Ethos Statement on Hermeneutics & Eschatology

Republished with permission (and unedited) from Central Baptist Theological Seminary. (The document posted at Central’s website in August of 2010.)

Hermeneutics and Eschatology

All faculty at Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis affirm a hermeneutical system that interprets all Scripture with a consistently literal or normal method. We also affirm the paradigm of grammatical, contextual, theological, historical exegesis with a view to discerning authorial intent.

Dual Hermeneutics

We all hold that the same hermeneutical principles must govern the interpretation of both testaments. We reject any approach that asserts, for example, that Old Testament prophecies concerning the first advent, life, ministry, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ should be interpreted differently from Old Testament prophecies concerning the second advent and the earthly rule and reign of Christ. There is no New Testament hermeneutic that supersedes an Old Testament hermeneutic.

Typology

We all believe that points of correspondence exist between the Old and New Testaments. Some of us limit this correspondence to correlation that is explicit in the text. Others assert a correlation that seems more textually implicit, understanding some points of correspondence to expand or enhance the earlier revelation on which they were based.

Multiple Fulfillments

In our commitment to literal interpretation, we encounter some New Testament passages whose connection to Old Testament antecedents is less obvious. Some passages might be taken to imply a fulfillment of items from Old Testament prophecies that cannot readily be found in the language of the prophecies themselves. Some of us understand those New Testament passages to be something other than actual fulfillments, e.g., analogies. Others of us understand that the New Testament author has, in fact, seen a genuine fulfillment, elements of which expand the meaning of the original prophecy.

Dual Authorship

We all believe that at least two participants were involved in the writing of any biblical autograph: a human agent and God. Some of us frame our understanding of this relationship by focusing on the “unitary” nature of this authorship: a confluence or concurrence in divine-human authorship in such a way that just as the human author’s wording was the very wording of God (no more or no less), even so the human author’s meaning is the very meaning of God (no more or no less). Others of us frame our understanding of this relationship more in view of the “binary” nature of this authorship: a cooperation of divine-human authorship in such a way that although the human author’s words were the very words of God (no more or no less), the meaning of the divine author might in some way be found fuller, heightened, or more expansive in later revelation. In both cases, we reject the notion that New Testament interpreters are adding meaning that is not somehow present in the Old Testament texts.

Inaugurated Eschatology

We all recognize that major eschatological prophecies and promises made to national Israel have not yet been fulfilled in the terms established within the prophecies. We further believe that the veracity of God demands the complete fulfillment of all of His promises made to Israel as a national, political entity. Such belief is grounded in the literal or normal interpretation of the covenants, promises, and prophecies that originated in God concerning Israel. Some of us affirm that some eschatological promises made to Israel in the Old Testament have been inaugurated in the present dispensation and yet await complete fulfillment in the future. All of us reject any application of the hermeneutic of inaugurated eschatology that would obliterate the distinction between Israel and the church and negate the literal, eschatological consummation of Old Testament promises and prophecies.

We all affirm belief in a future earthly reign of Christ in literal fulfillment of all biblical prophecies and promises regarding the eschatological kingdom. We also all affirm that the reign of Christ will be preceded by Daniel’s seventieth week, a time of tribulation, and that all Church saints are promised exemption from this tribulation through a rapture that will occur before its beginning. Furthermore, we reject any approach that replaces the gospel of personal salvation with the social benefits of the kingdom during the present age, or any approach that replaces personal evangelism with social activity.

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AndrewBAird's picture

Such a simple interpretive approach hardly reflects exalted academic institutions. Why, it's almost as if you subjugate your policies to the revelations, rather than the opposite! Surely a more inclusive hermeneutic, capable of multiple equal interpretations, would lead to enhanced academic debate, greater toleration, and ultimately a more scholarly atmosphere. Simplicity and dogmatism, though not without their old-fashioned charms, are considered rather gauche by today's standards. I can hardly deplore them any less, though I take some pains to do so.

In a spirit of great toleration for your viewpoint;

Andrew Aird

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

This brings alot together in a small document.

Really appreciate this..

Quote:
we reject the notion that New Testament interpreters are adding meaning that is not somehow present in the Old Testament texts.

and this...

Quote:
All of us reject any application of the hermeneutic of inaugurated eschatology that would obliterate the distinction between Israel and the church and negate the literal, eschatological consummation of Old Testament promises and prophecies.

and this...

Quote:
we reject any approach that replaces the gospel of personal salvation with the social benefits of the kingdom during the present age, or any approach that replaces personal evangelism with social activity.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

G. N. Barkman's picture

This is exactly how I viewed hermeneutics in the past. It seems to make perfect sense. But over the years, in my exposition of the New Testament, I began to have questions regarding this approach. In short, I find, time and again, that New Testament authors, beginning with Christ, and continuing to the Apostles and other inspired writers, seemed to ignore this hermeneutic. I was continually faced with interpreting NT passages, too numerous to list, but one example is the identity of John the Baptist as Elijah, according to my presuppsotitions, brought forward from my "literal" OT interpretation. It eventually dawned on my that I should consider New Testament inspired writiers, beginning with Christ, as superior to any human interpretor of Scripture.

