More Dialogue with Graeme Carle

More Dialogue with Graeme Carle

A few weeks ago I responded to Graeme’s challenge for someone to critique his blog on Israel and the promised land (  Graeme has now responded ( And some of what he says cannot go unchallenged. I am hoping we can end it here though, as I want my blog to be more than just dialogue with Graeme.

Reading the Scriptures against their first century context

Graeme takes me to task for not reading the Scriptures against their first century context. I plead, “Not guilty.” This is essential, along with remembering those to whom they were written, since the Scriptures were written for us but not to us. That means that our interpretations need to be meaningful and relevant for those to whom they were written. We need also to be aware of genre in our reading. A case in point is the book of Revelation, which I will refer to below. It was written to a group of churches in what is now western Turkey who were undergoing persecution, probably in the nineties of the first century. If our reading assumes that it is about events in the western world or even the Middle East in the twenty-first century, then we need to ask what relevance that would have to the churches to whom it was written. It is also apocalyptic literature, that is, literature that is a revelation from an other-worldly being (in this case Jesus, Rev 1:1) about things that are going on in heaven (4:1). It is also highly symbolic, that is, almost nothing can be taken literally, not even the numbers. Often things are in code (e.g. Babylon means the world set over against God, with Rome as the quintessence of that), and there are numerous allusions to Old Testament texts that will frequently give us a clue as to how to read the symbolism and the codes.

In my blog I referred to the heavenly Jerusalem. Paul (in Gal 4:25-26), the author of Hebrews (in Heb 12:22) and John, who wrote Revelation (in 21:2, 10) referred to this reality. Sometimes it is “the New Jerusalem” (Rev 21), sometimes “the Jerusalem above” (Gal 4) elsewhere it is “the city with foundations” (Heb 11:10), “a city prepared by God” (Heb 11:16) and “the city to come” (Heb 13:14). Nevertheless, there is no city in the sky! The heavenly Jerusalem is a metaphor for where God dwells with his people. In the Old Testament, the land, Jerusalem and the temple were viewed as concentric circles of increasing holiness, and the various compartments of the temple even more circles of even more holiness. Everything outside the land was unholy. The temple was the pinnacle of holiness, the building where God loved. This holiness rubbed off on Jerusalem, the holy city and the land, the holy land.

This building lost its significance when Jesus came, along with the land and the city. In John 2:21 Jesus referred to the temple of his body, indicating that now God lives not in a building but in a person (Jesus). Then, after Jesus rose from the dead, ascended to heaven and gave the Holy Spirit, this “temple symbolism” was transferred to the church (the temple of the Holy Spirit, 1 Cor 3:16) and to the individual believer (1 Cor 6:19). Language of the heavenly Jerusalem or the Jerusalem to come continues this imagery. It is a reference to God ultimately dwelling with his people at the end of all things (Rev 21:2-3), and in line with the consistent “already-not yet tension” of the New Testament, this future has come into the present. As Heb 1:1-3 indicates, the last days began when Jesus sat down at the right hand of God, and the eschaton is now a reality, although it awaits its consummation and its full manifestation. We do violence to the New Testament if we eliminate the already or the not yet. We need to hold them in tension.

So when we read references to the Jerusalem above in Galatians 4 and elsewhere, we need to see a reference to the church where God now dwells by his Spirit, and the reference to the earthly Jerusalem in the same text (Gal 4) refers to the Judaism to which the Judaizers Paul was contending with were wanting to revert.

Inaugurated Eschatology

Graeme’s discussion of inaugurated eschatology is deficient as he puts too much emphasis on the “not yet” and not enough on the “already.” They need to be held in tension. That Jesus is seated at God’s right hand means that he reigns now, as 1 Cor 15:25 says (“For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet”). He is not just waiting and twiddling his thumbs. Every time the gospel penetrates another culture the reign of Christ extends further throughout the world. Of course there is tension and of course the reign of Christ awaits its consummation. I don’t deny that. But Jesus reigns now and Satan’s dominion is being broken down now and Jesus is building his church now and the gates of hell will not prevail. God promised Abraham the world (Rom 4:13), and by spreading the gospel the people of God are taking the world for Christ.

