Archive for the ‘Fred Butler’ Category

Responding to Ryrie regarding John Edwards and Dispensations

November 22, 2011

Someone wrote in to Jamin Hubner the following question:

In Ryrie’s book he mentions the dispensational scheme that Jonathan Edwards [sic] (not that Edwards was necessarily a dispensationalist) put forth in his work “A Compleat History or Survey of All the Dispensations”. Would this not pre-date Darby? As I have not read this work by Edwards, perhaps I am missing the context, but Edwards’ dispensational scheme has some similarities to the seven dispensations espoused by modern day dispensationalists.

The author of the comment is referring to the discussion of John Edwards (not Jonathan Edwards) in Ryrie’s book, “Dispensationalism.”  To answer the exact question, yes – it predates Darby.  On the other hand, as Ryrie himself points out, Edwards didn’t believe in a literal 1,000 year physical reign of Jesus on Earth.  There may be some similarities. 

There is an important answer to these questions: it is not the designation “dispensation” or the recognition that God has dealt with people differently in different epochs of time that is controversial about dispensationalism.  So, whether or not Edwards’ scheme of dispensations or dealings has some similarities to the schemes advocated by dispensationalists is a moot point.

Ryrie himself seems to recognize the mootness of such historical appeal.

Ryrie writes (shortly prior to his reference to John Edwards):

Dispensationalists recognize that as a system of theology it is recent in origin.  But there are historical references to that which eventually was systematized into dispensationalism.  There is evidence in the writings of men who lived long before Darby that the dispensational concept was part of their viewpoint.

After discussing some patristic and medieval authors, Ryrie explains:

It is not suggested, nor should it be inferred, that these early church fathers were dispensationalists in the later sense of the word. But it is true that some of them enunciated principles that later developed into dispensationalism, and it may be rightly said that they held to primitive or early dispensational-like concepts.

So, Jamin Hubner’s own response to the question seems a little strange:

Dispensationalists typically play the pre-Darby card in an effort to justify their system, but is rarely an adequate appeal. The idea is to make associations and draw similarities between Darby and previous thinkers (e.g. Ireneaus, Edwards, some Reformers, etc.) to say Dispensationalism goes back (for some, they would say to the Apostles, while others would say back to the Reformers, etc.). But in reality, the thinkers are simply not teaching Darbyism. Resemblances, vague parallels and similarities are not enough to dismount Darby as essentially the Father of Dispensationalism (nor dismount Scofield as perhaps the chief popularizer). But that’s not to say we shouldn’t acknowledge that Darby had previous influences and that attempts have been made to try and systematize redemptive history, address the application of biblical law, and solve various hermeneutical issues. Certainly there have been such attempts.

 And again:

One could list countless other references. But, it’s obviously absurd (and anachronistic) to say Calvin, Bavinck, or Spurgeon were Dispensationalists just because they speak of dispensations in redemptive history, and baseless to say from these facts that Darby’s specific thought found its ultimate origins in these particular thinkers (since Christians from virtually every period have been talking about changes in redemptive history and various epochs; perhaps the author of the Hebrews was the first to put it so starkly). Even organizing such Dispensations into a structure does not add up to the profound and distinctive marks of Darby and Scofield’s Dispensationalism (e.g. stark Israel/Church separation, hermeneutic regarding prophecy, premil pretrib eschatology including rapture of believers, etc.) – which is precisely what we mean by “Dispensationalism” today.

While there may be dispensationalists who make such claims, it seems pretty clear that Ryrie himself explicitly disavows such claims.  Instead, Ryrie makes much softer claims about doctrinal development, claims that don’t claim that the “profound and distinctive marks” of dispensationalism were present in the pre-Darby era.

Ryrie instead argues:

There is no question that the Plymouth Brethren, of which John Nelson Darby (1800-1882) was a leader, had much to do with the systematizing and promoting of dispensationalism.  But neither Darby nor the Brethren originated the concepts involved in the system, and even if they had, that would not make them wrong if they can be shown to be biblical.

Indeed, under the title of “Straw Men,” Ryrie explains:

In discussing the matter of the origins of dispensationalism, opponents of the teaching usually set up two straw men and then huff and puff until they are destroyed.  The first straw man is to say that dispensationalists assert that the system was taught in postapostolic times. Informed dispensationalists do not claim that.  They recognize that, as a system, dispensationalism was largely formulated by Darby, but that outlines of a dispensationalist approach to the Scriptures are found much earlier.  They only maintain that certain features of what eventually developed into dispensationalism are found in the teachings of the early church. 

Another typical example of the use of a straw man is this line of argument: pretribulationalism is not apostolic; pretribulationalism is dispensationalism; therefore, dispensationalism is not apostolic.  But dispensationalists do not claim that the system was developed in the first century; nor is it necessary that they be able to do so.

So, in fact, folks like Ryrie (and I assume Fred Butler would fall in this camp) are not claiming that the early or even Reformation-era church held to a pre-mil, pre-trib rapture.

It may be useful in dealing with dispensationals, therefore, to be careful in distinguishing.  On the one hand, we grant that the use of the term and even a difference in dealings (on some level) are concepts that pre-existed Darby.  Indeed, using that same standard, it seems that we might be classified as “primitive dispensationalists” (using Ryrie’s standards) if we hold to covenant theology.  On the other hand, the more objectionable aspects of dispensationalism do not have the same noble lineage.

Ultimately, though, we agree with Ryrie that the test of history is not the ultimate test: the ultimate test is the test of Scripture.  If the teachings of dispensationalism are the teachings of Scripture, then we ought to hold them regardless of whether anyone held them between the time of the apostles and now.



Response to Fred Butler – John MacArthur and the Second Commandment

October 15, 2011

My friend Fred Butler has recently responded to my other friend Matthew Lankford’s video, which was titled: “The Idolatry of John MacArthur.”

