Author: Paul Henebury


My Materials on Biblical Covenantalism

I have been asked to put my stuff on Biblical Covenantalism in one place.  These are the main posts which, I think, define and expound the concept and indicate where I am going with it.  I hope placing them together helps out.

The Main Articles, the ‘Book’, and the Videos: 

Biblical Covenants and Normative Hermeneutics 1, 2

Explaining why the Biblical Covenants provide a hermeneutics for the Bible.

Dispensationalism & Biblical Covenantalism: What’s in a Name? (link)

A comparison of the perspectives.  This Synopsis was written for the same post.

Renewing Dispensational Theology: A Suggested Path 1, 2

My ideas about how standard Dispensational theology could be profitably redirected and strengthened by downplaying the importance of Divine economies and conferring primary authority to the Biblical Covenants.  The article builds on an earlier one called What is a “Dispensationalist Theology?” 

Covenants: Clarity, Ambiguity & Faith 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6  – This six part article was designed to clarify some points made in an earlier piece called On the Biblical Covenants 

The Parameters of Meaning: 4a, 4b

Even though this comes from a series (yet unfinished – I’m working on it) which covers more than the covenants, this one is concerned directly with the boundaries which the covenants set for proper interpretation.



The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism

This is not the “big book” I am working on, but it outlines the centrality of Jesus Christ to the system.  I am trying to edit and revise it in my spare (ha!) time.

Chapter 1a, 1b, 1c;

Chapter 2a, 2b, 2c;

Chapter 3a, 3b;

Chapter 4a, 4b, 4c, 4d;

Chapter 5a, 5b, 5c, 5d;

Chapter 6a, 6b;

Conclusion 7a, 7b



1 & 2 

3 & 4;

5 & 6

These are six video presentations where I present a fairly detailed overview of Biblical Covenantalism as I conceive of it.

Other subjects dealt with along these lines:

The Forgotten Covenant 1, 2, 3, 4

About the covenant with Phinehas.  I realize that some scholars see a covenant with Aaron which is unrelated to that which was made with Phinehas, but I see no reason to multiply covenants needlessly. They amount to the same thing.

What is Progressive Revelation? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 

This article seeks to define progressive revelation sensibly by taking seriously the meanings of “progressive” and “revelation”, and rescue the idea from the abuse it must suffer at the hands of prevaricating theological dogmas.

Has the Davidic Covenant Been Initially Realized in the Church? (link)

This piece is my attempt to deal with questions pertaining to Acts 2

Does Diatheke Mean “Last Will and Testament” in Hebrews 9:16-17? (link)

I argue that the Greek term often translated as “testament” in this place ought to be rendered “covenant” along with all other uses in Hebrews.

My TELOS Lectures on Biblical Theology, which I have nearly finished uploading under the title “Biblical Covenantalism” will be added to this list soon.

Okay, there it all is.  Have fun!

4271 cvr final CC.indd

A Review of ‘Understanding Prophecy’ by Bandy & Merkle

Review of Understanding Prophecy: A Biblical-Theological Approach, by Alan S. Bandy and Benjamin L. Merkle, Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2015, 264 pages, paperback 

N.B. This review is from the perspective of someone who is less than an enthusiastic supporter of symbolical cum typological interpretations of the Bible, so it will be mainly critical.  However, for those in-tune with the approach of the writers, the book can be recommended as a good explication of the redemptive-historical method. 

This new book on prophecy comes from two writers who differ on whether or not the millennium is here already or whether it is still to come.  Alan Bandy is a historic or covenant premillennialist, while Benjamin Merkle is a covenant amillennialist.  The choice to present biblical prophecy from this angle was clever.  However, this should not be interpreted as anything more than a mere novelty.  As the authors themselves write on the first page of the Preface,

First, we discovered that although our millennial views are different, we actually agree with each other most of the time regarding our interpretation of prophetic texts and our way of seeing the big picture of the Bible. (9)

The admission that the authors “agree with each other most of the time” will not come as a surprise to those familiar with the two eschatological positions, particularly as they are repristinated by the “already-not yet” hermeneutics of G. E. Ladd.

The approach represented here then, is “redemptive-historical” (20 n. 5).  This means they promote what has become the usual way of reading the Bible in evangelical seminaries: with theological assumptions applied by use of symbols and types.  On the next page the writings of T. D. Alexander, Greg Beale, and others are endorsed as further examples of the method being advocated.  These authors admit certain crucial presuppositions in their interpretation which determine their idea of the subject.

