Friday, 2 November 2012

Prophetic hermeneutics

SLW has written an interesting piece on Antipas. He refers to his prophetic hermeneutic which is interesting.
  • If events have significance to God's plan of redemption, those events will be foretold by prophets.
  • If the prophesied event occurred within the time frame during which biblical writing was inspired, its fulfillment will be recorded in the scriptures dealing with that period.
  • If a prophecy interprets the past (as it certainly does in the Revelation) it's fulfillment in the past will be recorded in the scriptures dealing with that period. (Predictive) prophecy is difficult to interpret. It may imply now, or soon, or distant future, or perhaps have duel fulfilment.
He bases this on Amos 3:7. These premises are well worth considering though I am not going to interact with them directly.

The post lead to a discussion on the dating of the book of Revelation and various interpretations of Revelation.

Traditionally these are
  • Preterism
  • Historicism
  • Futurism
  • Idealism
Let may say at the beginning that I do not have strong eschatological views. My reading around the issue is not in-depth enough. I am also not sure that if I did have more certainty, I would find the issue evoking significant passion. It seems more important to have a right view of beginning-times than of end-times.

Had I labelled myself previously, perhaps it would have been a futurist. I find I have increasing sympathy for preterism. I would not say that I have abandoned futurism for preterism, it would better to say I have incorporated aspects of preterism.

Nevertheless, I do not think that Revelation needs to fit into a preterist, historicist or futurist interpretation; I am more concerned with what Scripture says and with consistency. As Douglas Wilson has written,
We must always allow the words of Scripture to speak to us, straight up, and not modify them for the sake of a theological system. Receive the Word as spoken, and let the system (which will form necessarily) take care of itself.
It may be that eschatology is best understood under the classification of futurism, or preterism, or idealism, or historicism; or they may each contribute aspects of the truth.

It seems that futurism has a slightly more literal approach to prophecy. Although I have sympathy with literal hermeneutics, there are aspects of prophecy that call this approach into question; or at least suggest modification.

My general hermeneutic is probably better described as more grammatical (straightforward interpretation) than literal. Much of the Bible is to be understood in a literal manner (especially history). Still, figures of speech, idioms, approximations, hyperbole, rhetoric are all features of Scripture and Scripture needs to be interpreted with this in mind.

So is predictive prophecy literal? Well it may point to literal events: Isaiah's prophecies of the Messiah meant that a real person was coming. Yet some fulfilments of prophecy seem to be more spiritual than physical.

There are aspects of prophecy that should make us question whether something is literal, or rather that a literal aspect may be fulfilled in a difficult to perceive way. A couple are hiddenness and scriptural interpretation of prophecy.

If we view prophecy in the broadest aspect: God speaking to people though his servants, it seems that clarity is attenuated by righteousness. What I mean by this is that our ability to understand is modified by our receptiveness to God. Those inclined toward God understand better than those opposed to God. Jesus spoke in parables for this reason. Isaiah says,
‘You will be ever hearing, but never understanding;/
you will be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’/
This people’s heart has become calloused;/
they hardly hear with their ears,/
and they have closed their eyes (Isaiah 6:9-10, Septuagint)
Thus there is an aspect of hiddenness to Scripture. Related to this hiddenness is the concept that prophecy is better understood after the event than before it. That is, its fulfilment clearly relates to the prophecy, but this is much harder to grasp before the event.

We also need to read how the authors of Scripture understood prophecy. For example Matthew's interpretation of prophecies is different than I would expect at times. Jesus indicates that some things should be understood as more spiritual than material. We need to learn from Jesus and the inspired authors.

We need to read Scripture (including eschatology) aright. Avoiding both hyperliteralism (phylacteries) and over-spiritualisation (Jesus has returned in the church; Jesus has risen in our hearts); and also rightly discerning which aspects are more literal and which are more spiritual.


  1. That was an excellent post, bethyada, and I don't see one thing I would take exception to.

  2. I think eschatology is incredibly important, so I think that some passion is certainly in play here. However, the kind of passion which results from absolutism is silly. We should not have an absolute interpretation of the end times. That is exactly what got the Jews in trouble with messianic prophesy.

    My basic view of Revelation is futurist, but I agree that I have some preterist sympathies. I often feel that I agree with preterists more when it comes to hermeneutical methods, but with futurists more with actual conclusions. I don't know if it is because of my own stubburnness, or if I am finding a middle ground that most can't see. At the risk of hubris, it seems to me to be the latter. Oh well. God will sort it out in the end (double entendre intended).

  3. JCF, it would be interesting for me to list various prophecies and how I see them individually. Of course there would be big gaps, but it may be interesting to patch together what I think is likely and how that patchwork may look (even with the gaps). For example I would argue for Daniel historically, with the 70 7s (or 69) being until the time of Jesus' birth (or crucifixion); the initial Olivet discourse to the destruction and escape from Jerusalem in the first century; latter Olivet of trampling of Jerusalem by the Gentiles from then till now (or 1967?); the letters to the churches in the 1st century; the beasts to Rome including 666 to Nero; the return of Jesus future; the woman and her child to the birth of Jesus; the New Jerusalem future (though probably significantly symbolic);...

    Not to mention the millennium which is more speculative. I am more futurist with this one.

  4. Excellent thanks - this is a good example of why I read your blog! Such variety of posts.

  5. Hi Blair. My recent comments gadget is broken and I am not seeing new comments unless login and check them. Only just saw this.

    I have much more going around in my head than time to post. Perhaps it is priorities? Oh well.



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