Hermeneutics

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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Our Theological System Should Not Tell Us How to Exegete the Bible

A theological system ought to be the product of exegetical study of Scripture, not a preface to exegetical work. Hermeneutical principles are first observed in the Scriptures themselves, even in a cursory and casual reading. Those principles are then applied in actual study of the text in the exegetical process.

This important order of principles and process is one reason that it is a bit of a misnomer to refer to a “dispensational hermeneutic.” Dispensational thinkers claim that they (are at least attempting to) consistently apply a literal grammatical historical hermeneutic to the biblical text. In that hermeneutic approach, dispensational conclusions are just that—conclusions. If we claim to hold to a dispensational hermeneutic, then on the one hand we are asserting our lack of bias in consistently applying an objective hermeneutic, while on the other we are showing our bias by claiming a dispensational presupposition. One can’t have it both ways. Dispensationalists have struggled with this to some degree. Reformed theologians, on the other hand, have virtually dismissed this issue altogether, readily admitting that theology drives their hermeneutic.

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Forty Reasons for Not Reinterpreting the OT by the NT: The Last Twenty

Read the first twenty.

21. Saying the NT must reinterpret the OT also devalues the OT as its own witness to God and His Plans. For example, if the promises given to ethnic Israel of land, throne, temple, etc. are somehow “fulfilled” in Jesus and the Church, what was the point of speaking about them so pointedly? Cramming everything into Christ not only destroys the clarity and unity of Scripture in the ways already mentioned, it reduces the biblical covenants d own to the debated promise of Genesis 3:15. The [true] expansion seen in the covenants (with all their categorical statements) is deflated into a single sound-bite of “the Promised Seed-Redeemer has now come and all is fulfilled in Him.” This casts aspersions on God as a communicator and as a covenant-Maker, since there was absolutely no need for God to say many of the things He said in the OT, let alone bind himself by oaths to fulfill them (a la Jer. 31 & 33. Four covenants are cited in Jer. 33; three in Ezek. 37).

22. It forces one to adopt a “promise – fulfillment” scheme between the Testaments, ignoring the fact that the OT possesses no such promise scheme, but rather a more relational “covenant – blessing” scheme.

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Forty Reasons for Not Reinterpreting the OT by the NT: The First Twenty

Introduction

It seems to be almost an axiom within contemporary, evangelical Bible interpretation that the New Testament must be allowed to reinterpret the Old Testament. That is, the New Testament is believed to have revelatory priority over the Old Testament, so that it is considered the greatest and final revelation. And because the NT is the final revelation of Jesus Christ, the only proper way to understand the OT is with the Christ of the NT directing us. Though proponents of this hermeneutic may define “reinterpret” with slippery words like “expansion” or “foreshadowing,” they are still insisting the OT can be, and in some cases, should be, reinterpreted through the lens of the NT.

Not unusually the admission is made that the original recipients of the OT covenants and promises would not have conceived of God fulfilling His Word to them in the ways in which we are often told the NT demands they were fulfilled. This belief in the interpretative priory of the NT over the OT is accepted as “received truth” by a great many evangelical scholars and students today. But there are corollaries which are often left unexplored or ill-considered. Did the prophets of the OT speak and write in a sort of Bible Code which had to be picked through and deciphered by Apostolic authors resulting in hazy allusions and unanticipated concretizations of what seemed to be unambiguous language? Did God speak to men in times past in symbolic language so that we today could unravel what He really meant? Doesn’t this strongly imply that the OT was not really for them, but for us?

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