Guest Article: The Key to Prophetic Interpretation

I am happy to share an excellent article by my friend Larry Siegle, on the important issue of Biblical Interpretation– the Science of Hermeneutics.

THE KEY TO PROPHETIC INTERPRETATION

The subject of interpretation (Hermeneutics) is at the very heart of the controversy between Futurists and Preterists. The approach one takes in the interpretation of Bible prophecy directly affects the conclusions which are drawn about the fulfillment of those prophecies. Futurists that insist on the use of a literal method of interpretation demand a physical or fleshly fulfillment of Bible prophecy. Preterists insist on a method of interpretation that honors the contextual, historical, and redemptive elements of Scripture and one that looks beyond the physical and into the spiritual.

The literal method (literal-grammatical-historical) is that which too often demands exact correspondence between the language used by the inspired writer in the prophecy with the nature of the fulfillment of that prophecy. This is problematic, especially for premillennialists who contend that during the “thousand-year” reign of Christ a literal temple, with a literal priesthood, offering literal animal sacrifices, on a literal altar is essential to honoring the “face value” of Scripture. [1] That this view stands in direct opposition to orthodox soteriology is beyond question.

The typology of the Old Testament system found its complete fulfillment in the realization of a spiritual temple (Eph. 2:21; Rev. 3:12; 7:15; 11:19; 14:15; 21:22), with a spiritual priesthood (Heb. 7:11, 12, 24; I Pet. 2:5, 9), and in the ‘once-for-all-time’ sacrifice of Christ as the Lamb of God “who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 9:26; 10:12). To insist that a ”something more” method of interpretation becomes necessary to the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies is a perversion of the intended message and meaning of those prophecies and calls into question the sufficiency of the accomplished work of Christ.

One writer observes:

Any method of interpretation is dangerous if it perverts the true meaning of scripture, and of course, the ultimate test as to whether the true meaning of scripture has been ascertained will be in the field of harmony and consistency. Any principle of interpretation that fails to advance harmony of thought and purpose in every related field of study must be considered as false. God’s eternal purpose is so constituted and unfolded in the scriptures, that the only right method of interpretation can be advanced entirely free of contradiction, inconsistency, or disharmony. The right method will not only meet the demands of the immediate scripture or context but also of every related scripture or context. [2]

Thomas B. Warren, in his book Logic and the Bible, discusses the importance of using correct principles of interpretation:

In order to properly interpret the Bible, one must both recognize (understand) and honor (by using it correctly) the law of rationality, which says that one should draw only such conclusions as are warranted by the evidence. [3]

The problem of Biblical interpretation is not with what the Bible explicitly says, (in so many words), but rather in what is implied by those explicit statements. It is the responsibility of each person to correctly infer what God has implied and to draw conclusions that logically (necessarily) follow. Warren continues:

This involves a careful gathering of the evidence which is relevant to a particular problem, recognizing that the evidence involves both the “immediate context” (what comes just before and just after the statement which is under consideration) and the “remote context” (whatever else the entire Bible has to say that is truly relevant to the problem under consideration. Then, having determined the material which comprises both the “immediate context” and the “remote context,” one must recognize that composite as the “total context.” Then, having determined the “total context” (recognizing that to be the total evidence), one must then correctly handle that evidence. This means that, recognizing the law of rationality (and thus, drawing only such conclusions as are warranted by the evidence, one will use the laws of logic (the principles of valid reasoning) in order to ascertain when conclusions are warranted and when they are not warranted. [4]

It is the “total context” of Scripture that provides the interpretive “key” that unlocks the message and meaning of Scripture. When careful attention is given to the contextual, historical, and redemptive significance of a passage, harmony and consistency are achieved. That a verse can never mean what the verse never meant is that which serves as a guiding principle in the field of prophetic interpretation. Exegesis of each passage as it relates to both the “immediate” and the “remote” context produces the desired result of drawing only such conclusions as are warranted by the evidence. If the prophet Joel foretold of the events that were to occur during the “last days” of the Jewish age (Joel 2:28-32), and the inspired apostle Peter, referring to those predicted events on the day of Pentecost, said,” this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel” (Acts 2:16-21) as the direct fulfillment of that prophecy, who can say otherwise?