From this platform we run into the assertion that the fulfillment of most prophecy is to be looked for at Christ’s first coming (e.g. 10).  So,

Christ is the eschatos of prophecy who gives meaning to all that has happened or will yet transpire throughout human history.  Our approach to prophecy must always be viewed through the gospel and what Christ has already accomplished. (27-28)

A gospel-centered hermeneutic filters all prophecy through the lens of the resurrected Christ. (29)

While these sentiments contain a forceful and persuasive piety, I think they make biblical interpretation more involved than it needs to be.  They also appear to beg the question.  In the first instance both quotations assume that the great stress of the prophetic teaching of the Bible is on the first advent.  But this seems to be palpably untrue.  There are scores of covenanted promises in both Testaments which point to the second advent and events before and (especially) after it.  That is, unless one’s hermeneutics are fashioned in such a way that the prophecies come to be seen as pertaining to the first coming.  As for viewing all prophecy through the gospel and Christ’s accomplishment, the cross and resurrection can be given all the recognition they certainly require without bending the prophetic corpus into the historic past.  For all the world a plain reading of Scripture places an even greater stress upon the coming of the Lord in glory to establish real righteousness and shalom on His earth.  Far better then to let the Bible say what it says without making some of its earlier parts pass through a theological “filter” of the interpreter’s making.

To explain their program the writers call upon “progressive revelation” (31-33), although like most evangelicals today they employ language which sounds like double-speak.  Later revelation can “add to or modify” earlier revelation, but it does not “necessarily supplant or abrogate” previous scripture. This reader begs to differ.  One can nullify earlier statements by declaring they mean something other than their words appear to mean.  Citing Beale, the OT texts “undergo an organic expansion or development of meaning.”  But when one steps back and looks at the result the meaning of the OT passages have not only “expanded”, they have morphed into something else!  As is contended later, “we believe that the text will be literally fulfilled but not necessarily according to the precise wording of the prophecy” (110 n.5).  According to the online Oxford Dictionary, “literally” means,

In a literal manner or sense; exactly:
the driver took it literally when asked to go straight across the traffic circle 

Notice that the driver in the example above did “fulfill” the direction he was given “according to the precise wording”.  So with all the arguments in the book against plain-sense interpretation one will not be surprised to read that,

If John the Baptist was unsure about the fulfillment of prophecies, what assurance do we have regarding predictions related to Christ’s second coming?  That unfulfilled prophecy will be fulfilled is certain, but precisely how they will be fulfilled is uncertain. (209).

The thesis of the book could not be stated better.  Prophecy as information we can understand is practically mute until God declares it fulfilled.  It is revelation that doesn’t reveal.  I have taken issue with this depiction of God in another place.

The position is then shored up by poking fun at populist dispensational writers like Tim LaHaye and the wacky fringe who do newspaper exegesis while purporting to read the Book of Revelation literally (58).  To show how dispensationalists are mistaken about their understanding of OT prophecy the authors employ Amos 9:11-15 as an example (109ff. This text or Joel 2 is the passage of choice for such discussions).  It needs to be noted that when James uses the passage in Acts 15 he does not say the prophecy is fulfilled. The authors’ case would have been more impressive had they tackled Jeremiah 33:14-26, but who does?

Strangely, when it comes to giving guidance on the Return of Christ the texts are simply quoted with the apparent assumption that they are to be taken, well, literally (179-181).

As said above, if you are taken with this school of interpretation the book has much to commend it.  If, like me, you are not, it could serve as a helpful introduction to what I might call “first coming hermeneutics.”

The book was supplied to me by the publisher.

Descending to Demonism: From Cain to the Sons of God

The scenes from the story of Cain and Abel, up until the “sons of God”, and the global Flood cover a period of perhaps two thousand years.  Genesis 4 properly belongs with the previous three chapters.  It begins and ends with namings; the naming of Cain (“acquired”, or “brought forth”), and the naming of Seth (“granted [substitute]”), and then Seth’s naming of Enosh (“frailty”).  In the beginning of this chapter we find two brothers, Cain and Abel, who are worshipping God (Yahweh).  Their offerings come from the different spheres of their activity.  Cain is a farmer and so he brings the produce of the ground.  Abel is a shepherd, and so he brings a choice lamb from his flock.

