The Parameters of Meaning in Order

It took me an eternity (well, ten years) to complete this series. The Parameters of Meaning (as well as the Rules of Affinity) are meant to guide the interpreter of Scripture as the Bible is studied. They are not a hermeneutics manual. They are, however, a set of principles designed to prevent the reader from drifting too far from the biblical text in context.

If anyone spots a weakness in thee “rules” I would be grateful if they would let me know.

The Parameters of Meaning: Introduction

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 1

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 2

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 3

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 4a

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 4b

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 5

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 6

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 7

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 8

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 9

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 10

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 11

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 12

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 12

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 11

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 12: Never confuse application with hermeneutics and exegesis. It is always “explanation before application.” Making application a part of one’s interpretation is a subtle instance of putting an unrestrained ‘theological’ cart before an ‘exegetical’ horse.

Many modern hermeneutics writers tell us that we cannot omit application of a biblical text when we interpret it. I find that to be confusing. In fact, the more I think about it the more confusing it seems. Take the sentence “The NT is composed of 27 Books.” I know what it means, but am I applying it at the same time? When Jesus tells us to pray “Thy Kingdom come” how does He expect us to apply it? Mustn’t we first understand what “kingdom” means here? Again, when we are told to love our enemies, isn’t there a big difference between interpreting what that means and actually doing it?

Asking such questions alerts us to the meaming of application. It boils down to two things: the belief that “this text applies to me,” and the belief that “I need to act on this.” Since acting on something depends upon whether one believes a passage is directed at them the first belief is primary. That is to say, when we believe that a text of Scripture is aimed directly at us we are applying it to ourselves. So if we look again at the three sample sentences above it should be possible to show when application is happening.

  1. “The NT is composed of 27 Books.” – This sentence is an objective observation. It only applies to me to the extent that is describes a state of affairs, similar to “the cat sat on the mat” describes something that occurred. I believe both statements, yet neither one is directed at me. There is nothing to apply. I either believe it or disbelieve it.
  2. “Thy Kingdom come” – In this case I believe that Jesus was referring to the future Kingdom of God after He returns. That is something to pray for, therefore it applies to me. Yet such a kingdom applies to me in a certain way. I pray for it, but it is in my future. I do not participate in the kingdom now. So the type of kingdom to come is not decided by my application, it is decided by the interpretation of this along with other passages. Ergo, my hermeneutic should be separate from the application. If however, a person believes that the kingdom has come; that we in the church are the kingdom, then he believes in his present participation in it, because he has applied the kingdom in the present to himself. Why has he done this? Because the steps of hermenutics and exegesis have been fed by a theology which guides the interpretation and application.
  3. Finally, Jesus commands us to love our enemies. The application of Matthew 5:44 to ourselves is based on the universalistic tone of the Beatitudes and the fact that there are imperatives addressed to the Church that imply the same thing (e.g. Rom. 12:17-21; Gal. 6:10).

The reason why some readers of Scripture hold that application is part of interpretation is because they indulge in forms of theological hermeneutics. Theological hermeneutics is undergirded by the theory of preunderstanding and the postmodern critique of objectivity (e.g. a hermeneutics of suspicion). This appears to move the ground from under the interpreter’s feet. The question of which theology is to be granted a hermeneutical pass comes to the fore, and it is difficult to think of a way to resolve the issue without repairing to a non-theological, non-applicatory form of exegesis. If one is reading oneself into a passage (say in OT prophecy) while trying to understand it in context the exegesis will be skewed. This means that the interpreter should try to hold apart the application of a passage from the determination of what it is saying and to whom (it’s explanation).

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 11

Parameters of Meaning -Rule 10

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 11: While interpreting Scripture with Scripture is valid, it is only to be employed as a check upon interpretation. Using the Analogy of Faith as part of one’s hermeneutics introduces it prematurely and may smuggle ones assumptions into the interpretation.

