Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Theology and Doctrine


Theology is the study of divine things or religious truth. It is the field of study and analysis that treats of God and of God’s attributes and relations to the universe. It can also be defined as a study about God which is done in a systematic and careful way. Systematic theology involves collecting and understanding all the relevant passages in the Bible on various topics and then summarizing their teachings clearly so that what we should believe about each topic is clear.[1]


Doctrine is a body or system of teachings relating to a particular subject. It could be a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated by a religion or government. In biblical terms, a doctrine is what the whole Bible teaches us today about some particular topic. Doctrine is the result of doing systematic theology in regard to one particular topic.[2] Doctrine can be very broad or very narrow.

Object of Theology

The object of theology is that it should both be objective and subjective. Many people think that studying theology has to do with only intellect of a person and a person does theology only with mind. Theology as sapientia (wisdom) and as scientia (knowledge) is important. Knowing about God or adding knowledge is not enough when we do theology. Knowing God personally should be the direction in which we are moving as a result of studying theology. Doing theology is important to communicating Christian beliefs and faith to the outside world. Most important, theology should help as to know God and love him. Understanding the nature of God is important for a believer and doing theology helps in doing this. Theology is also important for the church to flourish as a church[3].  For the church to survive, it is important that its theology be correct. Church is the home of theology.

The ultimate purpose of theology is spiritual. It is the science of God that enables faithful Christ-followers to know God more and to find spiritual wisdom[4].

Theological Method

Theological method refers to the way in which a person does his theology. It has to do with the way a person finds meaning from the text of the Bible. Methods are followed to come to a conclusion about the meaning of the text. Doctrines are derived from the text of the Bile and hence theological method plays an important role in the formation of different doctrines.  Different theologians use different theological methods when doing their theology. It is important to note if a theologian is using the method correctly when he deals with important texts related to various subjects. Different theologies like systematic theology, biblical theology and historical theology use different methods to derive their results.

The topic of theological method is important for Christians because the Great Commission given by Jesus Christ requires his disciples to go and preach the gospel and make disciples. This Commission does not end there but we are supposed to teach them to obey everything which Jesus commanded. It requires teaching the content of his teachings to people.  According to B.B. Warfield, it is very important that we communicate the substance of biblical teaching in a way that will make sense to the person living on our generation. The Christian belief should be the basis on which everything else gets stated. Modern thought should not be the basis on which we derive Christian beliefs. We should state modern thoughts in terms of Christian beliefs. How we communicate while teaching plays an important role in determining if correct beliefs are thought.

Theological methods should not be seen as more authoritative than the Word of God itself. No method is equivalent to the revelation given in the Scriptures. So it is very important to remember that theological methods are results of human thinking and analysis. We use theological methods to develop and communicate the revelation found in the Scriptures in an effective way, but this can never be seen as authoritative as Scriptures itself.

Theology as a Spiritual Enterprise

Doing theology is properly regarded as a spiritual enterprise. When done with the right attitude it should help a person to grow spiritually. It should enhance the religious or spiritual experiences of a theologian. It is important that a minister of God is learned as well as godly so that he will not only teach others but will also be able to lead a religious life.  Theology helps a person grow in devotional life as he understands about the divine nature of God. According to B.B. Warfield, the unique end of theology is to make God known. The student of theology is brought by his daily task into the presence of God and is kept there. Depth of his spiritual culture can be developed as a result of this. Just as an enterprise, it is important and not easy. It needs the grace and help of God as theology not only concerns with knowledge which people acquire as a result of his study but it also results in spiritual growth.


Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Clark, David K. To Know and Love God: Method for Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2003.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 21.

[2] Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 25.

[3] David K. Clark, To Know And Love God: Method for Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), 210.

[4] Clark, To Know And Love God: Method for Theology, 219.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021


 Introduction to Perspectivalism

'Relativism' is the doctrine that knowledge, truth, and morality exist in relation to culture, society, or historical context and are not absolute. It is the belief that different things are true, right, etc., for different people or at different times. It can also be defined as a theory that knowledge is relative to the limited nature of the mind and the conditions of knowing or a view that ethical truths depend on the individuals and groups holding them. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge. A form of relativism in epistemology is perspectivalism, the idea that all knowledge is "from a point of view" and therefore suspect.

Two views on Perspectivalism

Commitment to Total Perspectivalism

One view is a total commitment to perspectivalsim. They are the ones who believe that the idea of objective truth is entirely suspect and claim that all knowledge is embedded in a perspective. They will say that there is no ultimate perspective and no "God's-eye" point of view. It implies that all knowledge is locked into a particular person's or specific culture's way of seeing the world, and this emphasis calls us to question whether genuine, objective knowledge of God or anything else is possible at all.

