Books Faith

Review of “The End of the Beginning: Revelation 21-22 and the Old Testament,” by William Dumbrell

Important Note: What follows is a very negative review. I disagree with how the author presents interpretations of individual words, his summary of short phrases, his paraphrasing of brief episodes, his description of relationships between the people of the Bible, his descriptions of Israel and Christ, and (implicitly) his view of the Trinity. After my negative review of the author’s previous work, Covenant and Creation: An Old Testament Covenant Theology, I have broadened my reading to better understand his arguments. The result is I disagree with them more thoroughly and more completely.

That said, the author of this book, William Dumbrell, deserves tremendous credit for the scale of his undertaking. In both his previous work and this one, The End of the Beginning, he systematically searches the Torah, the Prophets, the Writings, the Gospels, and the Epistles to find a deeper harmony and a consistent message. In his methodology and results, I believe he fails. Nevertheless, the basic assumption of the author: that the Bible is a kaleidoscopic whole, a story of God and His relationship with man – through all the sacrifices and ceremonies, kings and prophets, judges and writers –is correct.

Specifically, Dumbrell, presents an exposition of three paragraphs near the end of the Revelation to St. John

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.  Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”…

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lamb’s wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God. Her light was like a most precious stone, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal. Also she had a great and high wall with twelve gates, and twelve angels at the gates, and names written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel: three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west…

But I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there). And they shall bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it.  But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Revelation 21:1-4, 9-13,22-27

A close reader will notice the presence of three “new” things: the New Heaven, the New Earth, and the New Jerusalem, and the absence of a “New Israel.”  There is (at least on the face of it) no “New Temple” or “New Israel,” but perhaps the phrase is elliptic.  Dumbrell’s search for the origin and promises related to these themes in the Hebrew Bible.

Here’s where the excitement begins: Dumbrell doesn’t focus on those present “news.” The book is instead centered on four themes: New Jerusalem, New Temple, New Covenant and New Israel. The New Heaven and Earth are simply ignored as first-level themes, while “New Covenant” arrives out of nowhere (The word is not mentioned in the last two chapters of Revelation.). Whether this choice indicates a brilliant or reckless interpretative strategy is largely the focus of this review.

And with that, I will begin my review. I will hit the following high-level topics: the author is not a reliable reporter of facts. This leads him to distort sidesteps in the Scriptures. He appears not to know what a Covenant is, or how the Biblical writers would have that of that concept. This leads him to implicitly endorse a strange concept of the Trinity, which explains otherwise shocking claims: that Israel is rejected, and we wait for Christ only to shrug him off. Through the author’s exposition he misses the literary qualities of the Biblical text, which causes him confusion where he should find joy. I conclude by summarizing Dumbrell’s limited conception of the Divine with a traditional Jewish or Christian one.

The Rejection of Facts

When reading The End of the Beginning, it is important not to trust the author. Basic claims are wrong. For instance

[Jeremiah’s] call is unique among the vocational calls of the OT prophets, for the others are all sent soley to Israel / Judah. p. 83

Of course, this is not true:

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me.” But Jonah arose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid the fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord.
Jonah 1:1-3

In other cases Dumbrell simply misrepresents basic claims. For instance, “sin sacrifices” in the Hebrew Bible could only be made from female or castrated animals. When Dumbrell writes

The ancient believer was fully aware, if spiritually perceptive, that it was not the blood of bulls and goats which forgave sins. p. 93

he is surely correct. Of course, a literalist reader would reach the same conclusion. It is for this reason that since Paul Christian writers have emphasized Christ’s role as a passover lamb, a form of sacrifice that saves but also allows for an intact male victim:

Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
1 Corinthians 5:7b-8

There’s also claims whose odd phrasing make it difficult to determine if Dumbrell is making a positive claim, or simply a rhetorical flourish. For instance, Judgeship (unlike Kingship) was “episodic, limited, and inspired”

Judgeship (For which Israel also asks, cf. “to govern us” Heb. sapat) as exercised by Samuel, the last and greatest of the figures of the period, is episodic, limited, and inspired. p. 138

Yet while Kings performed ghastly deads, such as the murder of priests, human sacrifices was introduced by a Judge. “Inspired” perhaps, although the spiritually perceptive reader might ask by who, or what?

Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, “If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”….

When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it.”

So she said to him, “My father, if you have given your word to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.” Then she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.”

So he said, “Go.” And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man.

And it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.
Judges 11:34-40

Dumbrell will use questionable translations of the Bible, though he never gives his own translation of full verses, or cites one he is using. An example is his description of the Tower of Babel

Others, with reference (v4) to the “watch-tower” (Heb. migdal) see an attempt to keep God under surveillance and thus in effect to build God out of his own world. p. 182

This was an interesting claim to me, given the explicitly military role of the Stars and their wars against kings. Is a cosmic drama being implied?

“The kings came and fought,
Then the kings of Canaan fought
In Taanach, by the waters of Megiddo;
They took no spoils of silver.
They fought from the heavens;
The stars from their courses fought against Sise
Judges 5:19-20

I was excited. The Deuterocanon describes an angel fighting a demon in the Book of Tobit, the the Pseudoepigraphia goes into the celestial community in the Book of Enoch. So I wanted to know more.

When I looked up parallel translation of the verse containing this word, I found none of them translated it as “watch-tower.” When I look up migdal in Hebrew-English dictionaries, I’ve found no translation that refers to “migdal” as meaning “watch-tower.” Dumbrell never defends his translation of “watch tower,” or even asserts it is his own translation.

Saying “watch-tower” must have just sounded good.

It is impossible to trust what he says.

And we haven’t even gotten to the distortions that fit what appear to be Dumbrell’s agenda yet.

Distorting the Scriptures

There are also cases where it’s unclear if Dumbrell is incorrectly reporting facts, or simply making illogical conclusions. For instance, he uses — where the elders of Israel mediate the relationship between the LORD and Israel, as an example of an unmediated relationship between the LORD and Israel!

However, the fact that at the ratification of the covenant in verses 1-11 seventy elders along with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, accompany Moses onto the mountain and eat in the divine presence implies all Israel is still considered capable of being addressed without a mediator, and on the most intimate level. p. 127

The verse is even the more problematic in context. Dumbrell’s criticism of a “mediated” relationship of course refers to the Catholic belief in the role of the sacrificial priest. But the full episdoe shows Moses as a priest in a type of eucharistic celebration, bringing God’s grace to the people, and preparing to bring his word as well. Indeed, it is the mirror image of a Catholic mass, which begins with the Liturgy of the Word and concludes with the sacrifice

And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.”

Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them.”
Exodus 24:8-12

The point here is not to insist on a Catholic reading of Exodus, but demonstrate that Dumbrell’s summary is incomplete and his conclusion bizarre. The passage describes Moses mediating a blood sacrifice, and then mediating the divine word, to elders who themselves mediate for their people!

A more egregious misrepresentation concerns the inexplicable conclusion of Jacob as an early Patriarch. In Genesis, Jacob was the son of Isaac, the father of Joseph, and the man who was also called “Israel.” A theme through Dumbrell’s writing is a hostility of Israel. I don’t know if that is his motive for distorting the identity of the Three Patriarchs, but I do know that Dumbrell distorts their identities

Thus the book of Genesis ends with Israel preserved and populous. Curiously, blessing, or the promise of it, comes to each of the three patriarchs (Abraham Jacob, Joseph) outside of the promised land, but with reference to the land. p. 133

The Three Patriarchs are nowhere identified as Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph. The list of Three Patriarchs always include Jacob-called-Israel. Joseph, unlike his grandfather and great-grandfather, was a government official, not a tribal leader. Further, every identification of the Three Patriarchs describe the three generations prior to Joseph, either

“Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”
(as in Exodus 6:8, Exodus 33:1, Numbers 32:11, Deuteronomy 1:8, Deuteronomy 6:10, Deuteronomy 9:5, Deuteronony 9:27, Deuteronomy 29:13, Deuteronomy 30:20, Deuteronomy 34:4, 2 Kings 13:23, Jeremiah 33:26, Matthew 8:11, and Acts 33:13)


“Abraham, Isaac, and Israel”
(as in Exodus 32:13, 1 Kings 18:36, 1 Chronicles 29:18, and 2 Chronicles 30:6)

Sometimes the author’s distortion leads to completely bizarre conclusions. Dumbrell seems alone in all of Christian history in believing that Caiaphas had converted to Christianity!