In other words, I should begin by studying how NT writiers interpret the OT, and use that as my hermeneutic for interpreting the OT. NT revelation "trumps" OT interpretation every time. I reject the charge that this is not "literal" interpretation. It is literally understanding how NT writers understood the OT. If NT writers understood an OT passage according to symbolic fulfillment (a better term than "spiritual"), so be it. I must bow to their inspired wisdom. That's not the way I probably would have taken the OT at first reading, but that's why the NT is given, to shed additional revelation on the Old Covenant. It seems to me that one of the big problems of the religious leaders of Christ's day was their unwillingness to consider anything but the most literal interpretaion of OT prophecies concerning Israel, and that led to their rejection of Jesus as the Christ. I certainly didn't want to repeat their errors.

I am not dogmatic about any of this, and respect and listen to those who agree with this post. Eschatology will always be somewhat murky until Christ returns and brings the fullness of final fullfilllment. Still, why should we set our interpretations in stone before we come to the NT? Isn't it better to hold our OT interpretations more lightly, and receive with humility the additional inspired revelation given to us in the NT? Isn't that what progressive revelation should lead us to do?

G. N. Barkman

Ted Bigelow's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
I should begin by studying how NT writiers interpret the OT, and use that as my hermeneutic for interpreting the OT.

Hi! and welcome to Sharper Iron!

I would join you in this interpretive method if I could, but I can't, and I don't think you should either.

The reason is deceptively simple. First, it assumes that God wants us to use the NT writer's quotes of the OT as a hermeneutic guide. This assumption is not taught in the NT, and is contradicted in passages like 2 Peter 1:20-21. Next, and more important, you and I aren't like Peter, and Paul, and the other NT writers. They had a special call, a special equipping, and the gift of prophecy. You and me... well, let's just be a lot more humble! They are not like us. We are not like them. The idea that we can interpret the OT using their hermenutic would also equip us to have their call to write Scripture, right? After all, that is what they did with their "hermeneutic!"

It is better to recognize that they weren't really "applying a hermeneutic" at all. They were doing something incredibly unique - writing Scripture! Otherwise, when they weren't writing prophecy, we can freely assume they weren't spiritualizing the OT, but instead were interpreting the OT according to proper rules of interpretation.

Quote:
I reject the charge that this is not "literal" interpretation. It is literally understanding how NT writers understood the OT.

In logical terms, this is the error of the excluded middle. You are using the word "literal" in two different ways, but equating the two as if they were the same.

Quote:
It seems to me that one of the big problems of the religious leaders of Christ's day was their unwillingness to consider anything but the most literal interpretation of OT prophecies concerning Israel, and that led to their rejection of Jesus as the Christ. I certainly didn't want to repeat their errors.

I promise you, if they were holding literally to the O.T. prophecies, they would have loved Jesus Christ (John 5:46-47, Psalm 110:1). Rather, they rejected the prophecies, and thus, rejected Christ. Think of the prophecies of His place of birth, virgin birth, character, style of ministry, and Isa. 53.

One last comment. The prophecies on John the Baptist are fulfilled, but also, they aren't yet fulfilled (Mal. 4:5). Jesus said, "For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. "And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come." (Matthew 11:13-14). But you know what? They weren't willing to accept it, were they - (Matthew 11:16ff)?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

the ethos statement wrote:
Others of us frame our understanding of this relationship more in view of the “binary” nature of this authorship: a cooperation of divine-human authorship in such a way that although the human author’s words were the very words of God (no more or no less), the meaning of the divine author might in some way be found fuller, heightened, or more expansive in later revelation.

What would you say is the difference between this and what you've described?
Can you provide an case or two maybe of how it works out?

In the case of the Elijah prophecy, the OT statement is so brief and vague that there does not seem to be any need to suppose that the NT gives meaning to it that wasn't there. Rather it adds meaning to what was there.
Maybe a better way to say it is that I don't believe the NT ever gives to OT statements meaning that is inconsistent with the plain/normal meaning in the OT context.

But the Elijah statement is so cryptic that "plain/normal" isn't saying much in that case. It's almost certain that it was meant and understood in some metaphorical way in the first place. If it's OT meaning is intentionally cryptic, the NT information is not in any way a departure or reinterpretation.

To put it in really mundane terms, it seems to me like the OT statement in this case is like an empty bucket and the NT partly fills it.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

mounty's picture

Ted, can I bounce a few questions off you regarding the NT writers' hermeneutics on the OT? I'll assume yes and start the questions. Smile

If the NT writers were given special insight that they penned down into Scripture, shouldn't it follow that the truth they were given was either absolute (Central's "unitary" authorship) or a required starting point ("binary" authorship) for folks living 2,000 years later? And in either case, wouldn't it then follow that their "special revelation" ceased to be "special" (in the sense of "personal" or "unique") the moment the pen hit the parchment? Any insights they had into OT matters that made it into Scripture could/should become our insight or the basis for our insight when we read it, right?

And if all the above is true (and I suppose even if it isn't), why would knowing what they knew automatically equip us with the ability to write inspired Scripture? Doesn't that shift the mechanism of inspiration from God's act of breathing to man's act of knowing?

