Hermeneutics

Review – Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture

A Clear and Present Word is the 21st volume in the “New Studies in Biblical Theology” series which now extends to 45 volumes. This volume is dedicated to the doctrine of perspicuity (or the Bible’s clarity). From Eve’s wicked interlocutor in the garden to the present day, there has been a reechoing “Has God really said?”

In recent theological debates, it is clear that inerrancy is often the bibliological battleground. However, as this book endeavors to show, even if the accuracy of the words is granted, their power can just as easily be neutralized though obfuscation as through denial. Mr. Thompson (Principle of Moore Theological Seminary, Australia. Evangelical Anglican) labors to unfold the importance of Scripture’s clarity as well as to defend it.

Perspicuity has not seen the scholarly concentration of other doctrines of Bibliology and the book is a welcome resource for anyone who desires to better understand it. The series aims to relate important biblical/theological themes in a way that is both scholarly and accessible to the layperson. The author succeeds in presenting a book that can be beneficial both to the studious lay person as well as the pastor.

Chapter one takes up the question of whether Christians can even claim to have a clear word of God. After all, we live in the postmodern era when truth is considered at least obscure, and often unknowable. The chapter outlines the arguments against the clarity of the Bible, first from church history and then more recently the post-modern view of truth.

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The Apocalyptic (Wrong) Turn, Part 4

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Some Major Characteristics of Apocalyptic (with Responses)

Take up any book on the subject and you will be told that the many features of apocalyptic literature can scarcely if ever be found in one single work. Indeed, a piece of apocalyptic can be absent many of the list of characteristics. Still, it is worth trying to get at the criteria. Brent Sandy has provided a list of eleven characteristics (twelve if one includes pseudonymity) of the genre:1 I have added some comments to temper them a bit.

  1. “jaw-dropping scenes of animals, rivers, mountains and stars that jump off the page with movielike special effects (Dan. 8:2-14; Zech. 6:1-7)”

A star went before the magi to guide them; it was actual not apocalyptical. While some of the animals, say in Daniel 7, are imaginary, this is not necessarily the case with the visions in Zechariah or Ezekiel. If the prophets could see real spiritual beings (cherubim, seraphim, women with stork’s wings, etc), then apocalyptic is more a category of experience (which includes seeing the supernatural) than has hitherto been admitted.

  1. “natural catastrophes producing cosmic chaos throughout the universe, ushering in the dreadful day of judgment (Is. 24:18-20; Ezek. 38:19-22)”

These passages describe an epic earthquake; nothing in these passages is figurative.

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The Apocalyptic (Wrong) Turn, Part 3

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Going Far Beyond the Bible

All of the major advocates of apocalyptic gather data, albeit not exclusively, from outside of the Bible. Brent Sandy demonstrates his procedure of going beyond Scripture when he says, “In order to understand the language of apocalyptic, we must review the period of world history relevant to Daniel 8 and then examine Daniel’s language.”1 He is not alone. Notice what is entailed in this statement about the genre:

Apocalypse was a literary genre that flourished in the period between the OT and NT(though apocalyptic visions of the future can be found in the OT as well as the NT).2

Here is another statement from the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery:

Apocalyptic forms of expression were very common outside the Bible, and contemporary readers need to become familiar with that mindset to understand biblical apocalyptic literature and symbolism.3

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The Apocalyptic (Wrong) Turn, Part 2

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The “Apocalypse” of John and Picking Sides

The first composition to call itself an “apocalypse” was the Book of Revelation, written by the Apostle John circa 95 A.D.1 “And even there” says Collins, “it is not clear whether the word denotes a special class of literature or is used more generally for revelation.”2 But right here at the start I believe we are misdirected. John expressly tells us that his book is a “prophecy” (Rev. 1:3; 22:7, 10, 18, 19), and is “the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:2), which “is the spirit of prophecy” according to Revelation 19:10. So every indication within the Book of Revelation itself is that it is a prophecy. Hence the term apokalypsis as John uses it does not refer to a special class of literature, but rather does stand generally for a revelation from Jesus Christ.