All evangelical Christians believe that Scripture should be used to interpret Scripture. We all can recite at least some words from 1 Corinthians 2:13:

“These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”

But of course, 1 Corinthians 2:13 does not say we compare Scripture with Scripture; that is just assumed. And it’s a decent assumption, since we know that one part of the Bible (say Text B) may be used to throw light upon the part one is trying to understand (i.e. Text A). Scholars refer to this as “the Analogy of Faith” rule, and it is a good rule. The real problem is when Text A has not been sufficiently studied in its context before Text B is brought in to clear things up. Or to put it differently, trouble can ensue when Text B is called upon before Text A has been exegeted to smooth over “issues” foreseen in Text A. The Analogy of Faith is being misused by being introduced too early in the interpretive process. Let me provide an example.

In Ephesians 2 we meet with a verse whose interpretation has caused some controversy:

And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins – Eph. 2:1

This verse is then interpreted by some Reformed writers through John 11:

Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying.  And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me… Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.” – Jn. 11:41, 43-44.

A classic case of this is to be seen in R. C. Sproul’s book Grace Unknown: The Heart of Reformed Theology, where he relies completely on the Raising of Lazarus story to interpret Paul’s words in Ephesians 2. In fact, Sproul barely expounds Ephesians 2:1 at all, and certainly not in context.

What Sproul is doing (and many others who employ this same device), is that he is trying to establish one of the storied “Five Points of Calvinism” and the teaching of regeneration preceding faith as a necessary part of the order of salvation (ordo salutis). Whether Sproul is right about that or not is not the point. The point here is that he is straying outside of good interpretive parameters in his zeal to prove his case. John 11 refers to a real corpse where the soul has left the body. It is inanimate and cannot think or respond to any stimuli. But the persons being referred to in Ephesians 2:1-3 were never in that state. Paul distinctly characterizes them (unsurprisingly) as conducting their affairs under the influence of the godless world system and of its spiritual ruler, Satan (Eph. 2:2). They were living and thinking. Added to this (again unsurprisingly) their thinking and behavior was dictated by their sinful “flesh.” (Eph. 2:3).

Paul’s description of the state of Christians before they became Christians is that they were living, thinking, planning persons who lived their lives under the thrall of the world, the flesh, and the devil. They were not corpselike. “Ah,” the rejoinder comes back, “they were like corpses because they were utterly unable to respond to the Gospel before being re-vitalized (i.e. regenerated) by God.”

But there’s a problem here. Lazarus’s dead body was literally unable to respond to anything, whereas we are told in Ephesians 2:3 that unbelievers do respond – in disobedience! It makes no sense to speak about a dead body as “responsible,” but sinners are responsible. In Ephesians 2 the deadness (nekrous) is not literal. They hear, they think, they reject. This is because they are “dead in trespasses and sins” – a phrase that is expanded upon in the following verses, as well as in Ephesians 4:17-19, and which is utterly nonsensical if applied to a corpse. Therefore, since the “deadness” of unbelievers includes their active response to the Gospel it does not follow that they need to be regenerated in order to believe, in which case the Jn. 11 analogy is inappropriate. Rather, the “deadness” might require only that they need rousing or convincing or alerting, or all three; something that the Holy Spirit is said to do (Jn. 16:8). We might refer to someone who is sleeping as “dead to the world.” Similar figures of speech are found on the lips of Jesus (e.g. Lk. 9:60 and 15:24, 32). One would not run to either of those passages to prove regeneration before faith of course, yet they are semantically closer to Ephesians 2:1 than John 11:41-44.

My goal here is not to argue with the doctrine so much as to point out how the Analogy of Faith was brought in before the parameters of meaning of Ephesians 2:1 were determined.

The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 10

Parameters of Meaning – Part 9

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 10: Never interpret the Bible via assumptions based on extra-biblical data (e.g. “science”, philosophy, history). These can help but they should never preempt Scripture.

This “parameter” is of course just a reiteration of the principle of the Sufficiency of Scripture, although the emphasis is upon the whole of Scripture’s content, not just that pertaining to the doctrines of our salvation.

The Bible is made up of all kinds of literature, some of it clearly defined, some of it less so. We are often told that each of these “genres” demand their own forms of hermeneutics, which is bolstered by studies in many non-biblical disciplines. I am not here talking about the work of men like Richard Burridge (What Are The Gospels?) and Craig Keener (Christobiography) on the Gospels as a special type of biography, but about ideas like the latest attempts to interpret the Bible through a Cosmic Temple motif, John Walton’s views on the ANE background of the Genesis creation story, the views of all and sundry about apocalyptic, and likewise those who interpret Bible books (esp. Revelation) in terms of intertestamental apocalyptic writings, or the philosophical hermeneutics which have caused so much confusion in the definition of the discipline in recent years.  

