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THE JEWISH TEMPLE IN EPHESIANS

Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. —  May 16, 2012 — 12 Comments

One of the most remarkable and disturbing aspects of dispensationalism is its inherent redemptive retrogression. Dispensationalism necessarily requires a future re-institution of blood sacrifices to be conducted in a rebuilt temple under the direction of a new, formal line of priests. It rejects the biblical view that Christ is the final redemptive blood-letting in that he is the conclusive, perfect fulfillment of the sacrificial system. Though in the millennium “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid” (Isa 11:6) and though “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together” (Isa 65:25), the lamb and the kid had better keep a wary eye out for any approaching priest.

Once again, Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians exposes dispensational error. And this time one of their most bizarre errors. Let us see what Paul has to say about the matter.

The Rebuilt Temple and the Old Testament

In order to exalt Israel, to restore her to where she left off in redemptive-history, to re-institute her sacrificial system, and to employ a long line of priests, dispensationalism applies its off-and-on-again literalistic sleight-of-hand hermeneutic to argue for a rebuilt temple. As they read the Old Testament (divorced from any knowledge of Christ, the Apostles, and the New Testament) dispensationalists note Old Testament statements regarding the temple which suggest to them that it will be built again in the future.

For instance, the Dictionary of Premillennial Theology (Kregel, 1996; hereinafter, DPT) states that:

“the prophecy of a future Jewish temple in Jerusalem . . . is part of the greater restoration promise made to national Israel. This promise, made at the close of the first temple period (cf. Isa. 1:24–2:4; 4:2–6; 11:1–12:6; 25–27; 32; 34–35; 40–66; Jer. 30–33; Ezek. 36–48; Amos 9:11–15; Joel 2:28–3:21; Micah 4:–5; 7:11–20; Zeph. 3:9–20), made again by the prophets who prophesied after the return from captivity (cf. “Dan. 9–12; Hag. 2:5–9; Zech. 8–14; Mal. 3–4), and reaffirmed in the New Testament (cf. Acts 3:19–26; Rom. 11:1–32) contained inseparably linked elements of fulfillment. . .” (DPT 404).

Before I proceed further I must briefly comment on DPT’s listing of prophetic passages, using its first two cited prophecies by way of example: Isaiah 1:24–2:4 and Isaiah 4:2–6.

Regarding the Isaiah 1:24–2:4 proof-text: Oddly enough, dispensationalism’s (occasional, though erratic and sometimes dizzying, but always fun) literalistic approach to this prophecy produces an absolute absurdity. It requires the ridiculous notion that Jerusalem will actually “will be established as the chief of the mountains, / and will be raised above the hills” (Isa 2:2b). Somehow Jerusalem will remain intact as the tectonic upheaval and its consequent mountain-thrusting forces raise Mount Zion to new heights.

Furthermore, despite the enormous difficulties involved in scaling this mountain, “all the nations” will stream to it — even though it is now on a mountain higher than Mt. Everest (apparently snow tires will be much more effective in the millennium than they are today).

What is more, Jerusalem itself will dwarf the mountain upon which it sits, for it will be 1500 miles high — according to the often-literalistic, ever system-building hermeneutic approach to Revelation 21:16. And yet the world population (using today’s figures, which probably are lower than those of the peace-enhanced millennium) of six billion people will gather three times a year in Jerusalem for worship festivals (Deut 16:16). The traffic congestion will be awful, probably worse than the famed Orange Crush in Orange County, California where I-5 and Highways 22 and 57 come together.

Despite the enormous height of the orogenically (tectonics + volcanism = orogenesis) re-shaped mountain and the even more impressive size of the city, the upper winds apparently will be stilled (perhaps due to their being over 1470 miles above the earth’s atmosphere — they surely will have petered out at that distance). After all, according to DPT’s second set of proof-texts (which does not even mention a temple, by the way) the smog will be suffocating — virtually on the order of the thermal-inertia-induced Venusian atmosphere. Note that the verse states (literalistically!) that “the Lord will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke” (Isa 4:5). Thus, the “whole area of Mount Zion” — not part of it, that would not be literalistic! — will be covered by “smoke.” Apparently this is at least partly due to the automotive exhaust emitted by enormous number of cars necessary for carrying six billion people to the thrice-yearly festivals.

