By Bojidar Marinov
Not all theological discourse that is done with good intentions is necessarily good or Biblical. And not all apologetics that uses some form of antithesis is necessarily good or Biblical. Apologetics and theology can’t be simply concerned with proving a point; they must be solidly grounded in a comprehensive Biblical worldview, not only in respect to their goals but also in respect to their terms and presuppositions, to their methodology, and to their overall frame of reference. From beginning to end, apologetics and all theological discourse must take the Word of God as authoritative in all its parts; and therefore every single term and argument must be informed by the Word of God and what the Word of God considers central and important to our faith. Thus apologetics and theology must also exclude or diminish the influence of those factors and arguments considered as insignificant or even contrary to the very nature and intent of the message of the Word of God.
Examples of attempts to swerve Christians from the straight road of Bible-based worldview abound throughout history. From the very beginning, Christ was tempted in the wilderness with things that in themselves are perfectly good and legitimate but in the context of Christ’s ministry contradicted the very spirit and message of the gospel. God indeed turns stones into bread, Jesus was meant to have all the kingdoms of the world as His possession, and God does use miracles to save His people from harm. But neither of these was central to Jesus’ ministry and the gospel. There was a greater focus, and a more fundamental concern. Had Jesus succumbed to the temptation, His ministry would have been ruined.
Needless to say, Christians and the church throughout history haven’t been as firm in resisting those temptations as Jesus was. From the very first decades of the church, Christian authors and teachers succumbed to the lure of Greek philosophy and logic and adopted them in their apologetics and their theological discourse. Contrary to Tertullian’s admonition, Jerusalem kept her membership card at the library of Athens and its schools, and borrowed books and ideas and arguments as if Christ weren’t the source of all knowledge and reasoning. The same people who borrowed rationalism from the Greeks also defended the idolatry of images in the churches, using arguments that could have come out of any handbook on occultism; dreams and mystical experiences were of a greater importance than the pure, simple, plain text of the Second Commandment.
Later, the feeble shadows of the past were adopted and fused with modern imaginations to create a ritualistic/magical religion which blurred all ethical lines in one liturgical fog; against that false religion the Reformers revolted. Then the question of “What has God revealed to His elect?” was replaced with “What has nature revealed to all people, elect or non-elect?” “Natural theology” was thus born, and with it, the never-clarified doctrine of “natural law.” Again and again, what the Bible declared the fundamental principle of all interpretation–the Covenant of God–stepped aside to make place for warmed-over pagan doctrines and presuppositions, baptized and dressed in a priest’s garb.
“So, you are a postmillennialist? You believe that the Millennium is now and it is not a literal thousand years?”
Much of this incomplete, eclectic apologetics and discourse continues today. A “Reformed” activist recently entered a debate with a sodomite activist on the issue of “Is gay marriage good for society?” The debate was a disaster for the “Reformed” activist, and expectedly so. What he believed was an “antithesis” wasn’t; the debate was entirely done on humanist grounds, using humanist presuppositions and humanist terminology. The true antithesis would be in asking the question, “By what standard?” And not just asking that question but also subjecting every single part of the issue to it. What is society? What is good? What is marriage? How do we know the definitions for all these things? Rejecting the supposed neutrality of all these terms would be the starting point of any discourse, as Van Til taught us. But our “Reformed” activist had bought into the neutrality assumption, and as a result, his argument was about insignificant things, avoiding the covenantal argument, and focusing on proofs that proved nothing.
But my point here is the theological discourse over eschatology. You know, postmillennialism, amillennialism, and premillennialism in its two versions, dispensational and historic. The focus of the eschatological discourse has been centered mainly on the time of the millennium, and the length of the millennium. Is it literal, or is it symbolic? Is it now, or is it in the future? Is Christ coming before or after it? Who is the Antichrist? How would we know him? What’s the meaning of the mark of the beast? Is it a chip, or a bar-code? Etc., etc.
Most of these questions and concerns are, in fact, irrelevant. At best, their importance to the Christian faith is marginal. They may be discussed within the framework of larger issues, but in themselves, they don’t carry sufficient theological weight to be definitional of any eschatology. Even worse, these questions are all conceived not in the context of a Biblical way of thinking, but in an essentially pagan, Greek way of thinking. It is the Greeks who had a multitude of intellectual problems to solve, generated by their dualisms. Material vs. spiritual, symbolic vs. literal, meaning of numbers vs. meaning of allegories, mathematical knowledge vs. mythological knowledge, signs in heaven vs. signs on earth, rational vs. empirical … All these were in one form or another opposed to each other, and the Greek thought was deeply concerned with deciphering the meaning and resolving the contradictions between these seemingly incompatible-with-each-other elements. Modern Christians seldom realize how much their thinking has been influenced by these dichotomies, and how much these irrelevant concerns have been made the pivot of our modern theology.