Fred writes:

I was recently alerted to a video by a fellow named Matthew Lankford.  You only need to concern yourself with the first 7 or 8 minutes:

What’s interesting is that the remaining minutes of the video are John MacArthur himself speaking.  That’s the part you needn’t be concerned with, according to my friend Fred Butler.  That misses the point of Mr. Lankford’s video.  Lankford was calling MacArthur to be consistent with his own teachings and providing a lengthy excerpt of good material from MacArthur.

The Idolatry of John MacArthur

Oh my.  You gotta love these Puritan lynch mobs.

I get that “Idolatry” sounds harsh, particularly since some forms of idolatry involve worshiping false gods.  But considering that the video is an exhortation to repentance and consistency, “lynch mobs” seems more than a little over the top.  I’m sure it’s just meant to be a humorous remark, but it seems to represent a view that Mr. Lankford’s is extremely hostile, which was certainly not Mr. Lankford’s intent.  Again, I think Mr. Butler’s response may be visceral, rather than intellectual.  I’m not sure he got the full point of the video.

It’s hard to figure out where to begin.

ok …

I will say that I can sympathize a bit with Matthew’s consternation with regards to pictures of Jesus.  As I have argued elsewhere, I don’t believe pictures of Jesus are even close to being the idolatry Matthew condemns in his video and that he is misapplying the second commandment.

They are exactly what Mr. Lankford condemns in his video.  Let’s be clear about this.  Mr. Butler may disagree with the historic Reformed position on images of Jesus (which I think is what he’s trying to say), but Mr. Lankford’s objection is to MacArthur promoting the making and use of images of Jesus.

That stated, however, I am not particularly fond of all the modern displays of Jesus, because I don’t believe they capture accurately what He looked like.  IOW, I don’t think Jesus looked anything like Kenny Loggins or Dan Haggerty.  Nor do I like sacrilegious Precious Moments-like figurines that cheapen who Jesus truly is and what He did. 

Mr. Lankford focused mostly on the theological/moral objections to images of Jesus.  There are also practical/pragmatic/utilitarian objections.  I’m sure Mr. Butler and Mr. Lankford would agree on those points.  I appreciate that Mr. Butler has chosen to emphasize this common ground.

Before offering a response, it may be helpful to read what John has actually said about images of Jesus in Christian artwork.  The more comprehensive comment linked by Matthew is from a Q&A session done, from what I can gather, in 1980:

That’s always good.  It is good to put material in context.

MacArthur (per Butler) said:

The text, “thou shalt not make any carved image” is based upon the prior verse: “thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” “Thou shalt not make thee any carved image or any likeness of anything that is in Heaven above or in the earth beneath.” The assumption is that you’re not to worship the stars, the sun, the birds, the animals, man, any other thing. But once God invaded the world in a human form, He gave substance or image, didn’t He? And that’s exactly what Hebrews 1 says, that He is the express, what?…image of God. God…God gave us an icon. And I hate to use that sense, but God gave us an image. God gave us a model and a pattern. So I don’t think that it is outside…I don’t think it violates this intent to make an image which is constituted as another god. You could never make an image of a spirit being. Right? So He couldn’t be talking about an image of Himself. I mean, not essentially. But there was a case where they did this. You know, in the golden calf incident, I don’t know if you’ve thought this through, but if you read the text, in the wilderness when the people made the golden calf, you remember Moses was up on the mountain getting the law and the people were down with Aaron making the golden calf. They made the golden calf as a representative of the true God. It was not a pagan idol. It was…it was the representation of their own God. They were still, in some sense, monotheistic. They were trying to represent God, and that’s what the text indicates, in that calf. And at that point, God judged them. The only proper manifestation that God has ever permitted of His Person is in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.

This is mostly correct, but a few corrections are needed.  MacArthur has forgotten about the various Old Testament epiphanies.  People could have made images of those epiphanies, even though they could not make an image of a pure spirit.  For example, God appeared to Abraham, to Joshua, and so on.  Those epiphanies were visible and could have been used as the model for an artistic representation.  When I say “could have” I don’t mean “without violating the second commandment,” but rather “technologically possible.”

Thus, the Incarnation did not change anything in that regard.  Jesus was the image of God, but not in the sense that his human body was a likeness of the invisible spirit of God.  And while Jesus was visible, he was not made by man – he was incarnate by the will of God.  We living humans are all said to be “made in the image of God” in a different but related sense.  That sense has nothing to do with what we look like.

MacArthur writes: “God gave us an icon. And I hate to use that sense, but God gave us an image. God gave us a model and a pattern.”  God gave us Jesus himself, but not to serve as a model for paintings and statues.  The New Testament did not contain any pictures in the originals.  Jesus is the Word made flesh.  The New Testament passes on to us God’s self-revelation in Jesus.

MacArthur (per Butler) continued: 

Now, there’s one other thing that I might just mention. God has used a lot of symbols of His Person. In the Old Testament I can think of one major thing was a serpent on the rod, which, in a sense, pictured Christ. And there’s much language imagery as well. Every lamb that was slain was, in a sense, prefiguring Christ. But I think you’re safe in saying that since God has revealed Himself, this is the bottom line, God has revealed Himself in the image of man, the man Christ Jesus, that God allows us that one representation. I don’t have a problem with that. He allows us that one representation so that we see God in human dimension.

No doubt there is a sense in which those things were representations of God.  But they were not purported likenesses.  They were types and shadows.  We have such representations today too!  “This is my body,” and ‘This is the blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many.”  As the Iconoclastic council of 754 indicated, those are the only authorized icons of Christ.  Those are our representations, but they are not likenesses.  Jesus doesn’t look like a loaf of bread, and while his blood might somewhat resemble wine, we can easily tell the difference, particularly in terms of taste.

