In the end, quoting 50-year-old works by your theological opponents is not, in and of itself, the problem. If that alone is unfair—as Waldron seems to think in the case of MacArthur’s 2007 Shepherds’ Conference address—then he has clearly fallen short of his own standard (see part 1). The real problem comes when you select quotations which misrepresent your opponents’ position, like Waldron does in citing the old Scofield Reference Bible in favor of a separate way of salvation for OT Israel. This brings us to the actual quotations provided by MacArthur in his Shepherds’ Conference address:
- O.T. Allis: “The Old Testament prophecies, if literally interpreted, cannot be regarded as having been yet fulfilled or being capable of fulfillment in the present age.”
- Floyd Hamilton: “Now we must frankly admit that a literal interpretation of the Old Testament prophecies gives us just a picture of an earthly reign of the Messiah as the Premillennialist pictures.”
- Loraine Boettner: “It is generally agreed that if the prophecies are taken literally, that they do foretell a restoration of the nation of Israel in the land of Palestine with the Jews having a prominent place in that kingdom and ruling over the other nations.”
The real question here is not when these words were written but whether or not they accurately represent what covenant theologians believe today. I fully understand that Waldron disagrees with the inferences that MacArthur has drawn from these quotations—and I even understand why—but here’s my question: Does Waldron believe that the quotations themselves are untrue?
If he does, he never comes out and says so, at least not directly. Instead he simply protests how old they are. And then, on page 75 of MacArthur’s Millennial Manifesto, Waldron actually comes to the defense of Allis, Hamilton, and Boettner and the ideas expressed by them in these quotations. So if Allis, Hamilton, and Boettner were not incorrect in what they said, why take MacArthur to task for quoting them? Why not stick with critiquing the inferences that MacArthur draws from their statements?
I assume that if you were to ask Waldron, he would say that the problem with these quotations is that they reflect an overly simplistic view of literal interpretation. He would probably also point out that the debate over literal interpretation has become much more finely nuanced in the past 50 years, something which has been addressed by interpreters on both sides of the issue, including dispensationalists John Feinberg, Robert Saucy, and Michael J. Vlach. But at the same time—if I can be overly simplistic myself for just a moment—isn’t it true that if you interpret the overall picture of the OT prophecies literally, then you do indeed end up with a premillennial eschatology? Isn’t that what Allis, Hamilton, and Boettner were getting at?
Take, for example, the promise of the New Covenant in Ezekiel 36:16-38. The main thrust of this entire passage is that Yahweh will transform the nation of Israel and restore her to the land from which she was dispersed in order to vindicate His reputation among the nations. It’s one thing to say that certain details in this prophecy are not to be taken literally—such as God sprinkling clean water on the nation of Israel (v. 25), which is symbolic of the spiritual cleansing of forgiveness. But it’s quite another to say that the overall picture of Israel being restored to her land in fulfillment of the New Covenant is not to be taken literally—that it actually refers to something else—especially in light of how only such a restoration to the land can vindicate the name of Yahweh according to Ezekiel 36 itself.
The greater question here involves the adequacy of the grammatical-historical method of interpretation for the genre of biblical prophecy. According to Waldron, the grammatical-historical method is the first and most basic principle of biblical interpretation. In End Times Made Simple, Waldron writes:
Simply stated, this fundamental principle says that the Bible must be interpreted in terms of the normal grammatical meaning of the language and in a way that makes sense in light of the historical context of the passage. The original sense of the words for the original author and readers is the true sense (ETMS, 85).
I couldn’t agree more. And I would go on to suggest that if one were to use this approach to interpret Ezekiel 36:16-38, the inevitable conclusion would be that some day God will indeed restore the nation of Israel to the land from which she was dispersed in fulfillment of the New Covenant. I would also suggest that this is precisely what Loraine Boettner meant when he wrote: “It is generally agreed that if the prophecies are taken literally, that they do foretell a restoration of the nation of Israel in the land of Palestine with the Jews having a prominent place in that kingdom and ruling over the other nations.”
In contrast, covenant theologians tend to view the grammatical-historical method of interpretation, at least as defined above, as insufficient for interpreting OT prophecy. Waldron himself denies that the grammatical-historical approach provides “a complete hermeneutic” because, according to Waldron, a “comprehensive hermeneutic” also takes into account the literary genre of the passage in question (MMM, 77).[i] In the case of biblical prophecy, Waldron believes that generally it “must be interpreted figuratively and symbolically in accordance with the apocalyptic genre” (MMM, 77). In other words, biblical prophecy should not be understood literally. Which is precisely why Allis, Hamilton, and Boettner said that if the OT prophecies were interpreted literally they would result in the eschatology of premillennialism. So once again, what exactly is the problem with MacArthur’s citation of these men?
[i] In contrast to Waldron’s claim, the grammatical-historical method actually does recognize that one must consider the literary genre of the passage under consideration in order to determine “the original sense of the words for the original author and readers.” Waldron seems to recognize this on page 78 of MMM, and yet he seems to deny it on page 77.