I'm just trying to see where you're coming from, because at first and second glance, Barkman's suggestion seems to make sense to me.

Charlie's picture

An overblown word that is popular today is "intertextuality." Really, this refers to a method of interpretation that seeks how later texts utilize earlier texts to create new or deeper or different meaning. In an evangelical sense, it would be scrutinizing how and to what end later Scriptures use earlier Scripture. When this is examined, certain patterns in biblical interpretation emerge, and I would argue that they are not only descriptive but prescriptive. The Bible is teaching us how to think theologically about the Bible.

For a survey of apostolic hermeneutics, including a critique of some wrong ways of approaching the issue, see "Did Jesus and the Apostles Preach the Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?" by G. K. Beale http://s3.amazonaws.com/tgc-documents/journal-issues/32.1_beale.pdf

For an explanation and example of intertextual hermeneutics in biblical theology, see The Temple and the Church's Mission by G. K. Beale.

For a model of preaching following apostolic hermeneutics, see Him We Proclaim by Dennis Johnson.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Ted Bigelow's picture

mounty wrote:
If the NT writers were given special insight that they penned down into Scripture, shouldn't it follow that the truth they were given was either absolute (Central's "unitary" authorship) or a required starting point ("binary" authorship) for folks living 2,000 years later? And in either case, wouldn't it then follow that their "special revelation" ceased to be "special" (in the sense of "personal" or "unique") the moment the pen hit the parchment? Any insights they had into OT matters that made it into Scripture could/should become our insight or the basis for our insight when we read it, right?

Hi Mounty,

Boy, do you know how to put your finger on the pulse! The meaning of "special revelation" is pretty fixed, though. As you have written it, though, I think I agree with what you say there. The apostolic use of the OT in the NT is unique, i.e., not repeatable.

So yes, my position would argue that that we treat the writing of Scripture as unique. My concern is that the "apostle's hermenuetic" position does not, though it claims to. Just on a practical level, I don't think it works in interpreting either the NT, or the OT. Two people, working from the same assumption of an "apostolic hermeneutic" will end up in two very different places because there is no control over where they end up.

For me, to argue that the apostles had a hermeneutic that was consistently applied in both their OT quotes in the writing of NT Scripture and in their general ministry otherwise is to confuse a specific prophetic function with a non-prophetic function, such as preaching a normal sermon. They themselves knew they were doing something unique when they wrote Scripture (1 Cor. 14:37, Jude 1:3). It is irresponsible of us to claim they were using some special hermeneutic in non-prophetic ministry.

It is even more of a leap for us, who cannot write Scripture, to assume we can first define, then use, their hermeneutic in the rest of Scripture. As if we could open a can and empty out their hermeneutic.

We are safer allowing the writers of Scripture a unique place in their use of the O.T., while we are content to interpret all of Scripture by the rules of a "grammatical" hermeneutic that allows the apostles the freedom to explain OT texts in a new and inspired way, with new and inspired meanings (sorry, Central!).

They were writing Scripture. Nobody ever read "out of Egypt have I called my son" prior to the apostles and recognized it as a messianic prophecy. It took an apostle with the gift of prophecy to be led by the Holy Spirit to write that.

If you or I do that to another OT quote, we'll get ripped apart. Imagine me claiming Hosea 9:15, "I will drive them out of My house!" is a prophecy of Christ cleansing the temple. You'll think I'm weird, and rightly so. Who am I to say such a thing? But couldn't I come back to and say I'm just applying the "apostolic hermeneutic"? If it works in Hosea 11:1, why can't it work in Hosea 9:15?

At the end of the day, we men of clay feet are all still left with words and meanings. In Acts 2:17ff, we have words like "sons, daughters, prophesy, sun, moon, blood, Day of the Lord," etc. The "apostolic hermeneutic" approach hopes to provide an approved lexicon for such words, but even those who embrace the idea can't agree on the new meanings those words supposedly receive. Nor did God authorize an NT short-cut book.

So I would say, don't go the "apostolic hermeneutics" route. Be patient, and willing to do the really hard, but really joyful work with your spade and trowel, digging into God's word with all your mind, as a servant of the word. Don't hope for a lexicon of "apostolic word meanings" now that we have quotes of OT passages from them in the NT. The text itself never tells you to do that!

Recognize them as unique, both in their personages and in their ministries. Don't look at them as a starting point. for if you do, what control exists on where you will end up?

mounty's picture

Ted,

Would it be an accurate statement of your position, then, to say that where the apostles interpret a prophecy, that interpretation is a priori the gold standard for that particular prophecy; but where there is no apostolic interpretation on a prophecy, we who are not under inspiration should not presume to play the part of an apostle and push our interpretation as the only valid interpretation? To put it more succinctly, is the helpfulness of apostolic interpretation strictly limited to the specific prophecies referenced and no others?

