Wednesday, December 10, 2003

The Jews and the Gospel

The motivation for this series comes from a brief comment-exchange between myself and David Heddle over at He Lives. I would encourage you to read the original post (and indeed the entire series). In any case, here is my comment followed by his response:

Me: I have followed this series with interest, you have argued well for the weaknesses in some aspects of premillenial doctrine, but you are not correspondingly strong here. As bad as 70 A.D. might have been for the people of the time, can we honestly propose that it matches this description of the Great Tribulation, "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will. Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short."? (Matthew 24:21, 22)

Was 70 A.D. worse than what Nebuchadnezzar did to Jerusalem in 586 B.C.? According to Jeremiah you had the same famine, disease, and violent death. Jerusalem was laid waste and the temple destroyed. The Jewish people were scattered. There is no diffentiation of the 70 A.D. and 586 B.C. events. The latter is like no unlike a previous event.

Can we say that the horror of 70 A.D. was worse than the 6 million Jews killed in Germany?

David: Fair question. I think this was worse than either of those examples. For here we also have this parable-prophecy fulfilled:

14 "But when the vine-growers saw him, they reasoned with one another, saying, 'This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance will be ours.' 15 "So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 "He will come and (1) destroy these vine-growers and will give the vineyard to others." When they heard it, they said, "(2) May it never be!" (Luke 20:14-16)

Which is to say this tribulation is "more" than death to a large number of Jews, it marks the end of the Jewish age. I will talk about this more when I discuss the redemptive aspects of A.D. 70.

Besides the fact that I remain unconvinced that the end of the "Jewish Age" represents a "Great Tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever will", I am fully convinced that the events of 70 AD did not represent the end of the Jewish Age.

Introductory Comments

One. I have the highest respect for David Heddle and encourage you make reading his blog a regular habit. He is more of a systematic theologian and I am more of an exegete. That he and I disagree sometimes is your opportunity to see both sides of issues presented in strong and well argued terms. As is often said, "If two people agree on everything, one of them is not needed." What is unique here is that neither he nor I are Biblical scholars by training. He is a nuclear physicist and I am a self-employed computer programmer. We do what we do because we love to do it. The internet and blogging have become a great equalizer in the dissemination of information. It should also encourage you to realize that it is study and common sense rather than seminary training that makes for Biblical scholarship.

Two. We tend to gloss over facts the contradict ideas that we favor. I have two illustrations of this. And I am sure that you can think of others.

  1. The first comes from the scientific community. In 1909, Charles D. Walcott discovered the fossils in the Burgess Shale. Gerald Schroeder has this to say about this discovery and its aftermath:

Other shale pieces yielded a variety of equally fantastic animal fossils. Walcott, meticulous as always, recorded their shapes in his diary. During the next decade Walcott collected and shipped between sixty and eighty thousand of these specimens to his institution in Washington, D.C.

That Walcott realized he had made a major discovery is obvious from the vast number of fossils he collected. Representatives of every animal phylum, the basic anatomies of all animals alive today, were present among those half-billion-year-old specimens. These fossils revealed an extraordinary fact. Eyes and gills, jointed limbs and intestines, sponges and worms and insects and fish, all had appeared simultaneously. There had not been a gradual evolution of simple phyla such as sponges into the more complex phyla of worms and then on to other life forms such as insects. According to these fossils, at the most fundamental level of animal life, the phylum or basic body plan, the dogma of classical Darwinian evolution that the simple had evolved into the more complex, that invertebrates had evolved into vertebrates over one hundred to two hundred million years, was fantasy, not fact.

Such a challenge to Darwinian evolution had its professional hazards. In those heady years of the ascent of Darwin to near sainthood, no scientist questioned the role of random evolution, and certainly not if that scientist was director of the Smithsonian Institution, the largest organization of museums and curators of its day. You see, Charles Doolittle Walcott was the director of the Smithsonian. And so, following modest disclosures printed in the Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, a publication of extremely limited circulation, Walcott reburied the fossils, all sixty thousand of them, this time in the drawers of his laboratory. The year was 1909. Eighty years were to pass before their rediscovery.


Was Walcott's act a conspiracy of silence? In some way it must have been, even if his goal was merely to keep the glory or thrill of the discovery for a time when he personally could accomplish the research effort required by his ancient trove. Walcott's administrative responsibilities were demanding. However, considering the importance Walcott ascribed to the Burgess fossils (remember, sixty thousand of them lined the drawers of his laboratory), the director of the largest system of museums in the world could certainly have mustered the budget to hire a brigade of graduate students for the work. Ironically, it was a graduate student, Simon Conway Morris, who eventually played a key role in the interpretation of these fossils. [Schroeder, Gerald L., The Science of God (New York, Broadway Books, 1997) 26, 27]

Charles D. Walcott, in 1909, found evidence that challenged the prevailing strength of Darwin's theory. He cataloged the results, but could not bring himself to face the conclusion. If he had, the 20th century might have taken different paths.

  1. The Net Bible, from which I often quote is a freely available modern translation of the Bible. One of its distinctive feature is some 57,000 translation notes throughout the translation. It is a fact that the translators came from a cessationist background. By this I mean that they tend to believe that the New Testament gifts of prophecies, healings, words of knowledge, and miracles ceased when the Apostles died away. It is interesting to turn page after page in the Net Bible and see voluminous notes (especially in light of this discussion in the Song of Songs). However, when you turn to 1 Corinthians 12 - 14, the quantity and quality of these notes drop of dramatically. Indeed the section wherein Paul speaks the most about tongues and prophecy, there are just 5 small notes having nothing to do with the content. The passage made the translator uncomfortable, in my opinion, and he quickly moved on.

Doctrinal Labels

If you say to yourself, "I am a Calvinist," and know the exact nature of Calvinism, that becomes a grid through which you read and interpret scripture. Its effect can be similar to the blindness Darwinism created in Walcott as he systematically catalogued and re-buried strong evidence against the theory. Dispensationalism, Armemianism, Calvinism, Pre-Post-A-Millenialism, Pre-Mid-Post-Tribulationism, Preterism, etc. all create grids which cause us to weight some scriptures more than others. For example, when David quoted Luke 20:14-16 above, I must confess that I had never connected that with the events of 70 AD. Is he right? I can certainly see where such a conclusion can be drawn, were it not for other passages that we will examine in this series. But it certainly gave me pause. That is a good thing.

I have personally disavowed labeling myself. Each of the "-isms" that I reference above belong to mature and solid men and women of faith. None of them are fatal to discipleship. If the topic were the physical sciences rather than religion, there would be great interest and effort devoted to creating a more inclusive theory, but religion prefers fences. I vote for change and the finding of a more inclusive theory. And so, I refuse to carry any labels about what I believe. I study the scriptures and see the difficulties and strengths that each of the viewpoints have and I strive to reconcile them. Often, I can only affirm certain essential pieces, so far.

Recent Historical Events

Several events have occurred in my lifetime that, in my opinion, must be taken into account. The first: In 1948, Israel became a sovereign nation again for the first time since Nebuchadnezzar sacked her. In the decades since then, Jerusalem has become "a cup that causes reeling to all the peoples around." (Zech 12:2). The second: Since the Jesus Movement of the early 1970's, when many young Jewish men and women became disciples of their Messiah, there have arisen Messianic Jewish synagogues around the world. Third: the spread of the gospel to all peoples, nations, and tongues is nearing completion. Fourth: denomination boundaries are less significant than they were in the past.

The Study Begins

And so, I am about embark on a study of Romans 9-11 and other passages with a view for seeing whether the Jewish Age is, in fact, over.

Thursday: Calvinist Heaven in Context

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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