regular procedure for native princes to journey to Rome to receive their right to rule.”[2]The case of Herod Archelaus, with whom Jesus’ listeners would have been familiar, was probably the incident most on their minds. Archelaus was proclaimed a leader by his father Herod the Great and the army. But Archelaus did not claim the right to rule until he received official sanction from Caesar Augustus in Rome. This involved traveling for many months. During this process he was opposed by various Jews who followed him to Rome to contest his petition to rule over them. In 4 B.C. Caesar Augustus granted Archelaus authority over Samaria, Judea, and Idumea to the dismay of Archelaus’s opponents.

The “nobleman” of Luke 19:12 is clearly Jesus. This “nobleman” travels to a “distant country” in order to “receive a kingdom” and then return to begin his rule over his kingdom. The nobleman is not reigning before he travels to receive his kingdom. He travels in order that he may receive official sanctioning to rule.

The reason why the kingdom of God is not going to appear immediately is because Jesus needs to officially receive His kingdom before it can begin. For Jesus, this “distant country” appears to be Heaven, which He will travel to with His ascension. Just before His ascension, after His resurrection, Jesus told His disciples, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). At the time of His ascension Jesus receives all authority but the exercise of that authority awaits His second coming. A kingdom involves both the right and power to rule along with the actual exercising of that rule.

To make the comparison, Archelaus went to Rome to receive his kingdom from Caesar but his kingdom reign did not begin until he returned to Judea when he rewarded his servants and dealt with his enemies who did not want him to rule. Likewise, Jesus must travel to Heaven to receive His kingdom from the Father. He receives the right to rule there but His kingdom reign begins at His return.

Luke 19:13-15 continues the parable:

And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, “Do business with this until I come back.” But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, “We do not want this man to reign over us.” When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done.

The slaves who belong to the nobleman were each given a mina which is the equivalent of 100 days of work. They were to “do business” and try to turn a profit on behalf of the nobleman. These slaves appear to represent servants and believers in Christ. Christians are to use their gifts and talents for Jesus in this period between the Lord’s return to Heaven and His second coming. The “citizens” who hate the nobleman appear to be the majority of Jews who do not want Jesus to reign over them.

Verses 16-26 discuss how three of the servants used their minas. The first took his mina and made it ten minas. The second made his mina five minas. But the third did nothing with his mina. He received a strong rebuke and his mina was taken from him and given to the one with ten. The citizens, however, who opposed him were slain (v. 27).

Also significant are the positions of ruling authority given to the faithful slaves. For the first servant who earned ten minas, he was given “authority over ten cities” (v. 17). The second servant was given authority over five cities (v. 18). When the nobleman begins his kingdom reign his faithful servants participate in that reign by also having positions of authority. Faithful service now results in positions of authority later. Neither the nobleman nor the servants were reigning while the nobleman was traveling to the distant country but they both began to reign upon the nobleman’s return. These truths fit with other passages where the reign of the saints coincides with the reign of the Messiah (see Rev 2:26-27). Nowhere in Scripture are the saints said to be reigning with Christ now but they will in the future when He returns.

A summary of the parable of the minas:

Occasion: The people thought the kingdom of God was going to be established immediately as Jesus approached Jerusalem.

Main point: The kingdom would not be established until Christ returns from Heaven after He received authority to establish His kingdom from the Father. After that He will come and reward his servants abundantly giving more to those who were faithful and taking away from those who were not faithful.

Practical Application for Christians: Christ’s servants are to be faithfully using their gifts and talents during this period between the two comings of Christ. When Jesus returns and establishes His kingdom He will reward those who have been faithful and grant them positions of ruling authority. The rewards will not be equal. Those most faithful will reap the most rewards.

Practical Application for Non-believers: Those who oppose Jesus will be slain when Jesus returns with His kingdom.

[1] McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, 342.
[2] McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom, 341.