May 11, 2016

A hole in biblical theology

by Jesse Johnson

Much of “biblical theology” has a glaring weakness: it misses one of the major themes of the Bible.

Biblical theology is the study of how to read the Bible as a whole, or how to trace a theme as it progresses from Genesis to Revelation. While systematic theology systematizes the teaching of the Bible (what the Bible says about God’s attributes, the person of Christ, salvation, etc.), biblical theology traces the major themes of the Bible chronologically (how the Passover lamb was instituted, celebrated, neglected, and finally fulfilled).

The study of biblical theology often focuses on themes, types, figures, symbols and motifs that develop canonically in an attempt to show the unity of scripture and the power of progressive revelation.  

Most biblical theology books read similarly. They point out the garden-to-garden theme of Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 20-22, with some Isaiah sprinkled in the middle. They talk about the temple in the Torah, the temple’s destruction in exile, Jesus as the true temple, and finally the church as the new temple.

Those are all good and helpful, but there is a glaring omission in much of Biblical theology—namely, Israel.

In fact: if measured by volume, Israel is the theme of the Bible. Obviously I’m not saying that the theme of Israel is more important than the themes of salvation, God’s glory, or the messiah. Nevertheless, more biblical chapters—nay, books—are about Israel than any other theme.

Take Genesis for an example. For obvious reasons, much of biblical theology is rooted in Genesis. We are introduced to sacrifices, Sabbaths, judgement, rescue, global destruction, and satanic intervention; and that’s all in the first dozen chapters. Perhaps most importantly, we learn that God is going to send a savior to the earth through the seed of a man, and that man will restore the paradise lost.

But while all of that is significant in the theme of the Bible, they are by no means the theme of Genesis itself—which is the story of how God got Israel into Egypt.

The same can be said with the rest of the Torah. There are many significant themes and types found there, such as the Passover lamb, the temple, and the nature of law and covenant. But those are not the themes of those books. The Torah describes how Israel is supposed to live.

And Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings: are they not the story of how Israel actually did live?

The prophets obviously have much to say about the future messiah, but by no means does that make up the theme of most of the prophetic books. With the exception of Jonah, you could say that all of the prophets have the future of Israel as their theme.

Why do many biblical theology books ignore this? Mostly (I think) because of the abrupt change in the New Testament. Matthew opens with a genealogy, and it becomes apparent that the theme of the Bible is changing from a nation to a person. The nation of Israel is clearly antagonistic to Christ, and by Acts 13 Israel has exited, stage left.

This is not to say that Israel is forgotten in the NT. Galatians and Ephesians emphatically make the point that redeemed Israelites and gentiles are now part of the same New Covenant, and Hebrews obliterates the idea that any Israelite could be saved by going back to Old Testament worship.

Romans 11 teaches that the Old Testament promises to Israel are not forgotten, and while Israel may be broken off now, it is only for a while. The day is coming when God’s favor will return to Israel, and when that happens, “all Israel will be saved.”

And of course, in Revelation 7 John sees the fulfillment of that promise, as the angels stop the destruction on earth to seal 144,000 from the 12 tribes—a massive group of people who will be preserved through the tribulation.

I know that many premillennialists view biblical theology with skepticism. It’s not because we don’t believe in themes, motifs or types.

It is because it’s hard to take a discipline seriously if its stated goal is to understand the key themes of the Bible, but in so doing it largely misses one of the major ones. Its hard to take the study of Biblical theology seriously when those who write books on the theme of the whole, when the theme of the parts seems so askew.

The best way to improve biblical theology is to include the Bible’s most massive theme: Israel.

Jesse Johnson

Posts Twitter Facebook

Jesse is the Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, VA. He also leads The Master's Seminary Washington DC location.
  • John

    Are you saying, Jesse, that you’ve read no biblical theology books that trace the theme of the people of God through the Bible, or the progress from the old covenant to the new covenant, or the ways in which Jesus fulfils the ideal obedient Israel, servant of the Lord, seed of Abraham, true vine, etc?