Resist Commitment to Total Perspectivalism

The other view is that we cannot commit to total perspectivalism. They focus on the idea that "truth is ultimately true," at the same time will acknowledge that cultural variability is real. Despite cultural variability, they work with strategies to shift out false ideas, to identify culturally variable ideas, and to hone in on ideas that are in some way objectively true or which is true for all. Perspectives are recognized at different levels, but they will resist commitment to total perspectivalism.


Personal view on Perspectivalism

A total commitment to perspectivalism is incompatible with true Christian theology.  The human perspective cannot know everything about God but they gradually and partially contact what is true by using the epistemic capacities and belief-forming abilities God created within.  Perspectives do shape human knowing, but there is a reason to reject strong perspectivalism. It is a largely postmodern mentality that revels in a leveling of conflicting viewpoints, but we have to overcome fragmentation and find unity in truth. People living in different cultures will have different perspectives about different things, but a truth about creator God is absolute, and we have to find ways to bring out this truth among various viewpoints. I think it is possible since the same God created everything and revealed himself to everyone.

Knowledge of God and Postmodernism Challenges

God is a divine being who is removed and foreign from our own experiences. Our desire to know if there is a God leads us to the question of who is God or if it is possible to have the knowledge of God. There are many competing claims about gods or God being made by different religions.

The Bible is clear that the only reason we know God is because God spoke first and revealed himself to us. So we can know God, not due to our own search or experiences but because God chose to reveal himself to us. We cannot completely define God, but we can describe based on how God has revealed himself to us. God is not an object to be studied because when we study or analyze an object, we stand over and above the object, and we decide what that object is and what it can and cannot be. In order words, we have authority over our study's object, and it is not true with God. We cannot discover or analyze God, but God speaks to us. God is a free subject, and neither creation nor self-revelation is necessary for God to be God.  So everything we can say about God is, at the end, derivative, a reflection back to the source of the self-revelation we try to describe.

Relativism and pluralism have taken root in the current culture, and many unbelievers come from this worldview. They claim that the knowledge is embedded in a person's views or a culture's views. So this knowledge is not a reliable guide to the absolute truth. So they would argue that truth is relative, and it can be different for different people. So the statement that 'truth is relative' is absolute truth, and hence it will be a self-defeating statement by proving that truth is not relative.  On the other hand, if the truth is absolute, then we can make the statement that "truth is absolute" and it will be true and not self-defeating.  Even postmodernism claims there is no truth and only one truth, which is postmodernism. By stating that, they are accepting that there is absolute truth, and it becomes undeniable.  So if there is no absolute truth, then we cannot be sure of anything, and we have to accept pluralist or agnostic view. Absolute truth will be narrow and will exclude what is opposite to itself.  Absolute truth is not impacted by the seekers desire and sincerity as it does not change false to true or transform the false as the truth.

Postmodernists reject the idea of "objective truth."  It is important to understand the historical origins of postmodernism. Throughout the West's history, philosophers and theologians affirmed the objective character of ethics and religion and did not think that these truths were relative to individuals or cultures. They thought that it was relevant and applicable to all people universally. Plato thought that we could know ideal truths by deductive reasoning, while Aristotle believed that we could understand them by inductive reasoning. They both were realists and thought that every human being has a goal towards which they should aim. During the Middle Ages and Reformation, theologians and philosophers affirmed a belief in universal, objective truth. During the Age of Enlightenment, rationalism, and empiricism gained ground. Rationalism emphasized the adequacy of human reason to comprehend and know the objective and rational truth, while empiricism emphasized that we can only know what we can touch, taste, smell, see or hear. 

David Hume developed empiricist thought and insisted that morals are just our passions and reason is their slave to serve them. Immanuel Kant tried to answer Hume's empiricism in order to defend rationalism, but he accepted the idea that all knowledge comes by way of the five senses. Kant's view developed the idea that science gives us knowledge and facts while other disciplines like religion can only give us values or personal opinions. Later emphasis in philosophy was shifted from experience to language – a shift that came to be known as "the linguistic turn" – and it marked a turn towards postmodern thought.  

