Will the Jews Be Restored to Their Land?

Some dispensationalists teach that the Jews will one day return to their land en masse.  They believe that the OT prophecies about Israel in the future must be taken “literally” (e.g. Isaiah 11:11-12, Hosea 3:5, etc.).  It’s not quite that easy or simple, however.  I appreciate A.A. Hodge’s arguments against a future return of the Jews to Palestine:

1st: The New Testament is entirely silent on the subject of any such return, which would be an inexplicable omission in the clearer revelation, if that event is really future.

2nd: The literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies concerned in this question would be most unnatural, (1) Because, if the interpretation is to be consistent, it must be literal in all its parts. Then it would follow that David himself, in person, must be raised to reign again in Jerusalem, Ezek. 37:24, etc. Then the Levitical priesthood must be restored, and bloody sacrifices offered to God, Ezek. 40. to 46.; Jer. 17:25, 26. Then must Jerusalem be the center of government, the Jews a superior class in the Christian church, and all worshippers must come monthly and from Sabbath to Sabbath, from the ends of the earth to worship at the Holy City, Isa. 2:2, 3; 66:20–23; Zech. 14:16–21. (2) Because the literal interpretation thus leads to the revival of the entire ritual system of the Jews, and is inconsistent with the spirituality of the kingdom of Christ.  (3) Because the literal interpretation of these passages is inconsistent with what the New Testament plainly teaches as to the abolition of all distinctions between the Jew and Gentile; the Jews, when converted, are to be grafted back into the same church, Rom. 11:19–24; Eph. 2:13–19. (4) Because this interpretation is inconsistent with what the New Testament teaches as to the temporary purpose, the virtual insufficiency, and the final abolition of the Levitical priesthood and their sacrifices, and of the infinite sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ, and the eternity of his priesthood, Gal. 4:9, 10; 5:4–8 Col. 2:16–23; Heb. 7:12–18; 8:7–13; 9:1–14.

3rd: On the other hand, the spiritual interpretation of these Old Testament prophecies—which regards them as predicting the future purity and extension of the Christian church, and as indicating these spiritual subjects by means of those persons, places and ordinances of the old economy which were typical of them—is both natural and accordant to the analogy of Scripture. In the New Testament, Christians are called Abram’s seed, Gal. 3:29; Israelites, Gal. 6:16, Eph. 2:12, 19; comers to Mount Zion, Heb. 12:22; citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, Gal. 4:26; the circumcision, Phil. 3:3, Col. 2:11, and in Rev. 2:9, they are called Jews. There is also a Christian priesthood and spiritual sacrifice, 1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Heb. 13:15, 16; Rom. 12:1.

This is a longer discussion to be sure, but Hodge’s points are certainly worth thinking about when asking and answering this question about eschatology!

The above quote is found in Archibald Alexander Hodge, Outlines of Theology (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1863), 454–455.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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Eric Metaxas, History Writing, and Martin Luther

Earlier, in my critical review of Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas, I noted that there were a few significant historical and theological inaccuracies in the book.  Later this week, having read Eberhard Bethge’s biography of Bonhoeffer, I hope to interact a bit more with Metaxas’ biography.  For now, I want to point out Metaxas’ inaccurate portrait of Martin Luther and the Jews.

The topic of Luther and the Jews is a large one and has been discussed by many scholars and theologians for many years.  It’s not an easy subject; there are quite a few angles and different nuances to consider (obviously we can’t do it all here).  Metaxas oversimplifies the issue by attributing Luther’s later polemical writings against the Jews to his crankiness, anger, and multiple illnesses.  In just three pages, Metaxas says that Luther’s anti-Jewish writings had everything to do with his ailments near the end of his life: Meniere’s disease, constipation, hemorrhoids, mood swings, depression, gallstones, kidney stones, arthritis, abscesses on his legs, short temper, and uremic poisoning.

Here’s how Metaxas explained it.

“As his health declined, everything seemed to set him off….  His language waxed fouler and fouler. … Luther seemed to have an absolutely torrid love affair with all things scatological.  So it is in this larger context that one has to take his attitude toward the Jews, which, like everything else in his life, unraveled with his health  …What he wrote during this time would rightly haunt his legacy for centuries and would in four centuries become the justification for such evils as Luther in even his most constipated mood could not have dreamed.  …As the lights began to dim, he became convinced that the Apocalypse was imminent, and his thoughts toward everyone took on darker and darker tones.  The thought of reasoned persuasion went out the window; at one point he called reason ‘the devil’s whore.'”