One should not use the supposed findings of science to interpret Genesis 1-3.  I respect a person’s right to be an old-earth creationist, but many of them fall foul of importing the conclusions of scientists into their understanding of Genesis 1-3, essentially using say Big Bang cosmology or distant starlight or radiometric dating to guide their hermeneutical approach to the chapters.  R. C. Sproul quotes Bertrand Russell’s “proof” for the unreliability of Jesus’ as a prophet on Matthew 24:34, since “this generation” (i.e. J. S. Mill’s and Bertrand Russell’s belief that it was Jesus’ own generation) did not witness the things He predicted.  This led Sproul to a Preterist view (The Last Days According to Jesus).  But it’s not only covenant theologians who do this.  Pop Dispensationalist Hal Lindsey’s interpreting the scorpions of Revelation 9 as helicopters (There’s A New World Coming). 

Even in terms of what we know about the beliefs of people in the biblical period is impacted by this concern.  For example, OT scholar Richard Hess has said that,

In terms of the future and the Messiah, Routledge views things from an amillennial context.  Everything prophecied in the future was symbolized and fulfilled in Jesus.  There is no future temple or time of peace before the new heavens and new earth.  So when Ezekiel 40-48 describes this in detail, he was just condescending to people who could not otherwise understand except by making them think there was really going to be a temple and a repopulated Promised Land.  Somehow Routledge doesn’t find this deceptive in the least, despite the fact that every example we have until after the New Testament was written believed in a literal fulfillment of a restored temple.” (my emphasis)

– From Richard Hess’s review of R. Routledge’s OT Theology in Denver Journal, Volume 14, 2011.

I have used this quote before, but here my focus is not to prove a point relating to Temple expectations per se, but to call attention to the fact that the Hess comment corroborates the plain-sense interpretation of passages such as Ezekiel 40-48.  Being corroborative it ought never to be given the authority to be a decisive influence on the interpretation of a text.  This is why the lauded Grammatical-Historical hermeneutic cannot be trotted out as a sort of “Band Aid” for “what to do” without knowing what one is doing.  For instance, as John Sailhamer pointed out, G-H interpretation is really G (i.e. grammatical) interpretation, and that for the reason that how much one really knows from history is up for grabs. 

The basic issue being addressed in this “parameter” is that God has infused the Bible with a self-sufficiency; no one needs to grab for external helps to interpret God’s Book.  The principle boils down to a concerted belief in the Holy Scripture’s self-attestation, even in its self-interpreting character.  I have provided reasons elsewhere for the validity of this belief.  These include the “God’s words – God’s Actions” motif wherein what God says He is going to do is what He does; and the nature of the biblical covenants as hermeneutical fixed points to which everything else in the Bible must agree.  


The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 9

I was wondering what I ought to write about when I stumbled upon my old unfinished series on The Parameters of Meaning.  I think these parameters are quite helpful guides for interpreters, but I clean forgot about them.  Well, I’m going to try to put things right!  Here’s “Rule 9” with a link to the previous eight:

The Parameters of Meaning Rule 8.  

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 9: If a literal interpretation leads you into wholesale spiritualizing or allegorizing, or causes head-on conflicts with other clear texts, which then have to be creatively reinterpreted, it is an illegitimate use of “literal”. There will always be another literal meaning available that preserves the plain-sense of the rest of the passage in its context.

Reminding ourselves that by “literal” interpretation I am just talking about a prima facie or plain-sense reading of the text in its right setting, taking special care to examine the surrounding context before employing a text theologically.  Strange as it may seem, more than one literal reading of a text is possible (hence, these “parameters”).  It is possible to take a literal view of one text which will skew the rest of the passage, or a whole theology.  A few examples will show what I mean:

Prolepticism in Christ’s Sending Out of His Disciples: Matthew 10:5-23

“Prolepsis” involves the representation of an event that is in the future as if it were happening now, or about to happen.  It is a rhetorical way of anticipating an outcome that lies afar off, especially in prophecy.  When Jesus says in John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also,” The “You” in the verse extends beyond the disciples and contemplates those who come after them.  The pronoun is proleptic in verse 3 even though in verse 1 (“Let not your heart be troubled”) it may not be.