The healing miracle at Capernaum forces the Jewish leaders to acknowledge that the Son of Man “has authority on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10). p. 153

Not surprisingly, the passage does not indicate that the Jewish High Priest was a secret follower.

But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”
Mark 2:8-12

So far we’ve surveyed basic incorrect claims, incorrect summaries, and scriptural distortions that erased Israel and accused High Priest of Israel of knowing Jesus was the Son of Man during His trial.

Jesus is questioned by the high priest Caiaphas, and asked whether he is the Son of God. ‘He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy’ Matthew xxvi 57-66. Illustration by William Hole 1846-1917. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

Dumbrell also does not understand ancient international relations, which (surprisingly) leads to even greater errors.

The Covenants

It is in this context — the context of Dumbrell’s inaccurate and distorting reporting — that the most serious claims of the book should be addressed. Primarily, God’s relationship to Israel and, ultimately, God’s relationship to his Son, Jesus Christ. It is a difficult accomplishment to create a novel heresy objectionable to both Jews and Christians for separate reasons. Dumbrell accomplishes that.

Dumbrell makes much of “Covenant,” an ancient form of communication analogous to the Instrument of Surrender. The only legal difference is that while a Covenant was voiced from the Conquerer’s side (promising not to destroy property, and proclaiming the obedience of the conquered people), the Instrument of Surrender is voiced from the conquered’s side (promising not to destroy property, and proclaiming their own obedience to the Conqueror). This is because in the ancient world a necessary feature of a government or military was to be able to enforce a local monopoly of violence, thus the conquer’s pledge was required to make it legally binding. In our own day, countries and military orders may legally exist without any actual capacity to legitimately use force whatsoever. Thus, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta continues in our day to join international agreements in spite of having no territory, a concept that in the ancient world would have been ridiculous.

Not surprisingly, “covenants” are much used by those with the greatest first hand experience of that – the Exile and post-Exile prophets when Israel was under covenant to Babylon or Persia, and rarely used by writers in which covenant was as specialized a term as it is in ours. For instance, the Roman world-system of government (like the American one) used a combination of annexations, Status of Force agreements, and alliances to maintain what we call their “Empire.” Thus, Roman writers did not resort to “Covenant” as a method of explaining God’s relationship to them. Dumbrell is puzzled by this:

Although Paul constantly takes up the question of Jesus as the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises and thus the One who continues the covenant traditions (cf. Rom 1:1, 16-17 and especially Gal 3), a full covenant exposition is rarely offered by him. p. 107

Dumbrell even rejects the actual texts of the Gospels because they do not include such a formula:

There are difficulties, however, with too precise an attempt to locate this section [“covenant renewal formulas”] formally, and we agree with the suggestion that the Matthean redaction in this closing junction of the Gospel makes it fruitless to seek for exact formal parallels. p. 105

Likewise, when the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah were fully sovereign they had not issued Instruments of Surrender to anyone, thus the idea is not used by those authors either. Not surprisingly, Dumbrell is puzzled by this:

In regard to the latter it is understandable, though initially puzzling, that the pre-exilic prophets made such little direct use of the covenant concepts. p. 80

Apparently not knowing this context, Dumbrell is also surprised by two another implications of a Covenant: that Covenants imply future General Orders without identifying them, and that Covenants are described before they are enacted. For instance, the Japanese Instrument of Surrender (signed September 2, 1945) begins below. Note the parties are identified, both personally and others of the same legal bodies, promise is made to cease destroying property, and obedience is pledged:

We, acting by command of and in behalf of the Emperor of Japan, the Japanese Government and the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters, hereby accept the provisions set forth in the declaration issued by the heads of the Governments of the United States, China, and Great Britain on 26 July 1945 at Potsdam, and subsequently adhered to by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which four powers are hereafter referred to as the Allied Powers.

We hereby proclaim the unconditional surrender to the Allied Powers of the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters and of all Japanese armed forces and all armed forces under the Japanese control wherever situated.

We hereby command all Japanese forces wherever situated and the Japanese people to cease hostilities forthwith, to preserve and save from damage all ships, aircraft, and military and civil property and to comply with all requirements which may be imposed by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers or by agencies of the Japanese Government at his direction.

