Responding to the Critics| Howard Denham’s Abuse of Scripture and Logic #4
We are currently refuting a list of syllogisms offered by caustic Amillennialist Howard Denham. He claims that his arguments falsify Covenant Eschatology. The actual truth is that his arguments do nothing but reveal the presuppositional nature of his arguments, his flawed hermeneutic, his ignorance of Hebraic thought and and his overall ignorance of Biblical Eschatology.
In this installment, we will examine two more of Denham’s “syllogistic arguments” in which he deals with the Atonement. Denham posits that the Atonement was completed, perfected, at the Cross / Ascension. Here are his “arguments” such as they are:
Major Premise: If it is the case that Jesus Christ purged our sins when He sat down at the right hand of God the Father, then it is the case that the blood atonement was made when He sat down at the right hand of God the Father.
Minor Premise: It is the case that Jesus Christ purged our sins when He sat down at the right hand of the God the Father. (Proof: Hebrews 1:3).
Conclusion: It therefore is the case that the blood atonement was made when He sat down at the right hand of God the Father.
Major Premise: (1) If it is the case that the blood atonement was made when He sat down at the right hand of God the Father, and (2) if Jesus sat down on the right hand of the Father upon His ascension, and (3) if the ascension occurred some 40 years before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, then it must be the case that the blood atonement was made some 40 years before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Minor Premise: (1) It is the case that the blood atonement was made when He sat down at the right hand of God the Father, and (2) Jesus sat down on the right hand of the Father upon His ascension, and (3) the ascension occurred some 40 years before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. (Proof: cf. Hebrews 1:3; Acts 2:29-36; Acts 1:9-11).
Conclusion: It must be the case that the blood atonement was made some 40 years before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
Denham is so out of touch with the book of Hebrews, and Hebraic thought, that it is truly embarrassing. He seems to have no concept of the “already-But-Not-Yet” of scripture. He fails to even consider the typology of the Day of Atonement and thus makes claims that simply do not support his theology. They are eisegetic in the extreme.
Notice his first conditional statement: “(1) If it is the case that the blood atonement was made when He sat down at the right hand of God the Father,”
Then, he makes the bold, but erroneous statement, “It is the case that the blood atonement was made when He sat down at the right hand of God the Father.” (Notice that he throws in some true statements, i.e. that Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father at his ascension and that the ascension occurred 40 years before AD 70. No one denies those historical facts, so these are straw man arguments. The questions here is, was the Atonement completed when Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father at his ascension).
Denham cites Hebrews 1:3– “when he had, by himself, purged our sin, sat down at the right hand.” Now, to the unlearned, this sounds like a “done deal”, right? But, while Denham would of course appeal to the Greek tenses, he would thereby show how shallow his knowledge truly is, and little he understands the entire Atonement praxis of the ancient Hebrews. By taking the view that the Atonement was finished at the Cross / Ascension, he falsifies a critical tenet of the church of Christ of which he is a member.
Now, it is axiomatic that we must normally honor the Greek tenses. That is a given. However, we must always also be sensitive to the undeniable reality that the NT writers often expressed things as past tense, but then turned around and spoke of those identical things as future realities. The Atonement is one of those realities. It is important to note that while Denham points confidently to the Greek tenses of Hebrews 1, he has to totally ignore them in Hebrews 9:6-10!
Responding to the Critics| A Look at the Day of Atonement
The Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) was one of the key festivals in Israel’s calendar. While there were many events taking place, in summary, the key events comprising that day were the slaying of the Atonement sacrifice, the entrance by the High Priest into the Most Holy Place to offer the blood on the Altar (originally the Mercy Seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant), and then, the coming out of the MHP by the High Priest to announce salvation for the waiting congregation.
Also integral to the day was the taking away of the Scape-Goat. In Jewish thought, the Atonement was not completed until the Scape-Goat had been taken away (which actually took place after the High Priest had come out of the MHP!) and the one who took it away had returned to report that the Scape-Goat was indeed gone, carrying the sins of the people away. This is an element of the Atonement that is often overlooked, but, it is very important. On this note, let me share a response from a Jewish rabbi concerning the events of Yom Kippur. I inquired asking what the historical thinking of the Jews was in regard to the events of Atonement. I specifically asked if it was believed that Atonement was consummated at the time of the killing of the sacrifice, the entrance of the High Priest into the MHP, or, the return of the priest from the MHP. I asked if those events were seen as separate, unrelated events, or inseparable links in one event. Here is the rabbi’s answer:
My email to a Rabbi:
Email of 4-25-15
“There are really two different issues. One, what is an integral part of the Yom Kippur services? The answer to that is all three, especially since most of the Yom Kippur services are explicitly described in the Torah itself, we don’t choose what is important or not.