In Matthew 10 we read of the sending out of the twelve to minister to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (10:6), with basic instructions about what they were to do.  This included preaching that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”; a message proclaimed before by both John the Baptist (3:2). and Jesus Himself (4:17).  So far so good.  Let us get to the example I have in mind.  At Matthew 10:23 the Lord says,

When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

Many Preterists take this verse literally and believe it means that Jesus must have returned before the disciples had traversed the entire land of Israel.  Many would locate this “return” around A.D. 70 in the guise of the Roman armies.  Now certainly they would be taking verse 23 literally, but their literal interpretation would result in a great deal of spiritualization of many other parts of Scripture.  For one thing, one would necessarily have to make the “coming” of Jesus spiritual not physical.  The context helps us see what is going on.  From Matthew 10:16 Jesus begins to warn the disciples about persecutions in a manner akin to the eschatological passages found in Mark 13:9-13 and Luke 21:12-17.  This is prolepsis, just as in John 14:1-4.  The Son of Man (a term most clearly associated with Daniel 7) did not “come” midway through the carrying out of Acts 1:8.  This is an instance when the wrong literal interpretation is being chosen (it may surprise some readers, but rarely is there just one literal interpretation to choose).  Another will fit the context better, perhaps in this case one that reads Matthew 10:16-23 proleptically as reaching into the end times.

“This Generation” Is Not That Generation: Matthew 24:34

Also a favorite landing site for Preterists is Matthew 24:34:

Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.

Some Bible interpreters understand this verse literally to be referring to the Roman overthrow of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 under Titus.  What this means is that everything else in the chapter has to be fitted in before that time.  This includes things like famines, pestilences and earthquakes in various places (v.7), the killing of the disciples (v.9), the preaching of the gospel of the kingdom to all nations (v.14), the abomination of desolation in the holy place (v.15), many false christ’s and false prophet’s performing great wonders (v. 24), and the devastating physical coming of Christ with angels in un-ignorable fashion (vv. 29-31).  This just didn’t happen.  Houston, we have a problem.  And the parable of verses 45ff. also show that no spiritual coming of Christ is in view.  This is the second advent.

Who then is the “this generation” Christ is talking about?  Well, Daniel 12:11 has the abomination of desolation at the end of time (see also Dan. 11:31 and notice the similarity).  And remember, Jesus was answering the disciples questions, in particular the one about “the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age.” (24:3).  Jesus was speaking about “the end” (24:6, 13, 14).  So the generation referred to in Matthew 24:34 is the generation of “the end of the age” who witness “the sign of Your coming.”  Again, if a literal reading forces you to spiritualize everything else, you have the wrong literal reading.  Another will fit the context without you having to resort to spiritualization or allegory.  Not all literal readings are equal.

The World is Not Always the Planet

One more example of this might help.  This one is not about end times prophecy, though it does concern eschatology.  It comes from Romans 4:

For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith.

A lot of Christians think that “the promise that he would be heir of the world” is speaking about Abraham being promised the literal planet.  But there is a problem with this.  Abraham was made no such promise!  Neither was Israel.  What he was promised was that his literal descendants (Gen. 15:4-5, with v.6 being cited by Paul in Rom. 4:3) were to be very numerous, that they would be given a literal land (Gen. 12:7; 15:7-21).  Also promised to Abraham was that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:3).  Nowhere was Abraham promised the whole literal earth.  But further, Paul is not even thinking about the land promise, at least from Romans 1 – 8.  I have written in another place:

The word “world” appears once in Romans 4 so we must look at what Paul is speaking about to determine what he means by it.  As anyone can see from Romans 4:1-5 the Apostle is thinking in terms of justification and righteousness. Faith, not works, is the bridge from one to the other (hence the insertion of Gen. 15:6). Then David is used to illustrate the point at issue (4:6-9). Then we get a question about whether this imputed righteousness is only for the Jews (circumcision – 4:9), which is answered by the fact that Abraham was justified before he was circumcised (4:10). This means that his faith-justification to righteousness is not bounded by circumcision, so that those not circumcised may receive justification through faith the same way Abraham did (4:11-12). Those not circumcised would be the rest of the peoples of the world. So far, not a word about the physical land!  Now comes their proof text for land=planet earth, verse 13.  