God’s covenant with Noah, for example, is parallel to this. Note that the parties are identified, both personally and others of the same legal bodies, promise is made to cease destroying properties, and obedience is pledged (or rather, predicted, as it is the conqueror spekaing)

Then God spoke to Noah and to his sons with him, saying: “And as for Me, behold, I establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you: the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you, of all that go out of the ark, every beast of the earth. Thus I establish My covenant with you: Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood; never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
Genesis 9:8-11

Following a Covenant (or Instrument of Surrender), Laws (or General Orders) are promulgated. The first General Orders (or Laws) are the most expansive and set the tone for all future directives. For instance, MacArthur’s General Order #1 is as follows. Note the conquered people is identified, reminded of their surrender, and informed exactly who their superiors now are. Thus prevents a local rebellion under the guise of “accidentally” obeying the wrong superior:

The Imperial General Headquarters by direction of the Emperor, and pursuant to the surrender to the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers of all Japanese armed forces by the Emperor, hereby orders all of its commanders in Japan and abroad to cause the Japanese armed forces and Japanese-controlled forces under their command to cease hostilities at once, to lay down their arms, to remain in their present locations and to surrender unconditionally to commanders acting on behalf of the United States, the Republic of China, the United Kingdom and the British Empire, and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, as indicated hereafter or as may be further directed by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. Immediate contact will be made with the indicated commanders, or their designated representatives, subject to any changes in detail prescribed by the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, and their instructions will be completely and immediately carried out.

Similarly, General Order #1 (or rather, Law #1) provided to Moses is as follows

And God spoke all these words:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Exodus 20:1-6

Hundreds of laws were provided by MacArthur to the remnant of Japan, both in expansive general orders, specific directives, and judgments for which the Japanese government was leaned on to execute.

Of course, the existence of a General Order #2, #11, or even #614 would not imply that a “new” Instrument of Surrender must be executed!

The new commandment of love Jesus gives his disciples (John 13:34) presupposes the introduction of a New Covenant (John 13:34). p. 114

Of course, the negotiations preceding the signing of Japan’s instrument of surrender would have lead to conclusion about what such an Instrument of Surrender was going to entail, at least on a high level. For instance, more than two weeks passed between Emperor Hirohito’s Imperial Rescript of Surrender (publicly signalling the coming Allied covenant over Imperial forces) and the actual Instrument of Surrender.

But one must be wary here as to what is in mind by the introduction of “my covenant.” Which covenant is in view? Nothing explicitly covenantal has so far been advanced in this book.” p. 123

In our grandparent’s day, the Emperor Hirohito prophesied to his people about the coming great and terrible Day of MacArthur

The hardships and sufferings to which Our nation is to be subjected hereafter will be certainly great. We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all of you, Our subjects. However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is unsufferable.

Having been able to safeguard and maintain the Kokutai, We are always with you, Our good and loyal subjects, relying upon your sincerity and integrity.

Beware most strictly of any outbursts of emotion which may engender needless complications, or any fraternal contention and strife which may create confusion, lead you astray and cause you to lose the confidence of the world.

Let the entire nation continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith in the imperishability of its sacred land, and mindful of its heavy burden of responsibility, and of the long road before it.

Unite your total strength, to be devoted to construction for the future. Cultivate the ways of rectitude, foster nobility of spirit, and work with resolution – so that you may enhance the innate glory of the Imperial State and keep pace with the progress of the world.
Hirohito, in The Jewel Voice Broadcast

Moses, as transcribed later by the Hebrews, spoke much the same words, because men have much the same hearts:

Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren, …

“When you beget children and grandchildren and have grown old in the land, and act corruptly and make a carved image in the form of anything, and do evil in the sight of the Lord your God to provoke Him to anger, I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that you will soon utterly perish from the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess; you will not prolong your days in it, but will be utterly destroyed. And the Lord will scatter you among the peoples, and you will be left few in number among the nations where the Lord will drive you. And there you will serve gods, the work of men’s hands, wood and stone, which neither see nor hear nor eat nor smell. But from there you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the Lord your God and obey His voice (for the LORD your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them.
Moses, in Deuteronomy 4:9,25-31

The Eternal Submission of the Son

It helps us understand the context of the Exilic writings — from the final composition of the Torah to the literary Prophets — to know what they meant by “covenant.” It is not surprising that historical eras where Covenants were not an important legal document, such as the Kingdom or the Empire, did not prominent feature them in theological writings. What is surprising is that centuries later, a bizarre application of the covenant to the Trinity would appear: the Eternal Submission of the Son.

