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." 

Oct 10, 2014

Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Textual Criticism

I just received the most recent edition of the Journal of the Evangelical Society. Although there appears to be a number of interesting articles one in particular caught my attention, an article by Elijah Hixson entitled  "New Testament Textual Criticism in the Ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon." Here is a paragraph to whet your appetite.

"This article seeks to understand better how Spurgeon used NT textual criticism in his ministry and to present Spurgeon as a model for contemporary ministers and scholars through an analysis of his remarks on textual variants and critical editions of the NT. An examination of Spurgeon's works reveals that, although he lived in an age dominated by the King James or Authorized Version (AV), he was aware of variant readings in the NT manuscripts. Spurgeon favored a critical text of the NT and discussed textual variants publicly, and his views began to develop much earlier than the 1881 publication of Westcott and Hort's N.T in the Original Greek. He was an independent thinker who examined the evidence for each variant and came to his own conclusions on the original text" ("New Testament Textual Criticism in the Ministry of Charles Haddon Spurgeon," Journal of the Evangelical Society 57:3 [September 2014]: 556).

Oct 9, 2014

Do Pretribulationists See Matthew 24:37-41 as a Rapture Text?

The recent release of the Left Behind movie has the critics of a pretribulational rapture out in full force. I will leave judgment of the artistic merits of the movie to the box office and movie critics, but I do want to challenge those who frequently misrepresent at least some of the pretribulationist’s textual positions. I encounter this so frequently that it seems evident that such critics have never actually read what pretribulational authors are actually saying.

A case in point is this video. According to this video there are three main texts that pretribulationists have misunderstood or misinterpreted. The first of these texts is Matthew 24:37-41. Here is a transcript that I have created from part of the video (the discussion of the Matthew text begins at about the 1:35 mark).

“The left behind folks have actually taken this text and flipped it right on its head to make it say the opposite and mean the opposite of what it in fact says and means. In the story, Noah and his family are those who are spared, those who are saved, those who are left behind. And those who are taken, the rebellious, are taken by the flood. So the coming of the Son of Man you actually want to be like Noah and his family. You want to be left behind. This is a good thing.”

The problem here is that many, if not most, pretribulationist authors actually hold that Matthew 24:37–41 is a Second Coming text and not a rapture text. Furthermore, pretrulationists often assert that the one’s taken away are taken away in judgment and those left behind therefore are the righteous. Consider the following examples from actual proponents of pretribulationalism.

John Walvoord: 

“Like the days of Noah, the time of the second coming will be a period of judgment on the earth. Just as the flood came ‘and took them all away,’ referring to the judgment of unbelievers, so at the second coming, some will be taken away. According to Matthew 24:40-41, ‘Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the ill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.’ Because at the rapture believers will be taken out of the world, some have confused this with the rapture of the church.

“Here, however, the situation is the reverse. The one who is left, is left to enter the kingdom; the one who is taken, is taken in judgment. This is in keeping with the illustration of the time of Noah when the ones taken away are unbelievers. The word for ‘shall be taken’ in verses 40-41 uses the same word found in John 19:16, where Christ was taken away to the judgment of the cross. Accordingly, no one can know the day or the hour, but they can know that when the second coming occurs, it will be a time of separation of the saved from the unsaved” (John F. Walvoord, Matthew: Thy Kingdom Come (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 193-94, my bold).

Walvoord was considered one of the leading voices of pretribulational eschatology and note that Walvoord published this forty years ago! 

Stan Toussaint: 

“A problem exists as to the identification of the ones who are taken in verses forty and forty-one. Is this a description of the rapture of the church or of the taking of the wicked to judgment? Those who take the former position argue that ‘to take’ (παραλαμβάνω), the verb used here, is to be differentiated from ‘to take’ (αἴρω), the verb used here in verse 39. It is asserted that παραλαμβάνω signifies the act whereby Christ receives His own to himself. However, παραλαμβάνω is also used in a bad sense (cf. Matthew 4:5, 8; John 19:16). Since it is parallel in thought with those who were taken in the judgment of the flood, it is best to refer the verb to those who are taken for judgment preceding the establishment of the kingdom” (Stanley D. Toussaint, Behold the King: A Study of Matthew [Portland, Oregon: Multnomah Press, 1980], 281, my bold).

Toussaint goes on to quote from another pretribulationist, Charles Feinberg, in support of his view. Feinberg states, “It will be taking away judicially in judgment. The ones left will enjoy the blessings of Christ’s reign on earth. This is the opposite of the rapture, where those who are left go into the judgment of the great Tribulation” (Charles Lee Feinberg, Israel in the Last Days: The Oliver Discourse [Altadena, CA: Emeth, 1953], 27, my bold).