The Apostle is talking about justification, not the land promise, and the land promise was not that Abraham would inherit the whole planet.  This is an illegitimate use of the literal sense; a better use of it is on hand, even if it might not serve the purposes of certain eschatologies quite as well.


The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 8

“Rule” 7

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 8: Never ground a teaching on disputed, ambiguous or debated texts (e.g. Matt. 10:23).  At best they may serve to support a given position.  Doctrines should come from the strongest possible connections between text and teaching.

When one is setting forth a proposition, the cogency of it and the logical extent to which it may be propounded depends much on the quality of its substantiation.  The gauge of “quality” would include things such as clarity, context, directness, and of course, relevance.

The descriptions “disputed”, “ambiguous”, and “debated” are somewhat interchangeable, and I do not want to set anything in stone, but for my purposes I have distinguished between them.  Whether you choose to follow me is of little importance to the overall point that I am trying to make.

By a “disputed” text I have in mind the disciplines of textual criticism and Bible translation.  (I want to make clear here that what is considered as spurious by liberal scholars with all of their historical critical biases will be considered authentic by an evangelical Bible believer.  Disagreements with non-biblical forms of scholarship does not concern this subject).  But, for instance, repairing to Mark 16:18 to get biblical permission to handle poisonous snakes in a worship service is wrong-headed in at least two ways.  First, there is nothing in the context about church meetings.  But second, the passage itself is considered a variant reading.  Since the middle of the 19th century the last twelve verses of Mark’s Gospel have been doubted by many good Christians as being a part of the original text of this Book.  Whether you think they ought to be retained or not (and personally I do), it would be unwise to try to settle a doctrine with a passage that many scholars and commentators are decidedly convinced shouldn’t be there.

In a related manner it would be imprudent to develop a (false) doctrine of a kenotic emptying of Christ’s divine attributes of omniscience, omnipotence and omnipresence from the translation of Philippians 2:7 as “He emptied Himself” rather than the less literal but more advisable rendering, “He made Himself of no reputation” (see B.B. Warfield’s masterful article on the passage).

To the degree that there is some ambiguity in a selected passage it is wise to take such a text as a possible supporter of another clearer text.  So, for example, 1 John 1:1 speaks of “the Word of life”.  But is it referring to Jesus Christ or is it referring to the Gospel or the Scriptures?  The majority say that the phrase is speaking of Christ, and it may well be.  But the point here is that if one begins their doctrine of Christ with the verse, or even bases an assertion on the verse, that assertion is only as good as the argument for Christ as the subject of the verse.  Better to go elsewhere.

We are all familiar with the slogan about deriving “the right doctrine from the wrong texts”, and a more serious error still occurs when we get the wrong doctrine from any texts.  One should not start his teaching of any doctrine with a text which is disagreed upon among different Bible interpreters. Whenever setting forth what the Bible teaches (which is always loaded with the claim that this is what God says), one ought in every case to reach for the very clearest and least disputed passages.

If we wish to teach on the deity of Christ or the Trinity we should avoid the Johannine Comma (1 John 5:7).  Similarly, we should not be going to 2 Corinthians 3:14 to assert that the OT Canon was closed at the time Paul wrote his epistle, since it is very likely that the Apostle had in mind the Mosaic covenant, which he contrasts with the new covenant of which he is a minister (2 Cor. 3:6).  The issue cannot be decided by such proof-texting.

This Rule also deals with what I have called “debated texts”.  A debated text here is a scripture about which there may be disagreements about who exactly is being addressed.  The text mentioned in Rule 8 says this:

When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes (Matt. 10:23)

Once we allow the idea that Jesus is speaking about His disciples in this verse, then the coming of the Son of Man in the context has to be spiritualized as a figurative coming in judgment in A.D. 70.  (This will lead to a violation of Rule 9).

In Mark 11:23-24 Jesus makes a statement that has us all running for the hills:

For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says.  Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.

