Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Animal Sacrifices in the Millennium?

One of the most embarrassing aspects of Dispensationalism is their insistence that there will be a return to animal sacrifices during the Millennium. Most Dispensationalists have no idea that this is part of their system. The Progressive Dispensationalists have mostly abandoned this element. However, the hard-core Dispensationalists still hold to it.

If you recall, Dispensationalists believe that after his second coming, Jesus will reign on the earth for exactly one thousand years. This thousand-year period is often called the Millennium, taken from the Latin phrase "thousand years," found in Revelation 20.

Whereas all Premillennialists believe in a future Millennium on earth, Dispensationalists are unique in that they believe that the temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem, according to the vision given in Ezekiel 40-48. Herein lies the problem.

The vision in Ezekiel 40-48 includes animal sacrifices. Because Dispensationalists are committed to a literal, future fulfillment of Ezekiel 40-48, Dispensationalists believe that there will be a return to animal sacrifices during the Millennium.

Some Dispensationalists have tried to skirt the issue by arguing that the animal sacrifices are of a memorial nature. Thus, the animal sacrifices are simply pointing back to the death of Christ, in a similar way that the Lord's Supper points back to Christ.

However, the text of Ezekiel 40-48 belies this claim. These are not mere memorial animal sacrifices. Fourteen times, the text calls for a "sin offering" (Ezekiel 40:39; 42:13; 43:19, 21, 22, 25; 44:27, 29; 45:17, 19, 22, 23, 25; 46:20). Leviticus describes the sin offering as "making atonement" (Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35, etc.). These are animal sacrifices to atone for sin.

Thus, according to Dispensationalists, during the future Millennium, there will be a temple in Jerusalem with Levitical priests offering animal sacrifices to atone for sin.

Most Christians find such a belief unsustainable in light of the book of Hebrews. God repeatedly stresses that the Old Covenant is finished. It is obsolete (Hebrews 8:13). The sacrificial system was "imposed until the time of reformation" (Hebrews 9:10). Christ's sacrifice was the once-for-all-time sacrifice (Hebrews 9:26).

Yet, Dispensationalists persist in their belief of a future Millennium with animal sacrifices. There are some other rather novel attempts to explain future animal sacrifices, but none has gained a wide following, and most find them woefully inadequate.

Rather than engage these point-by-point and getting lost in the details, I believe it is more helpful to look at the big picture. "Future animal sacrifices" is one of those Copernican Revolution issues about which I wrote in the early days of this blog.

Do future animal sacrifices make any sense, given the book of Hebrews and the rest of Scripture? Is this not an obvious fatal flaw in Dispensationalism? Should this not cause one to question the entire system?

I am not saying that Ezekiel 40-48 is an easy text to interpret, yet future animal sacrifices ought to be the last interpretive option. The book of Hebrews alone ought to cause us to take a fresh look at Ezekiel 40-48 and see if God meant something other than future animal sacrifices.

This is not a matter of changing the original meaning of Ezekiel 40-48. I am not going get into the details of the exegesis (perhaps in a future post), but Ezekiel 40-48 can be understood without violating authorial intent and without resorting to future animal sacrifices.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Leaving the NASB Behind

I grew up using the New American Standard Bible (NASB). It was the translation of the Bible that I read in grade school, junior high, high school, college, after college, and in seminary. In 2004, I switched to a different translation, but I still tend to think in the language of the NASB.

The NASB is a fine translation in many respects. It is very literal. While some complain that it is a bit wooden and stodgy, I never felt this way. Whenever I look up a passage in the NASB, I feel that I am returning to an old friend.

One of the reasons that I left the NASB behind is that there is a noticeable Dispensational bias in certain passages. Some of the editorial decisions in the translation of the book of Revelation are particularly alarming, in that they camouflage the actual text from the reader.

Compare the following translations of Revelation 21:16-17.

"And the city is laid out as a square, and its length is as great as the width; and he measured the city with the rod, fifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal. And he measured its wall, seventy-two yards, according to human measurements, which are also angelic measurements" (Revelation 21:16-17, NASB).

"The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal. He also measured its wall, 144 cubits by human measurement, which is also an angel’s measurement" (Revelation 21:16-17, ESV).

You will notice that the numbers differ between the NASB and the ESV. The NASB has "1500 miles" and "72 yards," whereas the ESV uses "12,000 stadia" and "144 cubits." Of course, the original Greek text speaks of stadia and cubits, not miles and yards.

The NASB has made an editorial decision to convert stadia into miles and cubits into yards. This was likely done to help the reader understand the dimensions, as we are more familiar with miles and yards.

However, notice what is sacrificed. In an effort to understand the dimensions, we lose contact with the actual numbers that God placed in the text. "12,000" and "144" are significant numbers in the Bible and in the book of Revelation.

The number "12,000" appears once in Numbers 31:5 and twelve times in Revelation 7:5-8. Additionally the number "12" is significant, appearing over one hundred and fifty times in the Bible. It is the number of the tribes of Israel and the number of the apostles.

The number "144" would immediately call to mind Revelation 7:4 and 14:1-3, which speaks of the 144,000 martyrs. Also, 144 is the product of twelve times twelve, which is again another allusion to the Biblically significant number "12."

Christians debate the exact significance and interpretation of these numbers, and my intention in this post is not to argue for any specific meaning to the numbers. Unfortunately, the NASB robs the reader from making any connections between the numbers of Revelation 21:16-17 and the rest of the Scriptures.

So, why does the NASB convert the numbers in Revelation 21:16-17 into modern equivalents, while consigning the original text to a margin note? The NASB translators made an editorial decision that the reader is better off with the modern equivalents than with the original text.

In doing so, they have camouflaged the original numbers from the average reader. The average reader is robbed of making any connections between the numbers of Revelation 21:16-17 and the rest of Scripture. Only a Dispensationalist would be comfortable with such a situation.

Ultimately, this corresponds with what many have observed is a Dispensational bias of the NASB translators. You can Google "NASB Dispensational Bias" for more examples. This is one of the reasons why I no longer use the NASB for reading or study.