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Hermeneutics: On Being “More Spiritual Than God”

January 21, 2013 9 comments

Recently in the comments at Fred Butler’s blog, an amillennialist expressed many thoughts including this one:

if the passages that speak of Israel in a kingdom in which they dwell in a land in which everyone “sits under a fig tree” for example is the real meaning of the Bible then I see that as a problem. If bearing fruit that glorifies Christ is reduced to having a fruit garden then I have missed the gist of the Bible. Far better for such passages to be illustrating the fruitful spiritual kingdom of the Spirit filled age in which through Christ we have been enabled to bear real fruit then to see the culmination of the ages as living over in Palestine.

The phrase referenced here is found in Micah 4:4, with a similar thought in Zechariah 3:10.  The first thing to note here, of course, is that we already have many scriptures that talk about our bearing spiritual fruit for God, as for instance Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 5, Colossians 1, and Philippians 1:10-11.

The Old Testament as well addresses this subject, especially in the book of Proverbs (in numerous places in that book alone), but even in places such as 2 Kings 19:30.  So the suggestion that a literal interpretation of Micah 4:4 and related Old Testament passages requires that “bearing fruit that glorifies Christ is reduced to having a fruit garden” is foolish.  Of course we recognize the truth revealed in the scripture, all of the scriptures including the importance and greatness of bearing spiritual fruit that glorifies Christ. A literal interpretation of “sits under a fig tree” in NO WAY takes away from that truth, but gives us additional revelation about another topic (since spiritual fruit-bearing has already been addressed in numerous other scriptures).  Our hermeneutics are not driven by an either/or but a Both/And — both the bearing fruit that glorifies Christ, and Israel having their kingdom and literal peace.  A further question to ask would be: what is the purpose of even having those Old Testament prophecies with descriptions about a wonderful time of peace, if all they have to tell us is the same thing we’ve already been told, in unmistakably clear language in many texts elsewhere in the Old and New Testaments?

Such a comment reminds me of Dan Phillips’ classic post (25 Stupid Reasons for Dissing Dispensationalism), reason #9: “It isn’t a spiritual hermeneutic.”  When God said Messiah would come from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), He knew it meant “house of bread” — but He meant the city anyway.  

Dan gives an example of what a spiritualizing hermeneutic would have done to the prophecies regarding Christ’s First Coming – and indeed we have the advantage of looking back, that we realize that all of the prophecies concerning Christ’s First Coming were fulfilled literally. (So why should anyone think that the prophecies of the Second Coming will NOT be fulfilled literally?) Christ really was born in Bethlehem, and He really did ride on a donkey, etc.  But to take the same symbolic hermeneutic applied to the Second Coming prophecies, to the First Coming prophecies, would come up with something like Dan well described: “What God is really saying would have been perfectly clear to the Jews. It was symbolic. Messiah would come from ‘the house for bread,’ from the storehouse of God’s spiritual nourishment, and He would give life, as bread does. Those wooden literalists who look for fulfillment in an actual city are perverting the Word to their carnal imaginations.’”

Why does God’s word include so many passages that seem to us very “unspiritual” (and even boring), such as the many sections in the Old Testament (and a few in the gospels) with nothing but genealogies and lists of names?  Could it be that God is actually interested in us human beings, even in our “carnal” lives, and He thinks these things are important and part of His revealed word to us?  Of course the Bible does not include only that which is strictly “spiritual” and non-physical, and we are not to twist the literal meaning of God’s word simply because we think a certain passage is too “carnal” and ordinary, insisting that that passage must have some greater, deeper, “spiritual” meaning instead.  Trying to be more spiritual than God is indeed a foolish thing to do.

The Proper Way to “Find Christ in the Text”

June 2, 2011 Leave a comment

While listening to one of S. Lewis Johnson’s messages through the prophet Micah, I heard a sermon illustration — a story — that I’ve heard often at the local church.  Or rather, I thought I had heard that story before.  But Johnson included the full account, which makes far more sense than the shortened version, along with greater explanation.

