Oh dear! I have written the title of this page, and I suddenly feel like I have exposed myself, painfully aware that I have made myself vulnerable and conscious that I have volunteered to fly to Mars, and climb Everest single handed and unaided. Do I really want to try and answer my own question? To press the delete button at this stage would be elementary and, “Simples!” However it would also be cowardice in the face of one of the hugest areas of biblical studies. And as I am engaging with Isaiah more and more, I am aware that I am writing with presuppositions about Christ’s Second Advent and His millennial reign and I need to explain why. If I “delete” now, nobody will ever know of my hesitancy.
I stop and pause for a minute or two!
I want to say first of all that my attitude and understanding of eschatology is something that has never been a headache to me through the years, more like a deep satisfying delight. I don’t know whether what I am about to say sounds humble or proud, meek or authoritarian, superior or inferior, but my readers must judge me for themselves when I say these things. There are books on the market that inform us that they are addressing the doubts and fears that “all Christians” have. I say to myself, “I have to read this one! I need help!” Then I get my hands on the book and it lists people’s problems about death, suffering, sickness, where we go when we die, hearing from God, knowing His will and other stuff of a so called “Common Christian Syndrome” nature. But I read the list of contents and either give the book away as a birthday present to somebody, or take it back to the library. I have never been able to identify with the foibles and fears that some Christian writers think we “all” fall prey to. I do not mean I do not have issues that I need to plough through. God forbid the thought. In fact it may be true that I have more issues than most. I am not claiming superiority above “the many!” God forbid! Rather than suggest superiority I fully acknowledge that it may mean that there are issues I am not asking God about or not focussed enough to acknowledge them. I have always fought for my faith to have clear vision, even when my life seemed outwardly to be in a fog – and I have had my moments of darkness I promise you. But I never considered my faith to be in any sort of fog at all. The theology of scripture, as received in the heart and maintained as the rails for my train of life to run on , is sure and steadfast and has always been the greatest gift of God in my life. The practical application of said Theology and academic understanding is another issue altogether.
I let my preaching and teaching speak for itself as to my understanding and all-round grasp of God’s word, but as far as my application of it all, I have always leaned on others and tried to make myself vulnerable to guidance and counsel.
It is the same with eschatology. I have always enjoyed my thoughts and meditations on Christ’s return and His millennial reign and the details of what happens immediately prior to His return. I have attended churches where, when members have asked for some teaching on eschatology, I have actually heard the church leaders say publicly that they didn’t want to get into eschatology because it creates so many differences of opinion. What? My answer to that is: “Name me any biblical teaching that has not somewhere along the line caused differences of opinion?”
In one church in particular, when I asked on a private one to one basis where the pastor stood on the issue of Eschatology” seeing that it was going to cause so much dissension if it was aired, I was told straight that his “Stream” or “Movement” did not hold to any official eschatology, and therefore he did not feel free to teach on it. I was astounded! Outside of Pentecostal circles my experience tells me that this is a common perspective. Pentecostal movements around the world were birthed on a healthy diet of New Testament truth, marinated in a health imparting seasoning of Second Advent teaching. I seriously hope my experiences outside of Pentecostal churches are not the norm.
Nobody, but nobody can start explaining what they believe biblical prophecy is saying, without first and foremost laying down in their own minds some strong principles, basic biblical rules of hermeneutics, if you will, of how they interpret what we are all reading in both the Old and New Testament. There are about half a dozen different viewpoints that are common and widespread in the world of Christian Eschatological studies, and literally hundreds of perspectives held by cults, deviations and otherwise sound evangelical Christians that hold to views that are scarcely understood or received by many people at all. How do we ourselves know who is on the right road?
In these so called days of “Post-Modernism” where words mean whatever the reader subjectively wants them to mean, interpreting prophetic scripture with integrity flies in the face of the world-wide trend. The influence of post modernism in the church may indeed be the reason why so many Christian truths are being questioned by hitherto high profile church leaders around the world today. Hell and its reality is questioned and denied by some. The argument is only put together by stating that the way scholars have always interpreted the Hebrew and Greek is questionable, if not incorrect. So the meaning of the very language we are using changes in its substantial meaning simply because the interpreter has a problem with the statement previously held as a tenet of the faith as far back as history informs us. Euthenasia, Same sex marriages, and the uniqueness of Christianity all fall into similar word changing diluted versions of biblical truth. Old and well-worn orthodoxy that was achieved by great and spiritual men thrashing out the Hebrew and the Greek and the true meaning of the scriptures for over two thousand years ( I include the interpreters of the Old Testament also) has left us with immovable pillars and tenets of the faith. These pillars and long held tenets are being denounced, moved and shifted by quite a few. But the text of scripture has never changed. This shaking of the foundations is not from the likes of Atheism or Humanism, but from church leaders, some of whom carry the weight of churches with memberships of many thousands.
The goal, of course, of hermeneutics in biblical exposition is to find out what God Himself exactly had in mind when each of the prophetic voices put quill to parchment. One could be led to believe that this whole issue is “up for grabs,” for anyone with a brain to think and a desire to write. That cannot be true if the real meaning of scripture is to be translated from the Hebrew and Greek.
Hermeneutics is all about the principles of interpretation, especially biblical texts, other wisdom and religious writings as well as ancient philosophical writings. Hermeneutics” and “Exegesis” can sometimes be used interchangeably. They overlap when textual meanings are being worked on. Exegesis is all about texts. Hermeneutics goes much wider, but includes texts. When one talks of “a Hermeneutic,” a single particular method or strand of interpretation is being expedited. Hermeneutics at first, applied to the interpretation, or exegesis, of the Bible. Hermeneutic consistency refers to the analysis of texts to achieve a coherent explanation of them.
The principles of what we are talking about is clearly stated in 2 Timothy 2:15. “Be diligent to show and present yourself as a workman approved of God, who does not need to be ashamed but is rightly dividing the word of truth.” To rightly divide the meanings of scripture is what the issue is all about.
The most vital and imperative law of biblical hermeneutics I believe is that the Bible needs to be interpreted literally. Literal Bible interpretation means that we translate and interpret the Bible in its plain meaning. The Bible needs to be taken “neat” as opposed to “diluted.” The people who wrote scripture under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit spoke plainly.
Many make the mistake of trying to read between the lines and come up with meanings for Scriptures that are not truly in the text. The root meaning of some Hebrew and Greek words when seen in their historical usage can lead us astray. For instance look at our modern language. In this so called Post Modern age, when somebody says, “I’m bad,” may mean the exact opposite, as it is meant in Michael Jackson’s popular song. “Wicked,” is another word used in a post-modern context. People commonly use the word “cool” to express appreciation of something. “You’re sad!” could be an accusation of a very happy person who is perceived to have a diminished outlook on life. Why do I refer to such street language? Simply because somebody two thousand years from now who speaks a foreign language wanting to interpret and translate early twenty first century language would be totally wrong to translate the words as they meant a century previous to how the words are used today.
I say this because most preachers, teachers and scholars go into the etymology of the biblical texts. Etymology is the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history. And so the biblical text that congregations have on their laps as a person teaches is momentarily taken from the text that cannot be changed into a history that is often guessed at, or at best hypothesized because of second hand anecdotes. Biblical hermeneutics keeps us faithful to the intended meaning of Scripture and away from allegorizing and symbolizing Bible verses and passages that should be understood literally.
It is this writer’s absolute conviction that as the overriding principle of all biblical hermeneutics is that the entire book must be interpreted historically, grammatically, and contextually. “Historically” means to get to grasp the cultural backdrop, background, and situation which prompted the text. The historical usage and culture are not always the plumb-line guide but are helpful. For instance, I read once that the only occasion in Greek secular history that the word “evangelium” or “gospel” was used was referring to something that was, “too good to be true.” As a preacher one could properly state that the gospel is “too good to be true,” but it was initially a negative term referring to an untruth. Historical research does not really helps us with that etymology. Grammatical interpretation is recognizing the rules of grammar and the differing cases and shades of the Hebrew and Greek languages and then relating those principles to the understanding of a word or passage. Contextual interpretation involves always taking the surrounding context of a verse into consideration when trying to determine its true significance.
Some are in error thinking that hermeneutics limits our ability to learn new truths from God’s Word or that it stifles the Holy Spirit’s ability to reveal to us the meaning of the Book. This simply cannot be true. The goal of biblical hermeneutics is to point us to the correct interpretation which the Holy Spirit has already inspired in the written text as we have it. Biblical hermeneutics points us to the true meaning and application of Scripture.
Nowhere is all this theoretical jibber-jabber more important than when we come to interpreting biblical prophecy, especially unfulfilled prophecy that we need to understand properly.
The basic differences between the various schools of prophetic interpretation are purely hermeneutical and nothing else stemming from the acceptance of irreconcilable methods of interpretation. That is the whole story in one sentence.
This writer takes the view that literal interpretation, that is the historical, grammatical and contextual method of interpreting scripture where possible is always the safest and the truest way forward. All the prophecies concerning Christ’s first advent were fulfilled literally. It is, I believe, impossible to find any of the facts of Christ’s first advent and His passion from spiritualising or allegorising the prophets in any way. They stated things, and when they came to pass it is continually proved that they spoke about His birth, life, death and resurrection quite literally. Why should prophecies by the same prophets who spoke of His first Advent, change tack for His second advent, especially when, according to Peter they probably did not even know there would be two advents?
This does not mean, and I would never accuse, that either the literalists or allegorisers and spiritualisers have any less faith or integrity in their understanding of scripture. All that I am aware of is that those that write and preach concerning the second coming and end times are desperately wanting to find the truth. People simply approach the issue from differing initial perspectives and pre-understandings. Nearly every one of the people who are acknowledged as the authorities on eschatology throughout the Christian world have sections, paragraphs and some, even whole chapters on this issue. It is such a self-evident truth that many of the acknowledged “experts” of “A-millenialism,” or even those that do not believe Christ will return physically at all say that if they believed in the literal, historical-grammatical interpretation principles that are used by others, they definitely would believe that Christ will come, slay the faithless nations as He rescues Israel, and then reigns on earth for a thousand years in Jerusalem. What they say is that if those scriptures are literally true they would believe the same as the pre-millennialists. But they assert with all conviction that that the statements are definitely not to be literally understood, but that they are metaphors, symbols and allegories not to be “slavishly adhered to as literal.”
Books by Craig Koester, Jay Adams, Gene Cook, Floyd Hamilton are some of the Amillennialist Allegorisers that I am familiar with (there are others).
It is this writers conviction that the apostolic and early church fathers were literalists and pre-millennial. The history of the changes are for another day.
I do not want anybody to think that by making these brief remarks, many of which need qualifying and exemplifying, that I am under the delusion that I have resolved all the biblical eschatalogical differences in the world. No way! But I have put some extremely basic statements into the presuppositions and pre-understandings that undergird everything I write and think concerning the end times.