The Land in the First Century

Graeme asserts (without providing any evidence) that the land was not an issue prior to AD 70, because “[the NT] was written before Israel lost the land.” On the contrary, the land was the issue in the time of Jesus. Israel might have been living in the land, but they didn’t have the land. Rome did. Evidence for this can be multiplied.

Several Old Testament texts show that the end of exile for Israel was supposed to mean sovereignty over the nations. One example will suffice, Mic 4:1-4
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.”
The problem was they were not in charge and the nations were not streaming to Jerusalem. Rather, while they lived in the land, they were subject to their Roman overlords. The conditions described in Neh 9:36-37 still applied,
Here we are, slaves to this day—slaves in the land that you gave to our ancestors to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts. Its rich yield goes to the kings whom you have set over us because of our sins; they have power also over our bodies and over our livestock at their pleasure, and we are in great distress.
These data in themselves ought to be enough to convince Graeme that the land was an issue, but there is evidence both in the literature of Second Temple Judaism and in the New Testament of the Jewish reaction to this. The evidence is conveniently detailed in the article on “Revolutionary Movements” by W. J. Heard and K. Yamazaki-Ransom in the Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 2nd ed., eds. Joel B. Green, Jeannine K. Brown, and Nicholas Perrin (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013), pp. 789-99, along with a detailed bibliography. The article begins like this
The causes of … [the] unrest were many and varied, but the following factors contributed to a milieu ripe for revolution: foreign military occupation, class conflicts, misconduct of Jewish and Roman officials, Hellenization, burdensome taxation and the Samaritan situation. When the Roman army occupied a land, it was accompanied by thousands of civilians (wives, children, doctors, merchants, etc.). The army lived off the occupied country, pilfering its natural resources, enslaving members of its population, raping women and generally terrorizing the populace. The gentry of Palestine [chief tax collectors like Zacchaeus] collaborated with the occupying forces and, in exchange for personal safety and affluence, aided Israel’s oppressors. This collusion led to class conflict between the rich and the poor, the loyal and the disloyal, the rulers and the people.
With conditions so difficult for the average Palestinian Jew, it is not surprising that there was a good deal of revolutionary activity among them. This took a variety of forms (detailed on pp. 789-90).
One would expect that this would emerge in the pages of the New Testament, and indeed it does.  Luke 2:25 tells of, “… a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel …” The “consolation of Israel” is an echo of Isa 40:1-2, announcing the end of the exile. Simeon knew that the exile was not over until Rome was defeated. Then there is Anna in Luke 2:38, who told of the birth of Jesus to “all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Redemption from what? Surely the occupying Romans.

The same situation is behind Jesus’s reluctance to use the title “Messiah.” In Mark 8:29 Peter announces that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus immediately forbids them to tell anyone. Then he refers to himself in terms of the Son of Man, a title ambiguous enough to put anyone off the scent. The reason: if the Roman authorities heard of it he was in danger of execution for being a messianic pretender, setting himself up to revolt against Rome. And finally, it is behind the disciples’ question in Acts 1:6, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” They misunderstood Jesus, even then, as a political messiah about to overthrow Rome and restore to Israel the sovereignty over the nations that the end of exile was intended to mean. The response of Jesus in terms of the spread of the Gospel to the ends of the earth is what Jesus had in mind. So it is significant that at the end of Acts Paul is preaching not the kingdom of Israel but the Kingdom of God (28:31). The kingdom of Israel has faded into insignificance in the face of the inaugurated and soon to be consummated reign of Christ.

And, finally, what does Graeme think was behind the Jewish revolt of AD 66 and again in 135, if not last ditch attempts to defeat the Romans and reclaim the land for themselves?

Of course, we cannot speak in terms of proof when discussing ancient texts; but we can examine the evidence. Both the biblical and extra-biblical evidence point in the direction of a major concern with God’s promise to restore his people from exile by expelling the Romans and giving the promised sovereignty over the nations to Israel. And this makes it all the more significant that the New Testament is silent about the promise of land. It is Graeme, not me, who has failed to read the New Testament against its first century background.