The narrative is not detailed, but the Lord’s opinion of Cain’s offering was one of disapproval.  The problem was not external; it was not with the offering.  Those who teach that because the earth is cursed the gift of Cain was inappropriate forget that Abel’s lamb ate from the produce of the cursed ground.  No, Cain’s problem was in his approach to God.  In his lack of faith (implied in Heb. 11:4), his offering was not truly an offering.  Cain refused to rectify his worship and he became the first murderer.  He does not murder a stranger for riches.  He slays his own brother, Abel.  Why did he do this?  Because Abel’s offering had been accepted by the Lord and Cain had been “burning” (charah) toward his brother.  He was filled with religious envy.  The first murder was religiously motivated.  He is then depicted as admitting (not really confessing) his guilt (but not before lying about it), and he ends up going out “east of Eden” and building a city which he names after his son Enoch.  It is of interest that in the Bible only one city is viewed in a positive light: Jerusalem – and that not always!  Secondly, the Bible appears to approve of history moving from East to West, and to disapprove of movement from West to East.  Adam and Eve travel East (3:24), as does Cain (4:16), and the people who came to Shinar and built a tower (11:2), and Lot chose the goodlands to the East when he and Abram separated (13:11).

One thing which Cain forfeited by his murderous deed was the right (if we may so speak of it at this venture) of the firstborn.  T. D. Alexander observes that, “For killing his brother Abel, Cain, the first-born, is passed over in favour of Seth, the third-born.”[1]

Cain’s lineage is given up until verses 23-24, which records Lamech’s bragging about the murder of a young man.  Thus, although there are accomplishments: city building (if such can be said to be an accomplishment), animal breeding, music, and metallurgy, the genealogy begins and ends with two murderers.  In Cain’s line Lamech occupies the seventh position; a position of honor[2].  The Adamic genealogy in the next chapter places the godly Enoch in that position.  So what we are given is a picture of expansion in various spheres.  But along with this growth of creativity there is a greater opportunity for independence to be reinforced, and for sin to produce death.

The fifth chapter is a death chapter.  The names in Adam’s genealogy are of men who lived, by our standards, an immense amount of years.  But they all died (save Enoch, who was taken – Gen. 5:22).  If you are like me you would like to know why Enoch was taken and why we are told that he was.  Some might tell us that there is a typological teaching hidden in there.[3]  They may be right, but I find I cannot get any help from the Bible (Heb. 11:5 merely repeats the fact).  But he is the only person other than (possibly) Elijah who did not see death.[4]  Even the Son of God had to die!

But even in a chapter where the refrain “and he died” is constant there is hope.  Genesis 5:1b-3 declares,

In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. 2 He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created. 3 When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.

As well as telling us that this is Seth’s line, these verses use the same words about Seth that were used of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:26-27, although in reverse.  Seth is in Adam’s likeness (demuth) and image (selem), and is therefore in God’s likeness and image.  This means that even fallen mankind has intrinsic worth above what his deeds testify to.  It is well to recall this fact when pondering God’s actions in the flood.  This is why God’s promise of a victorious Seed in Genesis 3:15 carries with it a hope for man.

Since chapter 5 concerns Seth’s line and not that of Cain, it is scarcely credible to associate what comes next with the Sethites.  Explanations of the sons of God in the first part of chapter 6 which resort to making them into sons of Cain, while at the same time turning “the daughters of men” into daughters of Seth, are making the text say something it is clearly at pains not to say.  It used to be that one was hard pressed to find an evangelical who was prepared to identify the “sons of God” with fallen angels.  It was easy enough to find liberals who had little trouble with the identification (they simply had trouble believing it!).  Thankfully the situation has changed[5].  Now we find evangelical scholars who are more comfortable with the designation.[6]  This is important, if only because it is in places like this where we feel pressured to come up with an alternative interpretation of what the text appears to be saying.  Such a maneuver, especially when made by those who elsewhere plead for grammatical-historical interpretation, hardly helps the case for plain-sense hermeneutics.  As enigmatic as the passage may be, all the scriptural evidence points to the bene ha elohim[7] being either demonic angels or demonized humans.[8]   (more…)


‘The Making of an Atheist’ – A Short Review

Review of James S. Spiegel, The Making of an Atheist: How Immorality Leads to Unbelief, Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010, 141 pages 

James Spiegel’s books are usually worth a gander because he writes about important but often neglected subjects.  Witness his books on Hypocrisy and Providence.  This book makes a helpful contribution to the usual run of apologetics resources by looking at some intriguing facts surrounding how atheists are made.

Some atheists, of course, make the claim that atheism is the neutral baseline position of humanity; all evidence to the contrary.  But most atheists would, I think, agree that they came to a non-belief in God through one way or another.

This small work is about the undercurrents which turn people into atheists.  In the main, these have to do with morality.  After quoting from several atheists, Spiegel observes,

These comments by Nagel, as well as those …by Harris and Dawkins, reveal strong emotions.  Could it be that their opposition to religious faith has more to do with the will than with reason?…That is precisely the aim of this book.  Atheism is not at all a consequence of intellectual doubts.  Such doubts are mere symptoms of the root cause – moral rebellion.  For the atheist, the missing ingredient is not evidence but obedience. (11. Author’s italics )

That is a strong claim.  But it has been made before.  Cornelius Van Til’s works are filled with this theme of moral antagonism to God.  As he once stated it; man’s unbelief is informed by his ethical hostility toward God.  This is certainly a biblical position.  Psalm 14:1 locates the rejection of the concept of God in the corruption of men.  Romans 1 does the same thing.  Motivations to anti-theism are just that, motivations.