Postmodern thought rejected the idea of objective truth since it believed that there is a real-world, but we cannot know it without talking about it. We are on the inside of language, and there is no way to get out of it to know the real world truly or objectively. They also reject that there is a universal truth that holds true for all people at all times.  There are many languages, and each word's meaning depends on the social settings and grammatical rules of a particular culture. So there is no way to know reality in its true form, and it depends on how we talk in our respective communities. So from a postmodernist view, since there is no way to know truth objectively, there is no such thing as objective truth.

Those who endorse a classically Protestant understanding of "right reason" would say that although objective truth can be known, it cannot be known objectively. Protestants focus on the fact of human depravity and take the Fall and original sin seriously. They insist that the regenerate alone have the moral ability to see the revealed truth, which is glorious. In regeneration, Holy Spirit works through the word and brings a transformation that helps a person view things differently from how it was seen before. He sees everything in light of the Scripture, and they look through the eyes of faith through Scripture. They alone have the ability to see the revealed truth, and it is objectively glorious. Personal experience and devotion play a role in this, and hence it cannot be without bias. If objective reality is the immediate object of perception, then it can be known objectively. But objective truth is not an object of perception and hence cannot be known objectively.   

Another significant issue with postmodern thinking is that the authority to derive meaning lies in each individual's hands.  The authority is from within a person and not from outside. This has an impact on how people view religious authority also. Christianity can no longer demand nor expect any privileged status to make its truth claims in such a climate. So Christian faith does not have any special claim in the open but has to stand by competing beliefs. So Christian apologetics has to become more relational and dialogue based in a postmodern society. Christian exclusiveness has often created a problem of our inability to dialogue with people outside our faith in a meaningful way.  Without engaging in meaningful conversation, it is not possible to engage a postmodern mind. There was a time when the tool most used by Christians for reaching out to the lost world was just evangelistic preaching. The times have changed, and non-believers will no longer give their attention or, most of the time, do not show interest in attending an evangelistic meeting. In such circumstances, it is important to rely on different tools like a personal relationship, continuous witnessing, being patient with the person, etc. The Holy Spirit's help is still very much needed, but how the postmodern mind works make it essential to continue the dialogue. In some cases, it could be the combination of many people impacting a person in different ways, ultimately leading a person to Christ. So it is crucial to continue and not give up when we do not see an immediate response.

It is also crucial that we have a clear understanding of truth and make sure that the person we witness knows about the knowledgeable truth.  Unless the foundation of absolute truth is not solid, we may not be able to drive the person to believe in one true God.  Once a person acknowledges the existence of one true God, we can claim Jesus Christ being the son of God who came to save humanity. If we try to talk about Jesus to the postmodern mind that views everything in a relative view without dealing with the concept of truth and God first, it will be difficult to understand why Jesus is unique.


To discuss faith, we can also apply reason and logic in matters of religion. If we apply reason and logic, then pluralism is ruled out because it is illogical and contradictory to believe that diametrically opposing truth claims can both be right. Now all religions and belief systems cannot be true at the same time since they contradict each other. We know that truth cannot be self-contradictory. Many religions are claiming to be the ultimate truth, including Christianity. Christians make the exclusive claim that the God revealed in the Bible is the only true God. Muslims claim that Islam is the only true religion.  When we apply the test of logical consistency, empirical adequacy, and existential relevancy, Christianity provides the right answers and stands out among other religions.

Relativism has made it difficult to change a postmodern mind to acknowledge an absolute truth.  Perspectivalism is popular in the culture today, but a Christian cannot give a commitment to total perspectivalism. We cannot ignore the influence and the reality of perspectives, but that does not negate the fact about absolute truth.  For the Christian, the ultimate expression of truth is found in the Bible, in Jesus who said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life..." (John 14:6).  Of course, most philosophers and skeptics will dismiss His claim, but he is the mainstay of hope, security, and guidance for the Christian. 



Clark, David K., and John S. Feinberg. To Know and Love God: Method for Theology. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2003.

Burge, Gary M. Theology Questions Everyone Asks: Christian Faith in Plain Language. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2014.


Sunday, December 27, 2020

A Literature Review of Azusa Street Revival, focusing on Racial Segregation and its Implication on Pentecostal movement

Most of the Pentecostal denominations traces back its history to the Azusa Street Revival. This literature review is limited to key developments and issues, and will focus on two areas:

·       racial segregation, and

·       implications on the Pentecostal movement.