But we are analyzing Paul’s “The Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism.” What does Ephesians have to say about all of this? I mean what does it say about all of this beyond that fact that Jesus is enthroned “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion” (Eph 1:21) which (according to dispensational exegesis) matches perfectly with his ruling from a 1500 mile high Jerusalem?

The Rebuilt Temple and Paul

We have been seeing that Paul is not a dispensationalist. What is more, we have noted that his letter to the Ephesians serves as a blatant, point-for-point rebuttal to dispensationalism. Let us now consider Paul’s understanding of the rebuilt temple.

Paul is a blatant spiritualizer, according to the dispensational system. For in Ephesians 2:19–22 he states:

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

The Apostle certainly believes in a rebuilt temple, but not one built of stone. He sees “the whole building”as currently in his day already “being fitted together” and “growing into a holy temple in the Lord.”He allows this despite the fact that the earthly temple is still standing as he writes. And despite the fact that the millennium still lies off in the distance (already almost 2000 years distant, at least). Remember: the prophecies of the glorious, rebuilt temple refer to the millennial temple, not the tribulation temple because “the tribulation temple will be built by unbelieving Jews . . . [whereas] the millennial temple will be built by the Messiah (Zech. 6:12–13) and redeemed Jews” (DPT 404).

To make matters worse, Paul sees the rebuilt temple in spiritual terms because it is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” with “Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” And the current and ongoing building process involves Christians themselves as the building stones for “you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.” This is why Jesus could inform the Samaritan woman: “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. . . But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers” (John 4:21, 23). And Jesus presents this “coming” hour  as a permanent, final reality not to be withdrawn as a new order of localized, physical temple worship is re-instituted.

This is no stray statement by Paul: he returns to this theme time-and-again. We read of his conception of the spiritual temple in the following verses:

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.” (1 Cor 3:16–17)

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Cor 6:19)

“What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will Dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people’” (2 Cor 6:16).

The third sample in 2 Corinthians 6:16 is important because it specially applies Old Testament prophecy to the New Testament spiritual temple. Notice how Paul argues: “We are the temple of the living; just as God said, ‘I will Dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” The Old Testament backdrop to this “just as God said” statement is Ezekiel 37:27: “My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people.”

What is remarkable about all of this is that this Paul takes this statement from Ezekiel’s prophecy of Israel’s dry bones coming back to life. Thus, Paul commits two hermeneutic sins: (1) he applies a prophecy regarding Israel to the church and (2) he spiritualizes God’s prophetic dwelling, applying it to God’s spiritual indwelling his people, rather than God’s building a new temple.

Conclusion

Paul’s writings destroy dispensationalism — which may explain why dispensationalists prefer to take Old Testament texts on their own, apart from any New Testament understanding. Truly, Paul provides a tract for our times, an “Ephesians Road Out of Dispensationalism.”

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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.

12 responses to THE JEWISH TEMPLE IN EPHESIANS

  1. This is a sad system that is followed by (some) smart people, I don’t get it. I laughed out loud reading your post. Thanks.

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. May 16, 2012 at 6:30

      Kelly: Oddly enough, whereas you laugh out loud regarding the error dispensationalism, dispensationalists laugh all the way to the bank with their multi-million dollar book sales. Consequently, we see the reality of the divine lament: “My people are destroyed for lack fo knowledge.”

      • rodolfo otico May 19, 2012 at 6:30

        hi Ken!

        Consider the following what I thought was laughable & much funnier than Kelly’s object of derision & ridicule:

        #1) On page 12, Preface of the book,”Christ’s Prophetic Plans: A Futuristic Premillennial Primer” I saw John Mac’s F P chart (simplified version of Clarence Larkin’s 1918 prophecy chart). In it John Mac charted the 2nd Coming of Christ and the Judgment of the sheep and the goats occurring at the end of the 7 years of Tribulation without offering some explanation! Funny how J.M. had arrived at using Matthew 25 & Revelation 19 as the Scriptural references to back up his chart-claim, the fact that there is not the slightest hint from Matthew 25 & Revelation 19 that point to his claim that these events will occur at the end of the 7 years of Tribulation! One wonders if John Mac really believes this because I don’t see much difference between DATE SETTING prophetic future events & CHARTING prophetic future events with sharp precision!