MacArthur (per Butler) continued: 

Now, having said that, let me say this. We do not have in our house a picture of Jesus of any kind because I don’t think any of them look like Him, probably, and I would rather have Him be who He really is than me to assume that He is someone He’s not. That’s just a personal thing. So what we do is, without having a picture of Jesus, we still encourage our children to read many, many Christian books and all of them have pictures of Jesus, but all of them have pictured Him differently. And I think you’re pretty safe if you approach it that way. If you get some great big head of Christ slammed in the middle of your house, I’m not against that. That’s okay if you like that but I perceive Christ in my own mind and I’m very comfortable with that and I’ve never yet seen the picture that looks like what I believe He is. So that’s just a personal preference. But I really don’t think the spirit of Deuteronomy 5:8 is broken when we have representation of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

That, of course, represents the crux of the disagreement between us.  It is not merely a matter of personal preference.  There’s nothing in the New Testament that tells us that we can or should make imagined likenesses or Christ, any more than the Old Testament permitted imagined likenesses of the theophanies.  In that regard, as noted above, the Incarnation changed nothing.

The letter of Deutoronomy 5:8 is broken when we have such a representation.  Appeal to the “spirit” of the law can be useful.  For example, I don’t think for a second it was contrary to the spirit of the law for the disciples to remember what Jesus looked like.  Then, it wasn’t really contrary to the letter either.  Those memories were made by Jesus.  But our images are not God-made.  They are man-made.  The same goes for reflections of Jesus in mirrors and bodies of water.  (The same goes for the images in the memory of the theophanies, as well as the reflections of those theophanies in mirrors or water.)  Those images that Jesus himself made, either before, during, or after the Incarnation and whether through an apparition, true human body, or vision are all permitted.

A wise person once suggested to me that “sometimes the spirit of the law is that the letter of the law be obeyed.”  In general, that is the case.  You need to provide some good justification for violating the letter of the law if you want to say that you are still within the spirit of the law.

In fact, the word imagery of the New Testament paints for us marvelous pictures of Christ. And you can never, I don’t know about you, you can never, I can say for myself, I can never really read an account in the Gospels of Christ without vivid imagery of His Person; can you? I mean, when I see Him, for example, reach down and touch a leper, if that was just God doing that, I don’t know that I could even focus on that. When you think of God, do you think of something? Do you think of a form or a shape? I don’t. I don’t think of…I don’t know that I think of anything. But when I think of Christ, immediately I have this image of the robe and His hands and you know… So I really think that the spirit of the person who simply has in his mind or perceives Christ in human form is not in violation of that.

There’s no physical description of Christ’s appearance in the gospels.  We’re not told whether he was thin or fat, short or tall, bald or bushy-haired.  We’re not told how handsome he was, though Isaiah’s prophecy suggested “no beauty that we should desire him.” We are told what he did and said, but not what he looked like.  Thus, while the NT may point marvelous pictures of Christ, the NT does not paint representations or likeness of Christ.

That’s the end of the quotation from MacArthur.  Butler continues:

Now.  Returning to the video, I believe there are a couple of glaring problems I see with what Matthew thinks is idolatry.

Not just problems, but “glaring” problems.  Let’s check them out.

First, the second commandment prohibits idolatry as it relates to the worship of God the Father, the only true God.  As John pointed out in his response, the prohibition builds upon the first commandment that forbids the worship of any other gods.  Idols were considered the home of the so-called deity, or it had attributed to it some supernatural power that governed the people in a superstitious manner. Thus, an idol represents a god that is worshiped at the center of a pagan, socio-religious worldview.

The second commandment prohibits idolatry as it relates to the worship of all three persons of the Trinity.  I’m not sure why Mr. Butler singles out the Father, but the commandment does not.  Is Christ worshiped at the center of Butler’s worldview?  I trust He is.  So, idols (such as the rather insultingly effeminate one – which raises a third commandment issue – found on Butler’s blog post) of Christ are purported representations of the God who is worshiped at the center of our worldview.  Thus far, no glaring error on Mr. Lankford’s part.

So at the outset, his objection to John’s views of images in artwork is misplaced and exegetically unsound.

a) Mr. Butler hasn’t identified a basis upon which Mr. Lankford’s objection could be said to be misplaced; and
b) Mr. Butler hasn’t done a lick of exegesis, much less show that any argument by Lankford is exegetically unsound.

Second. The main problem with Matthew’s view of idolatry, is that if we work his conclusion to its logical end, he would be setting up God to be violating His own commandment when God the Son became incarnate.

This argument supposes that the commandment that we refrain from making images of God also prohibits God from making images of God.  But why should “thou shalt not make unto thee” prohibit God from making unto us?

Think about it: Jesus was a man – God becoming flesh.  He was seen by thousands of people.  He spoke and taught.  As the apostle John says in the opening of his first epistle, “That which was from the beginning, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hand have handled, concerning the Word of life.”  I believe John is speaking literally here.  This isn’t his flowery words describing a really strong spiritual experience.  He truly saw, heard, and touched the Lord of Glory, because He was in the “image of a man.”

Who knows what Butler is quoting with “image of a man.” Jesus was both God and man.  He was not merely the image of a man.  But Jesus’ physical appearance is not what revealed the Father to us.  It is the Word and Spirit that revealed the Father, not the flesh as such.

After all, even after the Incarnation, Paul reviles the pagan Romans in this way:

Romans 1:23  And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

Butler seems to be guilty of doing that by his argument, and worse he seems to be accusing God of doing that too!  But God did not send Jesus into the world to serve as a model for icons and statues.  That is not how Jesus revealed himself to us.  It is the words which Jesus spoke that profit us.

Now generally, one of the arguments thrown out is that God did not inspire the NT writers to describe Christ’s physical appearance.  Perhaps God did; but Jesus was still a real, historical man who lived in space and time, just like Justin Martyr, John Calvin, and Abraham Lincoln. He was “veiled in flesh, the Godhead see,” as the classic Christmas carol goes.