Turning from the Introduction to the first chapter, Spiegel turns his attention to the problem of evil.  He admits that this issue “does pack some punch”, but “it could never count as grounds for atheism” (26). The logic of atheistic naturalism does not empty out into anything but leaky vessels.  Even trying to call upon Occam’s Razor (the principle of adopting the least premises to account for something) to make God a superfluous postulate backfires when it is seen that atheism just doesn’t have the tools needed to explain our experience (28-30).  to make the point clearer the author presents a well-honed scaled down version of Plantinga’s “Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism” (58-59), the gist of which is, “if naturalism is true, then we have no reason to believe it is true.”

In the third chapter the book looks at the causes of atheism.  To start off the examples of actress Jodie Foster and comedian George Carlin are given to show that “desires often drive a person’s beliefs” (63). Spiegel then turns to the work of Paul Vitz to show how absentee fathers is linked with atheism (He might also have referred to John Koster’s telling study, The Atheist Syndrome).  The works of Paul Johnson and E. Michael Jones which have documented the immoral lifestyles of prominent atheists are then surveyed.

Chapter 4 deals with the atheist mindset; how the mind can be trained in non-belief.  Thomas Kuhn’s study of scientific paradigms and Michael Polanyi’s theory of personal (tacit) knowledge support the writer’s thesis that if one is set in a certain way of thinking, “we can expect our most cogent arguments to fall on deaf ears.” (101).  In short, there is “a will to disbelieve.”

In the last chapter the benefits of Christian Theism for mental and even physical well-being are covered. All in all this is a very good and easy read; a good book to put into the hands of high school grads or for adult study groups.  Atheists, of course, will hate it.  But it does not pretend to diagnose every case of unbelief.  what it does do is make a solid case for “How immorality leads to unbelief.”  Recommended.


Question: Amillennialism and the Land Promise

This question came to me via Spirit & Truth, a website I am privileged to have a part in.


Thanks very much for your TELOS series of Biblical Covenantalism. I stumbled upon this at just the time I needed it – and therefore believe God led me to your sight.

The minister of our church is staunchly amillenialist, and I am involved in discussions with him. The question he will get me on, unless you can provide me with a biblically based answer is this:
If the land promise to Abraham and his descendants is a literal piece of real estate, and it has been given as an EVERLASTING possession, what happens to the EVERLASTING nature of that covenant promise in the New Heavens and the New Earth?

My Answer:

Thanks for your question.
In the first place your pastor’s position is unreasonable, putting the burden of proof where it doesn’t belong. Since he clearly knows that the text(s) say the land was given to Israel by God, by challenging it with such a question he is demanding of the Bible that it answers his queries before he will believe it. This is a symptom of the all-too-common problem of making unaided reason an authority over the clear wording of Scripture.

If you want an idea of why he is being unreasonable, ask him to explain how Christ can be both 100% God and 100% man at one and the same time. Ask him to explain it (don’t let him fob you off with the Chalcedonian Creed). My point is that certain Christian truths (like the dual natures of Christ) are difficult because Scripture does not pander to our wish to have all our questions answered. It expects faith in what is said (which is enough for us).

As far as a biblically-based answer; well, what is to prevent Israel having a designated piece of real estate on the new earth? We know there are nations and kings there (Rev. 21:24, 26).

I want you not to make an issue of this with your pastor. He will not change if he does not see. And he will not see if he has certain presuppositions: lenses through which he interprets the Bible.


Apologetics and Your Kids (Pt. 9) – Is “All Truth God’s Truth”?

Part Eight

Last time I asked whether the facts speak for themselves.  My answer was that they do not, they are freighted with interpretations, whether right or wrong.  In Part Seven I called attention to the temptation of attaching ourselves to slogans and ideas from the world.  Before proceeding along the lines I started with in the last post, I want first to take two common but deadly slogans which Christians use and look at them, for though they sound alright, they have been the cause of much confusion among Christians.  The phrase I have in mind today is “All Truth is God’s Truth.”

Misusing a Slogan to Place Man’s Authority above God’s Word.

We have come as far as seeing the importance of embracing the Truth, not for our sake primarily, but for its own sake – because it is an attribute of God.  An accurate view of Truth is essential to a correct Christian Worldview, and a correct Christian Worldview is necessary for the defense of Christianity.  Thus, a clear idea of the character of Truth is of the utmost importance for our children to understand, and this motto, “All Truth is God’s Truth” requires careful handling.