    • Robert Andrejczyk

      Jesse, I have to agree with John here. Israel is central to Biblical Theology but in a way (I suspect) you don’t agree with. Covenant theologians from the beginning have endeavored to demonstrate that there is one people of God that spans the ages. Therefore, Israel’s story is the Church’s story. I know you know this and recognize that, using a covenantal framework, Israel is one of THE main themes undergirding Scripture. However, because you see Scripture playing out differently for ethnic Israel and the NT church, Biblical Theologies do not treat the subject as you would want.

      Perhaps you should have mentioned this enormous hermeneutical divide up front. Personally, I read your post with a raised eyebrow because of how centrally Israel is treated by Biblical Theologians but, again, not how I suspect you would want.

      • Look, I”m not saying that biblical theologies skip the theme of God’s faithful remnant in all dispensations (or whathaveyou). I’m saying that they look at 1 Kings, or Zechariah, or Daniel, or Jeremiah, or Ezekiel, or Judges, and walk away thinking that because they connected one verse to Hebrews, or one event to Jesus, that they nailed the theme of the book. The truth is, they are (to borrow a phrase) missing the forest for the trees; which is fine, except that they claim to be writing about the forest.

        • Robert Andrejczyk

          Which biblical theologies are you consulting? Perhaps it is a matter of needing better sources but I think it is more likely that your dispensational glasses are clouding your vision. 🙂

        • John

          Jesse, is this really what you think biblical theology is? Quoting your reply to Robert: “… walk away thinking that because they connected one verse to Hebrews, or one event to Jesus, that they nailed the theme of the book.”

    • Robert Andrejczyk

      The “Immanuel principle”, i.e. “I will be their God and they will be my people,” is the heartbeat of Biblical Theology as a discipline. God’s dealings with his one covenant people is a central theme.

    • Good question John. Even the way you asked it is sort of revealing–by equaiting “the people of God” with “Israel,” obviously that is a theme covered in many biblical theology books. But most of the prophetic books are not written to the remnant, but to the unbelieving descendants of a man named Israel.
      Let me put it this way: the theme of 1 Kings is not the 7,000.

      • Jason

        Do you believe the theme is exclusive of the 7,000?

        Throughout scripture, from Noah to the wheat and tares, the same theme is repeated time and again. The growing wickedness of the nation is the introduction of 1 Kings, but the 7,000 in chapter 19 is just as much a part of the theme of God’s provision for the removal of wickedness from among his people. The rest will not remain part of the nation for the simple fact that they will be dead (according to the law, they should have been removed from Israel long ago [Deut 13:6-9]).

        Hebrews 11:9 says that Isaac and Jacob (the origin of the name Israel) were heirs to the promise, but Ishmael and Esau were born to the same fathers. Romans 9:13 tells us why Esau isn’t included.

        To be sure, when God promised Abraham that his descendants would be a blessing to the world that was true. However, he didn’t promise that ALL of his descendants would be a blessing. In fact, his pronouncement over Ishmael was that his hand would be against every man.

        Similarly, Jesus warned the religious leaders of his time not to presume that they inherit the promises of Abraham just because of their lineage (Matthew 3:9).

        Romans 11 certainly teaches that God’s promises are not forgotten. However, since the topic is Israel it doesn’t make sense to say that Israel was broken off of Israel.

        Instead, remnant Israel continued on, some in the faith (the disciples), some temporarily hardened. Paul explicitly states that not all of those who were cut off will be brought back into Israel (verse 14), though he’s clearly laboring for those who are temporarily hardened.

        To this day, we can know that some of the elect (regardless of their lineage) are hardened to this day, because the Lord has not yet returned (2 Peter 3:9).

      • John

        Jesse, to suggest that biblical theologians think that the theme of 1 Kings is the 7,000 is perhaps either a misunderstanding of biblical theology (cf. my ref. to moving from life under the old covenant to life under the new covenant below) or a straw man argument. Thanks for being willing to engage with the comments here though.