Getting Back on Track
The Biblical concern is different. It is not found in any dualism or dialectics; it is found in that foundational concept of the Biblical message: the Covenant, the ultimate ethical/judicial relationship which God established with mankind in the very first week of the Creation (Jer. 33:20, 25). All theology is by necessity covenant theology; the issue is always, “What covenant is at the foundation of a theology?” Even the so-called “natural theology” is not natural at all; it is based on certain covenantal presuppositions, mainly the ability of man to reach up to God by his own intellect, before and apart from supernatural faith. Any reasoning is first and foremost religiously motivated and based. The mind never discovers the truth; it only rationalizes what the heart has already chosen.
Eschatology, as part of theology, is no exception to that rule. No matter what men say about their eschatological reasoning, they never build their eschatologies on considerations of the literal or symbolic nature of the millennium, or on its present or future reality, or on the interpretations of the prophecies in the books of Revelation or Daniel. These are only the fruit of men’s ultimate beliefs about the work of God in history, about the nature of Redemption in history, about the function of the Holy Spirit in history, and about the covenantal status of the church in history. An emphasis would be helpful here: in history. And another emphasis will be even more helpful: the covenantal status of the church.
Because at the very foundation of it, eschatology is all about the Bride of Christ and her place in history. No matter what events are described in Revelation, at the end the angel takes John to show him what the story is all about; and it is not about tribulations and hell and heaven and horsemen and plagues and literal or symbolic number of years. It is about “the Bride, the Wife of the Lamb” (Rev. 21:9), coming down of heaven (v. 10), in history (v. 24). R. J. Rushdoony recognized that connection between eschatology and the marriage covenant in his Systematic Theology:
[W]e see a fact generally neglected, namely, that God’s first eschatological word for man includes marriage, sex, and procreation: “Be fruitful, and multiply.” While there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage in eternity, there is obviously much in eschatology which concerns itself with them. Add to this God’s statement, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18), and we must recognize man’s unity in marriage in God’s calling is an essential part of eschatology.1
Rushdoony’s conclusion is right to the point:
Not only is marriage basic to God’s temporal eschatology, but it provides, in the typology of the Bride of Christ, a type of the historical and eternal eschatology.2
Exactly. Eschatology is about the covenantal status of the church in history. Different eschatological positions are not really about the nature of the millennium; they are about the place of the church before Christ here and now. Everything else in eschatology follows from this. And all theological systems must be evaluated not on the basis of what they believe about the millennium, but what they believe about the covenantal position of the church in this age.
Marriage and the Church
A brief theological analysis of the covenantal position of the wife in the family is necessary, before we compare the positions. A wife is not a simple addendum to the family, as she was in the pagan, patriarchal times.3 She is one with her husband, in everything, and especially in the management of his property. In fact, she is so united to him that she is a co-owner of his property, and by default-not by delegation, as some incorrectly claim–she holds sovereign rights over his property, mitigated only by his right to veto her decisions (Num. 30).* The veto, however, has certain limitations on the husband (not on the wife), and failure to confirm or to annul her actions leads to automatic confirmation, that is, a decision of favor of the wife’s actions. Outside of that veto, the wife’s decisions are as good as the husband’s decisions, when management of the home is concerned.
The virtuous wife in Proverbs 31 is described as one who freely administers the property of the family while her husband is away. The lack of direct involvement by the husband there doesn’t necessarily mean that he shouldn’t get involved; but it does reveal the covenantal principle that the wife is fully empowered to make decisions without asking her husband for permission. Paul admonishes the young women to get married and “rule a house,” (1 Tim. 5:14; the word in Greek is literally a “house despot”). Rushdoony comments on Proverbs 31, “The Biblical doctrine shows us the wife as the competent manager who is able to take over all business affairs if needed, so that her husband can assume public office as a civil magistrate …”4 A few pages earlier he (Rushdoony) demonstrated that it was not Christianity but the Enlightenment and its doctrine of man that separated the wife from her lawful position of a co-ruler of the house and business partner of her husband. As far as the family is concerned, the Enlightenment brought nothing more than a return to the old pagan concept of the wife as a mere addendum to the family. But according to the Christian doctrine, the wife is one with her husband, which means she is a co-ruler with him, and she is expected to take charge of the affairs of the household, and manage his property.
