A Matter of Consistency: The Marriage of Christ Otherwise Known as Cates -vs- Dobbs

The opponents of Covenant Eschatology make all sorts of fanciful arguments and emotional charges against that paradigm. Rarely are those arguments thoughtful, logical, or consistent. Many times we hear, "If Christ came in A.D. 70 then according to Romans 8:18f Christians were bastards until then because according to you folks that is when the `manifestation of the Sons of God’ occurred. But if that did not happen until A.D. 70 then what does that make the Christians until then?" In my first of three public debates with Bill Lockwood he used this as one of his key arguments.1

It seems never to have dawned on these would be apologists that they have impaled themselves on their own sword for they do not believe that Romans 8:18f has yet been fulfilled! Therefore, if Christians were bastards because the manifestation of the Sons of God did not occur until A.D. 70, what does it make Christians today if Romans 8 has not been fulfilled? After I gave this response in the debate mentioned above Lockwood never appealed to the issue again.

Another similar argument is often heard: “You ‘A. D. 70ers’ have Christians as illegitimate children between Pentecost and A.D. 70 because you say that Christ was betrothed to the church, but the wedding did not take place until A.D. 70. How could Christ produce children until A.D. 70 if this was the case? And if there were children of God before A.D. 70 then they must have been illegitimate until the wedding took place.” Let us look a little closer.

Buster Dobbs, editor of the Firm Foundation publication 2 offered the following in the February 1996 edition, “The church on earth is the betrothed but not the bride of the Lamb. The marriage will take place when Jesus comes again.” Dobbs clearly sees that in the New Testament the church is depicted as betrothed to Christ and the marriage occurs at the parousia.

If advocates of Covenant Eschatology are so wrong to say that the betrothal of Christ lasted until A.D. 70 what does it say for those like Dobbs, and he is representative of many in the amillennial view, who insist that the wedding has not yet occurred after 2000 years? But, the plot thickens!

Curtis Cates, director of the Memphis School of Preaching, has authored a book The A.D. 70 Theology a hyper-critical and caustic review of realized eschatology. 3 What is his slant on the betrothal/marriage issue? Commenting on Romans 7 he says that Christ, “could not have been ‘married’ to another people (His spiritual household, the church/kingdom), had the old law not been nailed to the cross–such would have constituted spiritual adultery and/or polygamy (Romans 7:1-6). To affirm that Christ was not ‘married’ to the church prior to A.D. 70 is to make him the father of illegitimate offspring (Romans 7:4), and to make Paul’s statement in Ephesians 5:22-33 an egregious error. Kingism has Christ ‘married’ both to the old and new covenants at the same time–polygamy.” 4 Let’s see now.

Dobbs, defender of Truth and orthodoxy, says Christ is not yet married to the church. Cates, defender of Truth and orthodoxy, says that to say Christ was not/is not married to the church is an “egregious error.” We suggest that these men get together and talk about their differences before they attack Realized Eschatology!

Dobbs’ position is more correct in one regard, that the marriage between Christ and the church (see below for the proper context of the wedding), would occur at the parousia. He has simply misplaced that event chronologically by 2000 years, and placed it at a supposed end of time instead of at the end of the Old Covenant World!

Cates on the other hand totally ignores the Biblical evidence as to when the wedding was to occur, at the coming of the bridegroom. Look at the evidence.

1.) Matthew 22–This parable very plainly presents the wedding as taking place after the invited guests refused to come and the Master then destroys them and their city. The parallelism between Matthew 22 and Revelation is too clear for the serious Bible student to ignore.

2.) Matthew 25–Cates applies Matthew 25:1-13 to the final, end of time coming of Christ. 5 But this text places the wedding at the time of the Bridegroom’s coming! Thus, if Christ was married to the church at Pentecost, then since this text teaches about the wedding then Cates must apply this text to Pentecost! This means the parousia was at Pentecost; judgment was at Pentecost! And if these verses are not future then none of the other parables in Matthew 25 are future! Maybe verses 31-46 refer to Pentecost? Such are the implications of saying the Wedding was at Pentecost.

3.) Romans 7–Paul said the Romans had died to the Old Law “that you might be married to another.” Notice that he did not say that they had been married, he said they became dead to the Law so that they “might be” married to Christ. The wedding had not yet taken place, they were betrothed. (And, please take note that Romans does not say that the Law had died, as Cates believes. It says that the Romans had died to the Law, through the death of Christ! There is a huge difference between the Law dying, and dying to the Law!)

4.) 2 Corinthians 11:2–The apostle declared in no uncertain terms that the church had been betrothed, not married to Christ.

5.) Ephesians 5:25f. An examination of over 50 different commentaries has revealed that every one of them hold that Ephesians 5:25f–the presentation of the church to Christ–is a reference to the parousia, not to Pentecost.