Two, when were they forgiven. About that, there is a well known description in the Talmud that for a period of time, there was a scarlet thread that would turn white when they would throw the goat down the mountain symbolizing that they were forgive at that point. However, it didn’t always turn white, and presumably they would continue asking G-d for forgiveness throughout the day. So if they weren’t forgiven at that point, they may have been at a later point in the day.
All the best,
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin> (EoQ)
So, per Jewish thought, there was no sharp delineation between the actions on the Day of Atonement. The three actions were considered to be “one event.” So, when Denham focuses attention on the death of Jesus, claiming that the Atonement was completed at that point, he stands outside this ancient understanding. More importantly, he stands outside of scripture. Look closer at the Day of Atonement.
Denham claims that the Atonement was finished when Jesus died and ascended. (Notice that he includes both the sacrifice and the entrance into the MHP as part of the Atonement, but, he excludes the coming out of the MHP!). But, this violates the type / antitype of the Jewish festivals and their fulfillment. Denham seems totally oblivious or ignorant of the importance of the Jewish calendar as it relates to the eschatological narrative. The reality is that the Jewish Feast Days are the “Rosetta Stone of Biblical eschatology (to steal a term that my friend Doug Wilkinson coined). I cannot, of course, fully develop this here, but, let me give an ultra brief over-view.
Responding to the Critics| Eschatology and Israel’s Feast Days
There were seven feast days in Israel’s festal calendar. The first four were Passover, Unleavened Bread, Feast of Weeks and Pentecost. The first four feast days were fulfilled, of course, in Jesus death, burial and resurrection and then the day of Pentecost (feast of first fruit) when the first fruit of the kingdom received the first fruit of the Spirit.
Following Pentecost, there was a four month period of waiting (cf. John 4:35), a time that some rabbis called the time of waiting for the judgment. This was because the next feast day, Rosh Ha Shanah, a.k.a. the Feast of Trumpets, typified the Day of Judgment. Following Rosh Ha Shanah was the Day of Atonement which, per some sources, was the climax of Rosh Ha Shanah. Callaway says “Yom Kippur is the culmination of Rosh Ha Shanah).” (Jered Callaway, The Sabbath and Sanctuary, (Tubingen, Germany, Morh Siebeck, 2013)166). So, there was an inseparable connection in Jewish thought between the Judgment and the Day of Atonement. Do you see the problem?
Denham, and far too many commentators, completely divorce the Day of Atonement from its natural chronological flow of fulfillment. They rip it out of its “judgment” context. They have the Day of Atonement as the very first of the Festal functions– i.e. at Passover – instead of being among the last! This is totally anachronistic. Thus, Denham’s claim that the Atonement was completed at the Cross / Ascension is a total violation of the Festal calendar of Israel.
Let me support that claim more by examining the typological actions of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.
According to Colossians 2:14-17 and Hebrews 10:1-2, as these texts describe the cultic activities of the festal calendar, those events, the Law itself, was “a shadow of good things about to come.” This included, per Hebrews 9, the actions of the High Priest on Yom Kippur.
Just as the High Priest killed the sacrifice, Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice (Hebrews 9:26). Just as the High Priest took the blood of the sacrifice into the MHP, so Jesus went into “heaven itself” there to prepare a place (Hebrews 9:24). And just as the High Priest came out of the MHP to announce the blessing of the Atonement, Jesus was – when Hebrews was written – about to come out of the MHP “for salvation” to those who were “eagerly” awaiting him (Hebrews 9:28).
Now, according to Leviticus 9:22 the blessing of the Atonement was not received until the High Priest came out of the Most Holy. Thus, the “purging of the sins of the people” was not a consummated reality until he came out of the MHP! This means that Denham’s simplistic appeal to Hebrews 1 is misguided, for it is not “holistic” in its approach to the Scriptures. It fails to consider all the evidence. It also flies in the face of Hebrews 9, and the discussion there of the Most Holy Place.
“Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services. But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance; the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing. It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience— concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.” (Hebrews 9:6-10– It is here that Denham ignores the present active indicatives of the text. In the Greek, virtually this entire text is in the present active, showing that the Temple cultus and Torah still had validity!)