So the issue now is this: How do we evaluate the existing eschatological view today vis-a-vis the Biblical doctrine of the covenantal status of the wife in the family, and the church as the Bride of Christ?
Dispensationalism: The Church as a Concubine
Central to Dispensationalism is its doctrine of the two separate covenants of God: Israel and the church. The covenantal status and the promises to racial Israel remain forever, and the Old Testament prophecies apply to Israel and Israel only. The church is only a “plan B,” launched when Israel rejected Christ and His offer for a messianic kingdom based in Jerusalem. The current era, the “church dispensation,” is “out of order” as far as God’s original intent for history is concerned. It is not foreseen nor prophesied in the Old Testament prophecies. Why, in fact, it is not even foreseen nor prophesied in Jesus’s own prophecies. The Old Testament’s concern, and Jesus’s concern, is entirely focused on Israel as His true, primary, and final covenant. The place of the church is only temporary, and her function is only remedial: she is adopted into the covenant only to bring the racial Israel back to God, by provoking racial Israel’s jealousy. At the end of time the church will be rewarded, but not according to the Old Testament covenantal promises, for her participation. Israel will turn to Christ, and the messianic kingdom of Israel as the ruling race will be established on the earth. But even in our own age, when racial Israel is still rebellious against Christ, the church is supposed to honor and serve her, and spend resources in defending her and enriching her and elevating her above all other racial groups.
Racial Israel appears then to be the true bride of Christ, not the church. It was racial Israel that God made covenant with in Genesis 12:2-3, not with “all who believe” (Rom. 4:11). Racial Israel, as the Bride, abandoned her Husband and committed adultery with the Beast. Jesus’ “plan B” is to leave her for a time to her adultery and instead take a temporary consort, the church. The goal is to provoke the true wife to jealousy. Meanwhile, the church is the second-rate wife, a concubine.
A concubine in the Old Testament was a wife who was given in marriage without a dowry, that is, without her own economic or financial stake in the new family. She had no inheritance, and her children had no inheritance in the family. For all covenantal purposes, a concubine was a servant. And indeed, while as a legal wife she was entitled to food, clothes, and “duty of marriage” (Ex. 21:7-11), she didn’t have the same authority in her husband’s household as the wife. The story of Sarah and Hagar very plainly shows this truth. She couldn’t rule the house as a wife, unless her husband delegated that task to her.5 This, of course, would put her in a position of being a servant to the true wife who could rule the house. The concubine was a servant to the wife, as Hagar was to Sarah.6
In Dispensationalism, that is exactly the covenantal position of the church today. The true wife has left the home, whoring after other husbands. The church is taken in as a temporary consort, having the right to sustenance but no right to rule the house. Jesus owns the whole world, it is His property; but the church cannot share in ruling the world with Him. The church doesn’t participate in the promises given to the true wife; she has other, minor promises, as becomes a second-rate wife. The true wife, the one who has the inheritance and the promises, will return one day, which is the whole purpose and reason for the temporary concubinage of the church.
The Church as Fiancee’ or Girlfriend
R. J. Rushdoony says about amillennialism that it is “premillennialism without earthly hope.” The two positions differ in their views of what happens after the Second Coming of Christ and the nature of the millennium. But they are notably concurrent as to the covenantal status of the church in this age. Unlike Dispensationalism, they do not see the church as a second-rate wife. But they certainly don’t see her as a wife, yet.
Amillennialism especially, struggling under the weight of its utter pessimism about history and earth, has resorted in the last several decades to coining beautiful metaphors and similes designed to justify why the church is not supposed to be active in managing God’s world in this age. “The Church is constantly mourning by the rivers of Babylon”; “We are royal exiles, eagerly awaiting our return home”; “The kingdom is here but not yet”; these are just a few of the examples. Biblically, they are empty phrases, for they are not supported by the Biblical message, and there is no rule of hermeneutics that can apply such sentiments to the church. But the message of all this rhetoric is the same throughout: The church is not in a position to do anything of lasting value and significance in this world, here and on earth, except to line up people at the bus stop to heaven, and wait for the final day. As the Great Commission states, Jesus has all authority. But the church–as the community of believers–doesn’t share in that authority. There are areas that are forbidden for her to enter and manage. They must be left to the powers of this age. The world belongs to Christ; but it doesn’t belong fully to the church.