And we have very little to go on as far as what Jesus looked like.  We know he was male and Jewish and probably not very handsome.  That’s about it.

More to the point, so what?  The theophanies were real appearances of God that took place in time and space as well.  There’s nothing that makes us revisit the second commandment, just because Jesus was truly man.

Additionally, Jesus received worship on numerous occasions, the most notable example is Thomas in John 20:28 who exclaimed, “My Lord and My God.”  These people were worshiping a visible, flesh and blood person.  Obviously it was not idolatry, because Jesus was God in the flesh, but He was still real, sinewy, sweaty flesh.

Again, so what?  They were worshiping Jesus himself, not a representation of him.  There’s no record of Paul carrying around a painting of Jesus in his pocket.  Instead, the one authorized representation of Jesus is not a likeness, but is instead the elements of the Lord’s Supper: the bread of which it was said “this is my body” and the cup of which it was said, “this is the blood” etc.

Matthew takes a cheap shot at John by saying he naively embraces a Roman Catholic view of images that allows them to worship Mary and the saints.   Honestly, is that what John is advocating?  Even though no physical description of Jesus exists that is not a violation of the second commandment nor does it forbid Christians from representing Jesus in artwork or passion plays because, once again, He was a real, historical man and those representations do not have anything supernatural attributed to them.

Of course, the second commandment does not require that we attribute supernatural attributes to the idols themselves.  Only the most gullible of the pagans would do this.  Our Romanist friends are the same way – only the most gullible of them attribute supernatural attributes to their images.   The question is whether you claim that your picture is a picture of one person of the Trinity.  But surely Butler cannot deny that is his intent in having such pictures.

Now.  Where I would say the second commandment is violated is with some art work like “The Creation of Man” as depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  Not only do you have the image of God the Father, but He reclines on what looks to be a flying sea shell with a topless woman and a bunch of corpulent children.  And, I don’t think God look anything like John Brown. 

On the one hand, I certainly agree that the “Incarnation” argument suggested by Butler and MacArthur (and long ago by John of Damascus) cannot be legitimately extended to defend pictures purporting to be of the father.  Moreover, there are third commandment issues that arise when God is irreverently portrayed.  Nevertheless, that point of agreement (welcome as it is) of course does not address the underlying problem of having images of the second person of the Trinity.

Such pictures are forbidden by the terms of the second commandment and not authorized by Jesus, the apostles, or anyone else who could authorize them in the New Testament.  It’s not merely a matter of every picture of Christ being untrue (since it is a false representation) but is a matter of failing to heed the commandments of God.  God does not wish us to show him religious reverence and honor (what we generally call “worship”) through the use of images. And it is only and exactly Jesus’ religious significance as God that motivates the making and using of these images.  So, these images violate both the letter and the spirit of the commandment.  We ought to abstain from them.  I hope Butler and MacArthur will be encouraged to join the Reformed in this regard.

I’d like to conclude by pointing out that there is a range of seriousness of violations of the second commandment.  While the error of MacArthur is within that range, it’s not at the same place as the Romanists with their open adoration of the bread and devotion to the images.  While we think this is an important issue worth pressing, it does not mean that we can’t see the difference between Ratzinger and MacArthur.  We can.  Finally, we are calling MacArthur to be consistent.  We worship an unseen God, and we ought to do so without the use of images.  MacArthur seems to realize that in some of his materials, as Mr. Lankford has quoted at length.


P.S. As noted above, Mr. Butler posted an idol as the graphic for his post.  You’ve been warned, but should you wish to go to his post, you can find it here.

430 Years from the Promise – A Response to Fred Butler

September 5, 2009

I have indicated that I think that the Israelites were in Egypt for only about 215 years, as opposed to 430 years. Mr. Fred Butler disagrees (link to his post). Mr. Butler’s response is friendly, and I hope he’ll take my response as being in a similarly amiable vein.

First of all, Mr. Butler points out what he sees as the primary argument argument regarding the length of the stay. In some ways it is the primary argument. I’ll reiterate, and perhaps expand upon it here.

Galatians 3:17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

What Galatians tells us is that from the the promise to the law was 430 years. The law was given the same year as the Exodus out of Egypt, so we know that the time from the promise to the Exodus was 430 years. What promise is Paul talking about?

Let’s check what the context of the verse informs us. After all, the correct way to understand the verse is by examining the context.

Galatians 3:6-18:

6 Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. 7 Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8 And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. 9 So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: 14 That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. 15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto. 16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. 18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

The promise in question is the gospel, and specifically this promise: “In thee shall all nations be blessed” set forth in verse 8. This is reiterated in verse 14 “That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” Notice how Paul links the promise and the in-gathering of the Gentiles.

That promise is recorded for us in Genesis 12.

Genesis 12:1-3
Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

Here’s the timeline based on that promise:

0. Abram was 75 years old when he departed out of Haran (Genesis 12:4).

11. Abram was 86 years old when Ishmael was born (Genesis 16:16).

25. Abraham was 100 years old (and Sarah was 90 years old) when Isaac was born (Genesis 21:5).

[?]. Isaac weaned (we’re not told how old he was when he was weaned), Ishmael and Hagar the Egyptian banished and went to Paran & Egypt (Genesis 21:8-21).

55. Sarah was 120 years old when she died (Genesis 23:1-2).

85. Isaac was 60 years old when Jacob was born (Genesis 25:26).

100. Abraham died at 175 years old (Genesis 25:7-8).

169. Isaac died at 144 years old (Genesis 35:29).

215. Jacob was 130 years old when he went into Egypt (Genesis 47:28).

(which is half of the 430 years, the other 215 years being the time in Egypt)

Notice, however, that there is no reference to “seed” in that particular promise. Paul makes reference to the expression “to thy seed.” That issue is easily remedied. Chapter 12 of Genesis explains that when Abraham arrived at Sichem God added to what was said in verses 1-3.

