The Components of Literal Interpretation

From Dispensational Publishing House; used by permission. Read the series so far.

Dispensationalism & the Literal Interpretation of the Bible, Part 4

While it is true that “literal interpretation” is not the private property of dispensationalism, the claim is actually the consistent use thereof. A case can still be made that traditional dispensationalism can make good on this claim.

There is no lock-step consensus on what “literal interpretation” really is. In the 19th century, E. R. Craven, the American editor of Lange’s Commentary, with unusual clarity made the point that literal interpretation is better termed “normal” since both literal and figurative interpretation can be comprehended in the term.1 More recently, Roy Zuck differentiated, correctly, literal interpretation into “ordinary-literal” and “figurative-literal.”2 It is not the intent here to define precisely what “literal interpretation” really is, but rather to suggest four rubrics or principles that must be entertained in understanding literal interpretation. These must be held in relationship to other factors of good hermeneutics such as context, literary genre and the like. There may be other such fundamental underpinnings, but at least these must be comprehended in a proper approach to Scripture. The first two of these principles will be our focus in this installment.

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Dispensationalists Frantically Adjust End-Times Charts To Include Brexit Vote

The Purposes of Human Language

From Dispensational Publishing House; used by permission. Read the series so far.

Dispensationalism & the Literal Interpretation of the Bible, Part 3

Human language had a disruption at the incident of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-10). There was an initial unity of human language; there was “the same language and the same words” (Gen. 11:1). (The KJV has “of one language, and of one speech,” Gen. 11:1. The NIV has “one language and a common speech,” Gen. 11:1.) There was an organic unity of speech. Vocabulary and syntax were a comprehensible unit understood by all.  Communication was swift. Philologists and linguists fairly agree that there was a parent language to all the languages of the world, based on similarities of vocabulary, grammar and syntax. No one knows what the original language was, although until the 19th century the theory that it was Hebrew was practically unquestioned.

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Language Requires a Rational Mind

From Dispensational Publishing House; used by permission. Read the series so far.

Dispensationalism & the Literal Interpretation of the Bible, Part 2

A third component of the image of God in man is morality. This has to do with powers which inform one of right and wrong and enable him to act accordingly. A fourth aspect is spirituality. This is the capacity for fellowship with God, to understand and participate in spiritual things, the capacity for eternal life, and the like.

A last capacity in the image of God has to do with physical considerations.

There seems to be a physical dimension to the image of God since man did indeed have a body as a result of being created in the image of God (Gen. 2:7). One way of understanding this is in the sense that Adam’s body anticipated Christ’s body in the incarnation. God made Adam’s body after the blueprint or pattern for the enfleshment He had determined for Christ. The triune God was incorporeal before the incarnation; all the persons of the Trinity were spirit beings. Physical factors regarding God at the time of creation were largely anticipatory. God, however, undoubtedly was a Christophany (a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ) when He walked daily in the garden (Gen. 3:8), and no doubt was also on Day Six when he made man’s body “from the ground” (Gen. 2:7).

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The Origin Of Human Language

From Dispensational Publishing House; used by permission.

Dispensationalism & the Literal Interpretation of the Bible, Part 1

For decades, one of the sina qua non of dispensationalism has been the consistent use of a literal interpretation of the Bible.1 In fact, it proved to be the ultimate and most primitive of the irreducible minimum of dispensational tenets. Dr. Charles Ryrie said that one’s hermeneutical principles should be determined before one’s theology is formed.2 Earl Radmacher later forcefully contended that literal interpretation was the “basic principle” of dispensationalism.3

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Dispensationalism Then & Now, Part 2

(From Dispensational Publishing House; used by permission. Read Part 1.)

A Renewed Understanding of Hermeneutics

My personal concerns have to do with some of the new proposals for a dispensational approach to the Bible, i.e., a critique of some of the structural points that hitherto were not characteristic of dispensational thought. One major principle will be discussed here—biblical hermeneutics. There are other factors that could be dealt with profitably as well.

Principles of Biblical interpretation are the first order of concerns in structuring a doctrine or a comprehensive method of interpreting the Bible, foundational to correct exegesis itself. Often the order is reversed. It is often asserted with vigor that Biblical hermeneutics must come from interpreting the Bible itself, i.e., a simple matter of exegesis. But this appears to be a circular procedure, i.e., using hermeneutical principles on the Bible in order to find the Bible’s hermeutical principles (to be used on the Bible).

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Dispensationalism Then & Now, Part 1

Detail from the cover of a Scofield Reference Bible (ca. 1917)

(From Dispensational Publishing House; used by permission.)

In early 1992, I was invited by Dr. Ernest Pickering, pastor of Fourth Baptist Church and president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Minneapolis, to participate in the annual Founders Conference in the seminary. He expressed an opinion that we needed “a clear call on the subject of dispensationalism.” I was honored to be asked and was delighted to go. I suppose there is never a time when we do not need to refresh ourselves on doctrinal truth, especially the distinctives of dispensationalism.

Dispensationalism is simply an approach to understanding the overall storyline of the Bible. As a set of systematized principles and teachings it began about 1825 with John Nelson Darby. However, there were unsystematized principles of a dispensational nature long before him. There has been refinement and modification over the years in dispensational thought. Revision, reevaluation and more precise statement are always ongoing in theology and biblical studies.

A brief historical outline of general dispensational thinking is given here, followed by a discussion of one major area that calls for clarification and/or a renewed understanding.

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