What on earth is going on here?  The Mount of Olives is still in the same place it was when Jesus made this announcement.  Furthermore, we do not see flying mountains (or houses or people for that matter) unless we taking powerful substances which we should stop taking.  So using the verse to teach on the limitless possibilities of confident prayer rather than using it to underscore the power behind confident prayer in line with the purposes of God would be a violation of this “rule.”

The next Rule picks up where this one leaves off.

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 Old, 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”. Continue reading “The Parameters of Meaning – Rule 7”

When Literal Interpretation Leads to Wholesale Spiritualization

This is a response to comments left for me in the combox at this post about Sam Storms’s views on eschatology.  I appreciate the brother bringing them to my attention.  I am responding mainly to this:

Thanks for the post. I am not sure the last section really represents Sam’s view. He would say that Paul and Peter leave no room for a milennium since Paul has the last enemy death defeated at the parousia in 1Cor 15:24ff, 50 therefore death will not exist after Jesus returns and Peter has Jesus returning and then begins the renovation of heaven and earth by fire without a milennium. Since the thrones in Revelation are always in heaven and when they are setup for those who reign on them it could be that their reign is in heaven. He does admit difficulty with anastasis so he defaults to the fact that Paul and Peter are clearer than Revelation therefore he is inclined to be amillennial. This is Storms’ view summarized.

Comment by Rick Tatina | July 7, 2013 | 

Just in case, the passage concerning Peter was from 2 Peter 3:9-12.

Here’s a brief response.

Let me address these texts 1 Cor. 15:20-28 first:

“But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. 21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be abolished is death. 27 For HE HAS PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET. But when He says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that He is excepted who put all things in subjection to Him. 28 When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.”
Okay, let’s examine this, beginning in v.23:

This passage is dealing with physical resurrection (anastasis).  Christ is raised first, in expectation of more to come.  V.24 then speaks of “the end, when Christ hands over the kingdom to the Father.”  Is that it?  No.  V.25 says “He must reign until He has put all enemies under his feet.”  So the question is, “Is Christ reigning now?”  “Yes” says Storms.  Does the Bible say He is?  No!  Not unless He reigns over the “principalities and powers” of Eph. 6:10ff.  Not unless He is reigning over the countless tragedies and acts of wickedness which continue day in day out since He rose again.  If so, He would be the worse ruler imaginable.  The buck would stop at Him.

In Matt. 19:28 Jesus looks forward to sitting “on the throne of his glory” at “the regeneration” (palingenesia).  This coincides with the “times of refreshing” and “times of restoration” of Acts 3:19 & 21, which Acts 3:20 tells us occur when Jesus returns.  In Lk. 19:12-15 Jesus makes it clear that He (the nobleman) would go away and only reign once He returned.  In Rev. 3:21 we’re told that Jesus sat down on His Father’s throne.  1 Cor. 15:20ff. could support amillennialism, but only if we are prepared to spiritualize a whole bunch of other verses.

Here I should like to quote from my “Parameters of Meaning” series (which I have neglected):

“Parameters of Meaning – Rule 9: If a literal interpretation leads you into wholesale allegorizing, or causes head-on conflicts with other clear texts, which then have to be creatively reinterpreted, it is an illegitimate use of “literal”. There will always be another literal meaning available which preserves the plain-sense of the rest of the passage in its context.”

Well, is Christ subduing all things now?  Look around.  Of course not.  Does the Bible say He is?  No.  Romans 8:19-23 places this at the time of our resurrection (“the redemption of our body”).  When will that happen?  1 John 3:2 & Phil 3:20-21 answer, at the Second Coming.  So at Christ’s second advent this world will be “regenerated” or “delivered” or “refreshed” or “subdued” and not before.  Christ shall reign (Lk. 1:31-33; cf. Rev. 20:4 & 6) just as the Prophets said He would.  He will rule with a rod of iron after the second coming as Rev. 19:15 makes quite clear (see also Rev. 2:27; 12:3 which make it future).  Psalm 2:6-9 refer to this subduing when Christ reigns.  See also this:
I really don’t know what Storms is thinking with 1 Cor. 15:50.  But it seems He is just equating the kingdom of God with heaven.  And, as I said above, this thinking of New Heavens and Earth after the coming of Christ is a big problem for amillennialism, because it discards THIS earth as useless after the Second Advent.  No dominion for the second Adam on this earth in successful completion of Adam’s failed dominion!  It is easy to fit the literal Millennium in 1 Cor. 15 without having to revise our reading of all the plain verses which speak of an actual reign of Christ on this earth after the second advent. Continue reading “When Literal Interpretation Leads to Wholesale Spiritualization”