Genesis 12:7 And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him.

That promise to Abraham and his seed gets repeated several more times, for example, in Genesis 13:15-16 and more dramatically in Genesis 15. Interestingly, the promise is also applied (at least to some degree) to Ishmael:

Genesis 21:13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.

But I digress. The primary argument is that the promise in question is the promise made to Abraham, not some other promise.

Some have seized on the verse 16’s comment: “to Abraham and his seed were the promises made,” to suggest that perhaps a promise to someone other than Abraham is in mind (specifically a promise to Jacob). There are several problems with this objection. First, the repetitions of the promise (or the division of the promise in Genesis 12) can be considered the “promises,” alternatively the various blessings can be considered the promises. There is no need for there to be other promises made to other people. Second, the “his seed” comment is immediately followed up – in the very same verse – by Paul explaining that the seed is Christ: “He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.”

The only promise that I can see that God made to Jacob at the time of entry into Egypt was this:

Genesis 46:3-4
And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation: I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.

That promise does not mention the seed (so relevant to Paul’s discussion) nor does it mention the nations (also highly relevant to Paul’s discussion). In short, while it is a promise, and while Jacob was from Abraham, it seems strained at best to say that this is the promise to which Paul is referring.

This is the first argument, but there is a second like it. The second argument deals with the time in Egypt.

[?1 – at some point before 169 in the first list] birth of Levi (one of the 70 who came to Egypt – Genesis 46:11)

[?2] birth of Kohath (one of the 70 who came to Egypt – Genesis 46:11)

0. Entry into Egypt

[?3] birth of Amram

[?1 + 137] Levi died at 137 years old (Exodus 6:16)

[?4] Aaron born

[?4 + 3] Moses born (Exodus 7:7)

[?2 + 133] Kohath dies at 133 years old (Exodus 6:18)

[?3 + 137] Amram dies at 137 years old (Exodus 6:20)

[?4 + 83] Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 7:7)

As you can see from the use of the designation “?” there are a number of uncertainties over the precise dates in the chronology. There are, however, a few hooks that prevent the chronology from shrinking or expanding excessively. For example, a child cannot be born before his father, and it is not reasonable to expect that a child is born before the father is at least about 13 years old.

Furthermore, the child cannot be born much after the father dies, and it is pretty much normal for the child to be born before the father dies, unless the father dies quite young (which is not the case with any of the men here). Finally, at the start of the chronology, we know from Genesis 35:27-28 and Genesis 32:22, which show that Jacob had his first eleven sons (including Levi) before Isaac died.

One further item should be noted. I’ve placed the birth of the grandsons before the deaths of their grandfathers, since this seems to have been normal at the time. There is, of course, no absolute requirement that the grandfathers in each case lived to see their grandsons.

I want to draw your attention to one fact of central importance to this discussion. There is only one person in the chronology who both was born and died in Egypt. That was Amram. His entire life fits within the endpoints of the time in Egypt, but his father was born in Canaan and his sons died in the wilderness on the way to Canaan.

It should be plain that this time-line is perfectly consistent with there being 215 years in Egypt. That duration permits there to be a comfortable amount of time before Amram was born and after he died while the Israelites were in Egypt.

As noted above, though, this timeline has a lot of play in it – it can be expanded or contracted by quite a bit. How much?

Well, using the most extreme assumptions, the maximum time that there can be between 0 and the Exodus in the timeline is if Kohath is born the same year as the entry (and comes in consequently as a newborn) and then if Amram is born the year following Kohath’s death, and Moses is born the year following Amram’s death. None of these seem probable, but they provide us with an outside limit. Under those assumptions, the time from the entry to the Exodus would be: 133 (life of Kohath) + 1 + 137 (life of Amram) + 1 + 80 (age of Moses at Exodus) = 352 years.

Plainly, 352 years is not enough to make 430. However, perhaps someone will point out that Joseph went down to Egypt first, and try to expand the time in Egypt by adding the time that Joseph was there. How much can that help?

Joseph was 17 years old when he received his coat of many colors (Genesis 37:1). To maximize the times involved, we will assume he was enslaved the same year. Joseph died at 110 years old (Genesis 50:26). However, Joseph did not die in the year of the entry into Egypt. Jacob died 17 years after the entry into Egypt (Genesis 47:28). Joseph survived Jacob by at least 70 days (Genesis 50:1-4). So, the most time that Joseph was in Egypt prior to the entry was 93 years (assuming he died the same year as his father and was enslaved the same year he got his lovely coat).

352 + 93 = 445, which would actually permit a play of about 15 years. If we go ahead and remove the 15 years to end up at 430, we have Joseph being 78 years old at the time of the entry of Jacob into Egypt. However, Jacob was 130 years old when he went into Egypt (Genesis 47:28). Thus, for that scenario to work, Joseph would have to have been born when Jacob was 52.

Yet Scripture tells us:

Genesis 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.

While 52 is a bit old for folks to be having children now, it really wasn’t that old in the age of the patriarchs. Furthermore, remember that Jacob had left the home on his own to flee from Esau when they were at least forty years old (Genesis 26:34-35, remembering that Jacob and Esau were twins), had worked fourteen years for his wives, and then had had children after that (Genesis 29:31-32), with Rachel having children only after Leah had given birth seven times (six sons and one daughter) (Genesis 30:19-22). In short, such a thesis is impractical.

