Whatever Happened to Literal Hermeneutics? (Part 1)

(From Theologically Driven)

For decades it was assumed, by both sides of the debate between dispensational and Reformed theology, that the primary distinction between the two models (there were really no other viable evangelical options in the early days) was hermeneutical—dispensationalists held consistently to a “literal” reading of Scripture (and most importantly the OT prophetic portions of Scripture), while the Reformed were comfortable with a nonliteral (e.g., spiritual or typological) interpretation of those same texts.

Anthony Hoekema, for instance, reflecting this understanding from a Reformed perspective, wrote in his chapter of The Meaning of the Millennium,

Premillennialists, particularly those of dispensationalist persuasion, are committed to what is commonly called the ‘literal’ interpretation of Old Testament prophecy…. Amillennialists, on the other hand, believe that though many Old Testament prophecies are indeed to be interpreted literally, many others are to be interpreted in a nonliteral way. (172)

The reasons that non-dispensationalists felt comfortable reading the Scriptures in this way are manifold, but much of the argument rested on the premise that the Bible was not a “normal” book. Unlike ordinary books, the Bible is inspired, the Bible has a unique sort of dual authorship (God and the human author), and the meaning of the Bible is in some sense mediated through the Holy Spirit, who alone knows the mind of God perfectly. For these and other reasons, the Bible cannot be boxed in by the so-called “received laws of language” that seem to govern other literature.

As time has passed (and as mediating positions have multiplied), the argument has changed. Rather than seeing two fundamental hermeneutical approaches, it is common for all of the multiplied parties debating this issue to concede that the “grammatical/historical” method is the common property of all, and then for each to demonstrate that its distinctive application of this shared method is more exegetically defensible. The new leading distinction between theological systems is thus no longer about hermeneutics, but is rather about exegesis and biblical theology. Consequently, the only piece of Ryrie’s trifold sine qua non of dispensationalism that survives, for many, is its distinction between Israel and the Church in the unfolding of biblical theology.

It is my contention in this blog series that this concession has weakened dispensationalism. Specifically, it has barred from debate the transcendental discussion of the “received laws of language” as presuppositional to the exegetical task. This topic is too complex to unfold in a few paragraphs, so if the reader is willing to receive this argument over the course of weeks, I will attempt to complete it in a short series of posts. Many thanks in advance for your patience.

Correspondence & Coherence

When evaluating the truth or error of any proposed theological statement or system, there are two primary questions that the theologian asks: the question of correspondence and the question of coherence. In using these two terms, I am using two recognized philosophical categories, but not necessarily as all users would define them.

Correspondence

In suggesting that we must test a given theological statement or system for its correspondence, I do not mean, as many do, that we ask whether or not it corresponds to “reality” as variously defined in the marketplace of ideas; instead, I mean that we ask whether or not it corresponds to God’s reality as he has defined it. In short we ask, “Does this theological statement/system agree with what God has said in the Christian Scriptures?” In developing any truly biblical system of theology, we spend the lion’s share of our time answering this question. That is because the Christian Scriptures are the Norma Normans non Normata, the governing norm of truth that may not be subjected to manipulation or modification. Bottom line: If a given theological statement/system contradicts the Bible, then that statement/system, however clever, is invalid.

Coherence

The question of correspondence is not, however, the only question that concerns the systematic theologian. He must also establish the coherence of his system: the system must agree with itself. If a theological system can survive only by patching up its violations of the received laws of logic and language with appeals to “mystery,” then it is compromised.

For example, assuming a non-equivocating definition of the term omnipotent, a valid theological system cannot countenance a God that is mysteriously both omnipotent and not-omnipotent at the same time. Or, assuming again a non-equivocating definition of the term justification, a valid theological system cannot permit justification to be simultaneously both by works and by faith alone. Any system that permits such absurdities breaks at least one and often several fundamental laws of logic (in this case, viz., the law of identity [A = A] and the law of contradiction [A ≠ not-A]).

For this reason, a systematic theologian must spend time harmonizing texts that seem to contradict (e.g., Job 42:2 with Titus 1:2 and James 1:13 for the issue of omnipotence; Galatians 2:16 with James 2:24 for the issue of justification). At times he is obliged to scuttle his theories; sometimes, however, he is able to tweak and strengthen them by exploring exegetical options and by crafting out carefully nuanced definitions that render his system coherent. Bottom line: If a given theological statement/system contradicts itself, it is invalid.

