BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 195
Copyright © 2007 Biblical Horizons
Last time we discussed the problem of amillennial individualism as it pertains to the FV controversy. This time I’d like to focus on one aspect of the amillennial problem: What it does to the Bible. To begin with, let me review the five aspects of historic catholic and Reformation theology that we took up last time. Many more things could be listed here, of course, but these are relevant to our considerations:
1. The Bible is given to help us mature and grow up as images of God so that we take dominion wisely over all of life.
2. The Bible is also given, because of Satan’s rebellion, to teach us holy war against principalities and powers.
3. The Bible is also given, because of Adam’s rebellion, to show us the history of redemption.
4. Because God is Three and One, so is human society, and so the history of redemption is not just about the salvation of individuals but also about the salvation of societies.
5. Jesus Christ has been given all power and authority, and has commanded His people to disciple all nations, promising to be with them and strengthen them by His Spirit until this has been accomplished. There can be no question that Jesus will successfully accomplish this programme, and at the end deliver all to the Father.
Now, what happens when the Bible is read individualistically and amillennially? For one thing, the Bible no longer displays the redemption and maturation of human societies as societies. Maybe if enough individuals are baptized and vote society may change a little, but an actual death, resurrection, and reconstitution of the order of society is not in view. The historical maturation of society through such crises, displayed in the Bible and articulated in the work of Rosenstock-Huessy, is not taken into consideration. Such things did perhaps happen in the history of Israel, but now in the New Age only individuals (and perhaps families) count.
Let us, however, switch to the other side and take a look at what the Bible shows us when taken the way the Church always used to take it. To begin with, the Church has always taken the chronology of the Bible as a strict and inerrant record of the history of the human race as the biography of Adam. Irenaeus, Eusebius, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, the great bishop James Ussher, and everyone else until about 150 years ago read the Bible this way. Ussher’s magisterial work was called The Annals of the World, because he saw the Biblical history of Abraham and Israel as the core and center of world history and of God’s providential maturation of the human race toward Jesus Christ and then on to the consummation. Master Books has reprinted this book in a fine edition.
The chronology is not just a matter of this and then that and then that. It is a history of how the Divine Parent educated the core and center of the human race, and then of how He called all nations to be grafted into that Olive Tree history so as to receive the benefit of it. Exactly 1656 years after the creation of the earth, the starry firmament, and man, God put the entire human world through an intense death and resurrection in the Flood. In the year 2107, precisely 450 years after the new beginning after the Flood, God divided the human race in half, tearing it apart by having Abram circumcise his household. This tearing in half would have to be overcome, and was overcome by the death and resurrection of the New Adam, as Paul’s epistles are at great pains to explain.
God had told much to Abram/Abraham, and then had worked with Rebekah and Jacob as well. These revelations percolated in the minds of the faithful, and when they were mature enough, God spoke His law to them in the year 2513, 406 years after the division of humanity by circumcision. The conquest of the land was completed in the year 2560, and shortly thereafter the “true pentateuch” of Exodus-Joshua (which is one book by one author with one overall structure) was completed. What we have at this point is a deposit of revelation consisting of a faithful record of things Yahweh spoke to Moses and to Moses and Aaron together, the book of Deuteronomy written by Moses, and a Spirit-inspired history of all the events surrounding this deposit of revelation.
This deposit of revelation happened at this time. It did not happen later. Just as you did not learn addition and subtraction in the ninth grade but in the second, so God gave Israel this textbook when they were about 450 years old (from circumcision to the time of the Conquest). This deposit of revelation worked in the minds of the faithful over several generations until, about 400 years later, they were ready for another deposit of revelation.
At this time, David wrote the Psalms — David and Levites of his generation — all but a handful. This deposit of revelation preceded the building of the Temple, and was enshrined and symbolized by that building. We are in the ninth grade, and we have been given the book Algebra I. Then a generation later Solomon wrote the books of kingly wisdom (Algebra II): Song of Solomon, a book of “political eros”; Ecclesiastes, a book of “political struggle”; the bulk of Proverbs, a book of “political wisdom”; and probably Job, a book of “political failure.” After all, Song of Solomon is about the love of the king and of Yahweh for his people, using the imagery of Temple and Land to bring this out. And of course, Job is a king and his three “King’s Friends” are his chief counselors.
Books about social order.
Later on the same chronological time line we get the book of Isaiah, and then the other prophetic books. We know when each was written: shortly after the prophet expired, if not during his lifetime. We are told when each lived. In each case, we have a deposit of written revelation designed to stimulate the maturation and development of the Core People toward the time of the coming of the Messiah.