    • John

      Jesse, thanks for your replies to comments here. It seems that some of the commentators here have hit the nail on the head. The “hole” you think is missing is specifically a particular dispensational eschatological scheme. 1 Kings (your example below) is not part of a collection of stand alone books but part of a coherent canon in which the earlier parts deliberately point forward to what is to come. As I indicated above, your reference to Israel, say, in 1 Kings is well and truly covered in biblical theological treatments of the nature of the people of God under the old (Mosaic) covenant which anticipates and highlights the need for a new covenant people who are transformed by the Spirit and who belong to a righteous King who represents his people (as the unrighteous kings in 1-2 Kings also represented the people) … Jew and Gentile together (including the future salvation of a large number of Jews as per Rom 11)! Note again, he is the righteous King, obedient servant and Son (Matt 2 citing Hosea 11), “seed of Abraham” (Gal 3:16 citing Gen 12, 13, etc; cf. also Gal 3:29) and “true vine” (John 15 citing Isaiah 5), etc. The people of God are defined in relation to him. There is no “hole” or lack of reference to Israel in treatments that move from describing life under the old covenant to the glorious new covenant fulfillment! (by the way, this doesn’t rule out a millennium as per Rev 20 either, perhaps you should remove the ref. to “premillennialists” and insert “dispensationalists” in the paragraph towards the end of the post).

  • Ted Bigelow

    Excellent, excellent, excellent.

  • Vinod Anand S

    Interesting!!

  • PC

    the theme of the bible and the theme of biblical theology is christ not israel, israel is not centre stage beause christ fulfils Israel as the new israel. The constant preoccupation of israel by premillenialists only distracts from the Gospel and Christ.

    • Jason

      I feel this may be going a bit far in the other extreme, but I’m glad it was mentioned.

      From the beginning we see a remnant of people set apart for God (Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, etc…) and often a people cut off, though they were born into the same family (Cain, Ishmael, Esau, the wicked from within Israel, etc…) God’s people are undeniably a serious focus.

      Through all of that, the ordinances God puts in place are to point these people to the messiah and focus the society upon him. So even while focusing on these people, the scriptures are focused on Christ.

      Jesus himself preached the good news of the kingdom of God. If we focus exclusively on the people or Christ we will fail to understand either.

    • Fibber MaGee

      Can you provide scriptural evidence that Christ is the new Israel and then show us where the promises to Israel have been revoked. The only preoccupation I see in these responses are from those opposed to premillennialism and to infer that Jesse has distracted us from the truth of the gospel and who Christ is…well, I can’t say, they’ll just delete my post.

    • Not wanting to repeat my blog post here or anything–but I am grateful for biblical theology, and thankful for the theme of the Messiah. CW Wright’s work on the development of the seed motif (for example) has been stolen and re-preached by me on numerous occasions.
      Yet you have to confess that while very important–perhaps even the most important theme in the Bible–it is not the only one. And a very significant theme is the people of Israel.

  • Johnny

    This is a very helpful consideration as I read through the OT again

  • Jane Hildebrand

    “In fact: if measured by volume, Israel is the theme of the Bible.”

    But isn’t that because it was written for Israel? A record of how they were to live and how they lived? But as Paul said to us, “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.” (1 Cor. 10:11)

    • Fibber MaGee

      The context is idolatry, not replacement theology.

    • That’s a great point Jane. In fact, that’s Paul’s point in Romans 9:1-4.

  • Jesse:

    I think I understand what you’re saying, and am not entirely without some sympathies – oftentimes, biblical theologies pay short shrift to important themes, like national Israel – but, help me follow your argument, here.

    Do you mean to complain that biblical theology does not typically represent a dispensational understanding of national Israel? That is, what you miss is God’s continuous plan for ethnic Israel in a biblical theology.

    I ask because of your (what I think to be) telling admission: “Mostly (I think) because of the abrupt change in the New Testament. Matthew opens with a genealogy, and it becomes apparent that the theme of the Bible is changing from a nation to a person.” Right! So, could it be that biblical theology is just following that central theme – even from the OT itself (following Gen 3:15 through Luke 24:44; John 5:46; etc.) – and articulating the place and fulfillment of corporate Israel within it (i.e., 12 disciples, Eph 2:11-21; Rom 11; etc.)?

    More simply put, I guess I’m wondering if you’re just lamenting the more biblical theologians aren’t dispensational? Perhaps I’m misreading your intention, but be curious as to your response. Thanks, man.