The question of record for this blog post is whether the theologian’s hermeneutical method is a matter of correspondence or a matter of coherence: are hermeneutical principles (1) something to be discovered in the Bible itself and constructed inductively from what I find there? Or are hermeneutical principles (2) something to be settled as a matter of transcendental presupposition before I can even start reading the Bible?

My answer (and what to me stands at the centerpiece of the concept of “literal” interpretation) is that the latter option is of necessity true. The laws of language are received by divine grant and are a priori axioms necessary to the coherent, intelligible reading of anything: they must be assumed before they can be demonstrated. Apart from this axiomatic premise, coherent communication would fail us and linguistic anarchy would prevail. In fact, in order for someone to disagree with this position, I would submit, he would have to assume the position in order to express his disagreement with it (which is why I have labeled it a transcendental argument).

Those who use a non-literal (typological/allegorical/spiritual) hermeneutical method do not make this assumption, or at the very least not to the same degree I do. Instead, their hermeneutical method is in part a matter of exegetical discovery. So, for instance, when a non-literalist sees in Matthew 2:15 and 18 the use of a fulfillment formula in connection with two improbable Old Testament historical narratives (Hos 11:1 and Jer 31:15, respectively), he stands quite ready to humbly allow exegesis to correct his presumptive hermeneutic. What’s more, the non-literalist can also argue that since Matthew has validated this appealing new hermeneutic under inspiration, the contemporary reader now has exegetical warrant to interpret other texts in the same way.

The literalist, on the other hand, while not unmindful that depraved minds can distort the received laws of language, is much more disposed, based on his view of the transcendental nature of those laws, to think that his interpretive errors will be resolved by exegetical adjustment than by a radical overhaul of his whole hermeneutical method. And so, rather than acceding quickly to unique hermeneutical models unknown outside the biblical corpus, he will expend enormous effort exhausting all the possible exegetical options available to him within the bounds of a “normal” hermeneutic.

And even if he fails, he is reluctant to concede the existence of a whole new hermeneutical method, much less a prescriptive one. He is reluctant because he knows that appeals to exegesis as a precedent for a unique and non-literal hermeneutical method potentially undermines not only (1) the received laws of language, but also (2) the accessibility of the Scriptures to all who are not apprised of the special method, and (3) perhaps even the integrity and authority of the Bible itself.

This, I would submit, is the heartbeat of literal interpretation.

Next time: What are these “received laws of language” of which I speak? And if we cannot trust Matthew or Luke or Paul to delineate these laws, why should we accept the doodlings of some 21st-century chump (yours truly)?

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There are 26 Comments

G. N. Barkman's picture

This article analyzes the situation, but fails to appreciate the situation fully.  If exegesis (careful analysis of Scripture) does not shape one's hermeneutics, Scripture takes second place to man-made traditions.  The rules of hermeneutics are not given in Scripture.  Logic requires that we begin with literal interpretation, but Scripture demonstrates that this is not inviolate.  Everyone abandons the literal for the figurative regularly, including the most ardent literalist.  Christ's disciples missed His meaning because they thought too literally when they conceived only of literal bread when Jesus spoke of the leaven of the Pharisees.  Only when they shifted to a figurative way of thinking could they understand His words correctly.

If we begin with a hermeneutic that demands literal interpretation, even in the face of Biblical evidence to the contrary, we, like Christ's disciples, will be unable to grasp the meaning intended by God.  We err when we lock our interpretation into place on the basis of hermeneutics before we fully analyze all the Biblical evidence.  Surely the interpretations by Christ and the authors of NT Scripture of OT passages, must be given higher rank than a hermeneutic imposed upon, not derived from Scripture.

G. N. Barkman

KLengel's picture

G.N., 

In my humble opinion, hermeneutical principles determine how one exegetes.  I believe that God provided man with logic and language so that man could communicate His revelation to others He created. In fact, logic or reason are not even the best words to use in this situation. It is understanding. Without language, man would not be able to know more than the natural things of God's revelation. Understanding requires man to agree on certain rules in language by which to determine meaning, in any sense, biblical text or otherwise.  

I would kindly disagree that those who are the "most ardent literalist" do not regularly abandon the "literal". The idea of literal is referring to the normal understanding of a given communication. In many cases, the communication should be accepted as literal or the normal use or meaning of the words, unless the context provides markers to the contrary.  However, one may use (as God did thru human authors) literary devices such as metaphors to provide meaning of the text in question.  When Jesus states "I am the door", a "literalist" does not abandon the core principles of normal, literal interpretation, when he does not assume the meaning of the text is that Jesus is a physical, literal door.  A text that uses a literary device such as a metaphor does provide a literal, normal meaning.  It cannot mean several different things. It has one meaning, and the context provides the clues to that normal meaning.  