The process of interpretation takes into consideration the context in which both the prediction was made and the fulfillment was affirmed as being the “total context” of Scripture related to that prophecy. Further speculation about the matter is not warranted by the evidence presented. The forty-year “end-time” ministry of the Holy Spirit in the bringing together of Jews and Gentiles into “one body” is evidenced throughout the book of Acts (1:8; 10, 11) and in the Epistles written later (Eph. 2:11-22; Col 1:19-28).

The logical approach to Biblical interpretation is sometimes referred to as the “constituent element argument” which says:

“All total situations the constituent elements of which are Scriptural are total situations which are Scriptural.” The concept is that when you prove the “parts” of a thing to be Scriptural, you have proved the “whole” thing to be Scriptural. [5]

Whether the subject under consideration is the identifying characteristics of the church, the nature, and purpose of baptism, the observance Lord’s Supper, or the fulfillment of Bible prophecy, the methodology used to arrive at the proper conclusions is identical. Thus the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) is revealed and the “unity of the faith” is achieved (Eph. 4:13).

In the next installment of the series, the basic propositions pertaining to eschatology will be discussed. Every precisely stated proposition is either true or false. The question of prophetic fulfillment demands the full attention of those who respect the authority of the Word of God and who champion the integrity of the prophetic message contained therein. At a time in history when prophetic fulfillment is being found by Futurists on nearly every page of the Newspaper, the evidence they present demands a verdict that is consistent with proper exegesis and respect for what is in the text.

When all of Futurism collectively, is presented as a form of systematic theology, the Scriptures will prove beyond any doubt that it has “been weighed on the scales and found deficient” (Dan. 5:27). The clear objective of genuine students of the Scriptures is to discover the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth with regard to the fulfillment of prophecy. Gone forever are of the days of being “dazzled” by the likes of Hal Lindsey, Tim LaHaye, and others who have been ”left behind” in their understanding of what the Bible actually teaches.

This warning applies also to those who practice inconsistent principles of interpretation and who ‘cut and paste’ their way through the evidence in support of the complete fulfillment of Bible prophecy. No longer are the multitudes impressed by the ”hermeneutics of distraction” and the ad hominem rants of those without substantive arguments in support of their viewpoint.

The “smoke and mirror” act of the partial-preterist “warriors” their “kingdom come” cohorts provide no line of logical argumentation from the Scriptures in defense of their position except to say: “because we said so…” It is the plain statements of Scripture that defeat partial-inconsistent-preterism and exposes its advocates as merely Futurist “wolves” in Preterist “sheep’s” clothing, denies that as they may. The “unfruitful works of darkness” (Eph. 5:11) are once again exposed and their error “open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:12, 13) and truth once again is vindicated and restored to its rightful place.[6]

ENDNOTES

[1] There is disagreement within the premillennial community about the extent to which the OT prophecies of Ezekial 40:1-46:24 will be realized. Other OT prophecies likewise infer the inclusion of a sacrificial system (Isa. 56:7), including observance of the Sabbath (Isa. 66:20-23). John F. Walvoord in his book, The Millennial Kingdom (p. 309-315) discusses the debate and concludes: “If a literal view of the temple and the sacrifices be allowed, it provides a more intimate view of worship in the millennium than might otherwise be afforded and, though the system as revealed is different from the Mosaic in many particulars, it obviously has as its center the redemptive and sacrificial system. (p. 315).

[2] Max R. King, The Spirit of Prophecy (Parkman Road Church of Christ, Warren, Ohio: 1971 edition) p. 27.

[3] Thomas B. Warren, Logic and the Bible (National Christian Press, Jonesboro, Ark: 1982) p. v

[4] Ibid.

[5] Thomas B. Warren, Lectures on Church Cooperation and Orphan Homes (Freed-Hardeman College, Henderson, Tenn: 1958) p. 26-29. Although the purpose of the author was to address a specific controversy over how churches ought to cooperate, the principle remains valid for every other doctrinal subject, including that which relates to the Second Coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the day of Judgment. When “all” of the evidence (constituent elements) is considered pertaining to eschatology, the truth emerges as “consistent and harmonious” with the “total context” message and meaning of Scripture.

[6]. This article by Larry Siegle first appeared in The Covenant Messenger, 1992, Pinole, CA