G. N. Barkman's picture

Aaron,

The portion of the Ethos statement that you quote is no different from what I wrote, at least as best I understand it. However, we have apparently drawn different conclusions by what this means. I also find myself in complete agreement with your statements regarding the Malachi 4:5,6 statement regarding Elijah. However, it seems to me that Ted takes an opposing view, namely that Mal. 4:5 is not yet fulfilled, and that the unwillingness of the disciples to accept it somehow means that John is not Elijah. So apparently, at least according to Ted, John would have been the Elijah of Malachi if they had accepted it, but since they didn't, he wasn't? Sorry, that would never work for me. Jesus wasn't saying that the fulfillment of this propehcy depended upon their accepting his words. He was saying that John was the Elijah that Malachi prophecied, and that they would understand this meaning if they were willing to accept His words, which is the inspired meaning of Malachi's prophecy. If they were unwilling to accept it, they would fail to properly understand Malachi's prophecy, but that in no wise alters the true meaning.

Ted, I am really at a loss to know how to answer you. I fail to see how II Peter 1:20,21 contradicts what I wrote. I agree that the NT writers "weren't realy applying a hermeneutic at all." They were not interpreting Scripture, in the way we do. They were writing Scripture, as we can never do. But what they wrote is the God-given understanding of whatever OT text they quoted and illuminated. They were not following a hermeneutic. But what they wrote forces us to modify our hermeneutic. If we begin with the premise that the OT must be interpreted in the most literal (or normal) way possible, and that leads us to believe, for example, that the literal Elijah must come to earth before the second coming of Christ in judgment, but then the NT tells us that John was Elijah, using some of the exact langauge of Malachi's prophecy. (cf. Luke 1:16,17), we must modify our previous understanding of Malachi 4:5,6, which also forces us to modify the hermeneutic which led us to understand the prophecy in a way contrary to the NT inspired understanding. Elijah himself will not come to earth, but John came in the power and spirit of Elijah. He is the new Elijah. Elijah will not come to earth before the second coming of Christ. He came in the person of John to prepare the way for the first coming of Christ.

If we start with our own hermeneutic (which was not given to us directly by God, as Scripture is), and force Scripture to fit the confines of our humanly derived and defined hermeneutic, we have placed something of human origen above the Word of God. This is what the Pharisees did in their interpretations.

If, on the other hand, we start reading the OT (because it comes first) and interpret it the best we can, taking things as much as possible in their literal or normal sense (because that is the only way we are able to make sense of any book), we will draw certain conclusions, such as the Elijah expectation, before we get to the NT. But, when we read the NT, and find that it understands the Elijah prophecy in a different way, we must now modify both our original interpretation, as well as our original hermeneutic. The NT teaches us to see some things in symbolic fulfillment that otherwise we would have given a literal fulfillment. We can ignore this NT revelation, or suppress it's impact by refusing to loosen our grip on our original hermeneutic. That forces us to say that there MUST be yet another fulfillment, yet future. Why? Because our original hermeneutic, and our original interpretation require it. But did we get that hermeneutic from the Bible? Then why can it not be altered to fit the NT revelation? (Indeed, how can we now fail to alter it to fit the NT revelation?)

That's what I am trying to say.

G. N. Barkman

Ted Bigelow's picture

mounty wrote:
Ted,

Would it be an accurate statement of your position, then, to say that where the apostles interpret a prophecy, that interpretation is a priori the gold standard for that particular prophecy; but where there is no apostolic interpretation on a prophecy, we who are not under inspiration should not presume to play the part of an apostle and push our interpretation as the only valid interpretation? To put it more succinctly, is the helpfulness of apostolic interpretation strictly limited to the specific prophecies referenced and no others?

Hi,

It's easier for me to deal with concrete examples. I think its better to say that some quotations of the OT in the NT have a meaning in the NT not foreseen in the OT contexts. Thus the Hosea examples. Matthew's quote of Hosea 11:1 in Mat. 2:15 gives a unique meaning in Mat. 2:15, but not in Hosea 11:1. In Hosea 11:1, "son" refers to Israel, not the Messiah. Matthew used a typological fulfillment in Mat. 1:23. That's OK. He's Matthew, and he is chosen to write Scripture. I'm not. For this reason I can't go to Hos. 9:15 and use a typological hermeneutic on it. Make sense?

Precisely because the Scripture is to always interpreted by us according to a "plain" hermeneutic, we should be able to arrive a sound interpretation. It is when we give ourselves the freedom of "an apostle writing Scripture" in our hermeneutic that we go astray. This is true in all Scripture. We don't need the gifting of an apostle to arrive at at the true interpretation. And remember, each passage of Scripture has but one meaning. And the meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture and nothing less.

Ted Bigelow's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
But what they [the apostles ] wrote is the God-given understanding of whatever OT text they quoted and illuminated. They were not following a hermeneutic. But what they wrote forces us to modify our hermeneutic.

Aaron, please allow me to jump in before you though Greg addressed you first,

Greg,

I think I see where you are coming from, and we have differences. You see the apostle's use of the OT in the NT as something that should inform (or modify) our approach to biblical interpretation.

OK. Then is it OK with you if I apply Matthew's typological use of Hosea 11:1, "out of Egypt I have called my son" to Hosea 9:15, "Because of the wickedness of their deeds I will drive them out of My house!" and claim it refers to Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple? Doesn't Matthew's typological use of Hosea inform my hermeneutics to do the same with Hosea 9:15 as he did with Hosea 11:1?

