As announced earlier, a debate took place on June 3rd between Dr. Michael Brown and Dr. Don K. Preston regarding Romans 11:25-27. The debate lasted for 1 hour, 45 minutes and was moderated by Dr. James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries. Don K. Preston is an author, pastor, and the president of Preterist Research Institute (websites 1, 2, and 3), and Michael Brown is an author, professor, and radio host (websites 1, 2, and 3). Both men have authored 22 books each.
The key questions for the debate were as follows: “Does Romans 11:25-27 state that there will be a national turning of the Jewish people to God? Are there any Old Testament promises made to ethnic Israel that remain to be fulfilled?” Both men had 17 minutes each to make their initial case, 12 minutes each to rebut the other’s arguments, 15 minutes each to cross-examine the other, and five minutes each for concluding statements. Here’s the video of the debate, followed by the less-than-perfect notes I took while watching it. (I’ve also included the video time markers for each section of the debate, and my additional thoughts are in red font.)
A. Introduction by Dr. James White (0:00 – 3:53)
B1. Michael Brown’s Initial Case (3:54 – 20:54)
According to Michael Brown, Romans 11:25-27 is about “ethnic, national Israel” and a future “national turning of the Jewish people.” (Will the unsaved Palestinians and expatriates living in Israel be excluded from this national turning because they’re not Jewish? Will Jews living outside Israel be excluded as well?)
Michael distinguishes this entity, Israel, from “the Gentile church.” (I’m not sure what “the Gentile church” is, since there is no Jew or Gentile in Jesus Christ, and no distinction – Romans 10:12-13, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11.) Paul is looking forward to the full inclusion of Jews, says Michael, not just a remnant. The “partial hardening” of Israel is partial in that it’s not for all time. This hardening, though, is still on Jewish hearts to this day.
–The “fullness of the Gentiles” refers to salvation for Gentiles.
–The church is not Jacob (in reference to Jeremiah 31).
–The wolf is not yet laying down with the lamb. (Paul demonstrates otherwise in Romans 15 by quoting from the same section of Isaiah 11 where it’s predicted that the wolf would lay down with the lamb. Paul applied this passage to Gentiles, in his day, putting their hope in Christ along with Jews. See here for more details.)
–We haven’t yet seen the renovating of the universe spoken of in II Peter 3. (I personally see Peter’s prophecy as speaking of the burning of the Jerusalem temple and the destruction of the old covenant system in 70 AD, as did Eusebius, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and others in church history. See here for more.)
–The new covenant was inaugurated with the remnant, but not yet with the nation as a whole.
–“If words mean anything, _____________ has not happened” (in reference to a number of things that Michael Brown believes have not yet been fulfilled).
–The expression “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26) will not necessarily include all Jews, but will include many of them. (Is this because it won’t include Jews living outside Israel, or is this an admission that God only promised to save a remnant from Israel? I was surprised to hear Michael Brown say this.)
B2. Don Preston’s Initial Case (21:41 – 38:37)
Don Preston agrees that Romans 11:25-27 deals with ethnic Israel, and adds that verses 28-29 deal with ethnic Israel and Jewish unbelievers. Don lists the following Scriptures as providing the background to Paul’s teaching here: Deuteronomy 32:18, 43; Isaiah 26:21, 27:10-13, 59:1-21; Jeremiah 31; and Daniel 9:24-27.
–Both judgment and salvation are in view in Isaiah 26-27 and in Isaiah 59, including judgment for the shedding of innocent blood (themes in Matthew 21, 23; Revelation 6, 16-19; etc.).
–Hosea predicts both the divorce of Israel and God’s promise of remarriage for Israel. This is what Paul is speaking of in Romans 11. The remnant of Israel was to be joined with new covenant believers from other nations, and all of them made one in Jesus.
–God would slay the kingdom, but preserve the family.
–“Paul is dealing with the climax of Israel’s covenant history” in Romans 11.
C1. Michael Brown’s Rebuttal (39:16 – 51:13)
–The temple has not yet been rebuilt.
–Israel has not yet welcomed Jesus back (Matthew 23:39).
–Atonement has been made, but not yet received by national Israel.
–Isaiah 60 predicts that Israel would rise and shine, but this hasn’t happened yet. (What if the light that would shine was Jesus, and a remnant of Israel would rise with believers from other nations and shine with His light? See here for more.)
–Israel’s return from Babylonian exile in the 6th century did not happen with the expected and predicted glory. Those prophecies only happened in part.
C2. Don Preston’s Rebuttal (51:33 – 1:03:33)
–In I Peter 1, Peter said that the prophets looked into the salvation we have experienced in Christ, and they did not understand the time or the manner of its fulfillment.
–Hosea 3 predicted that the 10 northern tribes of Israel would be without a temple, altar, ephod, and sacrifices until the last days when David would be their king.
–In II Peter 2, Peter writes to the 12 tribes of the diaspora, referring to them as a royal priesthood called to make spiritual sacrifices. Jesus, of course, is exalted to the throne of David. Hosea’s predictions for Israel were fulfilled in Peter’s day.
D1. Michael Brown’s Cross-examination of Don Preston (1:04:36 – 1:19:36)
Michael Brown posed this question to Don Preston: “How was all Israel saved in 70 AD and how is there no longer hardening on Israel today?” The following are some of Don’s replies to this and other questions that came up:
–God never promised to save the entire nation of Israel. In fact, Paul quoted Isaiah in saying that only a remnant would be saved (Romans 9:27-28).
