Monday, May 14, 2012

Classic Dispensationalism's Faulty Understanding of 'Seed' in Galatians

Let me continue on with my thinking relative to Dispensationalism. And to clarify, for those unaware, I grew up as the son of a Conservative Baptist Dispensational Premillennial Pre-Tribulational pastor; I inherited and owned this view as my own, especially as I entered into Bible College and even Seminary; and then became a vociferous advocate for this framework of interpretation with whoever would listen, and especially here on the internet (in my earlier years of blogging, starting about 7 years ago now). After moving from classic Dispensationalism, I moved into what is called Progressive Dispensationalism (I will have to sketch the differences at a later time). Since, then, I have had a radical shift, moving into Historic Premillennialism; and finally after much ado landing where I am now as an Amillennialist. With that ground cleared, let me get us into what I want to look at in this post.

Classic Dispensationalists [CD from here on out] (Progressives are different at this point) see a hard distinction between the nation of Israel, and the Church. They see the former as God's chosen people, and as those for whom prophetic and salvation history has always been intended; they see the nation of Israel as God's "earthly people." CD see the Church as God's "heavenly people;" as an interruption or parenthesis in God's real plan for his earthly people the Jews. So you see right away that CDs operate with the belief that God has two distinct peoples, and it is this distinction that becomes one of the sine qua nons of Classic Dispensationalism (and all Dispensationalisms). In this context, I want to offer a quote from a stalwart of Classic Dispensational thought from just recent yesteryear, J. Dwight Pentecost; in fact the quote I am providing for our consideration is actually Pentecost quoting another Classic Dispensational stalwart John Walvoord (his colleague for many years at the hub of this teaching, Dallas Theological Seminary). The quote is Walvoord's sketching of how Classic Dispensationalists make a distinction between the 'kinds of seeds mentioned in Scripture'. Walvoord is contrasting the CD approach with his understanding of the amillennial interpretation. After I provide this quote I will offer a critique of Walvoord's presentation, and also offer a short critique of the typical amillennial approach here as well; I actually think the classic amillennial is a bit off as well when it identifies the 'seed'. Without further ado here is that quote:

[T]here are, then, three different senses in which one can be a child of Abraham. First, there is the natural lineage, or natural seed. This is limited largely to the descendants of Jacob in the twelve tribes. To them God promises to be their God. To them was given the law. To them was given the land of Israel in the Old Testament. With them God dealt in a special way. Second, there is the spiritual lineage within the natural. These are the Israelites who believed in God, who kept the law, and who met the conditions for present enjoyment of the blessings of the covenant. Those who ultimately possess the land in the future millennium will also be of spiritual Israel. Third, there is the spiritual seed of Abraham who are not natural Israelites. Here is where the promises to "all the families of the earth" comes in. This is the express application of this phrase in Galatians 3:6-9. . . . in other words, the children of Abraham (spiritually) who come from the heathen or Gentiles fulfill that aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant which dealt with Gentiles in the first place, not the promises pertaining to Israel. The only sense in which Gentiles can be Abraham's seed in the Galatians context is to be "in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). It follows: "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise" (Gal. 3:29). They are Abraham's seed in the spiritual sense only and heirs of the promise given "to all the families of the earth."

While premillennarians can agree with amillennarians concerning the fact of a spiritual seed for Abraham which includes Gentiles, they deny that this fulfills the promises given to the natural seed or that the promises to the "seed of Abraham" are fulfilled by Gentile believers. To make the blessings promised all the nations the same as the blessings promised the seed of Abraham is an unwarranted conclusion. [John Walvoord cited by J. Dwight Pentecost in, Things To Come, 87-8]
And here is the text from Galatians that is under discussion:

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth,[a] before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you[b] as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”[c] Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.”[d] So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”[e] 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”[f] 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”[g]13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”[h]), 14 that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. 15 Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. 16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,”[i] who is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ,[j] that it should make the promise of no effect. 18 For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. 19 What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. 20 Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. ~Galatians 3:1-20
Stupid blogger just ate most of my comments following the quote here. Let me just briefly state that Classic Dispensationalism and Classic Amillennialism understand lineage to Abraham wrongly since they apply the Seed argument of Paul to the 'many' instead of to the One, Jesus Christ. Paul is very explicit about the Seed being singular; Jesus is the new Israel, he fulfills both Walvoord's physical and spiritual aspects in himself (it is this kind of distinction---e.g. physical V. spiritual---wherein Classic Dispensationalism falters most ... this kind of thinking is not biblical or christocentric, it is neo-Platonic and dualistic ... something which Scripture and God's Self-revelation in Christ know nothing of). The Church is not the new Israel (contra classic Amillennialism), unless you want a Roman Catholic ecclesiology; and the nation of Israel is not an end in itself as the new Israel. Only Jesus, according to Paul's singular Seed argument, can and has fulfilled this role. QED

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