Luke 21:24

Graeme’s wife, apparently an expert in Greek, didn’t mention to him that it was the earliest Greek manuscripts that had no punctuation, not contemporary editions of the Greek New Testament. I have the four most recent editions of the Greek New Testament and they all have a full stop at the end of Luke 21:24. To be sure, since those early manuscripts had no punctuation, punctuation is an interpretative decision, but the Greek New Testament and our English Bibles are unanimous that v. 24 ends with the end of the “times of the gentiles.” The text mentions no subsequent “time of the Jews.” Graeme has read that into the text.

But Graeme’s wife got me thinking. While the earliest Greek manuscripts had no punctuation, they did have paragraph breaks. Three of my Greek New Testaments have a paragraph break at the end of Luke 21:24, followed by the NRSV, the NIV, the ESV and numerous other Bibles. But the recently issued Tyndale House Greek New Testament, which includes readings only from the earliest manuscripts doesn’t end the paragraph until after v. 27. This means that vv. 25-27 are in the same paragraph as v.24. So then, rather than some assumed reference to the times of the Jews, these verses continue to describe the conditions associated with the desolation of Jerusalem. Verses 23-24 describe the conditions on the ground, and vv. 25-26 describe them in cosmic terms. Verse 27 concludes the paragraph “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.” That is what follows the times of the Gentiles – the coming of the Son of Man. And in case Graeme is wondering that is not so much his coming to earth (although that is included) but the consummation of his reign as the allusion to Dan 7: 13-14 indicates.

Reading the Old Testament

Graeme quotes a few Old Testament passages in response to my comment that “the New Testament nowhere states specifically that Israel will ever get its land back.” He quotes Lev 26:42-44 and Jer 31:35-37, both of which affirm that God will not break his covenant with Israel and that Israel will never cease to be a nation. And he cites Matt 5:18; Luke 21:24; Rom 11:11, 28-29 and says “they both knew [I think he means “both” Matthew, Luke and Paul] Israel will always be a nation, always be restored to their promised land, until heaven and earth pass away.” But that is not quite what those New Testament texts say. Again Graeme reads the Old Testament as though the New Testament had never been written. Of course I acknowledge these promises of God to Israel, and of course I affirm that God is faithful to his promises. But if the land is so important we would expect at least one New Testament author would say so. The New Testament is silent, and the silence is so loud it calls for attention. I say again, with Paul, that God’s faithfulness to his promise is seen when Jews like Paul become followers of Jesus (Rom 11:1-2).

In the Old Testament the people of God were defined by ethnicity, and while it is doubtful that the New Testament applied the epithet “Israel” to the church (Rom 11:26 and Gal 6:16 are debated), when the New Testament writers saw promises of blessing to “Israel” in the Old Testament they read “Israel” as referring to “the people of God” and applied those promises to the people of God, now defined by faith in Jesus rather than by ethnicity.

So, in the New Testament there is both a narrowing and a broadening of the people of God. As Rom 9:6-8 indicates, it is narrowed because some Israelites are excluded (and I note in passing that the benefits of being an Israelite listed in Rom 9:4-5 don’t include possession of the land), and as Gal 3:7 indicates it is broadened by the inclusion of the Gentiles. By arguing that Israel’s possession of the land since 1948 is part of God’s faithfulness to his promises, Graeme has replaced the people of God with a secular state. According to Acts 2:5, 41 the first believers were almost all Jews. Today there is a majority of Gentiles, but all that has done has changed the proportional ethnic makeup of the people of God. We Gentiles who were “alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise” (Eph 2:12) are now part of the true people of God.

And just as the descendants of Abraham are widened to include all who have faith, both Jew and Gentile, so also the land has been widened to include the whole world (Rom 4:13).

Revelation 11

And I promised above to talk about Revelation. Revelation 11 is significant because it refers to the temple and the worshipers (vv. 1-2), the holy city (v. 2) and “the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified” (v. 8). As far as I can tell Graeme thinks these references are to a rebuilt temple in the earthly Jerusalem, and he sees this text as evidence of the future restoration of Israel to the land. This is unlikely, of course, since (1) no other text in the New Testament specifically refers to this, and (2) the presence of an altar in the temple indicates that the rebuilt temple would include the re-institution of the Old Testament sacrificial system, abolished, according to Heb 10:1–18.