The Parameters of Meaning: Rule 6

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 6: Beware of basing an interpretation on the shifting sands of a supposed “genre”; especially “apocalyptic.”  Make sure the interpretive decision is well grounded.

Rule 5 is here.

Over the last generation or so there has been a great stir in scholarly circles about “genre.”  Genres are literary types or kinds.  They can be broken down from larger kinds like, for instance, “narrative” into smaller branches.   There are a lot of these smaller genre-types.  A good selection will include historical narrative, poetic narrative, travel story, poetry, proverb, drama, wisdom literature, law, encomium, prophecy, apocalyptic, gospel, parable, type, epistle, etc.  There can scarcely be any complaints about the identification of these genres in the Bible, nor that there are certain conventions related to genres.

a. The Problem

A problem enters in when we are told of all the various hermeneutical stratagems demanded of the reader because of the presence these genres.  So, for example, it is said that one must understand that the first chapter of Genesis should not be interpreted “literally”, but is carefully structured so as to show a correlation between the first three days and the last three days (e.g. old-earth creationist Meredith Kline; theistic evolutionist Bruce Waltke).  Alternatively, of late the principle of analogy has been invoked wherein man’s workweek and sabbath rest is analogous with God’s work of creation and resting on the seventh day (e.g. progressive creationist Vern Poythress; theistic evolutionist Jack Collins); even extending this notion and positing that Jesus entered into a sabbath rest at His ascension (G. K. Beale).  Amid all this display of analogous hypothesizing it may seem  too simplistic to read any intention to set out a chronology of a six day creation.  The assertion is made that such a view must be discarded as naive; that there is a failure to recognize the ancient genre involved.  Often ANE parallels are shuffled in to make the case more persuasive.

The bottom line is that to accurately determine what these texts mean one must take the particular  genre-hermeneutic into account.  In much the same way a covenant promise which happens to be written in meter might need to be disassociated from very similar promises written in prose – since the genres are different.  Each genre is supposed to have its own hermeneutical rules.  Although these rules do not isolate one genre from another, they nonetheless are often appealed to so as to avoid an unwelcome theological result.

b. Creationism and Genre

This maneuver is most often pulled on two topics: creationism and predictive prophecy.  As to the first, many old-earthers will agree that what we have in Genesis 1 is narrative.  However, they tell us it is not historical narrative.  It does not tell us that God created in six 24 hour days!  How do they know?  Because the “high prose” must be taken account of, and the analogies with other passages are not properly considered.

Neither of these excuses really cut the mustard, but that is how the argument goes.  “If you young-earthers only understood the genre” it is said; well, we wouldn’t be such an embarrassment to these brethren.  Hence genre is being used to slip outside “scientific” conclusions into the exegesis.  Nothing now bars the way for an all out embrace of theistic evolutionism.  And so Genesis can be made to say exactly the opposite of what it actually says by the expedient of diverting attention onto the supposed genre.

Prophecy and Genre

It is, however, with the subject of prophecy that things really get into swing.  Here there are lots of things to which one may appeal: poetry, motif, apocalyptic language, dreams and visions, uncreation, Eden and Exodus motifs.  If one wishes to avoid coming to certain conclusions, modern scholarship has provided many avenues to duck down.  Again, it is clear that while these things may be present, their presence is not for the purpose of subverting what is actually said. Continue reading “The Parameters of Meaning: Rule 6”

The Parameters of Meaning: Rule 5

Parameters of Meaning – Rule 5: Do not contrast the plain-sense with a supposedly deeper “spiritual” sense. This implies God doesn’t mean what He says and is thus equivocal in His very nature; which in turn incurs heavy penalties philosophically.

