[From Chapter 27 of the authors book: The greatness of the Kingdom, pp. 519-526.]
In the field of inductive logic there is a class of fallacies which arise through the careless use of language. Bacon named them Idols of the Marketplace. Nothing could be more profitless than discussion without some prior agreement as to the meaning of important terms. To try to win an argument where terms are not mutually understood is like trying, as Locke has reminded us, to dispossess a vagrant of his habitation who has no settled abode.*
* Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book III, Chap. X.
Current discussions of the
No other word in the vocabulary of the doctrine of the Kingdom has been the occasion of more misunderstanding and useless argument. A great deal of this confusion, in my opinion, has been due to the influence of Platonic philosophy in the field of Christian theology. Many a preacher, who may have never read a single sentence from Plato, has been more or less, perhaps unconsciously, under the sway of the rigid metaphysical dualism of this philosopher. To such men, the premillennial doctrine of a divine Kingdom established on earth, having political and physical aspects, seems to be sheer materialism. Yet their own theological views may involve some very serious practical inconsistencies. It has been said, with some justification, that a mans life and actions are the surest guide to his actual beliefs.
A parable will illustrate the point: During a church banquet a group of preachers
were discussing the nature of the
But let us get back to a more serious side of the
argument. Of course, the
The reasoning of such men at times seems very curious. If physicians conquer diseases, if scientists
eliminate certain physical hazards, if by social legislation governments
improve the quality of human existence, if wise statesmen succeed in preventing
a war, etc., - these things are often cited as evidence of the progress of a
It should hardly he necessary to point out that, in the Word of God, it is nothing new to find a spiritual cause producing tangible effects in the area of sense experience. On this point, the personal testimony of the late Ananias and his wife Sapphira would be very impressive. These two people lived in the very beginning of that historical era when, as it is claimed by some, God established a spiritual kingdom among men. But they learned by bitter experience that a spiritual force can operate in the physical world of nature. Berkhof, [the A-millennialist theologian] in criticizing the idea that God will use force in the establishing of His kingdom, seems to feel that there is something utterly incongruous between spiritual power and physical effects, and that any such effects in the material world cannot be due to the power of Gods Spirit.** But Ananias and his wife certainly died a sudden physical death because they had lied to the Holy Ghost. As to the question of whether a display of force could have any salutary results in the Kingdom of God, which Berkhof seems to doubt, Luke is careful to describe the effect of the death of Ananias and Sapphira thus: And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things (Acts 5: 11).
** L. Berkhof, The
The notion that a spiritual kingdom can have no immediate relation to considerations which are the stuff of physical existence, is one of the strangest idols ever constructed in the cave of the human mind. God is spirit; and wherever His power breaks supernaturally into the system of nature, the cause may properly be called spiritual, whatever the effect may be; whether the healing of a disease, the raising of a dead body, the regeneration of a sinner, or the setting up of a political state on the earth. The kingdom established at Sinai was not an earthly kingdom, although it was on the earth. Actually, it was a spiritual kingdom which came down from heaven historically into the world of physical existence and operated there by the supernatural agency of God Himself. If we hold fast this truth, we shall have less difficulty dealing with philosophically inclined theologians who seem to feel that there is something degrading about the idea of a spiritual kingdom established on earth in control of human affairs within the realm of sense experience.
One thing in this connection that seems to disturb some
theologians is the thought of a kingdom in which the glorified Christ with His risen saints will be mingling with men of
flesh and blood on the earth.
To illustrate this point, I quote from Berkhofs
final paragraph in his book on The
Here we have a prime example of the influence of philosophic dualism in Christian theology. If Plato were living today, giving a series of lectures on the millennial question, he might very well employ the exact language of Berkhof, Brown, Beet, et al. Certainly in his philosophical sensitive soul he would regard with abhorrence the idea of a spiritual kingdom having any genuine and worth-while relation to the world of sense experience. But the writers of Holy Scripture are not bound by any such philosophical prejudices. While they recognized the reality of mind and matter, of spirit and body, to them there was not only one God but also one world. And in this universe of God there is no unbridgeable chasm between that which is physical and that which is spiritual. In the Garden of Eden, God who is spirit walks and talks with man made of the dust of the ground (Gen. 3: 8-10). The Lord Himself with two angels is entertained in the tent of Abraham (Gen. 18). To Moses the Lord spoke face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend (Exod. 33: 11). But the incarnation of the eternal Son in a body of flesh and blood is the supreme demonstration that there is no inherent or necessary antagonism between matter and spirit. This is to say nothing of the risen [resurrected] Christ appearing over and over to men and women in the flesh, mingling with them, eating with them, and teaching them for the space of forty days.