In other words, Metaxas said that Luther’s poor health and fanatical grumpiness near the end of his life showed he was coming apart at the seams – this is why he was so anti-Jewish later in his life.

Here we have an example of irresponsible historiography.  I’m wondering if Metaxas has even read and studied Luther.  Based on these statements, it doesn’t seem like he has.  In fact, Metaxas’ bibliography doesn’t include any of Luther’s writing or secondary sources on Luther’s life and theology.  He talks about the “larger context” of Luther’s life, but this is no larger context at all; it’s simply one of many things to consider when dealing with Luther’s anti-Jewish writings.

The last sentence quoted above shows that Metaxas indeed misreads Luther.  Luther didn’t write against reason simply because he was grumpy and constipated; there’s a ton of theology, history, and philosophy behind Luther’s distaste for unaided human reason.  For Luther, unaided reason had to do with the theology of glory, which attempted to climb up to God while avoiding the suffering and death of Christ on the cross.  The reformer discussed this already in 1518, well before the end of his life.  Concerning Luther’s scatological language, Heiko Oberman’s interaction with it is certainly more accurate than Metaxas’.

Metaxas is simply wrong here.  Luther’s writing on the Jews deserves more nuance.  It is foolish and inaccurate to attribute it to the end-of-life rantings of an angry and sick man.  (By the way, some of Luther’s later sermons are outstanding explanations of the gospel).  I’m not trying to absolve Luther here, I’m simply arguing for better history writing.  There are other such examples in other sections of Metaxas’ book where he muddles up history and theology, which is part of the reason I don’t recommend this book if you want an accurate picture of Bonhoeffer’s life and theology.

In case you’re interested, Carl Trueman discusses this very topic – Luther and the Jews – in chapter three of Histories and FallaciesTrueman takes a far more modest, contextual, and nuanced approach to Luther’s writings on the Jews.  In summary (read it for yourself!), he notes that Luther’s anti-Jewish writings were somewhat typical in the late medieval era and were based on religious and theological beliefs rather than ethnic distinctions.  Again, this doesn’t necessarily absolve Luther, but it gives us a more nuanced, balanced, and contextual approach than Metaxas does in Bonhoeffer

In Trueman’s words, “Every historian makes mistakes; the important thing is to gain an understanding of why they are mistakes.  Once that is done, they become much easier to avoid in the future” (p. 168).

shane lems

sunnyside wa

Andrew Lincoln on the Jews, Pilate, and Jesus: Trial!

In Truth on Trial (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2000), Andrew Lincoln brings out the irony of Jesus’ trial in John’s Gospel.  Actually, to begin the irony, it is more a trial of Pilate and the Jews than it is of Jesus (p. 137).  I don’t have the time and space to type it all out, but suffice it to say, Lincoln does a top-notch job of bringing Johannine themes as well as OT themes (mostly Is. 40-55) together in the trial of the ages, Jesus before Pilate and the Jews.

Here’s how he closes the section, discussing how (ironically) the Jews and Pilate are rendered guilty by this trial while Jesus is cleared as judge.

“In effect, the chief priest’s final words [my note: ‘We have no king but Caesar!’] mean that they cease to be the special people of God and become just one of the nations subject to Caesar.  Caesar’s representative in the narrative, Pilate, despite the political power he can employ to toy with ‘the Jews,’ is ultimately shown by his actions to be like the gods of the nations in Isaiah – impotent (cf. Is 44.10; 45.20; 46.7).  As for Jesus, he takes on Israel’s role as the servant-witness: ‘By a perversion of justice he was taken away’ (53.8a).  And the imagery used of his suffering combines with the Fourth Gospel’s Passover imagery: he is ‘like a lamb that is led to the slaughter’ (53.7), however, he is enabled to give his back to be struck and not to hide his face from insult and spitting (50.6, cf John 19.1, 3).  Indeed, he can be seen as confuting every tongue that rises against him in judgment (cf. 54.17) and, even though on trial, as the judge who executes justice (cf. Is 42.1, 2, 4)” (p. 133-138).

As I noted several months back on a similar post, when Lincoln writes something on John’s gospel, get it!  See also his commentary on John’s Gospel, in the Black’s New Testament Commentary series.

shane lems

sunnyside wa