Revelation Not To the Ekklesia? Part 2: Hebraic Character

E. W. Bullinger
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In part one of this series, we looked at how Bullinger’s rather radical take on Dispensationalism colors not only his eschatology, but his ecclesiology and his theology in general.  With that as our set-up, let’s start taking his arguments one-by-one, starting with, “The Hebrew Character of the Book.”  After pointing out how critics have used Revelation’s rather striking use of Hebraisms “in order to argue that it has no right to a place in a Canon of the other Greek Books of the New Testament,” Bullinger writes,

We ask whether this does not give the book of Revelation a very special connection with the Old Testament, and with Israel? It is undoubtedly written about the people of the Old Testament who are the subjects of its history. These will understand it as Gentile Christians can never hope to do. (p. 4)

That is to say, only when the Church–which Bullinger again tacitly admits was no longer “neither Jew nor Gentile,” but had become “no Jew, all Gentile”–would be removed by way of Rapture would we Jews read the Revelation and discover its special message for us.  Frankly, the rise of Messianic Judaism in the midst of an un-Raptured Ekklesia is pretty much all the rebuttal this assumption needs.  But let us go further and see how Bullinger’s argument inadvertently impinges on his understanding of the whole NT.

If we count up the number of Old Testament passages quoted or alluded to in the New Testament, we find that the gospel of Matthew has a very large number, amounting in all to 92.  The Epistle to the Hebrews comes higher still with 102. Now both these boos are connected in a special manner with Israel. Matthew, it is universally admitted, stands out among the four Gospels as being specially Jewish in its character. And the Epistle to the Hebrews was specially written to Hebrews, and they are addressed as such.

We take the lists as given in Bagster’s Bible.  Now, when we turn to the Apocalypse, what do we find? The result which to our mind is overwhelming. No less than 285 references to the Old Testament. More than three times as many as Matthew, and nearly three times as many as the Epistle to the Hebrews.  (pp. 3-4)

Do you notice what I did?  While Bullinger gives us the numbers of quotations from the “Jewish” parts of the NT (and yes, each of these books is quite Jewish, having a primarily Jewish audience), he never provides a comparative number of quotations from the Tanakh in, for example, the letters of Paul.  Had he done so, he would have had to admit that Paul quotes from the Tanakh no less than 183 times.  More modern research, such as that of E.W. Davies has demonstrated that Paul’s theology was influenced far, far less by Greek thought than by the theology of the Pharisees of his own time.  By Bullinger’s own argument, therefore, the epistles of Paul evidence a distinctly Hebrew character that means that they were not meant for the Church.

That’s a pretty silly conclusion, of course.  But that’s the problem with Dispensational tendencies to carve up the Bible like a Thanksgiving turkey and eating only the light meat:  Every supposed distinction turns out to be arbitrary and if applied consistently, makes nonsense out of the text.

Here’s the truth about the New Testament:  All of it exhibits a distinctly Hebraic character because all of it was written by Jews! Even Luke-Acts, written by a Gentile (though possibly a proselyte) doctor and historian, was doubtless heavily influenced by Luke’s mentor Paul, the disciple of Rabban Gamaliel.  The only reason we are able to overlook the distinctly Jewish character is that the Spirit-inspired authors were so successful in conveying this distinctly Semitic religion to their Greek audience that they simply absorbed the at one time alien thought processes into their own philosophies (and sometimes the other way around, unfortunately, but that’s another post for another day).

In the case of Revelation, the Jewish character is so evident because a) Revelation is virtually nothing but quotes from and allusions to the Tanakh with a minimum of explanation for the audience, and b) it was doubtless translated by the author himself without the scribal help that he received in composing his Gospel account.  This is evidence of origin more than it is evidence of audience.

We do agree with Bullinger’s assessment that a Jewish mind has a distinct advantage in understanding the Revelation over one that is rooted completely in Gentile Christianity (cf. Mat. 13:52, Rom. 3:1-2)–but this is by no means some genetic advantage, nor is it limited to this final book of Scripture!  And even more particularly, it is by no means an evidence that Revelation is meant solely for a post-Church Israel; rather, it is evidence of just how far from its Jewish roots Christianity was in the early 2oth Century that any follower of the King of the Jews would be mystified at His words which He commanded His servant to write down and give to the churches of John’s time (Rev. 1:11).

By the grace of the Holy One, blessed be He, we have been led by our Shepherd out of that darkness, and today we once again see in large segments of the Ekklesia Jew and Gentile being one in Messiah, without the oppression of the Jew.  This is not only a blessing to Israel, but a blessing to the Church as well, opening up doors once thought forever closed to our grafted-in brethren.


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