    • That’s a really well said question Steve. I suppose I, like the Apostle Paul, wishes that everyone were a dispensationalist like me 🙂
      I’m lamenting this after studying for Revelation 7 and the 144,000. In my mind, this is a HUGE text, because despite the volume of promises in the OT to unbelieving ethnic Israel, and then the promises in Romans 11 about their future, the biblical theologies I looked at (and I looked at many!) either skipped the theme altogether, or simply said 144,000 (with tribes listed, btw) = church. As if there was not even a huge prophetic emphasis fulfilled.
      And that’s why I looked at biblical theologies, which I normally don’t when I’m studying. Because i thought “in all places where they would be helpful, I’d love to see how Revelation 7 is the fulfillment of Romans 11, and points toward even the greater fulfillment promised by countless other passages.” I mean, that’s stuff right up a biblical theologian’s avenue.
      Instead I found silence, or lines like “The 144,000 stands for an innumerable number of people from every nation.” An actual quote (from a premmillenialst!!!!)

      • Thanks, Jesse. That helps me understand a lot more exactly what you’re arguing. That latter explanation of how you entered into this realization was helpful – perhaps even a good introduction to your post?

        Though I, like the Apostle Paul, shedded dispensationalism after engaging more with Christian biblical theology, 🙂 I find a lot of agreement with your general concerns over BT. For starters, it exposes the claim that BT is more inductive and harbors less logical presuppositions than ST, which isn’t true at all. BT simply utilizes different logical categories that tend to follow the biblical chronology, but it’s no less systematic than ST.

        Related, you raise a point that a few theologians have noted – that is, the relatively recent attempt to envelop the whole Bible into a single, over-arching “theme” or “point.” If you go back to Calvin, et al, you don’t observe this to be even attempted. In fact, it doesn’t really appear in theological circles until the rise of the same approach in secular literary analysis by German critics in 19th century. Basically, it’s a borrowing of tools and categories from literary criticism in the Romantic period – again, with just as many presuppositions as ST. (If I recall, Merrill makes that point in Everlasting Dominion).

        It’s a good reminder that many claims to have expounded *the* theme of the Bible is often by ignoring many of the important trees in the forest; and that’s true regardless of one’s theological suppositions (whether Dispy or CT – Kaiser gives good critiques to both “sides” in his The Promise-Plan). I don’t think we ought to abandon the endeavor, but I distrust all the claims in BT to have “arrived.”

        Thanks, brother. Press on.

      • 4Commencefiring4

        Don’t be too quick to dismiss the possibility that the 144,000 is not a literal number and that it’s not predicting that a crowd of future saved Jews are somehow going to preach to the nation.

        First point: Notice that it says 144,000 are to be sealed “from every tribe of the sons of Israel.” EVERY tribe? Where’s Dan? Where’s Ephraim? Need to account for that.

        Second point: You say God’s favor will return to Israel during the tribulation, that “all Israel will be saved”, and that somehow the saving of 144,000 Jews fulfills that promise? Even if we posit that those 144,000 go out, in turn, and preach to the nation, and somehow the rest of the nation is thus saved, how is that “all Israel”? I thought the horrors of the tribulation, what with fire, locusts, meteor showers, earthquakes, and general chaos, just about wipe out everybody on earth. If there’s anything left of Israel, or anyone else, it won’t be much. A lot of Israel would perish.

        Unless, of course, the 144,000 stands for something else entirely. I think it does, but that’s another post.

        • Jane Hildebrand

          Wait, what? Aren’t the 144,000 the ones who write the Watchtower and Awake? 😉

  • Dan Sudfeld

    This is really helpful, Jesse. Thank you. I love bibilcal theology, I’m premillinnial and I love tracing the Israel theme. I didn’t know we were supposed to be skeptical of biblical theology. Maybe it was better that I didn’t know. I’ll just carry on now.

  • James D. Quigge

    A genuine dispensationalist recognizes God has a program for Israel and a separate program for the church. In my understanding these two programs overlap at certain points, but otherwise are separate, requiring specific plans and processes for the fulfillment of each. God has a program for other groups as well, e.g., the holy angels, the fallen angels, unsaved human beings, the non-Jewish nations, those persons saved from Adam to Moses, the Tribulation martyrs, and the millennial saints. God has a distinct program for national ethnic Israel and a distinct program for the New Testament church. (See “Dispensational Eschatology,” James D. Quiggle, pp. 47-85.)