For some people – and that number sadly includes some Christian apologists, the slogan could be paraphrased as, “All that the experts call truth is God’s truth.”

In such a scenario it ought to be clear that it is not what God says that is of first importance, but human estimations and perceptions of what is true that matters.  We think it’s true so we lumber God with it.  Then it is easy to pronounce the Big Bang as God’s truth, or Theistic Evolution (which is rearing its ugly head again!), or the most recent “findings” of archaeologists or Semitic experts, whether they believe the Bible or not.  What this approach asserts is that we decide what is true and then piously say that God did it.  This will not do.

A Use of the Slogan Which Gives the Glory to God

So is there another view?  There is.  It interprets “All Truth is God’s Truth” within the strict parameters of the Bible.  A paraphrase of this position would be, “All that really is true according to Scripture comes from the God of Truth.”

This way of looking at it comports well with the authority we are all supposed to be under: the authority of Scripture.  It automatically has no truck with human assessments of truth, which are always changing anyway.  What is true and what is not true is not ours to decide about.  Our opinion, or the opinions of those we esteem and listen to are irrelevant if they cross what God says about it in the Bible.

What I am saying is that if the phrase “All Truth is God’s Truth” is to be of any acceptable use to us it has to bear a meaning which we can take to God as in agreement with His Word.  We must not let our kids leave our homes with the slippery notion that we can decide what is true and then expect the Lord to place His Divine imprimatur on our assessment.

In the next piece I want to examine another oft-used but dangerous saying which I have encountered in Christian literature.  It is the slogan, “The Bible tells us how to go to heaven; science tells us how the heavens go.”

Part Ten



This (re)post is a “stand-alone.” But I think it is rather important in its own way.  I apologize for the formatting.

“When the Christian sets forth his outlook he will stress the kind of God to whom he is committed, the nature of the world in relation to God, and the nature of man as God’s creature. The Christian God is totally self-sufficient, and in Him there is an equal ultimacy of unity and diversity (being Triune). Everything outside of Him derives its existence, character, meaning, and purpose in light of Him and His sovereign counsel.” – Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, 16.

Logic/Reason…..precondition ……. God who is immaterial perfect rationality

Morality…………..precondition ……..God who is righteous

Truth……………….precondition ……..God who is unchanging Truth

Uniformity……….precondition ……..God who upholds regularity (providence)

Order………………..precondition ……..God who imprints His order on creation

Subject-Object….precondition ……..God creates us (body/soul), the world for us

Love………………….precondition ……..God who is Love and demonstrates it

Beauty………………precondition ……..God who is artistic & gives us aesthetic abilities

Language…………..precondition ……..God who speaks

Good………………….precondition ……..God who is perfectly Good

Evil…………………….precondition ……..God who permits declension from Himself

False Beliefs………..precondition ……..God who (for now) allows rebellion

Personality………….precondition ……..God who is Personal

Relationship………..precondition ……..God who is social

One & Many…………precondition ……..God who is both One and Many (Trinitarian)

Science………………..precondition ……..God who gives skills & conditions for analysis

History………………..precondition ……..God who created & guides with a telos in view

Number……………….precondition ……..God who is Triune and infinite

Ecology………………..precondition ……..God who gives us oversight of His creation

Salvation………………precondition ……..God who reconciles humanity in His Son

Worship………………..precondition ……..God who evokes praise in the saints

Hope……………………..precondition ……..God who raises Christ from the dead

Meaning………………..precondition ……..God who made us in His image

I would love to see a non-Christian chart of all this!

Glory to God alone!

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 7

After a ridiculously long delay, I have started to finish off my series on the Parameters of Meaning beginning with this one on Typology.  I believe these guidelines will help Bible students avoid many pitfalls in interpretation by setting limits on what constitutes legitimate hermeneutics.  For those of you interested here are the previous installments:

Parameters of Meaning – Introduction

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 1

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 2 

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 3

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 4a

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 4b

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 5

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 6

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 7: Never draw theological conclusions that are based upon typology.  Types are too uncertain and debatable for doctrines to be formulated with them.

The Bible is given, in large part for Theology.  2 Timothy 3:16 reminds us all that

All Scripture is God-breathed [out] and is profitable for doctrine (didaskalia), for reproof, the correction, for instruction in righteousness…

The Greek word didaskalia means “teaching” and is often, as in the above example, translated as “doctrine.”  This word, “doctrine”, signifies the body of biblical teaching cast in the form of propositional truths and life principles.  For doctrines, and, therefore, Theology to be really biblical, they must be clearly traceable to the text of Scripture, interpreted within its proper context.  Our doctrinal formulations should be derived from clear statements of the truth which are accessible to all people.