Take note of some key elements:
1. The writer presents the Day of Atonement practices in order to point to the actions of Jesus as High Priest.
2. As long as Torah and those cultic practices stood valid (the force of the Greek) the way into the MHP was not opened.
3. The reason entrance into the MHP was not open while Torah remained valid is because those sacrifices could never take away sin– never purge the conscience by giving true forgiveness.
4. That cultic world of Torah – which could not give entrance into the MHP – would remain valid until “the time of reformation, when forgiveness would be obtained, and, entrance into the MHP would be opened! See my book, Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory for an incisive and important study of “the time of reformation.” This is a tremendously important study!
Now, consider the following facts, which are typical in the church of Christ fellowship of which Denham is a member. I do not know if he personally holds to these doctrines himself, but, again, what I am about to share are the views most common in his fellowship.
Fact #1– It is commonly held that no Christian today actually possesses eternal life. This was stated openly and repeatedly by speakers on the Bellview church of Christ lectureship (2015). For instance, Michael Hatcher said that if we have eternal life now, there is no hope of heaven or even an after-life. Another speaker, Bruce Stutling, said that if we possessed eternal life now, that would mean we could not lose it, which, he said, would be a damnable doctrine. Denham spoke on that lectureship.
Fact #2 – It is commonly held that when the faithful child of God dies physically today, they go to Paradise in Hades, to Abraham’s bosom, per Luke 16. It has been my experience that very, very few ministers in the church of Christ believe that the child of God goes directly to heaven (the MHP of Hebrews 9) when they die. That reward does not happen until the so-called end of time. But, to say this is problematic is a huge understatement. I will keep this very brief as I expose Denham’s fallacious argument.
As long as Torah remained valid, there could be no entrance into the MHP- (i.e. Heaven, Hebrews 9:6-10).
The reason there could be no entrance into the MHP under Torah – as long as Torah remained valid – is because Torah could never give true forgiveness (Hebrews 9:9-10).
No man can enter the MHP (i.e. heaven) until the Day of Judgment and the coming of Christ at the “end of time.” (The traditional and current majority view of the churches of Christ).
Therefore, Torah remains valid today and there is no true forgiveness of sin.
Now, if Howard Denham says that Christians today have the objective gift of forgiveness, then he must logically believe that when the faithful child of God dies, they go to heaven, the MHP. Let’s look closer:
If it is the case that as long as Torah remained valid there was no entrance into heaven, and,
If it is the case that as long as Torah stood valid there was no entrance into heaven due to the fact that there was no forgiveness of sin under Torah,
Then it must be true that if the faithful child of God does not enter heaven today, that Torah remains valid and,
It must also be true that the faithful child of God does not truly possess the forgiveness of sin.
It is the case that as long as Torah remained valid (had standing) there could be no entrance into the MHP and,
It is the case that as long as Torah stood valid there was no entrance into heaven due to the fact that there was no forgiveness of sin under Torah.
Therefore, it must be true that Torah remains valid (has standing) and, no man can enter the MHP today since there is no forgiveness of sin.
Let me express it another way:
If it is the case that no man can enter heaven today when they die (the traditional view of the churches of Christ of which Denham is a member), and,
If is the case that the reason no man can could enter heaven (per Hebrews 9:6-10) is the abiding validity of Torah and its inability to give the forgiveness of sin,
Then it must be the case that Torah remains valid and there is no forgiveness of sin available today.
It is true that no man can enter heaven today when they die– the traditional view of the churches of Christ (and Howard Denham ?).
Therefore, it must be true that Torah remains valid and there is no forgiveness of sin available today.
If Howard Denham says – as he does – that Torah was nailed to the Cross, and that Jesus purged our sins (objectively and genuinely) at the Cross, then he must teach that the faithful child of God enters heaven when they die?
Torah was the separating reality – due to its inability to give forgiveness – between man and heaven- the Presence of God. If Torah has been removed, then we have access into the MHP. If the MHP is not open to man today, then Torah remains valid. This is inescapable.
In addition, per Hebrews 9, No forgiveness of sin = no entrance into the MHP. Thus, if we objectively possess forgiveness, we should have entrance into the MHP! You cannot – logically – argue that we have, objectively, not in promise only, the forgiveness of our sin, without thereby arguing that when we die, we enter the MHP! Conversely, if today we cannot enter the MHP then it is prima facie true that we do not truly possess eternal life and have no forgiveness of sin!
So, Howard Denham’s facile “argument” based on Hebrews 1:3 is exposed as false by a more in-depth, exegetical examination of Hebrews. Responding to the Critics is easy when the critics make such glaring errors!