–The remnant of Israel was transferred from the old covenant body to the new covenant body. “All Israel will be saved” = The full number of the remnant will come in.
–Any hardening of Jewish hearts in Israel today is not in fulfillment of Romans 11:25, which was a prophecy for Paul’s generation.
–James, who also addressed the 12 tribes, testified that he was among the first fruits gathering of Jewish believers (James 1:18).
–Don addresses the fulfillment of Isaiah 2, in context of Isaiah 2-4, and Jesus’ application of portions of Isaiah 2 in Luke 23:28-31.
D2. Don Preston’s Cross-examination of Michael Brown (1:19:53 – 1:34:54)
Don Preston posed this question to Michael Brown: On what basis can we reject or look beyond instances when the New Testament writers spiritually apply Old Testament promises that, on the surface, appear to require literal or physical fulfillments? The following are some of Michael’s replies to this question:
–If a later interpretation undermines an earlier prophecy, it has to be discounted.
–“If the New Testament writers made void the words of the Old Testament prophets, then it’s the New Testament writers who have to be rightly questioned” (1:22:40). “Consistent interpretation says they made nothing void. They just gave further insight into the meaning of the prophets.”
Don Preston posed this question to Michael Brown: Was the establishment of the kingdom truly at hand when Jesus said it was? The following are some of Michael’s replies to this question:
–“We’ve been in the last days for the last 2000 years.”
–We are in the transition age that has many “untils.”
Don Preston posed this question to Michael Brown: Peter said, “The end of all things is near” (I Peter 4:7), and Paul said that the consummation (or the goal) of all previous ages was upon his generation” (I Corinthians 10:11). What is the significance of these statements if we are still waiting for the events of the last days to take place? The following are some of Michael’s replies to this question:
–“I take all those things seriously, including I John 1:18” (“Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour“).
–We live in a holy tension now, as many prophecies are not fully realized.
–“In Isaiah 49 the Messiah appears to have failed in His mission to Israel. And the Lord says to Him, ‘not only will you regather the lost tribes of Israel (national restoration), but You will also be a light to the nations.’ Hence, Isaiah 42 speaks of a persevering until.” (??? I had a hard time understanding what Michael meant here.)
–The national repentance of Israel (Zechariah 12:10-13) hasn’t happened yet.
–“We are living in the last hour.” (How is this possible if John said it was the last hour in the first century, nearly 2000 years ago? This would mean that “the last hour” has lasted longer than the entire old covenant age, which was 1300 years. See here for more.)
E1. Michael Brown’s Closing Statement (1:35:33 – 1:40:34)
“The Israel that is hardened, that has rejected the Messiah, will be the Israel that turns back fully.”
E2. Don Preston’s Closing Statement (1:40:47 – 1:45:49)
–“Isaiah 27 and Isaiah 59 foretold that the salvation of Israel would take place at the time of the judgment of Israel for shedding the innocent blood of the martyrs.”
–Jesus said this blood, from the beginning of Israel’s history until His generation, was going to be held to Israel’s account in Jesus’ own generation in the form of judgment.
–The time of the putting away of Israel’s sin in Daniel 9:24-27 is confined to the 70 weeks and the related destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, as Michael Brown concurred earlier in the debate. Therefore, the putting away of Israel’s sin in Romans 11 occurred no later than 70 AD.
–Judah had to be divorced in the same way the 10 tribes were, according to the Old Testament prophets and Jesus. In Matthew 22 those who rejected the wedding invitation persecuted and killed God’s servants. Jerusalem, the principal city of Judah, was to be burned at the time of the marriage promised in the Old Testament. This happened in 70 AD, and this is also in accordance with Revelation 18-19 where Babylon the Great (earlier identified as “the city where our Lord was crucified – Rev. 11:8) was to be burned just before Jesus married New Jerusalem. God married the remnant of Israel along with believers from all other nations.
Final thoughts: This was a very civil debate, which was great to see. Both men showed a high level of respect toward the other. I wish Don Preston would have given his perspective on “the fullness of the Gentiles” and also that he would have said more about “the partial hardening” that was on Israel. I understand that there were time pressures, however.
Personally I believe that only Jesus’ generation in Israel was under this hardening, in accordance with Jesus’ frequent statements that they were an evil, wicked, vile, faithless, and adulterous generation; and in accordance with His declaration that they had dull hearts, ears hard of hearing, closed eyes, etc. (see Matthew 13:10-17).
Concerning “the fullness of the Gentiles,” I personally believe this is not related at all to Gentiles being saved, but rather to the Gentile nations that had dominion over Israel from the time of Daniel onward: Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. This period would end with the 3.5 year trampling of Jerusalem by the Gentiles (compare Romans 11:25 with Luke 21:24 and Revelation 11:1-2). The significance is that New Jerusalem, the new covenant community, is free (Galatians 4:21-31).
God’s promise of a new covenant for the house of Israel (Jeremiah 31) has been fulfilled in the church, the spiritual house built on the foundation of the apostles (ministers of the new covenant – II Cor. 3:5-6), with Jesus as the Chief Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:11-22).
Your thoughts on this debate are welcome in the comment section below.