Monday, June 14, 2010

Gnats, Camels, and Amillennialists

...who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! (Matt 23:24).

Admittedly, eschatology was not Jesus' consideration when He hurled this rebuke at the Pharisees for pedantically avoiding ceremonial uncleanliness, but neglecting the clear matters of the Law (v.23). We would be permission, however, to apply the principle eschatologically anyway.

Premillennialists, which is the eschatological conviction of this blog (yes, and Calvinist, if you haven't heard, "Every Calvinist should be a Premillennialist"... just ask SLJ!), receive unending grief from our amillennialist brethren about the fantastic and weird "literalism" with which we read God's Word, Revelation 20, in particular. Prospects of a final Satanic rebellion following the reign of Christ, as well as the material nature of the Millennial Kingdom, with glorified and non-glorified humanity co-inhabiting the earth, are just too much for them to, well... swallow.

Yet, here is what the Amillennialist on your block will, in fact, swallow:
  • John's use of ἀνάστασις ("resurrection") in Rev 20:5 is an innovation to its meaning, referring not to bodily resurrection, as it does in every single one of the other 42 occurrences in the New Testament (not to mention every other instance in Greek literature), but to spiritual rebirth or conversion.

  • John uses the same verb, ἔζησαν ("came to life") in the space of 12 words to indicate two different phenomena. In v. 4, ἔζησαν means spiritual rebirth (consistent with their reading of "resurrection"), but in v. 5, again only 12 words later (!), it refers to bodily resurrection.

  • The testimony of the first 3 centuries of Christianity, recognized as almost entirely premillennial in conviction, was wrong. Note that. This means that amillennialists believe that the guys who actually knew the author of Revelation, Apostle John himself, have misinterpreted it!
  • Though he gave it over 100 years ago, the observations of commentator Henry Alford are worth reviewing:
    It will have been long ago anticipated by the readers of this Commentary, that I cannot consent to distort words from their plain sense and chronological place in the prophecy, on account of any considerations of difficulty, or any risk of abuses which the doctrine of the millennium may bring with it. Those who lived next to the Apostles, and the whole Church for 300 years, understood them in the plain literal sense: and it is a strange sight in these days to see expositors who are among the first in reverence of antiquity, complacently casting aside the most cogent instance of consensus which primitive antiquity presents. As regards the text itself [i.e., Rev 20:1-6], no legitimate treatment of it will extort what is known as the spiritual interpretation now in fashion… if in such a passage the first resurrection may be understood to mean spiritual rising with Christ, while the second means literal rising from the grave; - then there is an end of all significance in language, and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to anything.

    - Henry Alford, Greek Testament [1878], Vol. 4, p. 732.
    Read that last line again... "and Scripture is wiped out as a definite testimony to anything." These are the real stakes of the "millennial debate" and they extend far beyond our eschatology to the very root of the faith. That is, do Christians have the confidence that they can actually understand what God Himself has revealed? The grammatical and lexical gymnastics amillennialists undertake to make the their reading of Revelation 20 plausible completely undermine, however unintentionally, the clarity and perspicuity of God's Word.

    Interesting isn't it? Amillennialists undo by their interpretive method the very Reformation in which they exult. Without any interpretive control in grammar or context, an external authority (dare we say, magisterium?) must be presupposed, cracking the foundation of the Reformation's formal principle, sola Scriptura. And, once again, God's people strain out a gnat to swallow a camel.

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