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Luke 21, the Olivet Discourse, and the Literal-Grammatical-Historical Hermeneutic

April 29, 2010 Leave a comment

In my recent reading through Luke 21, again I’m reminded of the simplicity of scripture and how important it is to actually read what a passage says, instead of just talking about it and picking out verses here and there in support of some other idea.  Yet how often we hear someone talking about a text and explaining that it means such-and-such, or is a parallel to this other text — and go along with what they’re saying, when if we just read the account straight through it becomes much clearer.

Many times I’ve heard the local preacher speak of the Olivet Discourse, and he would read the verse in Matthew 24:15-17:
“So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand—then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one on the roof of his house go down to take anything out of the house.”

Then he would turn to Luke 21 and remark that Luke is talking about the same event, but Luke is writing to Gentiles and making it clear what it really means, “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.”  Therefore, the actual “abomination that causes desolation” spoken of by Daniel, was the event in A.D. 70 when the Romans came and destroyed the temple.

But just read each text, in full, paying attention to each verse and the sequence of events.  Luke 21:20-23 describes an event that includes Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, and people fleeing from Jerusalem, and a similar warning for “pregnant women and nursing mothers.”  But notice the additional verses inserted into Luke’s account, verses 23-24:  “There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”  Verse 25 then picks up, after the unspecified time period in verse 24, to tell about the signs given at the end, when Christ returns.  Verse 27:  “at that time” the Son of Man returns.

In Luke’s account in verses 20-24, the subject is the city of Jerusalem, and judgment there until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled — followed by a later event, the distress at the time of Christ’s return.  Matthew 24 has a longer, more descriptive section about an event that concerns desolation of the temple (“the holy place”) with no specific mention of Jerusalem by name — verses 15 through 22.  Verse 23 says “at that time” in reference to the appearance of false Christs, and verse 27 mentions the coming of the Son of Man, who shows up in verse 30 (another “at that time”) — which comes right after verse 29, “immediately after the distress of those days.”

If Luke 21:20-23 is really a parallel to Matthew 24:15-22, as preterists and confused teachers claim, then Christ returned in A.D. 70, because that is clearly what is taught regarding the event in Matthew 24.  But then what about Luke 21:24, the time when Jerusalem is trampled on by the Gentiles?  What — Christ returned in A.D. 70, and now we’re in the millennial age which is also the times of the Gentiles, and so now we’re awaiting Christ’s next return (a “third” coming) that comes in Luke 21:25-27?  Oh, but all the verses in Luke’s account,  from verses 20 through 27, are talking about one event, the same event as in Matthew 24?  What confusion that comes when people attempt to wrest a meaning out of a text, one that simply isn’t there, to support their own preconceived ideas.  If people would only read the accounts straight through — verse by verse reading — all questions would be laid to rest and the false teachers would have no followers.

Instead, too many people listen to these outside ideas, the views of preterists and partial-preterists as they reference this point or that point — rather than going back to the source itself to see if they are actually talking about what the source says.  This example concerning Luke 21 and Matthew 24 is really just another result of the overall low view of scripture evident in such teachers:  the details don’t matter, we only need to skim the surface and get the broad picture, the overall spiritual or allegorical meaning, and “find Christ” in some spiritual meaning.  The same philosophy that broad-brushes whole chapters of Isaiah with the one simple idea of the future glory of the Church, fails to look at the words in the Olivet Discourse and fails to understand that words have meaning.  If such individuals took this approach with all the Bible, including salvation passages, they would be rightly condemned as liberal theologians and heretics who fail to see the obvious, literal meaning of soteriological passages.  Their inconsistency is what saves their souls, at least as far as a profession of faith that others can observe; but when someone who may well be saved nonetheless uses the same reasoning and  tactics as liberal unbelievers, why should we give them any credence as valid Bible teachers?

Reference the following for related reading:  “Dangers of the Parallel Passage Approach.” Point 3 is very relevant here:

“(3) There is a danger of reading into a text an interpretation drawn from another text. It may even tend to foist some preconceived interpretation from one passage upon another.”