I’ll let a proponent — the Reformed (Calvinist) theologian Robert Letham — explain the history of this idea

Since Reformed theologian Johannes Cocceius (1603–1669) propounded the idea of the covenant of redemption, much Reformed theology has argued that Christ’s incarnate obedience reflects eternal relations. This idea holds that salvation rests on an intra-Trinitarian covenant, the Father stipulating that the Son should take human nature, make atonement for sin, and promising rewards for the faithful discharge of these duties, and the Son accepting the covenantal terms. Of this covenant, both Owen and Francis Turretin (1623–1687), for example, were notable exponents.

For there to be a Covenant of Submission — that is an Instrument of Surrender — between the Father and the Son, there must have been a previous state of war or anarchy between them! Or these Reformed theologians are using terms without concern for their original context, and are imputing meaning to the texts that was not there when they were written. My suspicion is the second, as evidence by Dumbrell’s garbled discussion of the relationship between a Covenant and a Law:

The references to “law” in Jer 3:33 causes us to reflect upon the relationship of covenant and law in the OT. Both terms were interdependent: covenant indicating prior relationship; law implying response. p. 90

(No one would describe the relationship of an Instrument of Surrender and a General Order this way, unless one wanted to be intentionally unclear.).

Nevertheless, by adopting the framework of war between the Father and the Son (even if unknowingly), such theologians are lead down dangerous roads. Specifically, they lead Dumbrell to rejecting or perverting much of the Christian message

1. Christ’s kingdom was extinguished
2. The message of the Gospel is one of rejection of Israel
3. Our relationship with Christ ends during the Eschaton

These tragic messages are addressed one at a time.

The Rejection of Christ the King

Dumbrell decomposes the titles of Christ and leads him in a direction that would often be considered idolatry. Read this line carefully

The Servant emobdies the covenant and ensures the fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise and transferral of the Davidic promises to the entire people. Ultimately, of course, this Servant is the exalted Son of Man. p. 78

The “covenant” is a creation of God. Jesus, for Christians, is God. Dumbrell identifies the Servant not with God, but with a ceature. This creature the “Son of Man,” also identifying the “Son of Man” as a creature.

Dumbrell, while arguably a non-Christian writer, is at least internally coherent. He agrees with Jews and Muslims that power and glory belongs to God, and not the creaturely Messiah:

The temple in Israel expresses the political rule of the LORD over his people, necessarily subordinating the messianic king. p. 50

Dumbrell is explicit that Christ does not inherit David’s kingdom, is not King of Israel, and men owe no earthly loyalty to him. Indeed, Christians should follow not Christ, but each other!

Thus the Davidic promises, now devoid of any political significance, are transferred to the total people of God. p. 100

To emphasize the point:

Ezek 40-48 makes no provision for Davidic kingship and indeed the term Heb. melek ‘king’ is not used for the political ruler in the future age; Heb. nasi’ “prince” is the preferred term (cf. 44:3, 45:7-8,16-17; 46:2; 48:21-22. This is consistent with the diminished role assigned by David and to kingship generally in the book. p. 59

Christians who await the Second Coming of Christ every week during church services…

For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.
1 Corinthians 1:26

… are probably surprised that this is because once he shows up we don’t need to worry about him now. A focus on Christ, in Dumbrell’s theology, is a burdensome part of the workaday world, not something we’ll need to pay attention to in the world to come:

Earlier we mentioned not only he comprehensiveness of the Son of Man’s ministry, but a limitation. This is underscored by the closing phrase of the Gospel. His ministry through the disciples will only remain to the end of the age. p. 106

This thoroughly minimized role of Jesus allows Dumbrell to cut-off Israel entirely. Indeed, the great news of the Gospel is that Israel is damned — or at least rejected

Jesus rejects the nation of Israel and creates a New Community. p. 120

The Gospels, by and large, concentrate on the rejection of Israel. p. 151

While Messiah was once a Jewish term, Dumbrell agress with the anti-Christian writer Stuart Federow that Christ is not a Jewish Messiah.