The entire history of divine revelation bears no uncertain witness that the penetration of spirit into the physical realm of nature is never regarded as something strange, abnormal, or incongruous.* It is true that human sin has introduced a limiting factor into the situation. Man did lose his personal fellowship with God. But sin itself at bottom is a spiritual problem. While its effects are most apparent in the physical realm, matter is not an evil in itself. The ancient error of Gnosticism has been universally rejected by orthodox theologians, yet its baneful shadow still hangs over certain areas of eschatology. This alleged abhorrence at the thought of any intermingling of the spiritual and the material in a future millennial kingdom is not necessarily a normal reaction of the human reason. It is rather what the psychologists have called a learned reaction. The Apostle Paul, well schooled in the philosophies of his day, solemnly warned against this danger: Beware lest any man spoil you through [his] philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, ... and not after Christ (Col. 2: 8). And the next verse makes it clear that the warning had to do with a false dualism, which would later develop into the historic school of Gnosticism, but which already was present in Pauls day: For in him [Christ] dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily [somatikos]. The incarnate Son of God, in whose body both deity and humanity dwelt together in perfect union, is still the most complete answer to all gnostic tendencies, whether ancient or modern.
[* Incongruous. That is, - Not in keeping with its surroundings, out of place.]
It is only fair to say that Dr. Berkhof,
from whose scholarly book I have quoted above, recognizes that spiritual and material
blessings can dwell together in the final stage of the Kingdom without any necessary incongruity or
discord. In fact, in generous vein, he
concedes that the premillennial view of the Kingdom has done some service as an
antidote to a one-sided spiritual conception of the
Kingdom. He says that Premillennialism reminds
us of the fact that the
space does not permit any full discussion of the Biblical meaning of the Greek
adjective pneumatikos, at least something should he said about its general usage. It occurs twenty-six times in the New
Testament, twice in adverbial form. In
itself the term does not necessarily connote something morally good - in Ephesians 6: 12 the demonic hosts are called pneumatika. Nor does the term necessarily exclude the
idea of physical substance - in First Corinthians
15: 44 the resurrection body of the Christian is
named a soma pneumatikon. With reference to the
things of God, which is its general connection, the meaning of pneumatikos is something
emanating from the Divine Spirit, or exhibiting its effects and so its character; that is, something produced by the sole power of God Himself without natural
instrumentality, supernatural.* Therefore, the
term may he used to designate a divine origin or cause, and also to describe the effects produced by such a cause in any realm whatsoever, whether physical or metaphysical. If we hold fast to this general idea we
cannot slip into unnecessarily narrow definitions. Consider, as an excellent example of the broad
New Testament use of the term, the text in First
Corinthians 10: 3 where Paul affirms that the Israelites did all eat
the same spiritual food. What was this food?
Well, the Old Testament record seems perfectly clear; but let A. T. Robertson answer: The reference is to the manna which is termed spiritual by reason of its supernatural character.** Now all sorts of explanations have been
offered as to the identity of this strange food which
* Thayer, Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 523, 3.a.
** Word Pictures in the New Testament (New York: Harper and Bros., 1930), Vol. IV, P. 151.
*** Commentary on the New Testament, in loc.
It is true that occasionally the New Testament uses spiritual as a contrasting term to that which is either natural or carnal. Thus Paul speaks of the first man Adam as natural [psuchikon], and the last Adam as spiritual; but the contrast here does not exclude the factor of materiality, for both Adam and Christ had bodies of flesh (1 Cor. 15: 45-46). In verse 44 Paul applies the same contrasting terms to the two bodies: the present body is psuchikon, while the resurrection body will he pneumatikon. But here again the idea of materiality is not excluded, for the resurrection body of Christ had flesh and bones (Luke 24:39). The real contrast is between the respective energizing principles of the two. Even where the contrast is between spiritual things and carnal [psuchikon] things (1 Cor. 9: 11), it is not invidious.* For both classes of things here are good, originating with God who is the Creator of all; although, of course, the one is superior to the other.
[* Invidious. That is, it is not offensively discriminating.]
In the Old Testament, spirit and matter are never absolutely opposed to each other. The Spirit of God comes upon men to work wonders in a physical context: upon Bezaleel to give craftsmanship in metal and wood (Exod. 31: 1‑5); upon the judges to give skill in military affairs (Judg. 6: 34); upon Samson to bestow great physical strength (Judg. 15: 14). Even in the much quoted passage from Zechariah - Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit - the physical factor is present. For the tasks to be accomplished here were the rebuilding of the temple and the overcoming of foes who were obstructing the work (cf. Zech. 4: 6, 9 with Ezra 4: 1-4).