|THE INTERPRETATION OF PROPHECY||
By J. Dwight Pentecost, Things To Come, 1958
THE METHODS OF INTERPRETATION
No question facing the student of Eschatology is more important than the question of the method to be employed in the interpretation of the prophetic Scriptures. The adoption of different methods of interpretation has produced the variant eschatological positions and accounts for the divergent views within a system that confront the student of prophecy. The basic differences between the premillennial and amillennial schools and between the pretribulation and posttribulation rapturists are hermeneutuical, arising from the adoption of divergent and irreconcilable methods of interpretation.
The basic issue between premillennialists and amillennialists is clearly drawn by Allis, who writes:
When Allis acknowledges that "Literal interpretation has always been a marked feature of Premillennialism"2 he is in agreement with Feinberg, who writes:
He is thus acknowledging that the basic difference between himself, an amillennialist, and a premillennialist is not whether the Scriptures teach such an earthly kingdom as the premillennialist teaches, but how the Scriptures that teach just such an earthly kingdom are to be interpreted. Allis admits that "the Old Testament prophecies if literally interpreted cannot be regarded as having been yet fulfilled or as being capable of fulfillment in this present age."5 Therefore, the antecedent to any Eschatology is the establishment of the basic method of interpretation to be employed throughout. This is well observed by Pieters, who writes:
A. THE PROBLEM. If Rutgers be correct when he says of the premillennialist: "I regard their interpretation of Scripture as the fundamental error,"7 and if the acknowledged difference between premillennialism and amillennialism rests on the basic proposition of the method to be used in interpreting Scriptures, the fundamental problem to be studied at the outset of any consideration of Eschatology is that of the hermeneutics of prophecy. It is the purpose of this study to examine the important methods currently advocated as the proper way to interpret Scripture so as to have a clear understanding of the difference in the methods, to study the history of the doctrine so as to be able to trace the divergent methods to their source, and to outline the rules to be employed in the interpretation so as to be able to apply correctly the established method of interpretation.
B. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE STUDY. "The primary need for a system of hermeneutics is to ascertain the meaning of the Word of God."8
(Bernard Ramm). It is obvious that such widely divergent views as premillennialism and amillennialism and pretribulation and posttribulation rapturism cannot all be right. Since the interpreter is not handling a book of human origin, but the Word of God, he must be equipped with an accurate method of interpretation or error will be the necessary result of his study. The fact that the Word of God cannot be correctly interpreted apart from a correct method of and sound rules for interpretation gives the study its supreme importance.
While many diverse methods of interpreting the Scriptures have been propounded during the course of the history of interpretation,9 today there are but two methods of interpretation which have a vital effect on Eschatology: the allegorical and the
grammatical-historical methods. The literal method is generally held to be synonymous with the grammatical-historical method and will be so used throughout this discussion. These two methods will be considered in detail.
I. THE ALLEGORICAL METHOD
An ancient method of interpretation which has had a current revival is the allegorical method.
A. The definition of the allegorical method. Angus-Green define an allegory as:
Ramm defines the allegorical method thus: "Allegorism is the method
of interpreting a literary text that regards the literal sense as the vehicle
for a secondary, more spiritual and more profound sense."11
It would seem that the purpose of the allegorical method is not to interpret scripture, but to pervert the true meaning of scripture, albeit under the guise of seeking a deeper or more spiritual meaning.
B. The dangers of the allegorical method. The allegorical method is fraught with dangers which render it unacceptable to the interpreter of the Word.
1. The first great danger of the allegorical method is that it does not interpret scripture. Terry says:
Angus-Green express the same danger when they write:
2. The above quotation suggests, also, a second danger in the allegorical method: the basic authority in interpretation ceases to be the Scriptures, but the mind of the interpreter. The interpretation may then be twisted by the interpreter's doctrinal positions, the authority of the church to which the interpreter adheres, his social or educational background, or a host of other factors. Jerome -. . . complains that the faultiest style of teaching is to corrupt the meaning of scripture, and to drag its reluctant utterance to our own will, making scriptural mysteries out of our own imaginations.15
3. A third great danger in the allegorical method is that one is left without any means by which the conclusions of the interpreter may be tested. The above author states:
That these dangers exist and that the method of interpretation is used to pervert Scripture is admitted by Allis, who is himself an advocate of the allegorical method in the field of Eschatology, when he says:
Thus, the great dangers inherent in this system are that it takes away the authority of Scripture, leaves us without any basis on which interpretations may be tested, reduced scripture to what seems reasonable to the interpreter, and, as a result, makes true interpretation of Scripture impossible.