On top of that, when Joesph goes down into he Egypt, he is sold to Potiphar, and then imprisoned after being falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife. He there interpreted two dreams. Two years later (Genesis 41:1) Joseph was called before Pharaoh to interpret a dream (it was one dream in two dreams) and was thirty years old at that time (Genesis 41:46). The dream announced 7 coming years of plenty followed by 7 coming years of famine (Genesis 41:26). Furthermore, the year of the entry into Egypt was the 2nd or 3rd year of the famine (Genesis 45:6). While Scripture does not say the the years of plenty started immediately after the dream’s interpretation, that seems to be the implication. If so, then it should be plain that Joseph was about 40 years old at the time of the entry of Jacob into Egypt. That would mean that Joseph was born when Jacob was about ninety years old, which would make him a son of Jacob’s old age.

On these two arguments from Scripture, the idea that the 430 years should be counted from the first promise to Abraham seems to be pretty strong. There are two lesser arguments, however.

The first of the lesser arguments, and our third point in this discussion, is one that is of relatively minor interest. Recall that Genesis 15 is one of the places where the promise to Abraham is reiterated. At that time, Abraham is given a date for the length of the sojourning, namely 400 years.

Genesis 15:13-14
And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.

As you may note in the first chronology above, the date at which Ishmael is driven off is about the year 30 in the chronology (assuming Isaac was weaned at age 5, which does not seem very unreasonable). If that’s the case, then 400 years of affliction would begin with Ishmael’s affliction and end with Israel’s exodus. This seems a little too neat, but perhaps it is correct. The more usual explanation for the difference between the 400 and the 430 is that the 400 is simply a round number, and that we should use the birth of Isaac (which would be 405 years) rather than his weaning as the date for the fulfillment of the 400 year prophecy.

The fourth argument (and the second of the lesser two arguments) is an argument from the fact that Exodus occurs in the fourth generation.

Genesis 15:15-16
And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age. But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.

As can be seen from the first chronology above, Abraham lived to see the birth of Jacob. Thus, the first generation after what he saw was Levi, then Kohath, then Amram, and finally in the fourth generation there was Aaron and Moses. Thus, the prophecy was fulfilled in a way that is fully consistent with the sojourning period being counted from Abraham’s initial sojourn out of Haran in Canaan (Genesis 12:5) and Egypt (Genesis 12:10).

Finally, there is one textual objection that is made. The one objection that is made is that Exodus 12:40 states unequivocally that the Israelites were in Egypt for 430 years. This argument seems to be based on the particular readings found in many modern translations. The King James Version translates the verse in question as follows:

Exodus 12:40 Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.

With this reading, the sojourning is 430 years and the “dwelt in Egypt” modifies the children of Israel, though not necessarily their stay in Egypt. Thus, the text of the KJV is ambiguous as to whether the sojourning all took place in Egypt or not. Some (perhaps all!) the other versions phrase the verse such that all the 430 years are in Egypt. Mr. Butler is quite insistent that the only way to read this verse is as saying that the entire time of the sojourning was in Egypt, but when I’ve questioned him on the issue of translation of the text (i.e. whether the KJV’s translation is a reasonable translation) he does not seem to have any answer.

Aside from textual arguments, I had noted that John Gill, John Calvin, and Matthew Henry agree with my position on this matter. I could have added others, such as Matthew Poole, Martin Luther, John Chrysostom, and John Owen. It doesn’t seem to have been a particularly contentious point of exegesis historically. If there are any reputable Reformed, Reformation Era, or Patristic commentators that took a different view, Mr. Butler hasn’t pointed them out (I should note that one of the articles noted that Hippolytus took a long-sojourn view, and at least one of the articles indicates that Josephus inconsistently seemed to support both views).

Mr. Butler’s response instead was to lead by dogmatically insisting that the verse regarding the 430 year stay can only be read one way:

First, there is absolutely no other way to read Exodus 12:40 but that Israel sojourned in Egypt 430 years. In fact, the Exodus record even places the termination of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt at the 430th year (vs. 41).

With all due respect to Mr. Butler, the text of the Authorized Version can be read in another way, and has been so read. Moreover, it seems to be the case that the Hebrew is similarly ambiguous.

Mr. Butler’s second argument is to suggest that we should downplay the significance of the Galatians passage:

Next, Galatians 3:16, 17 should not be made the controlling passage over Exodus 12:40, 41. Thus, Paul may have had something else in mind when he spoke about the 430 years before the giving of the law, quite possibly the last promise of the covenant made to Jacob in Genesis 46:3, 4 before he went down into Egypt to live.

This argument is not feasible, as discussed above. The promise in Genesis 46:3-4 is not the promise that Paul has been talking about, nor does it contain either of the elements (“seed” and “all nations”) that are germane to Paul’s discussion.

Mr. Butler’s third argument relates to a counter-argument that I have not presented above. Very briefly, the counter-argument is that the LXX reading of Exodus 12:40-41 includes the phrase “and in the land of Canaan” into the middle of “who dwelt in Egypt.” This reading suggests at least the possibility that the original reading included the time in Canaan as well as that of Egypt. Alternatively, the reading suggests that there was an ancient marginal note that confirmed that the expression “in Egypt” shouldn’t be understood in the exhaustive sense that Mr. Butler contends. Thus, some ancient commentator likewise confirms the 215 year thesis. Mr. Butler’s response is this:

Third, we need to keep in mind that the LXX is a translation of the Hebrew text. Applying the normal rules of textual criticism, the shorter reading of the original language text should be preferred over the longer reading of a translated text that wasn’t published until some 1300 years or so later. Moreover, the fact that the additional phrase “and in the land of Canaan” is just found in a few editions of the LXX and not others makes this even more of a questionable reading in my mind.

“Published” is probably not the word he means to use. It’s worth noting that the Hebrew manuscripts that we have are not 1300 years earlier than the LXX manuscripts that we have. Thus, the date issue is a bit moot. From what I can tell the Dead Sea Scrolls give support to the idea that Masoretic text was preserved well at least back to that date (more on the Dead Sea Scrolls below).