If a person is going to claim that the revealing God intended to pass on a meaning to men which lies somewhere beneath the surface of the words He chose to communicate with, that person must understand that they are not just saying something about certain passages of Scripture.  They are saying something about the Giver of Scripture.

Once this belief is held, all of a sudden there is an imposing esotericism to the Bible.  “Truth”: that which God is imparting, now becomes, not something which is on the surface of the text, but something which must be discovered at another level of communication.

Such an admission proposes that God employs words which might easily be misunderstood.  Words normally refer to whatever can be rightly said to be conveyed by their surface meaning (viz. what is the surface meaning of “whoever believes in me has everlasting life” if it is not what the words themselves state?).  But this admission implies that if one is not very careful, one begins predicating something about God which would be unnerving: the fact that God leads people to believe one thing (a “surface meaning”) when He is really intending another (some deeper or higher “spiritual meaning”).  This makes God less than transparent in His communications, and leads to the questioning of everything that God has spoken so as to try to insure that we ourselves have not been led astray by the “surface meaning.”  I do not see any safety in this process.  Faith cannot rest in any other sense than the plain sense, and if that is abandoned there is no solid ground to build our theology upon.

I have already provided some examples of the shakiness and uncertainty created when this position is taken (e.g. link, link).  Here is another from Iain Duguid’s Commentary on Ezekiel (NIVAC).  He is speaking about the Temple vision in chapter 43:

Verses 10-12 sum up the rationale for the temple vision: Ezekiel is being shown these things so he can relay them to his own generation.  They must consider the design and “be ashamed of their [former] sins.”  The temple vision is not a building plan or a prediction of the future but rather a powerful symbol that addresses the people of Ezekiel’s day…They must consider in particular its “plan” (43:10), its “arrangement,” its “exits and entrances,” along with its “regulations and laws” (43:11).  In other words, the temple vision is a pedagogical tool…” 490.

Such is the detail supplied by the prophet that Duguid reproduces a Plan of Ezekiel’s Temple (473), and goes on to admit that “a competent architect could construct a building from Ezekiel’s description” if he were given more information regarding vertical dimensions and materials, and, of course, with the understanding that “the present temple site in Jerusalem would need to have its topography radically revised.” (479).

Duguid’s insistence that the temple vision, with all its particulars, “is not a building plan or a prediction of the future” means that he will have to look for a “deeper” meaning than the blueprint which Israel is to take care to comprehend.  But let us remind ourselves of the wording of the passage in question:

10  Son of man, describe the temple to the house of Israel, that
they may be ashamed of their iniquities; and let them measure the
 11 “And if they are ashamed of all that they have done, make
known to them the design of the temple and its arrangement, its
exits and its entrances, its entire design and all its ordinances, all
its forms and all its laws. Write it down in their sight, so that they
may keep its whole design and all its ordinances, and perform them.
 12 “This is the law of the temple: The whole area surrounding the
mountaintop is most holy. Behold, this is the law of the temple.

The elaborate build up to this text, which according to Duguid provides “the rationale for the temple vision,” is marked by the most strict instruction to the prophet to “fix in your mind everything I will show you” and pay attention to detail (40:4).  This detail involves the return of the shekinah-glory of the LORD to the temple (43:1-7).  What is striking is that this glory had left a literal temple by the east gate in chapter 10; the prophet making a direct reference to that vision in 43:3!  I don’t think Duguid believes the glory of the Lord came into the second temple, so perhaps we are to think eschatologically here?  The chapters surrounding chapters 40-43 can, and should be seen as eschatological (i.e. chs. 34, 36-39), as are those after (i.e. chs. 47-48), so how Duguid can dogmatically declare that the vision was for “his own generation” is hard to understand.  The perplexity grows when one considers that Ezekiel’s generation were in captivity and so were hardly in any position to start planning such a structure.

Ah but, Duguid is ready with the interpretive key: “we should do what it seems to me the New Testament does [N.B. his interpretation of the NT drives his interpretation of Ezekiel] and see how the goal of Ezekiel’s temple finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ.” (481).  Again, after a devotional foray; “Christ is the meaning for which Ezekiel’s vision exists.” (483).

With this in view let us return to our “Rule 5”: Continue reading “The Parameters of Meaning: Rule 5”