I think part of this type of confusion comes about by the misuse of the word hermeneutics as well.  I would suggest that if one follows hermeneutical principles, that is good. If they develop a "hermeneutic", especially when biased toward a certain theology or viewpoint, that is unscriptural if not at least dangerous towards deriving meanings not moored in the revelation of God's Word.  I think you are concerned by the later. Am I right? 

Ken    

apward's picture

You touched on a sore spot I have with Ryrie's "trifold sine qua non of dispensationalism" since the 1st time I read it. Why did he list the distinction between Israel and the church as #1 and interpretational method as #2?

There are times when I don't outright disagree with Ryrie, but I feel like he is out of balance in placing his emphases and occationally puts the theological cart before the hermeneutical horse, so to speak. That's why I'm more comfortable with Saucy's Case for Progressive Dispensationalism, because I think he puts a greater emphasis on hermeneutics and exegesis, which then drive this theology.

Bert Perry's picture

.....is whether the major differences between covenant and dispensational theology are really rooted in hermeneutics and the literary/received laws of language.  It strikes me that if I understand metaphor and simile, among other tools of literary analysis, I can "get" most of Jesus' parables in the way He meant them and in a way that makes sense.  To argue that Israel is now the Church, you've got to make some pretty big leaps and abrogate a certain portion of the rules of logic.  

I don't mean to be mean-spirited here, but at a certain point, some hermeneutical methods seem to adopt Humpty-Dumpty's attitude from Alice in Wonderland:  "When I use a word", Humpty-Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, "it means just whatever I choose it to mean--neither more nor less."

OK, it's not that bad, but you have to do some exegetical and literary gymnastics to take Romans 11 to "the church is Israel".  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

J. Baillet's picture

I do not have ready access to Anthony Hoekema's The Meaning of the Millennium, so I cannot place Dr. Snoeberg's quotation of him in context.  I can say that Charles Ryrie misquoted Oswald T. Allis, an amillennialist, in Dispensationalism Today (1965) to similar effect.

For instance, Allis, a champion of covenant theology and amillennialism and a vigorous opponent of dispensationalism, says:

One of the most marked features of premillennialism in all its forms is the emphasis which it places on the literal interpretation of Scripture. It is the insistent claims of its advocates that only when interpreted literally is the Bible interpreted truly; and they denounce as “spiritualizers” or “allegorizers” those who do not interpret the Bible with the same degree of literalness as they do. None have made this charge more pointedly than the dispensationalists.

In his words, the issue between dispensationalists and nondispensationalists is “the same degree of literalness.”

Dispensationalism Today, 90 (boldface added)(quoting Allis, Prophecy and the Church (1945)).  Dwight Pentecost did the same in Things to Come (1958), 1.

But what did Allis mean by prophecy “literally interpreted”?

The question of literal versus figurative interpretation is, therefore, one which has to be faced at the very outset.  And it is to be observed at once that the issue cannot be stated as a simple alternative, either literal or figurative.  No literalist, however thoroughgoing, takes everything in the Bible literally.  Nor do those who lean to a more figurative method of interpretation insist that everything is figurative.  Both principles have their proper place and their necessary limitations.

Prophecy and the Church, 17 (boldface added).  This language from Allis was omitted from Ryrie’s quotation of Allis set forth above, even though it came immediately after that quotation.  Allis offered a number of examples of what he meant by Biblical language being interpreted to a higher “degree of literalness” but to a lower degree of faithfulness to the true meaning of the text, i.e. what God intended.  “A familiar illustration of this literalism is the use of phylacteries by the Pharisees of NT times.  This was based upon the literal interpretation of Ex. xiii. 9, 16, Dt. vi. 8, xi. 18, and was denounced by Jesus as an example of formalism in worship (Matt. xii. 49f.).  Cf. Matt. xvi. 6-12.).” Id. at 18 n.5.

When Jesus said, “Ye must be born again,” He was not referring to a physical but to a spiritual birth.  When He said, “Destroy this temple,” He meant His body.  When He said, “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life,” He was speaking of a spiritual relationship in terms of an Old Testament type.  Jesus’ Jewish hearers, being literalists, either failed to understand or misunderstood His words.  Whether the figurative or “spiritual” interpretation of a given passage is justified or not depends solely upon whether it gives the true meaning.  If it is used to empty words of their plain and obvious meaning, to read out of them what is clearly intended by them, then allegorizing or spiritualizing is a term of reproach which is well merited.  On the other hand, we should remember the saying of the apostle, that spiritual things are “spiritually discerned.”  And spiritual things are more real and more precious than visible, tangible ephemeral things."

