Tuesday, May 03, 2005

There Really Is a Difference, But It's Not What You Think (Part 1)

Back in the early days of this blog—way, way back over a month ago—I promised more on my readings in OT theology from John Sailhamer's books. It's finally here, for those of you who haven't been able to sleep nights.

My guess is that most of my readers have experienced one of those "Edison moments" in class or church when the light came on. Two that I remember clearly in my days in grad school at Maranatha were in ecclesiology when I realized that the typical Baptist church's polity bears little resemblance to the biblical pattern (albeit more than the other denominations) and when in Romans we hit chapters 6–8, which promptly demolished all I had ever heard preached in my life about the necessity of a dedication/surrender decision subsequent to salvation.

Well, incorporating Sailhamer's Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach into my thinking has created a constant stream of those Edison moments. I hope to blog on some of those in a series that should stretch over some time as I continue to digest these thoughts and delve into The Pentateuch as Narrative over the summer. As I progress, I will be trying to rebuild my own OT hermeneutic in light of what I have learned.

You may be thinking, "Why should I read what some guy has to say about the OT? We're no longer under law. We're under grace. The OT was for Israel."

That's precisely why you should be reading.

I seriously doubt that I am alone in experiencing gnawing frustrations with the dispensational system that I have learned. By any account, I am and will continue to be a dispensationalist, but my dissatisfaction crystallized when I was teaching through Romans in Sunday School about four years ago. When we got to 4:13-18, my brain overheated.
13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.
14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified;
15 for the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, there also is no violation.
16 ¶ For this reason it is by faith, in order that it may be in accordance with grace, so that the promise will be guaranteed to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,
17 (as it is written, “A FATHER OF MANY NATIONS HAVE I MADE YOU”) in the presence of Him whom he believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist.
18 In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “SO SHALL YOUR DESCENDANTS BE.” [NASB]
I will probably deal more extensively with this passage later, but for now suffice it to say that this passage supplies evidence of a greater continuity between believing Israel and the Church than I had seen or heard before. Stunningly, none of the required (and classic) texts on dispensationalism from my academic career dealt with this passage. I'm talking about Ryrie's Dispensationalism, Showers' There Really Is a Difference, and McClain's Law and Grace and The Greatness of the Kingdom. (McClain does briefly allude to verses 15 and 17 three times in his two books, but the allusions are completely irrelevant to the dispensational implications of the passage.) Now, I know these men are familiar with the book of Romans, because they cite chapter XI frequently to defend their distinction between Israel and the Church.

All that to say this: Sailhamer's work has supplied missing pieces to the dispensational puzzle. It has been caulk to stop up the leaks in my mind (at least the ones related to Dispensationalism). I will not be his most skilled defender. My purpose is simply to whet your appetite and hopefully convince you to read his books for yourself. And I'm not alone. In the past three months I've talked to three brilliant minds in independent Baptist institutions of higher learning who expressed substantial appreciation for his work, and I've heard second-hand of two more.

Lord willing, more explanation will be forthcoming. In the meantime, check out his NIV Compact Bible Commentary. It's a very handy pocket-size book that will give you a great reference for some of the passages I'll mention.

Until later.


Donald C S Johnson said...

Hello paleo...

Well this is interesting. I look forward to your future blogs. I have always been a mild dispensationalist. Another passage that argues for closer ties between OT Israel and the Church is

Matthew 8:11 And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.

Having said that, Rom 11 also fits into the mix. The Church is not Israel and Israel is not the Church. We are connected to the same root, but there is still a distinction.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ben said...

Just for fun last night I pulled my Scofield Bible off the bookshelf, brushed the dust off (literally), and looked to see what he had to say about the Romans 4 passage. Here it is:"[ ]"

By the way, I shouldn't have omitted Edison moments from almost every page of Carson's Exegetical Fallacies and also from our memorable discussions of authorial intent in my hermeneutics class. Sailhamer is likewise excellent in dealing with authorial intent, but that will have to wait.

Paul said...

Thanks Paleo. This is an area where I definitely think there needs to be more discussion, esp. in light of the fact that about all we get on this topic (in the fundie circle at least)is the DBTS brand of classic dispensationalism. I would love to get Salehammer's take; I should read his books. I look forward to getting the specifics of your Edison moments.

Paul said...

Paleo, have you checked the Ryrie study Bible on the Romans 4 passage? Surely he has something to say.

Joel Gearhart said...


I look forward to reading more as you post it. Without a doubt I am a dispensationalist (and not just b/c my grandfather would cut me off the family tree!) but I have not been satisfied with the seeming overemphasis on discontinuity that has run through all of my learning on the subject. Thanks for the recomended reads!

Joel G

Ben said...


Great idea. I won't have one handy for a couple days, unfortunately.


You have no idea how tempting it was to address you under the pseudonym "papac." I just didn't have the heart.

Duane Scott said...

I also look forward to your comments on this topic. I have been frustrated for years by attending a strongly dispensationalists school, and mildly strong dispensationalist church. My main objection is to the steam rolling, but more often ignoring, of the dozens of texts that blurr the supposed absolute distinction between Israel and the church. Also frustrating is the oft and loudly repeated claim that it is only traditional dispensationalists who do their best to consistently interpret scripture literally (or perhaps a better word would be normally).

Looking forward to the discussion.