Cates’ insistence that the church was fully married to the Lord before the parousia is a clear violation of the Biblical evidence. He has the church married to Christ without even being betrothed! When was the church betrothed to Christ in Cates’ view? We are not told specifically by him. We are simply told, without proof, that if Christ was not married before A. D. 70 that the children would be bastards.

Where does scripture place the wedding of Christ and the church? Dobbs correctly cites Revelation 19:7-8: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” Correct answer! The wedding takes place at the parousia of Jesus. If Christ had already fully married the church, why does inspiration say that "the marriage has come" at the parousia?

Consider this in light of Cates’ claim that the church was married to Christ prior to the parousia. In Revelation 19, the Bride had clothed herself for the wedding and her garments were "the righteousness of the saints" (Revelation 19:6-7). In other words, the bride existed prior to the wedding, and the bride prepared herself for the wedding by putting on the garments of righteousness! Now, if the church was fully married to Christ on Pentecost, when was the betrothal period? And, did the church exist before Pentecost? Cates would call such an idea “false doctrine!”

If the church existed before Pentecost, and clothed herself with righteousness, before Pentecost, just exactly how was that possible? Isn’t righteousness only through the New Covenant and faith in Christ? Wasn’t righteousness unobtainable prior to the giving of the New Covenant and the faith (Galat
ians 3:20f)? If Cates is right to affirm that the church and Christ were fully married on Pentecost, then undoubtedly, the church did exist prior to Pentecost, and obtained righteousness through some other means than through Christ! After all, in Revelation 19, the bride had made herself ready for the wedding by putting on righteousness. Therefore, if the wedding was at Pentecost then the church had to have existed prior to Pentecost!

Is Revelation a second marriage ceremony? Is it a different bride? If the marriage had already occurred is it not strange that every other text referent to the relationship speaks of betrothal but this one speaks of marriage at the parousia? Why is there not a clear cut text speaking of the marriage as fully perfected in the past instead of occurring at the parousia?

What is the context for Christ’s coming? It is at the coming of Christ against the Great City Babylon. The gospel would be preached into all the world before her judgment came, Revelation 14:6ff. Compare Matthew 24:14. Would the gospel be preached into all the world at two different times heralding the judgment of two different cities? “Babylon” was the city full of the blood of the prophets and saints (18:20, 24)–and only Jerusalem killed Old Covenant prophets! It was the city “where the Lord was crucified” (Revelation 11:8)! This city can be no other than first century Jerusalem! Notice that in that judgment scene it says "the marriage of the Lamb has come." The wedding would take place when Christ came in judgment against Jerusalem!

When was that coming to be? Read the verse that Dobbs offers at the conclusion of his lesson: “Behold, I come quickly. Blessed is he that keepeth the words of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation 22:7). John wrote those words from Jesus two thousand years ago! The promise was not that Jesus was coming “rapidly” as opposed to soon; his coming was "at hand" and "must shortly come to pass.” He was truly coming quickly (22:6, 10, 12)! The wedding was imminent when John wrote Revelation!

Dobbs, and the traditional view, ignores the contextual identification of the city Babylon and voids the chronological parameters placed in the text by the Spirit in order to maintain a futurist eschatology. Question: would Dobbs and Cates ignore the emphatic time statements of imminence if they were made about the kingdom? Never! But because they have a preconceived idea about the nature of Christ’s coming they are willing to ignore and rationalize inspiration’s declaration. Does this honor God and Scripture?

Speaking of the time statements, in his book Cates has virtually nothing to say about all of the Bible’s time statements of imminence regarding the parousia! How is it possible for anyone to be a serious Bible student and not even attempt to address the overwhelming sense of imminence that permeates scripture? Cates’ silence is especially telling since he claims that his book addresses "the most basic concepts and contentions of the King theology." (p. 82). If you have not dealt with the problem of imminence you have not dealt with Covenant Eschatology! The problem, the reality, of the nearness of the wedding, after Pentecost, is a huge problem for Cates.

The time and framework for the marriage of the Lamb is indeed of great importance. The opponents of Covenant Eschatology are adamant that we are guilty of "egregious error." Yet they are the ones denying the framework and time for the wedding of the Lamb. They say our beliefs imply false positions. Yet they then make arguments that imply the very thing–only magnified in time 50 times over!–that they insist is so dangerous. Preterists insist the betrothal lasted for one generation and they call this heresy. They say the betrothal has lasted two thousand years, and counting, and this is called orthodoxy and sound doctrine!

The Wedding and the Hope of Israel

A final note here. Not only are Cates and Dobbs at odds with each other, they are totally at odds with scripture in their understanding of the wedding. Their belief is that the Wedding is between Christ and the church, with no relationship or bearing with the fulfillment of God’s Old Covenant promises made to Israel!