Both versions have the first part: an account of a young preacher who preached a sermon in the presence of an older preacher.  The young man asked the older preacher what he thought of his sermon, and the old man told him it was a poor sermon; the reason was that the young man had not preached Christ in the message.  The young man replied that, well, Christ was not in the text.

Here, the shortened version, from a pastor known to allegorize and spiritualize texts to “find Christ” — including ways not at all clear from a text itself — simply adds that “you always find Christ in the text,” and that’s the first and most important thing to do.  Then follow a few sentences of praise about how wonderful Christ is, and that’s what the sermon must be about, the refrain about “nothing but Christ and Him crucified.”

But here is the full version:

The old preacher said, Don’t you know, young man, that from every town and every village and every hamlet in England there is a road that goes to London?

Yes, said the young man.

Aye, said the old preacher, and so from every text in Scripture there is a road to the metropolis of the Scriptures that is Christ.  And my dear brother, your business is when you go to a text to say: Now what is the road to Christ?  And then preach a sermon running along the road toward the great metropolis, Christ.  And he said, I have never yet found a text that had not a plain and direct road to Christ in it.  And if I ever should find one that had no such road, I’d make a road.  I’d run over the hedge and ditch but I would get at my master.  For a sermon is neither fit for the land nor yet for the dunghill unless there is a savor of Christ in it.

As SLJ then further explained:

I think that’s what our Lord meant when he was speaking in Luke chapter 24 and saying to the disciples on the Emmaus road, Don’t you realize that in all of the Old Testament we have teaching concerning Christ?  And beginning at Moses and the prophets, he spoke unto them in all things of himself.  Later on in that chapter, the psalms are mentioned as well.  So that all of the Old Testament is one vast testimony to the Lord Jesus Christ and ultimately it is difficult to find any text in the Bible that will not ultimately bring you to Jesus Christ.  He was right.  And if we miss that, we do miss something that is very important.

Mr. Spurgeon said that whenever he opened up a text, he always went straight across country to Jesus Christ.  That was the way he preached.  It’s proper of course to give the grammatical historical meaning of a text.  No one wants to skip that.  I surely don’t want to skip that.  But also, I want to be sure that what I am going to say about a text is ultimately going to have to do with him who makes all texts meaningful for us, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Key to Understanding the Bible: The Cross and the Crown

December 6, 2010 Leave a comment

J.C. Ryle well expressed what the “key” is to understanding the Bible:

Christ’s sacrifice and death for sinners, and Christ’s kingdom and future glory, are the light we must bring to bear on any book of Scripture we read. Christ’s cross and Christ’s crown are the clue we must hold fast, if we would find our way through Scripture difficulties.

He then gave several examples of how we see aspects of Christ in various Old Testament texts.  Many of these are in types, examples that prefigure Christ either in His cross or His crown.  Of his ten references, in fact, four of these highlighted Christ’s First Coming  (Hebrews 11:4; Galatians 3:24; 1 Cor. 10:4 and John 3:14;  and four His Second Coming (Jude 14-15; John 8:56; Genesis 49:10; and the judges and kings of Israel); and two others, David’s life and the overall theme of the prophets, that equally reference both Advents.

S. Lewis Johnson often made a similar point, that God’s Divine Purpose, and all of Old Testament Prophecy, focuses on the two events of Christ’s First Coming and His Second Coming.  In the OT types, too, he notes that David and Solomon represent different aspects of the true king:  David represents Christ as the “man of war,” while David’s son Solomon represents the King of peace.

I now notice this “key” in my own Bible reading, especially as regards the many “kingdom” references.  For example, a recent day’s Bible readings included the following:  Luke 14:16-24 , Psalms 97 and 98 (see this article), 1 Kings 10 (Solomon as the type of Christ ruling in His kingdom), and Ezekiel 34 (especially verses 23-31).