Azusa Street Revival and Interracial Meetings

William Joseph Seymour (1870-1922), the African American pastor of the Azusa Street Mission, was the son of former slaves.[1] Seymour came in contact with Charles F. Parham and enrolled in his Bible school in Houston, Texas. Segregation law did not allow Seymour to take a seat inside the classroom, but Parham allowed him to attend from the hallway. Parham was teaching about a “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” with accompanying empowerment for service and ministry along with speaking in other tongues. Seymour got an invitation to serve as the pastor of a congregation in Los Angeles and accepted it. After being asked to leave his congregation due to a doctrinal dispute, Seymour started speaking at a small group and on April 9, 1906, there was a visitation of the Holy Spirit and a revival started, featuring frequent speaking in tongues.

Though the revival originated in an African-American prayer meeting in a still segregated Los Angeles, the congregation was soon interracial, with blacks and whites praying and singing together.[2] Douglas Nelson[3]  and Frank Bartleman[4] wrote that “the ‘color line’ was washed away by the blood” referring to the integrated gatherings at the mission that defied segregation. Although led by a black man, white people were coming to the meetings and the leadership included men and women. The participants came from a number of nationalities resident in the city, giving it an international character even prior to the influx of visitors from outside.[5] This period was dominated by Jim Crow segregation, the Ku Klux Klan, Nativism, Social Darwinism and racial purity. Seymour’s message was radically egalitarian, transformative, about racial equality and transnational multicultural global Christianity which ran against the grain of U.S. society.[6]

Parham and Durham controversies and Segregation in Azusa Street Mission

In 1906, Charles Parham charged Azusa Street Mission with ‘fanaticism’, yet his later writings demonstrate that his real issue was the interracial mingling which was going on in the revival. He reported on Los Angeles:

“1 have seen meetings where all crowded together around the altar, and laying across one another like hogs, blacks, and whites mingling; this should be enough to bring a blush of shame to devils, let alone angels, and yet all this was charged to the Holy spirit”.[7]

He also stated that white women, perhaps of wealth and culture could be seen thrown back into the arms of a big ‘buck nigger,’ and held tightly.[8] Parham set up a rival mission siphoning off white followers from Azusa Street and tried to split the fledgling movement along racial lines but failed.

In 1911, William Durham became the interim pastor while Seymour was traveling and led a devastating schism. Durham’s dynamic preaching abilities attracted a large crowd. He was preaching on the “finished work of Calvary” and Seymour had to lock him out of the mission, which led to the formation of a rival mission with two-thirds of participants from Azusa mission. After Durham’s death in 1912, the participants joined white missions or formed their own independent churches. This led many to lament that Pentecostal mission was hopelessly divided but it is precisely this built-in tendency to fragment that has kept the Pentecostal Movement one of the fastest-growing religious movement in the world.[9]

For Seymour, unity was manifested in the interracial and trans-cultural experience of worship in the Spirit.[10] In 1915, after several attempts by white leaders to take over Apostolic Faith Mission, Seymour reluctantly revised the constitution and Articles of Incorporation to exclude whites from the governing board and serving as bishops while allowing them to remain on the Board of Trustees.[11] He stated that it was not done to discriminate but for peace, to keep down the race war and friction in the church. Seymour’s opposition mostly came from whites and he continued to encounter racism throughout his ministry.[12]

Implications of Racial Integration and Segregation on the Pentecostal Movement

The racial integration in the Azusa Street meetings was unique at that time, ethnic minorities discovered a sense of dignity that the community denied them in the larger culture. Seymour's leadership team was fully integrated with women and men being responsible for various aspects of the work.[13] The interracial and intercultural nature of the Mission was one of the reasons for its success as well as the remarkable expansion of Pentecostalism across the globe.

The interracial period could not continue forever. In 1914, the white ministers belonging to Charles H. Mason’s Church of God in Christ called for a convention of Pentecostal leaders to meet in Hot Spring, Arkansas which resulted in the formation of Assemblies of God.[14]  Joe Newman chronicles the influence of racism in early Pentecostalism and in the Assemblies of God.[15] He contends that the evidence indicates that some key leaders deliberately attempted to exclude African Americans from full participation in the denomination because they were racist and did not want to desegregate the ministerial ranks or the local churches.  In 1923, a group of Hispanic ministers formed their own organization because they felt that they were restricted by their affiliation with a primarily Anglo group due to the discrimination that they received from the Anglo missionaries and executive officers and the refusal of the Assemblies of God to grant the Mexican pastors autonomy and financial support commensurate with that of the Anglos.[16]

William Seymour was called by God to become the leader of a racially inclusive congregation with a massive revival in the midst of a segregated society. His message of racial and ethnic equality could be affirmed by South African blacks and colored people during the height of apartheid era.[17] The fastest growing churches in India, Indonesia, China, South Korea, and the Philippines are Pentecostal.[18] Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine notes that the Pentecostal and charismatic churches succeeded most in being interracial.[19]

