PMW 2020-038 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
In my last posting, I began a studying exposing the error of dispensationalism claimed literalism. Since this is such a big feature in the system and such a drawing card for it, it is important that Reformed Christians be able to refute it. I hope these two articles will be helpful to that end. The more recent form of dispensationalism, known as Progressive Dispensationalism, has largely recognized the problem and made important changes to the system. However, pew-sitting believers are still enamored with dispensationalism and its claim to literalism.
So, let us continue exposing the error.
Ezekiel and Literalism
In The New Scofield Reference Bible at Ezekiel 43:19 we read: “The reference to sacrifices is not to be taken literally.” How can this be? Indeed, on the opposite side of the issue we should note the dispensationalist treatment of Isaiah 52:15, which reads: “So shall he sprinkle many nations.” The New Scofield Reference Bible comments: “Compare the literal fulfillment of this prediction in 1 Pet. 1:1–2, where people of many nations are described as having been sprinkled with the blood of Christ.” Is this literal? When was Jesus’ blood literally sprinkled on the nations? This sounds more like “spiritualizing” than “consistent literalism.”
Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond
(ed. by Darrell Bock)
Presents three views on the millennium: progressive dispensationalist, amillennialist, and reconstructionist postmillennialist viewpoints. Includes separate responses to each view. Ken Gentry provides the postmillennial contribution.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com
But when it supports their eschatological system, dispensationalists vigorously argue for literalism. For instance, of Isaiah 9:7 the New Scofield Reference Bible explains: “‘The throne of David’ is an expression as definite, historically, as ‘the throne of the Caesars,’ and does not admit of spiritualizing.” [NSRB, 721] Yet dispensationalist Gordon H. Johnston writes: “God will fulfill His promises in the Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7:8–16) to establish the eternal Davidic dynasty over Israel through a single ideal Davidic King who will reign eternally (Ps. 89:20–37).” [Gordon H. Johnston, “Millennium: Old Testament Descriptions of,” in Dictionary of Premillennial Theology, 269.] But when we read this passage we discover it expressly mentions David himself, not a “Davidic King”: “I have found David My servant; / With My holy oil I have anointed him, / With whom My hand will be established; / My arm also will strengthen him” (Ps 89:20–21).
Johnston continues: “The Davidic King will rule as the co-regent, Prince (Ezek. 34:24), under the divine kingship of YHWH (Ps. 72:19; Isa. 40:4–5).” [Johnston in DPT, 269] Pentecost states that “the promises in the Davidic covenant concerning the king, the throne, and the royal house are fulfilled by Messiah in the millennial age,” then lists Ezekiel 34:23–25 and Hosea 3:5 as evidence. [Pentecost, Things to Come, 476.] But Ezekiel actually states: “And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken” (Eze 34:24). Hosea’s reference reads: “Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king.”
Yet again Johnston declares: “Judah and Israel will serve the Davidic King.” [ Johnston, DPT, 269.] But the verse actually states: “But they shall serve the Lord their God, and David their king, whom I will raise up for them” (Jer 30:9). Literally it seems that David himself should be resurrected to rule. How can references to “David” actually mean Christ — in a strictly literalistic system?
Emmaus Disciples and Literalism
The Emmaus disciples, holding to the then-prevailing, literalistic Jewish conceptions of the Messianic kingdom (Luke 24:21), need Christ to open the Scriptures to them to show them their error (Luke 24:25–27, 32, 45). Christ rejects the Jews’ literalistic political Messianism (Matt 23:37–38; Luke 19:41–42; 24:21–27; John 6:15; 18:36).
The Jewish rejection of their Messiah is at least partially due to the problem that “the prevailing method of interpretation among the Jews at the time of Christ was certainly the literal method of interpretation.” [Pentecost] After all, when Christ confronts Nicodemus, he points to this very matter: “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? . . . If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?’ “ (John 3:10, 12). Literalism plagued the Jews throughout Jesus’ ministry.
The Apostle John and Literalism
John’s Gospel presents almost a case study in the error of literalism.
In John 2:19–21 Jesus is speaking of his body-temple being destroyed and rising again, but the Jews think he is talking about the literal “temple.”
The Beast of Revelation
by Ken Gentry
A popularly written antidote to dispensational sensationalism and newspaper exegesis. Convincing biblical and historical evidence showing that the Beast was the Roman Emperor Nero Caesar, the first civil persecutor of the Church. The second half of the book shows Revelation’s date of writing, proving its composition as prior to the Fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. A thought-provoking treatment of a fascinating and confusing topic.
For more study materials, go to: KennethGentry.com
In John 3:5–7 Nicodemus thinks Jesus’ reference to being “born again” requires that a man literally re-enter his mother’s womb.
In John 4:10–15 is speaking to the woman at the well about spiritual water, whereas the woman thinks he is referring to literal water.
In John 4:31–38 Jesus says he has food to eat, which makes his disciples think he is referring to physical food, not spiritual sustenance.
In John 6:31–35, 51–58 Jesus calls himself “bread” that men must eat and refers to drinking his blood, which his audience thinks are calls to cannibalism.
