Continuity and DiscontinuityThis is part three of an ongoing review of Continuity and Discontinuity edited by John S. Feinberg and published by Crossway. Read part one or part two.

These two chapters are addressing the Hermeneutics of continuity (O. Palmer Robertson) and discontinuity (Paul Feinberg).

Continuity and Discontinuity
Chapter 4: Hermeneutics of Continuity

O. Palmer Robertson takes an interesting approach to this topic by jumping headfirst into the Biblical text. His entire chapter is a test case of Amos 9:11-15 used in Acts 15:14-20 and the difference between his approach and a dispensational/discontinuity approach.

Robertson begins with Amos 9 in context, to establish its original meaning and to show that his approach does not invalidate the OT context. Next, he turns to the quotation in Acts 15:14-20 surveying various Dispensational comments on this passage before giving his own understanding that Amos 9 has begun to be fulfilled in Gentile salvation and will be completed in the Lord’s return.

At the risk of oversimplification, Robertson would hold that the passage is ‘fulfilled’ in the Gentiles coming to Christ, which began in Acts, and is continuing to unfold. He holds that since Acts 15:14-20 sees Amos as fulfilled in this way, then there is no reason to expect a second fulfillment. Following this paradigm, it seems fair to expect he would see most/all other “fulfillment” passages like this. One must not expect further fulfillment of an OT text when the NT writers see it as fulfilled.

My thoughts

This is a fairly complex chapter, but it was a welcome complexity since one is able to follow closely the interrelated issues in interpreting these passages. The depth here kept me from feeling that an important aspect was simply glossed over in Robertson’s analysis.

When Robertson represents the Dispensational views on these passages he refers to sources such as the old and new Scofield Bible and Ironside. Whether or not they best represented the DT position at the time of writing, I suspect that today a number of DT scholars would not hold their conclusions. Allowing for a DT response to this chapter may have avoided a potential stereotyping of the DT position.

A problem with this chapter comes from its strength. The test case approach doesn’t clearly provide principles for interpreting other texts and other kinds of texts. How exactly would Robertson interpret differently to one who holds hermeneutics of discontinuity? Again, a response section would have brought agreement and disagreement to the forefront.

Robertson recognises one of the difficult aspects of his test case is that Amos 9 is very concerned with physical Israel, land, geography, etc. This would make it difficult to see the only fulfillment being in Acts. How does he account for these things? Oddly enough, he appears content to show that Acts 15:14-20 sees Amos 9 as inaugurated and states that the land promise will be fulfilled in the New Heavens and Earth. Whether this is ultimately fulfilled in this way, it doesn’t preclude the Dispensational view that a fulfilment of Amos 9 includes national Israel reclaiming the land.

This chapter was very enjoyable and illuminating for understanding a view of continuity but it lacked some of the specific issues that I wanted to see addressed.

Chapter 4: Hermeneutics of Discontinuity

In contrast to Robertson, Paul Feinberg’s chapter was broader in scope and less inductive. First, Feinberg addressed the nature of promises/prophecies/predictions and how we ought to understand their fulfilment; secondly, typology and analogy is addressed; and thirdly, Feinberg displays his approach with a test case of Joel 2:28-32 in Acts 2:16-21. Feinberg offers a nuanced position of discontinuity between the OT and NT, and the best way to see this in action is his test case.

First, Feinberg compares the traditional Dispensational approach with the traditional Covenantal approach. Dispensationalists have typically avoided seeing Acts 2:16-21 as a fulfilment of Joel 2:28-32 as this would compromise the distinction between Israel and the church. Covenant Theologians, on the other hand, have seen a complete fulfilment here in the church, with the implication that national Israel will not experience Joel’s prophecies.

Next, Feinberg offers his own approach, which finds common ground between the two. Feinberg has the following to say on the relationship between the passages:

  1. Contra many DT theologians, Acts 2:16-21 is a fulfilment of Joel 2:28-32.
  2. Contra many CT theologians, it is not the complete fulfilment of Joel 2:28-32 since the OT context is still unfulfilled.
  3. The application and expansion of Joel to the church is warranted due to the OT text itself (see “all people” in Joel 2:28), the fact that it was an amplification of Abraham’s promise that included the nations (Gen 12:1-3), and that the church is called children of Abraham (Gal 3:7).

In conclusion, “Having established the church’s relationship to the Abrahamic promises, it would be wrong to think that this in any way invalidated the right of those who are Abraham’s physical seed to these promises, or to think that both Israel and the church have the same relationship to these promises.” (p127).

So Feinberg sees a double fulfilment of Joel 2:28-32, one at Pentecost and to church, and the other as a yet-future fulfillment for Israel.

My thoughts

Feinberg clearly and concisely addressed complicated issues without watering them down. It was not difficult to see how Feinberg approached interpretation and to follow the reasoning for his conclusions in his test case.

I don’t want to keep harping on with this, but a chance for Robertson to respond to this chapter would have clarified the issue further. I wonder how much of Feinberg’s proposal he would agree with and which statements would be singled out.

I also would have liked Feinberg to address some of the arguments for hermeneutics of continuity. For example, what would he make of Romans 9:6? Is Paul saying that God never intended national Israel to possess the promises? Were they only ever intended for the believing remnant? This would cause serious issues for Feinberg’s position. I am sure it will be addressed in a later chapter, however.

Conclusion

To sum this up, both positions have both a level of simplicity and complexity. Robertson’s position appears simple. If a NT author quotes a NT text as fulfilled, then it is. It needn’t be more difficult than that, right? However, the complexity arises when one studies the OT context of the quotations and finds specifics that are difficult to see as being fulfilled! It seems that Robertson must then find fulfillment in ways that don’t naturally match the OT text and expectations of its original readers. As I see it, this is the challenge for his position.

Feinberg’s position is also simple. Seeing the problem in Robertson’s position above, if the context of an OT isn’t completely fulfilled in a NT quotation, then it obviously must await further fulfillment. The difficulties arise when we note that the NT authors don’t often speak of this further fulfillment. At least, they could have made it more clear by appending their quotations, “of course, this is only one fulfillment. In the future there will be another”. This raises the issue that a second fulfillment is something that we require from the text due to a system and expectation of what God must do in His fulfillment of promises. Of course literal fulfillment is a natural expectation, but do the NT authors require it? And what if there are three fulfillments? It seems to me that the challenge here is in filling the silence of the NT authors.

I appreciate all comments and thoughts!

Next up Salvation and the Testaments.