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The Apocalyptic (Wrong) Turn, Part 1

This is a draft chapter from the forthcoming book The Words of the Covenant.

The purpose of this article is to cast a little doubt upon the generally received view of the reading of biblical apocalyptic literature. As the unique Word of God, the Bible itself is its own interpreter, and much of the edifice of genre criticism and particularly apocalyptic genre is not based on biblical premises, nor should the “apocalyptic” sections of the Bible be read as if at odds with the understanding of God’s covenants that we have been considering. In point of fact, read against the backdrop of the divine covenants apocalyptic presents few problems for the interpreter and makes its own contribution to the prophetic big picture of the Bible.

Apocalyptic as We are Supposed to View It

According to the leading writers on the subject, the study of apocalyptic literature only gained impetus in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and really began in earnest in the second half of the twentieth century. Though there has been some shift in opinion over the past fifty years, the overall consensus is fairly stable. Mainline scholars have broken down their study into three major strands:

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Why I Read the Scholars Yet Still Believe that God Means What He Says

Recently, I have been immersing myself (not for the first time) in the works of writers who would disagree very strongly with the views espoused at Telos and by traditional dispensationalists in general. Trawling through these big books, paying attention to each argument and their use of Scripture, and repeatedly coming across assertions that seem to make God guilty of double-talk is, to be brutally honest, a sort of self-imposed torture. So why do I do it? I read these works because I want to be informed about the latest arguments against my position. I want to keep abreast of how many evangelical scholars think. I don’t want to be a Bible teacher and theologian who is ignorant of what’s going on around him.

Another reason I read books by those with whom I disagree is because if a good argument arises which demonstrates I am wrong, I want to see it. So far, I have to report that I have not found any argument which impresses me that way. In fact, the more I read of these men, the more convinced I become that they are, hermeneutically speaking, barking up the wrong tree.

Let me give you an example:

Perhaps one of the most striking features of Jesus’ kingdom is that it appears not to be the kind of kingdom prophesied in the OT and expected by Judaism. (G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, 431)

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Axioms for Bible Interpretation

How can Christians tell which interpretation is valid? Different people read the same text, and have different ideas about what it means. Why? Don’t we all have the same Lord, the same faith, the same baptism of the Spirit, and the same God and Father? Why don’t we agree on what the Bible teaches?

One reason is because some people are better at reading than others. In our day and age, people don’t read as often as they should. This means we don’t read all that much, which means when we do read, we can do it badly. So, when we read the Bible, it’s entirely possible we don’t read it too well.

A while back, Roy Zuck wrote a wonderful book entitled Basic Bible Interpretation: A Practical Guide to Discovering Biblical Truth. The title says it all. What makes this book so practical is that it’s written for normal people. Zuck tackled the problem of “whose view is valid” in this book. Here, I’ll briefly explain some of his axioms of Bible interpretation. No matter how smart you are, how many degrees you have (or don’t have), or how skilled you are in biblical Greek and Hebrew, these principles are foundational to understanding and interpreting the Bible. I once heard Steven Lawson proclaim that he re-reads Zuck’s book every few years; it helps him not forget so many of the basics that can be taken for granted.

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Apocalyptic Fixation

Author’s note: This article reproduces and modifies some of the chapter on “Covenant and Apocalyptic” in the book I am writing. It is therefore not meant to be a full exploration of the subject.

If you have been keeping abreast of evangelical treatments of the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah, or the Olivet Discourse or Book of Revelation you will have run into the term “Apocalyptic literature.” It’s the favorite go-to for anyone who wants to stop the mouths of the prophets while sounding scholarly.

I realize that opening line is a bit testy, but I write it as one who has spent some time studying the major works on Apocalyptic — all written by critical liberal scholars — and have read the almost threadbare regurgitations of conservatives who are content to use this scholarship to support their reading of the Bible while retaining traditional beliefs.

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