Once again, observe the respective dates of publication (1980 and 1953 respectively). 

John MacArthur: 

“When the Son of Man appears in His second-coming judgment, then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken, and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Jesus is giving a figure parallel to the unbelievers of Noah’s day being taken away by the judgment through the flood. When He returns, one will be taken to judgment and the other will be left to enter the kingdom. This is the same separation described in the next chapter by the figures of the sheep and goats (25:32-46). The ones left will be Christ’s sheep, his redeemed people whom He will preserve to reign with Him during the Millennium” (John F. MacArthur Jr., Matthew 24–28, MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1989], 75, my italics).

MacArthur is one of the best known preachers in America today. Please note that I am not selecting obscure proponents of pretribulationism. 

Louis A. Barbieri, Jr. 

“As it was in Noah’s day, so it will be before the glorious coming of the Lord. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left. Analogous to Noah’s day, the individuals who will be ‘taken’ are the wicked whom the Lord will take away in judgment (cf. Luke 17:37). The individuals ‘left’ are believers who will be privileged to be on the earth to populate the kingdom of Jesus Christ in physical bodies. As the wicked were taken away in judgment and Noah was left on the earth, so the wicked will be judged and removed when Christ returns and the righteous will be left behind to become His subjects in the kingdom” (Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., “Matthew,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 [Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985], 79, my italics).

Barbieri may not be as well-known as some referenced here but The Bible Knowledge Commentary was authored by Dallas Seminary faculty and is one of the best-selling commentaries since its debut in 1983 (NT) and 85 (OT). 

J. Dwight Pentecost: 

In his refutation of the partial rapture view, Pentecost states, “Matthew 24:41-42, ‘Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one taken and the other left. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.’ Again, this passage is in that discourse in which the Lord outlines His program for Israel, who is already in the tribulation period. The one taken is taken in judgment and the one left is left for the millennial blessing. Such is not the prospect for the church” (Dwight J. Pentecost, Things to Come: A Study in Biblical Eschatology [Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1958], 162, my bold). 

Things to Come was originally Pentecost’s doctoral dissertation (1956). According to the cover on the Amazon link this volume has sold 215,000 copies. Things to Come is also considered by many dispensational pretribulationalists to be the go to text for eschatology. 

Charles Ryrie 

In arguing against posttribulationists, Ryrie states, “By contrast, the pretibulationalist sees the verses [Matt 24:40-41] as a general statement of the results of the specific judgments on surviving Jews and Gentiles at the Second Coming. Those who are taken are taken into the judgments and condemned, and those who are left successfully pass the judgments and are left for blessing in the kingdom.”

Ryrie states a paragraph later, “Pretribulationists support their view by pointing out that according to verse 39 the Flood took the people of Noah’s day into judgment; therefore, those taken at the Second Coming will also be taken into judgment” (Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth [Wheaton: Victor Books, 1988], 492, see also the table on 493, my bold).

Ryrie’s theology is a popular reference work for dispensationalists and pretribulationists. 

Tin LaHaye and Thomas Ice 

LaHaye and Ice do not deal specifically with many of the details in the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24, but they do at least hint at their understanding of Matthew 24:37-41 in stating, “However, just as the people of Noah’s day did not know the day or the hour when the Flood would come to take them all away into judgment, so will unbelievers not know or be prepared for the glorious appearing of Christ” (Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice, Charting the End Times, Tim LaHaye Prophecy Library [Eugene: Harvest House, 2001], 37, my bold). The authors earlier assert that, “One common mistake many Christians try to make when they study this discourse is that they try to find the Rapture in this message” (Ibid., 35).  

Dallas Theological Seminary Doctrinal Statement


Article XX—The Second Coming of Christ 
We believe that the period of great tribulation in the earth will be climaxed by the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to the earth as He went, in person on the clouds of heaven, and with power and great glory to introduce the millennial age, to bind Satan and place him in the abyss, to lift the curse which now rests upon the whole creation, to restore Israel to her own land and to give her the realization of God’s covenant promises, and to bring the whole world to the knowledge of God (Deut. 30:1–10; Isa. 11:9; Ezek. 37:21–28; Matt. 24:15–25:46; Acts 15:16–17; Rom. 8:19–23; 11:25–27; 1 Tim. 4:1–3; 2 Tim. 3:1–5; Rev. 20:1–3).