As I’ve said before, understanding the Bible in terms of the importance of both comings — rather than emphasizing the First Coming to the exclusion of the one yet to come — greatly assists in the daily ups and downs of life, to understand why the world is the way it is.  A right understanding sets the focus where it should be, for believers to eagerly await His imminent return to set things right while truly praying “Thy kingdom come.”  Amillennialism and Church Replacement Theology simply do not do justice to the language of the wonderful Old Testament prophecies, and instead give the false impression that this church age is a wonderful time in which Satan is bound and so many people are coming to Christ, which makes this world so much better.  Yes, technically amillennialism is not so optimistic as post-millennialism, yet I find it difficult to distinguish the two in practice–the amillennialist preacher optimistically proclaims that the prophets spoke of our age (while reading the wonderful texts such as found in Isaiah or Jeremiah, etc.) and that Satan is bound now while the gospel goes forth unhindered.  Aside from the fact that such an idea denies the vivid and clear words of scripture concerning both the persecuted church and Satan’s activity in this age, it simply has no answer to what we actually observe: a world in which the believers are scattered (like salt) among a majority of unbelievers, a church never extinguished yet  oppressed and persecuted, and riddled with worldly believers as well as outright unbelievers.  That view also cannot make any sense of actual history and the hard questions that many people ask, such as “why the Holocaust?” and “why such hatred of the Jews?”

More to the point, the amillennialist scheme, with its excessive focus on only the First Coming, promises great things (that cannot be delivered in this age) and encourages believers to live only for this life and forget that Christ will return to setup His kingdom.  That mindset is focused on the past and what Christ has done (past tense) for us, yet lulls the believer to sleep in regards to the future — I’ll live a full life now, and someday go to be with Jesus in heaven.  Since the “first resurrection” is only the spiritual rebirth of believers, and emphasis is on a non-material “heaven,” the resurrection itself is downplayed.  J.C. Ryle spoke truly for his age, as well as ours, that the majority of believers, like the virgins waiting for the king in Matthew 25, are asleep and not looking for Christ’s imminent return:

We have adapted and accommodated to the Church of Christ the promises that were spoken by God to Israel and Zion. I do not mean to say that this accommodation is in no sense allowable. But I do mean to say that the primary sense of every prophecy and promise in Old Testament prophecy was intended to have a literal fulfillment, and that this literal fulfillment has been far too much put aside and thrust into a corner.  And by so doing I think we have exactly fulfilled our Lord’s words in the parable of the ten virgins, we have proved that we are slumbering and sleeping about the second advent of Christ.

Luke 1 and Premillennialism: Christ’s Kingdom Upon the Earth

November 23, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s the Christmas season again, so I just listened to S. Lewis Johnson’s message on Luke 1:26-38 (the announcement to Mary, of the birth of the Messiah).  In the midst of this message, delivered in 1970, comes the following great words concerning Christ’s future kingdom:

I am constantly surprised that people can read the Bible and do not see that our Lord is to have a kingdom upon this earth.  I do not see how it is possible to freely read the word of God and not come to that conclusion.  I think of a story which I read almost twenty-five years ago of a conversation that took place between a Jewish man who had studied a little bit of the New Testament and a Christian clergyman who was a believer in Jesus Christ but was an amillenialist.  That is, he did not believe that there would be an earthly kingdom in the future.  And he was trying to get the Jewish man to believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.

And the Jewish man turned to Luke chapter 1, verse 32 and he asked the clergyman, he said, “Do you believe that what is here written about the Messiah is to be literally accomplished, that God is going to give unto him the throne of his father David?” and the Christian minister said, “No I do not.  I rather take it to be a figurative language, descriptive of Christ’s spiritual reign over the church.”  Then replied the Jew, “Neither do I believe literally verse 31 in which it is stated that ‘a virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son and they shall call his name Jesus.’  I rather take this to be merely a figurative manner of describing the remarkable character for purity which the Son of God, according to this text, shall have.  But why” the Jew continued, “do you take verses 32 and 33 figuratively, while you believe implicitly that verse 31 is to be fulfilled literally?”  And the clergyman replied, “I believe in the virgin birth because it is a fact.”  And the Jew said, “Ah, I see the difference.  You believe in Scripture because it is a fact, I believe in Scripture because it is the word of God.”  And the Jewish man had overthrown the Christian clergyman.