As we have tried to show with the Rules of Affinity, every major doctrine of the Christian Faith can be ascertained either from direct statements taken from Bible passages (this is usual), or from inferences drawn from direct statements which lead to one inevitable conclusion.  Hence, God has given mankind the essentials of Christianity on the surface, as it were, of His Word.  This being so, it is scarcely necessary to dive into the murky waters of symbolism to uncover theological truth in Scripture.

The Tricky Business of Identification

But leaving that aside, we must ask what is needed for a type to even gain credence as a type.  To begin with, nearly all the best writers on the subject say that typology is intra-testamental. This means that the type is in the Old Testament while the antitype, the fulfillment of the type, is in the New Testament.  So too Leonard Goppelt, in his Typos (ch.1), saw it as his task to examine how the use of typology by NT authors and the church guided the interpretation of the OT.

A 1997 article, “Typology: A Summary of Present Evangelical Discussion,” by W. Edward Glenny (JETS 40.4), provides three competing evangelical views, while commending a fourth; that of Richard M. Davidson, as a way forward.  Davidson himself surveys a host of contrasting theories of typology from both mainstream and evangelical sources, and concludes that they all fall short because “a solid semasiological and exegetical foundation for understanding the nature of typology is never laid.” – Typology in Scripture, 73.  (“Semasiological” refers to the actual meaning of a word as it is used).

Recently, men like RWL Moberly have proposed a typology within the OT itself independent of the NT (at least for Jewish readers).  However, Christian use of this approach will not permit fixity of types unless the NT is ushered in through the back door.  In point of fact the soil out of which much typology has been built is the view that the NT reinterprets the OT.


as more revelation was given over time…we discover more of God’s plan and where that plan is going.  It is for this reason that the New Testament’s interpretation of the Old Testament becomes definitive in helping us understand the details of the Old Testament…In other words, we must carefully allow the New Testament to show us how the Old Testament is brought to fulfillment in Christ. – Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 85-86 

But it does not follow that later revelation will always work in this way.  One thinks of the Creation account for instance, or the Fall.  And before it can be asserted that the NT has definitive interpretative clout over the OT we must ascertain whether or not the NT is addressing the particular subject the OT text is addressing.  But this brings to light the major problem, which is whether our interpretation(s) of the NT are infused with dogma.  We find such a problem in the above quotation where the authors assume without proof that “the Old Testament is brought to fulfillment in Christ”, by which they mean, the first coming of Christ.  Such a massive presupposition will inevitable color their understanding of typology, since they will be searching for types of first advent “fulfillment.”  This will unavoidably lead them into collision with the many OT texts which place the fulfillments at the second advent.  In fact, the very existence of the collision calls forth their typology to handle it!

Theological Pre-commitment 

To illustrate this idea of frontloaded conclusions again, consider this by covenant theologian Mark L. Karlberg:

The dissolution of the temporal, earthly theocracy coincided with the new covenant’s reign of God in the hearts of his people through the Spirit. In the eschatological age of the Spirit the kingdom of God is a spiritual reality unencumbered by the shadowy, earthly forms (types) characteristic of the ancient theocracy. In the period between the advents of Christ the presence of the kingdom is in anticipation of the realization of the land-promise in the consummation. – ‘The Significance of Israel in Biblical Typology’, JETS 31:3 (September 1988), 268

But it ought to be obvious that such a typological approach can only be sanctioned if the NT is given interpretive priority over the New, which is actually only to say that the interpreter’s own theologically determined conclusions about the NT are read back into the OT!  Typology trumps contextual exegesis whenever a theological commitment predisposes the reader to employ it.  The present writer has tried to show that the new covenant insures the literal fulfillment of OT predictions, not hands them over to be “typologized”. (more…)


Contemporary Hermeneutical Theory and Conservative Interpretation (Pt.4)

Part Three

Speech-Act Theory and Biblical Interpretation

On a more positive note overall is the matter of whether language is merely descriptive or whether it can be said to actually do something. This gets us into the subject of language as “speech-acts.” This view has been defined as follows:

Speech-act theory is a set of pragmatically based principles that were developed at the edge of philosophy and linguistics. The major assumption is that language is not so much concerned with saying as with doing. That is, the use of language is in fact a way of accomplishing things.[83]

Speech-act theory was introduced by the British philosopher of language J. L. Austin in his 1955 Harvard lectures, posthumously published as How to do Things with Words. Austin’s insights, being rather puzzling in places, were improved by John Searle.[84] Both scholars divided speech-acts into locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary forms.[85] A locutionary utterance is any act of saying something. Illocutionary acts are what is done in saying something, while perlocutionary acts are what is done by saying something.[86]  An illocutionary speech-act, for example, “It’s time to go” affirms that something is so. So when God makes an illocutionary speech-act, He is affirming the truth (since He cannot lie) about something. Obviously, identifying God’s illocutionary speech-acts helps a person to pay more attention to what God is saying. Thus, illocutions are often considered to be the most important kind of speech-acts.[87]

Although many postmodernists, with their preoccupation with language as a manipulative power tool, will often place more emphasis upon perlocutionary utterances – those expressions which get a person to act or attempt at least to alter the actions of the hearer.