Graeme takes me to task for using my concordance and missing these references to Jerusalem. It is clear to me that Graeme ought to have used his concordance. A search of the Greek word naos, used in 11:1 for the temple, shows that it appears sixteen times in Revelation, and if we leave aside 11:1–2 for a moment and 21:22 (where there is no temple) they all refer to a temple in heaven (3:12; 7:15; 11:19; 14:15, 17; 15:5, 6, 8; 16:1, 17). This makes it likely that 11:1–2 refer to the same reality. The temple in Rev 11:1-2 is in heaven.

The word polis (“city”) is a little more complex as there are two cities in Revelation. There is Babylon, “the ungodly world” centred in Rome (Beale, Revelation, NIGTC, 592) over against God and his people that Rome represents. The other city is variously called “the holy city”, “the city of God”, “the beloved city,” and “the new Jerusalem.” Aside from 11:2 this city appears in 3:12 and in numerous verses between 20:9 and 22:19. A line can be drawn from Rev 3:12 (“the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven”), through 11:2 (“the holy city”) to 21:2, where the holy city is explicitly identified as “the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”
Revelation 3:12 determines the identity of the temple and the city.
If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
Those in Philadelphia who conquer will become pillars in the temple of God, and will be given the name of the city of God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from God out of heaven. Of course this is figurative language. As I said at the start, the heavenly Jerusalem is a metaphor for the eschatological dwelling of God with his people, the great company of the redeemed in the eschaton, which has now come into present. The metaphor persists to this day whenever someone is referred to as “a pillar of the church.” The city and the temple are the church of Jesus Christ.

Then Graeme thinks “the great city” of Rev 11:8 is Jerusalem. His concordance would tell him otherwise, for he would discover that elsewhere in Revelation “the great city” is always “Babylon” (16:19; 17:18; 18:10, 16, 18, 19, 21). This makes it likely that “the great city” of 11:8 is also Babylon – the ungodly world, over against the church of Jesus Christ, “prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where their Lord was crucified.”

There is no rebuilt Jerusalem in Revelation 11 or Revelation 20. When John refers to the holy city he has in mind first the followers of Jesus, now undergoing persecution, and in the age to come dwelling with God; and when John refers to “the great city” he has in mind the ungodly world over against God that rejected and crucified Jesus. In a book so full of symbolism, it is highly unlikely that these cities refer literally to Jerusalem and Babylon.

Then there are the measuring rod and the forty-two months in Rev 11:2. According to Beale the measuring rod is to be understood in terms of Ezek 40–48, where similar language is used,
There the measuring represents the security of the city’s inhabitants against the harm and contamination of unclean and deceptive people (so 21:27). This cordoning off guarantees the protection of God’s eschatological community. This temple community will be composed of Jewish and Gentile Christians (as is evident from 3:12; 21:12–14, 24–26; 22:2). What is figuratively established by the measuring in Ezekiel and in Revelation 21 is the infallible promise of God’s future presence” (Beale, 559).

The forty-two months is also figurative. Graeme says it is “the most often used but least understood O.T. metaphor in the New Testament with eleven references.” I fear that Graeme has misunderstood its use in Revelation. Like all the other numbers in Revelation it is a figurative number intended to invoke the time of trouble just prior to the end of the age, repeatedly referred to in Daniel (7:25; 9:27; 12:7, 11–12). But it is not a literal three and a half year period in Revelation. It might have been in Daniel, but there it indicated that the time of eschatological trouble was severe, but limited in duration. The same applies in Revelation. It has precisely no connection with Luke 21:24 which mentions no time period.

I do need to bring this to a close. It is too long. I disagree with Graeme on almost every point. I have no desire to pull rank. But I will indulge in a little folly (2 Cor 10:21). I have been reading the New Testament in Greek for over forty years and the Old Testament in Hebrew for almost as long. I am a specialist in the literature of the Second Temple period. There is little about biblical interpretation or about Judaism in the first century that Graeme can teach me, and to be frank I am a little tired of this whole discussion. Graeme is a deeply committed Christian and a devoted follower of Jesus, but in this area he is quite wrong, and his erroneous reading of the Scriptures spills over into his uncritical support of Zionism. That is quite sad.


  1. Glad to see this, Philip, and I've responded too, trying to clarify what exactly we see differently:


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