Is God “Most Glorified” through His Church?

June 28, 2010 2 comments

A friend recently posted a link to the following quote from preacher Jeff Noblit:  “God is most glorified through His church. God is most glorified through His church when His church is biblically healthy. For our churches to become biblically healthy, we desperately need revival and reformation. This revival and reformation will require suffering on the part of God’s shepherd. But His glory is worth it!”

It’s a statement that sounds nice and uplifting, for the average Christian who likes to hear good things about the church — if you don’t think about the words and what it’s really saying. Yet the statement struck me as unbiblical, as an idea that comes from standard Reformed ecclesiology in which the Church is the end-all plan of God, also part and parcel of Church Replacement theology (also called Supersessionism).  I had not heard that particular wording before, though, and googled to see if anyone else had anything to say regarding what God is “most glorified” in.  I did learn that John Piper has written a type of creed statement, that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”  I also found this article that looks at the biblical question of “God is Most Glorified… When?”  We really can’t say that there is one thing which glorifies God the most — although of course the Bible tells us of several things that do glorify God.  I know that at my own moment of salvation, when suddenly God revealed basic understanding (as I was driving home listening to the Rich Mullins song “Awesome God”), I suddenly knew that everything came from God, even my very breath and every cell of my existence, and that my whole purpose for being was to glorify and praise God.

But back to the original quote from Jeff Noblit — what does the Bible actually say about the Church?  And what would cause someone to think such a thing as the statement above?

So here are just a few things said in God’s word concerning the first question:  The Church began at Pentecost, and departs at the rapture.  The Church is the body of Christ, built on the foundation of prophets and apostles.  The church structure, for the local church, includes recognized positions of elders and deacons.  The Bible recognizes the gift of pastor/teacher, but does not support the idea of “office of pastor” — a point emphasized by S. Lewis Johnson, at a church that holds to that point.

The Church has been given the role that Israel would have had, to spread the gospel in the world during this age, and as Paul tells us in Romans 11, the purpose of Gentiles coming into the Church is to make Israel jealous. But Romans 11 also tells us that this situation will end, after the fullness of the Gentiles.  Old Testament texts affirm that in the age to come (the Millennial Kingdom) Israel will be restored and will serve the purpose that God intended for her, with the special place of prominence among the nations again.  So, knowing the purpose and limits of the Church in God’s overall plan — an equal part of the full people of God, alongside Israel — how can it be said that God is “most glorified through His Church?” For such language claims that the Church is greater than anything else in God’s Divine Purpose.

The New Testament also tells us to expect difficulty and great apostasy as the end draws near.  Paul often warned the church (as in Acts 20) as well as its leaders Timothy and Titus, to guard and keep the faith, to watch out for false teachers who would soon enter the church.  Peter and Jude also spoke of such things. As Mark Hitchcock has pointed out, it is interesting that the book of Jude is listed in the canon just before the book of Revelation; God has ordained both the books of the canon as well as their sequence in our Bibles.  The parable in Matthew 13:33 uses leaven to describe this age; and despite the ideas of some, leaven is never used in a positive way in scripture, and that includes the truth taught here.  The parable of the wheat and tares also makes it clear that the church will always have true and false professors within it, and we cannot separate them out.  Believers are continually exhorted to holy living and to resist the devil (again making it clear that Satan is not currently bound), and Revelation 2-3 make it clear that even by the end of the first century the churches were having lots of problems.