Just to be clear, I don't think it does. But I'm just adopting your position, aren't I? I'm modifying my hermeneutic as informed by Matthew.

For more on where I am coming from, see my posts to monty in this thread.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Ted,

I'm not prepared to say we must interpret texts that are not quoted in the NT in a new way based upon the NT interpreation of a quoted text. That removes all restraint, and allows for any fanciful interprreation possible because we don't know with any certainty how NT writers would have interpreted that text.

But I am saying that we must interpret OT texts that are quoted in the NT with the new understanding the inspired writers have given us. To fail to do so is to place ourselves above the inspired writers of Scriputre. I'm sure no one would admit to that, but it's hard to escape that conclusion.

I think you have nicely illustrated my concern when you say you are unwilling to modify your hermeneutic in the light of NT inspired interpretation. Is your hermeneutic inspired? (I trow not.)

G. N. Barkman

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

GNB... I'm not clear on why the Elijah prophecy couldn't be conditionally fulfilled in reference to John.
That is, without other theological commitments in place that prevent it, why would it be a problem to read it that way? Do you hold that a prophecy can never be conditional?

I don't think that will work because they are all conditional in some way. At the very least, they are conditioned on the time arriving when the events occur. The prophecies referring to Jesus' death are contingent on folks choosing to kill Him.
So, if God, in His sovereign working out of all things according to the counsel of His will, uses secondary causes to fulfill His time table, why would acceptance or rejection of a man or a message be excluded from the list of possible secondary causes?

I realize there can be strong resistance to this idea because it opens up dispensationalist possibilities regarding the Kingdom, etc. But I wonder if the idea would look so bad without a prior commitment to avoid dispensational views in these areas?

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Ted Bigelow's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
I think you have nicely illustrated my concern when you say you are unwilling to modify your hermeneutic in the light of NT inspired interpretation. Is your hermeneutic inspired? (I trow not.)

Aye, you trow right.

So, let's be specific. In Mat. 2:15 is quoted Hosea 11:1.

Is the new Messianic meaning in Matthew 2:15 now (since Matthew) the meaning of Hosea 11:1, was always the right meaning of Hosea 11:1, or is today still not the right meaning of Hosea 11:1?

G. N. Barkman's picture

Aaron,

I would say that the fulfillment of Malachi's Elijah prophecy that we can be certain about is the fulfillment the NT writers ascribed to John. In this case, and in this case alone, we can be certain we have the fulfillment that Malachi's prophecy foretold.

Could there be a second and future fulfillment? There could, but there may not be. It is possible that there may yet be a second fulfillment that will more fully satisfy those who employ what they consider to be a literal hermeneutic. But we can only wonder about that possibility, and wait to see if that is what God has in mind. At this point, we know for sure that John is Malachi's Elijah, and for all we know, that may well be the only fulfillment.

Dispensational hermeneutics would seem to require a future fulfillment because it is not satisfied with the fulfillment God gave. They might even say that the integrity of God requires it. I think such speaking is audacious at the least, and comes close to blasphemy. God, through Malachi, gave us a prophecy. Like the OT believers, we read it and wonder exactly what it can mean. And like OT believers, we postulate how we think it may be fulfilled. Then Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John reveal that it is fulfilled in the coming of John. Like Old Covenant believers in Christ's day, we marvel at this perhaps unexpected fulfillment, and rejoice in the Divine illumination that resolves our questions. Or not.

If we are overly committed to our hermeneutic, which was not divinely given, we may minimize the inspired fulfilment, and continue to wait for a future one, which our hermeneutic requires of us. This is what I mean when I compare this to the religious leaders of Christ's day, who rejected Jesus as the Christ, because He didn't quite fit their hermeneutical expectations, and continue to wait for the Messiah that God promised, because the One He sent didn't meet there expectations. They should have adjusted their interpretations of OT prophecy, and modified whatever hermeneutic called Jesus' Messiahship into question rather than stubbornly stick to their previous (mis)understanding and reject the only Messiah God has given.

It seems to me that in the light of the fulfillment God has clearly given, we must be willing to adjust our peviously held interpretation of Malachi, adjust our hermeneutic which required an interpretation that does not fit the NT fulfillment, and hold very loosely any interpretation which requires a second fulfillment. In God's time, we shall see. Until then, we should accept what God has given. That's what I have done. It was not easy for me at first, but NT handling of OT texts kept pressing me in that direction until I was finally willing to yield my formerly held hermeneutic. I had to bow to the superior authority of God's Word. Scripture trumps my hermenentical principles every time.

G. N. Barkman

G. N. Barkman's picture

Ted,

Thank you for the follow up. I've been occupied with other matters, but can now take a moment for a brief reply.

