Archives For Hermeneutics

Don't Miss the Forest for the TreesSome time ago I wrote an as-condensed-as-possible version of the great story of redemption, tracing God’s gracious promise to provide the seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent through the Old Testament. I examined how that promise narrowed from the seed of the woman, to the seed of Abraham, to the nation of Israel, and to the line of David. We saw how Israel’s repeated failure to be faithful to the covenants Yahweh established with them all pointed to the One who would exemplify covenant faithfulness and fulfill all righteousness on behalf of His people. To put it another way, contrary to what some believe about dispensationalists and the Old Testament, we observed how the whole of the Old Testament finds its climax and fulfillment in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, the Israelite par-excellence, and the Son of David. If you’ve not read that post, I’d encourage you to do so.

I mentioned in that post that a great help for interpreting the Bible properly consists in keeping that big picture in the front of our mind so that we can interpret the parts in light of the whole. We don’t want to miss the forest for the trees. This is especially helpful in the Old Testament, where the increased historical, cultural, geographical, literary, and even covenantal gaps can make us raise our eyebrows at not a few passages, which just seem wholly unfamiliar.

Now, we need to be sure that we interpret each passage on its own terms, according to its context, always in search of the intent of the original author. But keeping this grand narrative of redemptive history in mind and locating at what point in the story of redemption that a particular passage finds itself, can often help us understand why some more obscure (or at least, seemingly-removed) passages are in the Bible. Passages that look like road blocks or obstacles in our Bible-reading plans can be transformed (at least in our perception, anyway) by relating them to the larger story of redemptive history.

Today I’d like to just share a few examples.

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snoozeI relish a heavenly nap as much as the next guy, but not at the expense of actually getting to Heaven. There persists in some evangelical circles a pertinacious little misunderstanding known as “soul sleep” or, to the more erudite, “psychopannychism.”

It’s the view that when you die your spirit goes into an unconscious, uncomprehending state until the final resurrection.

The reasoning is that since every human being is a body-soul composite (or for our pedantic tripartite readers: body-soul-mind), when your body dies your soul cannot function until it is reunited with your resurrected corpus.

This argument isn’t merely a logical one, but putatively a biblical one. Proponents point out that the writers of Scripture routinely referred to the dearly departed as those who had “fallen asleep.”

For example,

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It used to be easy for Christians to formulate an opinion about tattoos. Sailors had them. And some prisoners. Other than corpsmen and convicts the only ink you saw in church was on the page.

This is not a pointed tirade against tattoos, nor a defense of them; it’s a jab at bad hermeneutics. I have found that some like to decorate their arguments with Bible verses that have no place in the debate.

These are the three usual suspects…

1. Thou shalt not tattoo thyself.

Leviticus 19:28 “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord.”

This one is the biggie. It is literally the only verse in the Bible to actually employ the word ‘tattoo.’ So if you can’t get this one to play for your team, you don’t have a team.

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moon over jerusalemThe reason a bevy of justifiably smug journalists was camping on Harold Camping’s front lawn on May 21, 2011 is because yet another of the preacher-cum-radio-broadcaster’s predictions of rapture had misfired.

One would think that after his failed prediction of 1988 Camping’s popularity as an authority on date-setting would have waned. If not then, perhaps after his 1989 repeat performance. Incredibly, his credulous followers remained obdurate about Camping’s abilities to pinpoint an event the Bible says is impossible to predict. When he suddenly appeared to the salivating pack of reporters on his lawn Camping explained that his prophecy must have been fulfilled in a “spiritual” way (preterist much?) but that he foresaw the literal coming of Christ happening on October 21, the same year.

Anyhoo… The reason for this trip down memorable mishap lane, is that it’s about that time of the millennium again, so we are faced with a new date-setting phenomenon at which to furrow our brows. This time the mania for rapture takes on slightly more of a lunatic hue. I mean that fairly literally.

The “blood moon tetrad” is the latest prophecy to make the rounds on social media.

Admittedly, I can’t wax eloquent on its finer details, but as I understand it the prediction is elastically derived from the prophet Joel’s words that reoccur on Peter’s lips in his Pentecost sermon of Acts 2:20 the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.

Obviously that verse must be referring to the blood moon tetrad. What’s that, you ask? It’s only the most rare event in the history of history. Kinda.

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November 18, 2014

Peter the Apostate?

by Dave Farnell

Peters_DenialsToday’s article is adapted from Dave’s larger article entitled: “Robert Gundry, Gaining Renewed Support from ETS, Declares Peter an Apostate in Matthew’s Gospel.” To read the entire article, click here.