Id. at 17-18 (boldface added).  Some dispensationalists like to say that they use the literal hermeneutic and others do not, and therefore, they "win" ipso facto.  There is no substitute, however, for comparing your exegesis of a passage of Scripture with another's exegesis and seeing which better demonstrates the plain meaning, i.e. what God intended.

JSB

J. Baillet's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

....

OK, it's not that bad, but you have to do some exegetical and literary gymnastics to take Romans 11 to "the church is Israel".  

 

The question is what do you mean by "is."  (Any allusion to Bill Clinton is unintentional).  The Orthodox Presbyterian Church recognizes that “the nation of Israel, as it existed as the people of God in the Old Testament is no more.”  Question and Answer: The OPC and National Israel, www.opc.org/qa.html?question_id=466 (3/18/2012).

JSB

TylerR's picture

Editor

With all this talk about "literalness," I thought I'd share this gem from Reformation 21. The author looks at the beast of Revelation 13, and draws lessons for modern-day America. Is this legitimate? Was this the Apostle John's point when he wrote Rev 13? Did he have a "higher" meaning in mind? Let the reader decide:

Indeed, it is particularly the material found in Revelation 13 and its prophecy of Satan unleashing his beasts that should inform the faith of Christians regarding the present times

 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

This article analyzes the situation, but fails to appreciate the situation fully.  If exegesis (careful analysis of Scripture) does not shape one's hermeneutics, Scripture takes second place to man-made traditions.  The rules of hermeneutics are not given in Scripture.  Logic requires that we begin with literal interpretation, but Scripture demonstrates that this is not inviolate.  Everyone abandons the literal for the figurative regularly, including the most ardent literalist.  Christ's disciples missed His meaning because they thought too literally when they conceived only of literal bread when Jesus spoke of the leaven of the Pharisees.  Only when they shifted to a figurative way of thinking could they understand His words correctly.

If we begin with a hermeneutic that demands literal interpretation, even in the face of Biblical evidence to the contrary, we, like Christ's disciples, will be unable to grasp the meaning intended by God.  We err when we lock our interpretation into place on the basis of hermeneutics before we fully analyze all the Biblical evidence.  Surely the interpretations by Christ and the authors of NT Scripture of OT passages, must be given higher rank than a hermeneutic imposed upon, not derived from Scripture.

G. N.

You have proposed the classic straw man here. By literal, every historical/grammatical hermeneutist (is that a word?) means the plain reading of the passage. This incorporates figurative speech within the confines of a literal approach. The woodenness you propose is not actually advocated by anyone. The difference enters when the reformed crowd finds some hidden meaning for the passage that bypasses the plain meaning set forth by the author.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Bert Perry's picture

....regarding how too many regard "literal" hermeneutic is why I tend to prefer the phrase "literary" hermeneneutic, as in using what Mark Snoeberger would call the "received laws of language." It allows for all those literary devices and the proper interpretation.  There is such a thing as poetic license, metaphor, similie,etc..

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Larry's picture

Moderator

What was the plain meaning of "Beware the leaven of the Pharisees."

Beware of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (and Sadducees).

 

G. N. Barkman's picture

Is hypocrisy the plain and literal meaning of leaven?

G. N. Barkman

Rolland McCune's picture

It would be much better to wait and read another part or two of Dr. Snoeberger's treatise before the negative reactions. He hasn't even defined the "received laws/rights of language" and how they are "transcendentally" achieved. Yet the issue has gotten thrown off track by interjecting old, straw man, discredited notions over Jesus the "door" or the "leaven" of the Pharisees. This is so 1940s. Let O.T. Allis rest in peace. His day came and went in dispensational analytical thinking long ago. No point in opening that carpet sweeper bag now. (Please, no attempted hermeneutical rebuttal over the "literality" of vacuum cleaners, etc., etc,)

Rolland McCune

G. N. Barkman's picture

I'm reminded of Abraham Lincoln's old saw.  "How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg?"  Answer:  "Four.  Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one."  Calling a question from Scripture a straw man doesn't make it one.  Perhaps the reality that everyone interprets the Bible non-literally is too painful for some to deal with.  Is "hypocrisy" the plain and literal meaning of "leaven."  Obviously not.  How do we know?  Because Christ interpreted His own intended meaning, and told His disciples He meant hypocrisy.  How would they have known if Christ hadn't told them?  They probably never would have if they could only interpret in the most literal manner possible.  In the words of article, they never would have if they were required to exhaust every exegetical possibility to maintain a literal interpretation.  However, if they permitted themselves to consider possible non-literal interpretations, they may have discovered Christ's intended meaning.