Thus, messianic rule is to be re-established, but not linked to the historical line of David. (p. 143)

Dumbrell is willing to go as far to implying that seat of Divine Governance has been transfered from Jersualem to Rome — an idea popular with some Catholic theologians — but a rare one among Protestants

By his journey to Rome Paul parallels the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, which ended in his arrest and death (Luke 9:51-18:17). In both journeys the rejection of Israel and Jerusalem had been pronounced. p. 29

The Gospel of Israel’s Rejection

While I’m sure an internal coherent (at least) idea of a Covenant within the Trinity might be established, Dumbrell’s own theology is not internally coherent. For instance, can God revoke a judgement He has pronounced? Dumbrell at first seems to agree with nearly all Christians in saying yes, of course, and this is what is meant by “redemption,” “salvation,” and the “forgiveness of sins”

Man is created to be king of his domain and, in view of his role in the garden in chapter 2, to be priest as well. If the fall robs him of this potential we will expect redemption to restore it and we will look for such features to be added in the NT. p. 176

But Dumbrell must deny this in order to maintain his theology of the defeated Son. To see this, observe the problem: God uses judgement to encourage better behavior. Even the most severe judgement can be overturned. The most striking example is the judgement against the House of David. God explicitly rejects any descendant of King Jehoiakim (a quisling for the Babylonians) from inheriting the throne of Israel. :

“As I live,” says the Lord, “though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, were the signet on My right hand, yet I would pluck you off…

Thus says the LORD:
‘Write this man down as childless,
A man who shall not prosper in his days;
For none of his descendants shall prosper,
Sitting on the throne of David,
And ruling anymore in Judah.’”
Jeremiah 22:24,30

But Jehoiakim’s grandson Sheatiel is explicitly listed as an ancestor of Jesus (1 Chronicles 3:15-17; Matthew 1:11-12; Luke 3:27). Anti-Christian writers like Stuart Federow use this as an argument against Jesus’s kingship.

If judgments cannot be revoked (on the arguments that judgement s are a horrific kind of promise, and not a method of encouraging us), then Christ is not the King of the Jews. But this prevents the redemptive power of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection that Christians believe in. No explanation for this contradiction exists in Dumbrell’s writings. Although he goes out of his way to deny a potential resolution for it.

Dumbrell acknowledges God makes everlasting promises to Israel

God’s presence among men is the also the hallmark of the New Covenant theology in the OT. Thus the everlasting covenant of peace concluded with Israel at the close of Ezekiel 37 entails the presence of God’s tabernacle with them (“I will be their God and they will be my people” vv 26-27). p. 79

But in Dumbrell’s theology, rejection counts for more than election. Dumbrell argues that God has rejeted forever Isreal, David, and even His own Son, as his Son is a direct biological descendant of King Jehiakim. Indeed, in Dumbrell’s theology the the Son of Man neither a Divine Ruler nor the LORD, and there is no room for Christ in the new world. Christ not only came in the guise of the servant, he ends in one, too.

A symbol, not the substance, a creature and not a creator:

Whatever else may be involved in the symbolism here, the “one like a Son of Man” seems plainly a symbol of divine rule. p. 187

The role of the Son of Man is reduced to that of a temple, a footstool, a position no higher than any other saved soul

The account closes with the martyr Stephen directing his worship to just such a site — the heavenly Son of Man, the New Temple (v. 56). p. 68

The Literature of the Bible

It’s not just that Dumbrell deceptively cites the Bible and promotes a heresy. He also has bad taste.

By this I mean that the Bible is not just the words of the LORD as written by prophets and scribe: its exciting! The writing is really good, and includes comedies, tragedies, romances, military adventures, family dramas, and even some horror.