In the amillennial paradigm, and this is especially true of the churches of Christ fellowship of Cates and Dobbs, it is affirmed that God was through with Israel at the Cross. The entirety of the Old Covenant was removed at the Cross, and Israel ceased to be God’s covenant people at that time. Beginning on Pentecost, God established the church, and started all over with a brand new set of prophecies and promises. This, however, is the real egregious error, for nothing could farther from the truth!

Biblically, the promise of the wedding was the promise that although He had divorced Israel (Jeremiah 3:8; Isaiah 54; Hosea 1-2), in the last days Jehovah would once again marry Israel: “I will betroth you to me in righteousness” (Hosea 2:19f). Whereas she had been divorced, she would once again be called Beulah (married, Isaiah 62:4). And this would be when Jehovah would come with His salvation to redeem Jerusalem: “Say to the daughter of Zion, Surely, your salvation is coming, Behold, his reward is with him, and His work before Him. And they shall call them the Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord; and you shall be called Sought Out, a City not forsaken” (Isaiah 62:11-12).

Jesus came to “confirm the promises made to the fathers” (Romans 15:8), and he was sent “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). It was the hope of Israel that Jesus came to fulfill and to proclaim! Thus, when we read about the wedding feast in Matthew 22, we are reading about the hope of Israel. When we read about the banquet in Luke 14 that is the hope of Israel. When we read of the coming of the bridegroom for the wedding, that is the consummation of Israel’s eschatological hope. And, when we read of the wedding taking place at the destruction of the Old City, “where the Lord was slain,” we are reading about nothing more or less than the anticipated fulfillment of the hope of Israel. It is a horrible and serious exegetical error to read Israel out, and the church into these passages! It is misguided to posit the fulfillment of these prophecies at the end of the (endless) Church Age instead of positing them at the end of the Old Covenant Age.

Tragically, neither Cates nor Dobbs have the slightest understanding of this fundamentally important Biblical doctrine, and as a result, their entire eschatology is fatally flawed. To apply the Biblical doctrine of the wedding to a time and events divorced from Israel (pun intended), is a perversion of scripture.

Those who oppose realized eschatology contradict each other and oppose scripture! They cannot even agree among themselves on an issue as important as the marriage of the Lamb! The old idiom is indeed appropriate: "Ah, consistency thou art a jewel so rare!" One is forced to ask as did Peter long ago, “To whom shall we go?” Plainly we cannot appeal to those who so blatantly disagree among themselves and deny scripture. We think it better to stay with scripture.

[1] My debates with Lockwood are available on audio cassettes, and can be ordered from me: Don K. Preston 2712 Mt. Washington Rd.. Ardmore, Ok. 7340. Cost of each debate is $24.95, or all three debates are available for $50.00 PostPaid.

[2] H. A. (Buster)Revelation Dobbs, Firm Fo
, (P. O. Box 210876, Bedford, Tx. 76095-7876)17. Dobbs lists himself as “A debater and writer” on his personal website: http://www.bible-infonet.org/staff/dobbs.htm. However, Dobbs and I had an “unscheduled” (as far as he was concerned), public encounter at the Maxwell church of Christ, in 1990. During that impromptu debate, I challenged Dobbs to meet me in a more planned, publicized formal debate within six months. When asked about it afterwards, by some brethren who offered to sponsor that debate, Dobbs vehemently rejected the invitation, saying that he would “never give Don K. Preston the microphone again!” Furthermore, as the director of the Memphis School of Preaching, Cates has held mock debates, against Covenant Eschatology at the school. However, when William Bell held a formal public debate with Stephen Wiggins in Memphis, a short drive from the Memphis School of Preaching, Cates and the faculty informed the students that they were not to attend the debate! And as a final note, Cates spoke at the Denton Lectureship, Denton, Tx., (1995), and introduced his book. During one of his speeches he is reported to have said that he wished that there was a representative of the “A.D. 70 Theory” present so that they could defend themselves. Lamentably, I was unable to be there due to a kidney stone problem. However, since then, Cates has let it be known that he has no interest whatsoever in debating any representative of Covenant Eschatology, demonstrating that his statement was nothing but empty braggadocia. If Cates seriously wants to engage an advocate of Covenant Eschatology, I will happily oblige him. I suggest a formal debate on the campus of the Memphis School of Preaching.

[3] It has been my experience that a man’s meanness is directly proportionate to his desperation. The more they feel threatened and unable to meet the challenge the meaner their spirit becomes. If this is true then Cates’ book is proof positive that Covenant Eschatology is making serious inroads and Cates and co. feel helpless to stop it. The rhetoric in the book is deplorable, and is only exceeded by the ugliness of the foreword by Garland Elkins.

[4] Curtis Cates, The A.D. 70 Theology, (Cates Publications 9194 Lakeside Dr. Olive Branch, Ms. 38654, 1995)68-69.

[5] Ibid, p. 24-30.