Oct 11, 2014

Witherington, Dispensationalism, and the Rapture

The Euangelion Blog recently posted this video by noted New Testament scholar, Ben Witherington III. While the better part of wisdom might suggest ignoring the video outright, I posted the following in the comments section. 
"There are numerous problems here. Let me note a few. First, there appears to be confusion and conflation between Dispensationalism and the rapture (note the title at the top pf the video and then the title later). While Dispensationalists tend to believe in a pretrib rapture, the rapture is but a subset of the theological system. Charles Ryrie has articulated an oft-repeated and accepted list three sine qua non of Dispensationalism. They are: (1) a grammatical-historical hermeneutic (or less technically a normal reading) of Scripture, (2) a distinction between Israel and the Church, and (3) the glory of God as the main purpose or goal of God’s work in the world. Ryrie articulated this perspective in Dispensationalism Today in 1965 (nearly fifty years ago). So critics of Dispensationalism cannot claim that this is a novel or obscure development. Perhaps more importantly, note that the rapture is not listed among Ryrie’s sine qua non.

"Another problem is the assertion that a Dispensational reading of Scripture did not begin until the nineteenth century. While the articulation and formulation of the theology might have relatively modern roots, Dispensationalists would argue that their approach to the Bible was shared by the authors of Scripture and the early church. For example, the idea of a distinction between Israel and the church, Dispensationalist would argue is found in Paul (e.g., Romans 9–11). Furthermore, it is interesting is that Witherington is a Methodist, a theological tradition that is barely older than that of Dispensationalism and also to one degree or another, tied to a revivalist movement. Calvinism is not much older either. This raises a methodological question. For example, am I free to dismiss Amillennialists simply because the early church appears to have been Chiliasts?

"Witherington statements concerning the Scofield Bible are open to challenge. Witherington states that the Scofield Bible contains a heading that reads “Jesus predicts the rapture.” (Witherington does qualify his statement with “like.”) The problem is that I cannot find such a heading any such heading in Scofield. Furthermore, when I do a search for the term “rapture” in Scofield, it only yields two references, both related to Revelation 19. I might add that Witherington’s association of Matthew 24 with the rapture is simply wrong. Most pretribulationist see the bulk of the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24–25 to relate to the Second Coming and not the rapture. Those that know the pretrib position know that this is an important distinction of pretrib proponents. Furthermore, the off-hand comment related to people confusing notes in a Bible with the actual text of the Bible is unpersuasive if not irrelevant. The same could be said of the notes in the Geneva Bible which predates Scofield by over 400 years. And although it is a more recent vintage, there is even a Wesley Study Bible out there. Will some people confuse the notes with text? Of course.

"Is Witherington’s statement that, “This was a theological movement not based on the study of the Greek New Testament or the Hebrew Old Testament” fair or accurate? It is interesting that Witherington does mention the founding of Dallas Theological Seminary. Here is bit from the website related to the history of DTS: 

“In 1935 the Seminary pioneered the four-year Master of Theology (ThM) degree, which is a year longer than the three-year Master of Divinity (MDiv) offered at most other seminaries. The ThM gives all the essential theological courses offered in a three-year curriculum with additional emphasis in systematic theology, Hebrew and Old Testament exegesis, Greek and New Testament exegesis, and Bible exposition.” 

"Note then from its inception, DTS has required the study of both Hebrew and Greek. Interestingly, a cursory check this morning indicates that the Dallas ThM require 5 semesters of Greek and 4 in Hebrew. Asbury, where Witherington teaches, requires its MDiv students at most 2 semesters of Greek and 2 semesters of Hebrew. Just saying.

"I could go on, but this response is already too long."

By way of conclusion let me state my sincere appreciation for Witherington's work in general. According to Zotero, I have 28 of his books in my personal library and have probably spent the equivalent of a small country's GDP to get them. But I usually consider it a small price to pay for the benefit that I receive. Witherington is no scholarly hack, and so I am especially grieved by this ("wait for it") "hatchet job." 


Peter Goeman said...

Good thoughts, thank you.

Charles Savelle said...

Your welcome, Peter. Thanks for stopping by.