A Promise of Land & Seed AND/OR Inheritance & People?
Students sometimes ask me the difference between the hermeneutics employed by Covenant, New Covenant, Progressive Dispensational, and Traditional Dispensational theologian/exegetes. Perhaps the easiest way to answer is to offer an example of one of the most heavily disputed topics of Scripture, viz., the Abrahamic Covenant. After detailing four basic approaches to these covenant promises, I will offer three key informing OT texts, each selected and highlighted, but otherwise not annotated, to emphasize the reasons why I hold to the last hermeneutical approach:
A supersessionist hermeneutic says that the land promise to Abraham’s natural seed is a recapitulation of the Covenant of Grace that will be fulfilled when a group of people who are not Abraham’s natural seed receive something other than the land promised.
A typological hermeneutic says that the land promise to Abraham’s natural seed is a genuine but temporary historical reality that falls away in disinterest after God discloses a new, culminating, and much greater inheritance (a new heaven and new earth) for the greater, spiritual seed of Abraham.
A complementary hermeneutic says that the land promise to Abraham’s natural seed will be fulfilled exactly as promised to ethnic Israelites in the Millennium/Eternal State, but that a share of this reward will also accrue to Abraham’s spiritual seed, who become new and equal partners of an expanded Abrahamic promise.
A literal hermeneutic says that the land promise to Abraham’s natural seed will be fulfilled exactly as promised to ethnic Israelites in the Millennium/Eternal State, and that all the peoples of the earth are afforded substantial subsidiary blessings through the obedience of faith.
Genesis 12:1–3: The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
Genesis 13:15–17: The LORD said to Abram, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you.”
Genesis 15:2–6: Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.” Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Obviously much more can be said, but it’s a blog post, not a book. I trust that this can serve as a faithful summary and preliminary defense.
Thanks for the summaries. They are helpful. A few questions.
1)For a literal hermeneutic you speak of “subsidiary blessings” to all those who are not ethnic Israelites. Do you understand “subsidiary” as “less important than but related or supplementary to”? (which is one definition I found).
2)Do you understand ethnic Israelites as those who enter the millennium from the tribulation in natural bodies who co-exist alongside resurrected church age believers in glorified bodies?
3)You quote the “forever” land promise from Gen. 13. Do you understand this land possession to continue in the eternal state following the millennium?
Now upfront I confess I do not hold to traditional dispensationalism and that it sounds like, at least on the surface, that you are affirming two distinct peoples both in the millennium and in the eternal state. I may be imposing too much in how I’m reading you and I realize you might be dealing with some of these questions in later posts and that’s fine. I can wait.
(1) By subsidiary blessings I mean that the blessings to “all the nations of the earth” funnel through the Jewish people, as visibly seen in Israel’s rightfully assumed function in the Millennial Kingdom as a kingdom of priests for the nations.
(2) I understand that ethnic Israelites who enter the Millennium in natural bodies will co-exist alongside ethnic Gentiles who enter the Millennium in natural bodies. I would take it that Church saints are also present, but in some sort of ruling function as the King’s bride. Beyond this I would hazard few details.
(3) I don’t have a problem with land promises perpetuating into the eternal state. Revelation 21:24 and 22:2 indicate that historical “nations” perpetuate into the eternal state, so I don’t see why historic geographic boundaries could not also persist. That the earth is recast prior to the eternal state could be seen as a problem, but I see the new earth as having some continuity with the old one, so don’t regard this as an insurmountable problem.
Thanks for your response. With the NT there seems to be an expansion/enlargement of the promises to Abraham centered in Christ and less emphasis on ethnicity as Jew and Gentile become one body(Eph. 2:14-16). Whether that reverts to a previous state in the future is one question I wrestle with. I know some speak of a millennial temple complete with priesthood, sacrifices (memorial?) although I’m not sure how many any longer hold this view.
1) I do not see the blessings “funnel through the Jewish people” as such or understand how this is done since the promises were given to Abraham to be a blessing to all nations and to his offspring through faith (Rom. 4:13) and the “offspring” to whom the promises were made is Christ (Gal. 3:16). I have difficulty reconciling Israel’s functioning as a “kingdom of priests” in the millennium since the church is already a “holy priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:5) and a “kingdom, priests” (Rev. 2:6). Two peoples and two kingdoms of priests?
2)Like you I would “hazard few details” in some areas if this scenario takes place with resurrected, glorified saints and not-yet-glorified saints co-existing. And then another rebellion at the end of the 1000 years? My thinking is still being challenged in this area.
3)It has struck me how little the NT speaks of land promises. In fact, Paul says that the land promise to Abraham was not restricted to a small geographical space but that “he would be heir of the world” (Rom. 2:13).
However this plays out according to God’s immutable purposes in the future I think we can agree that no ethnic, believing Jew (or Gentile) will be disappointed if in fact it turns out that they receive more than what they imagined. And in eternity we might look back and ask ourselves how we missed certain things.