Topics From Today’s Bible Readings

April 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Today’s Bible readings in my Bible Reading Plan include two themes: eschatology (Luke 21, Zechariah 10, and Revelation 20), and the Christian traits of humility versus pride (1 Corinthians 3-4, and Job 23).

In the second category, 1 Corinthians 4 includes Paul’s sarcasm as he tells the Corinthians that already they are rich and are kings — and then reminds them of the great sufferings and trials of the apostles. “What do you have that you did not receive?” Really good reading, that which we all need to be reminded of. The next reading, Job 23, is a good follow-up for contrast, as in verses 4-6 where Job says: “I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would know what he would answer me and understand what he would say to me. Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power? No; he would pay attention to me.” Of course we all know the end of the story, and Job will get to the right place by chapter 40.

As regarding eschatology, today’s readings again show the abundance of biblical texts concerning Christ’s Second Coming. I’ve heard it said that about 1/4 of the Bible deals with prophetic events, and that Bible prophecy refers more often to Christ’s Second Coming than to His first — and based on all my readings this last year I would agree. Often my reading combinations include one or two prophetic sections. After all, I’m reading Revelation for 22 out of every 50 days (although not every chapter in Revelation is prophetic) and reading something from the Major or Minor prophets every day — though again not every text there deals with future events; sometimes the reading combinations mean that I’m reading through five chapters of OT history instead, such as days when I’m reading narrative events in lists 2 (Pentateuch), list 6 (History) and list 7 (Prophets — historical narrative sections in Isaiah and Jeremiah for instance). But then I have reading days like today, with eschatology featured in three different places — the gospel accounts, Zechariah, and Revelation.

One additional observation from Luke 21: verse 25 mentions the sea, that people are perplexed because of the roaring of the sea and the waves. This reminds me of my recent study through Acts 27 in S. Lewis Johnson’s series. The sea was not something pleasant in the 1st century, and voyage by sea was often dangerous or even impossible. Johnson noted also the reference to Revelation 21, that in the New Heavens and New Earth there would be no more sea — a description not so meaningful to us today, but something designed to bring comfort to readers of that day.

The Slippery Slope of Inconsistent Hermeneutics

April 27, 2010 Leave a comment

John MacArthur’s “Grace to You” blog has been doing a good series through the importance of origins and why Genesis 1-3 is important.

Much could be said on this topic, and often people get distracted by periphery issues.  But the foundational issue is that of hermeneutics and how we handle God’s word.  How one handles the first chapters of Genesis is indeed key to how that person approaches the rest of the Bible.  After all, if one doesn’t believe God at the very beginning, why should that person believe everything else God has to say?  The result is at best an arbitrary and inconsistent hermeneutic — if Genesis 1 and 2 is poetry, then where do you decide to join in and agree?  Genesis 4? Or Genesis 6? Or Genesis 11?

In my own observations of one such deviant teacher, who reasons that Genesis 1-2 is poetry — and thus reveals how ignorant he really is concerning Bible interpretation — I have seen where such reasoning leads to in handling many other areas of scripture.  I’ve blogged often about this before, in reference to understanding of eschatology and even the improper handling of narrative texts such as from the life of David.

To those who would claim it is no big thing to reject a literal Genesis 1, and that one can still be a solid Christian, believing the true core doctrines of the faith, I would submit such case examples to show that such people are headed down a slippery slope that results in inconsistent hermeneutics and sloppy exegesis (at best) and further into outright heretical views.  At best, it shows blatant disregard for the actual word of God and elevates man’s own mind and man’s own creativity, since such an approach to the Bible encourages superficial understanding, a surface skimming over depth of study.  This really isn’t surprising, since by its very nature the allegorical approach is contrary to exposition of a text.  If the actual words of the text really mean something else, why bother studying the actual words when you can just skim the surface and supposedly “get the gist” of what the text is saying.  Refer to Horatius Bonar’s strong words about this in my last post.