  • tovlogos

    Very nice, Jesse.
    “Those are all good and helpful, but there is a glaring omission in much of Biblical theology—namely, Israel.”
    Absolutely. So much for Replacement Theology — notwithstanding, there was no New Testament when Jesus began His ministry. The importance of Israel should be apparent; and as Israel is fulfilling prophecy by its return to the Land — “The Jewish people will be regathered in unbelief from the four corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:11-12),” etc., there are Jews returning en masse, not those who are supposed to have replaced them.

    • 4Commencefiring4

      Isaiah 11:11-12 says nothing about their being regathered “in unbelief.” It mentions the “banished ones of Israel” and the “dispersed of Judah”, but “unbelief”? Sorry, you’re reading into this verse ideas that aren’t there.

      • tovlogos

        Thanks for your help, brother.
        Instead of saying, “etc”, I should have mentioned passages I had in mind, such as:

        Jeremiah16:14-15; 31;10; Amos 9:14-15; Ezekiel 4:3-6; 37:10-14, 21-22; Isaiah 66:7-8; 34:13; and many more.

        The the ultimate outcome of the return is all about God’s sovereignty, which has to do with faith/belief/unbelief.

      • tovlogos

        Okay I have no distractions now. I took another look at this… (something bothered me).
        The Jews “are” in a state of unbelief. The Jews for Jesus are a very small group. Jesus makes His appearance during the Tribulation Period. the Jews are currently under judgement. When He regathers them they are “still” in unbelief.Their regathering is not dependent on their “belief” — it is dependent on God’s sovereignty. That’s the point.
        Thanks for the exchange

        • 4Commencefiring4

          Jesus makes His appearance during the Tribulation Period? I must be missing some pages somewhere. (Never buy a Bible for a percentage off. It’ll bite you every time.)

          Can you find that for me? It’s not coming through over here.

          • tovlogos

            I responded to your objection the first time. You have got to study prophecy.

  • Jane Hildebrand

    Help me get my head around this. If dispensationalism claims that God has a separate plan for Israel than for the church, what about Paul? As an Israelite, was his hope different than ours?

    • 4Commencefiring4

      That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The church, the Body of Christ, IS the eternal purpose of God (Eph 3:8-11), not a separate plan brought about by Israel’s rejection of their Messiah, which is the root idea behind dispensationalism.

      To some, the church is a parallel track of salvation, distinct from that for the Jews (Google “parenthesis theory”), something brought into existence until He can take up with Israel once again later.

      The fact is, the church includes Jews and Gentiles. Both are saved the same way, are cleansed by the same blood of the same Savior, and are judged the same way and at the same time: by their response to Christ. There’s nothing in the NT that says or implies that there is a separate “program” or salvation or anything else for the church vs the Jews. The whole of the NT is about our life under the New Covenant. The idea that we’re not yet done with the old one is never suggested for a moment.

      This theory also posits that the church is NOT what God had in mind with His promise to Abraham that “you and your seed” would be forever given “this land” (Gen 17), or of an eternal throne for the house of David, despite the NT telling us that we [believers, whether Jew or Gentile] are “Abraham’s seed”, and are HEIRS ACCORDING TO PROMISE. What promise? The promise of an eternal inheritance. That’s what the Body of Christ is all about.

      How about the promise that God would raise up someone in David’s line to sit on his throne “forever”? Given that this world is due for the furnace someday, that promise can’t be fulfilled on this side of eternity. A throne in Jerusalem for 1,000 years doesn’t get it. So that promise must be for the eternal state. And Who will be ruling there? Maybe the Son of David? Who is also there? The Body of Christ, the redeemed, the “people for God’s own possession”–Jews and Gentiles–those who were “the eternal purpose of God.”

      For dispensational minds, to suggest that God doesn’t still owe something to Israel is heresy. Well, if we let the NT comment on the OT, we can see that His eternal purpose was quite a bit more.

      • Jane Hildebrand

        4C4, I hear what you’re saying. But at the same time I have to admit that I have a lot of question marks penciled in my margins of OT prophecies regarding Israel. For example Zechariah 14 speaks clearly of the end, the coming of Christ with his holy ones, but then how Jerusalem will be raised up, inhabited and celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles with the rest of the world threatened with drought unless they join the party. And I’m like “What? That makes no sense!” So I have a choice to either disregard that prophecy (and others like it) or do some major gymnastics to convert them all to symbolism.