Mr. Butler’s fourth argument is this:

Fourth, as much as I appreciate the writing ministry of Gill, Calvin, and Henry, and the great treasure of their commentaries they have left to the Church at large, let’s be honest, they are seriously dated with regards to current archaeological information. Our understanding of Egyptian history, the sojourn of Israel, and the Exodus has advanced dramatically since those men wrote.

I’m quite hesitant to use the external evidence of archaeology to trump the text of Scripture. Mr. Butler goes on to identify several articles, which we can take a look at, but he does not point to any specific or concrete archaeological data that suggests that we know the entry and exodus dates via the historical records of Egypt. If such data has been conclusively established, I know at least one friendly South African atheist who will be chomping at the bit to review it.

But, in fact, there is at least some additional archeological evidence that has come to light since the time of Gill, Calvin, Henry, et al. that confirms the 215 year stay. Specifically, 4Q559 (Biblical Chronology) provides the following at fragment 3:

[… And Levi was 3]4 [years old] when he [begot Qahat.] [And Qahat was 2]9 years old when he begot Amram. And Amram [was] [110 years old when he begot] Aaron. And Aaron left Egy[pt …] […] these thousand and 536

Leaving aside, for the moment, the complexities of reconstructing those fragments and simply plugging those numbers into the second chronology above, we would have:

0. birth of Levi (one of the 70 who came to Egypt – Genesis 46:11)

34. birth of Kohath (one of the 70 who came to Egypt – Genesis 46:11)

[??] Entry into Egypt

63 birth of Amram

137 Levi died at 137 years old (Exodus 6:16)

167 Kohath dies at 133 years old (Exodus 6:18)

173 Aaron born

176 Moses born (Exodus 7:7)

200 Amram dies at 137 years old (Exodus 6:20)

256 Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 7:7)

Note that this approach is all relative to Levi’s birth, not to the entry itself. If the entry were 215 years before the exodus, then the entry would be at year 41, which fits within the appropriate window (Kohath is not yet old enough for his own children, but he is already born).

It should be readily apparent that the fragment cannot bear out the 430 years in Egypt hypothesis.

Additionally, fragment 2 of the same document is provided thus:

[Abraham was 99] years old [when he begot Isaac] [And I]saac was [60 years old when he begot Jacob. And Jacob] [was] 65 ye[ars old when he begot Levi …] …

This piece would provide the final link necessary to connect the Levi-based second chronology with the Abraham-based first chronology. If Jacob were 65 years older than Levi then Levi would be 65 year old at the time of the entry into Egypt. The problem is that it seems that Amram born when Levi was 63 (based on fragment 3) and consequently the numbers don’t quite line up. Since we don’t view 4Q559 as inspired, this is not a particularly severe problem.

The first article to which Mr. Butler links is The Duration of the Egyptian Bondage by Harold Hoehner

Contrary to Mr. Butler’s apparent argument, almost all of the arguments in the article are exegetical and lexical (with support being given to the Authorized Version’s reading) and not archaeological.

The next is The Length of Israel’s Sojourn in Egypt by Jack Riggs

Again, the arguments are not archaeological, and the other material that may not have been available to some of our Reformed fathers (though Gill seems to mention it) is the Samaritan Penteteuch, which confirms the LXX reading as to the 430 years including the time in Canaan.

The final article is The Duration of the Israelite Sojourn in Egypt by Paul J. Ray

This one finally refers to some additional archaeological material, but the material is far from compelling. Essentially, the final article provides a thesis for how the time in Egypt could have occurred within a particular window of Egyptian history, as well as how Abraham’s sojourning could fit in the century in which it would fall under the 430 years in Egypt scenario. While certain of the arguments could be critiqued (for example, the idea that Joseph received the “second chariot” of Pharaoh, for example, almost certainly refers to an honor, not a shortage of chariots at the time) since the arguments do not suggest a significant preference for a long stay over a short stay, it is difficult to see what Mr. Butler finds so compelling about the arguments. His summary:

Though I commend TF’s efforts to stick with scripture, I think consideration of further historical information helps to illuminate more of what the biblical text is saying, and in my mind, the 215 year theory is extremely problematic. Even for debunking a false teacher like Camping.

seems unjustified.

Mr. Butler sums up his arguments thus:

1) There are other editions of the LXX which do not contain the phrase “and in the Land of Canaan,” particularly, A, F, and M.

2) All of the Hebrew texts of Exodus 12:40 do not contain the additional phrase.

And 3) Well established extra-biblical evidence also supports the 430 year sojourn, not the 215.

As noted above, however, those first two issues are not particularly central to the argument. The short reading of Exodus 12:40-41 is consistent with the 215 year stay in Egypt just as the longer reading is (though the longer reading complete destroys the theory of the 430 year stay in Egypt). The idea that the extra-biblical evidence does not support the 215 year stay or somehow provides a preference for the 430 year stay seems inaccurate, and the idea the timeline of Egyptian history is well-established from contemporary archaeology seems slightly naive.

What’s more, Mr. Butler seems to present the articles in favor of the long stay in Egypt as though they were the scholarly consensus on the topic. In contrast, however, the articles themselves make reference to the fact that there scholars who come down on both sides of the issue.

The above should have addressed most of the arguments that Mr. Butler has raised. There are, however, a few other points to be noted. First, the issue of the sojourn is also mentioned by Stephen in Acts:

Acts 7:6 And God spake on this wise, That his seed should sojourn in a strange land; and that they should bring them into bondage, and entreat them evil four hundred years.

This is simply a translation of Genesis 15. The most natural reading of the Authorized Version here is that the four hundred years relates to evil entreaty. However, another reasonable reading is to understand the “four hundred years” as referring to the entire period of sojourning in a strange land, being in bondage, and being treated harshly. And again, the 400 years may be viewed as approximate (based on Isaac’s birth) or exact (based on Isaac’s weaning and Ishmael’s exile, either on the basis of treating Ishmael as the seed, or as treating the exile of Ishmael as being the revelation of the true seed status of Isaac).