Covenantally, such a view places the church in the position, not of a wife, but of a fiancee or a girlfriend. A fiancee is betrothed to her future husband, and there are certain obligations on her as a betrothed woman. (In the Old Testament, taking a betrothed woman counted as adultery and earned the criminal the death penalty.) She may even live in the house of her future family before the wedding, as an adopted daughter (Ex. 21:7-11). She would share in the blessings of the family, and have a position of a servant in the family, just as a daughter would, before she is of full age, or taken in marriage as a wife (Gal. 4:1). But even that is too much for amillennialists and premillennialists: the “longing to return home” is a sort of emotional anchor for their eschatology. The church, in fact, doesn’t even live in Jesus’s home yet, so she is not even a betrothed woman along the Old Testament lines. She is rather a fiancee or a girlfriend along the standards of our modern culture: she does meet with Him, but she is not fully His wife yet. And, of course, the main concern of the church, as these two eschatologies see it, is the purity of the church, a major concern for a fiancee, not for a wife.
True, a wife is supposed to keep herself pure. But her main concern after the marriage is not purity itself. Her main concern is rulership and management. The Proverbs 31 woman is not described in terms of her successful resistance to temptations, or her mystical spirituality, or her participation in prayer events or Bible groups. She is described as a manager of a household. That aspect, amillennialism and premillenialism are not willing to discuss. It is not part of their view of the church. The church is simply waiting for that glorious day when she will be able to finally exercise her rights as a wife. If there is anything to exercise her rights over, that is.
Postmillenialism: The Church as the Bride, the Wife of the Lamb
There is no future event that postmillennialists expect that would in some way bring the church closer to her position as a wife. The Last Judgment will change the world and will purge it from sin. But it won’t change the legal status of the church to a higher one. The church is Christ’s bride here and now, in history and on earth. She is fully responsible to administer Christ’s world, and through His Word and His Spirit to clean it from curse and imperfection as much as possible, before Christ comes.
That full ownership and full responsibility is expressed in Paul’s words to the Corinthians, is taken very seriously by all postmillennialists:
For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God (1 Cor. 3:21-23).
A legal wife, here and now, the church owns all things together with her Husband; and she has full authority over them by default, by the very nature of her covenantal and redeemed position. She is expected to take charge as the virtuous wife of Proverbs 31. Her Husband is in the gates, sitting as a Judge of the world. She is over His property, bringing all things to obey the household rules, that is, the Law of God.
What do we do with sin and curse? Don’t they still exist in this world? They do. There are pockets of disorder in every household, and even the perfect woman has to work hard to bring order to it. So the church brings her Husband’s rule to every corner of his property, that is, to every area of life, and in the process of history, through the Spirit and the Word, destroys the pockets of disorder, sin, and curse. The church, as the Body of Christ, exercises the power of Christ over His world. She is a wife. And the postmillennial optimism comes not from deciphering of obscure events in Revelation, but of the faith that as a good wife, the church will eventually be able to finish her job. She may not be very beautiful when she finishes it, but she will get the fruit of her hands, and her works will praise her in the gates (Prov. 31:31).
Therefore, our theological discourse in the realm of eschatology must be redirected from the present minor, insignificant issues, to the important, large, covenantal issue: What do we believe about the covenantal status of the church in this age? Christians must stop busying themselves with questions of years and times and events and mythologies. The question of eschatology should be: “What is the relation of the church to Christ: a concubine, a girlfriend, or a wife?” This is the true, Biblical, valid foundation for our eschatology, and for all eschatological discourse.
A Reformed missionary to his native Bulgaria for over 10 years, Bojidar preaches and teaches the doctrines of the Reformation and a comprehensive Biblical worldview. He and his team have translated over 30,000 pages of Christian literature about the application of the Law of God in every area of man’s life and society, and published those translations online for free. He currently lives in Houston with his wife Maggie and his three children.
1. R. J. Rushdoony, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1994), 787.
3. Fustel de Coulanges, The Ancient City, Second Book, “Family,” Ch. II.
4. R. J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. 1 (n. p:The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1973), 352.
5. That’s why those today who insist that the wife has authority by delegation instead of by default, are in fact looking at modern wives as concubines. A wife rules the house by the very nature of her covenantal position, not by delegation from her husband.
6. Gary North explains why the law of God had provisions for concubinage: Gary North, Tools of Dominion, ch. 6, “Wives and Concubines.”
*Editor’s note: R. J. Rushdoony held the invalidation law of Numbers 30 (which explicitly applies to oaths concerning voluntary gifts to God driven by godly zeal that might harm household finances) to be the sole exception to the standing validity of a woman’s decisions. This law does not bestow upon men a general grant of veto power over all the woman does. (In other words, the law as written does not provide the basis for an argumentum a minore ad maius, from the lesser to the greater, but only an exception to a general rule.) In this light, Marinov’s argument gains additional weight.
Article from Chalcedon.edu