        So, what I’m saying is, I believe there are sincere, intelligent and Word-honoring people (far brighter than myself) that want to do their best to never disregard verses they don’t understand, but to understand them in the framework of the entire Bible.

        Personally, I would like to understand everything, every verse, every prophecy, everything God could open my mind to. But until then, my question marks remain. And that’s okay.

        • 4Commencefiring4

          Zech 14, as you said, is a very odd passage if it’s to be taken literally. If you go over it phrase by phrase, word by word, trying very hard to take it at face value as much as possible (because prophecy is to be taken literally, we’re told), you can’t help but sense that something is seriously amiss here.

          “All the nations” will be required to gather at Jerusalem–yearly–to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles? This is AFTER Christ has come, please note. Why would even Israel do that, especially since “all Israel” is supposed to be saved by this point and would be living by the New Covenant?

          And if this (sacrifices and offerings, festivals and feast days) is again the order of the day after His return, what was the cross about? Or was that only effectual during “the church age”, and now we’re into another “dispensation” where the “wall of separation” between Jew and Gentile, which had been previously removed at Calvary, is now back up?

          Weren’t Jesus’ last words, “It is finished”? What was finished? The era of the law; the final execution of God’s eternal plan for man’s redemption.

          So why in the world would we be returning to the type after the anti-type has come? But some insist that’s what it plainly says will happen, so to question that meaning is to not believe God. Clearly, I’d take issue with that.

          • Jane Hildebrand

            4C4, I agree with you! But what are we then to do with these prophecies, as strange as they are? That was my point. Just look at Isaiah 65:17-25. It talks about a new heaven and a new earth, with the people of Jerusalem building houses and planting vineyards and never again having infants living only a few days and people who “die” at 100 being considered a mere youth. What do we do with that? Especially since it’s written in the first person, God!

            Listen, I’m right there with you when it comes to what I believe will happen, BUT I also believe that ALL scripture is God breathed and useful for correction. So I can’t look at some confusing verses like these and because it doesn’t line up with my view of eschatology, I discount it as “seriously amiss.” In that case, wouldn’t all of scripture be up for question?

            So again, all I’m saying is I think unless we can explain (vs. dismiss) those tough scriptures that have shaped the dispensationalist view, we really need to practice a little grace in this area of eschatology. ALL of us.

          • Fibber MaGee

            Jane, I like your attitude and I think I will take your advice in practicing grace on this issue. Your questions are going to lead you to the truth. I suggested a resource the last time this topic came up. John MacArthur did a series entitled, “Why every Calvinist should be premillenial”. It is worth the 5 hour investment and will put to rest most of your questions along with safe-guarding you against the “intellectually dishonest” who continue to attack the soveriegnty of God and the doctrine of election.

          • Jane Hildebrand

            Thanks for the resource, Fibber. I am learning that very sincere and intelligent believers can hold different views on eschatology. And part of practicing grace in that is not calling “intellectually dishonest” those who hold a different view. Now please know that I don’t say that disrespectfully, but more so to remind us all that this is not a competition. We’re all on the same team here. And last I checked, God is more concerned with how we treat one another than having end times all figured out. That way we can all smile at one another at the banquet vs. giving each other the stink eye. 😉