I think your question is based upon the presupposition that a text can have only one meaning, another hermeneutic that I do not find in Scripture. It is probably a reaction to a style of hermeneutics which purported to find many, sometimes endless meanings in every text. That, I'm sure we all agree, is absurd. However, I believe the texts you cited in Hosea and Matthew are a good example of a divinely inspired revelation of a double meaning. Hosea 11:1 refers to Israel's Egyptian sojourn. As far as anyone could tell, reading only Hosea 11:1, that's all it means. Who could have spotted a prophecy in that text? Certainly not I. But the inspired writer, Matthew, tells us that this foretold Christ's Egyptian excursion. My explanation is perhaps, a bit too symplistic, but without getting into a long discussion, and many technical matters, I think it can help to cut to the chase.

I limit double meanings to those revealed to us by Scripture. I do not claim to be able to find more than one meaning in any text unless Scripture reveals it. When I study, I am always looking for the one true, Holy Spirit intended meaning in every text. But, based upon the example you raised, I have to acknowledge that there may well be other meanings hidden in the text known only to God. I presume He will reveal those to us in heaven.

I also would like to say, that in re-reading my posts, I believe I have been a bit too dogmatic, something I said in my first post that I was not. Please forgive me. I can get pretty intense in explaining and defending what I have learned through years. It is likely that you and others feel the same way about your studies. I really do want my conclusions to be examined and questioned by others. If I am wrong, I pray God will help me realize that. Thank you for taking time for this exchange.

Warm regards,
Greg

G. N. Barkman

Rob Fall's picture

Would you rather they wrote a book on their position? As for the rest, the school does seek to serve an admittedly denominationally limited audience.

AndrewBAird wrote:
Such a simple interpretive approach hardly reflects exalted academic institutions. Why, it's almost as if you subjugate your policies to the revelations, rather than the opposite! Surely a more inclusive hermeneutic, capable of multiple equal interpretations, would lead to enhanced academic debate, greater toleration, and ultimately a more scholarly atmosphere. Simplicity and dogmatism, though not without their old-fashioned charms, are considered rather gauche by today's standards. I can hardly deplore them any less, though I take some pains to do so.

In a spirit of great toleration for your viewpoint;

Andrew Aird

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

J Ng's picture

I find it interesting, if a bit disappointing, that not all on this thread are more willing to be vulnerable to scriptures. I wonder, if the shoe were on the other foot, and Matthew under inspiration had adopted a more grammatico-historical method than a pesher-sounding one, how loudly the howls would be to obey his Spirit-inspired modus operandi. It's not cool that Sola Scriptura applies only when it goes in our favour. The inspiration of the writers should add to our hermeneutic exemplar rather than negate therefrom.

While I don't pretend that it's easy to handle the NT quotes of the OT--it isn't--let's not rush to defend Sacred Tradition, however good it is, where its concord with the Scripture is, um, inconvenient. We're listening in on one side of the telephone conversation a lot of the time, and it's hard to know what the prophets already knew exactly or didn't. So what might seem un-literal might not really be so, and vice versa.

I would suggest that it's probably safer to side with the Scripture even where it doesn't fit our favourite hermeneutical rubric and let the latter be so informed rather than the other way around. After all, the Scripture has survived the test of time a lot longer than the interpretations thereof.

Jay's picture

Rob, I think Andrew was speaking tongue in cheek. At least, that's how I took it.

As for the Matthew/Malachi discussion, I don't see why an immediate fulfillment of the Malachi prophesy necessarily rules out a later, more complete fulfillment. I also don't see how Malachi's Day of the Lord (which is the real issue here) is has to be Christ's earthly coming. If I remember right, the Day of the Lord usually refers to end-times judgment, not the Christ's coming to earth. I can't research it all out right now, but http://www.gotquestions.org/day-of-the-Lord.html this website seems to be helpful in their discussion of the topic:

Quote:

The phrase “the day of the Lord” is used nineteen times in the Old Testament (Isaiah 2:12; 13:6, 9; Ezekiel 13:5, 30:3; Joel 1:15, 2:1,11,31; 3:14; Amos 5:18,20; Obadiah 15; Zephaniah 1:7,14; Zechariah 14:1; Malachi. 4:5) and four times in the New Testament (Acts 2:20; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10). It is also alluded to in other passages (Revelation 6:17; 16:14).

The Old Testament passages dealing with the day of the Lord often convey a sense of imminence, nearness, and expectation: “Wail, for the day of the Lord is near!” (Isaiah 13:6); “For the day is near, even the day of the Lord is near” (Ezekiel 30:3); “Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming. It is close at hand” (Joel 2:1); “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision” (Joel 3:14); “Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near” (Zephaniah 1:7). This is because the Old Testament passages referring to the day of the Lord often speak of both a near and a far fulfillment, as does much of Old Testament prophecy. Some Old Testament passages that refer to the day of the Lord describe historical judgments that have already been fulfilled in some sense (Isaiah 13:6-22; Ezekiel 30:2-19; Joel 1:15, 3:14; Amos 5:18-20; Zephaniah 1:14-18), while others refers to divine judgments that will take place toward the end of the age (Joel 2:30-32; Zechariah 14:1; Malachi 4:1, 5).