Other Segregation related Developments in the Pentecostal Movement

As Pentecostal Movement spread, many of the secessions which occurred earlier in western Pentecostal mission efforts in Africa and Asia were partly the result of cultural and social insensitivities on the part of missionaries, and in some cases, there was racism, ethnocentrism, and ethical failure.[20]  

The Pentecostal Mission (TPM), is a Pentecostal denomination which originated in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka. It was founded by Pastor Paul, a Hindu converted under the ministry of Assemblies of God missionary Walter E. Clifford. Later Pastor Paul and others broke away from Clifford with the desire to create an indigenous church that would reflect the values of the Ceylonese culture rather than those of an American culture.[21]

On October 17-19, 1994, the all-white Pentecostal Fellowship of North America (PFNA) met in Memphis to admit its racist past and to meet with African-American Pentecostals concerning the establishment of an integrated association. The result was the dissolution of the PFNA and the establishment of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Churches of North America (PCCNA), with the governing board of six whites and six African Americans.[22]


Some scholars argue for the prominence of Charles Parham, a white man, while others for William Seymour, an African-America for the beginning of the Pentecostal Movement. The position that appeals to God's sovereignty or to a theory of spontaneous origins seeks to mitigate the substantial contribution of both men. Some Pentecostals contend that they are entirely independent of any contribution from North America, thereby seeking to limit the effects of colonialism.[23]

Seymour’s social consciousness and theology of racial reconciliation and multicultural, transformative and egalitarian Christianity created an alternative vision and a message that challenged the church to live up to its professed ideals of unity in Christ and liberty and justice for all.[24] We can say from an objective point of view that God has overcome racial and social segregation through Azusa Street revival.[25] The fact that major secessions within Pentecostal movements were results of segregation highlights the importance of racial issues and how it divides people. We will see a true revival when we embrace the truth that there will be diversity in practices, but we are created in God’s image and called to be united.

[1] Cecil M. Robeck, The Azusa Street Mission and Revival: The Birth of the Global Pentecostal Movement (Nashville: Nelson Reference & Electronic, 2006), 4.

[2] Thomas P Rausch, "Catholics and Pentecostals: troubled history, new initiatives." Theological Studies 71, no. 4 (2010): 928, accessed July 6, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[3] Amos Yong, "Doctrines and the discipline of the Azusa Street Apostolic Faith Mission of Los Angeles, California, by William J Seymour." Pneuma 26, no. 2 (2004): 403, accessed July 6, 2016, ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[4] Jack W. Hayford and S. David Moore, The Charismatic Century: The Enduring Impact of the Azusa Street Revival (New York: Warner Faith, 2006), 80.

[5] Dale T. Irvin, “'Drawing All Together in One Bond of Love': The Ecumenical Vision of William J Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival." Journal of Pentecostal Theology 3, no. 6 (1995): 26, accessed July 6, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[6] Gaston Espinosa, The Azusa Street Revival and Its Legacy, ed. Harold D. Hunter, and Cecil M. Robeck (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2009), 47.

[7] Irvin, “'Drawing All Together in One Bond of Love',” 29.

[8] Espinosa, 49.

[9] Espinosa, 54.

[10] Irvin, “'Drawing All Together in One Bond of Love',” 32.

[11] Espinosa, 51.

[12] Benjamin Pugh, "'Under the blood' at Azusa Street: exodus typology at the heart of Pentecostal origins." The Journal of Religious History 39, no. 1 (2015): 13, accessed June 24, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[13] Allan H. Anderson, "The Azusa Street revival and the emergence of Pentecostal missions in the early twentieth century." Transformation 23, no. 2 (2006): 4, accessed July 6, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[14] Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1997), 171-174.

[15] Lewis Brogdon, "Race and the Assemblies of God church: the journey from Azusa Street to the miracle of Memphis." Pneuma 32, no. 3 (2010): 1, accessed July 6, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[16] Everett A. Wilson and Ruth Marshall Wilson, Portraits of a Generation: Early Pentecostal Leaders, ed. James R. Goff, and Grant Wacker (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2002), 169.

[17] Robeck, The Azusa Street Mission and Revival, 12.