          • Fibber MaGee

            I don’t feel any disrespect and I would prefer that you say what you’re thinking. I also don’t think God cares more about our feelings than the truth. How did Peter feel after being ripped by Paul? One of my greatest lessons learned was by being rebuked publicly, but I’m not made of glass and I didn’t break, I learned. Thank you Fred Butler! Academically Dishonest (to me) means that someone (educated) is knowingly providing questionable information in a dogmatic way or purposely using deceptive tactics to make their case. I suppose I could have said it better. What has been said here? Premills have been accused of distracting people from the gospel. A statement was made about Paul shedding dispensationalism (in the context of Israel’s election) which couldn’t be any further from the truth, to me that is dishonest. This happens when you gloss over the surrounding text…so common. I am mocked when I say that I read revelation in a” literal” way, which means the text is read and understood in a natural sense or normal way. There is no literary basis for spiritualizing, symbolizing or allegorizing everything we don’t understand or like. My 13 year old can read Revelation and understand what is symbolic and what is not. The frequent departure from the text to opinion is not helpful. The “stink eye” was given long before the banquet and not by me. I honestly don’t understand why Jesse or Mike are not engaging with this nonsense. I’m guessing their fairly busy, but that is exactly what we need in a blog like this. A good example was Dan P. calling out 4C4 on his hooey. How many do you think read Dan’s link? We need to be able to discern the truth and be able to confront the false teachings when they arise. For me this blog is a valuable training resource. I, like everyone else who claims Christ is going to have differences with a brother (or sister), but these differences cannot be based on false information. We are called to the truth, that is what fellowship is, relationship based on truth. I write this, not really directed at you Jane, but anyone reading who has not yet been seduced by the replacement theology gang. My main purpose was to get you and anyone who was listening to listen to MacArthur. That’s all.

          • John

            Hi Fibber, I think you’ve confirmed what we’ve been saying here. That is, the original post complained of a “hole” in biblical theology … no ref. to Israel (e.g. in treatments of 1 Kings, etc, as per Jesse’s comment above). Myself and others have suggested that this complaint is wide of the mark (see my comment above about the Mosaic covenant, etc, complete with NT citations of [note, not allegorizing opinions of] OT texts about … Israel!) and what the post perhaps is really referring to is the lack of a particular dispensational eschatological scheme. Have I got the gist of what’s going on here correct?

          • 4Commencefiring4

            God authored the Bible and, like the works of all authors, His work reflects a writing style. Only in His case, He has many styles because He used many different people to do it, and those individuals had some effect on how it came out. No one would mistake Ezekiel for Paul, but both produced Spirit-inspired words. They told us truth in entirely different fashions, using entirely different language and turns of expression…not all of it easy to unwind.

            We’ve all seen the works of famous painters. Some–like Vermeer–exactly reflect reality, down to the finest detail. Each fold of clothing, the subtle light and shadow on a wall, age reflected in a face, the grain of the wood. Very real looking. Then there’s Picasso. Or Monet. Or Homer. Each depict reality through a different lens, but just as expressive, just as true, just as valuable. But Vermeer they’re not.

            And so I think we need to look at Scripture and try to use the Vermeer passages to understand the Monet passages, or the Picasso passages. Let the Bible interpret itself.

            But we have to sometimes suspend our expectation that what I’d call a “word picture” is supposed to be a news bulletin. The style of one is not always something that can be easily overlayed on another.

            For instance, there is much debate over just what the Song of Solomon is. An homage to the love between a man and a woman, glorifying the institution of holy matrimony? Or is it a lofty portrayal of the love the Lord has for His people using the language of romance and desire? It gets rather steamy in parts, so what is it? Sort that out, and I’ll send you some money.

            When it comes to these “difficult” passages, I first see if they are cited in the NT anywhere. If so, I consider the newer, later context and elevate that as being more definitive. Other passages aren’t as easy, but I can often see that God is perhaps describing spiritual truths in earthly language. Didn’t Jesus often do that with parables? Even the Apostles didn’t get His drift most of the time.

            Some subjects are often given extensive and expansive treatment for effect. That’s why I don’t see Revelation as describing a long series of coming events, but as a collection of visions that depict God’s eventual final judgment of this world and the blessings of the eternal state. If one takes these visions as literal and sequential events on earth, all kinds of problems arise. For instance, ALL the green grass is destroyed in Ch 8 by fire, but in Ch 9, the locusts are told not to hurt any grass. We just cannot take visions and make them look like a movie plot.

            OK, that’s all for now. My hamburger is getting cold.

          • Jane Hildebrand

            Good points, 4C4. I like your metaphors. Thanks for the exchange. Enjoy that hamburger.