C. The New Testament use of allegory. In order to justify the use of the allegorical method it is often argued that the New Testament itself employs this method and thus it must be a justifiable method of interpretation.
Gilbert, in the same vein, concludes:
Since Paul explained one historical event of the Old Testament allegorically, it seems likely that he admitted the possibility of applying the principle of allegory elsewhere; but the fact that his letters show no other unmistakable illustration obviously suggests either that he did not feel himself competent to unfold the allegorical meaning of Scripture, or, what is more probably, that he was better satisfied on the whole to give his readers the plain primary sense of the text.21
Concerning the use of this method by other New Testament writers
It must be carefully observed that in Galatians 4:21-31 Paul is not using an allegorical method of interpreting the Old Testament, but was explaining an allegory. These are two entirely different things. Scripture abounds in allegories, whether types, symbols, or parables. These are accepted and legitimate media of communication of thought. They do not call for an allegorical method of interpretation, which would deny the literal or historical antecedent and use the allegory simply as a springboard for the interpreter's imagination. They do call for a special type of hermaneutics, which will be considered later. But the use of allegories is not a justification for the allegorical method of interpretation. It would be concluded that the usage in Galatians of the Old Testament would be an example of interpretation of an allegory and would not justify the universal application of the allegorical method to all scripture.
2. A second argument used to justify the allegorical method is the New Testament usage made of types. It is recognized that the New Testament makes typical application of the Old. On this basis it is argued that the New Testament used the allegorical method of interpretation, contending that the interpretation and application of types is an allegorical method of interpretation. Allis argues:
In reply to the accusation that because one interprets types he is using the allegorical method, it must be emphasized that the interpretation of types is not the same as allegorical interpretation. The efficacy of the type depends on the literal interpretation of the literal antecedent. In order to convey truth concerning the spiritual realm, with which realm we are not familiar, there must be instruction in a realm with which we are familiar, so that, by a transference of what is literally true in the one realm, we may learn what is true in the other realm. There must be a literal parallelism between the type and the anti type for the type to be of any value. The individual who allegorizes a type will never arrive at a true interpretation. The only way to discern the meaning of the type is through a transference of literal ideas from the natural to the spiritual realm. Chafer well writes:
It is concluded then, that the Scriptural use of types does not give sanction to the allegorical method of interpretation.
II. The Literal Method
In direct opposition to the allegorical method of interpretation stands the literal or grammatical-historical method.
A. The definition of the literal method. The literal method of interpretation is that method that gives to each word the same exact basic meaning it would have in normal, ordinary, customary usage, whether employed in writing, speaking or thinking.25 It is called the grammatical-historical method to emphasize the fact that the meaning is to be determined by both grammatical and historical considerations. Ramm defines the method thus: The customary, socially-acknowledged designation of a word is the literal meaning of that word.
B. The evidence for the literal method. Strong evidence can be presented to support the literal method of interpretation. Ramm gives a comprehensive summary. He says:
Inasmuch as God gave the Word of God as a revelation to men, it would be expected that His revelation would be given in such exact and specific terms that His thoughts would be accurately conveyed and understood when interpreted according to the laws of grammar and speech. Such presumptive evidence favors the literal interpretation, for an allegorical method of interpretation would cloud the meaning of the message delivered by God to men. The fact that the Scriptures continually point to literal interpretations of what was formerly written adds evidence as to the method to be employed in interpreting the Word. Perhaps one of the strongest evidences for the literal method is the use the New Testament makes of the Old Testament. When the old testament is used in the new it is used only in a literal sense. One need only study the prophecies which were fulfilled in the first coming of Christ, in His life, His ministry and His death, to establish that fact. No prophecy which has been completely fulfilled has been fulfilled any way but literally.29
Though a prophecy may be cited in the New Testament to show that a certain event is a partial fulfillment of that prophecy (as was done in Matthew 2:17-18), or to show that an event is in harmony with God's established program (as was done in Acts 15), it does not necessitate a non-literal fulfillment or deny a future complete fulfillment, for such applications of prophecy do not exhaust the fulfillment of it. Therefore such references to prophecy do not argue for a non-literal method.
From these considerations it may be concluded that there is evidence to support the validity of the literal method of interpretation.
Further evidence for the literal method will be presented in the study of the history of interpretation which is to follow.