The New Testament calls it a day of “wrath,” a day of “visitation,” and the “great day of God Almighty” (Revelation 16:14) and refers to a still future fulfillment when God’s wrath is poured out on unbelieving Israel (Isaiah 22; Jeremiah 30:1-17; Joel 1-2; Amos 5; Zephaniah 1) and on the unbelieving world (Ezekiel 38–39; Zechariah 14). The Scriptures indicate that “the day of the Lord” will come quickly, like a thief in the night (Zephaniah 1:14-15; 2 Thessalonians 2:2), and therefore Christians must be watchful and ready for the coming of Christ at any moment.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Ted Bigelow's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

I think your question is based upon the presupposition that a text can have only one meaning, another hermeneutic that I do not find in Scripture..... I believe the texts you cited in Hosea and Matthew are a good example of a divinely inspired revelation of a double meaning.... I limit double meanings to those revealed to us by Scripture. I do not claim to be able to find more than one meaning in any text unless Scripture reveals it. When I study, I am always looking for the one true, Holy Spirit intended meaning in every text. But, based upon the example you raised, I have to acknowledge that there may well be other meanings hidden in the text known only to God. I presume He will reveal those to us in heaven.

Hi Greg,

Thanks for your reply. It is easy to see you love Scripture and revere it! May your tribe greatly increase.

But let me tease out your "double meaning" thesis a bit, and ask for your response, when able.

If the only OT texts that have a double meaning are those quoted in the NT, then how does it inform your hermeneutics in interpreting any other OT or NT passage? Haven't you just stripped it of any informing power on the 99.9% of all other verses of Scripture?

You are correct to claim my presupposition is that there is only one meaning in a text. You then say that you do not find that hermeneutic in Scripture (I would disagree: Joshua 6:26 and 1 Kings 16:34, for example). But then in the next paragraph you say, "When I study, I am always looking for the one true, Holy Spirit intended meaning in every text." I know you aren't looking for something in Scripture you don't believe exists - so maybe you really do like the classical position of "one meaning, many applications?"

How did you come to limit your belief in double meanings to only those OT texts quoted in the NT? Is it not because you share my presupposition that OT texts possess only a single meaning? It seems to me you do hold to this "single meaning of OT Scripture" presupposition, but simply add one more layer of meaning - the new meaning of that OT text you see in it's NT quote. 1+1=2. So, don't you also share my belief in "one meaning, many applications?"

G. N. Barkman's picture

Ted,

I didn't say only those OT texts quoted in the NT have a double meaning. I said those are the only ones we can know have a double meaning. To postulate a double meaning without inspired warrent makes Biblical interpreation a subjective quagmire. To reject a double meaning when Scripture indicates one is to make our hermeneutical method superior to inspired Scripture. Even though Scripture reveals a double meaning, we can't accept that because it violates our rule of interpretation. That returns to the question, are our rules of hermeneutics inspired, or are the Scriptures alone inspired?

Cordially,
Greg

G. N. Barkman

Ted Bigelow's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
To postulate a double meaning without inspired warrent makes Biblical interpreation a subjective quagmire.

I totally agree with you there!

G. N. Barkman wrote:
That returns to the question, are our rules of hermeneutics inspired, or are the Scriptures alone inspired?

Who even claims that, Greg?

My view - - that any and every Scripture has only a single meaning - - is certainly the view of the confessing church, and certainly the view taught in conservative hermeneutic text books used in most seminaries. I even provided you with an example in my last post, showing that Scripture itself bears witness to this principle. True, Catholics and Wesleyans do claim each text has 4 meanings, the literal and three levels of mystical meaning, but we're not including them here.

Its your claim is that OT quotes in the NT have a double meaning and that double meaning informs our hermeneutics today that is being questioned.

From where I sit, it does you no advantage to claim other texts many have multiple meanings but we can't know those additional meanings until heaven. If that is the case, then how does that inform your hermeneutic TODAY?

G. N. Barkman's picture

Ted,

I'm not sure I fully understand what you are getting at here. But I will try to answer according to what I think you are saying. If I missed the point, please correct my misunderstanding.

The main thrust of my argument is that inspired NT writers must be given greater weight in our understanding of OT Scripture than our interpretations drawn from certain hermeneutical principles. If the
NT commentary on OT texts doesn't fit our hermenentic, our hermeneutic must be adjusted to fit Scripture, not visa versa.

In the case of the double-meaning example, the way this informs my hermeneutic today is that it tells me there is much more to Scripture than meets the eye, and that I will be able to discern. It promotes humility in the handling of Scripture. Probably this should not be called a hermeneutic, since it doesn't aid in my interpretation of Scripture. Remember, this one was your example, not mine. I was dealing with NT texts that forced me to change my understanding of certain OT texts. The interpretation I held before examining inspired NT commentary was different from the new interpretation I came to as a result of inspired NT commentary. Inspired commentary trumps uninspired commentary every time.

Perhaps we are debating semantics. Perhaps I should agree that Scripture has only one true meaning, but that meaning may be much bigger and fuller than first meets the eye, and that I will be able to discover this side of heaven. Does putting it that way meet your approval, or are we still arguing for two different understandings?