Hill states that propositional sayings ought not to be separated from narratives because “in a sense a narrative just is a set of propositions, albeit about events in time.”[88] But he does say that the Bible contains more than propositions, it “also contains questions, injunctions, and wishes.”[89] While this is true, it does appear that each of these other sayings may be converted into a proposition.[90] The main problem (according to Hill) in biblical hermeneutics is to work out what God is affirming. Speech-act theory’s analysis, particularly of the illocutionary act, is of real help in reaching that goal.

However, there is a word of caution. Briggs points out that since one locution (or simple uttering of words) may entail several illocutions, and some perhaps unintended, in fact, “most locutions are multilayered in some way, and will often admit of unintended illocutions.”[91] For that reason, some interpreters are wary of recommending the theory, at least as a way to get at the message.[92]

Notwithstanding, one must not minimize the obligation to the text as it is understood by the believer.[93] Vanhoozer, in an essay entitled, “From Speech Acts to Scripture Acts” calls attention to the possibility of “an illocutionary act performed on the level of a literary whole.”[94] This is certainly intriguing, especially when Vanhoozer shows the effectiveness of the approach in reading John 21:20-24.[95]

It seems that responsible speech-act analysis is amenable to an attentive form of grammatico-historical interpretation. It involves the reader in the text more because it raises his expectancy.[96]And that is surely a good thing.

Summary in Nine Points

From our survey of some of the major players in modern hermeneutics we can quickly take stock of the main issues:

  1. To define hermeneutics as a set of rules decides the issue beforehand.
  2. Some preliminary understanding (preunderstanding) of a text (both its whole and parts) is unavoidable in every reading.[97]
  3. The ongoing process of a reader’s preunderstanding shaping the text and the text shaping the reader creates a “hermeneutical spiral.”
  4. In this “spiral” the two horizons of text and interpreter “fuse” to some degree, though utter objectivity is never arrived at.
  5. Each individual’s horizon is his or her own. This implies that valid interpretations will differ according to the social, historical and cultural situation of the reader.[98]
  6. This could be taken to mean (and often is) that complete objectivity is an impossible dream, and that, therefore, talk of propositional revelation (wherein truth is situated in the Bible’s propositional teaching) is implausible.
  7. The “hermeneutics of suspicion” further renders propositional truth out of place.
  8. Standard Grammatical-Historical interpretation might be seen as slipping into redundancy, being unable to integrate the findings of modern hermeneutical theories.  However, this is untrue.  But also, it must not be supposed that anything close to the last word has been said about speech-acts.  {Moreover, as Craig Blaising correctly observes: “To postulate a “fulfillment” of…covenant promises by means of a reality shift in the thing promised overlooks the performative nature of the word of promise…” – Craig A. Blaising, “Israel and Hermeneutics”, in The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel, eds., Darrell L. Bock & Mitch Glaser, 161}
  9. On a positive note, we can explore the promise of responsible speech-act theory to help us to be more attentive as we read Scripture, and thus, compose our theology.


[83] Stanley Porter, in I. Howard Marshall, Beyond The Bible, 112.
[84] Richard S. Briggs, “Speech-Act Theory,” in Vanhoozer, Gen. ed., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, 763.
[85] These are sometimes categorized as utterance, performative, propositional, illocutionary, and perlocutionary. See Tate, 350-351. It is quite usual however to find propositional included in locutionary.“Utterances” in Tate’s taxonomy are just reactive sounds.
[86] Daniel Hill, “Proposition,” in Vanhoozer, Gen. ed., Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, 632.
[87] Briggs, 763.
[88] Hill, 632.
[89] Ibid.
[90] I have discussed the matter of propositionalism in chapter 4, “The Revelation of the Triune Creator,” of my dissertation.
[91] Briggs, 764.
[92] Tate, Interpreting the Bible, 351.
[93] This is where Vanhoozer brings in a covenantal obligation.
[94] Vanhoozer, First Theology, 192. He is talking about the Book of Jonah.
[95] Ibid, 257ff.
[96] Briggs, 766.
[97] We include Maier’s opinion of preunderstanding, which we think is very helpful.Although he rightly holds to presuppositions, he sounds a note of sanity amid the cheers for “preunderstanding.”