The way off the path, away from good expository preaching, has many variations of man’s ideas, but here is a sampler of one such preacher who veers off at Genesis 1-2 and staunchly holds to Hugh Ross Progressive Creation:   he skims over the prophets and claims the only idea taught there is the future glorious age of the Church.  Then his allegorical mindset looks at the life of King David and focuses on David as a type of Christ, and therefore David as a type of Christ in his humanness (and sinful things), exalting David as somehow less prone to sin than the rest of us, with such claims as that when David decided to go over to the Philistines (1 Samuel 27) it was because he really had no choice — completely ignoring the obvious understanding that this was human weakness and not trusting in God; and allegorizing the story of David and Abigail to be talking about intercessory prayer (never mind that the person Abigail was supposedly interceding for, Nabal, was subsequently judged by God).  Naturalism, looking at things from the human viewpoint, takes precedence over God and the supernatural — obviously so when looking at creation and rejecting the obvious understanding of a recent creation and global flood catastrophe, more subtly when claiming that David had no choice in his circumstances (1 Samuel 27), and again more obviously in the outlook concerning things yet to be — there, declaring that the judgment plagues in Revelation will really be accomplished by man destroying himself through nuclear and chemical warfare.

Such must be the result when one ignores what scripture actually says in favor of generalities, allegories and sloppy pick-and-choose hermeneutics — Bible ignorance, and great inconsistency in recognizing that the past plagues in Egypt were supernatural, but because of mankind’s great technology now, the future judgments really must be accomplished by man.

John MacArthur once told of how one of the laypeople at his church had written up a lengthy paper about the doctrine of the rapture, to help his own understanding.  Yet as MacArthur pointed out, if a layperson can study a biblical topic to that extent, what excuse is there for the rampant mediocrity among those who presume to teach others?  Many pastors have never spent as much time studying all the biblical doctrines combined, much less that much time to understand one topic.

Horatius Bonar on Interpretation of Prophecy

April 22, 2010 1 comment

Just some more great quotes from Horatius Bonar, on how we interpret scripture:

To attach a general meaning to a whole chapter, as is frequently done, shows not only grievous irreverence for the Divine Word, but much misconception of the real nature of that language in which it is written. Yet such is often the practice of many expositors of prophecy. They will take up a chapter of Isaiah, and tell you that it refers to the future glory of the Christian Church; and that is the one idea which they gather from a whole chapter, or sometimes from a series of chapters. Their system does not admit of interpreting verse by verse and clause by clause, and affixing an exact and definite sense to each. Bring them to this test, and their system gives way. It looks fair and plausible enough, so long as they can persuade you that the whole chapter is one scene, out of which it is merely designed that one grand idea should be extracted; but bring it to the best of minute and precise interpretation, and its nakedness is at once discovered. Many prophecies become in this way a mere waste of words.  What might be expressed in one sentence, is beaten out over a whole chapter; nay, sometimes over a whole book.

These expositors think that there is nothing in prophecy, except that Jew and Gentile are all to be gathered in, and made one in Christ. Prophet after prophet is raised up, vision after vision is given, and yet nothing is declared but this one idea! Every chapter almost of Isaiah foretells something about the future glory of the world; and every chapter presents it to us in some new aspect, opening up new scenes, and pointing out new objects; but, according to the scheme of some, every chapter sets forth the same idea, reiterates the same objects, and depicts the same scenes. Is not this handling the Word of God deceitfully?

A Hermeneutics Example: Approaches to the Story of David and Abigail

April 21, 2010 Leave a comment

The more I listen to good Bible teaching, the more I appreciate it — and the more I recognize the difference between good and bad Bible teaching.  I also now observe that a preacher who is inclined to allegorize and spiritualize in some areas (such as creation and end times) will exhibit the same tendencies even with narrative historical texts, such as from the life of David.  One such example is 1 Samuel 25, the story of David and Abigail.

The allegorizing hermeneutic looks at this story and just brushes over the surface of the actual story, reading the text along with a few comments about obvious things, like how foolish Nabal was to insult someone who has several hundred men “in your back 40” and that’s like spitting into the wind — and then expanding on one part of the story, Abigail’s petition to David, and portraying it as a wonderful picture of intercession, Abigail’s interceding for her foolish husband and that as a picture of Jesus’s intercession for us, and so on.  It sounds great if you just skim the surface and don’t really think about it, but it doesn’t satisfy the true spiritual hunger to really know God’s word and what it says — and doesn’t do proper justice to the many things that actually are in this text.  One obvious problem with that approach is that the man she was interceding on behalf of (Nabal) was judged by God and struck dead.  If God had instead changed Nabal’s heart for the better and spared his life, perhaps — but again, the text simply does not bear out the spiritualizer’s imagination.