The Mosaic deposit (Exodus-Joshua) challenged the people to put away pagan gods. Throughout the ensuing period, they kept turning to those gods, but eventually they stopped doing so. The deposit had worked its work.
The Davidic/Solomonic deposit challenged the people to worship only in the ways God had taught, at His temple, without images. Throughout the ensuing period, they kept turning to high places and statues of Yahweh and his court; but eventually they stopped doing so. The deposit had worked its work.
The prophetic deposits challenged the people not to be hypocrites but to carry God’s Name throughout the world. Gradually they began to do so.
What we seen in this is that God was instructing Adam and bringing him up. By Jesus’ time, Adam was not worshiping other gods, nor was he using images of Yahweh on high places. Adam was traversing land and sea to make even one disciple, and studying the Scriptures all the time. The human race had matured to the point where it was fitting for Messiah to come, and come not only to save the race, but to bring the race to maturity.
Now let us break off this catholic and Reformational understanding of the Bible and consider what individualistic amillennialism does to it.
First, this kind of corporate history is not seen as relevant. God is not saving and maturing the race as a race, but just rescuing individuals. Because of this, Biblical chronology is seen as unimportant. And this is a radical change from the entire history of how Christians have read and understood the Bible. To be sure, you who are reading this are likely to be “modern” and thinking that ignoring the chronology is commonplace. It’s not. It’s very recent, and a radical change. It took me some years to overcome my American individualistic mind set and realize that the historic Church was right about the chronology.
Second, individualism means that the Bible history is reduced to moralistic stories. And because of this, heroes like Jacob and Samson (at the beginning of his ministry) and others are given the worst possible reading, so that we can make moral applications from them. And yes, this kind of moralism has been with the Church for a long time, but only of late has it overcome all other aspects of reading.
Third, this reduction to individualistic moralism means that the political and social aspects of the Biblical revelation tend to be overlooked and/or shrunk down to the level of personal piety. Song of Solomon gets to be either an allegory of the soul and Jesus, or else some kind of marriage manual. It is neither. Job is seen as an individual going through hard times. That’s part of it, but hardly the main thing.
Fourth, when people improve on moralism they go to typology. Far be it from me to reject typology, but if that’s all you have, then Jesus is merely fulfilling one interesting story after another. There is no real history. The stories may as well be myths. Consider: Surely Jesus as World Redeemer fulfills in His own way the stories of Oedipus and Theseus and Judith, though all these stories are allegories and myths. If all we have is moralism and typology, we don’t have history and maturation. We don’t actually have what the Bible gives us.
So, fifth, we come to what is increasingly common in educated Reformed circles: the notion that we can ignore the Biblical testimony of how and when various revelations and writings and books were given, and play games with it. Maybe the so-called books of Moses were written much later, but they are still “inerrant” for certain purposes — certain moralistic and typological purposes. Maybe Solomon did not write Ecclesiastes as the Qoheleth who “qahal”ed (gathered) the people in 1 Kings 8, but it was written much later by someone pretending to be Solomon. Maybe Daniel was written 300 years after it claims to have been. But none of this matters because there is no history of cultural maturation that we need to worry about; there are only various relatively timeless typological and moralistic snapshots. Whatever the Bible may “inerrantly” say, it does not provide us a history of maturation and cultural development, nor therefore can it teach us any wisdom about such matters.
Now, an orthodox historic approach the Bible can indeed provide such wisdom. We know when the Law was written and published and began to do its work. And we know what kind of people it initially addressed. We know when the Psalms and Wisdom were written and published and began to do their work; and we know what kind of people they initially addressed. We can begin to ask questions like this: “What is it about the Law as a literary form that particularly addresses the kind of people it was initially given to, and what was this literature designed to change them into?” And we can ask the same kind of question about the other deposits of revelation also.
And then we can notice that the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 are each associated with a particular time in Old Covenant history. We can begin to apply the societal wisdom we have begun to learn from Israel’s history to address the particular problems and issues in our own churches. Is your church most like Pergamum? Well, that’s the wilderness church. Perhaps your church is made up of people who need to be addressed in a Law-oriented fashion. If your church is like Thyatira, maybe a strong dose of Psalms. If like Sardis, you need Jeremiah. And so forth.
The amillennial individualistic approach, however, does not notice these matters. The Bible may include “mythical enhancements” of the history it records. The Bible books may have been written much later than they appear to have been. The author of a given book may be using a pen-name, and not actually be Daniel or Isaiah. There may be true contradictions in the historical accounts. None of that matters. All that matters is the ideas in the books as they apply to us as individuals, and as Jesus fulfills these stories.