C. The advantages of the literal method.
In addition to the above advantages it may be added that --
(d) it gives us a basic authority by which interpretations may be tested.
The allegorical method, which depends on the rationalistic approach
of the interpreter, or conformity to a predetermined theological system,
leaves one without a basic authoritative test.
(e) It delivers us from both reason and mysticism as the requisites
D. the literal method and figurative language. It is recognized by all that the bible abounds in figurative language. On this basis it is often argued that the use of figurative language demands a figurative interpretation. However, figures of speech are used as means of revealing literal truth. What is literally true in one realm, with which we are familiar is brought over, literally into another realm, with which we may not be familiar, in order to teach us truths in that unfamiliar realm. This relation between literal truth and figurative language is well illustrated by Gigot:
Craven states the same relation between figurative language and literal truth:
It will thus be observed that the literalist does not deny the existence of figurative language. the literalist does, however, deny that such figures must be interpreted so as to destroy the literal truth intended through the employment of the figures. Literal truth is to be learned through the symbols.
E. Some objections to the literal method. Allis states three objections against the literal method of interpretation.
In reply to the first of these arguments, one must recognize the use made of figures of speech. As has previously been emphasized, figures may be used to teach literal truth more forcefully than the bare words themselves and do not argue for allegorical interpretation. In regard to the second, while it is recognized that God is spiritual, the only way God could reveal truth in a realm into which we have not as yet entered is to draw a parallel from the realm in which we now live. Through the transference of what is literally true in the known realm into the unknown realm, that unknown realm will be revealed to us. The fact that God is spiritual does not demand allegorical interpretation. One must distinguish between what is spiritual and what is spiritualized. And, in respect to the third, while it is recognized that the Old Testament is anticipatory , and the New unfolds the Old, the fullness revealed in the New is not revealed through the allegorization of what is typified in the Old, but rather through the literal fulfillment and the unfolding of the literal truth of the types. Types may teach literal truth and the use of types in the Old Testament is no support for the allegorical method of interpretation. Feinberg well observes:
1. Oswalt T. Allis, Prophecy and the Church, p. 17.
2. Ibid, p. 244. cf. pp.99, 116, 218, 227, 242, 256 where further reference is made to literal interpretation as the basis of premillennialism.
3. Charles L. Feinberg, Premillennialism or Amillennialism, p. 51.
4. Floyd E. Hamilton, The basis of Millennial Fatih, pp. 38-39
5. Allis, op. cit., p.238
6. Albertus Pieters, The leader, September 5, 1934, as cited by Gerrit H. Hospers, The principle of Spiritualization in Hermeneutics, p.5.
7. William H. Rutgers, Premillennialism in America, p. 263
8. Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, p. 1.
9. Cf. Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, pp. 163-174 where such methods as teh Halachic, Hagadic, Allegorical, Mystical, Accommodation, Moral, Naturalistic, Mythical, Apologetic, Dogmatic, and Grammatico-historical are traced.
10. Joseph Angus and Samuel G. Green, The Bible Handbook, p. 220
11. Ramm, op.cit., p. 21
12. Charles T. Fritsch, "Biblical Typology," Bibliotheca Sacra, 104:216, April, 1947.
13. Terry, op. cit., p. 224.
14.Angus-Green, loc. cit.
15. Cited by F. W. Farrar, History of Interpretation, p. 232.
16. Ibid., p. 238.
18. Ramm, op. cit., p. 65.
19. Allis, op. cit., p. 18.
20. Farrar, op. cit., p. xxiii.
21. George H. Gilbert, The Interpretation of the Bible, p. 82.
22. Farrar, op. cit., p. 217.
23. Allis, op. cit., p. 21.
24. Rollin T. Chafer, The Science of Biblical Hermeneutics, p. 80.
25. Ramm, op. cit., p. 53.
26. Cf. Thomas Hartwell Horne, An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures, I, 322.
27. Ramm, op. cit., p. 64.
28. Ibid., pp. 54ff.
29. Cf. Feinberg, op. cit., p. 39.
30. Ramm, op. citl, pp. 62-63.
31. Francis E. Gigot, General Introduction to the Study of the Holy Scriptures, p. 386-87.
32. John Peter Lange, Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Revelation, p. 98.
33. Allis, op. cit., pp. 17-18.
34. Feinberg, op. cit., p. 50.
İRon Wallace, http://www.biblefragrances.com.
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