The Land as Covenant Backdrop, Part I

January 14, 2011

ETS: SW Regional Meeting

Dallas Theological Seminary

March 19, 2010


The Land as Covenant Backdrop:

A Modest Response to Burge and Waltke


A. Boyd Luter, Ph.D.

Pastor, Comal Country Church

New Braunfels, TX

Adjunct Online Professor of New Testament

Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary

Lynchburg, VA

Introduction: Accepting a Challenge… Sort of 

A few months ago, I was asked to write a review of Gary Burge’s Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to ‘Holy Land’ Theology[1] for the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society.  In several ways, it is a thought-provoking little work,[2] worthy of consideration by evangelical readers.  However, I must admit that I was somewhat taken aback by Burge’s ongoing pattern of: 1) assuming that Jesus’ apparent failure to refer to the land promises made to the Jewish people in the Old Testament clearly demonstrated that He Himself fulfilled and replaced those promises; then, 2) in rapid fire order, lumping all the later New Testament books into that same perspective, simply because there is no obvious textual refutation to his previous assumption (i.e., that Jesus fulfilled and replaced the land promises to Israel).

For the purposes of this paper, I’m responding to one specific example of the kind of “sweep of the hand” eisegesis[3] Burge employs: his treatment of the Book of Revelation.[4]  His conclusion as to whether the Apocalypse reflects a “territorial theology” for Israel is “Revelation does not look to the land as an object of hope and promise.”[5] 

Burge’s claim that there are no New Testament passages which provide a biblical basis for either a present or end-times presence of Israel in the land brought to mind a similar claim and challenge made by my esteemed former professor, Bruce Waltke, now almost 20 years ago.  In expressing his disagreement that then emerging progressive dispensationalism continued to affirm ongoing land promises for Israel, Waltke confidently stated, “If revised dispensationalism produced one passage in the entire New Testament that clearly presents the resettlement of national Israel in the land, I would join them.  But I know of none!”[6]

Before proceeding further, I must admit that, in a sense, I have little business taking on these “challenges.”  In fact, the better part of wisdom might well have been to conclude “I don’t have a dog in that hunt” and leave it at that.  After all, though I firmly believe in a future for Israel in the promised land, I’m not a “Christian Zionist”—the viewpoint which Burge is challenging.[7]  Also, I am, at most a not (at least, not yet) fully-persuaded progressive dispensationalist (though several of the viewpoint’s thought leaders are respected former classmates or colleagues).[8]  And, it was specifically in the context of his critique of emerging progressive dispensationalism that Waltke threw down the gauntlet.[9]

However, I am accepting the common challenge offered by Burge and Waltke, but in a very “modest” manner.  Because of the space limitations of this paper, first, I am going to set forth one passage—Revelation 11—that at least fairly, to use Waltke’s words, “clearly presents the resettlement of national Israel in the land… .”  Next, I will briefly demonstrate how that passage relates to the ongoing land promise.  Third, I will explain in overview how Revelation 11:13 fulfills Romans 11:25-26, which prophecy assumes the land promise.  Fourth, I will develop how Revelation 1:7b, which is also fulfilled in Revelation 11:13, echoes Zechariah 12:10, which also assumes the land promise.  Fifth, I will summarize how the previous aspects of this study underscore the point that the land functions as a very important “backdrop” of sorts to the more central features.  Finally, I will conclude by compactly applying my findings to the question of whether Israel being in the land today has biblical significance.  (Honestly, I don’t think it would be fair to have dealt with this biblical subject matter without at least briefly speaking to that looming issue.)

[1] (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010).  My JETS review is forthcoming.

[2] Just over 130 pages of text, plus a selective annotated bibliography, notes and an index.

[3] According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Ed. (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.), 369, eisegesis is “the interpretation of a text (as of the Bible) by reading into it one’s own ideas.”  This, if course, is completely contrary to the legitimate pursuit of biblical exegesis, the reading out of the meaning in the text.

[4] Burge, Jesus and the Land, 102-07.

[5] Ibid., 108.

[6] B.K. Waltke, “A Response,” in C.A. Blaising and D.L. Bock, eds., Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 357.

[7] By “Christian Zionism,” Burge means those who not only see a biblical basis for Israel being in the land today, but also, among other things, those who believe, effectively, that Israel can do no wrong and that this is the “terminal generation” before Jesus raptures the church (Burge, Jesus and the Land, 112-25). 

[8] I am in essential agreement with, for example, most of the views expressed in Dispensationalism, Israel and the Church, as well as Blaising and Bock, Progressive Dispensationalism (Colorado Springs: Bridgepoint, 1993) and R.L. Saucy, The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993).  I am not nearly as positive, though, in regard to Marvin Pate’s understanding of the Apocalypse expressed in C.M. Pate, ed., Four Views of the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapid: Zondervan, 1999).  Perhaps Craig Blaising’s soon forthcoming treatment of the pretribulational view within the context of a wider progressive dispensational understanding will fare better (in A. Hultberg, ed., Three Views on the Rapture: Pretribulational, Prewrath and Posttribulational [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011]).

[9] Waltke, “A Response,” 347-59.  Though Waltke had a number of positive things to say about the then fairly new theological position of progressive dispensationalism, he obviously was quite confident that his challenge in regard to the land would not taken up successfully.  And, since I have not been focused on that issue in the years since, I do not know whether others have attempted to answer his challenge.


2 Responses to “The Land as Covenant Backdrop, Part I”

  1. Doug Cox said

    Dr. Burge said, “Revelation does not look to the land as an object of hope and promise,” and on the surface, perhaps it does not; however, I would like to suggest a place where, IMO, it does: Rev. 12:16.

    When “the earth opens her mouth” and swallows up the serpent’s flood, I think the word could possibly be rendered “land.” And land here represents the promised land, and the spiritual inheritance of the saints.

    If the “flood” is a flood of flawed interpretations, and false teachings, all these would be “swallowed up” when the saints discover the truth; this is one of the things Jesus promised. [John 16:13] Only the truth can swallow up the serpent’s flood.


  2. […] and flawed interpretations. This flood is swallowed up by the earth, or the land. It is the promised land that swallows up the flood, as this promised land represents the truth. Only the truth can swallow […]

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