  • Chuck

    Most in this discussion thread are much more intellectual than I am. However, it was easy to see that Jesse’s issue with BT is rooted in a dispensational bent. Although I don’t know much about dispensationalism, many things necessary in the position have always struck me as odd. For instance, a wonderful development in the New Covenant is that the people of God become the temple of God. Yet wouldn’t this progress in redemptive history be reversed in the millennium in order to return to a temple located in one place, built by human hands? I would think that any rebuilding of the temple negates the Body of Christ as the new, better temple. And doesn’t Romans 9:6-8 tell us that descendants of ethic Israel are not Israel but only the children of promise are Israel. Doesn’t Israel’s failure to be a faithful, physical kingdom on the earth, thereby ushering in the Messiah, relegate Israel to a smallish portion of any BT anyway? Shouldn’t we view New Covenant developments as progress rather than a parenthesis?

    • No, no (because the temple will be God himself in glory), yes (but not forever), no (and that’s sort the point of my post), and absolutely yes!

  • Jesse doesn’t seem to actually understand Biblical Theology, and if he does, my guess is that he is reading it through the lens of premillenial dual-covenant dispensationalism. For this error, I suggest David Holwerda’s great book, “Jesus & Israel, One covenant or two” in which, through the lens of biblical theology, the theme of Israel is discussed along the lines of promise and fulfillment. Also – pretty much anything by N.T. Wright (start with The New Testament and the People of God which gives a robust account of how Israel fits within the larger story of scripture). It’s really pretty easy to find BibTheo books that feature Israel. For Old Testament Biblical Theology, see Elmer Martens’ great O.T. theology “God’s Design.” It’s standard reading for Biblical Theologians. Probably the most readable text in Biblical Theology for beginners is Bartholomew & Goheen’s great book, “The Drama of Scripture,” which — funnily enough, includes an entire chapter on Israel (chapter 3). I could go on, but these will help.

    • Kenny doesn’t seem to actually understand how Jesse would respond to someone recommending to him “pretty much anything by N. T. Wright,” although I’m pretty sure to correct this error Jesse has already read “The New Testament and the People of God.” He didn’t interact with it here, because honestly he didn’t read that through the lens of biblical theology, but rather through a critical lens of “wait, is Wright trying to use this to springboard off into weirdness on justification? I think he just might be…”
      🙂

  • John

    Am I allowed to repost this comment? I mistakenly entered it as a reply to myself! …
    Jesse, thanks for your replies to comments here. It seems that some of the commentators here have hit the nail on the head. The “hole” you think is missing is specifically a particular dispensational eschatological scheme. 1 Kings (your example below) is not part of a collection of stand alone books but part of a coherent canon in which the earlier parts deliberately point forward to what is to come. As I indicated above, your reference to Israel, say, in 1 Kings is well and truly covered in biblical theological treatments of the nature of the people of God under the old (Mosaic) covenant which anticipates and highlights the need for a new covenant people who are transformed by the Spirit and who belong to a righteous King who represents his people (as the unrighteous kings in 1-2 Kings also represented the people) … Jew and Gentile together (including the future salvation of a large number of Jews as per Rom 11)! Note again, he is the righteous King, obedient servant and Son (Matt 2 citing Hosea 11), “seed of Abraham” (Gal 3:16 citing Gen 12, 13, etc; cf. also Gal 3:29) and “true vine” (John 15 citing Isaiah 5), etc. The people of God are defined in relation to him. There is no “hole” or lack of reference to Israel in treatments that move from describing life under the old covenant to the glorious new covenant fulfillment! (by the way, this doesn’t rule out a millennium as per Rev 20 either, perhaps you should remove the ref. to “premillennialists” and insert “dispensationalists” in the paragraph towards the end of the post).

    • Thanks John for your thoughtful comment (I’m assuming you are John MacArthur, and haven’t set up your disqus picture yet).
      While I do grant that in large part a neglect of the theme of Israel is necessary to reject dispensationalism (smiley face here), what I meant to convey in the post above is simply a dismay about how many examples of BT just skip right on over it, as if its not a tension. I don’t want to create a false dichotomy. It’s not the 7,000 OR Israel. In fact, I’m most thankful for BT for drawing out themes like the remnant, the seed theme, or the progression of understanding about the Messiah. I”m grateful or that. But to simply act like the largest sections of the OT are not written to unrepentant Israel, with promises given to them that are fulfilled…somewhere, is such a glaring omission that I wanted to point it out. Thanks John.