[18] Thomas P. Rausch, "Catholics and Pentecostals: troubled history, new initiatives." Theological Studies 71, no. 4 (2010): 930, accessed June 24, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[19] David Neff, "Pentecostals: the sequel. What will it take for this world phenomenon to stay vibrant for another 100 years?" Christianity Today 50, no. 4 (2006): 10, accessed July 6, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[20] Allan H. Anderson, “The Emergence of a Multidimensional Global Missionary Movement: Trends, Patterns, and Expressions.” in Spirit and Power: The Growth and Global Impact of Pentecostalism, ed. Donald E. Miller, Kimon H. Sargeant, and Richard Flory (New York: Oxford University Press,2013), 37.

[21] David Mowers and Timothy Senapatiratne, “The ‘Pentecostalization’ of the World”: Race, Theology, and the Classical Pentecostal Tradition”, The Princeton Theological Review 41, no. 2 (Fall 2009):  ,61-62, accessed July 7 2016,

[22] Frank D Macchia, "From Azusa to Memphis: Where Do We Go From Here? Roundtable Discussions on the Memphis Colloquy." Pneuma 18, no. 1(1996): 113-140, accessed July 6, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[23] Cecil M. Robeck Jr, "Pentecostalism and mission: from Azusa street to the ends of the earth." Missiology 35, no. 1 (2007): 2, accessed June 24, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[24] Hunter and Robeck, The Azusa Street Revival and Its Legacy, 58.

[25] Jean-Daniel Plüss, "Azusa and Other Myths: The Long and Winding Road from Experience to Stated Belief and Back Again." Pneuma 15, no. 2 (1993): 189-201, accessed July 6, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Significance of Joel 2:28-32 in the Historical context of Israel


The fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32 is normally seen from the perspective of events that happened on the day of Pentecost mentioned in the book of Acts chapter two. This research is focused on the historic meaning of the text as to what it meant to Israel.  The text is concerned with the salvation of Israel with the fact that all will be prophets and there is deliverance for the remnant promised by God from the oppressors.

The prophecy of Joel is occasioned by a terrible locust plague. It is a message to the people of Judah that their sin and rebellion will be punished in the form of locusts- flying, grasshopper-like bugs that fed off the vegetation of the land. During this time, people lived off the land and they farmed, raised food for their animals. This type of disaster will make the survival of the people difficult. This prophecy focuses on the coming hard times as well as the future salvation through God’s eventual forgiveness.

This plague is an event that is representative of God's judgment on all flesh. The prophet employs this episode in the life of God's people to call forth a renewed expression of loyalty and to proclaim the good news of God's commitment to bless his people. On the one hand, the canonical message evokes a response of devotion to the Lord, of prayer and fasting (Joel 1:13-20; 2:12-17). On the other hand, the canonical message affirms the Lord's commitment to establish his dwelling among men and to bless his people richly with the fullness of his redemption: victory, glory, the covenant fellowship, his Spirit, and the establishment of his kingdom on this earth.[1]

Genre of Joel 2:28-32

Joel’s superscription provides the primary rubric for reading it as a prophetic book. However, it differs from the collection of oracles, disputes, and narratives found in other members of the corpus, such as Amos and Hosea, whose construction and meanings redaction criticism has helped clarify. It is a narrative laced with eschatology and the prophetic didactic narrative is focused on the day of the Lord anticipated as both a day of deliverance and a day of woe[2]. Several features of the book suggests that the book of Joel as a whole is either a liturgical text intended for the repeated use on occasions of national lament or at least a historical example of one such lament[3].

Joel 2:28-32 can be considered as apocalyptic prophecy and not as a prophecy proper[4]. The sin is too great and destruction is inevitable and there is a mysterious, symbolic, indirect speech by an intermediary. There is also some prediction of cosmic and final solutions mentioned in this portion. The exact meaning of apocalyptic and its essential features and origins are, in the nature of things are much disputed. Hence some would argue that it appears to be quite impossible to determine whether or not the book of Joel or parts of it is apocalyptic literature[5].

Author of Joel 2:28-32  

The book clearly identifies prophet Joel, son of Pethuel as the author in its superscription (Joel 1:1). There are many other persons with the name Joel mentioned in the Old Testament and the author of this book cannot be confidently associated with any of those other individuals. There is no other information included in the superscription which may imply that Joel was well known to his contemporaries and further identification was not needed.[6]

Historical Context of the book of Joel 

There is little known about the author of the book, so we are forced to examine the internal evidence of the book to determine the sociological, religious, political, and cultural times in which he lived in the hopes that it may provide additional information about the intent and date of the book. The dates proposed for Joel’s ministry and the composition of the book range from the early ninth century BC to the Maccabean era, some seven hundred years later. The broad diversity of scholarly opinion is an evidence of the book’s scarcity of information to help us pinpoint the date[7].