        #2) I an article “What is Dispensationalism?” (Theological Studies), Dr. Michael Vlach ( of Masters Seminary) wrote in his opening paragraph: “Theologians continue to argue over the origin of dispensationalism. Those who are dispensationalists argue that the basic beliefs of dispensationalism were held by the apostles and the first generation church. Those who are not dispensationalists often argue that dispensationalism is a new theology that began in the 19th century. What is clear, though, is that dispensationalism, as a system, began to take shape in the mid-1800s.”

        The following can be drawn from the logic of Michael Vlach:
        Since he is a Dispensationalist theologian he argues for the basic beliefs of Dispensationalism as one held by the apostles & the 1st generation church. Yet as the author of the write-up, he claims that what is clear is, though, is that dispensationalism as a system, began to take shape in the mid-1800’s! Wait a minute, why argue for something w/c is NOT clear, that Dispy is held by the 1st generation church? Arghhh! On the other hand if the non-dispies argue for the 19th century origin of Dispy, then it’s clear that Dr. Michael Vlach concurs w/ the non-dispies claim about the historical origin of Dispensationalism! Hahahaha,,,,,very funny Dr. Vlach!

        Thanks Ken for the enlightening write-up. BTW, I used to correspond to you before during my Managerial stint in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia back in the 90’s. We got hold of you thru North’s ICE & Lt. Bradford Barnes (remember him?). I even kept a signed copy of your book:”He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology”. Yep we are still alive here & growing!

        Bye for now & keep on firing…..!

        Rod

  2. Wow this is a sad system , I mean just to day on tv people are paying good money to send Jews back to their land to get slaughterd.

  3. “the lamb and the kid had better keep a wary eye out for any approaching priest.”

    I love a good theologian with a great sense of humor. :)

  4. I send my sister posts from this site, as well as from americanvision.com, and the most she tells me is that “Premillennialists don’t really believe those things!” I’m desperately trying to free her from the system.

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. May 18, 2012 at 6:30

      So then, you are praying that your sister will rapture out of dispensationalism? Keep gently seeking to persuade her. Just encourage her: “Come on out! The water’s not fine.” I imagine you were once involved in dispensationalism but came out.

      • Yes, but I was younger then, and she’s now 45. I tried the angle of highlighting the most extreme aspects – the reinstated sacrificial system in the millennium; the fact that it teaches that God’s main purpose in history is an ethnic group, rather than Christ and His Church; etc. Do you have any suggestions?

      • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. May 18, 2012 at 6:30

        I would suggest that she read an alternative viewpoint, just to be honest in her commitments. Since she is disinclined, I would suggest one bite-sized presentation and ask her to prayerfully read it. You might consider my book Postmillennialism Made Easy. Or you might seek some work that is specifically written as an analysis of dispensationalism. Dispensationalism is hard to break loose from. Those in it think they are believing the Bible literally whereas all others are allegorically dismissing the Bible.

  5. As the dispensationalists believe, literally Jerusalem will be 1500 miles high. Wow… for a reference point, the International space station is 250 miles high.

  6. Adam Leavelle May 19, 2012 at 6:30

    My mother so separates Jews and Christians it’s next to impossible to argue with her. She believes the Jews are God’s bride and Christians are Jesus bride. When I try and talk to her about any of this she gets very, very upset because I am coming against “God’s chosen people” and that the bible promises to curse those who curse them. I’ve read every work I can find exposing dispensationalism, but what is the best work out there showing that the separation of the Jews from Christians in the dispensational theology is wrong?

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. May 20, 2012 at 6:30

      My favorite book on Israel is by David Holwerda: Jesus and Israel: One Covenant or Two

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