On October 6, 2014, Robert Gundry delivered an address at Westmont College in which he made the shocking claim that the apostle Peter was actually “Peter the apostate and false disciple according to St. Matthew.” According to Gundry, Matthew’s gospel depicts Peter, after his denials — not as a forgiven apostle — but as an apostatizing false prophet. (To see the video, click here. To read the press release from Westmont, click here).

In essence, Gundry puts Peter on equal footing with Judas Iscariot.

Gundry’s claims are astounding — especially when one considers that never in church history has anyone suggested that Matthew’s gospel depicts Peter as an apostate. But that fact does not faze Gundry, who apparently sees no problem with his novel interpretations. Continue Reading…

Psalm 119 is the longest poem in the Bible. It is the longest prayer in the Bible. It is the longest acrostic in the Bible. It is the longest chapter in the Bible. It stands at the center of the Bible, and it is about the Bible. The longest Psalm is a psalm about Psalms. The most intimidating chapter in the Word is also a chapter about the Word.

The scope of Psalm 119 is both huge (22 stanzas) and limited (every verse is about scripture). The chapter covers every aspect of life—successes, failures, victories, defeats, prosperity and adversity—and yet is also almost entirely a prayer (nearly every verse is directed to Yahweh).

Because of its length, the unity of it can often be missed. The stanzas are not interchangeable. Instead, this Psalm is masterfully crafted to guide the reader in a progression through the believer’s life. It covers all you need to know about leading a godly life, from A-Z (or aleph-to-tav, as it were). And it does so in order.   Continue Reading…

Judges 11 is one of the darkest chapters in the Bible. God’s judge, Jephthah, offers up his only child as a human sacrifice, under the incredibly sinful assumption that Yahweh is worshiped in the same way the pagan gods are. The story stands as evidence that without faith, God’s people are as depraved as the world, and that Israel is in desperate need of a savior better than a Judge.

(10-11) wrong becomes right

In the last few weeks I’ve read two articles (here and here) that have argued against that understanding of Judges 11, essentially saying, “no, no…you have it all wrong…God wouldn’t allow one of his Judges to do something that horrible… Jephthah didn’t sacrifice her, he asked her to live a life of chastity in service to Yahweh.”

I think this attempt to rescue Jephthah’s reputation comes up short though, and here is why:

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Under the churchillian title “Blood, Sweat, and Fear” a sanguine little article by J. E. Holoubek made a big splash in the arid annals of The Journal of Medicine (02/1996). It presents seventy-six patients who claimed to have, at least once, sweated blood. The descriptions of these putative stigmatics were channeled into broad categories (disease, exertion, psychogenesis) and filtered further into likely causes. The causes most likely to, um, precipitate the symptoms were acute fear and intense mental contemplation.drop

This exceedingly rare condition, called hematidrosis, is when blood pressure becomes so high that the subject’s subcutaneous capillaries rupture and leak out the pores and tear ducts.

It sounds like something a Bond villain would have on his résumé, but occurrences have been documented in reputable sources including Leonardo Da Vinci who mentions a knee-knocking soldier who became so fearful before he entered battle that his sweat became mingled with blood. Another case manifested in a man facing imminent execution.

Because of the causes of the condition— intense fear in the face of impending death—there are very few stories involving hematidrosis that have a happy ending.

But I found one.

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kingdom_comeIs Revelation 6:9–11 a proof text for amillennialism?

A few months ago, Sam Storms wrote a blog article explaining that, unlike many of his fellow amillennialists, he came to embrace amillennialism because of Revelation 20, not in spite of it. According to Storms, the evidence in Revelation 20 is altogether persuasive that the millennial reign of the saints is “a reference to the experience of co-regency on the part of those believers who are now in the intermediate state with Christ.” For this reason, in contrast to the premillennial view that the thousand years of Revelation 20 will take place after the Second Coming, Storms believes “the millennium is a current phenomenon, in heaven, spanning the age between the two advents of Jesus Christ.”

In the remainder of the article, Storms offers ten reasons why Revelation 20 itself persuades him that amillennialism is true, all of which were also articulated in his recent book, Kingdom Come. In the fifth reason, Storms appeals to “the obvious parallel” between Revelation 20:1–6 and Revelation 6:9–11 (also see Kingdom Come, 457–58). Continue Reading…

James Street, from The Master’s College and Seminary, made this five-minute summary of the Old Testament’s plot: