My Angst with Dispensational Defiance of Rejecting an Apostolic Hermeneutic of the Old Testament

The cited material comes from Robert L. Thomas’ volume, “Understanding Spiritual Gifts”. Thomas (1999:141), who is an able exegete and professor at the Master’s Seminary, evidences nonetheless a priori commitment to a systematic paradigm that influences, in my estimation, a reading of certain texts, namely Joel 2:28:

Prophets in the future will minister to people of Israel and the world at large during the seventieth week of Daniel, after the rapture of the church (Joel 2:28). They will not be the prophets described in relation to the gifts of the Spirit bestowed on members of the body of Christ because the church will no longer be on earth during that period.

Thomas’ dispensational paradigm won’t allow him to see any application of Joel 2:28 to the church, even in the face of Peter’s application of such to the “Church”. While Dispensationals will respond by stating that Peter’s application of Joel was only applicable for the nation of Israel, this ignores the fact that Peter offers the same promised Spirit to those “afar off”, to all who would repent and be baptized. 3000 Jews repented on the day of Pentecost, so one can’t say that the Joeline promise was pulled from the table because of Israel’s rejection. Israel’s acceptance opens the door for the same promise to extend outward to include even Gentile believers, which was the great scandal of the Gospel. While I admit that Peter may have been speaking better than he knew, it is clear for me, that according to Luke’s recounting the Joeline promise was distributed to Gentiles and would continue to be dispensed upon all who turn to Christ in repentance.

For Thomas to run roughshod over Peter’s application and state so clearly that Joel’s application is relegated only to Daniel’s seventieth week to a specific number of prophets who are mainly ministering to the Jewish nation is a rejection of the expansion of this promise to the New Covenant. It is a reading of Joel that ignores the fact that Peter applied it in a way that contradicts a priori hermeneutical conviction that Joel must apply to ethnic Jews and within a brief appointed time in God’s eschatological theme. Dispensationals wish to deal with the OT on its own terms, which is commendable, but almost treat the Apostolic hermeneutic of the OT as erroneous and an inconvenience. Do these Dispensationals really understand the OT better than Jesus and the Apostles?

Thomas (1999:134) also argues against the application of Joel 2:28-29 to the current New Covenant era based on the fact that not “all” prophesy:

Based on Numbers 11:29 and Joel 2:28-29, the expectation of all God’s people was that everyone would prophesy, but God has appointed only a limited number to be prophets. The idea that Christians should seek the gift as thought it were available to all is misleading if it is available only to a restricted number of Christians.

I agree that not all prophesy, but hardly see that as proof that Joel is not being fulfilled. It is like saying that the New Covenant promises of salvation being extended to all people isn’t literally being fulfilled because not all people are saved. Should we dare claim the promises to people and encourage them to seek salvation knowing that not all are saved? Thomas is presuming that to be faithful to Joel’s promise, all of God’s people must prophesy. The irony is that most Dispensationals don’t even believe that all will prophesy when Joel is fulfilled in Daniel’s seventieth week. Thomas thinks that, “The idea that Christians should seek the gift as thought it were available to all is misleading if it is available only to a restricted number of Christians.” Well, apparently Paul had no problem encouraging the Christian community to desire prophecy (1 Cor. 14:5). Peter presumed that the collective Christian community was endowed with “charismata”, including speaking gifts (1 PT 4:10-11).

If Thomas thinks it erroneous for Christians to be so mistaken as to dare seek prophecy, he stands in contradiction to Paul and Peter. Paul and Peter apparently didn’t share Thomas’ exegesis and theology on this point. Prophecy is not only available to the Christian community, but they are actually encouraged to seek it. While not all will prophesy, this is hardly proof against the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29, which Peter seem convinced was the best explanation for the observed behavior on Pentecost. Who are we to believe in this matter? I would encourage Thomas and dispensational to stop accusing folks like me of altering the literal meaning of “all” in Joel 2:28-29 when there is Apostolic precedent that the text wasn’t understood, nor applied in that manner.

As much as I disagree with a Covenantal view of Joel’s application within the New Covenant, they at least view Pentecost itself as fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29. While they restrict the fulfillment to Pentecost, they prove more faithful to Peter than the Dispensationals do.

© 2010, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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