My bold. Notice that under article XX, Matthew 24:37-41 is listed as a Second Coming text. Furthermore, article XVIII, “The Blessed Hope,” i.e. the rapture does not list Matthew 24 at all. 


This survey has sought to be thorough but is not exhaustive. Nonetheless, there seems to be sufficient grounds for offering the following four observations.

First, at best critics of a pretribulational rapture can assert that some pretrib proponents understand Matthew 24:37-41 as a reference to the rapture. But I have yet to hear a critic actually cite a pretrib proponent of the view that they claim pretribulationists hold. This is true with the video mentioned above. Indeed, the survey above suggests that there are significant voices in dispensationalism that do not hold the view that critics assert that they do.

Second, the view of many (if not most) pretribulationists that Matthew 24:37-41 is a Second Coming text and that those taken away are taken away in judgment and those left behind are the faithful is not new or obscure. Pentecost wrote nearly sixty years ago and many well-known advocates of a pretribulational rapture affirm this view (as noted above). I would challenge those that argue otherwise to make their case by actually referring to pretribulational advocates. If such a view is as widely held as the critics say, then doing so should not be difficult.

Third, the survey above does not imply that there are no pretrib advocates of Matthew 24:37-41 as a rapture text or that those taken away are the raptured. Frankly, I would be surprised if there were none. But I have struggled to find them and the critics have not been much help. But even if such voices could be found, I think that this survey has demonstrated that one cannot argue with accuracy that pretribulationists in general see Matthew 24:37-41 as a rapture text.

Fourth, the doctrine of a pretrib rapture is certainly open to challenge and examination. But such challenges should be done fairly and charitably. Critics should not mischaracterize or straw-man the view.

Oct 8, 2014

The Council of Chalcedon

On this day in 451, the first meeting of the Council of Chalcedon was held. Two weeks later, on October 22, the council produced the following creed.

"We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us."

Oct 7, 2014

Latest Issue of Review of Biblical Literature

The latest issue of Review of Biblical Literature is out. Reviews can be accessed by clicking the links below. 

Abel Mordechai Bibliowicz
Jews and Gentiles in the Early Jesus Movement: An Unintended Journey
Reviewed by Michael G. Azar

Mark J. Boda, Carol J. Dempsey, and LeAnn Snow Flesher, eds.
Daughter Zion: Her Portrait, Her Response
Reviewed by Renata Furst

Warren Carter
Seven Events That Shaped the New Testament World
Reviewed by H. H. Drake Williams III

Israel Finkelstein
The Forgotten Kingdom: The Archaeology and History of Northern Israel
Reviewed by K. L. Noll
Reviewed by Daniel Pioske

Emmanouela Grypeou and Helen Spurling
The Book of Genesis in Late Antiquity: Encounters between Jewish and Christian Exegesis
Reviewed by Jeffrey L. Morrow

David Lincicum
Paul and the Early Jewish Encounter with Deuteronomy
Reviewed by Robert B. Foster
Reviewed by Archie T. Wright

Christopher McMahon
Reading the Gospels: Biblical Interpretation in the Catholic Tradition
Reviewed by Jean-François Racine

Claire S. Smith
Pauline Communities as ‘Scholastic Communities’: A Study of the Vocabulary of ‘Teaching’ in 1 Corinthians, 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus
Reviewed by Steve Walton

Bible Fluency Website

If your looking for resources to help teach people about the Bible you might want to check out the Bible Fluency website here. I was especially interested in the musical resources like the Pentateuch Song here.

Oct 6, 2014

BiblePlaces Newsletter

If you are even remotely interested in the geography of the lands associated with the Bible, then you really should subscribe to Todd Bolen's BiblePlaces Newsletter. The newsletter is cost-free and spam-free and your email address will never be used for any purpose other than this newsletter. You can get more information here or subscribe here.

By the way, if you have not considered the purchasing the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands you really should check it out here. It is hands down the best collection of pictures on The Bible lands. I use mine all the time. If you order now until October 12, you will get 10% off any purchase by using this link

Notes on Jonah

Today is the Expository Preaching Workshop that I mentioned last week. This year the workshop's focus is on the book of Jonah. Even if you can't attend (like me), Dr. David Allen, one of the speakers, has made his notes available on his website here.

Oct 5, 2014

Expositor Magazine

If you are a preacher or you want to bless your preacher, you might want to consider the brand new Expositor Magazine. You can see the table of contents for the premier issue here. I haven't actually seen a copy but it looks like it might be helpful.