All these and other considerations do not exactly encourage us to cling to philosophical preunderstandings or to take them as our guideposts in listening to revelation. As already stated, conscious and unconscious philosophical influences will always accompany our hearing. But they are present in order to be divested of their leading role. – Gerhard Maier, Biblical Hermeneutics, 36.

[98] This is where one encounters various special interest groups like Eco-Feminists, Marxists, and Gays interpreting the Bible according to their agendas.Remember, in postmodern interpretation there are no metanarratives, only individual community narratives.Thus, each interpretation is as valid as another (unless it stakes a claim to be a metanarrative).


Contemporary Hermeneutical Theory and Conservative Interpretation (Pt.3)

Part Two


Alongside Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur (d. 2005) stands as the most important philosopher of hermeneutics in the last hundred years. His work is often to be found discussed in evangelical circles today, and for that reason we shall devote a little more space to his work. Ricoeur is concerned with how language is used not with how it is structured.[53] As human existence is communicated through language, the study of the use of language is, therefore, the study of human existence. What is language but existence communicated in symbols or signs? Hence, the study of the way linguistic signs are used (semiotics) becomes a way to study the human being and his significance and self-understanding (semantics). It is hardly surprising to learn that for Ricoeur “man is language.”[54]

He believes that contemporary man has become desensitized to symbol and metaphor, and so he is missing in some measure, the hub of his own significance by his failure to experience life in its fullest terms.[55] Ricoeur is a phenomenologist – stressing the activity of the reader once he is impacted by a text.[56] But he utterly rejects man as the starting point in interpretation, preferring a transcendent beginning.[57]His influence is to be seen in several areas.

First, his overall philosophical outlook was hopeful (in contrast to that of the existentialists like Heidegger and Sartre). This meant that he tended to read texts “optimistically” – as, for example, the story of the Fall, which he said contained nothing like “Augustine’s doctrine of original sin.”[58]
Second, he ironically stressed “the hermeneutics of suspicion” whereby one recognizes that, “preunderstanding does indeed influence every interpretive conclusion drawn with reference to the biblical text. Because the baggage brought by an exegete to the reading of Scripture can potentially hinder the hermeneutical process, one must always question every exegetical perspective.”[59]

The third thing Ricoeur is known for is calling particular attention to creative language such as metaphor, narrative and parable.[60] Through careful examination and refection on these language forms he has produced some important thoughts on some important issues within philosophy of religion such as the sort of relationship that exists between God and time.[61] He believed that these ways of expression point us to a fuller appreciation of ourselves and our significance. “The manifesto of hermeneutic philosophy is “existence via semantics”: self-understanding via textual interpretation.”[62]

Lastly, Ricoeur is noted for his focus on genre (the world of the text) and the impact of the text upon the reader’s world (the world in front of the text). The interplay of these “worlds” means abandoning what he calls “the first naivete”: the literal sense, in order to make way for “the second naivete”: finding oneself in and through the world of the text.[63] In other words, the reader must go through a sifting of his faith from a position of fear and emotion to a more level-headed critical understanding of the text (and so the world) in order to have a rational faith.[64] The literal sense cannot supply the truth of existence!
Of course, to comprehend signs truly one must move beyond the signs themselves and concentrate on discourse, hence his focus upon semantics as the key to self-understanding.[65]  Ricoeur also finds himself on the “conservative” side in his rejection of the Kantian idealism of liberalism, which forced churchmen into vainly trying either to prove Christianity to be inductively scientific[66], or to show that Christianity’s “inwardness” made the effort to make it scientific an exercise in missing the point.[67]  And he strikes a chord when he insists that the text must always take precedence over the interpreter.[68]
But he does not believe in the possibility of discovering authorial intention. There is and always will be a “distance” between reader and author. Moreover, the “hermeneutics of suspicion” that he learned from Nietzsche, Marx and Freud, always makes interpretation a risky business, with “truth,” in a sense far less than certainty but above doubt, being the final goal.[69]

The Postmodern Critique: Derrida

It would be remiss indeed if in a treatise such as this the subject of postmodernism was not broached along the way. We have chosen to include it here because it is in the realm of interpretation that it is, perhaps, at its most menacing. Postmodernism, in fact, seeks to demolish much of the framework around which this present work is constructed. This includes an aversion to metanarratives, or grand narratives under which other (typically western) narratives and thought-forms are housed.[70] These metanarratives are seen as sustaining forms of oppression within society.[71] (more…)