Someone who has started on my book (yes, plug, plug) wrote a few days ago asking me to address the arguments of E.W. Bullinger‘s Commentary on Revelation that the final book of Scripture is not addressed to the Church. It seemed like it would make for a good series, and ties in well with the teachings I’m presenting on Prewrath Rapturism, so I agreed to read Bullinger’s book and comment on it. My thanks to Ronald (last name withheld unless he wants me to give it) for providing both the challenge and the book.
E.W. Bullinger (1837-1913) published his book in 1909, which of course puts him in a time when the idea of Messianic Judaism as a viable expression in the belief of Yeshua was considered incredible. It was also a time when the Church’s Israelology was divided into two opposing camps: Supracessionism (replacement theology) and Dispensationalism. Bullinger himself the originator of Ultradispensationalism, a position that only the letters of Paul, and in fact, only his prison letters, really speak to the Church. Naturally, this would put me at odds with Mr. Bullinger on far more than eschatology, as he has essentially elevated the writings of Paul above the teachings of Yeshua Himself, saying that while Paul’s writings have been for us for two thousand years, Yeshua’s teachings were only truly relevant for the thirty or so years after His Ascension.
The view of most Messianic Jews (though many also adhere to some form of Dispensationalism) is that the Ekklesia (to use a slightly less culturally-biased term) or Assembly of the Messiah is comprised of Jews and Grafted-In Gentiles (Rom. 11) who have put their faith in the Messiah Yeshua. In the view of Paul and the other Apostles, Jews did not enter the Ekklesia by leaving the synagogue and becoming a member of a Gentile-dominated organization. Rather, Gentiles became citizens of Israel by trusting in our King and were adopted into the family, so to speak (Eph. 2-3). The great mystery that so astounded Paul was not the existence of the faithful Assembly in an of itself, but this originally Jewish organization was being extended by the very Spirit of God to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 10-11).
The problem with Bullinger’s view (and that of Dispensationalism in general) is that it grew up in an environment where Jewishness had been almost wholly purged from the Church. The book of Acts over and over again emphasizes that the Jewish disciples of Yeshua not only did not abandon their cultural heritage, but became even more zealous for the Torah and their traditions (see our article on Acts 21). One of the great tragedies of history is that these adopted children of the King turned on their brothers and sisters and persecuted them virtually (but not completely) out of existence. See Dan Juster’s Anti-Messianic Judaism: A Brief Summary (note that Firefox users may need to highlight the text to see it; our apologies).
The Dispensationalist will often claim that the true Church is “neither Jew nor Gentile.” That would be a fine sentiment, if it were true. Nobody expected a Roman Christian to stop speaking Latin or wearing his toga. Nobody insisted that Greek Christians cease philosophizing or grow out their beards. But Jewish believers were persecuted, even with the sword of the state, if they continued to dress as Jews, keep the Feasts of the Lord, keep kosher, etc. As a result, the Church became almost wholly Gentile in character. “No more Jew or Gentile” was enforced only one way: “No more Jew.”
Bullinger actually as much as admits the wholly Gentile character of the Church of his day in his opening argument, “The Hebrew Character of the Book,” which we will discuss in the next blog entry. He also admits that much of a pagan–read that, Gentile–character was introduced into the Church by the later fathers. He does not, however, seem to fully appreciate how much of that character influenced his own thoughts about the very nature and makeup of the Church. The same cultural bias results in arguments like, “The Church [Is] Not the Subject of Old Testament Prophecy,” “The Titles of Christ,” “The People of the Book,” and so on.
This is not to make fun of Mr. Bullinger, who clearly was doing his best to rightly divide the Scriptures and clearly spent many years in study and prayer as he did so. It is only to point out that his underlying assumptions must be understood in order to fairly evaluate his work. If one rejects his Ultradispensationalism, as we in the Messianic movement must in order to be true to our King, then the arguments resting on that foundation quickly crumble.
I’ll try to tackle about an argument a week. Next week, we’ll talk about the “Hebrew Character” argument and why it misunderstands the very nature of the entire New Testament.