Contrast that approach with the treatment in a good expository lesson through 1 Samuel 25 — from S. Lewis Johnson’s “Life of David” 8-part series.  (He again covered this text several years later in his expanded 40-part “Lessons from the Life of David” series, in a similar manner.)  Johnson looks at the text in three parts, and examines each of the characters:  David, Nabal, and Abigail.  The story has a lot to say about practical Christian living, and SLJ references several Proverbs as well as the parable of the rich man in Luke 12.

Regarding David, SLJ again notes David’s declension in moving away from the stronghold, and that David really didn’t need to go and beg for provisions from Nabal — again a lack of trust.  David’s request was still a reasonable one, though, and in keeping with the culture and the festive occasion of sheep shearing, a traditional time of sharing your abundance with the poor.  David and his men were certainly among the poor, and Nabal had at least that obligation to the poor.  Nabal’s real error, though, for which he was judged, was his failure to recognize God’s anointed — and that can be compared to the wicked sinner who fails to recognize David’s “greater Son” Jesus, and the eternal consequences.

David responds to the insult with rashness and the intent to commit great harm (and this part reminds me of the rash, wicked act of Simeon and Levi in Genesis 34).   Proverbs 26:4, “do not answer a fool according to his folly,” is shown here in David’s mistake.

Abigail is the surprising one in the story, for she shows great knowledge concerning the Davidic promises, in her certainty that David will become king.  The important lesson here is:  “let the coming glory that you are to have regulate your present actions.”  In S. Lewis Johnson’s words:

Abigail’s argument is something like this: David we know you’re going to be king over Israel and when you’re king some day you’ll have grief over the fact that before you became king you lost your temper and you got your men together with your swords in hand and you went down and slew Nabal and all the rest of the men who were associated with him.  So she argues something like this: let the coming glory that you are to have regulate your present actions.

Now, that’s an interesting argument because it’s the same kind of argument that we have in the New Testament, because we are told in the New Testament that we have died with Christ, we have been buried with him, we’ve been raised up together with him, we’ve been made to sit together with him in heavenly places, and in the light of the fact that we have been made to sit together with him in the heavenly places we are to live as heavenly children in this earth in this present season.  It’s the old argument of the Christian life, based on the position that we enjoy in Christ and because we are righteous, we should be righteous in our daily lives.  Because we have this great standing with the Lord, our present state should be comparable to it, so she argues from the basis of his future that he should not do what he intends to do.  So it is a beautiful lesson that the present is to be regulated by the future.  Not simply by the fact that in the future we’re going to be judged, such as we have in 2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 10 (we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ), but rather you should live in the light of what you are going to be.  In our case we are positionally righteous, we are positionally sanctified and therefore we should live lives characterized by growing experience of sanctification; because we are holy in the sight of the Lord now, we should live in a holy way.

Another proverb tell us, “As an earring of gold an ornament of fine gold so is a wise reprove upon an obedient ear.”  David is a great man and shows himself able to take the reproof.

The last section of the chapter is the “retribution and requital,” where God takes vengeance upon Nabal the next morning.  Here the parable in Luke 12 is especially apt, as well as the truth that “vengeance is mine, I will repay thus saith the Lord.”  SLJ suggests that Jesus may well have been thinking of Nabal when He told the story in Luke 12.  Certainly Nabal fits the bill, the perfect description of the rich man who stores up his treasures in bigger and bigger barns but is not generous toward God, not realizing that “this very night” his life will be required of him.