From church history, we can read the words of Christian leaders from previous times, such as 19th century Britain’s J.C. Ryle, C.H. Spurgeon, and Horatius Bonar, to learn that even in past times (that we like to think of as having been morally upright and more “Christian”), the true Church was oppressed, local churches plagued with professing believers more caught up in the affairs of the world than in the study of God’s word.  Refer to my previous blog article that includes one such quote from Horatius Bonar, or one of many samplings from J.C. Ryle:

The devil is the prince of this world during the present dispensation (John 14:30). The vast majority of the inhabitants of the earth choose the things that please the devil far more than the things that please God. Little as they may think it, they are doing the devil’s will, behaving as the devil’s subjects, and serving the devil far more than Christ. This is the actual condition of Christendom as well as of heathen countries. After 1900 years of Bibles and Gospel preaching, there is not a nation, or a country, or a parish, or a long established congregation, where the devil has not more subjects than Christ. So fearfully true is it that the world is not yet the kingdom of Christ.

To say that we “desperately need” revival and that it requires suffering on the part of God’s shepherd (presumably by this he means local church leaders) to accomplish this, is to put the matter in man’s hands, as if God’s glory is dependent on our producing “biblically healthy” churches.  Furthermore, the only way to come up with such a positive view concerning the Church and the necessity for revival and “biblically healthy” churches, is to re-interpret scriptures that are not even talking about the Church but about the promised future for Israel, as being really about the church — the common error of Church Replacement Theology that looks at the optimistic passages in the Old Testament prophets and applies the blessings to the Church but leaves the curses to Israel.

Since God never promised such blessings to the Church but to the future Kingdom age, those who re-interpret the scriptures (to think of our age as the glorious Church/Kingdom) face a serious disconnect between their view of God’s word and observed reality — a disconnect that can only lead to disappointment and frustration as they continue to expect to see certain things, such as revival and biblically healthy churches — while the reality fails to live up to the ideal of the great “blessings” as described by the prophets.

Some Great Thoughts from J.C. Ryle

May 18, 2010 2 comments

Following are several excerpts from J.C. Ryle’s sermons, published in his book “Coming Events and Present Duties“.

And now, is there any one among the readers of this address who cannot receive the doctrine of Christ’s second advent and kingdom? I invite that man to consider the subject calmly and dispassionately. Dismiss from your mind traditional interpretations. Separate the doctrine from the mistakes and blunders of many who hold it. Do not reject the foundation because of the wood, hay, and stubble which some have built upon it. Do not condemn it and cast it aside because of injudicious friends. Only examine the texts which speak of it, as calmly and fairly as you weigh tests in the Romish, Arian, or Socinian controversies, and I am hopeful as to the result of your mind. Alas, if texts of Scripture were always treated as unceremoniously as I have known texts to be treated by those who dislike the doctrine of Christ’s second advent, I should indeed tremble for the cause of truth!

. . .

I believe it is high time for the Church of Christ to awake out of its sleep about Old Testament prophecy. From the time of the old Father, Jerome, down to the present day, men have gone on in a pernicious habit of “spiritualizing” the words of the Prophets, until their true meaning has been well nigh buried.  It is high time to fall back on the good old principle that Scripture generally means what it seems to mean, and to beware of that semi-skeptical argument, “such and such an interpretation cannot be correct, because it seems to us “carnal!”

It is high time for Christians to interpret unfulfilled prophecy by the light of prophecies already fulfilled. The curses on the Jews were brought to pass literally: so also will be the blessings. The scattering was literal: so also will be the gathering. The pulling down of Zion was literal: so also will be the building up. The rejection of Israel was literal: so also will be the restoration.

. . .

The Lord Jesus during the present dispensation is like David between the time of His anointing and Saul’s death. He has the promise of the kingdom, but He has not yet received the crown and throne (1 Sam. 22:1, 2).

He is followed by a few, and those often neither great nor wise, but they are a faithful people. He is persecuted by His enemies, and oft times driven into the wilderness, and yet His party is never quite destroyed. But He has none of the visible signs of the kingdom at present: no earthly glory, majesty, greatness, obedience. The vast majority of mankind see no beauty in Him: they will not have this man to reign over them. His people are not honored for their Master’s sake: they walk the earth like princes in disguise. His kingdom is not yet come: His will is not yet done on earth excepting by a little flock. It is not the day of His power. The Lord Jesus is biding His time.

