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THE LAND PROMISE AND POSTMILLENNIALISM

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by Gregg Strawbridge

In the 2005 national ETS and SBL meetings there were several seminars devoted to “replacement theology” and specifically on the place of Israel and the politics of “land.” In both cases I personally engaged several of the respondents, such as Timothy Weber1, Walter Kaiser, Bruce Longenecker, Claudia Setzer, and a few others – on the question of Paul’s use of “land” typology in such passages as Romans 4:13 (“heir of the world”). To my surprise none of the respondents had a clear view of such “promise land” texts. Particularly in the SBL session, it seemed a

noticeable oversight that while discussing Paul and Palestine, the texts which address the “land” in Paul were not considered.

The “land promise” is not a scholastic trivial pursuit nor a hermeneutical game of solitaire without consequences in the geo-political events of our day. Any broadcast of CNN will show the relevance of this motif of Scripture. Any channel surfer is bound to see passionate pleas designed to fund getting Jews to the Israel. The theme of the promised land is one which the Bible exegete, theologian, or minister cannot avoid, not merely because he or she watches too much television. The Hebrew term ‘erets is the fourth most utilized term of the Hebrew Scriptures, used 2504 times in almost 10% of all OT verses. The LXX/NT term ge is used 3422 in the whole of the Greek version of the Scriptures.

The structure of the unfolding redemptive promise to Abram centrally included the land promise. Vern Poythress observes what is hardly debatable. “One of the main aspects of the promise made to Abraham is the promise that he and his offspring will inherit the land (Genesis 12:1, 7; 13:14-17; 15:18-21; 17:8).”

Dealing with the land as a theme of prophetic fulfillment turns out to be quite an interesting hermenuetical and eschatological test case. When and how shall the surf and turf promises be fulfilled? “For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea” (Is. 11:9; Hab. 2:14). Walter Brueggemann sees that land fulfillment in purely Christological terms. “The resurrection of Jesus is the amazing restoration of power and turf when they had surely been lost (on this see the clear claim of restoration in Matt. 28:19-20).” Thus, “suffering = crucifiction = landlessness and glory = resurrection = landedness.” His eschatological vision drifts toward Marxism. “Thus Marxism and Christianity share the vision of a new land

commonly and rightly held.”

While many premillennialists see the millennium as the time of land covenant fulfillment and amillennialists point to the heavenly, spiritual, and eternal-state fulfillments — postmillennialists often see the land promise as being realizable in the inter-advent. This is not to deny a full consummation of the kingdom in the fully renewed earth (after the “second coming”). I believe that there is exegetical evidence for this in the NT use of land texts, especially

in St. Paul.

There are several passages which provide evidence at the intersect of surf and turf and covenant

fulfillment. One passage, particularly, provides an exegetical rink for discussion. Romans 4:13 says, “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.” I would suggest the following (“loaded”) translation: For not through the torah would come the covenant promise to Abraham (or to his seed) of his inheritance of the earth, but [it came] through the covenant participation of faith.

In the section Paul mounts a sustained and developed argument that Abraham is the foundation of Gentile inclusion into the people of God. In showing that torah cannot be the final boundary for defining God’s people. He dives deeper than Moses. He plunges through the surf and reaches the ocean floor. He points to the sand of the sea heirs of father Abraham. It is certainly true that “Father Abraham had many sons,” [I am one of them and so are you…]. He is “father of many nations” (v. 16). He argues similarly in Gal. 3:17-18 of the promise being foundational to torahnomos, not the other way around. The conclusion is the very strongest endorsement of Gentile participation, since “the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all” (Rom. 4:16). This Gentile participation is not cast as replacement, but inclusion (also Eph. 2).

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