G. N. Barkman

Rob Fall's picture

Jay C. wrote:
Rob, I think Andrew was speaking tongue in cheek. At least, that's how I took it. SNIP
I wopuld hope so. But, considering the remarks of others, I'm not all that sure.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Ted Bigelow's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

In the case of the double-meaning example, the way this informs my hermeneutic today is that it tells me there is much more to Scripture than meets the eye, and that I will be able to discern. It promotes humility in the handling of Scripture.

Yes, I see. Its not really a hermeneutic, but a tenderness to Scripture issue for you. That's pretty cool. But there also seems to be the underlying idea in your posts that those who hold to single meaning are guilty of pride and imagine themselves as standing over the text in judgment, assuming they can contain the whole meaning of Scripture in their interpretation.

Quote:
Perhaps I should agree that Scripture has only one true meaning, but that meaning may be much bigger and fuller than first meets the eye, and that I will be able to discover this side of heaven.

No doubt that is true for all those who hold to single, double, and quadrilateral meaning (and, um, are regenerated ;)). One of the great blessings of heaven for me will be learning the truth of Scripture without all my error mixed in.

Let's ever stay humble in the here and now that should we ever discover our error even in a single text, or a large matter, that we immediately change our doctrine and interpretation to match the text of Holy Writ.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Ted wrote:
My view - - that any and every Scripture has only a single meaning - - is certainly the view of the confessing church... Scripture itself bears witness to this principle... Its your claim is that OT quotes in the NT have a double meaning ...

What's the difference between saying "NT writers give a double meaning to some OT statements" vs. "NT writers reveal a second, previously hidden aspect of the single meaning of some OT statements?"
I'm not actually quoting anybody there, but I think many in "the confessing church" would say "a second aspect" or "a second layer" or some such. This is more comfortable than "double meaning," but I'm not sure there is any real difference--until you start saying we should take their revelation as a revelation of hermeneutical method.

I'm extremely skeptical of the whole idea that the NT writers' use of the OT is suppose to reveal a method. What's revealed is what they say, not how they arrived at it. Since we know they were inspired, how they arrived at their revelation is kind of moot, IMO.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

What's the difference between saying "NT writers give a double meaning to some OT statements" vs. "NT writers reveal a second, previously hidden aspect of the single meaning of some OT statements?"

You may be right - here is a distinction without a difference - or not. Without going to specific texts and walking through a hermeneutic process, we can all use words in ways that mean different things at different times. This is why I like going specific so much. It forces us to get out of the philosophical and lay out our presuppositions on the table. Its why I asked two contributors to this thread to specifically interact with Mat. 2:15 and Hosea 11:1.

Getting specific forces our hermeneutics to get beyond the semantics and reveal themself. Like you ask, "Do

Quote:
"NT writers reveal a second, previously hidden aspect of the single meaning of some OT statements?

You know, like logically, how do you get a second "aspect" from a text's single meaning, unless "aspect" means something other than "meaning," like "second application" or "second implication."

I just got a new release yesterday, "40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible" by Robert Plummer (Kregel, 2010). Really, really well written. Question 15 is "Can a Text Have More Than One Meaning." Answer - "no," but a text can have different implications, significance, and subject matter.

Quote:

I'm extremely skeptical of the whole idea that the NT writers' use of the OT is suppose to reveal a method. What's revealed is what they say, not how they arrived at it. Since we know they were inspired, how they arrived at their revelation is kind of moot, IMO.

I almost became covenantal many years ago based on this argument. Even if we did know how they arrived at their method (as if their method of quoting the OT is monolithic - its not!) it still wouldn't help us. They are apostles with special gifts and calls. We aren't.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Ted,

Agreed! Sorry if I came across as proud. I didn't intend to, but old Adam still rises up within me, usually when I am unaware.

But, how do you understand the Hosea 11:1 quoted in Matthew 2:15 situation?

G. N. Barkman

G. N. Barkman's picture

Aaron,

I think you've hit the nail on the head in two areas. First, whatever you call it, "double-meaning" (a no-no), or another layer of meaning (could we call this TC, theologically correct?), the fact is that inspired NT writers often bring new meanings out of OT texts that we did not see using the "literal whenever possible" hermeneutic. It is new revelation, unavailable to us without the NT.

Second, the NT writers are not using a hermeneutic at all. But what they write informs our hermeneutics. If employing my "literal whenever possible" hermeneutic causes me to interpret an OT text one way, and the NT understands it in an entirely different way, what am I going to do? I can, 1) cling to my original interpretation because I am convinced that my hermeneutic is inviolable, or, 2) adjust my hermeneutic in light of the inspired interpretation. I choose number 2. Like Martin Luther, "I can do no other." (I hope I'm not sounding too "proud" with that statement.)

Perhaps a bit of "compromise" (another bad word) is in order here. Perhaps "literal whenever possible" is still valid, but the additional NT revelation changes what is now possible. The "whenever possible" rule has always been a bit slippery anyway. What one thinks possible, another deems impossible, and thus the varying interpretations among those who purport to employ the same rule. When the NT understands an OT text in a symbolic way that I would have taken in a more literal way, my choices have now been divinely narrowed. My former way is no longer possible, and I adjust my interpretation to match the inspired revelation.

G. N. Barkman

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