Our goal is to discover the intended meaning of the author, not maintain loyalty to a literal hermeneutic.  Literal interpretation is the right and necessary place to begin.  It becomes a distraction when it forces us to find a way to maintain a favored hermeneutic in spite of Biblical evidence to the contrary. 

G. N. Barkman

Rolland McCune's picture

GNB:

I say again one should wait for further unpacking by Dr. Snoeberger. Your apparent working definition will not forward the issue, I'm afraid. It seems so outdated: too many whiskers on it.

Rolland McCune

G. N. Barkman's picture

I, like others, look forward to future articles.  I fail to see, however, how labels such as "outdated" and "too many whiskers" serves to promote profitable discussion. 

I assume that Rolland McCune wants SI readers to know that my questions have already been answered by others, or will be answered in future articles. The value of this blog is seeing answers juxtaposed with assertions as they appear.  Those who follow this thread can thereby examine both sides of the question and draw their own conclusions. 

G. N. Barkman

Larry's picture

Moderator

Is hypocrisy the plain and literal meaning of leaven?

It's not "leaven." It is "leaven of the Pharisees" (that gives it context to make clear that it isn't your "literal meaning") and yes, that is the plain and literal meaning. You can't omit 3/4 of the words and then ask what it means. You say, "How would they have known if Christ hadn't told them?" But Christ rebuked them for not knowing, which seems to indicate that his meaning was, or at least should have been, clear. I don't think this is hard. There may be some hard ones in the Bible, but this is not one of them.

I am with Dr. McCune on this one. I think you created a straw man in the beginning and then doubled down on it here. Remember, literal interpretation does not deny the use of figures, metaphors, etc. That's not a new thing. I think that is Dr. McCune's point about it being outdated. You are responding to something no one believes, something that has been answered for a very long time.  

This is a series of articles which I presume will all be posted. It will be well worth reading it all.

G. N. Barkman's picture

The plain, literal meaning of "the leaven of the Pharisees" is baking ingredients used by the Pharisees.  That's why the disciples thought it had something to do with bread.  Could it refer to actual "leaven."  Yes.  Does it?  No, as Jesus makes clear.  As for Christ's scolding the disciples for not understanding, He expected them to know that "literal whenever possible" is not a foundational hermeneutic.  It was the disciples mistaken reliance upon this hermeneutic that Christ scolded. 

Those who are committed to the "literal whenever possible" rule break it regularly, but often insist that that's not what they are doing.   When they decide that a statement requires a non-literal meaning, they claim that this is not an abrogation of this hermeneutic, but when someone else decides that a statement requires a non-literal meaning (with which they do not agree), they accuse him of "spiritualizing."  Jesus and the writers of NT Scripture did an awful lot of "spiritualizing."

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

I don't believe anybody here is advocating the kind of wooden literalism you use in your example. Context will help here. Ironically, I was having a discussion with a church member about the disputation between Luther and Zwingli in Marburg in 1630, and how the two of them couldn't agree on the Lord's Supper. Luther insisted on a wooden, literalistic interpretation of Mt 26:26 and Zwingli grew exasperated while trying to advocate for a symbolic meaning (Schaff, History of the Christian Church [Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011], 7:642ff).   

So, I think it would be more helpful to focus on real issues. For example, you have the land promises of the Abrahamic Covenant and the promise of Ezekiel's Temple. Unless you have some kind of Scriptural context to interpret these non-literally (as you did in your example with the leaven), then you are making a mistake. Otherwise, me and many other people would have gouged out our eyes and lopped off our hands a long time ago. These, and many other issues, are why there is a hermeneutical divide. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

G. N. Barkman's picture

Tyler,

Wooden Literalism, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  As, "One man's trash is another's treasure," so one man's wooden literalism is another's plain meaning of Scripture.  My problem is with those who reserve the right to deviate from literalism when they find it necessary, but accuse others of unfaithfulness when they don't like their interpretations.  Ezekiel's Temple is a good example.  Try to build it as described, or better yet, explain how the river described can be a literal river.  To many of us, the obviously intended meaning is symbolic.  You may not agree, but taking Ezekiel's Temple as a literal building seems like an example of wooden literalism to me. 