Various scholars have proposed different dates for the book of Joel but careful study points towards a date in the postexilic period[8]. Evangelical scholars who have produced standard introductions to the Old Testament books have found no consensus. Gleason L. Archer argues for a date of about 830 BC, during the time of King Joash. Roland K. Harrison settles for a date somewhere before 400 BC, during the period of the restoration. More recently a date near 600 BC has been presented by the critical scholars E. Konig and A.S.Kapelrud.[9]

The book of Joel does not offer a decisive clue in determining its actual historical context. The identification of Judah and Israel as one and the same demands a time long after the collapse of the northern kingdom to the Assyrians in 722 BC.[10]

Interpretation of Joel 2:28-32

The book of Joel starts with the introduction of the author followed by a call for Judah to lament and repent. An invasion by an army of locusts is predicted followed by a call for people to rend their heart. The second portion of the book has the Lord’s response in the form of judgment of nations and blessing for God’s people. It also mentions about the coming victory from God and Joel 2:28-32, is part of that message. The divine oracle of salvation begins in 2:19 and continues as Yahweh lifts the sights of the people beyond their recovery from the plague to days of even greater blessing. Joel 2:28-32 is a tightly written, self-contained unit within the Book of Joel[11].

The verses start with ‘afterward’ and it does not necessarily point to end times but can establish the chronological sequence of the two stages of blessing. Verse 29 mentions about ‘in those days’ and it gives these verses an eschatological touch. The difference between the two stages is not that the first is material and the second spiritual but that the first is the restoration of old damage and the second is the inauguration of a new era in God’s dealings with his people[12].

The life and the land were bound together in such a tight bundle that whatever affected one touched the other. The lavish measure of the spiritual stage is spotlighted in a number of ways[13]. First, pour out, which also mean ‘spill’, suggests that God is not being stingy. It refers to God’s spirit which shows God’s own power and vitality. It will be upon all flesh which shows that the entire people of Israel will participate. In the past, the gift of God’s spirit has been restricted to chosen leaders like Moses, Gideon, David, Micah etc. Now it will be for everyone but from the context of the original audience of Joel, the scope is within the people of Israel since it mentions ‘your sons and your daughters’. All flesh is included and there will not be any exclusion made on the basis of gender, age or social status.

The great thing about this outpouring of the Holy Spirit is its universalism among the people of God. This will result in the gifting of all manner of the people of God in prophetic utterances. The outflow of the Spirit is generous and gracious, and altogether unexpected. God’s grace shows itself in a spate of prophetic activity. The variety of the means of prophetic revelation is probably mentioned for the sake of enriching the poetic parallelism. The blessings of the spirit are accompanied by portents, powerful signs, omens sure to be fulfilled, clear-cut indicators that God is at work. Their cosmic scope highlights their extraordinary character. As the provision is made for rescue for his people in the locust plague, God also gives pledges of deliverance.[14]

This text is also quoted by Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2:28-32. He not only used the portions about the outpouring of God’s spirit but also those that describe the wonders in heaven and earth. Peter was interpreting what Joel meant by afterward. He affirmed that Joel’s “afterward is to be located in “the last days”. It would appear that Pentecost fulfills Joel’s prediction about the coming of the Spirit. It does not exhaust it, however. The last days could cover the entire age of the Church. Therefore, Joel’s prediction has initial fulfillment at Pentecost, continuing fulfillment during the Church age, and ultimate fulfillment at the second coming of Christ[15]. And for Luke, the outpouring of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was the eschatological fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel and he alters the words from Peter’s speech "after these things" to "in the last days.".[16]

The day of Lord is a generic Biblical phrase that was used by God's prophets to describe the immediate historical future or the ultimate eschatological consummation. It is not a technical term in the sense that it always refers to only one event in God's plan. The day of the lord is in multiple fulfillment terms which are limited in occurrences only by its mention in Biblical revelation.[17] There will be wonders in heaven and on the earth in the form of blood, fire, and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood. This will be a visible event and it is mentioned as a great and awe-inspiring day of the Lord. In the midst of it, there is an assurance that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

According to John Calvin[18], the prophet addressed the physical needs of the people before moving to the spiritual grace of God. Spiritual grace is mentioned in this portion and it is going to be greater than what the fathers under the Law had experienced. It was not going to be like something in the past but was going to be greater.