Reader, I entreat you to grasp firmly this truth, for truth I believe it to be. Great delusion abounds on the subject of Christ’s kingdom. Take heed lest any man deceive you by purely traditional teachings about prophetical truth. Hymns are composed and sung which darken God’s counsel on this subject by words without knowledge. Texts are wrested from their true meaning, and accommodated to the present order of things, which are not justly applicable to any but the period of the second advent. Beware of the mischievous infection of this habit of text-wresting. Beware of the sapping effect of beautiful poetry, in which unfulfilled promises of glory are twisted and adapted to the present dispensation. Settle it down in your mind that Christ’s kingdom is yet to come. His arrows are not yet sharp in the hearts of His enemies. The day of His power has not yet begun. He is gathering out a people to carry the cross and walk in His steps; but the time of His coronation has not yet arrived. But just as the Lord Jesus, like the nobleman, “went to receive a kingdom,” so, like the noble-man, the Lord Jesus intends one day “to return.”

. . .

Beware of that system of allegorizing, and spiritualizing, and accommodating, which the school of Origen first brought in, in the Church. In reading the authorized version of the English Bible, do not put too much confidence in the “headings” of pages and “tables of contents” at the beginning of chapters, which I take leave to consider a most unhappy accompaniment of that admirable translation. Remember that those headings and tables of contents were drawn up by uninspired hands. In reading the Prophets, they are sometimes not helps, but hindrances and less likely to assist a reader than to lead him astray. Settle in your mind, in reading the Psalms and Prophets that Israel means Israel, and Zion means Zion and Jerusalem means Jerusalem. And, finally, whatever edification you derive from applying to your own soul the words which God addresses to His ancient people, never lose sight of the primary sense of the text.

J.C. Ryle on Christ’s Return

May 4, 2010 Leave a comment

J. C. RyleGreat words from J. C. Ryle:

I submit, then, that in the matter of Christ’s second coming and kingdom, the Church of Christ has not dealt fairly with the prophecies of the Old Testament. We have gone on far too long refusing to see that there are two personal advents of Christ spoken of in those prophecies, an advent in humiliation, and an advent in glory, an advent to suffer, and an advent to reign, a personal advent to carry the cross, and a personal advent to wear the crown. We have been “slow of heart to believe ALL that the Prophets have written.” (Luke 24:25). The Apostles went into one extreme: they stumbled at Christ’s sufferings. We have gone into the other extreme: we have stumbled at Christ’s glory. We have got into a confused habit of speaking of the kingdom of Christ as already set up amongst us, and have shut our eyes to the fact that the devil is still prince of this world, and served by the vast majority; and that our Lord, like David in Adullam, though anointed, is not yet set upon His throne. We have got into a vicious habit of taking all the promises spiritually, and all the denunciations and threats literally. The denunciations against Babylon, and Nineveh, and Edom, and Tyre, and Egypt, and the rebellious Jews, we have been content to take literally and hand over to our neighbors. The blessings and promises of glory to Zion, Jerusalem, Jacob, and Israel, we have taken spiritually, and comfortably applied them to ourselves and the Church of Christ. . . . And by so doing I think we have exactly fulfilled our Lord’s words in the parable of the ten virgins, we have proved that we are slumbering and sleeping about the second advent of Christ.

. . . And I have long felt it is one of the greatest shortcomings of the Church of Christ that we ministers do not preach enough about this advent of Christ, and that private believers do not think enough about it. A few of us here and there receive the doctrine, and profess to love it; but the number of such persons is comparatively very small. And, after all, none of us live on it, feed on it, act on it, work from it, take comfort in it, as much as God intended us to do. In short, the Bridegroom tarries, and we all slumber and sleep.

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.