Second, Paul makes reference to a time period in his speech at the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia.

Acts 13:16-24:

Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience. The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an high arm brought he them out of it. And about the time of forty years suffered he their manners in the wilderness.
And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Chanaan, he divided their land to them by lot. And after that he gave unto them judges about the space of four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet.
And afterward they desired a king: and God gave unto them Saul the son of Cis, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, by the space of forty years.
And when he had removed him, he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will.
Of this man’s seed hath God according to his promise raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus: When John had first preached before his coming the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.

The time period in question is the four hundred fifty years mentioned at verse 20. Sometimes this verse is presented as though it is relevant to the discussion. That time period, however, is plainly referring to a time period after the exodus.

Ray, in his article, provides the following comment in a footnote:

On the basis of MSS B, [Aleph], A, and C, the text should indicate, according to B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort a[] period of “about 450 years” (or more precisely 447 years)–i.e., 400 years of bondage in Egypt, 40 years in the wilderness, and 7 years of conquest of Canaan. See Westcott and Hort, The New Testament in Original Greek (New York, 1948), p. 276.

Even if, however, the 400 year period should be started before the exodus, it works better to select the 215 year hypothesis and use as the starting point the weaning of Isaac/exile of Ishmael as the start of the 400 year period.

Nevertheless, the flow of the passage seems to suggest that Paul is trying to refer to the period of the judges (including, perhaps, Joshua), since Paul has already specifically enumerated the 40 years in the wilderness, and subsequently gives the time period of Saul.

There is a slight problem with respect to the number that Paul gives, because the time from the coming out of Israel from Egypt to the building of the temple of Solomon is 480 years. In order for the time of the Judges to be 450 years (approximately), one would need to assume that in that instance, the coming out from Egypt is reckoned according to Joshua’s death 30 years after the 40 years of wandering. Then back-subtracting the 80 years of David and Saul from the 480, we would have 400 years from the death of Joshua to start of Samuel/Saul. That 400 years plus the 30 years of Joshua could be viewed as the “about 450 years.”

The problem, however, is not fully resolved because the typical accounts of the time of the judges proper is given around 350 years rather than 450 years. In any event, that particular difficulty is one that can be addressed at another time.

Third, a few of the articles raise as an objection the increase in the number of the people of Israel during the time in Egypt. I have dealt with this issue at greater length in a previous post. In brief, however, several replies are called for. First, Scriptures make abundantly clear that the time in Egypt was accompanied by extraordinary multiplication of families. As I noted, if we simply go by the ratio of first-born males to total men, the family sizes would have been enormous by modern standards. Even if that number is too high, much smaller families of 10-12 children would have been sufficient to produce the necessary multiplication.

Additionally, as at least one of my readers pointed out, there is the possibility that a large number of proselytes were made via the plagues, either among the Egyptians themselves or more likely among their other slaves. In support of this argument it is asserted that we find folks like Caleb (who might have been a descendant of Esau’s grandson Kenaz) and that there are described those who “feared the word of the LORD among the servants of Pharaoh.” (Exodus 9:20)

Moreover, the very high level of fertility among Israelite women helps to explain why there are some folks during the exodus who, like Moses and Aaron are in the fourth generation from Jacob, whereas there are others who are in the sixth or seventh generation. Notice, for example, that Joseph saw Ephraim’s children of the third generation and some of the grandchildren of Manasseh before his death. (Genesis 50:23) Thus, that in some cases the number of generations would be only four, but in other cases six or seven should not be thought to be the result of inaccurate chronologies, but rather of the varying ages at which the patriarchs and their children begot children of their own.

As a next-to-last point, some contention is made that the fourth generation referenced in Genesis 15 should be interpreted as four lengthy periods of time rather than four generations in the usual sense. This interpretation seems quite strained. The reckoning of generations in the usual sense seems both more natural and consistent with other uses in the Torah, such as in Deuteronomy 23:2, where an illegitimate son is prohibited from entering into the congregation of the LORD to his tenth generation.

That particular prohibition becomes important because of the following genealogy:

0. Judah
1. Pharez (illegitimately by Tamar)
2. Hezron
3. Ram
4. Amminadab
5. Nahshon
6. Salma
7. Boaz
8. Obed
9. Jesse
10. David

Some have argued that the crown was deferred until David’s generation specifically because of the prohibition in Deuteronomy 23:2. In any event, the idea that the illegitimate person would himself be excluded for 10 periods of time of about 100 years each sounds a bit bizarre.

Finally, a few articles and commenters attempt to make an issue of the idea that sometimes the genealogies are questionable in that they sometimes have gaps or questionable items. One example of these is the issue of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, as reported in Luke 3:36. In the genealogy of Genesis 11 (in the Masoretic text) that Cainan is omitted.

While this is a significant issue for those who think the KJV was specially inspired, it is a less significant issue for those who do not have that same persuasion. After all, the Septuagint provides the details for Cainan and some early manuscripts of the New Testament omit that particular Cainan in the genealogy.

More significantly, there is no similar variant present in any of the manuscripts or versions (of which I’m aware) with respect to the genealogy of Moses from Levi. Furthermore, the genealogy is repeated in Scripture, and in every case it is the same. Thus, it does not seem to be reasonable to suppose that this is a case of a corrupted genealogy through some sort of scribal error.

In conclusion, I respectfully maintain the 215 year period in Egypt on the strength and clarity of the Scriptural testimony both in Exodus 6 and Galatians. In both cases, the Scriptural evidence rules out the view of the 430 years being exclusively by Jacob’s children in Egypt.


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