A good example of a comedy is the Book of Jeremiah. It is written as a legal satire, where God sues Judah for divorce (after previously divorcing her sister, Israel). Early in the deposition God asks Judah where hasn’t she hasn’t broken her marriage vows — the list of locations where she has being so exhaustive a few denials would simply save time

“Lift up your eyes to the desolate heights and see:
Where have you not lain with men?
By the road you have sat for them
Like an Arabian in the wilderness;
And you have polluted the land
With your harlotries and your wickedness.
Jeremiah 3:2

A more disturbing work is the Book of Ezekiel. Indeed, I called it “the most disturbing book of the Bible I read so far,” and it may be the most disturbing book I read, ever. It subverts much of what the believer thinks. Even how the reader thinks of narrative, because Ezekiel is Brechtian work, like the Gospel According to John, in which the “suspension of disbelief” (or rather, the suspension of knowing you are reading) is intentionally subverted. You are supposed to end reading the books knowing you are reading a book.

For instance of the four Gospels, only John concludes with the narrator explicitly telling the reader he is reading a book, or where the narrator reveals he is not omniscient.

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
Matthew 28:18-20

So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen.
Mark 16:19-20

And He led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. Now it came to pass, while He blessed them, that He was parted from them and carried up into heaven. And they worshiped Him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple praising and blessing God. Amen.
Luke 24:50-53

And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.
John 21:25

This is called the “distancing effect.” It’s on display not only when the narrator comes directly onto “camera” (as in the end of John’s gospel), but when “you” the reader are directly addressed. (Somewhere, in this long monologue, you realize that He is speaking to you.)

Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.

Very truly, I tell you, the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live…

And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.

You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you.
John 5:24-25,37-39

or Ezekiel, where the logical flow of a scene (God addressing Israel and Judah) is mischievously interrupted by an additional “you”

Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed, when you receive your older and your younger sisters; for I will give them to you for daughters, but not because of My covenant with you. And I will establish My covenant with you. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never open your mouth anymore because of your shame, when I provide you an atonement for all you have done,” says the LORD God.’”
Ezekiel 16:60-63

Dumbrell is mystified by all of this

Somewhat puzzlingly, verse 61 remarks that the reception of the two erstwhile erring daughters, Jerusalem and Samaria (surrogates for north and south), will not be on account of the covenant with you.” Perhaps this must be interpreted to mean that there will be no easy mechanical transition to the new age. p. 96

This distancing effect can also be created by breaking other the terms under which a book is read. For instance, if a book which includes formulaic condemnations of real countries suddenly include condemnations of imaginary lands, the reader will see this breaking of genre boundarie and remember they are reading. (Unless the reader does not pick up on this!)

After the interlude of Gog from Magog in chapters 38-39, the unfolding of the nature of the divine indwelling in the final age proceeds in the new temple prophecies of 40-48. p. 96

Or if land boundaries, which for obvious reasons are carefully marked, suddenly become hallucinatory. —

“Now these are the names of the tribes: From the northern border along the road to Hethlon at the entrance of Hamath, to Hazar Enan, the border of Damascus northward, in the direction of Hamath, there shall be one section for Dan from its east to its west side; by the border of Dan, from the east side to the west, one section for Asher; by the border of Asher, from the east side to the west, one section for Naphtali
Ezekial 48:1-3

Somehow the idea of twelve equal stripes leads Dumbrell to call such an arraingemnt “traditional,” when it is so rational as to become dream-like

The division of the land is undertaken with regard to the ideal borders expressed in the older traditions (cf. Num 34:1-12). p. 58


There is so much odd or objectionable in Dumbrell’s theology it is difficul to know where to begin, or end. But perhaps a single comparison will serve to demonstrate, for the purposes of memory, the difference between Dumbrell’s extended attack on the Hebrew nation and the faith of all other Christians. For Dumbrell sees the Kingdom as a disaster, because God owrks by giving charisms to certain men, and is powerless to select who is born

In the area of the Judges, God spontaneously raised up men of his choice to meet the crisis of the time. No longer could such an element of charisma perdominate in the contemplated kingship for which Israel asks. p. 13

The Christian religion does not deny the power of charism. But rather, sees all men with all their charisms saved by the Divine choice, when a creature gave birth to a royal Creator:

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
Isaiah 9:6-7

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One thought on “Review of “The End of the Beginning: Revelation 21-22 and the Old Testament,” by William Dumbrell
  1. I find your review to be overly critical and unfair towards Dumbrell. I find you to be making broad assumptions regarding his writing and your arguments misleading. It is an unfortunate and unpalatable expository on the work of a genuinely gifted scholar.

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