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

My point is that every serious student of Scripture would agree with your own assertion here:

If we begin with a hermeneutic that demands literal interpretation, even in the face of Biblical evidence to the contrary, we, like Christ's disciples, will be unable to grasp the meaning intended by God.  We err when we lock our interpretation into place on the basis of hermeneutics before we fully analyze all the Biblical evidence. 

Nobody in this thread (I believe) would disagree with this. Everybody understands context and authorial intent. Those are not even an issue. Your entire point with the leaven example seems to be rather missing the point, because nobody is arguing that way. I shall be interested to see what the next installments bring. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

alex o.'s picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Tyler,

Wooden Literalism, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.  As, "One man's trash is another's treasure," so one man's wooden literalism is another's plain meaning of Scripture.  My problem is with those who reserve the right to deviate from literalism when they find it necessary, but accuse others of unfaithfulness when they don't like their interpretations.  Ezekiel's Temple is a good example.  Try to build it as described, or better yet, explain how the river described can be a literal river.  To many of us, the obviously intended meaning is symbolic.  You may not agree, but taking Ezekiel's Temple as a literal building seems like an example of wooden literalism to me. 

 

Hey, why cannot underground rivers feed the river so that from a small start from under the threshold it grows? I just threw that out there after 30 sec. of thinking about it. Am I right? Maybe, maybe not. Pure speculation, but similar to what other rivers form from both surface and underground flow. So there is your explanation  (smilie)

I was following you up to this post, but to assign a text metaphorical because of lack of understanding it seems arbitrary. 

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

G. N. Barkman's picture

Alex, this goes back to the author's intent.  The question is not, "Can we find some possible way to understand this literally?"  Rather, do the "clues" in the statement point us in a figurative direction.  I take the leaven example again.  Is it possible to figure out a way to make Christ's statement mean literal leaven?  Yes.  But other clues should lead us in a different direction.  Christ seems to chide his disciples for failing to pick up on those clues.  In the leaven case, we know the true intended meaning because its spelled out.  In other cases, we are left to pick up the clues without clear statements to support them.  This is frustrating and unsatisfactory to some.  But I find that this is more in line with the manner Christ and NT authors handled OT prophecy.  Are we going to "lock in" our OT interpretation, and find creative ways to ignore what the NT indicates, or let the NT shape our way of looking at the OT.

 

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

To put things in the language I learned back in Junior High English class, what G.N. is saying is "are there clues here that the phrase is a metaphor?".  With the "leaven of the Pharisees" comment, we would have to assume either (1) the Pharisees were known for making some pretty nasty bread or (2) Jesus is using a metaphor.  Notice that in the context of Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 12, the Disciples initially assume it has something to do with bread and then they clue in that it's a metaphor.  Notice also that in Matthew 16:12 and Luke 12:1, Christ spells it out clearly for us--so this example is not really the best example of a place where the literalist will have a problem.

One place I would point to is in Acts, where Paul claims not to recognize the High Priest--given that Paul had spent a dozen years in rabbinic schools and would have been completely familiar with the garments, position, and such of the same, I have to wonder if what's really going on is that he was using plausible deniability to point out that the "High Priest" was actually a non-Cohen appointed by the Romans, or an apostate priest--and using that plausible deniability to avoid being killed for doing that.

Look forward to the next installment; as I've noted before, I am not convinced that the almost "blanket" presumption of metaphorical value of the prophets can be sustained--there are simply too many places where the prophecies were literally fulfilled to support that.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

J. Baillet's picture

Rolland McCune wrote:

... Yet the issue has gotten thrown off track by interjecting old, straw man, discredited notions over Jesus the "door" or the "leaven" of the Pharisees. This is so 1940s. Let O.T. Allis rest in peace. His day came and went in dispensational analytical thinking long ago. No point in opening that carpet sweeper bag now. ...

Perhaps so, but the same fallacious argument keeps rearing its head from time to time.  Dr. Snoeberger's lead paragraph, for example.  I believe the main thrust of his series is worthy in its own right without it.

Let me add, Dr. Snoeberger's post begins with the phrase, "For decades it was assumed, ..."  Therefore, I would suggest that a quotation from O. T. Allis from the 1940s is, based upon a plain reading of Dr. Snoeberger, so apropos.

JSB

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