14. Okay. Can you go back to hermeneutics?
Once again, the word hermeneutic refers to the art, science and methodology of interpretation when approaching the text of the Bible. There are different hermeneutical schools of thought; we shall only consider the three options here that affect our discussion of eschatology.
The allegorical method:
An allegorist is one who says that the text is the body, but the allegorical meaning underneath the text is the soul. This type of thinking became popular in the early centuries of Christianity in an attempt to escape from the plain reading of the Old Testament. Following the Jewish thinker Philo, who had the same motivation, the church slowly drifted away from a sober handling of the text. Under the influence of this kind of thinking, the text simply becomes clay in the hands of the interpreter, and is no longer obeyed as though it were the authoritative Word of God. The authoritative word is “spiritualized” away.
The literal method:
According to proponents of this school of thought, a text should be taken at face value unless it results in manifest absurdity. This is the method strongly advocated in dispensationalism. Defined this way, it is hard to dispute, but a further question must be asked. Absurd to whom? By what standard do we seek to interpret a particular text? In search of an answer to this question, we have to consider another hermeneutical approach, which I have called the natural school.
The natural method:
In this school of thought, the various texts themselves determine how they are to be interpreted. In other words, how does the text itself present itself to be interpreted? Some examples are listed below in which the text may require a different method of interpretation.
In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul plainly sets forth, in plain Greek prose, the content of the gospel which God had entrusted to Him. The book of Romans should be interpreted in much the same way this primer should be.
In the Psalms, an afflicted man eats ashes for food and mixes tears in his drink (102:9). This should not be read in the same way that the book of Romans is read. It is figurative poetry.
Figures of Speech:
For example, Jesus uses a very common figure of speech in the Last Supper — metaphor — when He says that the bread was His body and the wine His blood. Those who take Him “literally” here (and there are millions of them) have missed His entire point.
Luke begins his gospel by avowing that he had personally gotten his facts from eyewitnesses. He presents his gospel as sober history; those who take the Bible as the Word of God must take it as sober history.
In our study of eschatology, this category is most important because many of the prophecies of Scripture come to us in symbolic form. When a symbolic passage is interpreted symbolically or typologically, this is not allegorization or spiritualizing.
15. Can you give an example of why hermeneutics is important?
Certainly. We are discussing the Second Advent of Christ. The Jews at the time of Jesus’ First Advent did not receive Him as their promised Messiah. How could they have missed the plain teaching of Scripture? The answer is that with the wrong hermeneutic, the answer is not so plain.
16. For instance?
Consider the prophecy of Hosea 11:1. According to Matthew 2:15, this refers to the flight into Egypt by Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. But in Hosea, the meaning appears to be a reference to the Exodus from Egypt under Moses. Unless we interpret it symbolically, as Matthew does, we cannot apply it to Jesus Christ.
17. Does this mean we pick and choose in how we interpret?
Not at all. One of the great hermeneutical principles that came out of the Reformation was that Scripture interprets Scripture. This means, among other things, that if there is a passage the meaning of which is unclear, or is in dispute, we must look for what the Scripture does elsewhere with that passage. This may be done by looking for quotations of and allusions to the passage, or it may be done by examining the same subject in similar passages.
18. Can you illustrate?
Sure. What is the meaning of Matthew 24:29? Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
19. At first glance it looks like the end of the world.
But the verse is a quotation from Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4. How is it used there? In the original passages, the imagery referred to the destruction of Babylon (13:1) and Edom (34:5). We should therefore assume that Jesus is talking about the same kind of thing when He quotes the passages. He is prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
20. Might this not be an exception?
It is not likely. Everywhere there is similar “collapsing solar system” imagery in the Old Testament (see Ez. 32:7; Amos 8:9; and Joel 2:28-32), the reference is to the same thing — the destruction of nations and cities. There is no scriptural reason to handle such passages differently when they are quoted in the New Testament. Everywhere the Bible uses this kind of language, it is applied to the judgment of God on a particular nation or city — Babylon, Edom, Egypt, the northern kingdom of Israel, and the Israel of Christ’s day. There is no scriptural reason to think it is any different in Matthew 24.