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LITERALISM, RABBINIC THEOLOGY, AND DISPENSATIONALISM

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  Leave a comment

Dispensationalists often point to early rabbinic exegetical method as historical confirmation of their own method. Mal Couch writes:

The rabbis as well taught that these two expressions, the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven, refer not to some spiritualized kingdom but to the literal earthly reign of David’s Son. In fact it may be argued that, in light of how the Jews understood these two phrases, they only mean in the Gospels the messianic rule on earth. The earlier Dead Sea Scrolls, too, continually refer to the coming messianic kingdom in which the Messiah’s rule encompasses both heaven and earth. (Couch in Dictionary of Premillennial Theolog, 266)

He observes further: “Overall, the Jewish rabbis are to be commended for being scrupulous with the very letters of Scripture” (ouch in Dictionary of Premillennial Theology, 153). Pentecost emphasizes Judaic literalism as one line of defense for dispensationalism’s method: “The prevailing method of interpretation among the Jews at the time of Christ was certainly the literal method of interpretation” (Pentecost, Things to Come, 17). Couch agrees: “Jewish orthodoxy generally interpreted the Old Testament literally” — even pointing to the Pharisees as an example (Couch in Popular Encyclopedia of the Bible, 148).

Interestingly — or perhaps I should say, “tragically” — “it was their expectations of a literal earthly kingdom and political ruler that caused many Jews to fail to recognize Jesus as their Messiah at his first coming” (Grenz, Millennial Maze, 79.). Postmillennialist Boettner makes this argument very forcefully (Boettner, The Millennium, 86). We find an interesting analysis of official Judaism’s treatment of Christ in Peter Schafer’s Jesus in the Talmud (2007).

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Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

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Ken is a Presbyterian pastor and the author or co-author of over thirty books, most on eschatology. He has been married since 1971, and has three children and several grandchildren. He is a graduate of Tennessee Temple University (B.A., 1973), Reformed Theological Seminary (M.Div., 1977), and Whitefield Theological Seminary (Th.M., 1986; Th.D., 1988). He currently pastors Living Hope Presbyterian Church (affiliated with the RPCGA) in Greer, SC. Much of his writing is in the field of eschatology, including his 600 page book, He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology and his 400 page, Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation (his Th.D. dissertation). He contributed chapters to two Zondervan CounterPoints books on eschatological issues: Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (edited by Darrell L. Bock) and Four Views on the Book of Revelation (edited by C. Marvin Pate). He also debated Thomas D. Ice in Kregel's The Great Tribulation: Past or Future? His books have been published by American Vision, Baker, Zondervan, Kregel, P & R, Greenhaven Press, Nordskog, Wipf & Stock, and several other publishers. He has published scores of articles in such publications as Tabletalk, Westminster Theological Journal, Evangelical Theological Society Journal, Banner of Truth, Christianity Today, Antithesis, Contra Mundum, and others. He has spoken at over 100 conferences in America, the Caribbean, and Australia. He is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society and a Church Council Committee member of Coalition on Revival.

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