Application of the passage to contemporary Christian Life 

When the apostle Peter explained what was happening on the day of Pentecost, before a crowd stunned by what they were seeing and hearing, he chose this prophecy of Joel undoubtedly under divine inspiration and pointed towards its fulfillment.[19]

Peter widens the scope of those who call upon the name of YHWH to include the Jews of the diaspora who had come to Jerusalem. In Romans 10:13, the Apostle Paul cites Joel 2:32 as proof that before God there is absolutely no distinction between Jew and Greek, thus giving Joel’s statement wider scope.  So every person on earth has an opportunity to inherit this blessing and we should be thankful to God for widening the scope of this salvation.

Joel is also informing us that true prophecy is latent in every human being, Jew and non-Jew alike. This should not be taken to mean clairvoyance or even the ability to relate messages from God. It could mean the divine inspiration which leads one to an enlightened and uplifted state. Only when the prophetic spirit takes hold of the entire community, from the highest to the lowest, will the spirit of God prevail.[20]

The blessings that God would pour out are twofold: physical (2:18-27) and spiritual (2:28-32). The blessings are contingent upon covenant faithfulness rather than require an interpretation of eschatological finality.[21] The passage also gives hope to the Christian that everyone who calls on the Lord will be saved. 


The day of the renewal will be marked by the presence of the Lord himself in the midst of his people (2:27) and the outpouring of his Holy Spirit on all his people (2:28-29). This will be a day of wonders in heaven and signs on earth, particularly a day of salvation and redemption (2:30-32).[22]  

The five verses comprise three individual units, 28-29, 30-31, and 32. The initial unit has God’s promise of an extraordinary happening, the revolutionary pouring out of God’s Spirit upon the people of Judah indiscriminately.  This spectacular event will have but one restriction in the context of the original audience; it will be limited to God’s worshippers in Judah. The second unit concentrates on extraordinary signs and portents that God promises to set in the sky and on the earth as an indication that the terrible day of God is about to dawn. The last unit concentrates on the chances for survival during these dreadful manifestations of God’s power. The portents will not jeopardize anyone who acknowledges God’s sovereignty.[23]

[1] Willem A. VanGemeren, "The Spirit of restoration", The Westminster Theological Journal 50, no. 1 (1988): 81-102, accessed July 16, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[2] Ronald L.Troxel, Joel: Scope, Genre(S), and Meaning (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2015), 95.

[3] Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 414.

[4]William W. Klein, Craig Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 385.

[5] Willem S. Prinsloo, The Theology of the Book of Joel (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1985), 8.

[6] Longman and Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 409.

[7] David Allan Hubbard, Joel and Amos: An Introduction and Commentary (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2009), 23.

[8] Longman and Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 414.

[9] Ronald Barclay Allen, Joel: Bible Study Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1988), 22.

[10] James L. Crenshaw, Joel: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 1995), 24.

[11] Ronald Barclay Allen, Joel: Bible Study Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1988), 86.

[12] Hubbard, Joel and Amos: An Introduction and Commentary, 72.

[13] Hubbard, Joel and Amos: An Introduction and Commentary, 74-75.

[14] Ronald Barclay Allen, Joel: Bible Study Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1988), 88.

[15] Walter K. Price, The Prophet Joel and the Day of the Lord, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1976), 66.

[16] Robert P. Menzies, "The role of glossolalia in Luke-Acts", Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 15, no. 1 (January 2012): 47-72, accessed July 16, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[17] Richard L. Mayhue, "The Bible's watchword: day of the Lord", The Master's Seminary Journal 22, no. 1 (2011): 65-88, accessed July 16, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[18] John Calvin, A Commentary on the Prophet Joel, ed. John Owen (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1958), 83.

[19] Norberto Saracco, "I will pour out my spirit on all people: a pastoral reading of Joel 2:28-30 from Latin America." Calvin Theological Journal 46, no. 2 (November 2011): 268-277, accessed July 15, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[20] Mordecai Schreiber, "'I will pour out my spirit on all flesh' (Joel 3:1)." Jewish Bible Quarterly 41, no. 2 (April 2013): 123-129, accessed July 15, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[21] Daniel J. Treier, "The Fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32: A Multiple-Lens Approach." Journal of The Evangelical Theological Society 40, no. 1 (March 1997): 13-26, accessed July 16, 2016. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost.

[22] Ronald Barclay Allen, Joel: Bible Study Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1988), 16.

[23] Crenshaw, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, 171.


Theology and Doctrine

Theology Theology is the study of divine things or religious truth. It is the field of study and analysis that treats of God and of God’s ...