Hermeneutics

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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The Covenants in Hosea (Part 2)

Read Part 1.

The Book of Hosea continues to pour out its condemnations of the malpractices of Israel (in particular the northern tribes spoken to “synecdocheally” under the heading of the largest tribe, Ephraim), but at the end of chapter 5 there is a passage which expresses another truth that will seemingly run in tandem with God’s wooing of Israel as described in chapter 2:14f.

I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense.
Then they will seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me. (Hosea 5:15)

The scene is of God retiring from the scene until such a time as His people acknowledge the fact that they have continually sinned against Him. The theme is found earlier in Deuteronomy 30:1-6 where the prediction of worshipful obedience transcends any state of affairs known after that time.

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The Covenants in Hosea (Part 1)

A Draft for the book The Words of the Covenant.

Hosea (active c. 755-725 B.C.) is best known for his on/off relationship with the harlot Gomer and the message God entailed in it. Hosea had married Gomer and she (predictably) committed adultery and was put away by the prophet. But then the prophet was told to take her back! What was the meaning of this story?

Upon the naming of his third child with Gomer we read this:

Then God said: “Call his name Lo-Ammi, for you are not My people, and I will not be your God. “Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, `You are not My people,’ There it shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’

Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and appoint for themselves one head; and they shall come up out of the land, for great will be the day of Jezreel!” (Hosea 1:9-11)

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The Precedent for Literal Grammatical Historical Hermeneutics in Genesis

In order to arrive at a Scriptural approach for interpreting Scriptures, the interpretive method must be exegetically derived from within the Scriptural text. Otherwise, there can be no claim to hermeneutical certainty, because any externally derived interpretive method can be preferred and applied simply by exerting presuppositions upon the text. In the case of an externally derived hermeneutic, presuppositions leading to that hermeneutical conclusion create a pre-understanding that predetermines meaning independent of the author’s intentions. The outcome, in such a case, can be wildly different than what the author had in mind.

If the Bible is merely a collection of ancient stories, legends, and myth, interspersed with mildly historical accounts, then the stakes are not particularly high. The greatest damage we can inflict by a faulty hermeneutical method is of the same weight as misunderstanding the motivations and activities of Mark Twain’s adventurous character, Tom Sawyer, for example. In such an instance we would simply fail to recognize the aesthetic virtues of a creative work.

However, if the Bible constitutes an actual revelation from God, then it bears the very authority of the Author, Himself – an authority that extends to every aspect of life and conduct. These are high stakes, indeed. If we fail to engage the text with the interpretive approach intended by its Author, then we fail not just to appreciate aesthetic qualities, but we fail to grasp who God is, and what He intends for us to do.

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