Current Bible Reading: Horner Bible Reading Update

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

In my daily Bible Reading, sometimes I get into a set that includes a few not-so-interesting readings, though as always the variety helps keep the flow moving.  At the moment I have the early chapters of Numbers (list 2) and the later chapters of 1 Chronicles (list 6), both of which show similar interest in genealogies and lists of names and tribal divisions.  Today, for instance, I read of the arrangement of different tribes and the order of how each division of the camp moved in their sequences (Numbers 10); 1 Chronicles 26 has a similar interest in its descriptions of the different groups along each of the gates north, south, east and west.  Both of these books are not the typical Bible material that people like to refer to and memorize, and rarely (if ever) would one hear a sermon preached on this material.  I have heard one pastor (the local one) teach through Numbers — but my preferred Bible teachers, S. Lewis Johnson and John MacArthur, have not taught through these particular texts.  Yet these texts are in the Bible, and this is the advantage of reading through the Bible in sequence — same as with expository preaching: that such a method forces one to read parts of the Bible that we would never come across in a topical reading approach.  I am reminded of an observation that S. Lewis Johnson made, in reference to Genesis 36 (a chapter of genealogies), that such chapters show that God is interested in the affairs of humans and their ordinary lives.

In other readings I continue to come across some good cross-references.  The first chapters of Romans have many OT quotations, and a few of these actually showed up in my other lists at the same time:

Yesterday:  Romans 1 quotation of Habakkuk 2 — the righteous will live by his faith.
Today:  list 7 included Habakkuk 2

Today:  Romans 3 quotes Psalms 5:9, “Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit.”
List 5 (Psalms) today included Psalm 5.

Various Devotional Thoughts

April 16, 2010 Leave a comment

Several different devotional thoughts and teachings have helped encourage me in my daily Christian walk.

Dan Phillips at Pyromaniacs has a good article in his study through Colossians, about being thankful — a good reminder every day.

Today’s “Morning and Evening” devotional from Spurgeon has a great “evening” edition, from the text of Exodus 17:2 and the prayer of Moses.  As usual, Spurgeon is spot on with his observations, such as this one:

It is far easier to fight with sin in public than to pray against it in private. It has been observed that while Joshua never grew weary in the fighting, Moses did grow weary in the praying; the more spiritual an exercise, the more difficult it is for flesh and blood to maintain it.

The more I continue daily reading and study through God’s word, the more I realize my need for it every day.  A related thought: yesterday’s grace and yesterday’s prayers and thoughts are not sufficient, but continual reminders are needed; even then, sometimes my soul is still dull and sluggish to respond to the things of God.  Thank God for His immutability, His unchanging nature — even though we are often “foolish and slow of heart” (Luke 24: 25), our God is infinitely patient and will never forsake us.  Often I recall the words of the man who exclaimed to Jesus, “I believe.  Help my unbelief.”

One important teaching impressed upon me these last few months has been that, as S. Lewis Johnson put it, our salvation gives us many things, but one thing it does not do is “guarantee that we shall never stumble in the Christian life or that we shall not have periods of declension.”   This point especially comes out in lessons through the lives of the Old Testament saints in Genesis, and in the topical series through the lives of Gideon, Samson, and David.  My frequent failures and up-and-down feelings toward God used to plague me to despair, to the point of doubting my salvation — in the face of several years of that tone of teaching at the local church, with its emphasis on the ever forward-moving improvement and sanctification in the believer’s life, without the proper balance of the reality as illustrated in both Old and New Testament saints.  Such teaching — from a weak preacher who describes the narratives of David’s failures as though they were not declensions but what David had to do and thus it was okay for David, and portrays David as actually a better, less sinful man than the rest of us (because of his special chosen status before God and as a type of Christ) — just didn’t address the truth that David and others in the Bible did blunder, and did so quite often.  As S. Lewis Johnson also pointed out in reference to David as a type of Christ, David is not a type of Christ in his sin, in his humanness.  David is a type of Christ (only) in his official activity — “officially he is a type of Christ because he is a king, and thus he represents the Messianic king who is to come.”   We can learn from David’s personal example, but that is different from teaching that David, being a type of Christ, was somehow better and less prone to sin than the rest of us.

This morning my MP3 teaching came from the message  “Declension of David,”  in which we see the steps David takes in his walk away from the Lord (1 Samuel 21), starting with fear — then to deception, lying about need of haste, needing a sword, a flight to Achish king of the Philistines, then to the feigning of madness and being driven away from a pagan king.  But then Psalms 34 and 56, written at the time of these events, shows us the way out of that declension (Psalm 34) and how to maintain a right walk before God (Psalm 56).