In John 8:32–36 Jesus talks about being spiritually “free,” but his audience think he is speaking of breaking from physical slavery.
In John 8:51–53 promises that those who keep his word will never die, which his hearers interpret to mean they will never physically die.
In John 9:39–40 Jesus speaks of being “blind,” which makes the Pharisees think he is speaking about physical blindness. In John 11:11–14 Jesus states that Lazarus is “sleeping,” but “Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought He was speaking of literal sleep.”
In John 13:33–37 Jesus informs his disciples that he will soon be leaving (by which he means “dying”), but Peter thinks he is physically traveling somewhere else.
Literalism is literally a fraud. It has no form nor comeliness that we should desire it. To say the least.
OLIVET IN CONTEXT: A Commentary on Matthew 21–25
I am currently researching a commentary on Matthew 21–25, the literary context of the Olivet Discourse from Matthew’s perspective. My research will demonstrate that Matthew’s presentation demands that the Olivet Discourse refer to AD 70 (Matt. 24:3–35) as an event that anticipates the Final Judgment at the Second Advent (Matt. 24:36–25:46). This will explode the myth that Jesus was a Jewish sage focusing only on Israel. The commentary will be about 250 pages in length.
If you would like to support me in my research, I invite you to consider giving a tax-deductible contribution to my research and writing ministry: GoodBirth Ministries. Your help is much appreciated!
Tagged: hermeneutics, literalism
In a teaching of yours posted on youtube, published by Whitefield Media on 06/22/2016, with the title of the video being your name and title, you emphasize the structure of Revelation as being significant for understanding it. I learned a lot from this video. Your explanation, I won’t hesitate to assert, makes the most sense that I’ve come across so far. I’m no scholar but, before reading the NT all the way through, I read Revelation because it is so awe inspiring. Naturally, I’ve listened to many studies on it and most, sadly, feel like there is a book’s worth of missing information needed to make the sense that some have tried make of it.
Genres in the Bible do not appear to be a popular topic for lay people — not sure if it is in scholarly works. Dr. Michael Heiser, of the Naked Bible Podcast, certainly emphasizes it and you point it out as part of framing the reader’s understanding of Revelation in the noted video.
In my comment to “Dispensationalism’s Literallism Fraud (1)”, I mentioned a book that ironically has been my springboard to learning more about postmillenialism. I had a typo in that comment. The book is “The End Times in Chronological Order” by Ron Rhodes. To be sure, I’m not advocating this book. I don’t want to sound academically mean as I only have a BA, but the book does a less than optimal job of making the case for pretribulational premillennialism for people who may be skeptical. Put differently, it reads like a pep talk for those who are already resigned to this point of view.
In that book, the first chapter is a defense for literalism with highly conditional exceptions for figures of speech and symbolism. This got my guard up right away as a one size that fits few approach. I had a traumatizing childhood experience with literalism in church that I won’t bog this comment down with, but I’m sensitive to its dangers.
Heiser describes “the sons of God” in Genesis 6 as elohim which are not God, the Most High, but spiritual beings. I heard a sermon by R. C. Sproul recently in which he described them as the descendants of Seth. This was shocking to hear. I’m still getting my head around Heiser’s approach, but Sproul’s take seems strange. A quick internet search yielded that, no surprise, his view is quite, if not most, common.
Jeff Durbin quoted R. C. Sproul on a point not involving eschatology in a recent sermon, so clearly we’re not throwing the baby out with the bath water. That’s a bit of a relief and I’ve come across other accounts, historical and current, where Christians agree to disagree on eschatology, infant Baptism, and a short list of other topics that don’t (or might not) impact salvation. But I can’t help feeling frustrated by a lack of unity and an un-commonwealth of truth. In short: it matters (at least to me).
1. What resources can you recommend (for non-scholars) as guidance, like you provided in the video, for how to read the Bible by genre and structure?
2. Are both Heiser and Sproul being literal and is one of them right?
Thanks in advance for your consideration. May God continue to bless your ministry.
Pastor Gentry, I’m grateful to have found a champion in you in this topic. Literalism has been a personal pain point. Can you recommend any books for a lay person that address when to and not to be literal throughput the Bible? If that’s too broad of a question, any guidance for continuing down this line of focus would be beneficial.
I deal with this issue at some length in my He Shall Have Dominion. I would also recommend Vern Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists.
I would recommend reading Vern Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists. It has a lot of helpful information. I haven’t read Heiser yet, but I do like Sproul.
Thank you so much, Pastor Gentry, for these recommendations! I just ordered both of them.
Thank you also for your note about Sproul. I like liking him, too. I would be curious, given your depth of analysis, what you make of Heiser’s work if it works its way into what I imagine to be a busy schedule. I started reading about your research projects on goodbirthministries.com yesterday will continue to learn more about that.
Thanks again for your guidance and devotion to the truth.
The preacher states in Ecclesiastes, “For everthing there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” As he affirms, there are times to read scripture “literally” and times to read it “figuratively.” The only time to do either is when the author intends it to be understood in that way. We have to look for the author’s intent. Keep seeking the truth, Zach.